The Game of Business

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When speaking in-depth with an executive at a successful Fortune 100 company, I find more times than not that the executive looks at the business and marketplace as a game to be won. Most sales and marketing executives that I’ve spoken with also have a penchant for playing business.

The movers and shakers in the entertainment industry find the creation of their products and services to be game-like as well. In fact, creative people, in general, find their productivity skyrockets every time they view their innovations as a game. So why aren’t the business schools teaching business game strategies?

Three rules in the world of business gameplay must be present to innovate.

RULE 1: LEARN THE RULES

Every marketplace operates under the common assumptions and perceptions of its players. Once you’ve mastered the rules in any given market, you are then able to hyper-focus on the areas that are dealmakers and breakers. You are also able to learn what it takes to introduce new perspectives and disruptive ideas to catapult the industry forward. None of this is possible if you don’t thoroughly know the existing rules.

Back when I attended university, I made a short film that stirred the viewers and gave them hope in their own future. The letters I received suggested that this miracle film needed to get a broader release to touch more lives. I immediately took the film to the 16mm marketplace that had an audience of schools, libraries, churches, and other non-profit organizations.

I printed up a 5.5 X 8.5 catalog for the distributors to promote the film. I provided films to all the distributors for their rental programs. And, I even did radio interviews sharing where the films were available. Then I braced myself to make a lot of money. Three months later, only three copies of the film had been rented. I started asking questions and learned that the distributors never sent out my promotional materials.

No one told me that the distributors bound all of their 8.5 X 11 catalogs into one large book that they gave to their customers. Since my catalog was a different size, they tossed it in the trash. I realized that before entering any marketplace in the future, I’d make sure that I understood the rules.

RULE 2: PRACTICE THE GAME

The game of business is played every day, but the tools and techniques used require developed skills. No one enters a game with ground pleasing abilities because they are natural at it. Sure, some get lucky in their first few months based on what they sensed entering the marketplace, but it’s rare to last longer than a short stint.

The more a person tests out and practices various strategies, the better they get at playing the game. However, no one can rest on their laurels in the world of business gaming because the conditions change with every innovation. The main reason businesses want to innovate is to disrupt their competitor instead of being the one scrambling to reinvent the business due to someone else’s contribution to the marketplace. I read a poster years ago and if I remember properly it said, “Change is scary unless you’re the innovator.”

RULE 3: ENJOY TROUBLE-SHOOTING

Innovation is solving a problem that the rest of the market hasn’t yet thought about. It’s a fun activity and rewarding when your product or service is first to market with clear benefits for the end-user. Coming up with a viable solution worth exploring requires a significant amount of research and brainstorming.

The fuel used in successful brainstorming sessions is called F.U.N. and is the key to the successful play required to innovate.

  • F = Free from Failure: Every idea is a good one because it’s either an element in the final solution or the cause that leads to a better idea. Therefore, failure does not exist, as all aspects of the brainstorming process benefits the system.
  • U = Uplifting in Spirit: The process is affirming and energizing, especially when synergies form from within the brainstorming process that simplifies the team’s effort. This uplifting spirit or attitude typically makes everyone feel like their part made a difference in the final solution.
  • N = Narrative for Market: When everyone gives their personal best and brings to the innovation sessions a diverse background of experiences, a new narrative that will drive the innovation forms to solidify the vision for the product or service. The ability to explain in simple terms what the innovation does and how people benefit from it drives internal communications and sets up marketing with the necessary tools to promote the solution.

The atmosphere of play not only generates great solutions, but it also energizes people and gives them a reason to come to work every day. This playfulness relaxes the logical side of the brain and empowers the creative side, giving voice to all involved in the innovation process. And, with numerous minds working together from diverse backgrounds, it will generate some great ideas worth developing further.

Playing the game of business is a lot of fun, especially when your team wins an additional chunk of the market. It’s also enjoyable to trouble-shoot in advance of realized market problems to have a solution at the time the market is ready for it. I also find it fun to catch the competition off-guard from the innovation, forcing them to scramble for a “me too” product.

I think it’s time for you to have fun this week innovating.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

 

 

 

 

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The Benefits of Creativity

How to Extend Life, Solve Problems, and Develop Confidence

Going against the crowd with an innovative idea does not create bad stress as some might think, but instead adds to your life, allows you to help others by solving problems, and instills a deep sense of self-confidence. Yet these values are seldom sought after in business because it goes against the cultural norms of the corporate world—leading to the demise of 100+ year old companies like SEARS.

pen-idea-bulb-paperI was working in a theatre on the set construction team when the director went nuts. The scene being rehearsed left too much to the imagination and came across flat. The lead actor was supposed to use a special techno device that lacked originality and looked far from a working model. The property master had failed in bringing about the believability factor.

The director turned to me, pointed his finger and said, “You, make something that will wow the audience.”

I put on my “Imagineering” hat after scavenging through my basement, the prop closet and stage workshop. The creation required me to play with levers, buttons, gismos, blinking lights, and a bit of fog pouring out of cracks in the hoses. And of course, I did use some gaffer’s tape for good measure.

The audience admired the innovation with several people offering the theatre money for the prop. Bids kept coming in throughout the run of the show and the machine was eventually sold to offset some of the production costs. But more importantly was the outcome in my life. I was given free stage access to produce my own show to a sold out crowd.

Not only was the creative moment the key to unlocking my future in theatre, but it also gave me three additional benefits.

A Longer Life. Numerous studies now show that creativity reduces stress. The Journal of Aging and Health published findings, from 1,000 men studied between 1990 and 2008, that only creativity—not intelligence or overall openness—decreased mortality risks. In fact, all of the creative men lived longer than the others.

The University of Rochester Medical Center’s Nicholas Turiano said, “Individuals high in creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks even into old age… Creative people may see stressors more as challenges that they can work to overcome rather than as stressful obstacles they can’t overcome.”

Improved Problem Solving. Creative people are used to seeing things from multiple perspectives, giving them an advantage in finding a solution that will work. Because creativity is a form of play for the creative, he or she is more likely to try things others may never consider. Even Einstein used what he called combinatory play. By testing the juxtaposition of various unrelated ideas he was able to create his theory of relativity.

During the NASA space missions in the 1960s and 1970s, scientists followed Einstein’s lead by using combinatory play to explore solutions that might benefit the space program. The result was over 4,000 patents that led to the creation of many common household goods of today including the super soaker, cordless vacuums, treadmills, insulation, water filters, scratch resistant lenses, solar energy, ear thermometers, etc.

A High Level of Confidence. While some people think confidence opposes humility, it is the exact opposite. Confidence is the ability to see failure as a tool that leads to success. People who have a high level of confidence seldom hold onto fears in life. This stance brings clarity of thought and the ability to improvise when needed.

The creative person who lives with failure as a tool for success sees a looming deadline as an opportunity to play. The person who lacks creativity sees the deadline as pending failure. He or she will tend to freeze up and block new ideas from forming.

We know that Thomas Edison was a creative because it took him 1,000 attempts to invent the light bulb. That means he had to be creative enough to come up with 1,001 new ideas. He didn’t have one idea that happened to work. He had a creative process in place that allowed him the opportunity to test out 1,000 freshly brainstormed ideas.

People who play it safe in corporations by not speaking up or volunteering for tasks that require creativity are missing out on the great benefits that creativity gives us: a longer life, improved problem solving abilities, and a high level of self-confidence. They are also missing out on the opportunity to play when associates freeze up with fear. For these reasons I always recommend people work on developing their creativity.

Are you able to come up with 1,001 ideas, one of which will change the world?

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Creating a Polished Presentation

I was thinking about what it would take to create a polished presentation that would “WOW” the socks off of people. The work would require a new creative approach to take people on an emotional and educational ride that they’ve never been on before. The new method in and of itself would be refreshing.

My mind jumped to a chapter from “The Imagineering Workout” by the Disney Imagineers. Susan Dain, an Imagineer Show Designer, shared some of her notes about how to produce the perfect finishing touches to make a magical product. I took sketchnotes as I reread her four paragraphs, but I used my perspective of creating a polished presentation as a filter.

Here are my sketchnotes followed by an example:

 

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After reviewing my notes, instead of giving a polished presentation example, I’ve decided to share a creative example from my son and his family’s recent move. When I walked into my granddaughter’s new bedroom I was elated with the uniqueness of its layout. It made the room special, which in my mind requires an extraordinary design.

Using everything stored in my brain and heart, I started to dream up several ideas. More specifically, I wondered how the room could be designed to cause my granddaughter to smile from ear to ear like she does every time I visit her.

Creating a design that would make someone smile in that special way takes a tremendous amount of energy to apply all the information it would take, plus the use of skills and whatever talents can be tapped into for the project. And then, it’s time to figure out a fresh new way of combining everything into the purpose of making her smile every time she wakes up and every evening before closing her eyes at bedtime.

It would take brainstorming and mock ups galore. Until that moment when I’d realize that the best idea has been captured and figured out. Then, and only then, would it be time to approach her room with paint, thing-a-ma-bobs and do-hickeys.

But alas, I wouldn’t be able to do it, as her parents would want to help her design the room as a family activity.

It’s a good thing the creative process is fun and rewarding.

I can’t wait to see what she does with her room.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Responsible Creative

logicalThe title of this post seems like an oxymoron, but I assure you it is not. Part of the dilemma some face in seeing truth within a title, is based on their previous experiences that are founded on their sole perspective. Finding the truth requires a glance into the lives of others, enough time spent to understand the definition from a new vantage point.

Most creatives I’ve met are more responsible than their logical counterparts. The artisan, who shows up late to a function because he is emerged in the deep and intense development of an idea that will soon enrich humanity, is far more responsible than the person gloating about his logic because he managed to maintain a certain status quo on behalf of society.

Society demands of its artists that they move our culture forward, while demanding of those exuding logic to carefully maintain and preserve our current way of life.

The airplane pilot is a great example of a calm logical person assigned to sustain our status quo at all costs. When boarding a plane, no one asks the pilot to experiment with flight control during the trip. Nor do they request an adventurous ride that is sure to catch them off guard and spin their life into an exhilarating experience worth weeks of water cooler conversation.

We want our pilots to be mundane. Our expectations are for them to find the least risky path for the plane, avoiding even the slightest turbulence when possible. We also want every decision they make to be founded on a depth of experience and logic that is seldom argued. When all is said and done, the pilot is “responsible” when he delivers nothing more than safe passage and a smooth ride.

The creative on the other hand is pressed by society to exert every level of risk in bringing us something completely new and innovative. With hundreds of new television series released this year we all gravitate to the few that take the audience to places they’ve never been and reveal wonders of life and times they’ve never experienced. We demand the fresh ideas from our creative at any cost.

When he is tardy to social events, most chastise the creative because he didn’t meet the logical or responsible time frame for attendance. They forget that the creative is only late when he is deeply emerged in creating elements for our future. In fact, the amount of energy it takes a creative to not give in to the distractions of the event later that day, but instead hunker down to the hard work of creating the next big thing is perplexing.

To understand that the artist, who doesn’t live by logical standards, is actually responsible by creative standards is accomplished by seeing how the two work together. The balance or synergy between the two types of people moves us to a new level in life and maintains it until the next breakthrough. The forerunner to the smart phone is a great example of combined efforts.

A creative person dreamt up the Star Trek communication device, which appeared in the television series that promoted a universe where people of all races were accepted, worked as a team and kept in communication using a wireless flip phone type of device. It was the due diligence of the creative that took responsibility to avoid distractions and instead put in the hard hours of brainstorming to create the vision.

A logical man bought into the dreams demonstrated in each episode of the telecast. He put his electrical engineering degree to the test and soon invented the personal Star TAC wireless phone that flipped open just like the device on the show. He had taken responsibility to turn the fantasy into reality using the mundane principles he had mastered. With over 60 million units sold, our world quickly changed.

Two responsible people with great differences in the way they perceive life teamed to launch the popular demand of communication devices. The creative birthed the vision and through the magic of television demonstrated its use. The logical bought into the vision and turned the dream into reality. Together society moved forward.

So why is it that many logical people think the procrastinating creative isn’t being responsible when he consistently delivers ideas that shake and alter our future? After all, creatives need that down time to increase the productivity of their creations. The irony is actually seen in the artist’s perspective who always appreciates the responsible engineer that turns his fantasies into reality.

Why does mutual respect between the two never happen? Actually, it does happen. Most engineers love working with creatives because they love to work the puzzle of design into reality.

It’s the general public that attributes great responsibility and excellence to the logical process and little to the artistic process. Yet, the general public spends a third of their 24 hour day viewing and using things developed by the creative. It’s absolutely ironic.

The creative takes the responsibility to procrastinate, brainstorm and dive deep into figuring out how his vision will be structured for the next big thing, but few recognize the value of it until they can hold or watch the final product. Of course, once the final product exists the public acknowledges the diligence of the logical persons who turned the dream into reality and forget about the creative who put in incredible amounts of emotional energy to birth the idea in the first place.

Still, the creative takes responsibility to continue his efforts regardless of the missing applause for his due diligence. Yep, creatives are more responsible because they create regardless of the missing pats on the back.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

 

5 Rules of Brainstorming

Idea LeadershipWhenever I ask if anyone knows how to brainstorm, they always say, “Yes.” Not long into the activity they demonstrate that they don’t know how or are unable to follow the rules. I always keep a reminder sheet of brainstorming rules on me to quickly review with teams. Here is the list—

1. There are No Dumb Ideas. This is the hardest rule to keep for people who don’t practice brainstorming often, especially when someone shares an idea from out of left field. Any negative feedback immediately closes down part of the person’s mind in the name of protection. It also shuts down anyone else who heard the comment and hinders the team’s progress.

The best way to approach all ideas is from a position of acceptance. Everyone knows when a better idea is shared, so no one ever needs to be told their idea wasn’t any good, especially when the weird ideas tend to spark more creativity that leads to great ideas. The not-so-great ideas are like kindling that starts a bonfire. If kindling is squelched, the bonfire never gets lit.

2. Don’t Criticize Other People’s Ideas. The moment judgment, a left-brain activity, enters the discussion it shuts down the right brain where great ideas are formed. The only reason for a person to shoot down an idea is to show superiority, which stifles creativity. No creative team has room for a superior being on it. After all, a dominant person in a brainstorming session tries to leverage their ideas instead of finding what’s best for the story.

When someone criticizes an idea, the greatest tool of correction is for the team to immediately use the “bad idea” as a launching point for a diversion into play. Dave Crawford, a Disney Imagineering Principal Mechanical Show/Ride Engineer says, “The most unrealistic options inspire tangent ideas that take you to new places you would have never considered.” By exploring all the possible tangents, not only does the criticizer learn his or her place, but also the team gets to overcome the negative comments with numerous newly inspired ideas.

3. Build on Other People’s Ideas. Some ideas are like taking a thumb out of a dam with a flurry of side or bigger ideas pouring forth. Teams can get on a roll of ideas that build one on top of the other. This sends the team into diverse directions and can shift the focus to address sustainable details. The goal is to capture the best of all the ideas and find an angle on it that will out last the test of time.

In the improv community, who brainstorms live on stage, the process is called, “yes, and.” The yes acknowledges the first person’s comment in a positive light and then adds to it a bigger, tangential or more detailed idea. The add-on is never viewed as being “better,” but instead as being the next step in the developmental process for creating great show or story.

4. Reverse Quality for Quantity. During production or performance everyone focuses on quality. However, in the developmental brainstorming process its mandatory to chase after quantity. It’s impossible to come up with a new invention, show or story without pouring through a gazillion ideas until you find that one new angle, perspective or idea. Whether the goal is to educate or entertain, some form of the idea must be new.

Most pros board their brainstorming activities and later gather the large quantity of ideas based on observable groupings, topic, viewpoint or uniqueness. Screenplay writers group their ideas by set pieces, turning points and entertainment value. Businessmen group their ideas based on presentation, features and benefits. Preachers group their ideas based on scripture, story and application.

5. Play Wildly. This is the most important element and the one few people want to see on the list. The more childlike the approach during the brainstorming process, the more creative the final solution. The play factor instills energy into the developmental process and infuses it with fun-based passion. This activity drives the kind of creativity required for a successful brainstorming session.

Many people define play differently. Some watch a movie in between sessions. Some quip off jokes. The more energetic get into character and role-play various perspectives. Others pull out board games, while still others get into pretend or make-believe worlds. Some even get more elaborate in their play within the worlds of cosplay or steampunk. Any activity works that is immersed in right-brained activity—even scribbling games on a blank sheet of paper.

When the rules of brainstorming are adhered to, all participants gain energy from the experience. When the rules are abused, people feel drained afterwards. This thermometer that tests the flow of creative juices is important to monitor for the sake of future sessions and productivity. Without play, all brainstorming sessions fall a part.

Creating with Opposites

Creating with OppositesI’ve never understood “writers block” or not being able to create something new. Every time I have a slight delay of thought, I change my perspective and I’m flooded with buckets of new ideas. Creativity flows whenever I shift my perspective to something unique.

One change of perspective can come about by considering the opposite. Let’s say I wanted to create a new restaurant or café. The easiest first step is making a list of what restaurants are, such as:

  1. A place with a menu selection of food.
  2. A place to order food.
  3. A place to have food served.

The list could continue, but for this example I’m good with a short list. Now, keep in mind that this list is based on my assumptions of what a restaurant is. It’s possible that not all restaurants have all three. Some places might be more unique, thanks to a creative person who gave input at the onset of the idea. So to pump creativity into my new restaurant idea, I try to list out the opposites:

  1. A place without any form of menu.
  2. A place where food can’t be ordered or bought.
  3. A place where no one serves the food.

This list of opposites opens up the mind and starts my creative process. While the logical person says that’s stupid, the creative soul plays with the ideas. The creative picks a few of the opposites and brainstorms.

What if…

…My restaurant had no menu?

Maybe the chef comes to the table and shares what ingredients and meats he procured that afternoon for the freshest of meals. He shares some ideas with those at the table and based on consensus cooks up a culinary delight. And, sends the family home with the recipe for a future gathering.

…People can’t order food at my restaurant?

Maybe it’s a beautiful setting with privatized ambiance that is rented by the hour and guests bring their own food. Instead of ordering extras that were forgotten by the host, shelves of free supplements are available for use.

…No one serves the food?

Maybe a top chef tosses various plates of food onto a counter for anyone to grab. Each dish is uniquely made from various country recipes and then put on display for anyone to claim. Each presentation perfectly brings out the key elements that make the meal unique to its country.

By using the opposites to brainstorm, several more ideas pop into my head that venture me off in a direction that will make my restaurant unique. Those unordinary possibilities would drive marketing and entice foodies to try something new and refreshing.

Years ago I came up with an idea using opposites and shared it with friends. Everyone was interested in trying my restaurant if I ever got around to making it. Two years later Walt Disney World opened a new restaurant that was so similar that I realized my venture idea could’ve been a success — All due to a creative use of opposites.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers