See Stephen Speak about Goal-Free Living on PBS

January 31, 2008

Are you in the Mt. Pleasant, Michigan area?

If so, tune in to WCMU-TV Sunday night, February 3, at 11:30 PM. I am interviewed on the PBS television show, “Between the Lines.”

This 30 minute show is dedicated to “Goal-Free Living.”

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Quote of the Day

January 31, 2008

Goals are for the future. Values are now. Goals are set. Values are lived. Goals change. Values are rocks you can count on.” From Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles

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Traits of a Great Leader

January 30, 2008

Hillary Clinton and Barack ObamaWhen you think of great leaders, what traits come to mind? Honest? Competent? Inspirational? Courageous? Fair? Looks like a leader?

Although that last one is typically not found on lists of leadership characteristics, looks may be related to one’s leadership style.

In an interesting article published in The Economist, researchers found that students could determine a person’s leadership traits just by looking at a photograph of them. Here are some excerpts (please note that British spellings have been retained):

Dr Ambady and Mr Rule showed 100 undergraduates the faces of the chief executives of the top 25 and the bottom 25 companies in the Fortune 1,000 list. Half the students were asked how good they thought the person they were looking at would be at leading a company and half were asked to rate five personality traits on the basis of the photograph. These traits were competence, dominance, likeability, facial maturity (in other words, did the individual have an adult-looking face or a baby-face) and trustworthiness.

The results of their study…show that both the students’ assessments of the leadership potential of the bosses and their ratings for the traits of competence, dominance and facial maturity were significantly related to a company’s profits.

Sadly, the characteristics of likeability and trustworthiness appear to have no link to company profits, suggesting that when it comes to business success, being warm and fuzzy does not matter much (though these traits are not harmful).

Be sure to read the entire Economist article.  The article provides some fascinating insights into our perceptions of leaders and the qualities of good leaders.

How Important is Likability in Leadership?

[Read more]

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Want What You Have

January 28, 2008

I was just having a conversation with a good friend of mine. She’s currently in a bit of a funk because life is not turning out the way she expected. From an external perspective, she has an incredible life. But that doesn’t matter. She is still not happy. As we continued the conversation, we discovered that her expectations were the primary source of her disappointment.

Then, with her permission, I read her a brief passage from my Goal-Free Living book. It seemed to strike a chord with her and she requested that I start recording passages from the book for my blog.

Here is the first of many “5 minute motivational moments.” Today’s installment is from the chapter entitled, “Want What You Have.”

Click the play button to listen now or you can download the file to your computer using the link below.

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Download the mp3 (right click and “save target as” to download to your computer)

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Slowness + Purpose = Creativity

January 25, 2008

Christopher Richards, the author of an interesting article, suggests that the secret to creativity is slowing down. He implies that our best ideas emerge when we are in a relaxed state. In the article, Richards said that “Ex-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan wrote most of his latest book while soaking in the bathtub.” Could be.

In my book, Goal-Free Living, I discussed ways of being more creative by tapping into something beyond the conscious mind. I wrote:

How do you shift your focus? How can you trust that the path you are on is the right one for you? There is no easy answer, but there are ways to help hear your inner voice. The word Mushin is used extensively in Japan. It means silent mind, empty mind. A mind that is void of thought patterns and mental chatter. The ability to listen to that inner voice is critical on the journey to self-awareness. It is said that Aristotle used to lie in bed with a ball in his hand so that when he would fall asleep the ball would drop and bang a copper plate below. The noise would wake him up, keeping him in a quasi state of sleep and consciousness. This is where he generated his best ideas and insights.

One of the people I interviewed during my travels, Doug Stevenson from Chicago, Illinois, told me of a similar situation he once personally encountered. “One night in college I was agonizing over a paper I was writing about Norman Mailer and Truman Capote. I wanted to describe a new type of writing that was a hybrid of journalism and fiction. I struggled for hours, thinking it through, but could not put anything coherent or interesting on paper. Then, I remember having this flash of insight at 3 a.m. I had been working on it for so long, that my logical left brain went to sleep. That’s when my creative right brain woke up—or at least it started to speak loud enough to be heard. My mind exploded and I wrote the perfect paragraph that summed up the entire paper. From there, the paper was born quickly and effortlessly. Once my rational self left the room, everything came together quickly.”

One “creative free-thinker” I know in England likes to take his team to Stonehenge as a way of relaxing and expanding their mind.

Purposeful Creativity

Although creativity can’t be forced, it must be purposeful. This is comically demonstrated in the IBM Ideating commercial above. Sitting on your butt does not get you new ideas. It is a process.

In the article, Richards describes how during that incubation stage of an idea, slowness is key. He gives a nice example of this “goal-free” approach in action. He said, “Our founder gets a vague idea, a gut feeling or intuition. Once the ‘half-baked’ idea surfaces, she mulls it over. This stage is necessarily purposeless. It’s more about discovery than goal orientation. The idea may even be forgotten, but there are underlying processes going on all the time.”

Richards says this stage is “necessarily purposeless.” I’m not sure I agree with that. Although the purpose is not to give birth to a specific idea, the purpose is incubation. The intention of something creative must be there. If not, the IBM ad was scarily accurate. The best ideas are generated while “meandering with a purpose” – moving in a non-linear, unforced manner, while making forward progress.

Or, as Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc, once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect… connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Get Online Innovation Training

January 24, 2008

This week, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) released an online training version of my 24/7 Innovation book. The course includes all of the materials from the book plus a series of questions after each chapter to test your retention.

The cost is $100 and can be ordered online from the ASME website.

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Oscar Wilde Was Right

January 23, 2008

A recent blog entry of mine focused on how price impacts perception. Today’s topic is on how perception drives price. Many times, the cost of something is driven by what we paid in the past – even when the rules have changed.

Seth Godin recently wrote about how Apple will be charging $3 for online video rentals. This price is roughly what BlockBuster and others have charged in the past for their physical product. But with digital content, the rules have changed. Although productions costs are significantly less for downloadable videos (there are no manufacturing and distribution costs), the price remains the same.

What we paid in the past often drives what we are willing to pay in the future. Sadly, this not only robs consumers of better pricing, but it might also rob an industry of a game changing opportunity. If movie studios charged only $1 per rental, it might wipe out the piracy. I do like the new Netflix online streaming video model: unlimited viewing for one fixed price. Time will tell how this all shakes out.

The point is, price is often determined by what we paid in the past, not by value or even by production costs.

Oscar Wilde once said, “A cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”

I did an experiment a few years back. I called it PW3 – “Pay What We’re Worth.”

In determining the fees paid to a professional speaker, traditionally the speaker sets the rate before the work is done.

With PW3, as an experiment, I turned this model upside down. Instead of quoting a standard rate, the client would determine my fee after the work was done.

The plan was to send the client a blank invoice after I gave a speech, and they would pay “what I was worth.”

The only stipulation was that we would have a conversation about value up front. I wanted to learn the value they got from previous speakers. How were the concepts reinforced after the presentation? How were ideas implemented? How was value measured?

What I discovered was that Oscar Wilde was right. Companies were happy to pay me what they paid their last speaker or what they had in their budget. Discussions of value were often painful and fruitless.

The result? Nearly all of my clients that year opted to pay my standard rate.

Only one client applied a subjective value system. They surveyed all of the attendees after my speech. If I received a 5 out of 5, I would receive 100% of my standard fee. A 4 out of 5 would yield 80% and so on. Of course this is not a measure of real value.

In your life, how do you determine what you are willing to pay for goods and services? Is it based on what you paid in the past? Is it determined by how much money you have in your bank account? Or is it determined by the “real” value you receive?

In your business, how do you determine what you will pay your employees or consultants? Is it based on market rates (which may or may not be a determinant of value)? Is it based on your budget? Is it based on what you paid your last consultant? Or is it based on the “real” value you receive?

Don’t be fooled. Value and cost are not related. Stop being a cynic. Determine the value of everything – and decide what you pay based on that.

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Innovation Quotes of the Day

January 22, 2008

Man can only have a certain number of teeth, hairs, and ideas. There comes a time when he necessarily loses his teeth, his hair, and his ideas. – Voltaire

Ideas must work through the brains and arms of good and brave men, or they are no better than dreams. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats. - Howard Aiken

The human mind treats a new idea the same way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it. – P. B. Medawar

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Goals That Work

January 21, 2008

I recently received an email from a reader of this blog. He describes what he calls a “loophole” in the goal-setting process: either you achieve a goal and then invalidate it with counter-productive behaviors, or you see that a goal won’t be achieved so you give up totally. He then describes what works (something I suggest on this blog): setting a theme. Here are his thoughts.

I am still setting goals on 43things.com. Very difficult except for shopping list type goals like “buy a new hat”.

I’ve been sleeping 12 hours per day. I had set a goal to get up at 6am and have an afternoon nap. I’ve been doing exactly that, except I go back to bed at 7am until 11am! The other day I set a new goal: “have a morning productivity score of 80/100.” This all-or-nothing goal didn’t work because as soon as I knew I couldn’t reach 80 I let the whole thing go and scored 25.

Goals that have worked are like ongoing themes which are achieved when the first example of the theme is achieved.

One goal was “perform a miracle of friendship.” What I had in mind was that it would take a miracle for someone who wouldn’t make time for me to change their mind. However it was achieved in an immediate, unexpected way. Within a day I remembered a friend who keeps sending me his poetry and that I received some the day before. Previously I found it boring (and the opposite of “bored” in the Thesaurus is “caring”) then I realized I could write and send him a special poem just for him. It rhymed too.

I achieved the goal of performing a miracle of friendship and it will also be an ongoing theme.

This same concept holds true for organizations. Employees are not stupid. They will do what they need to in order to hit their performance targets – even if the end result is detrimental to the overall performance of the business. People are motivated by a clear sense of direction, purpose, vision, or theme. When individuals are incented to “do the right thing” rather than hitting targets, you will find increased creativity, improved performance, and a happier workforce.

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Increase the Price – Increase the Pleasure

January 18, 2008

I wrote a blog entry entitled, “How to Lose a Sale By Charging Too Little.” In it I describe why charging too little reduces the perception of value.

According to a recent Stanford Graduate School of Business study, there are biological reasons why price impacts perception.

Subjects were given a number of wines for tasting and were told their price. Some of the wines were given to tasters more than once, with a different price tag each time.

What did they find?

The same wine, when given a higher price tag, tasted better.

Surprisingly, according to fMRI scans, the pleasure centers of their brains light up more, even though the “taste” centers do not. The body knows the wine tastes the same.  Regardless, it is enjoyed more when it is more expensive.

“We have known for a long time that people’s perceptions are affected by marketing, but now we know that the brain itself is modulated by price,” said Baba Shiv, an associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and one of the authors of the study.

As the recession looms on the horizon, companies may be tempted to drop their prices to stay competitive. But there may be powerful biological reasons not to do so. Price can drive perception. And perception is reality.

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