Entries in creativitycentral (7)


Forvo: The Holy Grail for Speakers Everywhere

I may have found the holiest of grails for speakers everywhere. 

Imagine you're giving a speech and you want to reference the author of the Little Prince -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. If you’re not a native French speaker or haven’t mingled with literature majors, then you are tempting the fates by winging the pronunciation.

To mispronounce a word in a public speech isn’t fatal but it does tend to tarnish any credibility you probably earned before the gaffe.  I have learned to compensate by pointing the screen and saying “that wonderful French aviator and writer.”

But now there’s Forvo.com.

It is a website that allows you to access and pronounce millions of words in a variety of languages. Forvo was envisioned in 2007 by co-founder Israel Rondón has been listed in the 50 best websites of 2013 by Time Magazine.

So next time you want to discuss Antoine, the element molybdenum, Crudités or ideally all three in the same speech, you will have the speech-saving Forvo at your service. 



The Myths of Ideas

In 1900, Mark Twain gave a speech called “The Disappearance of Literature” and told the rapt audience:

“I don’t believe any of you have ever read PARADISE LOST, and you don't want to. That's something that you just want to take on trust. It's a classic, just as Professor Winchester says, and it meets his definition of a classic -- something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

Ideas often follow in the same territory.

Everyone wants good ideas, but most don’t want to do the heavy lifting and difficult decision making to bring those ideas to life. Like life, ideas can be messy.  They interfer with the anticipated order of things.

I believe that one of the biggest myths about ideas is that you have to act on them. *

In seminars, I’ve coined a phrase: “Ideas aren’t mandates.”

Ideas, especially provocative or disruptive ones, are often perceived as threats.  And smaller, more incremental ideas are sometimes seen as a nuisance – an extra note on an already well-written song.

What I am talking about is mental plasticity or agility.  It is being truly open to ideas. It’s about listening, entertaining, discussing, deliberating, or tabling ideas -- no matter how seemingly disruptive.

To put this in context, many of my seminars begin with quick experiment with Ned Herrmann’s brain dominance theory. So participants fall into one of four thinking styles. 

Of the four thinking styles, there is a one that has a bias for action.  In a group, this trait is highly valued.  But participants in this group literally “wince” when a new idea is put on the table. 

The idea here is not to let new ideas derail you – but allow them to speak – sometimes softly and sometimes loudly.   

* By acting on ideas – I mean the need to put them into action not the more embracive term of act as any mental effort or consideration.






A modest proposal: A new definition of innovation.

Innovation is a one the great Rorschach words.  Nearly everyone defines it a bit differently.  It has been overused, (293,000,000 results on a single Google Search) over-hyped, and often misunderstood.

At Solution People in Chicago, leading innovation coach Gerald Haman defined it as simply as “ideas that create value.”  Behind that verbal tip of the iceberg was a lifetime of teaching the creation and implementation of ideas and an even deeper understanding of what value means the consumer and social marketplace.

Why is defining the word "innovation" so important to innovation teachers and purveyors of the gospel of innovation?

There are a handful of Fortune 500 companies who have elevated innovation to an art form (Apple) and other Fortune 500 companies who have been seriously burned by failed innovation efforts.  So imagine standing up in front of both groups and saying the word “innovation” and you’ve already divided your audience. 

It’s the Rorschach effect.

So innovation teachers try to define it precisely to get buy in to talk about process.

For example, Larry Keeley and his co-authors (Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn, and Helen Walters) have written an excellent book Ten Types of Innovation.  Their definition: “Innovation is the creation of a viable new offering.”  This seemingly simple definition has an additional four call outs to further explain what they mean behind each of these words.

It’s simple and if you do even a modest deep dive in the book, it’s an excellent working definition. In fact, it shineswhen discussing the first six of the innovations which are focused on the innermost workings of a business. (i.e. profit model, network, structure, process, product performance and product system.)  

Do we really need to add yet another definition to the lexicon?

In my seminars, I have used a definition of innovation that I have evolved over the years.   In 2007, I was inspired by Jim Kilts’ book, Doing What Matters:  How to Get Results That Make A Difference.

It’s easy to describe Kilts’ book (as articulated by Wally Bock) “what goes on in an experienced CEO's head when he takes over a company that needs to turn around."

Jim Kilts was a successful CEO at Kraft and led turnarounds at Nabisco and Gillette.

My innovation definition:  Creating what matters.

Like Keeley et al, it needs a deeper dive or context.  The difference?  “Innovation as a viable new offering” and “creating what matters.”

Keeley would argue that viability means “returning value to you or your enterprise.”  The definition is based on two criteria:  “the innovation must be able to sustain itself and return its weighted cost of capital.”

As good a definition as it is, I see it as company or entrepreneur centric.  My definition is customer centric.

The innovation must matter to the customer – somewhere along its evolution from idea to product or service. 

Take Pixar for instance.  They pioneered many advances in CGI animation. But would they be considered an innovation in 1979 when the original company was founded? Or when they released Toy Story in 1995?  In a span of over a decade it neither returned a value or cost of capital. Keeley, et al, did not put a time limit on when an innovation is sufficiently anointed, but it is easy to see how limiting that definition can be.

Creating what matters (audience centric) is also limiting, but I feel it offers a slightly more flexible approach to thinking about innovation. 

In the Keeley definition, Pixar would not technically be an innovation until Toy Story.  In my definition, the audience of advertisers (through commercials) and the audience of one (Investor Steve Jobs) was technically an innovation earlier in its evolution.

Another compelling case.  Eienstein's Theory's.  Most of his theories were published in 1905.  They did not meet any of the criteria of Keeley's definition. So these ideas were not innovations until nuclear power was advanced in the 1940s.  But I do believe that these innovations of thought were accepted much earlier by an audience of physicists.  

Both definitions are worthy of discussion and improvement. And Ten Types of Innovation is one of the best books on innovation you'll find today.

I welcome your feedback at inotivity@gmail.com

Happy innovating.




Creativity and Executive Coaching

Imagine for a moment that you are a newly-minted executive coach. Now suppose your first clients were the three most recent U.S. Presidents – Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Now imagine how you would approach each of them. They all possess distinctive and powerful positive strengths and equally compelling weaknesses.  There is no single template of executive coaching that would be effective for all three. This is where the consummate skills, experience, and yes, the creativity of a great coach like Marshall Goldsmith become the essential ingredient to successful behavioral change.

When does the generally positive quality of “authoritative” become “dictatorial?” Or when does “collaborative” descend into “indecisive?”

I have written before about Marshall’s excellent book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, but like all great books, it is a continuous fountain of insight as I have moved along my career path. (See link at bottom of post).

Goldsmith has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from UCLA and over 35 years of experience measuring and analyzing behavior in organizations.  He writes: “My job is not to make them  smarter or richer. My job is to help them—to identify a personal habit that’s annoying their coworkers and to help them eliminate it—so that they retain their value to the organization. My job is to make them see that the skills and habits that have taken them this far might not be the right skills and habits to take them further. What got them here won’t get them there." “

He trains executives to behave more effectively in the workplace enrolling them in a rigorous regimen.  In the discovery phase, he solicits “360-degree feedback” from their colleagues…”as many as I can talk to up, down, and sideways in the chain of command, often including family members—for a comprehensive assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. Then I confront them with what everybody really thinks about them. Assuming that they accept this information, agree that they have room to improve, and commit to changing that behavior, and then I show them how to do it. I help them apologize to everyone affected by their flawed behavior (because it’s the only way to erase the negative baggage associated with our prior actions) and ask the same people for help in getting better. I help them advertise their efforts to get better because you have to tell people that you’re trying to change; they won’t notice it on their own."

 Goldsmith continues: “I help them follow up religiously every month or so with their colleagues because it’s the only honest way to find out how you’re doing and it also reminds people that you’re still trying. As an integral part of this follow-up process, I teach people to listen without prejudice to what their colleagues, family members, and friends are saying—that is, listen without interrupting or arguing. Finally, I teach them the miracle of feed forward, which is my “special sauce” methodology for eliciting advice from people on what they can do to get better in the future. “

What has always impressed me with “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There,” is his carefully honed observations about those personality traits that hinder success – like overestimating your contribution to a project, taking credit, partial or complete, for successes that truly belong to others, having an elevated opinion of our professional skills and our standing among our peers and conveniently ignoring the costly failures and time-consuming dead-ends we have created.

So what about creativity?  To me, it is the essential catalyst to enhance skills of a coach to adapt to the unique behavioral DNA of an individual.  Years ago, I talked with an executive coach who told me, “I know what you do well, tell me about what you don’t do well?”

It may be template question, but it was timed creatively to achieve maximum effect.

Goldsmith’s powerful insight is that a certain level of leadership, it isn’t your skill set that will hinder you, but your personality traits.   This book doesn’t belong on a shelf, it belongs in your hands, in your Kindle or ereader, or ultimately in your mind.

My earlier post on What Got You Here, Won't Get You There.


A link to the book on Amazon:





 Save & Close




The Creativity of Argument

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that on both the public stage and in private rooms, we haven’t raised the level of oral argument and rhetoric in general.

While often used in the pejorative, rhetoric is rightfully defined as the “art of influence, friendship, and eloquence – and “it harnesses the most powerful of social forces, argument.”

In 2007, Jay Heinrichs wrote a funny and provocative book, “Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion.

The book deftly introduces rhetoric concepts and ideas that provide a clear, logical and eloquent tool kit for creating more effective arguments.

He writes, “the ancients considered rhetoric the essential skill of leadership – knowledge so important that they placed it as the center of higher education. It taught  them how to speak and write persuasively producing something to say on every occasion, and make people like them when they spoke.”

In his book and in his talks, Heinrichs often tells the story of his son George and the toothpaste tube.

One morning, as he stepped out of the shower and into the luxurious warmth of a towel, Heinrichs reached for a tube of toothpaste and discovered that it was empty.

The nearest new tube was in the depths of his freezing basement.  He opened the door – steam escaping into the void and called for his teenage George. 

 “George!” he yelled through the door, “Who used all the toothpaste?”

 “A sarcastic voice answers from the other side of the door.  “That’s not the point, is it, Dad “The point is how we’re going to keep this from happening again!”

“You’re right,” Heinrichs said. “You win. Now can you please get me some toothpaste?”

To score some points against Dad was a small victory but a victory that had been years in the making.  Heinrichs had been teaching his son for years how the most productive arguments use the future tense, the language of choice and decisions.


Yes, there is a kind of grammar for argument.  Heinrichs has fondness for Aristotle, who devised a form of rhetoric for each of the tenses – and Aristotle had his own fondness for the future tense.

One of the tools of argument espoused by Heinrichs is controlling the tense. “If you find an argument spinning out of control, try switching the tense,” says Heinrich. 

 “Try this in a meeting.  Hold your tongue well into the discussion.If an argument bogs down in the past or present tense, switch it to the future -- you’re all making good points, but how are we going to….” 

Heinrichs offers up a variety of tools – from using emotion effectively to Stalin’s Timing Secret – to help create a master class in argument and ultimately the art of persuasion.

Like my friend Dan Pink (In his book, To Sell Is Human), Heinrichs delves into murky areas – the thin line between persuasion and manipulation.  In many ways, the stick can look deceptively like a carrot. (And the reverse is equally valid).

If you want to be a more creative and compelling persuader, I suggest you get or download a copy of Heinrichs' book, Thank You For Arguing. 


And if you have a spare hour and fifty minutes or so and want to see two weapons of mass argument (William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan go head to toe on the Panama Canal (With Sam Ervin, a young George Will and Pat Buchanan) this old C-Span video has gems strewn about.







A business lesson from a Supreme Court Justice

Copyright Time, Inc.Recently, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor talked with Charlie Rose to discuss her new memoir, "My Beloved World."

There was  moment in the interview about 12 minutes into the interview that resonated with me.  It was an answer to Rose's question "Have you had great mentors?"  

She answered simply and confidently:

"Tremendous mentors. And each one of them taught me something very important. Every one of them has hired people who they thought were smarter than they.  I understand you do the same thing. I have been told that…I’m told by the President that he does that. … to have the confidence not to be challenged by people who are smarter in a negative way…not to be afraid of them but to grow yourself from them is wonderful, wonderful characteristic."

Rose added:  Also, you have to be careful you don’t intimidate people.  One who has power has to make sure that the power doesn’t intimate someone so they don’t tell you what you need to know to do your job best."

She replied, “I actually have a beginning conversation with my law clerks each year. And I sit them down and tell them “I don't hire yes people. You will have failed me if you think I am wrong and don’t challenge me to think different.”

It's common wisdom that is generally uncommon in the real workplace.

Whether conscious or unconscious, some manger's hire people who they feel won't eclipse them.  Many years ago, an executive consultant told me, "... she would like to hire you but is worried you will outshine her."  I replied that, an insecure manager may be the scariest of all the leadership types."

If you read enough Marshall Goldsmith and other leadership coaches, it's obvious that what keeps managers from reaching higher levels of leadership are personality traits that undermine your ability to motivate and garner respect.  

Yes, there will be ambitious people nipping at your heels, but if your focus is on creating great work and great teams, then hire up. 

Here's a link to the interview:





The tyranny of IKB: A management insight.

In the early 1990s, Chic Thompson and Lael Lyons wrote a wonderful book called Yes, But…The Top 40 Killer Phrases and How You Can Fight Them

While the book was playful and filled with cartoon illustrations, the idea was serious.  It was about those killer phrases that fill corporate meeting rooms everyday:

Yes, but…

We’ve done that before.

It's not in the budget.

Great idea, but not for us.

Get a committee to look into that.

I'll get back to you.

Don't rock the boat.

Let me play devil's advocate.

The last person who said that isn't here anymore.

Recently, I’ve noticed a curious mutation on the infamous, “yes but.”

It’s IKB or (I know, but…)

The difference is slight but it’s definitely a new species.

“I know but tosses” in what James Pennybaker, the chair of psychology at the University of Texas Austin would call pronoun revealing.

“I” is a pronoun rife with self focus.  In fact, Pennybaker’s research showed that depressed people use the pronoun “I” more often than emotionally stable people.  And people who consider themselves lower in status use “I” much more frequently.

But what’s equally revealing is that “I know, but” is a signal. It’s a signal that the person has either wrestled with this idea before or wants you to understand what they know or believe.

A few years ago, I consulted with a CEO who was having problems with one his executives.  In exit interviews, employees consistently mentioned this manager as one of their reasons for leaving. This executive was a world-class micro-manager.

When I asked the CEO about this executive and the results of the exit interviews, he said, “I know, but…”

So I said, let’s look at what you’ve just said. “I know but…”  Tell me what you know.

One of the knows was the lynchpin.  The CEO and the executive were friends and the relationship was important to him.

If you find yourself using the phrase “I know, but” with increasing frequency, write down the “I knows…”

As Mark Twain eloquently wrote: 

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

Good insight for any age.