Creativity as Inspiration

April 15, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie

After attending a session on creativity, I realized that the “old” definitions don’t work for me.

Creativity is something much more than “new ideas.” And it is not the same as innovation.

As you will see in this video, I believe it is about tapping into your inner wisdom.

Transcription coming soon…

Live, Listen, and Play Like a Kid

April 10, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

Today I had the honor of seeing my good friend, Ed Gerety, speak to 200 junior high school students. He was amazing.

What I found most interesting was the response from the audience.

I am used to speaking to corporations where the average age is probably 40 – 50. Here the average age was 12 – 13. There is a marked difference between these groups!

When Ed asked the student to do something, 100% participated (well, several of the teachers sat and stared blankly). When he asked them to do something that an adult might think as “silly,” the audience went wild with laughter. When he told moving stories that might generate “crickets” from an adult audience, he received gasps, cheers, and awwwwws from the teenagers. There was an unbelievable energy in the room. Everyone was hungry for Ed’s message.

When did we, as adults, become so jaded? When did we forget how to participate and play in life? When did we decide that “looking good” in front of others was more important than full self-expression? When did we become so arrogant that we know more than everyone else? When did we stop truly learning and living?

I was inspired by these students. I was tempted to call them “kids.” But after spending an hour with them, I realized that they are more adult than many adults.

Today, I encourage you to look at the world through the eyes of a teenager. Play. Laugh. Participate. Clap. Gasp. Show your full range of emotions.

As Ed said during his presentation, tell people you love them. Be thankful, every day, for what you have. Help others. Stand up for yourself.

I’ve attended a lot of seminars and training over the years. But spending 60 minutes with Ed and a couple hundred students was the most valuable education I have received in years.

P.S. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when working for a large organization. I presented to 400 executives in the morning followed by 200 high school students in the afternoon. The two audiences could not have been more different. I wrote about how to tap into your “inner innovation child” in an American Express OPEN Forum article. You can also read my article “Unleash Your Inner Innovator” (pdf). It appeared in a British Magazine 10 years ago.

The Sum of the Parts is Not Always Greater When Working in Teams

March 22, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

I was recently at a seminar where the instructor asked a very straightforward question of the participants; one that everyone in the room should have been able to readily answer.  However, what followed was complete silence.  Crickets.

Why is it that once we are assembled into a group such as this, despite having an answer, we often choose not to respond?

In my book Best Practices Are Stupid, I talk about collaboration versus competition, and how each is useful for different reasons as part of your innovation strategy.  While collaboration is essential for success, if not managed properly, it can come with significant drawbacks. One of the reasons I discuss is something called social loafing.

Social loafing is a proven phenomenon where individuals within the group assume that someone else will pick up the slack therefore exerting less effort.  In the case of the silence at my seminar, each participant knew that if they waited long enough, someone else would eventually respond. Or was the case, the instructor would give the answer,

This phenomenon has been proven out scientifically.

In an experiment conducted in the early 1900s, Max Ringelmann showed that individuals exerted more effort when working alone than when they worked collectively.  When he asked a group of men to pull on a rope, they did not pull as hard as a group, as they did when each was pulling on their own. While one plausible explanation was lack of coordination, subsequent research shows that it is more a function of motivation.

A study in the Journal of Management demonstrated that “at the individual level, increases in task interdependence and decreases in task visibility and distributive justice were associated with greater occurrence of social loafing. At the group level, increased group size and decreased cohesiveness were related to increased levels of social loafing.”

Another study examines the sucker effect, which “stems from the perceptions that others in the group are withholding, or intend to withhold, effort. Individuals who hold this perception then withhold effort themselves to avoid being played for a “sucker”.

This, like other studies, gives us a glimpse into what it takes to create productive teams:

  • People feel that they can “get lost” in groups.  Have each member stand out by dividing the workload in such a way that individuals can be evaluated on their own output. The less an individual feels his contributions will be noticed, the more likely he will participate in social loafing.
  • The larger the group size, the more tendency for social loafing.  Keep groups size to a minimum.
  • Find activities that impact the intrinsic motivations of the individuals.  People tend to work harder when they are participating in something that they enjoy.

Both competition (individual work) and collaboration can be useful parts of any innovation strategy.

Avoid Target Fixation

March 11, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie

The military knows the dangers of something called “target fixation.” This is where you overly focus on the enemy, and as a result you subconsciously end up crashing right into them.

The same thing occurs in business. When we focus on the enemy (the competition) we subconsciously end up replicating what they do. This limits our thinking. Therefore, to be successful, we need to look elsewhere.

You can find the transcription here

Stop Being a Know-it-All (transcription)

March 5, 2013

Here’s the transcription of my Monday Morning Movie

Today, I want to talk about the power of, and importance of, being open to new ideas and feedback.

I just spent a weekend at a conference. It was a bunch of people learning about the speaking profession. I’ve been speaking for 20 years, and I’ve had my own business for over a dozen years. So I’ve heard a lot of advice over time.

We had breakout sessions where we got advice from the instructor and from others in the group about how we can improve our business. It was fascinating to listen and observe the way some people in the group solicited advice, and how they accepted that advice.

For example, there was one person in the group, her response to anything that was said was, “We thought about that before. We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work. We’re doing that right now.” In some cases, she’d say, “I knew you’d say that.”  I found it really interesting because I wondered if in the time that this individual was receiving feedback, whether or not she received any value at all. Basically, every response to every idea was, “We’ve done it. We’ve thought about it. We’ve tried it; didn’t work. We’re doing it. Knew you’d say that.” Interestingly, this was a person who’s relatively new to the profession.

There was another person who took their time and talked the entire time. When the timer went off, everybody just looked at each other and thought, “That was interesting.” There was no opportunity, no opening for feedback; no opening or opportunity for input.

Then, it was my turn.

I asked my question and then listened to everything as though it was the very first time I heard any of the advice before.  Even if I’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.  Even if I’ve thought about it before and decided not to do it.  Even if I’ve never tried it. It doesn’t matter, whatever was said, I was acting as though, and thinking as though, it was the first time I ever heard it.

I have to say, for me, it was a magical experience. Instead of my “being right” all the time, instead of having to be the expert who knows all the answers (which is what I tend to do in my profession), I acted as though I was the novice. I was the person who’s never thought of these things before. I gave up the need to have the answers. I gave up the need to look good in the eyes of others as the person who knows everything. Instead I just responded, “Wow. That’s a great idea. I have not thought about that before. Let me explore that.” This made it a very powerful experience for me.

Think about yourself. When you are engaging customers, colleagues, friends, or experts; how do you naturally respond? Are you the person who has the answers? Are you protecting what you look like by trying to always act as though you knew the answer already? Or, are you willing to be vulnerable? Are you able to put yourself out there and say, “I don’t know the answer; I really want advice”?  If you’ve heard something before, really listen to it as though it was the first time you’re hearing it.

Are you a great listener or are you a great talker? Do you try to impress everybody with what you know, or do you sort of state your challenge, which is your vulnerability, and just sit back and say, “Please help me”?

I’m absolutely convinced that successful business owners get so wrapped up in what that know – their identity of being the expert, the person who solved the problems before – that they don’t allow themselves to open up to the input of others.

If you were to get a bad review on Yelp, is your natural inclination to say, “Man, that person’s an idiot. If we tried to fix every single problem like that, we’d be out of business”? Or, do you say, “That’s really interesting. Thank you for the feedback”? It doesn’t mean you have to do anything with it. You can’t solve every single problem; that’s the reality of business. But if you are appreciative of all input – good, bad, and ugly – that has to put you in a better position. It has to open you up to new insights. It has to allow you to see things that you would not see if you were closed and thought that it was your way or the highway.

Think about your business. Think about the way you run it. Think about your interactions with people. Are you open? Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable? Are you gracious when people provide input to you? Or, is your response, “I’ve done that, I know that, I’m the expert”?

When you’re engaging people, do you have to be the one who talks, or can you be the one who listens? Can you be the one who throws out one of your concerns and just wait for people to make a contribution?

When you’re in a social group, are you always making yourself look good, or are you making others look good? Although it’s a slightly different conversation, I think it’s all related. Get into the habit of making others be the heroes – our clients, customers, colleagues, and friends. Make them feel great. Make the people who give you advice, feedback, or criticism feel great. This opens you up to a whole new set of ideas. And it makes you much more attractive to be around, which means you will attract more people into your life.

Stop Being a Know-it-All

March 4, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie

As an expert, or someone who is highly experienced in a particular field, it can be difficult to get advice from others. We have the bad habit of positioning ourselves as the individual who has seen it and done it all.

But this can limit our ability to receive valuable input.

Instead of having all of the answers, have better questions. Instead of talking all of the time, be a great listener. Instead of having to “look good” in the eyes of others, make others look good. Instead of having to be the expert, be the novice.

When you are open to any and all input, you will become even more masterful at your craft.

P.S. This video is a tad longer than most, coming in at 6 minutes. In the future, they will be between 2 and 4 minutes. You can read the transcription here.

Beam Me Up, Scotty

March 1, 2013

In my Monday Morning Movie, I talked about the Power of Positive Constraints and how implementing structure can help us become more creative.

Shortly after posting the video, a friend of mine, Brad Kolar, offered up a perfect example of an innovation derived from the Power of Positive Constraints:  The teleportation machine used in the Star Trek series, which led to the now famous line, “Beam me up, Scotty.”

According to, a transporter is a “device that converts objects or persons to energy, sends that energy to the destination, and reconstitutes the objects/persons back into matter.”

While this seems perfectly fitting as a Sci-Fi invention, in actuality, the concept itself was devised out of a constraint for both money and time.

According to a report in the Huffington Post, “the original series’ creators devised this shimmery special effect because they didn’t have the budget to show a spaceship landing on various planets.”  This would have required unfeasible and unaffordable sets and model filming.

In howtogeek, they illustrate the more cost/time effective method used for transporting the crew off the ship.  All that was required was a slow-motion camera inverted, backlighting, and some aluminum power (effects that can now be easily done with computer animation).

The constraints of time and money had this TV crew generate a piece of TV history that not only addressed their concerns, but will long outlive the great Captain Kirk himself.

As a side note: As famous as the catchphrase, “Beam me up, Scotty” was, sources indicate that the phrase was never uttered by anyone in the original series.

The Power of Positive Constraints (transcription)

February 27, 2013

Here’s the transcription of my Monday Morning Movie

This morning I want to talk about the power of positive constraints. In the world of innovation, there seems to be this belief that we’re supposed to let everybody be free thinkers and let them do whatever they want. But, this actually destroys innovation. We need structure. We need constraints.

I’ll give you a really simple example. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll notice that about a month ago, I made a bit of a change.

Now, instead of just writing whenever I feel inspired to write or writing about whatever I want to write about, I’ve created structure. Mondays, there’s always a Monday Morning Movie. Tuesday, there’ll always be the transcription of the movie, along with on some weeks, a Tuesday Travel Tip. Wednesday is my Wednesday Work Wisdom. Friday is my Friday Fun Fact. As a result, over the past month without fail, there has been a minimum of four blog entries and, in some weeks, I’ve had five or six.

If you turn back the clock, you’ll notice that when I didn’t have structure, when I didn’t have those positive constraints, there would be some weeks where I might have only one.  And there would be even a period of time where I wouldn’t write at all. So, constraints are actually a very good thing. First of all, because they give us a little bit of structure and it forces us to think a little more clearly around something. It gives us something to work around. But also, it sort of sets a tone for what we need to get done. If I’m committing to doing certain things every day, and I can do those constraints consistently, that’s very valuable.

And it’s not just about publicly declaring that on Monday, you can expect one of these videos. There’s another value that comes from having positive constraints…

It also reduces the level of thinking I need to do. This actually allows me to be more creative. If I gave you a blank sheet of paper and said, “Hey, come up with a great idea on how to improve your business,” you might come up with a lot of ideas. Probably, most of them would be pretty bad and I also suspect that you would struggle to come up with some great ideas.

On the other hand, if we worked on defining a really good problem statement – identifying what is the one area of your business where there is the greatest opportunity; identifying where you differentiate yourself from your competitors – that might actually give you even better results, more creativity, and even more value.

Constraints are not bad. We seem to think that we want people to “think outside the box,” but anybody who’s been following my work knows that I think instead, what we need is a better box (aka constraints).

Being organized; procedures; having a better box.

These are not bad things. These are things that will actually increase and enhance your level of creativity. So, look at an area in your life where you’re struggling to get things done.

Maybe part of the issue is confusion and a lack of clarity. Lack of clarity actually comes out of a lack of constraints. Constraints will give you clarity. Anytime that you feel stuck or confused, think about what structures you could put in place that would keep you accountable, that would keep you on track and keep you on target, and also improve your level of creativity.

When you start to think about positive constraints as a positive thing, I promise you, you will enhance your creativity massively.

The Power of Positive Constraints

February 25, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie…

We often think of constraints as being something bad. But actually they can be quite beneficial. They can help us get more done work more efficiently. And surprisingly, they can help us be more creative.

You can read the transcription here….

Innovating Masterminds (transcript)

February 19, 2013

Here is a transcript of yesterday’s Monday Morning Movie

When I started my business 12 years ago, one of the first things I did was join a mastermind group. Basically “mastermind” is just a fancy word for a group of people who come together that work on each other’s business.  So we learn from each other.  I’ve learned a number of things over the years in terms of what makes a good mastermind group. If you’re in a business and you want to learn from others, this is an awesome way.

For most of my career, I decided to mastermind with other professional speakers.  In the early days of my career this was great because I learned some of the basics and I learned some of the things that would have taken me much longer to learn. I was able to learn from people who’ve already done what I wanted to do.

But then I recognized something.  There is a point in every business where only hanging out with people who are in the same business is actually going to hold you back, because you start breathing the same oxygen.  You start thinking the same way.

Sometimes you want to breathe fresh ideas into your business; to think differently.

Just last weekend I got together with four other people in Las Vegas.  We had this great two-day mastermind.  We spent about an hour and a half on each person’s business and we dug really deep.

What was particularly cool about this mastermind is that instead of being composed of a bunch of speakers, we had a diverse group: someone who is in real estate, someone who works in multilevel marketing, someone who is in the printing business, and someone who had his own creativity space. And then there was me, the speaker. We also invited someone in who was an executive at Zappos for a while.  So we got a very interesting mix of people.  I learned a lot about business, and what would be valuable to my business, from this group of people.

Although I was shocked at how useful the input was, it really shouldn’t surprise me since my message around innovation is that we need to hang out with people who aren’t like us. But I have to say, I was still amazed to see the real power of getting a divergent group of people together that have a deep trust for one another and can share their open and honest opinions.  It was fantastic.

The other thing that we learned, which is an extremely important part of not just masterminding but innovation in general, is you have to know what question to ask.  Anybody who’s seen my work knows that I love to quote Einstein who reputedly said, “If had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.”  This is really important.  Even in a mastermind it is critical to make sure we’re asking the right question.  Sometimes even a small change in language can have a huge impact.

For example, one person might be thinking about starting a restaurant.  Now, that question – “What do I need to do to start a successful restaurant?” – implies the individual needs to worry about everything associated with starting a new business.  If we change the language slightly and ask – “What do I need to do to buy a successful restaurant? I don’t want all of the hassle of starting one from scratch.” – very different suggestions and ideas will pop up with that.  Or if the question is – “Instead of buying a restaurant, what if I became an advisor to other restaurants?  I want to be involved in restaurants but I don’t necessarily want all of the day to day work.” – well, that’s again a fundamentally different question.

What we found over and over in the course of the weekend is that if you’re asking the wrong question, all the advice you might get from someone is irrelevant.  So you want to make sure that you’re taking the time to really think about what matters.  What’s important?  What do you value?  Make sure your questions are framed accordingly.

The other thing that we learned is that sometimes, when you want to improve your business, you don’t want to hang out with people who are even in the world of business.

We spent a fair amount of time talking about personal development: things that have nothing to do with the success of our company but are about our own internal success.  How do we become better people? Live better lives? Be happier? Be more compassionate?

It is amazing how these types of things, these non-business activities, can have a huge impact on your business.  That’s why it’s really important for you – whatever your business, whatever your role is in business – to recognize that you don’t want to spend all of your time hanging out with people who think like you.

Don’t just go to industry conferences.  Don’t just go to conferences with people who have the same role or function as you.  Instead, find people who have fundamentally different types of businesses.  Find people who are in different parts of your business.  If you’re in HR, hang out with people who are in sales.  Learn from people who think differently.

And again, don’t just spend all of your time thinking about business.  Think about your life and what you want out of your life.  This will make you more powerful in everything you do.  This will then help you create a more successful business because you will be able to define success on your terms.

This is Stephen Shapiro, and I hope that you find a group of people who together will change your business and change your life through divergent points of view together.

P.S. I still mastermind with other speakers, and get incredible value. The point isn’t to stop spending time with people from your industry. I am suggesting that you need to balance that with individuals/groups from different industries, different functions, and different disciplines.

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