Entries in Marty Baker (27)


Creativity, Associative Barriers and Sea Urchin Lollypops  

A few years ago, I met Frans Johansson at the Business Innovation Factory Summit in Providence.

He’s the kind of person you don’t forget easily.  Raised in Sweden by his African-American and Cherokee mother and Swedish father, he earned a BS in environmental science at Brown University and his MBA at Harvard Business School.

His book, The Medici Effect (What Elephants and Epidemics can teach us about Innovation) was selected as one of the top ten business books by Amazon.

One of the powerful stories in The Medici Effect is about a chef named Marcus Samuelsson. Marcus was born Kassahun Tsegie in Ethiopia but after the death of his mother he was adopted by Anne Marie and Lennart Samuelsson and moved to Sweden.

Samuelsson studied at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, where he grew up, apprenticed in Switzerland and Austria, and came to the United States in 1991 as an apprentice chef Restaurant Aquavit in Manhattan.

In January of 1995, Jan Sandel, the executive chef at Aquavit died unexpectedly of a heart attack.  The owner, Hakan Swahn needed someone to manage the kitchen and placed the newly hired Samuelsson in charge while he searched for a permanent replacement.

Swahn was hesitant because Samuelsson was only 24-years-old and Aquavit had become a well-respected restaurant with a one-star rating from the New York Times. 

But something remarkable happened only weeks after Marcus headed up the kitchen.  “New dishes based on a unique combination of food from all over the world began showing up on the menu.”

Items like Caramelized Lobster with Seaweed Pasta, and Sea Urchin Sausage and Cauliflower Sauce and Chocolate Ganache with Bell Pepper and Raspberry Sorbet and Lemon Grass Yogurt.

Just three months later Ruth Reichl of the New York Times gave the restaurant a rare three-star review because of its innovative and tasty food.

The story illustrates what Johansson calls high and low associative barriers. “By simply hearing a word or seeing an image, the mind unlocks a whole string of associated ideas -- each one connecting to another.”

Johansson provides a great example.  “When a chef sees fresh cod in a market, she may think of a particular recipe  -- which in turn makes her think of certain menu items for the upcoming evening. But a writer for a sport-fishing magazine might see something completely different.  He may think of his latest fishing trip, instantly recalling the tackle he used and a story he should write about it.”

These chains of associations are efficient; they allow us to move quickly from analysis to action. 

But here is the bigger insight.

“Although chains of associations  have huge benefits, they also have costs. They inhibit our ability to think broadly.  We don’t question assumptions as readily; we jump to conclusions faster, and create barriers to alternative thinking.”

What Marcus Samuelson has is a low barrier to associative thinking.  He makes unusual associations outside the field of Swedish cuisine.

 “Samuelsson looks for related concepts in distant places and unexpected areas of cooking and then tries to reconcile these far-flung ideas into recipes.”

This is the core idea that Edward De Bono (Lateral Thinking, Six Thinking Hats) has been talking and writing about for years -- the move away from patterned (simple associative thinking).

In fact,  you couldn’t find a clearer blueprint for the Business Innovation Factory’s annual Collaborative Summit. It’s about providing a space for talented people from various fields and disciplines to intersect and to watch the spontaneous cerebral combustion. 

What innovation consultants ultimately do is find the level of your associative barriers.  We try to get clients to reverse assumptions, look a problem from multiple perspectives, combine the unexpected, and help you make new connections.

What I have discovered is that some companies have a high and low threshold for how they manage ideas.  Some organizations are threatened by ideas, some do not encourage the flow of new ideas and surprisingly, some spend too much time on creating new ideas and not enough time (or brainpower) evaluating or managing those ideas.

My suggestion is to give a copy of The Medici Effect to people in your organization. Or make it a traveling book.  Give it to a new business team.  Give it to a part of your organization that you absolutely think would have no use for it.  (They will probably surprise you.)

If a sea urchin and a little innovation can earn 3-stars, just imagine what you could accomplish with a dash of creativity and the resources of your company.

Here is Frans talk from BIF-2



Get Unstuck & Get Going

Sometimes creativity and practicality come together and the result is impressive.  A few years ago, I found this sweet spot in a book called Get Unstuck & Get Going by Michael Bungay Stanier. 

Last Summer, I had the opportunity to talk with Michael about his newest book, Do More Great Work.  (See bottom of this blog for a link).  Get Unstuck & Get Going is a gift disguised as a book.  Its unique spiral-bound design allows the reader to create 50,000 combinations of provocative quotations, stories, models and questions.

The premise is simplicity itself.  “People feel stuck because they can only see one way of doing what they want to do -- and they don’t like that option.  But possibilities get you unstuck.  If you can create possibilities, you can have more than one option.  And with more than one option, you have a choice.”

He opens the book with an Action Acceleration Sheet (Also available as a download] that helps you define your challenge (identify where you’re stuck) how to evaluate new ideas, and then transform ideas into action.

The book is divided into three flip pages -- so you can see at glance an inspiring story, a provocative quote and a powerful model.  What elevates Get Unstuck and Get Going beyond an ordinary aggregation of quotes and stories is Bungay Stanier’s questions that follow each entry.

To show you how the book works, I selected three flip pages at random. 

The Inspiring Story was about a coffee shop called Cherry Bomb -- that has a least 10 competitors but succeeds because of its ASAP philosophy.  That’s not ASAP (As Soon As Possible) but ASAP in [As Simple as Possible.]  “They’ve removed every barrier they can to help get your coffee fast -- from the pricing to the line up process.” Michael follows the story with two questions:  “What’s the simple thing to do?  How are you overcomplicating things?”

The provocative quotation is an Indian Proverb. “The cobra will bite you whether you call it cobra or Mr. Cobra.”  The questions:  Who are you showing too much respect?  Who might bite you in this situation?

The Powerful Model section is an excellent catalyst.  I selected #9 “Any situation can be put into one of three different buckets:  Something you can control, Something you can influence and Something you can neither control or influence.

Michael’s questions:  What can you control about this challenge?  What can you influence?

 What makes the book such a useful tool is that each three panel page creates a synergy of questions and ideas. Change a single panel and a new synergy is created.  In the example above, the insights are about simplicity, respect, and influence.

If you change a panel in the quotation area, you might find a question about rallying support or recruiting an ally. The new dynamic is simplicity, developing alliances and influence. You can focus in on any one panel or see the entire page a blueprint for thinking about your problem.

If you’re looking for book that will rattle your cage and help you do more great work, I encourage you get Unstuck & Get Going.









The Way We're Working Isn't Working: A Review

Think Rule #5.

Alan Webber, co-founder of Business Week, wrote that change is a math formula. Change happens when the cost of status quo is greater than the risk of change.  C(SQ) > R(C).

Tony Schwartz has written a provocative book that takes a serious look at the one area in business that seems immune to change -- the human costs of doing business in the digital age, Schwartz, the co-author of The Power of Full Engagement provides a proven prescription for making positive changes in the way we work.

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working makes a compelling case that we’re neglecting four core needs that energize performance. The book is an extension of the ideas Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy introduced in the Harvard Business Review in 2007. (Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.)

Their premise is deceptively simple: “The furious activity to accomplish more with less exacts a series of silent costs:  less capacity for focused attention, less time for any given task, and less opportunity to think reflectively and long term.”

In other words, less energy. And perhaps more importantly, less sustainable energy.

The insights that Schwartz and his colleagues at The Energy Project bring to The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working are based on their experiences working with such organizations as Wachovia, The Cleveland Clinic, the LA Police Department, Sony and Ernst & Young and IBM.

Like Dan Pink’s book, Drive, this book challenges the notion of what truly works in today’s business environment.  While Pink focuses on motivation, Schwartz challenges the idea of how to enhance the performance of employees -- and much of it is counter-intuitive to how we do business.

“A growing body of research suggests that we’re most productive when we move between periods of high focus and intermittent rest.  Instead, we live in a gray zone, constantly juggling activities but rarely fully engaging in any of them -- or fully disengaging from any of them.”

Within the first 10 pages, Schwartz makes a persuasive case.  “Most organizations enable our dysfunctional behaviors and even encourage them through policies, practices, reward systems and cultural messages that serve to drain our energy and run down our value over time.

An increasing number of organizations pay lip service to the notion that ‘are our greatest asset.’ But even among companies that make that claim, the cast majority off-load the care and feeding of employees to divisions known as “human resources,” which are rarely accorded an equal place at the executive table.  As a consequence, the needs of employees are marginalized and treated perquisites provided through programs that focus on topics like ‘leadership development,’ ‘wellness,’ and ‘flexibility’ -- all largely code words for nonessential functions.”

Again, think rule #5.

How willing are executives today willing to change the status quo?  Products are being made.  Services are being rendered.  But at what cost?

The four core areas that energize great performance are sustainability (physical needs) security (emotional) self-expression (mental) and significance (spiritual).  Schwartz makes the case that we’re at our best, not when act like computers running at high speed for long hours, but when we pulse rhythmically between expending and regularly renewing energy across each of our four needs.

The value of the book is enhanced by downloadable tools to help you evaluate your current situation and how to begin addressing the four core areas to enhance the ability of your company to harness the energy of all your employees.

If you want to make positive change in your organization and want to move beyond the status quo,  The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working -- is a working blueprint for any company’s future. I highly recommend it.

You can find it at Amazon in hardcover and on Kindle.


Also check out:







Michael Bungay Stanier and Do More Great Work.

The ghost of Albert Einstein occasionally hovers somewhere in upstate New York.

Michael Bungay Stanier, the founder and senior Partner of Box of Crayons, was vacationing at a cabin that Einstein had frequented. The ramshackle cabin was a disappointment to Stanier and his family, but the vacation wasn’t.

In the harsh glow of 75-watt bulb and dodging squadrons of ravenous mosquitoes, Bungay Stanier wrote over half of the book that would become Do More Great Work.

Born in Australia, Bungay Stanier was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and holds a Master’s Degree in Philosophy.  He worked in London at What If! -- now the world’s largest independent innovation company.

Bungay Stanier and his wife moved to Toronto the day before 9/11 and created Box of Crayons – a coaching and creative facilitation company that works with such companies as AstraZeneca, Merck, Nestle, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Pfizer, and Campbell’s.

The spark that began in Einstein's  cabin was a question. “How do you do more of the work that makes a difference and makes you happy and less of all that other stuff that fills your working day?

It is a philosopher’s question. But in the deft hands of Bungay Stanier, the answer is a superbly-crafted and inspirational roadmap to creating better, more meaningful work.

The premise of the book is that many of us do far too much good work -- treading water or bad work --energy sapping activities and not enough great work  -- true sustainable satisfaction.

The core of Do More Great Work is a series of 15 interactive “maps” – a way to visualize how you’re working now what you’d like to do differently. Like an mental GPS, the maps are designed to illuminate possibilities by asking critical questions like Where am I?  How did I get here? Where am I going? Is there a better route?  Could there be a different destination?

You could probably invest thousands of dollars on an executive coach and not get a fraction of the powerful insights you’ll discover in this $11.95 book. ($8.60 on Amazon).

Bungay Stanier does what all great coaches do, he prods, pokes, teaches, motivates and inspires people to find smarter, more fulfilling ways to work. Do More Great Work is engaging from first page to last. It invites you into a process of discovery and guides you into action.

Bungay Stanier’s book has already earned the praise of such people as Marshall Goldsmith (What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There) David Allen (Getting Things Done) and Seth Godin. (Permission Marketing and The Dip).

So this book doesn’t need another elevator speech.  But I will give it one anyway.  Imagine if you could take your current work situation – warts and all – to a top executive coach and innovation guru and discover how you could make the leap into a smarter way of working?

That’s the greatness of Do More Great Work.

It’s a book that doesn’t just belong on your shelf, it belongs in your thinking.


Michael's website is:




Compulsion as vocation. Quentin Tarantino and Clay Chapman.

fBack in the days before the mercurial rise and fall of the mega-video chains, my video store was a small store in a small Manhattan Beach strip mall called Video Archives.  The two clerks behind the counter were named Quentin and Jerry.

Quentin, tall and thin was hype-kinetic and literally talked faster than you could hear.  Jerry was shorter, stockier and warmly laconic.  In other words, Quentin's opposite.

I called them the Siskel and Ebert of Video Archives.  If you asked for a movie recommendation, they would argue about the choice.  Quentin’s taste tended toward the oddity – the Kung Fu movie or an action movie that went under the radar. 

Quentin was so passionate about his recommendations that it was hard to refuse the offering.  So, I would walk out with both a Quentin and Jerry choice – a Japanese mob movie and a Harrison Ford tent-pole movie.

Jerry told me one day that Quentin has written a screenplay. Since nearly everyone in LA was writing a screenplay I said, “Oh, no, how bad is it?”  He replied, “actually it’s incredibly good.”  It was called True Romance. The other script Jerry mentioned was called Reservoir Dogs.

As you probably know by now, that clerk was Quentin Tarantino.  Curiously enough, Jerry plays a role in Pulp Fiction – “Big Jerry’s Cab Company”  is Jerry M including a  caricature of Jerry illustrated by himself.  (By the way Jerry, I still have that paperback copy of Jack Schaefer’s Shane you loaned me. Sorry for the delay)

Cut to:

Clay McLeod Chapman.   Clay and I worked together at a Barnes & Noble in Chesterfield, Virginia.  Clay was still in high school but much to my constant amazement, he had what could loosely be called a entourage. 

He was constantly scribbling in a notebook – writing plays and short stories.  The stories he wrote can be described as Edgar Allan Poe as a millennial.

I told Clay the Tarantino story and he scribbled out an autograph for me that said, “hold on to his because one day I will be famous and this will be worth something.”

Well, Clay did become well known.

"If Chapman keeps up with the oddball characters, well-crafted stories, and critical plaudits, that Faulkner guy better watch out," the Village Voice’s Alexis Soloski wrote in a review of Clay McLeod Chapman’s Pumpkin Pie Show.

Author Tom Robbins said of Chapman’s work, “Like a demonic angel on a skateboard, like a resurrected Artaud on methadrine, like a tattletale psychiatrist turned rodeo clown, Clay McLeod Chapman races back and forth along the serrated edges of everyday American madness, objectively recording each whimper of anguish, each whisper of skewed desire. Chapman as well.”

Clay’s first book was a collection of short stories called Rest Area.  He also wrote a novel called Miss Corpus both published by Hyperion books.  

What makes Clay unique is that he created “The Pumpkin Pie Show.”  Clay acts out his short stories accompanied by a small band.  The award-winning show has toured extensively throughout the world – traveling to the Romanian Theatre Festival of Sibiu, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the New York International Fringe Festival, Club, and throughout theaters in Manhattan.

Do I think a Tarantino Chapman movie would work?  Definitely.  If not, at the very least it would be provocative.

But the bridge that connects them isn’t me. 

It’s passion.  A passion to create and recreate.  A willingness to be out of their comfort zone. The last time I saw Clay, he talked about his idea of a comfort zone.  He said. “If you’re in your comfort zone, you’re probably not learning anything.”

They both scribbled away long into the night when it would have been easier to sleep. 

You can’t manufacture passion.  Quentin lives and breaths movies.  When he worked at Video Archives and a star or director died, Quentin, Jerry, Roger Avery and a guy I remember as Dan put together a tribute display.  The obituary was placed at the top and below were all the movies that connected the individual to other movies.

It was a prelude to the Kevin Bacon game.  I don’t know if it sold more videos, but it revealed a passion for movies.

And when Clay graduated from Sarah Lawrence, he met an editor in Manhattan who asked if he had any short stories to show her. He had dozens.  It was another version of how fortune favors the prepared mind.

While fame may have been the result of their work, it wasn’t the motivation.

Rather, it was the drive to get ideas on paper. On the stage. Or on film.  Or all three.  It is compulsion as vocation. 

Longfellow said it well, “the talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do without thought of fame. If it comes at all it will come because it is deserved, not because it is sought after.”

The summing up.

Fame is what other people write about you.

Drive is a gift that comes from within.

Success is the marriage of talent and drive. (And the blessings of good timing)

Talent without drive is treading water.

Drive without talent is not knowing yourself.


For more information on Clay Chapman click here: http://www.pumpkinpieshow.com/

For more information on Quentin Tarantino













The World's Oldest Profession Revisited

The world's oldest profession.

It has the word vice in it, but it's not what you think.

It's advice.  Ever since that snake whispered a few words of advice into Eve's ear, everything changed.  In fact, people have been reeling from that bit of advice for thousands of years.

Advice. Counsel. Wisdom.  No matter what you call it, it's the oldest form of persuasion and still the newest.  It's why investors and brokers log onto Bloomberg. It's why Dr. Phil is still rolling along smoothly after 6 years.  And it's why the Bible is the #1 best-selling book of all time. 

I'm an avowed advice junkie. I love getting it. I love sharing it.  Some of the best advice I've read recently is from Harry Beckwith, author of Selling the Invisible and What Clients Love. Harry would call it "firm conclusions" and would probably cast doubt on his use of t he adjective "firm."  The advice is on what motivates customers. here is a culling of that advice into 25 easy to digest bites.  The bold and italics are from Creativity Central.

1.   Your biggest competitor is not a competitor; it’s your prospect’s indifference.  What truly motivates them?  Keep asking, keep watching.

2. Your second-biggest competitor is not a competitor; it’s your prospect’s distrust.  How do you build trust?  

3. Your biggest obstacle is whatever stereotype your prospect has formed about you and your industry.

4. Prospects decide in the first five seconds.  If that.

5. Prospects don’t try to make the best choice. They try to make the most comfortable choice.  Why are you competing in a arena that has too many choices? Read Blue Ocean Strategy.

6. At heart, every prospect is risk-averse, and risks are always more vivid than rewards.  How do you help make their decision less risky?

7. Certainty is a trick your mind plays on you; keep yours open.  Certainty and confidence are often a clever disguise for fear.

8. Don’t create something that everyone likes; create something that many people love.

9. Never take seriously what people say they think, because people are never sure. Trust only action. 

10. Your most valuable salesperson is the person who answers your phones.  So why is it considered entry level?

11. People don’t care how good you are. They care how good you can make them.  

12. The best companies don’t make the fewest mistakes; they make the best corrections. 

13. You cannot convince someone you have a superior product at a low price. Make up your mind. Most marketers in my experience are afraid to make up their mind.

14. “Value” is not a compelling message or tenable marketing position, because every product that survives in a market has demonstrated it gives value for the price it commands.

15. Despite all the warnings, all people judge books by their covers. Read research on why taller people get hired and earn more -- even if they are underperforming.

15. People hear what they see; you must communicate visually.  It's why I love art directors, filmmakers and kids with crayons.

16. The more complex our society becomes, the more valuable your brand becomes.

17. When in doubt — which is almost always — people choose what feels familiar. Familiarity breeds content.

18. Brands do not just attract buyers; they improve customers’ satisfaction. Brands have placebo effects.

19. No intelligent person should be influenced by advertising, but every intelligent person is.

20. Simplify everything: your name, your message, your design. Strip away everything until only the essence remains.

21. If it takes 50 words to make your pitch, I will buy from the person who can do it in 20.

22. Communicate one important message and people will think three good things about you; communicate three messages and they will think nothing.

23. Ordinary names, ordinary words, and ordinary images warn us that you must be ordinary, too. Why do so many marketers rely on the ordinary.  Look through mass market magazines, then look through an advertising award annual like the One Show. See how many ads are in both. Not many.

24. Lincoln didn’t have slides at Gettysburg. 

25. The ultimate test of a communication: Does it make people stop what they are doing?

Thanks for the advice Harry.

For the full 40, just email me at inotivity@gmail.com.  Put the word "Advice" in Subject Line.


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