Here’s a great quote from Steve Case in today’s New York Times:
“I do believe in vision. I do believe in big ideas. I do believe in tackling problems that are complex and fighting battles that are worth fighting, and also trying to, in my case, create companies or back companies. That can change the world. The vision thing is really important — but the execution thing is really important, too. Having a good idea is not enough. You’ve got to figure out some way to balance that and complement that with great execution, which ultimately is people and priorities and things like that. You have to strike the right balance. If you have those together, I think anything is possible. If you don’t have both of them working together in a complementary, cohesive way, you’re not going to be successful.”
I completely agree with this. There are many times in my career where I had a great vision for a product or company, but I didn’t follow through with strong enough execution, and the idea or company failed, but not because it wasn’t a great idea. In fact, I believe that GREAT execution, often with only a mediocre idea, can win in the marketplace. Although great execution is so very hard, I believe it can be achieved with effort, and without luck, and therefore is actually more predictable than a great idea or an idea with perfect timing.
Innovation has been around since the early days of civilization, and the processes have evolved from lone crusaders – Edison comes to mind – to the independent teams holed up in the back rooms of medium- and large-scaled organizations, such as early adopters like Ford. And lately, having customers actively participate in coming up with new ideas. Indeed, innovation approaches have changed and taken on many different forms very rapidly over the past 150 years.
The latest approaches have evolved into what we call “innovation co-creation (ICC),” where all the relevant stakeholders are participating across the value chain. And this approach is not just about a one-sided contribution model — as in “give me your ideas and then we will figure out what to do with them” — but a more collaborative engagement, with greater interaction and intensity of participation among creators, from generation, selection, incubation, and eventually, even to marketing the new product or service.
The evolution of these approaches is driven and, in turn, is impacted by several factors. One of them is the increase in the number of collaborators and the numerous interactions among them, across each stage of development. The numbers and interactions have grown from one innovator with a small team, to multiple large (few tens of members) teams within an organization, to larger (several hundred members) external participants, particularly customers, and so on. Today, we see a greater diversity of individuals, functions across organizations and stakeholders (companies, academia, government, NGO’s, etc.) across the ecosystem getting involved. And finally all of these newer interactions are occurring at the boundary intersections of individuals and organizations.
This evolving model needs several new ways of managing the creative chain. There are several unanswered questions. We will need to figure out how to keep the large and diverse set of participants engaged, how to share the risks and value of innovation, how to manage complexity of this system without laying out too many constraints, and how to manage flow of information and activity across the boundaries where the degree of trust is yet to be established.
Do you have answers to these questions? Would love to hear your view on this.
It’s one of the most dreaded moments in the life of a creative person. The muse packs her bags, walks out the door, and doesn’t leave word as to when she’ll come back. Many of us, myself included, sink into a deep, dark despair filled with doubt and worry. Does she just need a weekend away, or has she gone on a round-the-world cruise? Hell, was she ever there in the first place, or have you been deluding yourself in thinking that you were actually talented.
The easy thing to do, especially when a deadline is looming, is to lose perspective. The harder but much more productive mindset is to realize that you–and virtually everyone you respect and admire–have overcome blocks in the past. You might even say that it’s part of the process. So have a lot of successful people you think never have such problems producing work. “Anyone who tells you they don’t encounter creative block is either not passionate about what they do or is stealing someone else’s ideas,” asserts the graphic designer Mike McQuade. He, along with 89 others, from Nicholas Felton to Debbie Millman, have contributed their encouraging words to Breakthrough!, a new book edited by Alex Cornell compiling advice on how to clear creative hurdles. Most seem to agree with this strategy: When you hit a wall, don’t stew; change course. And as soon as you find yourself engaging in some other activity and forgetting the muse, she just might reappear.
Here are some more suggestions for sparking inspiration, ranging from checking into a fancy hotel to just checking out.
—Aaron Koblin, digital-media artist They say an elephant never forgets. Well, you are not an elephant. Take notes, constantly. Save interesting thoughts, quotations, films, technologies . . . the medium doesn’t matter, so long as it inspires you. When you’re stumped, go to your notes like a wizard to his spell book. Mash those thoughts together. Extend them in every direction until they meet.
Your notebook is feeling thin? Then seek assistance and find yourself a genius. Geniuses come in many shapes and colors, and they often run in packs. If you can find one, it may lead you to others. Collaborate with geniuses. Send them your spells. Look carefully at theirs. What could you do together? Combination is creation.
Beware of addictive medicines. Everything in moderation. This applies particularly to the Internet and your sofa. The physical world is ultimately the source of all inspiration. Which is to say, if all else falls: take a bike ride.
—Sean Freeman, illustratorFor me the best way to overcome creative block is with space, going for a walk, distancing myself from the desk. When I’m walking I can think things through, and I talk it through too, with myself and with whoever is nearby. There’s really something to be said for the adage “a problem shared is a problem halved,” even if you’re talking aloud to yourself.
—Claire Dederer, writerThis only works if you are a little on the cheap side.
Check into an expensive hotel for three nights. It’s good if it’s near the airport or some other deeply boring location. Bring whatever you need to get hopped up: candy, bourbon, coffee, nicotine patches. Also, pants with an elastic waist. And a stack of books that you love but that you have read at least twice already. Once you’ve checked in, give the remote to the front desk and instruct them not to give it back to you, no matter how much you beg.
Now. Write ten thousand words. If you feel blocked, just think about all the money you’re wasting, sitting there, staring into space like an idiot.
—Debbie Millman, writer and artist1. Get enough sleep! Sleep is the best (and easiest) creative aphrodisiac.
2. Read as much as you can, particularly classics. If a master of words can’t inspire you, see number 3.
3. Color code your library. This is fun, and you will realize how many great books you have that you haven’t read yet.
4. More sleep! You can never get enough.
5. Force yourself to procrastinate. Works every time!
6. Look at the work of Tibor Kalman, Marian Bantjes, Jessica Hische, Christoph Niemann, and Paul Sahre.
7. Weep. And then weep some more.
8. Surf the Web. Write inane tweets. Check out your high school friends on Facebook. Feel smug.
9. Watch Law & Order: SVU marathons. Revel in the ferocious beauty of Olivia Benson.
10. Remember how L-U-C-K-Y you are to be a creative person to begin with and quit your bellyaching. Get to work now!
—Nicolas Felton, information designerI tend to say yes to more than I can do, and the fear of failure keeps the work flowing. When I’m really at a loss–when it feels like my designs are simply circling the drain–I will leave the office. There’s no point in trying to blindly bump into a solution, so whether it’s sketching in the park or reading a book, I avoid trying to use brute force–it’s like trying to get rid of the hiccups.
—Camm Rowland, creative director at Digital KitchenSome people get all of their best ideas in the shower. Others swear by coffee shop visits or vintage shopping. Personally, I get lots of ideas on airplanes. Maybe it’s the drone of the engine muting my surroundings that helps me concentrate or the fact that I am blissfully unreachable via e-mail for at least a couple of hours. Similarly, I tend to get a lot of good thinking done when I’m on a long drive. The monotony of the road can be very meditative.
Now, if all this mind-clearing business isn’t your cup of tea, why not try coffee–right before bed. It’ll do the opposite of everything I’ve described thus far and likely turn that mental traffic jam into a high-speed demolition derby. Of course, the suggestion of laying in the dark for hours with your pulse and mind racing is terrible medical advice–but hey, I’m not a doctor. Take notes. In the morning, 75 percent will be unintelligible, 20 percent will be laughable, and 5 percent might actually be pretty awesome.
—Daniel Dennett, Professor of PhilosophyMy strategy for getting myself out of a rut is to sit at my desk reminding myself of what the problem is, reviewing my notes, generally filling my head with the issues and terms, and then I just get up and go do something relatively mindless and repetitive. At our farm in the summer, I paint the barn or mow the hayfield or pick blueberries or cut firewood to length; and at home in Massachusetts in the winter, I rake leaves or shovel snow or clean the basement floor. I don’t even try to think about the problem, but more often than not, at some point in the middle of the not very challenging activity, I’ll find myself mulling it over and coming up with a new slant, a new way of tackling the issue, maybe just a new term to use.
One summer many years ago, my friend Doug Hofstadter was visiting me at my farm, and somebody asked him where I was. He gestured out to the big hayfield behind the house, which I was harrowing for a reseeding. “He’s out there on his tractor, doing his tillosophy,” Doug said. Ever since then, tillosophy has been my term for this process. Try it; if it doesn’t work, at least you’ll end up with a painted room, a mowed lawn, a clean basement.
—Khoi Vinh, graphic designer and writerLots of reading and lots of sketching. The reading part is a long-term strategy: constantly consuming ideas, influences, details, angles, metaphors, symbols, etc., and storing them in the back of your brain so that later on–sometimes much later on–you have a rich catalog of starting points to draw from. Sketching is a way to activate all of that background information when faced with a problem: the act of drawing, of giving visual expression to many different ideas, helps you sort through all of those random elements and to make unexpected connections between them. The key is to sketch quickly, without getting caught up in the execution or technique. That way you stay in the realm of content, without getting bogged down.
—Robert Andersen, product designer at SquareIf you’re stuck in the middle of the design, it probably means that you’re not asking enough questions. Who is the audience? What do they feel? What do they desire? What will improve their life and create joy? How do other designers tackle similar problems? At the core of every successful design is a set of simply defined constraints that you measure your ideas against. It’s all about determining the soul of a product before laying down the first pixel or pen stroke.
—J. C. Herz, writer (commencement speech delivered at the Ringling College of Art and Design, 2011)There are two main reasons why creative people get stuck on a piece of work. The first is you don’t actually have an idea. You may have requirements, and you may have tools. But you don’t actually have an idea that’s going to carry the day, and you’re going to be stuck until you get a solid idea. The second reason creative people get stuck is that, while they have the idea, executing the idea takes a lot of work, and not all of that work is fun, and basically you don’t want to do the work, because having the idea in the first place was the fun part. If you’re balking at the work, you need to stop playing around, sit down, shut up, go off-line, focus single-mindedly on executing the work, and make it real. In either case, if you try to solve one problem when you’re really having the other, you’re going to waste a lot of time.
—Lotta Nieminen, graphic designer and illustratorMy biggest revelation in terms of overcoming creative block was realizing that my best pieces were the outcomes of my biggest struggles. The ones with which I had spent countless hours staring at a wall or crying about how nothing in this piece made sense. Coming to realize these ruts were actually crucial to performing better and coming up with more innovative and less predictable results completely changed my take on them. Now, when I hit a creative dead end, I overcome it by seeing it as an opportunity to rethink, re-evaluate, and make something great.
Excerpted with permission from Alex Cornell’s Breakthrough! 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block & Spark Your Imagination (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Buy the book for $11 here.
Wed, 5 Sep 2012 | By Rosie Baker
Volvo is launching an interactive digital outdoor campaign that invites consumers to design a personalised version of its V40 car.
Consumers can choose from a range of colours, alloys, interior using a digital outdoor screen. They will then be shown an interpretation of their personality based on the design choices they made.
Content created by users will then be featured on digital outdoor screens at train stations around the UK.
The outdoor campaign, created by EHS4D and Grand Visual, uses interactive digital outdoor screens placed at sites such as bus stops where there is a long dwell time.
Drivers are also offered the opportunity to win a test drive in return for their email information.
Kylee Rush head of brand engagement at Volvo Car UK, says: “Volvo’s Scandinavian origins provide a unique opportunity to explore the simplicity in design and to create vehicles that are designed around people – and this campaign is a brilliantly engaging example of how we’re bringing that to life.
“It allows people to easily interact with the All-New Volvo V40, and personalise the car to their own taste. It clearly communicates the capacity for consumers to individualise and hone their Volvo V40 to make it their own.”
The campaign is in line with Volvo’s “Designed around You” global marketing strategy that aims to build on the brand Scandinavian heritage by designing vehicles around people and personalities.
Absolutely love the succinct opening… so true and reminded me of an article “25 Steps to Entrepreneurial Success” http://www.dramatispersonae.org/TwentyFiveSteps.htm
Sense of urgency….not sure where I picked up this phrase, but has served me well as a corporate instigator of innovation and in my 2nd successful start-up.
Wake up everyday knowing that there are 25 brilliant minds in a garage somewhere working on the same idea..
BY Expert Blogger Aaron Shapiro | 04-16-2012 | 9:30 AM
These days, every established company is at risk of having its industry–and its own business–disrupted by a startup. Cognizant of this, companies devote a lot of time to talking about how important it is to innovate. But here’s the truth: most companies can’t innovate because everyone is paid to maintain the status quo.
This is the single biggest reason companies fail to do anything new or exciting. You and everyone else are maxed out making sure your company is doing what it’s supposed to do; innovation is what the weekends are for.
Despite the real risk involved, this actually makes sense. Companies are set up to do one thing very well. That’s the business they’re in. All of the roles in the company are defined and structured to create the best environment for doing that one thing as efficiently as possible. The number of people employed by the company fluctuates with the workload. More work, more people. Too many people and too little work means layoffs or mismanagement. Success is doing the same thing you’ve always done, just a little bit better, achieving just a few more sales or shaving a hair off of costs. Change is discouraged by time constraints and the stifling number of approvals needed. Failure is punishable by pink slip. Every day is the same.
Yet, today, your entire industry can change in the space of a headline. If your business can’t innovate, it won’t survive when the startup in the garage across town that doesn’t have to answer to your shareholders does all the things legal has been telling you that you can’t do, all the things that you don’t have time for. It’s never been more urgent to stop talking about innovation and actually start doing things differently. And, with digital, the opportunities have never been greater. Instead of innovating on your weekends, overcome the structural impediments and time constraints to real change by approaching innovation from two directions: outside-in and inside-out.
“Outside-in,” when not based on acquisition, often comes in the form of a skunkworks project. It’s colloquially defined as a startup funded by the parent company, but kept separate from the dysfunction and sluggishness of the whole, in order to incubate great technological advancements. I’ve referenced this tactic before, as the first step big businesses should take to evolve their organizational structures. Google, JetBlue, NBCUniversal, and News Corp. have all used the strategy.
Here’s the recipe:
Set the right goals. A skunkworks project should be tasked with developing a new, specific tech product or service.
Give the team freedom to create. Bureaucracy, office politics, and the aforementioned requirement to keep the ship sailing straight ahead all slow down and inhibit big advancements. To succeed, the skunkworks team must be kept free from these deterrents.
Appoint separate senior management. Management by committee is not an option. The quickest route to failure is slow decision making. The skunkworks team should report directly to a senior-level executive who is authorized to green-light initiatives that are separate from the company’s main purpose and to implement these new solutions.
Choose a separate location. The team should not be housed in the corporate headquarters. Ideally, it should live nearby, but in some cases, it needs to be in a completely different location to be able to access the right talent. When Johnson & Johnson decided to build a unit oriented to design, creativity, and technology, the division planted a flag in an old industrial building in a trendy neighborhood in New York. Its corporate headquarters are in suburban New Jersey.
Mix up the staff. The staff should be a healthy hybrid of high-performing internal employees and newbies, so that some participants are familiar with the company’s core business while others have an open mind and fresh ideas.
Give it time. Really well-developed products often take a year from the time people start working on them until launch. You can get things done in six to nine months, but it’s unusual, especially if the team refines it with iterative improvements.
Bring it back into the fold. Once the project is complete, skunkworks team members should move back in with the parent company. They either become a distinct department or are dispersed throughout the company, in order to effectively run and manage the particular product.
On the other hand, “inside-out” innovation is all about incentivizing existing staff members to be revolutionary within their own jobs. The most important ingredients are largely cultural:
Freedom to fail. Traditionally, companies are averse to risk, so if you fail at something, it hurts your career. But to innovate, you need to be able to try new things without risking your livelihood. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
Free time. Performance evaluations for managers should include assessment of the volume and quality of new ideas they brought to the table. If the company’s priority is solely productivity, no one will have time to think about creating something new, let alone bring it to life.
Training. An office that encourages and facilitates education openly admits there’s room to grow and inspires people take that leap.
The risk involved in these changes is less than the risk of not making them. Innovation is outside the comfort zones of most businesses–but so is Chapter 11.
[Image: Flickr user Derrick Collins]