For those who invested their time today for my breakout session on Cognitive Creativity, here is the link to the Slideshare post. I took out the videos and replaced them with text links to the YouTube posts.
The more I learn about the power of Story, the more I am convinced the organizations, the companies, the governments, the leaders, the individuals who are going to make an impact in improving our world, is going to do it through the habit of Storytelling.
In conference rooms, event halls, street corners and board rooms, I’ve heard the constant rhetoric of fact and figures. “I think this is right…” and “Here are the reasons why…” are most often followed by sanguine narrative that when finished, you just want to respond, “Say what?”
Next time someone gives you an opinion or expresses a perspective that you can’t quite get your head around, ask them, “Can you tell me a story about how that would work?” or “Give me an example of that playing itself out in real life. What would that look like?”
“If you can’t say it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
To take an idea and tell it in a simple story may not be easy, but it’s impossible if you don’t have a clue about what you are saying.
And just because someone can give you a valid story, doesn’t make their point valid. But it will give you additional insights you may need to form an opinion or offer an alternative perspective (story).
You can tell a culture by listening to its stories. You can change a culture by changing its stories.
Listen for stories. Create better stories. #StoryMatters
And if you’re interested in stepping up your story game, join me at Story2017 in Nashville.
You are a creative. Notice I didn’t say “If” you are a creative. We are born creative beings. For some, our environment and education has suppressed our creative awareness. For others, we’ve been blessed to be around other creatives and been placed in situations where we had to exercise our imagination to survive. My website’s name is testimony to my concern and resulting passion to revive the creative spirit in myself and others. Like a hospital patient, our world, business and families need an infusion, a steady drip of creativity. But to help that process along, I’ve found a booster shot.
I have the most amazing opportunity this fall. I am honored to be presenting at Story 2017. When you go to their website, you will be amazed at beauty and awe of what they properly describe as an uncommon creative community.
On Sept. 21-22 in Nashville, they will be holding their annual conference. I attended last year. And while people say things like this as an exaggerated superlative, those two days changed my life. As a Chief Storyteller for IBM, I have the privilege of attending and speaking at a large number of conferences. Without a doubt, Story 2016 was the most impactful conference I have ever attended. Some conferences have great topics and speakers. Others have great venues. Some are a showplace for the atmosphere of sets, music and themes. While some are just a unique gathering of characters that you don’t want to miss. Story has all of this.
It’s not even close to the real experience, but you can get a taste from this highlight video of Story 2016.
The Story 2017 theme is Carnival of Curiosity. Go to their website. Be curious. Look around and see what you can discover. And don’t let the low-ticket price fool you. Most of the corporate events I attend have prices 4 and 5 times that of Story. But those are playing to the senior executive at large organizations with a deep budget. I deeply appreciate Story’s love for the art and craft which drives them to make sure even the individual storyteller has the opportunity to attend. By the way, if you’re an aforementioned corporate exec with deep pockets, consider purchasing a box of seats and offering them to your creative customers. They will love you for it.
If you have any questions, contact Story or ask me. I may not know the answer, but I can probably find someone who does. And if you decide to attend, let me know. I’d love to meet you there.
BTW…I don’t know how long this will last, but if you go to storygatherings.com/about/ you can discover a coupon code for a $100 discount on the Story 2017 ticket price.
Here is a great example of a brilliantly executed corporate story. Watch this before proceeding with the rest of this post.
What I like about this kind of story is that they don’t let the technology get in the way of the story. The technology is just a supporting actor in the unfolding story.
I’ve seen many technology demonstrations done in a story style, but the technology is called out as the focus. The actors dialog is just a bit of glue designed to get us from one feature demo to another. Usually it’s because the emphasis on building the story has been the product features rather than a compelling and captivating storyline. The result is usually a good demo of technology capability (facts) but not a story that will be remembered. People will often forget you and the facts you present, but they likely remember your story and the way you made them feel. From the video story shown, how well could you recount the story? How many product features can you remember seeing?
Great corporate storytelling is not about the performance.
It’s more like picking someone’s pocket.
They don’t know what’s happened until later (if ever).
But instead of taking something, you have instead provided an insight, touched an emotion or sparked their imagination.
As you watched this story unfold, you probably noticed technology was being used, but it was done in a subtle way to support the story…not vice versa. And if you watch it a second time, look for the technology inserts. They comprise only 40 seconds of on-screen time (only 20% of the video duration) and show eight different features (search using text string “park with ancient gate in lahore” to find the gate’s name; search to find the food type “what is jajariya”; search using geographic relationship “oldest sweet shop near mochi gate in lahore”; search “fatal sweets lahore”; google map with vendor names; search for India visa requirements; search for weather in destination; search for arrival time by flight number.)
People will forget what you said and they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
– Maya Angelou
Think about how you felt when you saw the Google story unfold. If you’d didn’t get emotionally connected, check your pulse.
Frank Luntz, Chairman and CEO of Luntz Global in his talk to the Milken Institute titled “Words That Work: It’s Not What you Say, It’s What People Hear” started his talk with this statement, “All you business people in here, you have no heart. You have no emotion. You have no passion.” Although it was cut from his video, I believe one of the ads he shared was the Google ad above. He follows the ad showing by saying,
“Why don’t you people in the business world talk that way? Why don’t you relate to people that way?”
– Frank Luntz
The most common answer: There is no story!
Businesses and organizations have facts and figures. They have references and polls. Some have products and features. But they are missing the story.
People are no longer buying goods and services. They are buying stories, relations and magic.
– Seth Godin
Take a look at your latest communications. Pull up that presentation you’re planning to give. Record yourself doing that product demo or pitch and play it back. Are you educating or enchanting? Are you talking to them or sharing with them? Are you selling or giving them the opportunity to buy?
We are all in the business of story. What’s your story?
If you need any assistance discovering or refining your story, let me know. I would be honored to assist you in whatever way I can. #StoryMatters
When my children were quite a bit younger, our family found ourselves at numerous pre-school plays and programs. It was during one such Christmas pageant that I was schooled by a 4 yr. old boy.
If you have kids and have been to such programs, it’s a familiar scene. The teacher stands off the front of the stage and an aide aligns the kids in a single file across downstage center. The purpose is so every parent can have a clear view of their little darling’s performance.
They began by singing a couple of Christmas carols. Well, mostly they scanned the audience for their families and waved. Once that was accomplished they settled into singing.
At the close of one song, the teacher’s aide brought out a cardboard box and walked down the line of anxiously awaiting kids. It was rhythm instruments. For those unacquainted with pre-school symphonies, rhythm instruments consist of small implements designed to make noise. They range from castanets, maracas, sticks to hit together, straps with jingle bells attached and yes, a triangle which ended up in the hands of a small lad at the end of the row.
They proceeded to sing a few more carols that were unrecognizable because their melodies were hidden by the exuberant instrument playing. It was a beautiful and joyful thing to behold.
Then it ceased. The proud teacher turned to the audience and said, “We want to thank you for supporting your children and our school by attending to our Christmas pageant. We’d like to close by singing two more familiar carols and welcome you to join in with us.” Then she turned to face the kids, nodded to the pianist, and the music began. But there was a problem.
All the kids looked perplexed. Obviously in practice, the aide collected the rhythm instruments before the final songs, but here they stood, three and four year old kids with these ‘things’ in their hands. Things that shouldn’t be there. One by one each child got rid of their distraction. Some put the sticks into their pockets. Girls tucked the maracas into their dress sashes. But the kid with the triangle. He looked down the line and saw what the others were doing, so he attempted to put the triangle into his pants pocket.
He started with one corner, but as he pushed it in the width of the triangle prohibited it from going in far enough to stay in. So he rotated it to another corner only to discover the same results. You could see and feel his angst. This was a problem he must solve.
By this time, most of the parents in the audience were focused not on the carols, but on the dilemma of this boy as he continued to rotate and struggle to make the triangle fit. You could almost hear the thoughts “That’s not going to work. Just put it on the floor.” Then it happened. It’s the first time I can admit to really observing a stroke of genius.
His countenance changed from confusion to confidence. Then he pushed the beater (yes that is what the striking stick is called) into his pocket. This left a portion sticking out of his pocket onto which he simply hung the triangle. Then he humbly stepped forward and joined his classmates in song. He was unimpressed with his brilliance.
Most of those watching were like me, amazed at the solution. We didn’t think of that. A majority of us sighed in relief and a few lightly clapped in congratulations. It was such an audience reaction that the teacher turned slightly to us to see what was going on. The song wasn’t over. Why were we reacting?
This scene happens every day in your organization.
No, you don’t have a kid with a triangle. But you have someone who is struggling with getting their weekly status report in on time. They look around at their co-workers and they seem to get it done, but for their work, it just isn’t easy. They are struggling. They try countless approaches, yet each week it’s not enough.
Then it happens, this individual discovers a macro that greatly simplifies the compiling of the spreadsheet report. It saves them hours of work and allows them to hand in their report alongside their fellow peers. But here are the missed opportunities.
The other performers aren’t paying attention. They might find great benefit from this new solution. This macro might shorten their process and save them valuable time. But they don’t notice because they are too focused on getting it done the old way to experiment and discover new approaches.
And like the little boy with the triangle, the creative problem solver may not appreciate their own accomplishment and simply step back in line and join the chorus. They may have an idea that would revolutionize a specific process, but like their lemming brothers, they focus on getting back in step rather than sharing their discovery.
And worse, their manager (the teacher) is so caught up in the big picture that they don’t even know their worker was struggling and that they discovered a brilliant solution to a common concern. They are too focused on managing and measuring that they neglect to mentor.
If you are a worker, take a moment to pull your nose off the grindstone and look around. Check out what others are doing. Be inquisitive and interested in learning new ways and experimenting.
If you are a manager, remember your job is not to get the thing done. Your job is to take care of your people, who get the thing done. Focus on your people. Come alongside them. Make them feel safe and appreciated.
And if you are a creative (which includes everyone), take the time to share your ideas and innovations. There is likely another kid struggling with a triangle that could use your insights.
Several years ago I was introduced to a little book titled “Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace”. It’s only available in hardcopy and there is a good reason, it’s filled with little doodles and art from the author, Gordon MacKenzie. In the 224 pages, Gordon describes his journey as a creative in a corporate environment.
It would be unfair to go much further about my own journey without describing the concept of orbiting a hairball. And to do that, I’d like to use Gordon’s explanation (page 33):
Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mind set, beyond “accepted models, patterns, or standards”—all the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate mission.
To find Orbit around a corporate Hairball is to find a place of balance where you benefit from the physical, intellectual and philosophical resources of the organization without becoming entombed in the bureaucracy of the institution.
If you are interested (and it is not for everyone), you can achieve Orbit by finding the personal courage to be genuine and to take the best course of action to get the job done rather than following the pallid path of corporate appropriateness.
To be of optimum value to the corporate endeavor, you must invest enough individuality to counteract the pull of Corporate Gravity, but not so much that you escape that pull altogether. Just enough to stay out of the Hairball.
Through this measured assertion of your own uniqueness, it is possible to establish a dynamic relationship with the Hairball—to Orbit around the institutional mass. If you do this, you make an asset of the gravity in that it becomes a force that keeps you from flying out into the overwhelming nothingness of deep space.
But if you allow that same gravity to suck you into the bureaucratic Hairball, you will find yourself in a different kind of nothingness. The nothingness of a normalcy made stagnant by a compulsion to cling to past successes. The nothingness of the Hairball.
That single page of text has changed my approach to being a creative in a large corporation.
I’ve had the pleasure of serving with more than a dozen companies in roles that span graphic art, software development, tech publishing, consulting, sales and marketing. The companies have ranged in size from 20 people to 400,000+ and crossed many industries. With the exception of a few, most of these companies held a common, yet unspoken tendency toward the safe harbor of normality. Standardized processes, procedures and policies were regarded as the ultimate destination for efficiency and profitability. While some served a purpose in time, most just became a hitching post to which tired and unimaginative people could tie themselves for safety.
I’m not much for hitching posts or safe harbors. Real life is on the trail and open seas. For that reason, I’ve always liked mantras over mission statements. You’ll get more from me if you give me guidelines rather than a set of rules. So in my zeal for creative freedom and unique impact I began to address issues in very different ways. After all, why should I attend weekly cadence calls (a corporate standard) when I could do more by taking that time to be in front of customers? Why even consider the standard messaging and assets coming from our product team when I knew I could produce and deliver better and more customer relevant materials?
But I learned that my approach—the “ask forgiveness rather than permission”, the “stand aside and let me show you how wrong you are” resulted in me and my work totally escaping the gravity of the Hairball and I found myself alone in the nothingness of space.
While I delivered on my goals, I was punished for not “owning it”, which is shorthand for “you didn’t align to our way”, so my accomplishments were ignored. And my approach was not a path to be followed because it led to discipline.
I serve on a worldwide team, so I serve our sales teams, business partners and customers. One desired outcome of my work was to bring others along—to help enable them in a way they could reuse or remix my materials to meet their needs. What I found was my presentations and sales materials proved to be so effective that I quickly became overwhelmed with requests to speak and work with customers. Mostly because I was the only one able to deliver the material I created. I use big pictures and few words in the actual presentation and rely on spending a great deal of time in preparation. Most of our sales reps are overwhelmed (many by Hairball requirements) and can’t, or don’t invest the time needed. So the assets I was creating were unusable by most of our sales teams.
I was so far outside the gravitational pull of the Hairball that much of my efforts were irrelevant.
I learned I needed to come in closer to the Hairball. Not become a part of it, but close enough to have impact. To do so I began looking at the corporate procedures I had mostly dismissed and examined them for creative ways I could leverage the better parts to remain within the spirit of the Hairball. I found I didn’t have to attend every meeting or conference call, but I did attend the most important ones.
I considered “why do we have meetings anyway?” and determined a significant benefit was the communication and awareness of activities among the leadership team. So I began using our corporate social network to document and share my work. This way managers could see what I was doing and my peers could leverage my work as well. I began developing content designed for “remix”. The resulting interaction has been a valued source of insights and feedback, which has resulted in more effective and reusable assets.
But the Hairball constantly changes. Companies like IBM reorganize often to fit the demands of an ever changing marketplace. And once again, IBM is defining a new era of Cognitive Computing. Add in cloud, digital sales and a host of other evolutionary business practices and you’ve got an ever adapting organization. As the organization changes, so must your orbital calculations. For me this has meant remaining flexible and observant to the changing infrastructure of the Hairball. Roles and departments I once counted on for gravitation pull could lose their significance and mass. I’m having to watch for new opportunities and markets that are reaching critical mass and sufficient enough to have the Gravity need for orbiters like me.
So if you feel you’re caught in the Hairball, it’s not too late. If you’re so far from the Hairball that you are irrelevant, there is hope. But in each case, it’s up to you to change—you, not the Hairball. The Hairball is NOT going to easily adapt to fit your style.
Elephants can dance, but they are still elephants. They’re fun dance partners, but watch your distance and mind your toes.
And I would encourage you to get a copy of MacKenzie’s book. It’s engaging and enlightening. It’s one of my most popular giveaway books. For anyone who knows me, you can tell why just by looking at the TOC.
April 22, 2013 – It was going to be my wife and I’s 35th wedding anniversary. Discussing our options for celebration, I was told that if I wanted a 36th anniversary, I should plan for a week off.
I serve in a worldwide capacity and have conversations and demands from a large number of individuals. These usually come in the form of emails, instant messages or phone calls…but most often emails. If you are like me, the thought of being gone for a week just caused visions of a swollen in-box that I’d have to suffer through on my return. That is when I decided to leverage our internal social business network.
At IBM we use Notes for email, so I crafted the following “Out of Office” notification:
“I’m out of the office from April 22-26. If you are an IBMer and reading this message, please be aware that I am not going to read your email…not while I’m gone or when I return. If your message was important, please post it on my profile page and I will address it on my return. If you are a customer, please note I will read and respond to your email.”
Then I went on a week’s vacation, totally “off the grid”. I didn’t take my PC or smartphone with me to triage emails. I didn’t sneak off to the corner somewhere to check in during the week. I didn’t care. I spent the week focusing on my family.
On my return, I sorted all the unread emails to locate those from IBMers. There were about 5 screens full, so somewhere around 300. I selected the top one, held the shift key, scrolled down and selected the last one. Then I hit “Delete”. I never looked at the titles, senders names, or topics. If they sent me an email, they saw my “out of office” message and knew what to expect.
I then went to my profile in our Social Business system (called IBM Connections). Of the 300 emails, only 29 turned into posts. And of those, 20 were already answered by people in my network. That is two thirds of my work being done for me. Like the following:
So after a week of vacation, I had only 9 issues from IBMers that needed my personal attention. That allowed me to focus on my customers.
And more importantly, if you look at the example above. The request for help came on April 23rd, the 2nd day of my vacation. And it was answered on April 23rd, the 2nd day of my vacation. For the requestor, they got their response without me. In fact, the responder knew more about the subject than I did anyway. So by asking “out loud” he was able to get a quicker response and better qualified answer.
But what if one of those emails was important? I’ve been taking this same approach every year and I’ve yet to delete an “important” email or be called out for not responding. Important things tend to come back around.
If you think you couldn’t possibly get away with doing something like this, then I would encourage you to ask “Why not?” Your fear of missing the 1 important thing out of 1000 emails is causing you to spend unrecoverable precious time going through the 999 worthless emails..which probably impacts your ability to properly address the important. And if you don’t have a social business solution in your organization, let me know by comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to share with you how you too can truly learn to be “out of office”.
If you’re interested in what’s next, at IBM we’re combining IBM Watson Cognitive services to communications (like email) to help you identify the important from the trivial. And it’s not based on some filter you create, but rather on the way you work. Who do you interact with? Who are you quick to respond to? What is the tone of the message? Is there a request for some deliverable? All these factors can be applied to help you prioritize your time and attention. For more on this subject, contact me or check out www.ibm.com/watson/work/.
I remember as a kid spending several summer days digging a large pit in the field behind our home. It was about 6 feet deep, 5 feet wide and 10 feet long. Laying tin sheets across the opening and covering them with dirt we made our first “man cave”. Now if my math is right, that’s 300 cubic feet of soil my cousin and I dug up to make our hideout. Were we hard at work? No. We were hard at play. During our play we learned a lot about the fickle nature of south Georgia sandy soil and how to “shore up” the sides. We learned about load bearing structures and how being below ground made for a cooler place to play in the Savannah summer heat. We also learned about how the underground water table will rise after a long rain and turn you fort into a shallow muddy swimming pool.
As a teenager, if my father had asked me to dig a burn pit the same size, I would have considered it quite a bit of work. It would have been the same effort, but in one case it was hard play and the other it was hard work. Side note: Our fort eventually became a burn pit for leaves and was covered up before winter.
Earlier this week I came across the video below from Stephen Johnson. Several years ago, his TED talk and associated book on “Where Good Ideas Come From” caused me to reconsider the environment for innovation. Likewise this more recent video proposes a link between play and innovation. Take a few minutes, view this video and then read on.
For several months now I’ve been playing with a Cognitoy Dino. For anyone unfamiliar with this marvelous toy, check out their video:
Last year I purchased a couple of the first toys produced. I gave one to my 5 year old grandson and I kept the other for myself. The Dino is connected to the Elemental Path and IBM’s Watson. I’ve playfully experimented with how this toy reacts to questions and commands. Through play, I’ve pondered a number of issues and ideas around the possibilities. Earlier this week I was giving a keynote speech at a large insurance provider. I used my Dino to show how Watson was helping kids be more curious and creative in their own educational journey and asked the audience to imagine what how Watson might help their workforce and customers be more curious and innovative. Some in the audience were experts in the areas of risk and security. So it was no surprise that one attendee approached me after the session to ask, “What happens when the kid asks the Dino, ‘Can you keep a secret?'” Great question, so I simply asked the Dino. His response was, “I suggest telling a secret to an adult you trust.” That is one example of an answer handled by Elemental Path’s experience in helping kids in a learning environment. Another case of this is the question “Where do babies come from?” Now the information is available to answer that question but the response from the Dino is “Dinosaur Eggs. At least that is what I’ve been told. You should speak to an adult.”
The Cognitoy Dino can challenge the child with questions, help them be creative by making up stories and challenge them in math. Considered out of context, this quizing could be considered “hard work”, but instead it’s playful and fun. We seem to recognize openly that kids learn through play. Perhaps we should consider Steven Johnson’s insights and encourage ourselves and those around us to “play and get to work”.
And for anyone wishing to purchase their own Cognitoy Dino, they are available at ToysRUs and Amazon.com as well as Cognitoys.com. If you use the Cognitoys site, feel free to use promotion code “IBM10” to receive an additional $10 discount on your purchase.
Note: I am not associated with Elemental Path or Cognitoys and do not receive any consideration or benefits for promoting their products.
Today I remembered a line from Linda Hill’s TED talk on “How to Manage for Collective Creativity”. She mentioned “slices of genius”. It’s those short quick insights that so quickly get overlooked or lost in the chaos of the day.
For me, today started like many, heading to the Atlanta airport for a flight scheduled to leave at 11:30. In the car, Delta kindly alerted me the flight was delayed. Upon arrival at the airport I find it’s going to be 2+ hours before I’m to depart. Being a frequent Delta flyer, I make my way to the SkyTeam lounge where I set up my office.
I had the need to develop a new presentation. So out comes my Mac, but more importantly, my pad of PostIt notes. I always keep at least one pad in my bag.
Using a technique introduced to me by Garr Reynolds (author of Presentation Zen), I always start analog and then move to digital. For years, this has been a life changer for me as to how I organize and refine my presentation…long before I begin to commit anything to a presentation tool.
But there can be a problem. Analog (physical sticky notes) can be challenging for a mobile person. Shortly after I finish this post, I need to pack all this up and head for the gate.
Here is where PostIt has an answer. It’s an iPad app called “PostIt Plus”. I think it’s available for the iPhone as well, but the small form factor is difficult for me.
I simply take my iPad, launch the app and start a “new board”. This activates the camera on my iPad.
It focuses in on what it detects as sticky notes and activates the shutter.
It then captures those images and places them into the PostIt Plus application.
This results in a mobile ready, editable, moveable board from which I can further work to refine my presentation…like I’ll likely do on the flight.
There is a free version of the app that performs all the items I just mentioned. And I think in the free version you can edit the text, by replacing the image with text you type. That way you can change the notes. And you can add new ones in the app as well. But if you’re a sticky note fiend, once you get a feel for this, you’ll want to shell out the few bucks to get the full app that allows you to assign colors, etc.
Let me know if/when you use this app. I believe for road warriors, it’s a great tool.
For the past several years I’ve been involved in many discussions, training session and workshops regarding the adoption of social smarter work. And this is serious business. Companies around the world are spending large amounts of time and resources trying to get their organizations to work in a more productive, transparent and effective way.
But there’s a problem. In most cases we’re trying to address this as if it were just another in a series of technological advances. We install corporate social networks, new collaboration solutions and advanced messaging and meeting software. After installation we provide training into what and how these technologies operate. Then we begin to measure the extent to which our employees are using the new tools. And all of this we call adoption.
But maybe we should reconsider this. Let’s look at a couple of definitions.
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” ― Mark Twain
Adopt – to make one’s own by selection or assent
Adopt, that pretty much sums up our efforts. We strive to get people to choose to use the new way of working versus their old way.
Adapt – to adjust oneself to different conditions, environment, etc.
I believe that today’s workplace and certainly the future workplace is full of different conditions and a new environment in which to do business. This isn’t about retooling technology, it’s about rethinking work cultures.
Now don’t get me wrong, technology is certainly an enabler of the adaptation, but using the technology is not the goal. The real value comes when we adjust ourselves to a new way of working; to evolve from the ineffective and overused habits of email, meetings and reporting into the new way of working using mobile, social and cognitive practices designed to free us to do what we were meant to do.
I just read an interesting article on the National Geographic website regarding adaptation. It states:
An adaptation can be structural, meaning it is a physical part of the organism. An adaptation can also be behavioral, affecting the way an organism acts.
I believe our future way of working will constitute both the physical adaptation (new tools, work hours, reporting structures, etc) as well as the behavioral adaptation (how we fit work into life, the revival of creativity, curiosity and risk in the workplace, etc.).