First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Michael Michalko: An interview by Bob Morris

Michael Michalko

Michael Michalko is one of the most highly acclaimed creativity experts in the world and author of the best sellers Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), Creative Thinkering (Putting your Imagination to Work), and Cracking Creativity (The Secrets Of Creative Genius).

 As an officer in the United States 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 international team applied those methods to various NATO military, political, and social problems and in doing so it produced a variety of breakthrough ideas and creative solutions to new and old problems.  After leaving the military, Michael facilitated CIA think tanks using his creative thinking techniques. Michael later applied these creative-thinking techniques to problems in the corporate world with outstanding successes.  Michael has provided keynote speeches, workshops, and seminars on fostering creative thinking for clients who range from Fortune 500 corporations, such as DuPont, Kellogg’s, General Electric, Kodak, Microsoft, Exxon, General Motors, Ford, USA, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Gillette, and Hallmark, to associations and governmental agencies.  In addition to his work in the United States, Michael has worked with clients in countries around the world.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: Before discussing any of your books, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Michalko: My mother was my greatest influence because she taught me by example that your life and happiness are determined by what you choose to or refuse to do.

We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time or conditions of our death. But within all this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we shall live: with purpose or adrift, with joy or with joylessness, with hope or with despair, with humor or with sadness, with a positive outlook or a negative outlook, with pride or with shame, with inspiration or with defeat and with honor or with dishonor. We decide that what makes us significant or insignificant. We decide to be creative or to be indifferent. No matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. In the end, the meaning of our own life is decided by what we choose to do or what we refuse to do. And as we decide and choose, so are our destinies formed.

Morris: The great impact on your professional development? How so?

Michalko: While in the military I observed that the more an expert one became in an area of military specialization, the less creative and innovative that person became. The paradox is that people who know more, see less; and the people who know less, see more. Consequently, the majority of the generals had a fixed mindset about what is possible and what is not. The creative and innovative solutions to military problem came from the youngest noncoms and officers who still had open minds.

I discovered the same paradox in civilian life. An example of this is when Apple Computer Inc. founder, Steve Jobs, attempted, without success, to get Atari and Hewlett-Packard interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. As Steve recounts, “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’ And their experts laughed and said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t gotten through college yet.”

It seems that once a person has formed an expectation concerning the subject being observed–this influences future perceptions of the subject.  Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., thought the idea of a personal computer absurd, as he said, “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, was ridiculed by every scientist for his revolutionary liquid-fueled rockets. Even the New York Times chimed in with an editorial in 1921 by scientists who claimed that Goddard lacked even the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high school science classes. Pierrre Pachet, a renowned physiology professor and expert, declared, “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”

If we experience any strain in imagining a possibility, we quickly conclude it’s impossible. This principle also helps explain why evolutionary change often goes unnoticed by the experts. The greater the commitment of the expert to their established view, the more difficult it is for the expert to do anything more than to continue repeating their established view. It also explains the phenomenon of a beginner who comes up with the breakthrough insight or idea that was overlooked by the experts who worked on the same problem for years.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Michalko: The realization that most educated people have a fixed mindset that encourages robotic thinking and determines a person’s outlook and behavior. Think of the fixed mindset shaped like an upside down funnel. At the wide bottom, there is a wide variety of different experiences. At the top, there is the narrow opening which represents a fixed mindset that superimposes itself on all the experiences. Once people with a fixed mindset have settled on a perspective, they close off all other lines of thought. Whereas, a creative thinker’s mind is shaped like a right side up funnel with the narrow opening over one experience. At the wide top there is a wide variety of different ways to see and think about the one experience. This represents a creative thinker’s growth mindset.

Imagine a mud puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world.  I find myself in this hole and I find that it fits me perfectly. In fact, it fits me so well, it must have been made to have me in it. Everything is fine and there is no need for me to worry about changing anything.” Yet every day as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up, the puddle gets smaller and smaller. Yet the puddle frantically hangs on to the notion that everything’s going to be all right, because the puddle believes the world is what it is and was meant to have him in it. The moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

People with fixed mindsets are like the mud puddle. They were taught by authority figures that their genes, family, education and environment have determined their destiny, and they, like the atom, just are. Many of them were taught that they are not creative. Consequently, they believe they are a certain kind of person and there is not much they can do to change that. They might be able change some small things but the important part of who they are can’t be changed.

It was this realization that encouraged me to research, write and teach the importance of understanding these cognitive mindsets, how they influence us and how we can easily change the dynamics of a mindset and change the way we think and see things.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Michalko: What I learned from observing and listening to academics in college was their curious tendency to assimilate new information into their pre-existing views. Their mental image of the established view interferes with their perception and understanding of new ideas and concepts. In the case of real life, physicists could not see Einstein’s theory of relativity because of their established, accepted view. For years, they tried to incorporate his view into the established view without success.

Experts always try to assimilate new insights, ideas and concepts into their view. What happens in real life is, despite ambiguous stimuli, people form some sort of tentative hypothesis about what they see. The longer they are exposed to this hypothesis, the greater confidence they develop in this initial and perhaps erroneous impression, so the greater the impact this initial hypothesis has on subsequent perceptions.

Suppose an expert has an established theory about the danger of boxes and their effect on human life and the environment. The theory is that boxes might be harmful and the use of boxes should be regulated. Now, suppose that I leave a box on the floor, and my wife trips on it, falling against my son, who is carrying a carton of eggs, which then fall and break. The expert’s approach to an event like this would be that the best way to prevent the breakage of eggs would be to outlaw leaving boxes on the floor. As silly as this example is, it is analogous to what is happening in the world of global warming. If you survey the history of science, it is apparent that most individuals who have created radical innovations did not do so simply because they knew more than others. One of the most important experiences Noble laureate, Richard Feynman, had in his life was reading a copy of James Watson’s typescript of what was to become his famous book, The Double Helix, about his discovery, together with Francis Crick, of the structure of DNA. Feynman had become unproductive and began to believe he had run out of ideas. The discovery Feynman made was that Watson had been involved in making such a fundamental advance in science, and yet he had been completely out of touch with what everybody else in his field was doing.

As told in Watson’s classic memoir, The Double Helix, it was a tale of boundless ambition, impatience with authority and disdain, if not contempt, for received opinion. “A goodly number of scientists,” Watson explained, “are not only narrow-minded and dull but also just stupid.” Feynman wrote one word, in capitals: DISREGARD on his notepad when he read that. This word became his motto. That, he said, was the whole point. That was what he had forgotten, and why he had been making so little progress. The way for thinkers like himself to make a breakthrough was to be ignorant of what everybody else was doing and make their own interpretations and guesses.

So Feynman “stopped trying to keep up with what others were doing and went back to his roots, comparing experiment with theory, making guesses that were all his own.” Thus he became creative again, as he had been when he had just been working things out for himself, before becoming a famous physicist in academia. While this is an important lesson for science, it is a supreme lesson for any discipline where “current knowledge” can be dominated by theories that are simply incoherent.

Make your own interpretations of your experiences to shape your own beliefs and concepts about your world. This is the lesson Feynman called the most important of his life. This is the lesson I learned during my college years.

*     *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Michael cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website

Psychology Today Blog: Creative Thinkering

Blog

Twitter 

Facebook Fan Page


Monday, April 30, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q #85: What are “business incubators”?

In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.

Opinions vary because definitions of the designation very. Some business historians claim that the formal concept of business incubation began in the USA in 1959 with the Batavia Industrial Center in a Batavia, New York, expanded in the U.S. in the 1980s and then throughout the UK and continental Europe in various related forms (e.g. independent innovation centers, pépinières d’entreprises, science parks, etc.). Other business historians include corporate research centers such for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs (commonly identified as the “Skunk Works”) that was founded in 1943 and given the assignment to design the XP-80 “Shooting Star.” The P-80 was introduced in 1945 and the first operational jet fighter used by the United States Army Air Force.

With all due respect for the historical significance of these initiatives, I am among those who think it is more important to think about business incubation as a process rather than as a physical location. In fact, idea generation can occur anywhere if, as experts on the subject agree, certain conditions exist:

1. Constant and prudent experimentation. Everyone is strongly encouraged (if not required) and full advantage is taken of each “failure,” viewed as a precious learning experience.

2. Brainstorming. Sessions are frequently scheduled, with cross-functional representation (i.e. management, accounting, marketing, sales, production), to solve one specific problems, answer one specific question, or discuss one specific opportunity. (Only one per session.) Workers are also strongly encouraged to conduct informal brainstorming sessions.

Note: Over the years, I have helped client companies to establish a program for what I call “brown bag brainstorming sessions.” These are informal and can be scheduled by anyone, usually during the lunch hour in a room provided by the company.

3. Recognition and rewards. More than 85% of the improvements of Toyota’s processes (i.e. design, production, and distribution) are suggested by its workers and a majority of those workers are on the production line.

4. Workplace Environment. In The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation, Thomas Kelley explains how and why his firm, IDEO, created a workplace environment that is most congenial to and supportive of innovative thinking. Excellent advice can also be found in Gerald Sindell’s The Genius Machine, Michael Michalko’s Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, Doug Hall’s Jump Start Your Business Brain, and Paul Sloane’s The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills.

One final point: Keep in mind Ben Hogan’s assertion that golf is played between the ears and that is where competition is won…or lost. The human mind is the best business incubator and always will be. With innovation as with almost all other human initiatives, most limits are self-imposed.

Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob

Friday, May 15, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q #54: Which exercises do you recommend for brainstorming?


In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.

Here’s an exercise (inspired by Edward de Bono’s ideas) which will work very well with those who have been required to read de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats prior to getting together to brainstorm. Buy several of those delightful Dr. Seuss hats (at least one of each of the six different colors, more if needed) and keep the hats out of sight until everyone is seated. Review the agenda. Review what de Bono says about what each color represents. Then distribute the Dr. Seuss hats, making certain that at least one person is wearing a hat of each color. Proceed with the discussion, chaired by a person wearing a Blue or White hat. It is imperative that whoever wears a Black hat, for example, be consistently negative and argumentative whereas whoever wears a Yellow must be consistently positive and supportive. After about 15-20 minutes, have each person change to a different colored hat. Resume discussion. Thanks to de Bono and (yes) to Dr. Seuss, you can expect to have an especially enjoyable as well as productive session.

In a previous Q&A (#53), I identified several ways to ruin a brainstorm session. One of the most common is “homogenous” group membership. Wearing several hats of different colors and making each participant think according to the color of hat worn will ensure a variety and diversity of points of view.

In my opinion, the best sources for information and advice about brainstorming include two books by Thomas Kelley, The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation. Also, Gerald Sindell’s The Genius Machine, Michael Michalko’s Thinkpak, Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, Doug Hall’s Jump Start Your Business Brain, and Paul Sloane’s The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills.

Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q #53: What are some of the most effective ways to ruin a brainstorming session?

In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.

According to the experts, these are among the most effective:

1. The CEO or some other C-level executive chairs the session. The discussion requires a facilitator who is totally neutral, whose sole purpose is to keep the discussion moving along in an orderly, unhurried fashion. Preferably someone who has mastered the Socratic method of asking questions, not making statements.

2. There are no clear objectives and “ground rules.” At the outset, there should be a problem to solve, a question to answer, or a new opportunity to pursue. In other words, an ultimate “destination.” Otherwise, the discussion will resemble an aerosol spray of opinions.

3. The group membership is “homogenous.” The best brainstorming sessions resemble a “crucible” to which an idea is subjected to scrutiny by quite different backgrounds, perspectives, values, and temperaments. Only the best ideas survive but not until all ideas have been shared.

4. Allowing early criticism. In the spirit of “the only dumb question is the one not asked,” everyone involved should agree that “the only bad idea is the one not shared.” All ideas should be welcomed without criticism until everyone has had a chance to respond with questions or comments.

5. Settling for only a few ideas. In fact, the most productive brainstorm sessions generate lots of bad ideas to get one OK idea, lots of OK ideas to get one excellent idea, and lots of excellent ideas to get what Steve Jobs characterizes as an “insanely great” idea.

6. No follow-through. If there is no follow-through, why have the session? See #2.

In my opinion, the best sources for information and advice about brainstorming include two books by Thomas Kelley, The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation. Also, Gerald Sindell’s The Genius Machine, Michael Michalko’s Thinkpak, Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, Doug Hall’s Jump Start Your Business Brain, and Paul Sloane’s The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills.

Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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