I read Michael Michalko’s first book, Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius, when it was published in 1998 by Ten Speed Press. According to Michalko, how best to “crack the barriers to human creativity”?
Here are his suggestions, accompanied by my annotations.
o Knowing how to see, not just look at: Beware of “the invisibility of the obvious” by being alert, very alert.
o Making a thought visible: I agree with Dan Roam that the best way is to use simple drawings.
o Thinking fluently: Part of this is “flow” as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and part is continuity and cohesion.
o Making novel combinations: That’s how liquid paper, Velcro, and Mary Kay cosmetics were “discovered.” Mary Kay Ash added a fragrance to leather softner and then….
o Connecting the unconnected: Just make certain that you are connecting the right dots so that valid causal relationships are revealed. Wet highways do NOT cause rain.
o Looking at the other side: Roger Martin calls this “integrative thinking” and it’s multi-dimensional.
Note: By far the best source on the last three is Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures.
o Looking in other worlds: Explore whatever is as yet unexplored, especially when “they” say an idea isn’t worth “bothering with.”
o Finding what you are not looking for: Never, ever underestimate the importance of the process of elimination. Marcus Aurelius reminds us that what isn’t an essence reveals more than what is.
o Awakening the collaborative spirit: The key is be respectful because that earns trust and credibility, then to acknowledge that help is needed.
If you are already convinced that you cannot think more creatively, you won’t. Henry Ford once observed that those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right.
Cracking Creativity can help you to develop the skills needed to release from within all manner of ideas, perspectives, and insights that (until now) have been suppressed. When we face an especially complicated problem or especially difficult question, Michael Michalko suggests that we ask, “What are the alternatives and options? How should each be evaluated? Where are there possible connections? Perhaps synergies?” Of course, after we think outside the box and come up with really cool stuff, we have to figure out how to get it back into the box. Perhaps that is another book he will one day write.
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To check out my interview of Michael, please click here.
He is one of the most highly acclaimed creativity experts in the world. As an officer in the U.S. Army, Michael organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods. His team applied the methods to various NATO military, political, and social problems and produced a variety of breakthrough ideas and creative solutions to new and old problems. Michael later applied these creative-thinking techniques to problems in the corporate world with outstanding successes. The companies he worked with were thrilled with the breakthrough results they achieved, and Michael has since been in the business of developing and teaching creative-thinking workshops and seminars for corporate clients around the world.
He is the author of several best-sellers, including Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques, Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Set, a novel creative-thinking tool that is designed to facilitate brainstorming sessions, and Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius that describes the common thinking strategies that creative geniuses have used in the sciences, art, and industry throughout history and shows how we can apply them to become more creative in all domains of our own lives. His most recent book is Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.
How to combine, consolidate, and integrate resources effectively
Most mergers and acquisitions either fail or fall far short of original expectations. Reasons vary, of course, from one situation to another. However, more often than not, the primary cause is cultural resistance, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
What we have in this relatively short but remarkably thorough volume is just about everything a manager needs to know about the basics of various integration initiatives, be they post-merger, post-acquisition, or a partial variation on either. Scott Whitaker offers an abundance of information, insights, tools and techniques, and general counsel that can help achieve the given strategic objectives. However, as he correctly notes, “there is no one-size-fits-all approach to integration. The best approach is typically a combination of various integration strategies, tools, and timing that best fit the task at hand.”
After an Introduction, he begins each chapter “you will learn how to do the following” and then identifies several specific learning objectives for each of Chapters 2-15. For example:
Chapter 2: Lay the groundwork for your integration project
3: The most difficult areas of integration activity
5: How to stress-test the synergy plan
7: How to secure functional resources for your integration
8: Creating functional integration work streams
10: How to create a communication matrix for your integration
11: Assessment guidelines to topics to address when assessing culture
13: How to manage synergy programs within the IMO framework
15: How to collect feedback and assess your integration efforts
Then in the final chapter, Whitaker explains how his reader can create an “Integration Playbook.” Earlier, I quoted comments of his that deserve repeating now “there is no one-size-fits-all approach to integration. The best approach is typically a combination of various integration strategies, tools, and timing that best fit the task at hand.” Keep this in mind when proceeding through Chapter 16 as Whitaker discusses contents, elements, how the various elements work together, and then applying the playbook to the opportunities and (yes) perils at hand. Readers are provided (on Page 163) with directions to how and where they can obtain additional information related to this book.
Make no mistake about it: Even under so-called “ideal conditions,” combining, consolidating, and integrating resources effectively is an immensely complicated process. Hence the importance of the material that Scott Whitaker includes in his book…and hence the great value of the advice he shares when concluding his introduction, especially the second of his five key points:
“Integrations are disruptive. Expect your integration to disrupt you operations and hamper business. Do nit underestimate the preparations and work required to manage successful integration – they can be ugly, time-consuming, and contentious. Prepare for the worst and expect the best.”
Here’s my own take: Unless your integration is disruptive, you’re not doing it right. In The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin describes the mindset needed for those involved in effective integration, a mindset in which there is “a predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas” in one’s head and then “without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other,” is able to “produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” Martin insists, and Scott Whitaker agrees, that integrative thinking that possesses a “discipline of consideration and synthesis is the hallmark of exceptional businesses [as well as of democratic governments] and those who lead them.”
Todd Henry is the founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a company that helps creative people and teams generate brilliant ideas. He regularly speaks and consults with companies, both large and small, about how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. Todd’s work has been featured by Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, HBR.org, US News & World Report, and many other major media outlets. His book, The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, offers strategies for how to thrive in the creative marketplace and has been called “one of the best books to date on how to structure your ideas, and manage the creative process and work that comes out of it” by Jack Covert, author of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time and founder of 800-CEO-READ. You can connect with Todd here, or learn more about how to hire him to speak at your event or train your team.
Here is my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Accidental Creative, a few general questions. First, Who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?
Henry: I have a counter-intuitive answer to this. Probably the biggest influence on my personal growth was a 20th-century mystic and monk named Thomas Merton. It seems strange that a man who lived the biggest part of the late years of his life in isolation and contemplation would have much to say to a 21st-century, tech-immersed creative, but I found his writings to be deeply reflective on the nature of humanity, and also an illumination on the mechanics of doing important work.
If I were talking only about contemporary influences, I would have to say that I’ve been incredibly blessed to be around a group of mentors who, over a period of several years, really made it a project to develop me and help me understand both my capacity and my limitations. It was in this virtual incubator for leadership that I first discovered my voice and began reflecting deeply on the creative process.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow?
Henry: I was a leader in an organization trying to scale a team while helping them handle the pressures and demands we were facing, and in my effort to do so I reached out to several other creative directors who I knew would be dealing with the same issues. My biggest question for them was, “How do you serve your team, and help them do their best work without burning them out?” They stared at me like I was from another planet. “What you mean?” they almost unanimously asked. In other words, it had never occurred to them that it might be possible to exist in any create on-demand environment and be simultaneously healthy in the way you approach your work. This began a long journey for me of exploring whether or not it was possible to be prolific, brilliant, and healthy simultaneously in life and work. This research eventually led to my company, which now shares these insights with teams around the world, and then eventually to the book, The Accidental Creative.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?
Henry: It may be cliché but I believe that the biggest contribution formal education made to my career accomplishments is that I learned how to structure my uncertainty and questions into a format that could be pursued and digested effectively. I learned to deal with ambiguity and suffer through process. When I was in school, information wasn’t so readily available, and there was more risk involved in pursuing a specific avenue of research. It was much more difficult (and costly!) to pivot mid-course, so it forced me to stay focused while going about my work. This allowed me to develop the capacity of deep, intermittent focus that has served me in my work as a professional creative.
Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between creativity and innovation?
Henry: The definition of innovation I use is “progressive and useful change” which typically involves (or at least begins with) a creative act. Creativity, at the heart of it, is problem solving. A designer might solve a problem visually, while a manager might do so by thinking up a new system. But that creative act is only innovation once it’s applied and creates useful change.
Morris: What do you say in response to someone who says, “I’m just not creative”?
Henry: I would say they are wrong. We are all creative, because we all have the ability to solve problems and create value with our mind. I think the biggest reason people say “I’m not creative” is because they confuse creativity with art. The very act of holding a conversation – which most of us can do – is a creative act, because it’s based on improvisation! Once we re-frame creativity as problem-solving, it helps people see their own creative capacity in new ways.
Morris: Isaac Asimov once observed, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…’” Do you agree with him?
Henry: Yes! Steven Johnson has called this the “slow hunch” and I agree. Brilliant work is most frequently the result of focused, laborious effort punctuated by moments of insight, all of which is driven by curiosity sourced in the slow hunch. It’s only when we stay with the problem long enough to recognize those anomalies that we are positioned for breakthroughs. To do this we must develop the ability to ask incisive questions. The questions are – in my opinion – far more important than the answers. Every answer must lead to a new question.
Morris: Here is another quotation, this time from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” By what process can one get to “the other side of complexity”?
Henry: The trouble is that we get to the other side of complexity for a moment, only to find that there’s far more complexity to be conquered. The creative process is the perpetual assault on the beachhead of apathy, which means that we must fight a daily battle against our natural desire to stay in our comfort zone. Steven Pressfield calls this battling “Resistance” and I’m in 100% agreement. To get to those flashes of clarity – simplicity – requires persistent daily, and sometimes seemingly fruitless effort. At the same time, I don’t know that the illusion of simplicity lasts for long. Most creatives I know experience a brief, shining moment of satisfaction before they begin to see holes in their work. That’s what propels us to keep striving – the promise of greater clarity and simplicity.
Morris: Many major breakthroughs in creativity and innovation are the result of counter-intuitive thinking. For example, combining a wine press with separable type (Gutenberg and the printing press), removal of burrs from a pet’s hair with an attachment (George de Mestral and VELCRO), and leather softener with skin care (Mark Kay Cosmetics).
Here is my two-part question: What are the major differences between intuition and counter-intuition? What (if anything) do intuition and counter-intuition share in common?
Henry: I think intuition and counter-intuition are all about framing. A problem framed in a certain way leads to an intuitive solution. When framed in a different way, the same solution appears counter-intuitive. I believe that so much of this is determined by the focus of the individual solving the problem, and the stimuli that prompt their search for a solution. That’s why I believe it’s critical to maintain a proper level of focus on the true problems you’re trying to solve. If you don’t regularly define your work, you’re likely to drift and you’re less likely to notice those moments of intuitive or counter-intuitive serendipity.
Morris: Of all the books you have read, from which one have you learned the most about creativity and innovation? Please explain.
Henry: From an innovation standpoint, it’s really hard to top The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. He thoroughly nailed the dynamics of living and working in a marketplace that requires perpetual reinvention, and I believe also unintentionally defined the single biggest factors that cause creative professionals to feel frustrated, under-utilized, and disengaged in their daily work. Purely from a “mechanics of creativity” standpoint, I’d say that I learned the most from Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono. I also greatly enjoyed Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is a synthesis of his research into creativity across multiple domains.
Morris: Within the last few years, there have been several excellent books published in which thought leaders such as Roger Martin, Chris Brown, and Roberto Verganti discuss the design of business. In your opinion, why has this subject attracted so much attention?
Henry: Over the past many years it’s become obvious that design can’t be an after-thought, because it’s actually good business as well. We are in an age where ideas flow freely and with less friction, and many of the traditional means of creating and distributing goods were based on creating friction rather than eliminating it. Great design is about eliminating friction so that consumers can identify, connect with, and consume what they want when they want it. Good design, from operations all the way through the final point-of-sale communication, is critical in eliminating that friction, especially now that consumers have so many choices.
Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a workplace environment within which creativity and innovation are most stimulated, nourished, and when necessary, protected?
Henry: There is no one-size-fits-all solution, though many still try to find it. In my experience, the most innovative and productive workplace environments have less to do with physical space than psychological space. Is there clarity of purpose? Are we rewarded for the things that move the needle, such as taking measured risks, asking good questions, and spending ourselves on behalf of the work? Do we foster an environment of conversation, or of secrecy? No one goes to work in the morning hoping to crank out a mediocre pile of misery, yet over time our work environments either reward continual growth, or encourage systemic mediocrity. You’re either growing or dying, there is no stagnancy. But growth is difficult and messy, and requires persistent effort. Many give up when it’s “good enough.” (One of the best examinations I’ve read of teams who accomplished great, innovative things is Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman.)
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Todd cordially invites you to check out the resources at The Accidental Creative website by clicking here.
How and why to take full and systematic advantage of technology and analytics to create deeper and more sustainable judgment
To introduce this review, I call upon Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” How to make the best decisions? Enter Thomas Davenport and Brooke Manville. In their book, Judgment Calls, they explain how and why decisions made by a Great Organization tend to be much better than those made by a Great Leader. Why? While conducting rigorous and extensive research over a period of many years, they discovered – as Laurence Prusak notes in the Foreword — “that no one was looking into the workings of what we term [begin italics] organizational judgment [end italics] – the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.”
The mistake to which Drucker refers is much less likely to occur when organizational judgment is centrally involved in a decision-making process. My own opinion is that this process resembles a crucible of intensive scrutiny by several well-qualified persons. Moreover, the eventual decision is the result of what Roger Martin characterizes, in The Opposable Mind, as “integrative thinking.” That is, each of those involved has “the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas” in mind and then ”without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other,” helps to “produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.”
Organizational judgment must not only be discerned but also managed. And precautions should be taken to ensure, as Prusak notes, ”that the courses of action taken by organizations are more grounded in reality and a shared sense of what is right.” In recent years, the rapid emergence and development of social media enable organizations to become even more grounded in what has become an expanded reality. Only through an open and inclusive collaborative process can the use of social media enable any organization to tap the collective genius of its stakeholder constituencies.
In this brilliant volume, Davenport and Manville rigorously examine “12 stories of big decisions and the teams that get them right.” However different the nature and extent of the circumstances as well as of implications and potential consequences of the given decision may be, all twelve followed essentially the same process, one that takes into full account four separate but related trends:
o The recognition that “none of us is as smart as all of us”
o Tapping not only the so-called wisdom of the crowd but also its leadership
o The use of data and analytics to support – sometimes even make – decisions
o Information technology that enables and then supports better decisions
Shrewdly, Davenport and Manville focus on an exceptionally diverse group and the major decisions to be made. They include NASA STS-119 “Should we launch?”), McKinsey & Company (“Should we recruit from a different pool of talent?”), Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (“How can we improve student performance?”), Ancient Athenians (How can we defend against a life-or-death invasion?”), and the (DeWitt and Lila) Wallace Foundation (“How can we focus a strategy for more mission impact?”). These mini-case studies achieve two critically important objectives. First, they help the reader to understand how each of the major decisions was made? Also, they help the reader to understand what lessons can be learned from the process by which the decisions were made.
No organization ever has too many great men and great women. Indeed, few have any. However, I agree with Davenport and Manville that all organizations can establish and then constantly improve a collaborate process by which organizational judgment produces a much higher percentage of appropriate decisions. This does not require a Great Leader. Rather, it requires development of collective leadership (i.e. results-driven initiative) at all levels and in all areas. It also requires constant communication, cooperation, and (especially) collaboration. These are among the defining characteristics of a Great Organization.
With their book, Tom Davenport and Brook Manville will help you and your colleagues to build one.
How and why to cope with a leadership evaluation and development crisis to produce more effective leaders
As Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis suggest in Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, leaders define themselves by their choices. They assert that what really matters “is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right.” They go on to suggest that effective leaders “not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops.”
Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran suggest that many (if not most) organizations define themselves (for better or more often worse) by their evaluation and development of effective leaders, by how many of the important calls their leaders get right when deciding whom to hire, whom to promote, and whom to support. As they explain in the Introduction, they devoted decades of research to develop a model for effective leadership. They share in this book their response to the question posed by the title. More specifically, they identify and then rigorously examine seven leadership attributes that are the most vital: integrity, empathy, emotional intelligence, vision, judgment, courage, and passion. No news there. What caught my eye and what, I think, will be of greatest interest to other readers is what Cohn and Moran offer when explaining “how to decode and connect these attributes…how they fit together. Our breakthrough insight is an overall framework for making leadership selection decisions.” These are among the “smart calls” to which Tichy and Bennis also refer.
Think of the challenge as a “puzzle” and the attributes among the most important “pieces.” How to put all the pieces together? Cohn and Moran devote a separate chapter to each of what they characterize as the seven “building blocks,” then reveal in Chapter 8 “A Better Way to Choose Leaders.” The information, insights, and recommendations provided within the book’s narrative are research-driven, primarily by interviews of more than 100 CEOs and other leaders. For example, those among the “A-C group” include Lance Armstrong, Jeff Bezos, Bono, Richard Branson, Michael Capellas, Richard Clarke, Jerry Colangelo, and Delos (“Toby”) Cosgrove.
Other resources include decades of research conducted by James Kouzes and Barry Posner;also, various leadership development programs (e.g. AT&T, Allianz SE, McKinsey & Company, “New CEO Workshop” at Harvard Business School, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Team USA). They also picked the brains of thought leaders such as the aforementioned Tichy and Bennis as well as James MacGregor Burns, Daniel Goleman, K. Anders Ericsson, and Roger Martin.
Of course, it remains for each reader to determine what is most relevant among the abundance of material provided by Cohn and Moran in their book. The same is true of another recently published book that I also hold in very high regard, The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, in which George Anders focuses on expert talent spotters in three broad sets: the public performance worlds (e.g. sports, arts, and entertainment), high stakes aspects of business (especially finance and the information economy), and “heroic professionals” of public service (e.g. teaching, government, and medicine). “It’s easy to see how they operated, but it took a while to understand why.” What he learned is shared in this book. For example, with people as with organizations, “the gap between good and great turns out to be huge,” perhaps as much as a 500% difference. The financial implications are vast and substantial.
All organizations needed leadership at all levels and in all areas. Although the two books take different approaches to an immensely complicated and critically important subject, executive talent evaluation, each can be of incalculable value to those who are guided and informed by the material provided. In fact, I highly recommend that both be read and (preferably) re-read, then frequently consulted by every one involved in an organization’s recruitment, hiring, onboarding, and leadership development initiatives.
150 “tips”…almost unlimited “icebergs”
Here are 150 “Management Tips of the Day” that have been featured by the Harvard Business Review blog (http://blogs.hbr.org/). On average, each has a total word count of about 50 and is best viewed as a reminder rather than as a definitive answer to a business question or a definitive solution to a business problem.
Their primary sources are HBR articles and books published by HBR Press. Therefore, it is correct to assume that these sources are consistently of the highest quality in terms of the information, insights, and advice (usually three specific action steps to take) that are provided by world-class authorities in the given subject area.
The material is organized within three sections, each featuring 50 “tips”: Managing Yourself (listed on Pages 195-198), Managing Your Team (198-201), and Managing Your Business (202-205). I include the page references because those who read this brief commentary and have a specific management need (self, team, or business) will need them to locate the most relevant tip(s) by checking out what is available.
I hasten to add that all of the advice is practical, anchored in real-world experience, and of value to almost any manager, whatever her or his given circumstances may be. The “icebergs” to which the title of this review refers are, of course, the aforementioned primary sources. For example:
“Top Ten Ways to Find Joy at Work,” Rosabeth Moss Kanter
“Six Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity,” Tony Schwartz
“Learn to Embrace the Tension of Diversity,” Marshall Goldsmith
“How to Identify Your Employees’ Hidden Talents,” Steven DeMaio
“Why Most CEOs Are Bad at Strategy,” Roger Martin
“Innovate Like Chris Rock,” Peter Sims
I strongly recommend signing up for a free online subscription to the “Management Tips of the Day” series (http://blogs.hbr.org/). Each “tip” includes a link to its primary source.