1. The Answer is in the Question

    by Remo Nuzzolese

    The ability to solve a problem, clarify a situation or simply have a productive conversation relies heavily in the questions we ask ourselves or our collaborators. Depending on the starting point we choose we might frame the problem in the wrong way, encourage openness and honesty, or miserably fail in obtaining what we want to know. We could get the facts or get lost in useless information never getting to the point that we are interested in.

    Here is a little reminder about how to start a question to get exactly what we want from ourselves and others.

    What?, Who?, When?, Where? These are fact based question starters, they will give you information as perceived by the respondent. Great journalists wield these questions with incredible precision.

    Why? An answer to this question might tell you about the inner motivations, or higher principles, according to one’s character. Do not use Why? if you need the facts. Use it if you want to encourage people to tell something more about themselves.

    Can? Typical example of when not to use a question at all: If you want someone to do something, don’t ask them if they can. Tell them.

    Should? Speaking of guilt… This little word is loaded with needs and “have to’s”, it’s not very empowering from the receiving end.

    Would? Again, use with caution: the answer to that question might be: “No, thanks!”.

    How to? What might be all the ways? These are some typical open-ended questions. These starters will help you create many possibilities. They assume that there are many ways to solve a problem, tricking the mind to find them all, one by one.

    So, use your question starters in a smart way. The answer might be right in front of you, but you need the right question to grab it!

    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 1 year ago
  2. Knowledge, Curiosity and Imagination

    It’s Not Only What You Do, But How You Do It.

    By Sharon de Korte

    A friend of mine recently asked me ‘What role does experience have in breakthrough innovation? ’The question stopped me in my tracks. Of course, experience does play a role in breakthrough innovation but the answer really isn’t that simple.

    Three elements that I focus on to enhance creativity play off and support creative thinking: knowledge, curiosity and imagination. It is through the synergy of these elements that breakthrough innovation can be nurtured and innovation developed through deliberate evaluation of ideas.


    Knowledge is often where we start as we are looking to develop new things. It is the lens through which we see the world. And knowledge is built from our experiences — what we have done, places we have been, people we have met. We can say that the more experiences we have the more knowledge we develop — but that’s only part of the story. Having experiences and learning from them are not the same. It is important to take the time to pay attention to what is happening and why it is happening. Deeper observation — using all the senses — can give new richness to an experience.

    Earlier this week we were in the country looking at the fall foliage. Seeing the colors from the car window was beautiful. We saw incredible patterns and beautiful trees. But when we got out of the car the experience was so much richer — the sound of walking on the fallen leaves, the smell of the slightly damp leaves, the sounds of them underfoot and the babbling brook in the distance — these are the experiences that inspire.

    When learning from others, another aspect of experience is listening with an open mind and open heart. Think about the last time you were having a conversation with someone or even watching something on TV. Which of the following are you doing?

    1. Selective listening or not listening, but thinking of other things with background noise that occasionally may break through your consciousness.
    2. Contextual listening, where you are listening to agree or disagree with what is being said.You might already be focused on what you are going to stay in response or even interrupting.
    3. Empathetic listening, where you are actively listening to learn from the speaker’s point of view and see new perspectives.

    Deepening our experience with the experience is where real learning or knowledge building can take place.

    But if it was only up to knowledge then the most creative people would also be the most knowledgeable. We know that’s not true since children are generally considered highly creative and we know that they don’t have the most knowledge. So why is that?


    What is it that children have over adults that drives them to be more creative? I believe it’s their attitude: a curious spirit that provides the spark, and opens up their minds to new thinking.

    Children are open to learning and exploring the world. They don’t have a preconceived notion of what things ‘should’ be, since they genuinely don’t know. But what happens to adults is that our knowledge gets in the way. We start assuming we know something and then we stop looking for new ways. It is important that we use the knowledge we have as a starting place for to enhance our curiosity rather than squelch it. No matter how much we know or don’t know, if we are arrogant then we won’t learn more compared to taking a humble attitude that opens us to new learning.

    Sometimes we don’t even realize that this is happening. Habits help us be productive — we need our habits — but often we don’t even realize what we are missing. Our minds and muscles develop habits so that things are easier for us to do. But as soon as that happens, we are no longer thinking about how to do better.

    New technology is a perfect example of this. There is so much new technology that is being designed to make our lives easier. However, in order to take advantage of these things we have to change the way we do something. My brother recently showed me that when I open my iPhone, if I push the little camera icon up, it opens the camera right away. It used to take me several steps to do the same thing. Now, why didn’t I ever think: ‘there has to be a faster way to do this?’

    Don’t miss this: remembering to ask that question is a habit, too.

    If we are truly open to a new way of doing things, we are going to be more flexible if something changes. If something changes and we take the attitude that there is one way to do it then all of a sudden we won’t know what to do. But if we take a curious attitude and ask ‘how might we solve this with what we have?’ we are open to finding a breakthrough approach.

    Curiosity will open us to surprises. I met my new husband on an Internet dating site. When I started dating, I thought I knew the type of person I wanted to meet but I didn’t want that to stop me from exploring the new world of possibilities. Rather than making a list of requirements, I thought: let me see who I meet. By being curious, I met someone who captures my sense of adventure with a passion for the world in a way that I would never have imagined — and never would have found had I made a list of husband criteria.


    And that brings us to imagination. Knowledge and attitude are important but breakthrough thinking won’t happen without imagination.

    The first step to accessing our imagination is to change the question. If we are asking ourselves the same question, we are most likely going to get the same answer. Sometimes we are so focused on accomplishing a goal that we lose sight of what we are trying to do. Whatever the challenge, just asking two simple questions can help to engage your imagination:

    1. Why do you want to do that?
    2. What’s stopping you from doing it?

    These two simple questions will recast the challenge and open thinking to new possibilities. It helps get to the essence of the problem which may have been evasive.

    Similarly, challenging your assumptions about the problem helps breakthrough creative roadblocks. Think about the times when you have said ‘I can’t do that!’ and then you see someone else is doing exactly that. In a recent conversation with a friend, she was telling me that she didn’t have enough time for something she wanted to do since she had to clean out her closet. I couldn’t help but think that it was merely her assumption that her closet needed to be organized. Maybe someone else with a closet in the same state wouldn’t think that it needed cleaning. Next time you say something that you think is ‘a fact,’ simply ask yourself, ‘what if that wasn’t true?’

    The most important thing about experience is not what it is but what we bring to it. We need to ask ourselves: Are we having this experience or is the experience having us? Are we taking a curious attitude to approach this situation or do we think we know the answer already? And,are we engaging our imagination or just seeing what we always see?

    But all that isn’t enough to get to breakthrough innovation. They come together through evaluation — having creative ideas isn’t the be all and end all to have creative breakthroughs. It is critical to evaluate and refine the ideas to develop workable solutions to the challenge.

    To answer my friend’s original question: What role does experience play in breakthrough innovation? Experience is certainly important, but more important is how we have experiences, and what we do with the experience we have.

    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 1 year ago
  3. 100 Crazy Ideas

    By Costa Michailidis

    Update (July 2013): Since we’ve put this list up, some of these ideas have become quite real, others, we’ve discovered, have been around for quite some time. Keep the ideas flowing : )

    1. Self-cleaning Cloths.
    2. Haircuts that have utility.
    3. A dog training service that trains your dog to do useful things, perhaps even income generating things.
    4. Garbage cans that recycle trash.
    5. Crowdsourced education.
    6. Using devices (smartphones, laptops, etc) as wireless routers. Imagine every device boosted the wifi signal.
    7. Shoes that clean the ground.
    8. Grounds that clean your shoes.
    9. Toys that build character.
    10. An alarm clock that simulates the sunrise and sounds of nature to wake you up.
    11. A smart phone that brews your coffee just before your alarm goes off.
    12. An app for phones to control your TV remotely.
    13. A “home” app that connects all of your house’s appliances to the cloud.
    14. A bedtime stories database sortable by what type of difficulties your child is having.
    15. An app that scans text from paper onto a screen.
    16. Retractable packaging - a serivce that sends packaging back to the seller for reuse.
    17. Lightning-powered pants.
    18. Lightning-powered power plants.
    19. Pants that heat up or cool down depending on the weather.
    20. Clothing that heats up as you move.
    21. Paint that changes hue when hit by sound waves.
    22. GPS for pets. No-more missing cat flyers.
    23. Laws that prevent the above technology from being used on people.
    24. Sailing on top of the atmosphere the way ships sail on top of the sea.
    25. Using one of those atmosphere sailboats to attach the elevator to space.
    26. Attaching an expiration date to money.
    27. Having a presidential debate with instant audience approval ratings.
    28. A series of tech educational videos for old folks.
    29. Social skills curriculm at schools.
    30. Teaching creativity at school.
    31. Toys that teach creativity at home.
    32. Video games that teach social skills.
    33. Remote controlled snorkeling robots.
    34. Underwater Greenhousing for Coral Reefs.
    35. Underwater farming.
    36. Indoor farming.
    37. Dolls of role model women: Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton, Melinda Gates, Gaby Douglas.
    38. A counter for how many times Google searching has settled an argument.
    39. Sorting your email by who sent it to you instead of by date.
    40. Voice command emailing.
    41. A sink that doubles as a dish washer.
    42. Have the stearing wheel vibrate when you’re too close to the car behind you, instead of that annoying beeping sound.
    43. Hats with solar panels. No more dead cell phones.
    44. Refabricate pay phones as public outlets. No more dead cell phones.
    45. A totally customizable all-in-one healthy habits points system that’s enforceable.
    46. GPS tracker for expensive jewelery, so that when it gets stollen you can tell the cops where to look for it.
    47. A school that farmed some of it’s own food locally so that students could learn about farming, and systems in general in a hands-on way, maybe it could sell some of that food during harvest season as well.
    48. Word-of-the-day unlock screens for smartphones.
    49. To-do list on the unlock screen for smartphones.
    50. Starbucks set up at busy intersections right up along the street like a drive-through.
    51. Flash Mobs that do something useful.
    52. Cable car systems for traffic-dense cities.
    53. A mobile dating app with augmented reality personal ads/profiles.
    54. Planes that are remotely piloted from the ground so they can’t be hijacked.
    55. TED Talks from historical figures (such as: Abraham Lincoln, Aristotle, Cleopatra) written by historians and delivered by actors.
    56. A bracelet that measures your vitals and stores them in your own personal health database.
    57. An app that calculates the nutritional value of your food when you take a picture of it.
    58. Using trees to boost WiFi signals.
    59. Using cars to boost WiFi signals.
    60. Offer drivers in big cities a tax deduction for mounting a WiFi device onto their cars. The device is powered by the car, and the more cars adopt a device the better the city’s WiFi.
    61. An app that told you if someone near you went to your high school or college, or had something else in common with you.
    62. An app that gave live stats on parties.
    63. Massive Multiplayer Online Games that have a productive output or side effect.
    64. A spoof of drug commercials to educate kids on the dangers of drug abuse.
    65. Pockets that clean your smartphone screen.
    66. Smart outlets, that know how much voltage and amperge is optimal for the device that’s plugged in.
    67. Cars with multiple energy systems. Solar Panels, Batteries, a combustion engine, breaks that absorb energy.
    68. Cars that pull electricity from the road.
    69. GPS on public transporation so that we have live updates on when trains and buses will arrive.
    70. Packaging that decomposes into fertalizer.
    71. Self-sorting Trash.
    72. A dating site for old folks.
    73. A vacation website where you can search by feeling. For example: relaxation, excitement, laughter, peace.
    74. Do-it-yourself cell phone repair kit.
    75. The personification of smartphones. Name your device, let it decide things like which restaurant to go to, have it friend other smartphones on Facebook, dress it up for Halloween.
    76. Replace text emails with video messages.
    77. Napster for university lectures.
    78. Contests where the prize is a job at Google or IBM.
    79. Cell phone screens that double as solar panels.
    80. Order business cards directly from Linkedin.
    81. A web app that let’s you watch TV shows or movies with friends while you’re not in-person.
    82. Cup holder that keeps your coffee hot.
    83. Building material that sweats to cool the building down.
    84. A bar that only people going out alone are allowed into.
    85. A website where movie fans can request sequels and contribute ideas for the screenplay.
    86. A video game that helps you succeed in your career.
    87. A career exchange program. You mentor someone who’s looking to get into your field, and someone from the field you want to get into mentors you.
    88. A browser plugin that puts old bookmarks along side search results, so that you can be reminded of the things you bookmarked when you search with similar keywords.
    89. Touch screens for laptops.
    90. A marketplace that connects bazzars in developing countries with buyers in developed countries.
    91. An online platform that helps people crowdsource the completion of small tasks rather than donations.
    92. Doubling your headphones as earmuffs in the winter.
    93. Combining geothermal energy principles with the heat differential required to run a sterling engine. This could generate electricity in the winter, especially when it snows.
    94. A feature that allows you to follow, friend, and share contact info with someone by bumping phones.
    95. Computer Viruses that attack other computer viruses.
    96. A waterpark built at the beach.
    97. A remote controlled droid for safari adventures. Look out for that Lion! (You break it, you buy it)
    98. Flip-chart-sized paper airplanes.
    99. Bacteria-resistant money.
    100. A Doomsday Kit that held the information needed to restart civilization if we had a near extinction event.

    Insights in Idea Generation

    Most often when we start to come up with ideas to solve a problem, whether we’re alone or collaborating with a group, we evaluate the ideas as they come up. Consequently we stop at the first good idea. A better way is to defer evaluation, and just list out ideas, hundreds of ideas! Amongst many ideas there will be some real gems. Also, what’s typical during idea generation is for people to think of the typical ideas first and for novelty to emerge later in the process. Next time you’re faced with a challenge that requires some imagination to solve, try generating a hundred ideas for how to solve it.

    Lastly, some of the crazy ideas above are real in some form or another, can you guess which ones?

    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 1 year ago
  4. How to free up time to innovate using the meeting audit!

    By Russ Schoen

    “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings’.”

    – Dave Barry, “Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn”

    What is one of the most common barriers to innovation?

    During most innovation workshops that I facilitate, at some point I’ll ask the group, what are the barriers to innovating here?

    One of the most common answers given is “we don’t have enough time to innovate.”

    When I follow up with the question, well what is one of most unproductive uses of your time in this organization? The most common answer is – yup, You guessed it. Meetings.

    Think about your own work life for a moment. Think about the last five meetings you attended at work. Would you say they were engaging? productive? A good use of your time and your fellow colleagues’ time?

    Chances are, you answered that at least one in three of those meetings was a complete waste of your time. If so, don’t fret you are not alone.

    Did you know?

    In surveys conducted — in the US alone - where approximately 11,000,000 meetings are held every week as many as 25–50% of those meetings are characterized by those attending them as a waste of time.*

    Not only that. Here’s one more bit of bad meeting news. An MIT Sloan Management study showed that the more time employees spend in unproductive meetings, the more dissatisfied they are with their work and more likely they are to quit their jobs. Ouch.

    (*source: MIT Sloan Management: The Science and Fiction of Meetings: Winter 2007)

    So if you really want to free up some time to innovate, one of the best ways to do so is to clear out some space to innovate. And one of the quickest ways to do that is a meeting audit!

    What is a Meeting Audit and how do I conduct one?

    The purpose of a meeting audit is to identify meetings that you can stop holding (or attending) or that you can shorten which will free up time. A deliberate meeting audit takes about 30 minutes with a team and many teams find that they can cut about 20% of the total meetings they hold or attend on a monthly basis.

    To conduct a meeting audit, gather your team (and you can do this alone if you work independently)

    1. Create a list of all the meetings you and your team hold or attend on a regular basis (we recommend on a flipchart or white board)
    2. Review the list with the whole team and ask, which of these meetings could we stop holding? Which ones really are not that productive? Which ones can be shortened or altered? Which ones do we really need to attend and which ones can we stop attending?
    3. Physically, cross out the meetings that the group would like to stop holding or attending.
    4. Add up the time that will be freed up for your team if you stopped holding those meetings.
    5. Commit to using that time towards innovation efforts.

    Got concerns?

    Now you may be thinking, there is no way that we can stop holding that monthly x meeting! People will flip. It’s too important. Well one suggestion is not to kill the meeting all together – take a break from holding or attending meeting for a month and see if people really miss it. If they do, you can always reinstate it (and hopefully make some changes to make it more productive). If its not missed it, then you can officially kill it!

    Time to Innovate: Next Step

    So if you want to innovate and you think you don’t have enough time, why not conduct a meeting audit? You’ll deliberately clear out some much needed space and time from your schedule and overcome one of the most frequently cited barriers to innovation!

    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 2 years ago
  5. 4 Opportunities for Innovation

    By Stavros Michailidis

    A short while ago, we conducted an informal survey of business leaders to explore how they perceived creativity, innovation and problem solving. We found that:

    • Problem Solving is something they, and the rest of their organization, are very familiar with and do continually.
    • Innovation is something that is paradigm shifting. It is desired but rare.
    • Creativity is less tangible. They realized it is required but are uncertain on how to account for it.

    Considering these common perceptions, let us look at a simple framework for turning problem solving into innovation utilizing a little bit of creativity.

    Traditional problem solving has 4 phases or steps.

    • Clarifying – Understanding the essence of the problem.
    • Solving – Searching for and identifying a solution.
    • Planning – Determining the steps necessary to implement the solution.
    • Executing – Implementing the plan.

    The above steps tend to work perfectly for many problems, especially the ones that don’t require a very innovative solution. However, if you need to work on a problem that would benefit from a little creativity and imagination, try capitalizing on the four opportunities for innovation (one for each problem solving step).

    Reframe the Problem

    Instead of simply clarifying the situation, find new ways to interpret the issue. Seek unique perspectives from those who don’t embrace the common understanding of the problem.

    Originate New Ideas

    Stop looking for the right answer and start looking for lots of interesting options. Think about it - If you find the most obvious and straightforward answer you are pretty much guaranteed to get the most common results. If you are really after innovation you must look for a different type of solution.

    Enhance the Plan

    Two companies can pursue essentially the same idea, with vastly different approaches (…think Encarta vs. Wikipedia). Innovation isn’t just about what we’re doing, it’s also about how we do things. New approaches generate new types of results and new opportunities.

    Improvise During Implementation

    Planning is a valuable process, but we must remain open to change as we execute the plan. Along the way we will face unforeseen obstacles and gain new insights. Remain flexible and adaptive during implementation. Be open to stumbling upon new value by continuously learning from the implementation processes’ successes and failures.

    Using some tried and tested tools and techniques individuals and groups can capitalize on these four opportunities for innovation.

    Use the comments to tell us about your success innovating around the 4 opportunities or which opportunity most interests you and we’ll share the respective tools you need to get creative.

    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 2 years ago