Category Archives: Innovation

Get people to talk about creativity

Last week I was invited to organize an activity to take people out of their comfort zone, during lunch time at the 3rd annual Bootcamp on Training Strategies here in Montreal. That’s me up there presenting the upcoming lunch activity.

The topic I picked? Creativity.

Though people usually associate creativity with artsy or design tasks, the truth is creativity is applied, and required, in any and all tasks in the learning industry. In any industry for that matter: whether you are asked to design a piece, or manage a project, or manage people, or run a business, you are always required to be more or less creative.

The funny, and sad part about creativity, is that we were all extremely creative at some point. In our early life, from the time we opened our eyes for the first time and started to figure things out, to our first years in grade school. But then, most got creativity beaten out of them, to fit the mold our education models dictated. the rest, well, hung in there an did what they felt was right, and kept creativity as part of their being, as part of their soul.

Anyway, enough with that and on to the activity in question. So with the help of a very good friend of mine, who specializes in face-to-face learning, we devised an activity to reflect and discuss the meaning of creativity, its requirements and its implications. To do that we gathered about 60 quotes from various people and authors out of 9 books on creativity and innovation (see list below). Each quote was printed on a card, and cards were randomly grouped on the tables setup for people to eat their lunch. The idea was for each person to read the quote, reflect on it, decide if they agreed or not with it, and discuss it with their lunch buddies. Then, go around and discuss other quotes with other people. I even prepared an explainer video to present a line of questioning to help get the ball rolling.

The result? Mixed. As with any activity, you never know how it will work out. Especially when it’s a free-form activity, in an uncontrolled environment. As I observed and chatted with a few people around the room, I realized people were more inclined to either take a mental break from the sessions or discuss those sessions with other participants.

My takeaway for this type of activity?  A few points:

  • This format is probably better for a crowd specifically geared towards discussing creativity;
  • With this crowd it would have been more engaging to do it as a workshop, in a controlled environment, in which case I would add the concepts of innovation and innovation;
  • ensure to have two types of people in each discussion groups: people that are tasked with producing creative results and people who are tasked with managing them.

All in all this was a very exciting exercise, and full of promises. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Thank you.

Note: Here’s the bibliography we used:

  • CREATIVE CONFIDENCE
    par Tom Kelly & David Kelly, aux éditions Crown Business
  • CREATIVE INTELLIGENCE
    par Bruce Nussbaum, aux éditions HarperCollins Publishers
  • DRIVE
    par Daniel Pink, aux éditions RIVERBED BOOKS (New York)
  • GRAPHIC DESIGN THINKING: BEYOND BRAINSTORMING
    par Ellen Lupton, aux éditions Princeton Architectural Press (New York)
  • ORBITING THE GIANT HAIRBALL
    par Gordon Mackenzie, aux éditions Viking Penguin
  • STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST
    par Austin Kleon, aux éditions WORKMAN PUBLISHING COMPANY (New York)
  • SHOW YOUR WORK!
    par Austin Kleon, aux éditions WORKMAN PUBLISHING COMPANY (New York)
  • THE CREATIVE HABIT
    par Twyla Tharp, aux éditions SIMON & SCHUSTER (New York, London, Toronto, Sydney)
  • THE INNOVATION SECRETS OF STEVE JOBS
    par Carmine Gallo, aux éditions McGRAW HILL (New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Lisbon, Londo, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, New Delhi, San Juan, Seoul Singapore, Sydney, Toronto)
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Montreal’s Creative Startups

Last Thursday, I went to District 3’s DemoDay, to take a look at a bunch of startups mentored by District 3 Innovation Center, at Concordia University in Montreal.

I went there partly out of curiosity, and partly as I am a designer of all sorts, as well as an entrepreneur. The event was very impressive, not only because the venue was great (Sid Lee’s Multifunctional Space setup for Montreal’s Creative Community), but the food was excellent (another startup, Gourmet chez toi), and the 13 startups who took the stage did a very good job at presenting themselves – some were more descriptive in their approach and offering, some were short and sweet and to the point: all were of course asking for money.  🙂

You’ll find information about the event and the startups on the event’s page, but here’s the list:

  • M-Dreams Stage: Entertainment. Realtime motion capture of a dancer, digitized and used to generate visuals overlayed in realtime on the dancer. http://mdreams-stage.com/
  • Hyasynth: Medicine – pharma. Developing drug-medication of select genes found in medical marijuana, to treat various illnesses without the effects of weed, such as smoking it and feeling the “other” effects. hyasynthbio.com
  • Easy CPR: Fix the problem of too many CPR procedures done wrong by… doctors and nurses. Mechanical apparatus connected to software giving realtime feedback on correctness of doing CPR, allowing CPR giver to correct while performing it. Link to their page on District3.
  • Revols: Custom earphones to fit YOUR ears. Gel-like substance formed to your ears on first fitting and solidified in under 60 secs (if I remember correctly). Procedure is guided by an app on your smartphone. Promise of serious reduction in consumer pricing compared to currently available similar customized product. revolsound.com
  • Paradox Interfaces – tryb: Building online teams to compete in SERIOUS online gaming events. paradoxinterfaces.com
  • Imaginary Spaces: Software that allows you to create virtual spaces “easily” – and 3D print them if you are such-equipped. Very interesting – had a Sketchup feel to it, but looked easier to use. imaginary-spaces.com
  • Memo App: App that allows you to create or find micro-events of you liking. The type of event that doesn’t really take much to organize, last minute type, which you may not be aware they are happening. memoapp.com
  • e-panneur: Online grocery shopping AND delivery from… MULTIPLE STORES!  Really cool.   e-panneur.ca
  • Stay22: Online event platform that takes care of “all” the logistics of attending the event of your choice: just give it the event, and it will find it, give you the date(s) and location, and propose lodging choices. Don’t remember if it also proposes transportation choices too…
  • TeekTak: online platform to help freelancers with ALL the paperwork of being a freelancer, in a “simplified” manner. teektak.com
  • JOTUN: Online game inspired by North Mythology, bringing back a lost art with this hand drawn game. jotungame.com
  • HEDDOKO: Smart motion-capture suits. Designed for advanced, professional athletes who do not have the $$$ for MOCAP, and want to get data from the field (not in a controlled environment such as MOCAP). Will also offer consumer level garments, with less sensors. heddoko.com
  • MuCity: These guys will record events from multiple points of view, package them in such as way that will allow you to “relive” the event. At this time they released the full audio of the pitches. Just need to get their app. mucity.co

Kudos to to District 3 for their work and for organizing this great event!

Innovation: Learn from failing to succeed???

This past week we had a chance to hear Jason Della Rocca talk about the idea of failing to succeed. This was organized by ISPI Montreal and held @ KnowledgeOne offices downtown Montreal.

Jason reminded us that for every success we see, chances are many failures preceded it… In Jason’s gaming world, it’s that big blockbuster nobody could anticipate. They refer to it as a black swan. Of course no one wants to have failures on purpose. One hopes that the next try will succeed. Maybe not record-breaking success, but success nonetheless.

So what does that mean for us as learning and performance professionals?  How can we think of failing as we are being paid to succeed? As we are pressured to come up with the right, creative and even innovative solution …on the first try!

The point is apply what we think sooner than later. Prototype it, with simple and modest means (pencil and paper cutouts…), test, observe, and… likely fail, at least the first times. Each time learning from it, moving forward in refining our concepts, our designs.

One really important point was made during the evening about our profession: we are trained to analyze and plan thoroughly, BEFORE we do anything concrete. Of course we need to analyze and plan but the point here is that we should always be wary of going too quickly to the tried-and-true solutions. We should always question, at least minimally, why this or that solution really applies to this particular case. Is the context really the same as the other one we did before?

In learning, we are more and more pressured to come up with creative, innovative, ENGAGING solutions. ENGAGING is the key word here. We don’t want the page-turner they say! We want interactivity they say! So how do we know what will REALLY work… By trying and failing and trying again, until we get to the right place.

In gaming, the audience need is essentially to be engaged and entertained, not necessarily, at least not on purpose, to learn or change a behaviour or an attitude. That’s how a game like Angry Birds can appeal to such a massively broad audience. Knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours are very context-specific and with smaller specific audiences. Which makes gaining attention, motivating and engaging them even more important – maybe that’s where we can best apply lessons from gaming, and we should remember to keep digging and digging til we hit the engagement goldmine.

Activity time!

Back to the point of trying sooner than later, less analyzing and planning, more testing and refining ideas… Jason got the participants to do a simple yet fun activity to dive the point home: in teams of 4 to 7 people, build the highest possible tower that would hold one marshmallow at the top, in 18 minutes, using 9 strands of spaghetti, one 1 meter-long string, and one 1 meter-long piece of masking tape.

That was fun, and stressful for some.  🙂

The result: only one of 9 teams succeeded, meaning that the marshmallow did NOT end up on the table. Almost did mind you.

The point: most teams only did ONE design and stuck with it all the way to the end. Some teams maybe changed their minds once, and changed their design.

Jason showed us some stats (which I regretfully cannot remember) about different groups of people success in building the tallest towers. One group always stands out: KIDS!  They have no barriers, they just DO. Try it… oops it failed. Let’s do it again! Failed again? Let’s keep going! Other groups have succeeded like architects and engineers of course.

But I think that the main point to make for us, learning and performance professionals, at least the crowd we had last wednesday, is that we need to loosen up, don’t expect ourselves to come up with the right idea right off the bat.  Let’s give ourselves some leeway (and ask for it), to test our ideas a bit before going too far down the road.

Makes sense?

Creativity and Innovation: Getting a boost from a “naive” perspective

a naive perspective

I read an interesting passage in a very interesting book this morning (MAVERICK by Ricardo Semler), highlighting the value of having “naive” eyes in a discussion about looking for improvements. Here’s the gist of the mini-story:

First, a bit of background: this book is about a leader wanting to make his large organization more efficient, reduce overhead, be more engaging for its employees. It this specific part (chapter 29 to be precise), employees came up with the idea to “take a small group raised in Semco’s  culture and familiar with its people and its products […] and set them free.” This meant no more responsibilities other than think about stuff, “invent new products, refine old ones, devise market strategies, unearth cat reductions and production efficiencies, even dream up new lines of business.” What a great idea!!!!   🙂

Now the mini-story is about one of this “thinking” group’s new product successes, and the fact that the successful idea came from the group’s non-technical person (she actually was a coordinator for training and organizational development). She and her two engineering colleagues were studying a paint mixer, and after she found out that those mixers were manually cleaned between paint batches, she suggested that “someone should invent a giant toothbrush to clean the tanks.”

The result: a new “brushlike appendage that, hooked on our mixer, swept the sides and bottom of the tank automatically, eliminating manual labor.”

Having a “naive” perspective put into the mix may not automatically yield such a successful result, but I strongly believe that it gives a “boost”, even if very small, to the creative process. It helps connecting the dots, it triggers other thoughts, it even helps you clarify and support what you’re already thinking…

The key of course is to keep it under control, not let it take you all over the place, which ends up wasting time. It’s part of that creative process that goes up and down, from high altitude to the ground floor and up again… Usually need someone to keep things into perspective, usually the lead or PM.

Of course, there is the “fresh” eyes perspective too. But they are not the same. The “fresh” comes from someone with a very similar background and experiences as most of those involved in the discussion. The “naive” eyes perspective is from someone with a different background and experiences. Actually, I would go so far to say that there are possibly two types of “naive” perspective:

  • From someone with experience, that can infer from it;
  • From someone without experience, that can infer from non-applied knowledge, like the newbie fresh out of school.

The point is: never dismiss the value of someone else’s input. Unless this someone is known to provide input without a valid interest in adding value…  😉

Make sense?