The Need For Chutzpah

June 30, 2012

“Nothing important was ever accomplished without chutzpah. Columbus had chutzpah. The signers of the Declaration for Independence had chutzpah. Don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself. Laugh at yourself, but don’t doubt yourself.” – Alan Alda (actor)


Complexity Simplified

June 27, 2012

Last December I saw Manuel Lima‘s excellent talk on The Power Of Networks at the RSA, emphasising visualisation aspects and opportunities.

The video above is a very interesting summary animation based on it. There’s alot of ideas crammed into the fast-moving 10 minutes! A very nice approach though.

Part way through the video he mentions the network complexity of the cod food web – see the picture below for the level of connectivity we’re talking about!

One idea that particularly interests me is that to benefit from this network-centric approach will be the ability to learn quickly and effectively from others in different disciplines and I’ve written on this challenge before: Interdisciplinary Mindsets.

For further information on networks, see for example here.

Other interesting animations from lectures at the RSA can be found here.

Being Phony

June 23, 2012

“If you’re phony, they will feel it in the farthest row of the arena. You have to really care. And you have to make yourself care time and time again.” – Tom Petty (musician)

Picture credit: here.

Balancing Intuition With Analysis

June 18, 2012

There’s a nice article in Innovation Excellence contrasting the roles of intuition and analysis in cultivating innovation. It features an interview with Roger Martin who writes on business matters for Business Week, The Washington Post and the FT.

“The most successful businesses in the years to come will balance analytical mastery and intuitive originality in a dynamic interplay that I call design thinking.” – Roger Martin

Some extracts are:

1. When it comes to innovation, what is the biggest challenge that you see organizations facing?

It is the dominance of analytical thinking which holds that unless something can be proven by way of deductive or inductive logic, it is not worthy of consideration or investment. No new idea in the world has been proven before being tried. So as long as analytical thinking is allowed to dominate, innovation is deeply and profoundly challenged.

6. People often talk about not having time to innovate. How can people find the time for themselves or their employees?

That is a lame argument. People have time to do anything for which they are passionate. People blame lack of time for every single thing that they think they would like to do but lack the sufficient passion for. Innovators innovate regardless of their environment. Some get fired for it and go somewhere else and start over again. A leader can make it harder or easier for employees to innovate. But the innovators innovate regardless and the non-innovators complain about the difficulty finding the time to innovate – regardless.

I strongly agree with this. Often people ask for ‘time and resources’ to develop ideas and if they don’t get them, simply give up.

In my experience, one quite effective way to develop rough ideas is to simply do as much as you can whenever you can (market research, rough designs, thinking things through in broad steps). This demonstrates passion and commitment which will influence and impress people.

If your manager is open to new approaches then he/she will discuss your ideas and could well be a useful first ‘sanity check’. If promising then the next step is to just go directly to someone who can make things happen. In my experience, this may cause a combination of shock and pleasant surprise eg Idea Helpers And Killers.

You can do this even if your manager is not supportive and you’re convinced you have a good idea – this relates to Point 1 above.

7. What skills do you believe that managers need to acquire to succeed in an innovation-led organization?

They need to nurture their originality. Very few people in life are good at anything without practice. If you practice mastery all your life, you will be masterful. If you practice originality, you will get good at innovation. Most managers spend their time deepening their mastery and not nurturing their originality. Over time, they become fearful of innovation.

This is a tricky one as managers are often judged on numbers and other analytical aspects. Even if originality is nominally being cultivated, it often gets transformed into ‘and what is the return’. It’s an interesting idea though to ‘practice originality’ with the idea of steadily improving – I guess this can be done and can be reasonably substantiated, at least descriptively.

8. If you were to change one thing about our educational system to better prepare students to contribute in the innovation workforce of tomorrow, what would it be?

Make art a required subject for as long as we make math a required subject. We send a powerful signal to students that analytics are important and artistry is not. Artistry is the foundation of innovation. Most technologists will never innovate a single thing because their training drove out any artistry from them.

This is a long term approach of course but it would be good as a first step to encourage people to think of the ‘arts with the sciences’ instead of the ‘arts or the sciences’.

Picture credit: here (related article).

Pizza Maths

June 17, 2012

Geeky but fun infographic!

Picture credit here.

How To Gag Innovation

June 15, 2012

Never Seconds’ first school-lunch photo, May 8, 2012. The tubular thing is mashed potatoes in a crust.

Demoralising story in Wired yesterday relevant to the UK school food saga:

For the past two months, one of my favorite reads has been Never Seconds, a blog started by 9-year-old Martha Payne of western Scotland to document the unappealing, non-nutritious lunches she was being served in her public primary school. Payne, whose mother is a doctor and father has a small farming property, started blogging in early May and went viral in days. She had a million viewers within a few weeks and 2 million this morning; was written up in Time, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and a number of food blogs; and got support from TV cheflebrity Jamie Oliver, whose series “Jamie’s School Dinners” kicked off school-food reform in England.

Well, goodbye to all that.

This afternoon, Martha (who goes by “Veg” on the blog) posted that she will have to shut down her blog, because she has been forbidden to take a camera into school.

I was greatly amused – and that’s the whole point of course – that they had to give an explanation (the tubular thing…) to go with the photo!

We anguish about getting kids to be enthusiastic about healthy, sustainable food — to not prefer the bad stuff, not waste the good stuff, and not be entitled little monsters who whine about when their next chicken nugget is arriving. And then a child emerges who, out of her own creativity and curiosity, does all of that, and gets other children around the world excited about doing it too. And then she gets told she is offending the powers that be, and is slapped down.

On a much more positive note:

If you’d like to tell the Argyll and Bute Council, who made the decision, exactly how idiotic they’ve been, their webpage is here. (And they are @argyllandbute on Twitter.)

If you’d like to send support to Martha, you can leave a comment on her final post. (Her email is on the same page.)

And if you’d like to honor her ingenuity by supporting the school-food charity she picked, the donation page is here.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out.

Update. That’s fast – they’ve now rescinded the ban!

From The Guardian:

Less than two hours after releasing a strongly-worded broadside calling Martha Payne’s pictures of the sometimes meagre and unappealing meals on offer at her primary school misleading, Argyll and Bute council had a change of heart.

Roddy McCuish, the council leader, told BBC Radio 4 that he had ordered an immediate reverse of the ban, imposed earlier this week. He said: “There’s no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute council and there never has been and there never will be.

“I’ve just instructed senior officials to immediately withdraw the ban on pictures from the school dining hall. It’s a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I’ve certainly done that.”


Incorporate Learning In Your CV Not Just Outcomes

June 11, 2012

Jobs are scarce these days, so it’s surprising that

Dyson is currently on the look out for 100 graduates and 100 experienced engineers. The roles have been advertised since February, but just a quarter have been filled despite receiving plenty of good applications.

In the article on applying for engineering jobs at Dyson, the importance of clearly communicating ‘what you learned and how this helped you progress’ comes out large and clear. The learning is much more than just repeating an anodyne lessons learned from the end of a (glowing) project but rather an honest appraisal of the twists and turns that happen in real life and from which real progress emerges.

I’m not looking for a final project that’s fully polished. I’m looking for something where they’ve learned something during the process. Maybe, where they are not answering the question they were starting to ask themselves at the beginning.

This approach applies to older, more experienced candidates as well as new starters.

Some of the best job applications he has seen come from candidates who can show a dedicated portfolio of work, detailing the “journey” of design concepts and sketches through to the finished product, documenting how things have changed along the way.

They give five tips for getting a job at Dyson – I’ve rewritten them slightly as I believe they apply to many jobs where creativity and imagination are important:

  • Send a brief portfolio of your work alongside your CV when applying for jobs
  • Demonstrate what you’ve learned during projects rather than the final outcome
  • Show, where possible, how you have tried to improve your idea or approach
  • Get involved in industry-relevant clubs to enhance skills and contacts
  • Be ready to talk about what projects, big or small, you get up to from your own home

From the above, you can see that a balanced combination of creativity, learning and determination is required as well as a big dollop of honesty!

Picture credit: here.