How do you remain creative and expose yourself to fresh perspectives?:


076 – Season 4 Wrap Up: How Do You Remain Creative And Expose Yourself To Fresh Perspectives?

How do you remain creative and expose yourself to fresh perspectives?:


076 – Season 4 Wrap Up: How Do You Remain Creative And Expose Yourself To Fresh Perspectives?

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We believe passionately in the power of multiple perspectives to build and sustain innovation ecosystems.

And yet we are all creatures of habits, following schedules and routines that enable us to continue to perform at high levels, but which might leave us with little room for exploring the new. So unless we proactively seek out fresh perspectives, we run the risk of remaining in our own personal bubbles, surrounded by people who think only like us, so increasing the risk of biases like groupthink, not-invented-here and confirmation bias.

We always ask our guests what they do to remain fresh, to seek out diverse perspectives, and the answers are often surprisingly simple and practical. Here we provide a selection of tactics, all of which are easy to do, but are equally easy not to do. By regularly exercising your innovation muscles, the benefits to you and your organization will build up and compound over time, as these world class performers have discovered.

 

Summary

We believe passionately in the power of multiple perspectives to build and sustain innovation ecosystems.

And yet we are all creatures of habits, following schedules and routines that enable us to continue to perform at high levels, but which might leave us with little room for exploring the new. So unless we proactively seek out fresh perspectives, we run the risk of remaining in our own personal bubbles, surrounded by people who think only like us, so increasing the risk of biases like groupthink, not-invented-here and confirmation bias.

We always ask our guests what they do to remain fresh, to seek out diverse perspectives, and the answers are often surprisingly simple and practical. Here we provide a selection of tactics, all of which are easy to do, but are equally easy not to do. By regularly exercising your innovation muscles, the benefits to you and your organization will build up and compound over time, as these world class performers have discovered.

 

How do you remain creative and expose yourself to fresh perspectives?

What Was Covered

We founded innovation ecosystems in order to help individuals and companies become more open to multiple perspectives and to deliver them those multiple perspectives in a range of formats. As a listener to this podcast, you will know that we discuss the topics of innovation and change and leadership with world-class performers from the worlds of business academia Sports science and the arts. Over the course of the last 2 ½ years we have been fortunate enough to attract a wide variety of guests onto the show all of whom have given us the benefits of the unique perspectives they bring to the world.

At the end of each of our interviews I ask our guests three questions. The first question, what have you changed your mind about recently, is designed to encourage guests to reflect on their unconscious biases and the extent to which they are able to overcome them, based on new data, in order to take their thinking in new directions. This is a key skill for leaders and you can listen to the responses of a number of our guests on season four in episode 75.

This week’s episode focuses on the second question I ask guests relating to the personal work habits and routines that they use in order to remain fresh, creative, and consistently to perform at a high-level. We are after all creatures of habit and unless we proactively seek out fresh perspectives, we run the risk of remaining in our own personal bubbles surrounded by who think the same way that we do, falling victim to the perils of groupthink, availability bias, confirmation bias.

So let’s start with a great example from a senior corporate executive in an industry leading business talking about how he critiques a PowerPoint presentation in service of improving in an end product. This practice often yields breakthroughs or failing that, incremental small i innovations which he talked about at length in our interview. Specifically he talks about how he leverages his predisposition for worry and stress to raise the performance of his colleagues.

ANDY: “Mark, I’m a professional worrier meaning I stress about all the little details and issues around execution and producing activities and I think maybe someone could say that’s neurotic but I think that I try and channel that to intensively ripping apart everything that we are planning to do and look for the shortfalls and the problems.”

MARK:  Vice President of Profitable Creativity at Electronic Arts: Andy Billings

ANDY: “if we have a ten page deck, we’ll have a twenty-five page critique of it. We just find that helps us not get complacent, helps us not get overly confident in our material. We just always go looking for the problems, the issues, how that thing could maybe not work out, how might it not be as exciting or dynamic or have the impact that we want. We think about if people are going to have reservations about what would they be, if someone’s going to critique it what would they be, so we spend a huge amount of time doing that, and then when we finish something, we really go deep on that and we’ll spend literally hours and hours as a group going, ‘What did we like? What didn’t we like? What could be better? How will we change?’. We generate a whole new set of ideas. Either both the incremental ideas and then the – ‘Gee, what if we did something completely different and completely blew that up and went in a different direction?’ – so that’s a personal practice. It has a little wear and tear on it for the operator but it does keep us on our toes and we’re always improving”

“Andy Billings there, talking about rooting out the shortfalls and problems and in doing so, creating new ideas and opportunities.

As an aside here in Switzerland there is a political party called the anti powerpoint party, dedicated to decreasing professional use of presentation software, which the party claims “causes national-economic damage amounting to 2.1 billion CHF a year and lowers the quality of a presentation in “95 % of the cases”. In many companies PowerPoint is a fact of life, and Andy’s approach to challenging a presentation is a lovely example of how both incremental and breakthrough ideas can come from the humble powerpoint deck.

MARK: “Making the most of good opportunities and shunning potentially bad opportunities, as you’d expect, is a pretty good rule to live by both in business and in life. But Scott Anthony, who’s a writer, speaker and Managing Partner at consulting firm Innosight, told me in episode 58 that even if the opportunity doesn’t make any rational sense, it might be worth some deeper consideration…

SCOTT: “I’m proud of the fact that I’ve done that a few times in my career and I think it has made me who I am. So, as an example of this, I’m studying at Harvard Business School in 2000, Clay Christensen is one of my professors, I intellectually fall in love with the ideas that he has, he says midway through the class, ‘Hey, I’ve got some money to hire a researcher, it’s not as much as you’d make if you went and did anything else but it would be an interesting experience’. I could have gone back to the company I worked at before Business School, McKinsey and Company, I had a job offer to go work strategy for American Express, both short term much more lucrative offers but I said, ‘Why not? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity’ and here I am, and coming out to Asia in 2010, and taking the role in 2009 and moving out here in 2010, it wasn’t fully rational, my wife had never been out here, we had two young kids and I disrupted myself in doing a very different type of business but why not, you know? You’ve got to try, nothing ventured nothing gained. So, that has been something that I’m grateful that I have done that and have people who will support me doing that as well. I got very lucky that it’s all worked out.”

“That was Scott Anthony speaking in episode 58, in which he talked in-depth about how his experience in Asia has really changed how he thinks about business and capitalism in general and the role played in it by family-owned businesses and governmental organizations.

MARK: “When we embrace opportunities, it doesn’t always have to lead to big, life changing moments – sometimes spotting the small opportunities or ‘the gaps’ as David Pearl put it in episode 52 can make all the difference…

DAVID: “What I do is I practice Street Wisdom in the corridor. So I’m not always in the street but when I’m in, as I am at the moment, in a big skyscraper somewhere in a financial district or whatev all aller, when I go between one thing and another, so when we finish and I go on to something else, I’ll try to notice that thirty seconds and try to recharge, reconnect, breathe, go back to neutral if you like, get a bit of an impulse from the outside and then move on so I would say broadly, seize the gap.”

Let me say a little bit about David Pearl and the movement he created called Street Wisdom. He describes Street Wisdom as a powerful, innovative tool that helps reboot thinking, set new directions and unlock ideas, teaching individuals to use city streets to find fresh answers to the questions on their mind. Street Wisdom helps your business like solve tough problem, get fresh ideas.

Now the principal behind Street Wisdom has been echoed by lots of previous guests and this is one of the reasons that the movement  David started is active in over 30 countries worldwide. I often hear all companies sending their executives to silicon valley to do some innovation tourism and even if they don’t bump into the competitors, the likelihood is that they are doing the same thing. As an early guest Rob Wolcomtt, professor of Innovation at Kellogg Business School said way back in episode 3, if you’re going to the same conferences as your competitors, if you’re talking to the same people as your competitors and using the same suppliers and hiring from the same pools as your competitors, then you’re probably finding some of the same answers as your competitors.  So why not look closer to home, and start on the streets that surround your office? That’s the promise of Street Wisdom.

MARK: “Now, like David Pearl, in episode 61 my guest Tyler Gage talked about something similar to spotting the gap; although Tyler’s approach was more about prolonging the gap until both mind and body are ready to do battle with the day.

TYLER: “So, one that I find very important which is quite simple in my daily practice is not looking at my phone when I wake up for at least thirty or forty minutes. Seems very simple but I find that giving my body and my mind at least a little bit of time to not jump immediately into technological world and fluttering e-mails, I find that the mindset that puts me in for the day carries me from start to finish, and when I immediately look at blue light, e-mails, and my mind jumps from what is ultimately sensitive dream resting space, zero to a hundred, it creates a certain level of stress in my system that is really not worth it. So, it’s something I think is extremely easy to do, it just takes fending off the anxiety of looking at e-mails and what happened and what I have to do today for even thirty or forty minutes.

For those of you not familiar with Tyler’s story he established and built a fast-growing natural energy drinks company that goes head-to-head with companies like Monster Energies, sourcing not just raw materials but also business Wisdom and insight from shamans and village elders in the Peruvian rainforest. Tyler has developed practices to filter out distractions and to ease into each day in a way that maximises the likelihood of getting the outcomes he’s looking for.

And overtime the benefits of creating this the beginning of the day Will compound.

MARK: Here is another practice that those of us who travel a lot can perhaps benefit from.

DAVID: “I have the fortune of travelling a lot, so when I go to different cities – I used to, when I first started traveling, I would go someplace, then airport, hotel, sleep, wake up, speak, airport, fly out, and it quickly became sterile, I guess, and so now I always have what I call my ‘plus one’, where I would say ‘Where can I go here?’, physical places for some reason, like a statue or a battlefield or a museum, and in my sort of engineer mind I’m always drawn to the Natural History Museum or something like that, but I would try and do something different.

MARK: “For those of you who don’t know, David Marquet is the former Captain of the nuclear submarine USS Santa Fe – so visiting statues or battlefields is something you might expect, but what you might not expect is the second part to his answer…”

DAVID: Children’s books, I think, are a good source of inspiration because they have a high degree of integrity and there’s a simplification and honesty to them

Now as a parent I read quite a lot of children’s books to my kids and I am always on the lookout for authors who write both for children and adults. So David’s comment resonated with me. A couple of examples in case you are interested are Ian Fleming who wrote the childhood classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as well as the James Bond series and Wayne Dyer, author of personal development books like your Erroneous Zones as well as children’s books like Unstoppable Me and No Excuses. David makes a really important point here about the need to break out all our existing routines for example I would love and Amazon recommendation engine that pointed me towards completely different box versus recommending more of the same. The other point about museums resonated. Previous guest Caroline Webb in episode 36 described taking a group of executives to the National portrait Gallery in London to help them look at a business problem in a completely different way.

And I am reminded about a quote by George Lois, describer by Business Week as the original Mr Big Idea who has had a titanic influence on world culture.  He claims some of his best ideas have come while meandering through the metropolitan museum of art and describes  “museums are the custodians of epiphanies”.

Something to think about perhaps?

MARK: “As well as unexpected answers, we also get answers that are directly opposed to each other; what works for one person or company, is unimaginable to another. We’re now going to hear an example of that – consistency and routine VS unpredictability and chance. On the side of consistency and routine we’re going to hear from Brad Feld, but first here’s bestselling author and award-winning journalist, and the Cofounder and Director of Research at The Flow Genome Project: Steven Kotler.”

STEVEN: “I really believe, really, really fervently believe two things, which is that  – all these people who do the impossible they understand that as long as they commit, they’re willing to be a little uncomfortable every day. I’m willing to get up at four o’clock in the morning and be a little tired and I’m going to face the empty page for four hours no matter what else happens and the worst thing that could happen is I’m going to be uncomfortable, my writing is going to suck, I’m going to be pissed at myself, frustrated, whatever, but I’m just willing to do it over and over and over again and I think that’s consistent with most super successful people I know. They’re just willing to be uncomfortable consistently.”

This reminds me of Woody Allen’s quote that 99% of success in life is just showing up.

MARK: “And still in the consistency and routine camp, here’s Brad Feld who’s an entrepreneur, author and venture capitalist….”

BRAD: “I try to write every single day. I blog probably twenty out of thirty, thirty-one days a month, so I probably don’t make every single day, but between my blogging and my working and books, and when I say write I don’t mean emails and I don’t mean memos, I mean sitting down and concentrating on a thought and writing.”

MARK: “And on the flip side of that approach….”

“I don’t really have much routine at what I do. I know that a lot of books, a lot of approaches will tell you you need to have routine, you need to have habits. I try to break those.”

Author, speaker, and entrepreneur, Frans Johansson

“The more interesting question for me is ‘How do I choose to spend the next couple of hours of the day to increase the number of unusual perspectives?’ So, for instance, I don’t really have much routine in what I do. Maybe one day I’ll walk to the subway, I live in New York City, maybe the next I’ll take a car, maybe the next time walking. We have our office on the twenty-sixth floor. I’ll take the elevator to the twenty-third floor and then I’ll walk up three floors. And what this is all doing is exposing me to new perspectives, new insights, I’m running into people that I wouldn’t otherwise have met. For me, it is actively looking for intersections, actively saying ‘Where can I learn new things?’

So Frans has a routine to do things differently in the knowledge that he will expose himself to different stimuli, spot new patterns and make new connections.  

Mark: “Now, like Frans Johansson, many of my guests talked about putting themselves in new situations and fresh surroundings in order to find new perspectives and to become more effective. And this is also true of my guest or episode 70…

ROBERT: “Every once in a while you’ll get something and you never would have gotten it had you sat in your office and not travelled or not got on the plane or not made the phone call.”

Author, investment strategist, portfolio manager and biographer to Warren Buffett –  Robert Hagstrom

“So, oftentimes I go to many conferences and try to stay very engaged in my discipline and sometimes I walk away and I got nothing, it’s like, ‘I know that’ or ‘I’ve already heard that’ or ‘That’s nothing new’ but you’ve got to continue to cast as I say in the book. John Holland talks about the way in which you get really smart about these things is that you’ve got to continue to spread out into different directions and stay very engaged, and he talked about the Norwegian fishermen. They would fish out the school that they had located but they’d always send a trawler or a fishing boat in a different direction each day because you never know what they would find, something new and something different. So, it’s a process, you’ve got to stay engaged with the world, you’ve got to stay engaged with your peers, you’ve got to stay engaged with your profession for sure, something will always pop up somewhere along the way even though ninety-percent of the time you go, ‘Jeez, this is a waste, I’m not learning anything’ but every once in a while you get that nugget and it can make a big difference.”

In the interview with Robert we discussed his book Lattice Work which is all about learning from different disciplines such as biology physics psychology Philosophy and applying some of the main models of those disciplines to in his case and investment management.

MARK: “Getting up and getting out of the office, in all its various forms, was a popular response to this question across series 4. Here now are two quite different takes on that. We’re going to hear from Whitney Johnson who’s an author, a speaker executive and innovation coach, but first this is Luis Perez-Breva who; a lecturer and research scientist at MIT School of Engineering and the Director of MIT’s Innovation Teams”

LUIS: “I take all my conversations walking, actually all of them, typically in the street, even if it’s snowing. So, every time I have a phone call, obviously not today, today we’re sitting over Skype but every time I have a phone call I’m actually walking in the street and it helps me think a lot, the accompanying exercise as well, but most important it actually keeps me in touch with the real world otherwise I’m just stuck in an office, so, whenever possible, every single phone call I’m taking in the street, taking a stroll not far away from the office, but just is taking a stroll, and I think it makes me more effective because I factor in what I’m talking and thinking and thinking is something that’s really hard to do when you are sitting in your office, going through the motions of your email, and so many other things that hit us every single second.”

So here is Luis killing two birds with one stone, making calls whilst exercising but also recognizing some of the shortcomings of his office environment and adapting his habits accordingly. And now let’s go to Whitney, an early guest on the podcast who came back recently to talk about her new book.  

Whitney: “The other way that I get new ideas is, you’re going to laugh, when I commit to go do something I show up to it. For example, just a couple of Week’s ago one of my friends, Liz Wiseman, who wrote the book Multipliers, had arranged for us to take a tour of the Tesla factory, right? Tesla. And I almost didn’t go because I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got to prepare my remarks for the next day, I’ve been on the road for a week and a half, I don’t have time, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah,’ but I committed to going, and I’m really trying, if I make a commitment, to show up. Well, when I went it was astonishing. It was like this plant, there were transformers, they looked like Transformers, these robots that are building the cars, there was a stamping press that’s like several 747s who are stamping the panels of the machine, I just felt this sense of awe, and I would call it almost religious awe of just this idea that had come from the mind of a human being, and now many human beings that are creating this beautiful machine, and after I came out of there I was like, ‘Just think, if I hadn’t gone, if I hadn’t kept my word, all of these ideas, all of these thoughts, all of these learnings, none of them would have happened.”

MARK: “Whilst going out and seeing new things and exposing yourself to inspiration in all its forms is clearly worthwhile, the last guest on this wrap-up episode prefers to reduce the stimuli that for him creates the conditions for innovation”

Gib: “I feel that too many of us, me included, have been in a state of semi distraction in our day to day lives, so many stimuli, so many things to read, so many tweets and Facebook things, and is it any wonder that that kind of suppresses, I think, real creativity and innovation?”

MARK: “Writer, speaker, and intrapreneur Gib Bulloch…”

Gib: “I mean, there’s no shortage of places out there like your podcast which is excellent. I think theres no shortage of these sort of stimuli, if you will, if you want to look for them. I actually try to go into myself or go to a quiet place where you can actually shut out some of these things. Nothing against what you’re doing with Innovation Ecosystem, there’s a time for that, but….when I get myself to a very quiet place, it might be somewhere in a faraway island or Bali, or something like that if I can, and just cut off and be still then I actually find it pays huge dividends in terms of creativity, and ideas, and thoughts, and new perspectives without having to read anything, without having to listen to anything or whatever. The ideas will probably bubble up if you can get quiet enough.”

Gibb’s book, The Intrapreneur, was set in a mental-health ward in Scotland and it’s well worth a read it.

So we have highlighted a number of very different practices and routines that our guests use to remain fresh and creative to access diversity and multiple perspectives. Just because they work for them doesn’t mean that they will work for you. Reading children’s books, visiting museums,  getting really present in the moment, tapping into the wisdom of the street, getting off the elevator a couple of floors early. Trere are easy to do, but they are also not easy to do. What struck me is that these are all easy things that are easy to do, but that they are also easy not to do. And we know from our work that it is the small eye innovations that compound overtime, and that by recombining ideas from multiple domains and perspectives you can create new solutions to your business problems. And while all of us can build our innovation muscles by doing these simple exercises it does take discipline but like exercise and healthy eating the benefits build up overtime. I suspect I am not alone in overestimating what I can achieve in the short-term, and underestimating what we can achieve in the long-term.  So bear that in mind next time you have the opportunity to expose yourself to a fresh perspective be it on your daily commute, how are you spend your time on a business trip or what you choose to read when you have some free time.

 

I hope you found this second season four wrap up episode of value and until next time, have a great week. This is Mark Bidwell phanging perspectives, one podcast at the time.

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