Visual Practice Leads to Innovation

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I reviewed several hundred movie posters yesterday to remember which movies stirred something within me. I wanted to create a list of 20 films and then study the movies to learn what the directors had done to capture my heart with their story.

However, flipping through the pictures not only reignited those past feelings, but it also sparked my imagination with ideas worth keeping for future innovations. The experience also gave me the idea to share those steps with you. They are simple enough that a monkey can do it—sort of.

Did you know that track lighting was invented as a result of a monkey picture?

Back in the early 1960s, the designer who came up with the idea for track lighting while working at Lightolier, was browsing through a National Geographic magazine and spotted a picture of a monkey. He allowed the visual stimulus of the incredible photograph to play around in his head. He imagined the monkey running around inside a house moving lights to where ever it was needed. That imagery of moveable lighting led to the invention of track lighting.

We can use the same techniques to spark our imagination in four steps.

BROWSE IMAGES

Scanning through images in newspapers, magazines, and online is an easy way to spark an emotion. When you find a few that grab your attention or interest, set them to the side for the next step. I like to skim through Pinterest and then capture the images that stir me into one of my boards.

WRITE DESCRIPTIONS

Pull out a piece of paper or open a WORD document and write out good descriptions of the image. You can write in prose or bullet points. Try to use strong verbs to describe as much as you can as it relates to why you were stirred by the image. Make a good selection of your words to clarify the action within the image and the feelings it exudes.

MAKE CONNECTIONS

Review the problem or challenge at work that you are facing. Glance through the pictures and descriptions you’ve written. Then force yourself to find any correlations that are possible. It’s okay to stretch yourself in this step. The key is to not ever limit your connections with made up rules in your head.

BRAINSTORM IDEAS

Make a list of possible considerations based on the correlations you’ve discovered. Play with the ideas in your head, expanding them creatively to things you would not normally consider. Then determine the top three ideas worth looking into for its business potential.

Whenever I run through this process I always gain insights that are useful. The connections are many times abstract, but they are present and become fuel for my imagination, driving my next steps of innovation.

As I finished looking through the movie posters, I suddenly realized that all the posters I selected were about a specific story concept. The protagonist decided to be himself regardless of the system demands placed on him and when he got to the end of his rope with failure imminent, his friends stepped in and empowered his success.

I hope this article empowers the success of your next innovation.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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Solving Problems When You Don’t Feel Creative

CandleBoxTacksWhen I was in college, Oktoberfest was a big celebration in Wisconsin. One year, the local radio station had a competition to find the hidden medallion. The winner received thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes, major media coverage, and was honored in the parade. Every morning the radio station broadcasted a clue to help people find the medallion that was hidden somewhere within a half-hour radius of the tristate area along the Mississippi.

Known for my creativity, numerous people asked if I was going to solve the puzzle and reap the rewards. I decided to give it a try and found myself following the clues to within an inch of the medallion. I even rested my hand on the stone that covered the medallion. But I never lifted the stone to find it. Why? Because I had a functional fixedness bias from my childhood.

A common game we played in our childhood was called Hide the Thimble. The rules were that the person hiding the thimble had to place it in plain sight, so it could be seen from at least one angle without anything blocking it. My heightened observation skills made me a natural at winning that game. But in the case of the Oktoberfest medallion, there was no rule of it having to be in plain sight. I assumed the rule because of my functional fixedness.

The emotional pain I experienced when the station announced where the medallion was hidden, having had my hand on that very stone, was intense. I cringed when I realized that the reason the stone wobbled under my hand wasn’t that it was uneven, but because part of it was sitting on top of a medallion. Argh!

Today, I’m very conscious of any form of bias. I also practice interrupting patterns on a regular basis. The reason I work diligently at breaking away from functional fixedness is that innovation demands my mental freedom and the longer a person continues in functional fixedness the harder it gets to break free and think creatively.

Functional fixedness is a bias that hinders creativity—limiting people to only use an object in the way it was intended to be used. The opposite of functional fixedness is reflected in MacGyver’s ability to use common objects in a different way than originally designed. It takes a tremendous amount of creativity to use unrelated objects together for a solution, like using a cellphone camera as a mirror, a brick as a doorstop, or a quarter to unscrew a screw.

In moments when we feel less creative, psychologists suggest that we are likely caught in the functional fixedness mindset. This concept was first introduced by Norman Maier in 1931. By 1945, psychologist Karl Duncker designed a test to determine if a person held the bias or not. The test included a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a book of matches.

The test subject was to solve a simple problem. The goal to find a way to hang a lit candle on the wall using only the materials provided. The person with a high degree of functional fixedness was not able to see the box of tacks as part of the solution. He could only perceive it as the container holding the useful thumbtacks.

The unhindered creative solution had the person dump the tacks out of the box. Place the box on the wall using thumbtacks and placing the candle in the box. Then the matches were used to light the candle. This simple solution is mentally blocked for many people who hold a bias that they are unaware of.

Unfortunately, many people who realize they are no good at solving these types of problems seldom take time to break the bias and improve their creativity. They typically state that they aren’t creative, allowing their functional fixedness to grow more powerful. The only way to reduce our unhealthy biases is to build and empower our creativity.

There are three steps I use to break free of functional fixedness:

Explore the Problem using Make-Believe

Today’s culture suggests that problem-solving is a logical practice because of functional fixedness. To use the right side of our brain, where most of our non-diagnostic troubleshooting skills reside, we have to make the problem abstract. This can be considered a form of play, which opens our mind up to all possibilities.

Sometimes I pretend that I’m living in a sci-fi world where normal rules of nature no longer apply. This creative world-building allows me to look at a problem from new vantage points because it distills the issue down to its core elements—surface issues that typically hold our attention due to bias fade away.

Drawn from Alternative Fields of Knowledge

Once I’ve exposed the bare essence of a problem, it is easy to see similar issues being worked on by professionals in other fields. This allows me to draw from their expertise in how they work the basics and transfer them to my situation. This process typically fuels my creative thought process and feeds me new perspectives and ideas worth exploring for my specific problem.

Play with the Inspired Possibilities

At this point in the process, my thoughts are freer of bias and I continue to play with the ideas. This is the stage where I keep all possibilities open for as long as I can, not wanting to take just the first solution that pops into my head. The playful stance during this phase of the process allows me to explore multiple solutions so I have a few to choose from.

Freeing our creativity requires the breaking of strongholds like functional fixedness. A bias never self corrects, so we must purpose to change our viewpoints. By acknowledging our bias, we can focus on strengthening our creativity and fuel our future with a greater ability to problem solve and innovate—making us a valuable resource for our company, community group, and family.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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The New Season of Creative Mindfulness

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I remember the changes that occurred in business when upper management altered its focus to an innovative mindfulness called a paradigm shift. Every executive I knew was searching for a new way of looking at processes and conducting business. Changes in operations led to consolidations and the tossing out of unneeded practices. Even sales teams shifted their selling techniques to fit the changing marketplace.

During the fourth quarter of last year, a new mindfulness started to appear. Fresh research was published by Linked-In, Adobe, and the Forrester Group. All of the results and documentation pointed to the emergence of this new mindfulness being that of creativity. Executives at Fortune 500 companies started to pay attention to the fact that creativity was directly correlated to business success.

In his new book, Creative Calling, releasing on September 24, 2019, Chase Jarvis shares how the practice of creativity in business will soon be established as a standard for a healthy employee. The creator of the Creative Live website takes it a step further by insisting that creativity will be considered just as important to each day like exercise, nutrition, and meditation.

For this very reason, I have shifted the focus of this blog and my new podcast to help people grow their creative thinking and abilities. We are all born with creativity, which is seen in every child prior to them starting school, where we are taught to focus on logic.

The logical side of life is tactical in nature and the creative side is strategic. It didn’t take long for business futurists to figure out that within another decade Ai technologies will replace the vast majority of tactical jobs, leaving only strategic and creative positions available for people.

To help people start increasing their creative abilities and thought processes, Jarvis illustrates in his new book the I.D.E.A. system.

IMAGINE

The imagination can create hope and a vision for our future. By improving one’s ability to imagine things, a businessperson can bring clarity to new processes and gain an understanding of what is required to implement that new future. The imagination can also drive an individual’s focus to clarify their intentions on how to proceed.

DESIGN

Jarvis’ design phase is all about establishing a daily practice and conforming our lives to support expressions and transformation. The average person in business today fears change and is hesitant to move forward in what appears to be a blind expedition into the unknown. However, the strongest employees are the ones who are at the forefront of creating change.

EXECUTE

Creativity isn’t innovative or more than just a concept unless it is fleshed out. The businessperson has to learn how to execute their innovation, turning their vision into reality. Even the most ambitious plans can be accomplished one step at a time when a businessperson learns how to execute creative ideas.

AMPLIFY

The business world has turned into a community that requires the participation of many hands for the out-rolling of new projects, products, and services. Finding ways to impact our partners and engaging our communities, increases our productivity and success rate. This amplification process provides a natural byproduct of replicating the best part of ourselves in others.

Developing our own creative thoughts and abilities is critical for our survival in the coming years. This is due in part to the unprecedented challenges in our economy, environment, and technology. We can’t erase the past that put a powerful computer/phone device in the hands of every business person, so we must learn and master what the device can’t provide us—CREATIVITY.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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Good Deadlines Drive the Imagination

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All projects need an end in sight to bring the creative flow to its natural conclusion. Yet many see the deadline as a dreaded device that squeezes the life out of a project. Disney Imagineer and Senior Principal Production Show Designer, Neil Engel, put a positive spin on deadlines when he says, “Deadlines can keep your imagination active, and ideas fresh and flowing.”

Engel’s perspective is about shifting our perspective to one that energizes activities, rather than causing the creative to freeze up. By shifting our attention to what motivates us and keeping the focus on the portion of the project being worked, Engel suggests that we can reframe our perspective and make the deadline just another objective.

After giving his viewpoint consideration, I realized the validity of making sure every deadline-based project is broken down into easily managed milestones. A fiction writer that has to write and deliver a manuscript in twelve months wouldn’t have to fret if he broke down the overwhelming 100,000 words into achievable milestones.

Most beginning novelists can write 1,000 words a day and pros can write twice that amount. By setting milestones for 1,000 words a day gives the slowest of writers a completed first draft manuscript in six months. A goal of 2,000 words a day converts the writer’s ideas into a first draft in half the amount of time.

The business salesman making cold calls can also breakdown his activities into milestones. If he makes 23 cold calls an hour, he is likely to get 3-7 prospects. Out of the 40 prospects during the day, he is likely to get 1-2 meetings. Out of seven scheduled meetings during the week, one or two are likely to convert into a sale.

If the boss is pressuring everyone to close one sale a week, the salesman might feel more pressure at the beginning of every week unless he focuses on the milestone process instead of that one deal that must be closed. In other words, our perspective makes the deadline nerve-racking or just another milestone.

A screenwriter doesn’t count the words, but the script pages with the total landing at 110-120 pages on average. The milestones for a first draft might be writing four pages a day, which would deliver the first draft in a month. However, most screenwriters that I know don’t go by page or word count, but by the number of scenes that the story requires.

The milestones for a screenplay are usually first broken out by reels, story sequences, or mini-movies. Then the story is broken down into smaller segments that meet the requirements of the beat sheet. When the writer focuses on just the key beats for any given day, there is little stress related to the deadline, which also reduces the pressure of on set rewrites—when everyone is waiting for the changed pages for that day’s shoot.

My past experiences confirm the accuracy of Engel’s perspective. I also agree with his view that some pressure is necessary to force the creative process to flourish. There is a reason all Broadway musicals take 8-12 weeks to rehearse. While some suggest producers can’t afford to pay for a longer rehearsal period, most pros agree that the show would become boring and flat for the performers if it extends past that standard period.

Engel presented the concept from a creative’s perspective when he says, “With too much time, a project can become overworked and lose its spontaneity or direction.”

For a successful project, it is critical that creatives stay fresh. They need enough time to do the job properly, which requires a strategically placed deadline. They also need to learn how to turn the deadline into a normal milestone to reduce the pressure to what is manageable in a normal day. By facilitating these two issues concerning deadlines, bosses and managers can get the most creativity and efficiency from their teams.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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Takeaway Creativity

JengaHave you ever given a talk and had too much information to share?

Last night, I shared how to give a six-minute talk that helps the audience understand a key problem, learn the steps necessary to make changes, and inspire them to take some form of action. I wanted to give the talk in six minutes to demonstrate my point, but I had 30-minutes of information to share.

My prep time reminded me of the Jenga game. Players start with a large tower of wooden pieces and have to carefully remove one piece at a time without the entire structure collapsing. The game is always a challenge because opponents alternate the removal of pieces, which means their move might be to keep the tower stable for a few more rounds or designed to force the destruction of the tower upon your next move—so they can win.

In business projects, takeaway creativity is like a Jenga game. We research and are supplied resources for our assigned project. A brain dump occurs of all the information we have to work with followed by a sifting and sorting process to select only the useful or pertinent information. And then, we decide if we’ll give a presentation with 46 slides or whittle it down to our best seven.

The ace solution is always the simplest. It’s true in filmmaking, writing, and presentations. No one wants to be lulled to sleep by the information that isn’t relevant.

When television first got started, the shows were 58 minutes in length, giving time for sponsors to demonstrate their products in exchange for covering the show’s production costs. Once the power of television became known to advertisers, a deluge of companies started promoting their wares, which forced show lengths to drop down to 43-minutes.

The programs improved as a result because writers were forced to use only the pertinent information that was absolutely necessary to tell the story. Then streamers hit the market and the rules about programming length changed to fit the story. Suddenly the advertising-free shows were released at varying lengths based on what the story dictated for each episode.

The right-sizing of content to close a business deal is important and the information must dictate the length of a presentation. No longer will a cookie cutter template keep the prospect’s attention. This forces businessmen and women to reduce their presentations down to the bare essence of what is necessary for the deal.

A published humorous anecdote that 100 years later was attributed to Michelangelo, alleging that it was a true story at the revealing of his David, reflects the idea of takeaway creativity. The man asked, “how could you achieve such a masterpiece from a crude slab of marble?” The response, “All I did was chip away everything that didn’t look like David.”

Taking away what doesn’t belong in your presentation starts with a Jenga-like tower of information. Knowing what pieces to pull from the presentation will reduce the structure down to its ideal size. But if too much information is taken away, the story is incomplete and the client lacks the necessary information to say, “Yes.”

The art of condensing the information down to its core elements can be learned from the Jenga game. Here are the steps in the search for the key elements that must be removed to condense the presentation:

  • Start with all project related information.
  • Take away the obvious that the client already knows.
  • Take away the fluff information.
  • Take away the repetitive information.
  • Take away the features that don’t benefit the customer.
  • Take away the history of the product.
  • Take away anything that doesn’t perfectly meet your focus.

What you are left with might be…

  • The client’s problem.
  • The recommended solution.
  • The features and case studies that proved the solution successful with other clients.
  • The benefits the client receives from the solution.
  • The structure of the deal and its related offer.
  • Plenty of time for Q&A to fine-tune the client’s solution.

Just like pulling one piece from the Jenga puzzle at a time to focus the presentation down to its bare essence, making sure certain elements stay in place to maintain the health of the offer is also critical.

In preparation for my talk last night, I distilled a 160-page book on how to give a six-minute talk down to five critical sentences. Then I added in relatable information to clarify those sentences and help the audience take ownership of the structure that I shared. The result, several people took notes for their next presentation and one woman changed her planned talk that she’s giving to a national group of investors tomorrow. Oh, and I gave my talk all within the six minutes time frame to prove it works.

One of the greatest forms of creativity that we must practice is the art of condensing information, or what I call Takeaway Creativity. I have practiced it by reediting a feature movie down to a short film, taking a novel and turning it into a short story, and taking a 46-slide corporate presentation deck and turning it into a 7-slide show.

Take time this week to practice your creativity by cutting out the unnecessary and reforming it into a highly impactful solution that will impress your associates.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

 

Disruptive Creativity Drives Success

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This past week I gave a talk on how creativity fuels innovation, which in turn generates departmental and business success. Several business owners were thrilled to hear more about the steps they need to take in order to compete in this new socially-driven marketplace. Many have heard about disruptive technologies, but the core ingredient to the marketplace disruption process is what I call disruptive creativity.

I’ll lay out how disruptive creativity drives success using the New-Different-Better-More (NDBM) principle below.

NEW

The introduction of new products and services only lasts 90 days in today’s society. Once day 91 hits, the item or service is no longer new. It’s therefore the goal of every marketer and salesperson to take advantage of their opportunity window. However, to be successful the product or service must be new.

The definition of “new” gets a little slippery when companies attempt to come out with something that already exists. If the offer is a first for a certain group of people or demographic, the product or service might be considered new regardless of preexisting competition. A safer release would be of a new product or service that can easily be differentiated from the competition based on it being unique, superior, or of greater value.

DIFFERENT

Offering the same thing as the competition will not drive business growth. By only shifting the color, model, or offering leaves little room to distinguish a company in the noisy marketplace. The product or service must be positioned using something that clearly differentiates it from the competition.

The best type of difference in products or services include an intuitive interface or process; additional or unique features; and, easily obtainable benefits from using the product or service. Clarity can also drive delineation from the competition by using mascots or the endorsements from celebrities and public figures.

BETTER

Building the better proverbial mousetrap is an age old scenario that has perplexed businesses for decades. The first company to market always gets a greater share of business, but so does the company who finds ways of improving on the product or service. The groundswell of early adopters drives more development monies into businesses, but it’s only the company who determines how to make things better that survives for the long haul.

In today’s society, better must also be disruptive. The goal of every new product or service must be to reinvent how the marketplace will embrace the offering, while displacing the competition. Survival today means changing the playing field to favor the company. In the same way, the company that convinces the client to let them help write the RFP going out for bid will be able to seed the document with requirements that match their strengths.

MORE

Buffets have been successful for decades because the hungry person sees them as being far more beneficial than ordering a simple meal. Discount restaurant coupon books also give a great perception of a two-for-one value since most people dine with a friend or loved one. The idea of getting something more from a package or offering grabs the potential customer’s attention.

The “more” can be an increase in value, quantity, or add-on benefits. Many online sellers offer bonus products within a certain ordering time constraint to increase the product’s worth. When the offering includes a how-to book, the “more” can be additional details that brings overt clarity to the reader’s next steps, compared to the competition’s short, high-level book that alludes to the right answers.

The NDBM principles are a direct extension of disruptive creativity in action. By creatively putting NDBM into practice, a business can position itself well within its market and drive away or absorb competitors. The key is making sure each step of the NDBM elements are built creatively and not copied from another business. The company’s style must shine through when presented.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

 

Write, Read and Watch—Lessons from Marvel’s Jim Krueger

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I got together with a couple dozen creatives over the weekend for a workshop on story. It was a great time of networking with like-minded artists. Jim Krueger, a storyteller, comic book writer, novelist and filmmaker, was the keynote speaker. He’s most known for his works (including Earth X) at Marvel. He also won the prestigious Eisner Award for Justice (DC Comics).

Jim pointed out the three things that all writers need to do each day: write, read, and watch.

WRITE

Writers need to write everyday to strengthen and mature their “voice.” Jim, who tries to write four hours every day, believes that the writing process helps us to pour out the very thing that can fix our broken world. He also suggested that we have to know ourselves in order to find those internal nuggets of value that are worthy to be shared.

He gave us an exercise to write down our top 10 films that we love followed by the top 10 films we hate. The correlation was amazing and helped us to discover the passion that stirs within us. Within the stories we hated was an internal “No” wanting to be expressed. This pensive drive reveals the “Yes” that we want everyone to embrace—the very thing we must write about to be fulfilled.

READ

Screenwriters need to read the best scripts in the genre in which they write. Authors need to read the best books in the genre they write. Studying the best allows us to improve our techniques, while also learning what has already been done. Unique character reveals, rhythms, and pacing become second nature when we immerse ourselves in the writings of the best.

Being able to spot in others’ works what makes us feel good, and why, helps us understand how to craft our own stories that inspire. This is an important base element in writing that will attract followers and build a fan base. It’s the fulfillment of a natural need, according to Jim, who said, “People need to feel good about themselves after watching your story.”

WATCH

Since our world was transformed from a literary to a visual culture, Jim recommended that writers watch feature films and long form television to study what’s being created for the market and what is well received. While he didn’t intend to do a commercial for Movie Pass (now $6.95 for a monthly subscription program), he did recommend going to the movies often for study purposes.

James Patterson, who writes first thing every morning, shared in a class that I took a couple years ago, how he heads to a theater and watches a feature film after his morning writing session. Since he goes daily, he doesn’t always stay for the entire picture, but learns what he can about the market, what’s been done in the realm of stories, and any story techniques that he can observe and capture.

After convincing us that we all needed to be writing, reading and watching, Jim shared that the rules of story must also be followed with no exception. “Rules as a storyteller are never to be broken, only worked around with loopholes,” he said. When rules are broken, the audience can’t easily follow the story and loses interest, so it’s important to make sure the core elements or the logic and reasons behind the rules are never altered.

Jim pointed out that the limitations put on the storyteller are actually valuable creative tools. “Limitations allow us to put surprise and wonder into place,” he said. Understanding how wonder plays a role in the development of entertainment gives us the fuel to explore an idea until it rises to its best version before releasing it to the audience. Jim suggested that it could take anywhere from 4-6 weeks for an idea to mature to its highest value.

At the end of the day, Jim autographed three panel original art from his next published work due out in a few months. Keep your eyes out for his work.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers