Innovation and Creativity

Don’t Drive Without A Spare (It Happened Again)

I got a flat tire a couple of weeks ago. No, you are not having deja vu. This is my second flat tire post in a two months because I this is a second flat tire I’ve had in a two months. Seriously. 🙁

flat tire

In that post, I discovered that while I had a full spare in the trunk, I had left the jack in the garage. And then three weeks later, my brand new, full tire that had replaced the other tire completely blew out. This time I had a jack ready to go. But I didn’t have a spare tire.

See, that first flat went down right before the Christmas holidays. And I figured I could afford to go without replacing my spare for a few weeks. It was a brand new, full tire. And the holiday season is a busy one. I had plenty of time to get another spare.

Sitting on the side of the road, yet again, taught me another hard lesson: Don’t drive without a spare, don’t spend all you have, and don’t schedule every minute. Tweet This Leave some room for unexpected flat tires in your plans.

When I push myself to the limit and something goes wrong—as it eventually will—it costs a lot of time and money to recover from that problem. It costs more than creating a backup plan would have. I didn’t want to take the time to get another spare. But that would have been far faster and cheaper than waiting for the tow truck, towing to a shop, then replacing the tire actually did cost me.

Truett Cathy (found of Chick-fil-A) taught us that one key to success was being prepared to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. He always had a cash reserve for the company. He didn’t ask those of us who worked for him to put in crazy long hours—we had a physical reserve of energy. And he taught us to experiment in small settings before betting the farm on a national rollout.

Don’t make my mistake. Don’t press all the way to the edge. Leave some margins on the pages of your life. It might seem that you’re getting more done by living at 100% capacity. But in the long run, operating at 80-85% allows you to be less stressed AND get more done.

photo credit: Broken via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakDon’t Drive Without A Spare (It Happened Again)

The Icarus Story Is Backwards

The story of Icarus is one of the most famous Greek myths. He was imprisoned with his father, a great inventor who made a king angry. His father used feathers and wax to create wings. They escaped out a window overlooking the ocean. Icarus ignored his father’s warnings to stay low. As he neared the sun, the heat melted the wax, dismantling his wings, and Icarus fell to his death.

This story is really famous and really tragic. It’s also really bad advice.

Icarus statue

The story was written by people who had never flown. The skies were strange and terrifying—they were unknown. So they warned their children to not be too audacious. And if by some chance you do fly, they warned, then don’t fly too far from the ground.

But, the truth is that the higher Icarus flew, the colder it would have gotten and the more firm his wax bindings would have become. He would have actually been much safer flying high than his timid father, who flew low over the ocean where it was warm and moist.

Generation after generation, the story gets told. Like you, I’ve been told again and again: fly low and play it safe.

But I say we should be just like Icarus. We should fly as high as we can. We should soar to places no one has ever gone before.  It’s not as risky as we’ve been told. Flying high doesn’t mean flying recklessly (see my previous post on this). As my former boss, the founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy, said, “No goal is too high if we climb with care and confidence.” Tweet This So I say to set high goals.

As you think about what you will attempt this year, don’t let fear keep you grounded. Reach further and become better than you every have before.

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Scott WozniakThe Icarus Story Is Backwards

Single-Round Brainstorming Is Weak

I love a good brainstorming session. But a handful of years ago I learned I’d been doing it all wrong. My approach had been to get a small group together, preferably with a big white board, and then take turns shouting out as many ideas as we could think of. After writing down lots of “blue sky” ideas, our reservoir of ideas would dry up. Then we’d pat ourselves on the back and capture all the ideas we generated.

User Journey Map Brainistorming

What I know now is that we stopped at exactly the wrong time. That first round of brainstorming produces the weakest ideas. While fun, very few of the ideas in this stage are different than what you could have gotten by simply asking each person to email in their best ideas.

But if we press on we have the chance to generate truly creative, potentially breakthrough ideas. Only after collecting all the surface ideas can we see deeper into the pool of creativity. Tweet This

Here’s what it looks like practically when I lead brainstorming these days. First, we unload as many ideas as we can—just like before. It’s still fun. On average, this phase takes 45 min. (The more people you involve, the longer this phase takes.) Then, we use some brainstorming exercises to push us to combine some of the surface ideas or push an idea even further or reverse an idea. On average this phase takes 45 more minutes.

[You can google search to find examples of these exercises. Or feel free to email me and I can send you some of my favorites.]

This does take more time and more discipline. But all the best ideas are beneath the surface. As fun as the first phase is, the second phase is at least twice as satisfying to me. You can do this improve your work (crafting 2016 project plans) or even with your kids (making a science fair project).

Next time you need a good idea, don’t quit right on the edge of creativity. Your best idea yet could be just a little further out, if you’ll only reach for it.

photo credit: User Journey Map / Mental Model via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakSingle-Round Brainstorming Is Weak

Chase A Great Idea With All You Have And You Might Miss Greatness

The popular story told today about innovation stars a genius (and the college roommate) who comes up with the next big idea. They work on it until it’s perfect–in their garage, of course–and then launch their great idea to the world, achieving success.
But the real story of innovation isn’t quite so simple. Recently, I got to spend some time with Frans Johanson, author of The Medici Effect and The Click Moment. Here’s what I learned from him about innovation:
Goals get you moving in a particular direction efficiently. They’re great for getting you to take action. So it’s really good to have an idea, set a goal, and get started.
But goals should be held lightly. Many of the best innovations emerged as surprises on the way to somewhere else. You have to be both curious enough and humble enough to leave the strategic path you mapped out. You have to be willing to pivot.
Successful innovators don’t have one big idea. They initiate far more projects than others. Many of those ideas don’t go anywhere. But they learn a lot and keep trying things. Over time, a few of their ideas take off.
They key to being able to activate lots of ideas is to take the smallest executable step possible. Don’t spend all your resources reaching for your first big idea. Take the smallest executable step that allows you to test your idea. Pause and learn. Then decide what your next step should be.

One small step at a time, learning at every single step, changing your idea many times…you too can be like the great innovators of our time. And, like them, maybe one of your ideas will take off!
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Scott WozniakChase A Great Idea With All You Have And You Might Miss Greatness

Preserve the Core IN ORDER TO Stimulate Progress

Good to Great, by Jim Collins is one of the most read and admired leadership for business books in the last twenty years. And it’s one of my favorite’s, too. It’s full of insights on how good organizations go to great—based on studies of organizations who did just that.
The concept I use most in my leadership—and in my life—is preserve the core and stimulate progress.
These two ideas are often pit against each other as mutually exclusive. From politics to financial planning, there are bitter fights about whether we should protect what has been or innovate and improve. But there’s a big difference between ideas in tension and opposites.
Every person, family, business, church, and technology have a core, a foundation that is at the heart of their success. Losing a healthy core leads to destruction. But we know stories of people and organizations who simply wouldn’t grow and change. From Kodak’s dismissal of digital photography to your Aunt Myrtle who won’t touch a computer, real tragedy comes from rejecting the need for progress.
Collins found that great organizations did both. Easy to say, harder to do, right? How do you know what the right balance is? How do you know when you’ve gone too far? Turns out the key to managing this tension has nothing to do with balance.
The more clearly you understand and name your foundation, the easier it is to innovate without threatening it. It’s when you don’t truly know what’s core that you risk destroying it through foolish innovation. And the deeper your insight, the more truly you see which core ideas and people and resources make up your foundation, the asker it is to protect your core.
Kodak’s problem was not that it was too concerned about it’s core. It’s problem was that it understood it’s core too shallowly. They thought they were in the photo paper business, when they were in the memory capture business.
In the end, great organizations—great people and families—do not compromise one inch on their core. They completely preserve the core. And knowing what that is allows them to be as creative and unconventional as they can be in all non-core areas. But when you don’t know what’s core and what’s not, every decision requires an exhausting deliberation.

What’s your core? How well are you preserving that? And what’s not core? How well are you doing in progressing in those areas?
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Scott WozniakPreserve the Core IN ORDER TO Stimulate Progress