Public persona (jmcarlin) Wed 27 Jun 07 20:39
Catching up on all the posts so far caused me to reflect on my work experiences. The phrase "think outside the box" has often used in the same sense as you use "innovate". I suppose the box image is supposed to be evocative, but I've found that if you really try to do so you run into the organizational double bind about needing to follow the established procedures. And, if woe betide you, some idea causes a problem, the result is ever more bureacracy. I'm not sure why, but it seems that too many people don't learn the lesson that bureaucracy does not solve problems. Instead when the problems persist, more bureaucracy is added on. To a different point, I've been impressed about how Google is operating. They seem to have a way, in Google labs, that ideas can be tried out. However, I suspect that internally the same old story is being reinvented with ever more structure as they grow and mature, but at least there they still appear to have a way of allowing at least some creativity to be expressed.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 27 Jun 07 21:29
"think outside the box" This is a cliché almost as common now as litter. When cats do this, it's "stink outside the box."
Get Shorty (esau) Wed 27 Jun 07 22:51
I think a more useful version of that cliche is "rethink the box." Redefining -- or at least re-examining -- the constraints you're working within can move you well along the road to something valuable. Are you asking the right questions? Who is asking, and who is answering?
Christian Crumlish (xian) Thu 28 Jun 07 00:29
Or, as my friends from nForm like to do with their clients "design the box" as a way of freely envisioning a final product...
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Thu 28 Jun 07 09:51
In the course on creative thinking I teach, we talk about "thinking outside the box". It comes from a brain-teaser puzzle (http://www.sangraal.com/library/outside_the_box.htm) and I agree with MacFarlane, it's a cliché of clichés. You rarely hear people who are creative saying it. The framework I use in the course is this: ideas are combinations. And we have inhibitions about trying certain combinations. Thinking out of the box means simply to question assumptions and go to strange, different, unique places. Problem is we're taught from parents/schools/bosses to stay in boxes. Most of us have trouble turning those filters off and thats where the course, or creative thinking games come in. So I agree with esau - creativity, in part, is redefining constraints and learning how flexible they are, if we're not afraid to play.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Thu 28 Jun 07 10:41
Certainly that's always been my belief as a designer -- that part of the design process is a very clear understanding of the "box", that is, the constraints on the work. In my experience, without a clear understanding of the constraints, all thinking is muddy. "What if we did X?" "I'm not sure we can do that." With a clear understanding of the constraints (this has to work on tiny screens, this must be waterproof, the owner's husband drew the ugly logo and it has to be used as large as possible) the design process can be very crisp, sometimes even drawing inspiration from the constraints.
Get Shorty (esau) Thu 28 Jun 07 10:54
So, Scott, I'm interested in your path, and how it led to you teaching, consulting, and writing a book on innovation. You worked on the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft, an experience that perhaps allowed you to see both the good and the bad aspects of project management and "creativity management." My sense is that most authors on innovation come from the consulting and management world, but you seem to have spent your time in the trenches working on an influential design project. How did you make the leap?
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Thu 28 Jun 07 11:46
It's hard to be concise about this as like all career stories it's complicated :) In short: I love making things, writing and teaching. I spent about a decade making things or managing the making of things, so it's natural that I'd write and teach about how to do that well. I was very lucky to come to Microsoft in 1994 and start on the early days of Internet Explorer, and be near the center of the birth of the web. I worked with some great people and learned how to manage and design from some true rock stars. I can't say the same for the 2nd half of my career at Microsoft, but context is everything. I wouldn't know how lucky I was if I hadn't been kicked around a few times too.
Get Shorty (esau) Thu 28 Jun 07 14:51
I thought as much! Learning from failure, etc. One lesson I enjoyed reading was about setting out to make a disruptive techology, which is foolhardy at best. As you say, Tim Berners-Lee didn't set out to transform communication and entertainment when he "invented" the World Wide Web (typing that phrase out feels practically Victorian). I saw Guy Kawasaki speak recently, and he also made pointed out that most sure winners only look that way in retrospect -- or else he and every other VC would be rich beyond imagining. Luck plays such a large role in whether a perfectly wonderful products or services gets noticed let alone adopted, how can anyone ever set out to change the world?
Ludo, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Thu 28 Jun 07 15:41
I recall a book called "Synectics" that investigated the creative process. One concept that struck me was the idea of a (possibly) absurd idea as an intermediate state to getting a real advance. Scott, are you aware of the book (about 1970) and or the idea of absurdity as one means to a practical advance?
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Thu 28 Jun 07 16:28
Luck is a tricky word. I think it's best to think of it this way: There are: 1. Factors within your control 2. Factors out of your control you can be aware of 3. Factors out of your control you can't forsee 2 & 3 are very different. You can make bets about #2 and try to plan for responses to things. So separating "luck" into things you can speculate about and try to account for, and those you can't can help. But more importantly, if innovation were easy everyone would be doing it. I think what draws many people to entrepreneurship and invention is that they want to think big and take some chances. They're not sure what will happen and want to test all of their talents & passions. If the outcome were certain, they'be bored.
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Thu 28 Jun 07 16:32
I'm familiar with the word synectics - though i'm not sure if I've seen the book or not. Absurdity works for this reason: ridiculous ideas reduce our inhibitions. We don't apply the normal constraints and allow ourselves to be silly, absurd, crazy, increasing the # of combinations of ideas we're willing to play with. There are other ways to do this, but one game I've used is to say "What is the possible product we can make" and brainstorm on that. It always gets people laughing, it's so bizzare that people feel safe offering crazy ideas, and then before you know it, you find a really bad idea that can easily be flipped around into a very interesting *good* idea.
bill braasch (bbraasch) Fri 29 Jun 07 15:28
One of the best things your book helped me appreciate was the number of variables that can go out of control during innovation. We all put some time in there for the learning curve, but nobody expects the SPANISH INQUISITION, or the overhead of various styles of project management (your blog on that was almost painful but still funny), the realities of the market, the cost of sales and marketing, or the mid-life crisis that has the marketing guy in Europe when the market is in the US. It makes it all so much more wonderful to get something in the box when these events somehow fit into the scheme and it all works anyway. Looks like everyone took today off to go read the book. I'm creating Powerpoint slides. What advice would you give the market driven technologist about human nature and where it goes on these gannt charts?
Get Shorty (esau) Fri 29 Jun 07 15:43
Einstein supposedly said, "If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." Absurd ideas help break the ice in brainstorms, and it's always easier to take silly ideas and bring them back down to earth than to take safe ideas and make something wild and different from them. But what then? You take a previously inhibited, "uncreative" team and teach them them some techniques for generating innovative ideas. They identify a topic and write 200 ideas on the white board. Not what? How can you get them to recognize the cream of their ideas, and how do you get them to avoid groupthink?
Get Shorty (esau) Fri 29 Jun 07 15:44
Bill slipped in!
thinking outside the pants (xian) Fri 29 Jun 07 17:03
Someone taught me an interesting format for brainstorming called Sacred Cow brainstorming. (Easier with a diagram but...) You put the project in the center of the white board and ring it with brief staments of the known constraints of the project. Then for each limitation you imagine what its opposites are, without regard to feasability. Maybe the screen doesn't have to be that size, maybe the user doesn't want to be able to seach, etc. Mostly you get nonsense, but sometimes you end up testing and finding a flaw in a perceived limitation. THen again, one of my clients called it a constraints-validation exercise.
bill braasch (bbraasch) Sat 30 Jun 07 07:45
I worked with a fellow once who would listen to a design and then ask, 'what can go wrong?'. that would get us to question assumptions, which he would help us do. bob stahl was his name. he taught interface design for a while. one of his lines was "the principle of least astonishment should lead interface design'. I still think of that when I see someone astonished by an interface that I understand from my perch further up the experience curve.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sat 30 Jun 07 08:29
sacred cow... least astonishment... taking notes... great stuff.
Get Shorty (esau) Sat 30 Jun 07 11:02
One simple technique that's valuable in getting people to turn an complaints into ideas is How Might We? Pick a topic, like cleaning the oven or moving apartments, and for all the observations you make -- I hate leaning over and reaching to the back, I hate carrying the couch through doorways -- turn it into a question: How Might We create a tool to clean the back of the oven? HMW change the couch to make it easier to carry? Potentially everything becomes a positive statement this way.
bill braasch (bbraasch) Sat 30 Jun 07 13:24
How might we run off the project manager?
Paul B. Israel (pauli) Sat 30 Jun 07 15:06
<scribbled by pauli Sat 30 Jun 07 15:15>
streaming irreverent commentary (pauli) Sat 30 Jun 07 15:16
Turned out I didn't have much internet access while I was out of town so I'm still trying to get caught up with the discussion. I just picked up your book Scott and plan to spend some time with it this weekend.
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Sat 30 Jun 07 16:57
> What advice would you give the market driven > technologist about human nature and where it > goes on these gannt charts? I'd say open your eyes. Gannt charts do little if your team doesn't trust each other. Charts and graphs are fictions if people don't believe in what they're making, or can't convince others to try what they've made. My bias is waaay on the side of human factors. Science and analysis are great, but the true stories of why things happen have more to do with what's between the numbers and facts than the numbers and facts themselves.
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Sat 30 Jun 07 17:00
> But what then? You take a previously inhibited, "uncreative" team and > teach them them some techniques for generating innovative ideas. > They identify a topic and write 200 ideas on the white board. Not > what? How can you get them > to recognize the cream of their ideas, > and how do you get them to avoid groupthink? Some things work in groups, others don't. If we have 200 ideas I'd pick 3 people, or possibly even one person, to go off and rank them. Categorize them. Someone has to take a stab at putting them into some kind of order and bring that order back to the group. My first book talks about one technique for doing this but there are plenty of others. Generally speaking, brainstorming meetings can be good for generating piles of ideas, but they stink for developing ideas into designs - you need smaller groups of people or individuals for that. To be fair, you can do some design tasks with a large group, but you need a strong facilitator, or leader, who drives the discussion, acts as tiebreaker, etc.
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Sat 30 Jun 07 17:06
A few posts ago jmcarlin wrote: > And, if woe betide you, some idea causes a problem, the result > is ever more bureacracy. I'm not sure why, but it seems that > too many people don't learn the lesson that bureaucracy does > not solve problems. Instead when the problems persist, more > bureaucracy is added on. I spent a lot of time studying management theory and asking why bureaucracies develop. Is has a lot to do with diffusion of authority - no one wants to be to blame with things go wrong, so they form a committee, or a task force, distributing accountability. Creativity can't work that well in this kind of environment as everyone is scrambling for piece of creative authority in every decision. It just doesn't work - imagine a film directed by 30 people (either each getting 2 minutes, or working together on the whole thing), or a painting painted by a committee of 20. There would be no clarity of vision - no hope for simplicity. One easy way to increase innovation is to clarify authority and isolate who has creative power to those worthy of the responsibility (which may have little to do with an organizations hierarchy).
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