Tag Archives: creativity

Funny how you can come up with great solutions!

From good solutions to great solutionsJohn Cleese is considered one of the funniest people on the planet.  I don’t think I need to argue this point.  A very funny man and a core member of the acknowledged funniest group ever – Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  So you have to ask yourself “why were they so much better than their peers and predecessors?” The likes of The Goons, Morecombe & Wise, Derek & Clive, The Two Ronnies and The Goodies.

I’m not funny at all according to my children.

They do acknowledge however that I am very good at solving problems.  Whether it be technical problems, commercial problems, mechanical problems, cooking problems or general life problems.  I think I’m good at problem solving because I can look at issues using lots of different lenses.  I have spent time as a Student, Software Engineer, Soldier, Salesman, Accountant, Marketer, Entrepreneur, Chairman, Writer & Consultant.  Its easy for me to bring different perspectives to bear.   From my point of view; I can be relied on to come a with good solutions to most problems.  But sadly, they are rarely great solutions.

So this is where John Cleese comes in.

There’s a fascinating video of John Cleese on You Tube, talking about Creativity in Management.    Because its by John Cleese it’s a bit funny, but it’s not a comedy skit.  He tackles the serious subject of how to be creative on demand.  He makes a number of points, like finding the right place to be creative and being open to creativity rather than being close minded.  But at 19 minutes in, he talks about the one thing that separated him from his peers, most of whom he acknowledged were natively funnier than him!

Its taking your time.

Most people, including comedians, set aside time to solve a problem – such as creating a funny skit.  When they solve the problem, jobs done!  However, John Cleese didn’t.  He allocated time to solve a problem, perhaps 4 hours, and used all of the time.  So if the Monty Python crew arrived at a solution within the first hour, they would spend the next three hours, revising and improving or set it aside and start again from a different direction.  This means they could then compare and contrast their skits, selecting the best and sharpening them.  So rather than one skit on say “the ridiculousness of bad products” they could improve it by taking it from a car salesman skit   to the famous dead parrot skit.

What can I learn from this though?

Despite the fact that most people know me as someone who is gregarious and happy to speak to one to a thousand strangers, I’m actually quite introverted and spend the majority of my working hours alone.  This means when I solve a problem, I usually have no one to challenge me and I never spend any additional time trying to “solve it better”.

Sadly, this means I settle for good solutions, rather than great solutions, without even realising it.

I don’t challenge my assumptions, I work within them.  I don’t approach the problem from different angles.  I solve it, pat myself on the back on and move on.  For near on ten years I sold sales campaigns on a fixed project fee basis and made the client wear the risk of us not hitting agreed targets.  So “trust” became a barrier to sale with new clients.   They just wanted to pay for success, who wouldn’t?  But we couldn’t do that.  Funding projects with cashflow at the end only is difficult and the risk of bad debt becomes enormous as success fee only campaigns attracts the wrong type of clients.  Consequently nobody does it.

But then I went back and had another look.

Spending more time on a problem I had already solved, came up with an unexpected result.  I suddenly realised that the overall project fee (success based) could be unbundled from our invoicing.  How specifically we do it, I’d rather not be explicit about because it’s a competitive advantage, however by doing this:

  1. The client is happy as they are paying for successful sales outcomes only.
  2. Getting new clients to trust us is vastly easier to achieve.
  3. Its better busienss as our risk is reduced – the client proves themselves as a good debtor upfront.
  4. The cashflow for the project is provided by the client as we invoice them at each milestone.

I wish I had spent the extra time ten years ago solving this problem.  Great solutions can come easily.

So do yourself a favour, watch the John Cleese Video.  Its 37 minutes of extraordinary insight.Creativity in Management

Upgrading to MindX

I had coffee with Dan Dobos last week who’s been busy launching his new business, in Australia, which is a wonderful web based marketing engine that combines offline and online seamlessly – eg a an enquiry from your website automatically generates a printed card that gets sent out.   As an aside – It appears from the relationship I have with baristas in a variety of locations, that I spend half my life drinking coffee with people.

Anyway, Dan and I were discussing open source tools, and if you’ve read any of my articles before, you will know I am a bid advocate.  But one area where I hadn’t done much research was mind-mapping tools. Mostly because I didn’t feel the need for them up until I started the Churchill Club and had to deal with emergent topics on a day to day basis. Traditionally I had used a product called free mind, which which was java based so it pretty much ran on any operating system plus it was open source, free of cost and it could be downloaded easily.  Dan however was using a product called XMind which he strongly recommend.

I liked Freemind and had previously written about it here, but was willing to give the new product a go (hey its free so why not).   So when I got back to the office, I downloaded a copy.  To my surprise was almost instantly converted. Here’s why:

  • Its Open Source – which means you can download and use it for free or even mess with the code if that’s your thing.
  • It has a web based viewer – do you can plunk your mind maps up on your blog.
  • You can embed mind maps with mind maps.
  • You can also use it to draw Org Charts other special purpose maps.
  • It has inbuilt a nice project management tool.
  • You can import Freemind, Mind Manager and other common mind map formats.
  • You can export your map as HTML (a web page), text, image or other MindMapping formats.

None of which (other than the import and export) Freemind can do.

And as a bonus to make me the consummate connected professional, It turns out to that if I give $6.99 to Simplemind I can also get access to the mindmaps I have whipped up on my iPhone using SimpleMindX whilst waiting for meetings.

6 steps to Blog Heaven

The another day Amanda Gome rang me for some advice on how to run her business to have a chat about some future events. We got to talking about blogging and how difficult it was.  I was in the first group of Bloggists for Smartcompany (around 20 of us) of which there is now only a handful left.

I asserted that writing your first couple of blogs is easy because everyone has a couple of articles in them.  However then it gets really hard because you have to deliberately create something new rather than just empty on to the page what you already had.

Amanda agreed as she regularly gets approached by new bloggists and now she just can just tell when someone is only a “3 or 4 blogger”.

I reckoned the issue was caused by the fact that the average wanna-be bloggers aren’t generally trained as journalists or even writers by their nature.  So blogging seems like a great idea but becomes hard quickly.  You can see this issue everywhere as CEO’s are conned into marketing by using social media tools such as blogs, but they run out of steam quickly when the reality of being “creative” sets in.  I regularly run into corporate blogs that have lost steam after 3-4 posts.

Amanda pointed out that I am a non-writer who managed to get through the 4 blog barrier, so what was my secret?

So here it………….

How I write

  1. Pick a time -I’m a systems guy so I like to organise things.  Monday after lunch is the time I have programmed into my Google Calendar for writing.
  2. Get an idea –  Finding something to write on becomes easier as time goes  on.  However the cheats way is to find a prolific twitterer or two on your topic who will uncover new things to investigate and share.    For me Guy Kawasaki http://twitter.com/guykawasaki posts about twenty items a day on new things around entrepreneurship, technology and interesting ideas.  I can’t keep up with all of Guy’s posts.
  3. Make your point – Simply re-posting a web link doesn’t have value.  I like to think about how and why rather than report on the what.  I like to create a number of dot points on the topic.
  4. Remember an Anecdote – Nobody wants to read a report, everbody wants to hear a story.  Revolution in Russia?  Make it the backdrop to a lovestory (Dr Zhivago ).
  5. Put flesh on the bone – Write the article starting off with your anecdote which then leads into the points you want to make.
  6. Finish it off. – Nobody wants loose ends so I find it much tidier to link the point of the article back to the opening anecdote.

I developed this as a process when I almost burst my brain trying to write blog number 4. According to my records I have now written around 110 weekly blogs.  Not bad for technical guy that came close to failing English.

Failing or Flailing?

In the late 80’s when I was training to be an Army Reserve Officer, one of the major training (and leadership development) techniques that had a major impact on me was ownership of failure.  If you taught a lesson and more than a handful of people failed the quick test at the end, then you the instructor failed.  If your team was depressed, your fault, if they got hurt or “killed” it was your fault.  From the smallest mishap to the greatest catastrophe, you owned the problem.

All this failure from a training point of view was massively useful.  It let you gain an intimate understanding of why successful strategies or tactics worked, and how to execute on them seamlessly.

From my point of view, this focus on failure worked because of two major reasons.
1.    The objective you were trying to achieve was tightly defined, and therefore the failures had enormous learning value.
2.    There was a culture that accepted, and valued, failure in training as the pathway to sustainable success.

Interestingly, I have recently discovered a connection between the military and creativity.

Preparing for the upcoming Churchill Club Panel on Creativity , I have been reading a book by Nadja Schnetzler called the Idea Machine : How to Produce Ideas Industrially . Nadia runs a Swiss business called The Brain Store which was founded in 1989.  Nadja’s business focuses on the industrial production of ideas, and has a premium client list in Europe and the USA.

Anyway, an area that Nadja discusses early on is failure.  The Brain store has a culture that accepts failure on the path to success, and in fact sees it as necessary and highly valuable.  The key for them is to tightly describe the question before they start generating ideas to solve it.  This ensures that that every single failure has value when reviewed.  The result of the study of what went wrong leads to the development of the world beating idea (rather than mediocrity).

The process of tightly describing the question is so important that they have set up a business offering just to train staff!  They have a shop front service that allows people on the street to come in and get great ideas for a token fee.  Eg. A guy comes in and asks “What shall I buy my girlfriend for her Birthday?”.  This then gets improved into something that includes pricing information, her interests, what she hates, what you have purchased in the past and what would really excite her.  All this and more before the ideas flow.

Nadja describes the process as the difference between failing and flailing.  Failure is good, but when you regularly fail, don’t learn from it and are not sure where you are going, you are just flailing about.  I’m sure the Army would agree.

Just too bad that 95% of people I meet in business would rather eat worms than accept they may be responsible for a failure and get value from it.

Tools to support creativity

Twelve months ago, I started having a conversation with colleagues about putting on a sporting event. The conversation fluttered about for most of the year, occasionally gaining energy but constantly changing focus on what was important. I had to speak to many people about priorities and who would be involved.

Now considering I have had nothing to do with professional sports, I ended speaking to quite a variety of people on what issues they felt were important, and who would have a voice at the table. An absolute mess of notes whose connections kept changing.

Because I am a tech at heart, I wanted a tool that would help me manage this evolving conversation without becoming a chore. Then the thought hit me. Years ago I had been introduced to mind mapping, and found it fascinating but effectively useless to me (I was an accountant at the time), however it struck me that this could be the tool I was looking for.

On a search for mind mapping tools (Google is my friend) I came across a product called Free Mind. Free Mind was a full-featured piece of Mind Mapping software that runs on Windows, Linux and Macs.

Free Mind also had one other thing going for it that was seductive to me — it was free! That’s right, free; and not free for 30 days, or free but full of ads, but absolutely free.

It was created by a team of people interacting via a kind of techno’s social network called Source Forge. Source Forge is a place were software engineers get together in teams and write software to work as they feel it should, and licence it for free use. Currently there are more than 140,000 software projects going on there that are generally known as “open source”.

Anyway, back to Free Mind. The software installed without hitch on my Windows XP notebook. It was incredibly easy to master (I just wanted to insert new thoughts and move things around) and would allow me to export my mind maps as a pretty picture (JPG or PDFs) or in a table of contents look to a web page.

Result -> My creativity is supported and I am a happy camper.