Highlights from a presentation by John Cleese on creativity. He lays out a few principles for achieving it
- Got a problem? Sleep on it. Let your unconscious mind find the solution
- Another way to leverage your unconscious: it will keep working on tasks you've completed. When you revisit them, you'll find improvements waiting for you
- Avoid interruptions, they destroy flow
- Ideas "don't come from laptops", they come from thinking. You won't be creative if you're "running around all day, keeping balls in the air"
- To foster creativity you need to establish:
- Boundaries of space: a place where you can think without being interrupted
- Boundaries of time: a clear timespan during which you will think (though he doesn't explicitly say this, I've found the constraint of a deadline is a good spur to creativity)
"In 2006 Kevin Lafferty of the University of California, Santa Barbara, published a paper noting a correlation between levels of neuroticism established by national surveys in various countries and the level of Toxoplasma infection recorded in pregnant women (a group who are tested routinely). The places he looked at ranged from phlegmatic Britain, with a neuroticism score of -0.8 and a Toxoplasma infection rate of 6.6%, to hot-blooded France, which scored 1.8 and had an infection rate of 45%. […]To repeat, correlation is not causation, and a lot more work would need to be done to prove the point. But it is just possible that a parasite’s desire to get eaten by a cat is shaping the cultures of the world."
"If [the researchers] are right, it suggests that the control of such diseases is crucial to a country’s development in a way that had not been appreciated before. Places that harbour a lot of parasites and pathogens not only suffer the debilitating effects of disease on their workforces, but also have their human capital eroded, child by child, from birth."
There's been a lot of talk on the net about AntennaGate over the past few weeks: if you hold an iPhone4 the wrong way, it loses signal strength and drops calls. Apple called attention to the fact that other cell phones also suffer from this (much to the annoyance of the other phone makers :-) though the iPhone4 seems to be the worst affected.
In April I attended a seminar given by Rolf Smith, innovation guru and author of the 7 Levels of Change. We covered a lot of ground in a single day but the part that resonated most for me was the one that focused on those seven levels.
- Do the right things: Rolf defines innovation to include implementation so level 1 focuses on clarifying what key tasks to carry out
- Do things right: Next up is basic execution. Block and tackle
- Do things better: Now we're up to continuous improvement
- Do away with things: This is the pivotal level. Once you reach this point, you're likely saturated. All your time is allocated to carrying out those tasks and trying to get better at them. If you want to keep progressing, you need to make time. This means applying Pareto to focus on the 20% of tasks that generate 80% of the value and ruthlessly cutting out the rest. This gives you time back to explore higher levels
- Do things other people are doing: Look around you for great ideas and copy, extend, and incorporate them
- Do things no one else is doing: Here you're truly creating something new, or "diffferent" as Rolf would put it
- Do things that can't be done: Do the impossible! Break the mold!
- "We're spending all our time at level 3 here"
- "I don't think we're past level 1 for this project, we really need to understand it better"
- "Yup, that's level 6 alright, now... how do we do it?"
- I'd peg Apple as a level 6-7 company but they wouldn't be successful without their excellent ability to execute on those ideas
- Microsoft? Mostly level 3 I think though parts are level 5 (e.g. Windows 7 Phone), and level 6 (e.g. Project Natal / Kinect for Xbox 360). The famous quip of it taking Microsoft three releases to get a product right may be due to moving from level 1 to 3 :-)
- Google? Again it varies by team but a good deal of levels 5, 6, and even 7 once in a while
- Dell, HP, Lenovo? Solid at levels 2 to 3, some level 5 happening
- Toyota? The Prius was a huge level 6 success but given recent quality problems it seems they neglected levels 2 and 3
- GE? Pioneers of level 3 6-sigma but innovation is far down the list when you think of this company
- Reflect on your own natural level. Are you operating at the right level to solve the problems you're working on?
- Dip into level 4 and change / replace / eliminate some of your habits, esp. the most ingrained ones. Does this free you up to move up or down the levels?
- Next time you're brainstorming, ask people for ideas at each level to force them to think across the change spectrum