Tag Archives: Innovation

Apollo 13 Timed Challenges

Apollo 13 Command Module

Apollo 13 Command Module

One of the cornerstones of successful innovation is the use of Timed Challenges™, a concept originated by MindMatters Technologies that helps guarantee innovation results.  Timed Challenges combine the best of business processes and psychology to insure that your organization can rapidly tap the latent intellectual knowledge of your workforce.


The Timed Challenge uses:

  • Focused Problem Solving
  • Management Participation
  • Strategic Goals
  • Employee Engagement
  • Limited Resources, and
  • Time Constraints

to inspire creativity and innovation.  One of the most outstanding real-world examples of  Timed Challenges is the Apollo 13 event that turned a near-certain disaster into a spectacular save.  Apollo 13 had taken off from earth on its way to the moon with 3 astronauts on board.  Shortly after takeoff, there was an explosion that severely incapacitated the rocket and put the lives of the astronauts in jeopardy.  While there were many technical issues that were solved by Mission Control, one of the most critical was that the astronauts were running out of oxygen to breathe–their expired CO2 was not being removed and they were getting lethargic and hypoxic.  They was no question that they would die before they could return to earth.  To solve this issues, engineers had to use their limited resources (supplies available to the astronauts in the space capsule) to adapt equipment so that a “square filter would fit into a round filter” as quickly as possible.  Clearly it was a matter of life and death, and it required engineering experts in all fields to collaborate and engage.

Clearly it worked, and the astronauts made it safely back to earth.

There were many other innovations made during the entire flight that saved the crew.  It’s been over 45 years since this happened, but the methods and principles are just as applicable today.  Read the full story here.


Creativity and Innovation

Walk your way to Creativity

Creativity and InnovationIn a recent Journal of Experimental Psychology article, Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking, by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz of Santa Clara University, the researchers looked at ways that walking could be used improve your creativity and thinking skills.  While there had been plenty of anecdotal evidence for such a correlation, there was never a thorough scientific study. What they were able to determine, was that people who walked, were more likely to be more creative than those who did not walk. They defined creativity as the number of ways that people come up with different uses for particular object, such as how you might use a tire. They compared this creativity, against normal mental capabilities, such as determining the answers to tests that required particular answers (as opposed to free thinking). They found that walking had no improvement over these “convergent thinking” tests versus “divergent thinking” tests.

During the course of their research, they were able to demonstrate an 81% increase in creativity associated with walking. And you’ll be in good company if you do the same–Aristotle Steve Jobs, and Nietzsche, all made walks part of their daily routine. Unfortunately, researchers were not able to come up with any reason why walking actually improved creativity, but they did empirically test it and determined it to be true. So, if you want to improve yourself, go for a walk–it’ll do you good.


Innovation in Recessions

thick_arrow_up_5575Successful innovation in recessions was examined in a Harvard Business Review article, Roaring Out of Recession, by Ranjay Gulati, Nitin Nohria and Franz Wohlgezogen.  They looked at increases in sales and earnings during a recession, and the strategies that were employed.  The goal was to determine the best strategy during a recession.  The strategies were grouped into four general categories:


  1. Prevention-focused,
  2. Promotion-focused,
  3. Pragmatic, and
  4. Progressive organizations.

Prevention-focused organizations focus on cost cutting and avoiding losses–a purely defensive strategy.  Within this category, the authors examined two major subcategories:  employee reduction and organizational efficiency.  These types of organizations are risk-averse, and will “batten down the hatches” when a storm approaches.  As a general strategy, prevention is the worst, however, organizations that pursued organization efficiency (vs. employee reduction) were more successful in this category.

Promotion-focused organizations focus on building assets and marketing–a purely offensive strategy.  The thought is that during a downturn, by investing in your core assets and building your branding, you’ll hold onto your current customers and build new ones.  Compared with organizations that pursue the prevention-focused strategy, they tend to do better.   The authors divided this category into market building and asset building.  In general, building marketing worked more effectively than building assets.

Pragmatic organizations do everything.  The pursue both offensive and defensive strategies, in essence, throwing everything they have at the problem.  This strategy is significantly better than either defense or offense alone, but is still not the most optimal.  In this case, they don’t “fine tune” the amounts of each type of strategy, and waste resources.

Finally, there are the pragmatic organizations.  They too pursue both offensive and defensive strategies, however, they only pursue operational efficiencies (with respect to prevent-based methods), and pursue both marketing and asset/capital investment with respect to promotion-based methods.  With this strategy, the financial outcome compared with the next best method, as measured by sales improvement is nearly 40% greater, and the improvement with respect to earnings is nearly 160% greater.

So, the bottom line is you keep your employees, and make capital investments that improve operational efficiency and marketing development–two areas that are best addressed with innovation.  Your people are your best asset, again.


The Hungry Mind

brain_in_profile_Clipart_FreeI recently read an article by Kaufman, Openness to Experience and Creative Achievement, that stated that “Openness to experience– the drive for cognitive exploration of inner and outer experience– is the personality trait most consistently associated with creativity.”

He ran a variety of tests to determine several aspects of openness, two of which seemed most pertinent to creativity in science/inventions: IQ, and Intellectual Engagement.

He defined Intellectual Engagement as those with a “drive to engage in ideas, rational thought, and the search for truth.”  and stated that these types of individuals tend to be more industrious, assertive, and persevering, and are more likely to seek out variety, question traditions, try new food/activities, appreciate reading, solve puzzles, and debating.

The surprising result of his research was that while IQ and Intellectual Engagement were related, it was Intellectual Engagement that was the better predictor of creativity.  In other words, just because you are smart, doesn’t mean that you are creativity, whereas, if you are constantly seeking out knowledge, you’re more likely to be creative, regardless of IQ.  (But it certainly helps to have both a high IQ and a high level of Intellectual Engagement).

This same conclusion was reached in the academic environment, by von Stumm, Hell and Chamorro-Premuzic (2011), The Hungry Mind : Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance

If you’d like to test your own openness, try this quiz at: http://www.gotoquiz.com/personality/big-five.html

Innovation and Internal Competition

rodneyThere are many elements critical to a successful innovation program, such as focus, a good process, and resources. Many organizations put all of these elements in place, but they still end up failing. Interestingly, their programs end up creating worthwhile projects, but the projects never materialize or are rapidly killed.  What happened?

When this occurs, many times it’s because the innovation teams worked in a vacuum from the rest of the organization.  (I immediately think of this clip from the movie Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield  In this clip, Rodney talks with a business professor about how to start a new company).  By this, I mean that they didn’t consider the “real way” that things work in the organization and believe that the sheer brilliance of their ideas and projects would cut through any organizational issues.  In most cases they are wrong.  For the most part, large organizations are built to kill ideas–they can’t help it.  There is competition from existing projects, political connections, important customer issues, and legal areas.  New ideas can easily be quashed by any of these, so it’s important to figure out a way to navigate through the organization in order to bring these ideas to fruition.

One of the best ways to mitigate many of the problems you’ll encounter with internal competition is to get a sponsor.  Sponsors have several characteristics:

  • They have political clout–usually higher level executive
  • Have experience in an area important for your project
  • Can pull resources
  • Provide sound advice

Sponsors will help drive success for a project by providing these valuable assets.   They also will help you with the 80-20 rule, or in other words, they know how to get the most out of the organization with a minimal amount of effort.  Think about something simple that you want to do, like plant a garden.  You may have come to the conclusion that a garden would provide your family with lots of benefits, such as low cost, organic, and fun.  If you’ve never done this before, there are a couple of ways to go about it.  You could go to the library, local nurseries, and the internet and research the best practices for planting. You’d try and learn the best times, best plants, and best cultivation techniques.   Without a mentor, you’d most likely make some mistakes, i.e., planting too early, picking the wrong varieties, or not using the right fertilizer.  However, if you talked to your neighbor (who has had a successful garden for the past 10 years), he’d be able to tell you exactly what to do.  He’d provide helpful advice on the best things to plant so that you’d get the best yield, avoid bugs, and prevent rabbits from eating everything.  He’d know where to get the best deals on supplies, and he’d probably have helpful tools for you to use, like a rototiller.  The best part is that you’d learn all of this information is a short amount of time, and you’d get someone who would help you through the entire process.

The same is true for an organization.  A sponsor can help you quickly navigate all of the issues that you’ll encounter and provide you with advice and resources to get to your end goal.  Sponsors usually have “skin in the game” as well, and will benefit from your success.  They may be the ultimate manager of the product you develop, or it might be their customer’s problem that gets solved.  They’ll be able to shield your project from others, and insure that it moves forward, in essence, they’ll mitigate the competition.

There are two ways to go about finding a sponsor.  First, you can sell your idea to potential sponsors, hoping that one of them will adopt your project.  Second, you can talk with potential sponsors about what issues that they need solved and try to innovate for their success.  I believe that the second way is easier because you’re helping them with their problems, and the “sale” is easier.  The downside is that your ideas may not be 100% yours, and you’ll have to be flexible to make it happen.  However, if you’re successful with this approach, then you’ll gain more and more success, and have more control over what you create.  Think about teaching one of your kids to drive.  The first few times, you make certain that you have lots of control over the situation by picking the location and time.  However, as they progress, you become more comfortable with their decisions, and eventually send them on their own.

Daily Rituals of Creative Minds

Margarita Tartakovsky of the World of Psychology writes a review of a new book by Mason Currey’s entitled Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. It’s fascinating to read about the idiosyncrasies of people who are considered the most innovative and creative, and it should give pause to businesses that manage and motivate these types of individuals.  The bottom line is that these people are rarely self assured in their creativity and have adopted a variety of coping mechanisms from daily exercise to shunning unlucky numbers.  Even the most creative have self doubt about their work.  If you’re managing this group, make sure that you encourage their progress and reward both failures and successes.

Check out this Scientific American article on some of the physiology on exercise.

Jump Start your Creativity

All of us experience times when we just can’t get our creative juices flowing. Margarita Tartakovsky of the World of Psychology provides a list of 15 ten-minute activities that can enhance your creativity. They are:

  1. Go on a photo safari.
  2. Do housework.
  3. Cook.
  4. Make a small collage.
  5. Daydream.
  6. Create a list.
  7. Check out your go-to inspiration.
  8. Socialize.
  9. Draw.
  10. Play.
  11. People-watch.
  12. Find a quiet spot.
  13. Problem-solve with your dream advisory board.
  14. Create a collection of prompts.
  15. Just start.

Learn Anything in 20 Hours

I recently watched a TED talk by Josh Kaufman on how to learn anything in 20 hours. This thinking seems to directly contradict previous research that has postulated that 10,000 hours are needed. However, the two are one in the same. To become an expert at something (world-class or well-known in your field), you need to spend about 10,000 hours.  However, to go from knowing nothing about a topic to become somewhat proficient, you only need 20 hours.  This may not seem like a lot of time, but it is–about 45 minutes a day for a month.   In some respects, he is applying the 80-20 rule in his learning, arguing that you can get to the 80% proficiency level with about 20% of effort.  His 20 hours spent also has a few caveats as well to make the learning process more efficient.

He suggests that there are 4 steps:

  1. Deconstruct the skill:  By this he means that you need to find the most important things to practice first.  For example, in learning how to play the ukulele, he discovers that you really only have to learn 4 major chords, and that most every song during the last several decades can be played with just those 4 chords.  In my opinion, this is probably the most difficult element of his approach because it requires some advanced thinking.  He had to some digging to discover that only 4 chords were required and which chords they were.  Without this “nugget” he would have faced a daunting task learning thousands of chords.
  2. Self-correct:  Once you start practicing, you need to know when you make a mistake so that you can stop and correct yourself.  With a musical instrument, you need to ability to determine whether the notes you are playing sound right.  If you were learning a foreign language, you would need to hear the words repeated properly.  To self-correct, you need references and other materials.
  3. Remove the barriers to learning:  You need to eliminate distractions from your study time.  While not explicitly stated, the study time should be uninterrupted.  Remove yourself from your phone, the internet, television, and other distractions.   Your brain needs to be completely absorbed by the practice.
  4. Practice at least 20 hours:  My guess is that spreading the learning out over a month is probably the right amount of time for your brain to process the new information.  45 minutes per day for a month is not too time consuming, but does allow for enough practice.  In another blog post I wrote, Practice makes perfect, the research suggested that switching learning methods after a similar duration was effective in the same way.

Of course, should you want to improve your skills, then the same amount of studying time will yield smaller and smaller improvements–but that is why 10,000 hours are required to get the other 20% of the 80-20 rule.  I would guess that if you stopped practicing after your 20 hours, that you would rapidly lose the knowledge that you’ve gained during the process.  Finally, Josh mentions this in his talk, but he states that the major barrier to learning a new skill is emotion and not intelligence.  This implies that you are highly motivated to learn the new skill.  In this talk, he played the ukulele, completing his 20th hour of practice.  He stated a strong desire to learn to play the ukulele, and I imagine since he “practiced” in front of live audience while giving a TED talk, he was highly motivated to make a good impression.  You would have to have similar motivation for success in 20 hours.

A Fictional Example of Innovation

Tara had just finished visiting with her largest customer, a network of 13 hospitals in her county. She had met with many people that day, but one meeting in particular had stood out. She had met with Dr. George Freeman, chief of surgery, who explained the problem they were having with their aging set of surgical instruments.   Dr. Freeman explained that they have the budget and are prepared to buy new sets, but they have one major reservation with the ones that Tara’s company makes.  They are uncomfortable for left-handed surgeons, and George happens to be left-handed.  He goes on to explain that without something different, the sale will go to Tara’s competitor.

Tara knows that this is a major problem.  This hospital system is a major customer and purchases millions of dollars of products from her company.  Letting her competitor get an advantage like this could be devastating.  Tara takes her problem to her supervisor.
Tara works in the marketing department and presents her issue to the group.  She explains Dr. Freeman’s problem, and how they’ll lose the sale without a change.  Tara champions a suggestion made by Dr. Freeman, which simply involved moving the finger clasp about 20 degrees off center.  Tara is familiar with her company’s manufacturing capabilities and realizes that although this is a significant change, they can (and have) made this accommodation in the past.  After they talk with a few others in marketing, they realize that this is their only chance to make the sale, and take their issue to the engineering department.

A few days later, a meeting is scheduled with engineering, and they make their presentation.  The engineering group has assembled their senior engineers, and they’re joined by the company’s controller and manufacturing VP.  Tara prepared slides outlining the issue, and she documents how sales will likely increase substantially as a result.  No one else has instruments with this capability.  Engineering spends a few days and designs a new set of instruments, noting that the clasp should only be moved 19 degrees off center.   Preliminary mock-ups prove the point, and the change to manufacturing is estimated at $850k (a fraction of what the potential sales will be).  Finance approves the money and the project is started.

Tara’s company is responsive, voice-of-the-customer oriented, and innovative.  They addressed the need of a major customer, secured new sales revenue, and improved their product.  But did they really do the best that they could?

Tara’s company has repeated the missteps of many organizations.  They answered the question for an important sale, but they really didn’t innovate.  Find out how using MindMatters’ processes and the Innovator™ software system can make supercharge your organization.  Click here to request a copy.


How Memory Works

memoryI read an interesting article about how memory works at PsyBlog.  The nice thing about this article is that each statement is backed by legitimate research, and has examples to highlight each point.  These pseudo-facts are useful because they can help you to appreciate the difficulties that you or your team might be experiencing from an innovation perspective, and how they can be overcome.  It also provides useful advice on how to improve your own thought processes.  Here are the ten major points:

  1. Memory does not decay
  2. Forgetting helps you learn
  3. ‘Lost’ memories can live again
  4. Recalling memories alters them
  5. Memory is unstable
  6. The foresight bias
  7. When recall is easy, learning is low
  8. Learning depends heavily on context
  9. Memory, reloaded (mix it up learning styles)
  10. Learning is under your control