Get Fresh Minds

Add a box to be more creative.

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Get Fresh Minds | 0 comments

Creativity is typically thought of as breaking free.  It’s about challenging assumptions, throwing the rules out the window and walking away from the “way things are done”.

Many people believe the best way to be creative is to empower thinkers to run with whatever pops into their head.  That’s why so many people insist that creativity is all about “breaking out of the box”.

But what if that’s not the right approach?  What if people come up with creative ideas not by escaping from restrictions… but from adding them?

Consider the art form of poetry. Virtually everyone would argue that poets are creative – yet many forms of poetry are full of rules.

The Japanese haiku is a short poem with three lines containing up to 17 syllables total! Shouldn’t that limitation intimidate poets and destroy their ability/desire to create? How much creativity is possible in only 17 syllables?

Except the haiku is so popular that now people write them in Japanese and English.  There are actually 5 day conferences put on by the Haiku Society of North America where haiku enthusiasts meet haiku celebrities, attend workshops, listen to panels on the haiku form and enter contests.  Pretty amazing how much creative energy is inspired by 17 syllables.

The sonnet, if anything, is even more confining for poets than the haiku.  A sonnet must:

  • contain exactly 14 lines
  • be written in iambic pentameter
  • follow an a-b-a-b/c-d-c-d/e-f-e-f/g-g rhyme scheme
  • present a conflict in the opening stanzas
  • offer a resolution in the closing ones.

That’s quite a box, isn’t it?!!! Yet Shakespeare alone wrote 154 unique sonnects.  Other major poets such as William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings and W. B. Yeats (among others) also wrote hundreds of poems using the sonnet form.

Adding parameters to creative thinking is not a death sentence.  In fact, rather than thwarting creativity, the “boxes” of poetic forms challenge poets to push their creativity to its limits.

There’s no reason that that ingenuity can’t transfer over to real life as well.


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The Big Data ‘Opportunity Area’ for Innovation

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 in Get Fresh Minds | 0 comments


Why Big Data is Not the Answer for Innovation

Recently, at the excellent 2014 MBA Innovation Summit put on by Columbia, Yale and Wharton, I listened to Ron Gonen, NYC’s Deputy Commissioner of Sanitation, talk about how his organization is using big data to address big problems faced by the city.

By collecting tons of analytical data, the city is now able to identify everything from the illegal subdivisions (where landlords have divided apartments into too many rooms for fire capacity) that are most at risk for deadly fires to areas most attractive to entrepreneurs. NYC is using that data to identify trends and to figure out the best ways to allocate their scarce resources in order to save lives.

Seeing the trends and insights revealed by big data is awe-inspiring. And I’m not alone in thinking so. A 2013 survey of senior corporate executives from Fortune 1000 companies (pdf) revealed that 60% have implemented at least one big data initiative, with 32% reporting that they’ve implemented big data across the organization. Another 31% have initiatives on the horizon. Only 9% of executives aren’t forging ahead into using big data.

Coming from Nowhere?

Why has big data come out of nowhere like this? The 2012 election threw it into national attention as after Barack Obama’s team won by investing massive amounts of time and energy micro-targeting voters based on their likes, habits, behaviors, etc. His campaign turned out voters who organizers didn’t even know existed! After that it was a short leap for the business world to see the potential of big data in helping them understand their customers.

Improving Customer Experience

Now, organizations are using big data to analyze all the ways that their customers interact with them. 85% of executives reported in the survey that they’re investing in big data initiatives to gain new insights about their customers. They’re looking to improve their fact-based decision-making, discover new patterns, and figure out ways to improve the customer experience and to create new product innovations.

Jim Smith, head of Wells Fargo’s Enterprise Data and Analytics and Digital Channels groups says, “Our customers interact with us in many different channels and there has been tremendous data growth with the surge of online and mobile banking. Each of these interactions provides us with an opportunity to more accurately identify a customer’s specific needs and interests. From there, we can evolve or improve how we provide a service or develop a new one.”

Math Trumping Science

Big data’s appeal to executives is obvious because it predicts how every action or initiative will turn out based on what has happened before. As said by Vivek Ranadivé, founder and CEO of financial-data software provider TIBCO: “I believe that math is trumping science. What I mean by that is you don’t really have to know why, you just have to know that if A and B happen, C will happen.” This logic is why 64% of executives cite “new product development and innovation” as one of their main reasons for investing in big data (pdf).

Big Data’s Problem

But investing in big data isn’t enough to result in innovation. A recent survey by IDG Research Services and Kapow Software of more than 200 IT and business leaders at large organizations revealed that just 23% of leaders think their big data projects have been a success. Only 52% think their big data projects have been “somewhat successful”.

So what’s going on? Why the dissatisfaction with how big data is helping companies innovate?

The problem with Big Data is how people assume that the solutions are all buried in the data – and that all it takes it to analyze it in order to reveal new possibilities. That’s simply not how new dramatic invention happens.

Big data would have suggested that the best way to improve transportation speed would have been to refine the bloodlines of horses – not to invent trains, planes or automobiles. Heck, even riding horses was an innovation that could not have been predicted by analyzing the foot transportation of prehistoric humans! In each of those world-changing inventions, more information about the existing world would have been useless in predicting the ideas that changed it.

Opportunity Areas for Innovation

Where big data offers great value, however, is in revealing “Opportunity Areas” for innovation. If you know the data about where and when landlords are creating illegal (and dangerous) subdivisions of apartments in NYC, you can come up with new ideas for how to combat it. If you know that your customers are really seeking to get from Point A to Point B faster, you can explore ways of solving that need.

Big data gives companies the ability to compare how their consumers act with what they say matters to them – shedding insight on how, why and when they purchase. That knowledge gives executives the ability to generate new product ideas that will really hit their consumers’ unmet needs and match with how they purchase.

Big data is full of temptation because it feels like – if you just get more information – you’ll be able to find the hidden answer. That’s what’s drawing so many executives in. But where big data really offers the opportunity to bring value is in uncovering unknown insights into how consumers really act. Smart executives will then use the insights that they’ve uncovered as “Opportunity Areas” that they’ll focus their innovation efforts within.

This post was originally published on Innovation Excellence.   © 2014 Katie Konrath

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How To Convince Others You’re An Innovator

Posted by on Mar 31, 2014 in Get Fresh Minds | 0 comments


Innovation has been a buzz word for a while now – and it’s one of those hurdles you must surmount if you’re looking for a job. Employers want creative employees. Investors want to put their money behind creative people.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers overwhelmingly look for problem solving skills as a top priority in their new hires. A famous 2010 global survey by IBM revealed that CEOs worldwide rank creativityas a more essential skill than dedication, ability to manage, integrity or vision for the leaders of tomorrow. Studies show that when investing in creativity makes a company stronger than any other initiative it can do. A recent article at Fast Company urges leaders to hire creative people – even for jobs that don’t typically involve creativity.

What makes creativity so important is that it’s not about having ideas pop out of nowhere – it’s about problem solving. Leaders want to get behind people who can throw themselves into creating solutions. They don’t want to hear “it can’t be done” when someone hasn’t even tried.

The problem with creativity is that it is really hard to prove to others that you’re creative. Sure, you could show up in a crazy outfit, send your resume in a pizza box or cover it in glitter – but will that really make others take you seriously? Nor do any standard tests have a score for creativity. And even if you have amazingly creative ideas to share, not everyone agrees what is a creative idea. Something that might be a revelation to one person, could resemble something another person has seen many times before.

So what do you do? Tell people about how you’re a persistent problem solver!

Innovation isn’t about having one-hit wonder ideas. It’s about being able to come up with solutions to problems, and having the mental flexibility to keep coming up with new solutions if needed. Inventor Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Creative people are not those who are stopped by problems that arise. That’s why gaming is such an excellent way to train your brain to be innovative: gamers are constantly failing as they work their way to the next levels. Gamers fail fast and fail often, but they also have many small successes that teach them that persistence is the key to success.

So if you’re looking to convince someone that you’re an innovative person, spend your time talking about how you faced a difficult challenge and how you approached solving it. Tell them the ideas you had that didn’t work, talk about what you learned from each failure, and then talk about how you persisted until you had that great idea that clicked.

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