Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cracking Creativity


I would like to start off by admitting that I was inspired to read this book by a blog of David Olynyk's. I work in an ad agency, but have nothing directly to do with creating ads or ad campaigns. Ideas have to come from somewhere so I thought this would lead to a better understanding. You might say that the sources of ideas are all around you, just look.

My notion of creativity starts with the fact that there is nothing new. After reading Michael Michalko's book (on Kobo) I think he would agree. All the great genius's are better than the rest of us at re arranging old things and/or discovering things that were waiting to be discovered. Improving our creativity involves re arranging what we already know and discovering relevant things we aren't aware of.

There are a lot of good points in the book, but I would start with the ending. The author studied Charles Darwin in great detail. One event that caught his interest was that after Darwin's famous voyage he presented an expert with a lot of details of finches he had discovered and recorded in the Galapagos Islands. The expert recognized them as finches, but was flabbergasted that there were such obvious differences that he dismissed the information as useless. Darwin didn't identify them as finches, but was able to take this vast amount of information to help him formulate the theory of evolution.

The author's conclusion was that most of us try to fit new information into our framework of information and only when we are proven wrong do we look for alternatives. Creative geniuses always look for alternatives. It seems to me the author's purpose in writing this book is give us some methods used by creative people to develop new ideas.   Do not confuse intelligence with creativity as they are two different mind sets.

Creative geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci had specific ways of looking at things to look for alternatives to conventional thinking. The author adapted some of these ideas for procedures that could be enacted individually. He was also a strong advocate for the idea that groups could do ever better and adapted these procedures for groups.

There is a smorgasbord of ideas. Most of them revolve around the idea that we have a natural tendency to think in the same manner as we have always thought. To find a creative solution to a problem we need to break the mould.

We need to train ourselves to recognize a solution amongst things we were not expecting. An example is Alexander Fleming who doing another experiment noticed that unfortunately some mould had developed on another experiment. Before throwing it out he further noticed that near the mould was something unexpected. This eventually led to the discovery of penicillin.

Often a solution starts with re-stating the problem. Try to get at the basic problem. (eg are we in the car business or the transportation business?).  Ask questions. Some creative geniuses like to translate the problem to a diagram recognizing that words are not always adequate.

Getting back to the basic idea of re arranging what you already know one formula that is useful is labeled SCAMPER. S is for substitute, C is for combining, A is for adapt, M is for magnify, E is for eliminate and R is for re-arrange or for reverse. Many procedures revolve around the idea of identifying different elements, playing around with the concepts, changing them in different ways and then re-combining in different ways. Throw in random seemingly unrelated concepts. There are endless variations on procedures, but it does seem to boil down to breaking down the problem, the challenge to elements and mixing with other elements.

We are always fighting our natural tendency to fit things into what we already know. That is where the many different procedures can be helpful. If one seems too far fetched look for another. As you get involved with other challenges you can try another approach. You can improvise your own procedure.  Groups can add a dynamism, although you have to be concerned with group pressures to conform. They work best when the individuals play off one another instead of always going in the same direction.

Creativity helps solves problems and also helps give a personal unique stamp. I read this book on Kobo which is a fairly new experience for me, however I think it might have been too static to really appreciate the thoughts which are flowing in all kinds of directions. Michael has lots more to say on creativity and you can keep up to date at: http://creativethinking.net/WP01_Home.htm

Thursday, February 23, 2012

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH FACTOR

We all have ideas, ambitions and maybe start on the road, but for most of us, most of our efforts go only a short distance before we get diverted or stopped by some obstacle. Some would say that reality stepped in. Does that sound familiar?

Gene C Hayden like a lot of us wondered why some people are successful at what they set out to do and that most of us are not. Obviously talent and luck play a role, but she determined that the key factor was following through. There are always obstacles and alternatives to any goal, but if a goal is important to you, a way can be found.

Motivating yourself to get around obstacles is common advice these days. Gene uses a less common perspective--your uniqueness. Others might be more talented, or in a more fortunate position, but you are unique and give any effort something no one else can. Your goal might be achieved by someone else, but it won't be quite the same.

The book consists mostly of chapters that advise how to overcome various specific obstacles. Different readers will identify with different difficulties. Boredom, lack of passion, lack of energy, no support, no money, not enough time. Do these excuses sound familiar? They can all be overcome if the goal is meaningful enough.

Things that interest you are better for you. Circumstances might favor choices that don't excite you. You may trade things like money for a slice of what you really want or squeeze time from one activity to another more satisfying. Few of us get to do what we really want most of the time, the ones who do really are successful.

Sometimes we are overwhelmed with the immensity of the goal, but really every goal is at the end of a series of micro-steps. One quote used by the author that I like comes from sculptor August Rodin who said "Patience is also a form of action." Too many of us give up because things are taking longer than we want.

The regrets of most people are not what they did, but what they didn't do. They didn't follow through with something they wanted to do. Looking back, the obstacles seem in many cases to be petty or at least surmountable. I agree with Gene, following through with your ideas is key to success and happiness.

If you would like to follow through and learn more of Gene C Hayden's thoughts try her website http://www.gchayden.com/

Saturday, February 18, 2012

PAYBACK: WHY WE RETALIATE, REDIRECT AGGRESSION AND TAKE REVENGE


We humans have many ways to react when we are hurt. We can retaliate, redirect aggression, take revenge or become anxious or depressed. We can also bounce back in a positive manner.

Common themes in literature and movies (and real life) are retaliation and revenge. We are also very familiar with somebody not able to fight back directly. People who have been abused are often in a difficult position to directly retaliate, but often re-direct their hurt and anger to those lower in the pecking order.

The author says this goes far back in evolution. It was necessary to somehow fight back. Being able to re-direct stress does seem to lessen stress, but is it helpful overall?   Some observers have noted that many of us actually derive pleasure from the suffering of others.

Abuse comes in all types. Physical is the most obvious, but verbal abuse can hurt even more.

To-day at both the individual and global level we need to find alternatives to survive. Some suggestions seem idealistic, not realistic for humans.

Gandhi felt (and demonstrated) that a non violent response can put the initial attacker in an unexpected position of being unbalanced and disoriented. Non violence can help break the chain of anger and hatred. Gandhi thought it cowardly to avoid violence, but non violence was the best response.

Other philosophers hold that reverence for life is a key and an understanding that suffering is unavoidable. Reflecting on these thoughts more deeply would alleviate thoughts of passing on your pain.

Another thought is that we need to focus much more on restitution rather than punishing. That falls on our legal system and legislation process. Restore the situation to what it was before violence intervened. On the other hand some situations are unjust and there needs to be non violent ways of dealing with them.

How do you as an individual deal with violence or other hurt inflicted on you. One piece of advice is first to take a deep breath and take time to think. A reflexive action without thinking often leads to more complications. What is in your best interest? A well thought out response is most often better than an immediate violent reaction. An obsession of revenge is also not conducive to developing your own prospects.  F Scott Fitzgerald once said "Living well is the best revenge." 

Another approach comes from game theory. A lot of experiments have taken place and one of the most effective strategies is called Tit for Tat. It boils down to making a conciliatory move, but respond in kind to that response to your effort. It indicates that you are not vindictive, but you expect to be treated fairly. Sounds simple, and many of us know situations where it doesn't have a positive outcome. The theory doesn't claim 100% success, just that it offers the best odds. In the long run avoid those who are not reasonable.

The problem of how we react to unfairness and violence is a concern for individuals and for society. This book provides much food for thought.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"YOU ARE NOT SO SMART" by Derek McRaney


I learned about the book from a Twitter reference and then learned about the website. It has an underlying premise that I have encountered in a number of other books that the unconscious brain has a lot more control of your "conscious" decisions than you are conscious of.

Derek McRaney breaks it down in the book to 48 misconceptions and demonstrates the underlying reason for these misconceptions. Basically your brain uses short cuts. We are forced to make countless minute decisions every day (or every hour for that matter) and could be paralyzed without some easier (evolution tested) way to simplify matters.

Free will is an abstract concept that Derek refers to towards the end of each chapter suggesting the more you understand of what you don't understand the better your choices.

It is not my intention to cover every misconception, but a few stood out in my mind.

The human brain has a deep desire to be right all the time. Often you have to stretch to achieve this result. Amazingly facts fade and get distorted to fit the current viewpoint.

One quote in the middle from Charles Darwin, "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." David, without disagreeing with Darwin would suggest knowledge might help you make better decisions.

A theme in one chapter is about learned helplessness. Studies have been done in nursing homes, prisons and homeless shelters comparing situations where little details are taken care of by staff to where the inmates are given some responsibilities. Choice makes people happier.

The human mind seeks meaning in random events. McRaney takes a dig at the idea of a soul mate. Carl Sagan, the example he uses was very happy to share this planet with his wife, but knew it was not fate.

A lot of experiments have been done on first impressions. Unfortunately they are hard to overcome. A similar theme is anchoring where your judgment can be affected by objects or ideas presented prior to a particular decision. Associations that can be made deliberate can also affect your judgment.

Procrasination is a normal phenomenon. You need to outsmart your brain with such things as prompts, positive associations, other people to remind you and do not rely on your will power.

He points out that using groups to develop new ideas is fraught with danger. The key really is to convince everyone there are not negative consequences to expressing their real thoughts. The problem is aggravated if the group contains anyone with the ability to fire the others. Another danger in groups is that many individuals loaf relying on others to speak and do the hard thinking.

One practical bit of advice is that venting can actually increase your anger. It has been proven that a better strategy is to take a deep breath. Often, as an example when someone vents their frustration on a punching bag their anger rises to a higher level.

I would recommend this book. As humans try to understand the world, they need also to understand themselves. To get a more up to date perspective on David McRaney's thinking check his website: http://youarenotsosmart.com/

Monday, February 6, 2012

STILL WRESTLING WITH NEW YEARS RESOLUTIOS

Now I have gone past two months of trying to live up to my January 3rd resolutions. Some of my efforts are resulting in new habits, but I am still struggling to make things go forward.

After announcing that I wanted to be able to do 25 pushups I was pointed to a program called 100 pushups. Its goal was to get you up to 100 consecutive pushups which was far more than necessary. However the method, although simple was what I needed to overcome my obstacles. It was so successful that I decided to up my resolution to 50 pushups and also take on another program called 200 situps and alternating days work up to 50 situps.

My real goal is just to be more fit. Strength is part of that, but I also wanted to improve my cardio-vascular conditioning. I have been short of breath (also partly due to being overweight). I also identified not sleeping very well as another concern. I can appreciate that developing one area of fitness helps another and that I should not neglect diet, strength, cardio vascular powers, rest and flexibility.

On the work front I had developed some bad habits. My work situation changes from time to time, but I have worked with the idea I need to make a lot of specific "efforts" in order to make enough presentations to people who would buy whatever I am selling. I define an effort very loosely, but intended to encourage such things as dialing, visiting, sending out emails, leaving voice messages, noting when people do not answer the phone or do not have their business open, sending out newsletters. The real key is talking to decision makers, but the efforts are an important step to that goal and also keep me active even when nobody wants to talk to me or I don't feel up to it.

Setting a goal lets me know when I am not doing what is necessary. Some efforts seem pretty insignificant and they certainly are not all equal. However once you stop making efforts you can get into a rut. My experience tells me that a big part of selling is numbers. I have broken it down to two factors--one is quantity and the other is quality. It is easy to measure quantity, but not so easy to measure quality.

Quality includes such things as preparing, timing, targeting, prospecting, following up, being well rested.

I can get near my goals on a few days, but not able to average my goals. A big part of that is that I have less projects to work on. That should change soon, but in the meantime it is discouraging. Still the goals beckon. When you can't do a lot, you need to do what you can.

ATTENDING TRADE SHOWS; A CHORE, A BREAK OR AN OPPORTUNITY?

Did your boss suggest or order you to attend a trade show? Maybe you are the boss, and realize you need to learn a bit more in order to make your business hit a tipping point.

A change in routine may be as good as a break, but a trade show is a special opportunity. Whether you are interested in boosting your career or boosting your business there is information just beyond your current grasp or someone you can meet for your mutual benefit.  I am most familiar with the retail environment so that is what I will refer to most often, but the advice is useful for other situations.

In most retail environments there are more products than any one person can possibly be an expert on.   Yet most of your customers assume you know more than they do about the products and services you sell.  They assume price is THE key factor in deciding what they should buy. If you could be more knowledgeable about products (and their applications), and know who to turn to for advice and support and be aware of upcoming trends more of the people that walk into your store would come back more often and tell their friends.

When salespeople come to talk to you at your retail location, you might be busy or focused on some problem, even if you had agreed to an appointment. You might forget that one of your customers had been asking you about the salesperson's product or their company. Or just as likely about a similar product. At a trade show you can delve into the matter more closely with a wider variety of experts. When you can deal with your customer's needs more effectively you become more valuable.  The goal should be to solve more problems.

Plan your work and then work your plan is also good advice for a trade show. Find out what is there ahead of time and decide what are the most important stops. Every day it is more likely that there will be a Facebook page or twitter account for the show and can be a good way to keep up to date with developments regarding the show. Keep an eye on your smart phone as you may find information right at the show.

If you are going as part of a group you might assign different tasks to different people so as to maximize coverage and minimize duplicate effort. You can collect a lot more information, literature and samples as a group as just lugging around a bag that can get pretty heavy.

We all have time limitations and often we have very specific concerns. It is wise to plan your trip to make sure you don't miss anybody who could help resolve one of your concerns. Even so, one of the advantages of a trade show is finding things you weren't looking for.  In other words there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns that you can profit by learning.

A trade show is an information gathering process. In many cases you will get a chance to ask questions, see demonstrations. Sometimes you won't, but if you are able to scoop up some literature you will have something to consider. and as a reminder.   Don't be shy about asking for samples as there is nothing better than trying out a product or having your customers try it before you commit to it.

It is not just information you gather, but also contacts. Some of the people you encounter can be your future trouble shooters and further sources of information. As business people they have similar problems to you and you might be surprised at how some of them handle them. They call on different businesses and are familiar with what works for other retailers and what doesn't.

Information is a two way street. When you visit someone you have done business with before you can report on how their products or services are working out. If you have not used their products before you can relate your own problems and you might gain a better understanding of applications.

After you have visited the show make notes of what you learned and who you met. The good ones will be following up, but if you are interested in others that don't follow up you will have to make the effort.  File away literature for studying at a convenient time and put aside samples for testing.

Another category of trade show visitor is the buyer. Often a trade show is where the largest discounts are offered. New product introductions are often made with heavy discounts. Judgement and negotiating skills can mean that a trade show can be the prime buying opportunity of a year. However be careful not to get caught up in untested products and gimmicks that encourage you to overspend. Also in your zest to make killing purchases do not overlook other opportunities at trade shows to gain important product and contact information and keep up with new products.

Was it worth the effort? Sometimes you might be reassured that nothing too drastic is threatening your market place. On the other hand there might be so many new trends and competitors that it is wise to consult with those you trust in order remain competitive. Sometimes it might be something that didn't register on your conscious mind that will serve as a warning of a new trend or someone you should pay attention to. Be assured more changes are coming and trade shows are one way to keep on top.

HITCH-HIKING MEMORIES


Hopefully my kids think this is another boring blog.

To give some perspective just before this past Christmas my company, OKD Marketing asked each of their employees to provide a secret to be used for a Christmas party. I chose to say that I had hitch-hiked 15,000 miles. Talking to one of the young organizers I had to clarify why I had used miles instead of kilometers. The government had started a conversion program when I was indulging in my hitch-hiking career and when I started making my calculations it was far easier to use miles. That dates me and to some extent dates hitch-hiking.

I can’t remember when I started hitch-hiking. I do recall friends encouraging me and I could not have been older than 16 (I think a little younger). In the beginning most of it was going around and near my home town of Oshawa.

I became conscious of danger, but at the time it seemed distant and very unlikely. I have ridden in cars and trucks with hundreds of strangers and feel they all had benevolent intentions. What encouraged me to overlook the danger was FREEDOM.  No car, little money and a keen interest of what was on the other side of the fence seemed a lot more important.

My parents just before I was to enter grade 12 decided to move from the urban city of Oshawa to the rural area of Haliburton, about a two hour drive away. I decided to see my old friends. I also realized that my new friends lived a lengthy school bus ride away. Then I went to the University of Guelph and found new horizons.

Always alert to information I discovered one helpful tool was using a sign with my destination on it.
Going from Guelph to Oshawa or Haliburton meant going around Toronto. On one occasion I was stopped by the police and given a fine that certainly hurt.  I learned you are not allowed to hitch-hike on a controlled access highway.  I was able to use some of the ramp areas, but they greatly reduced the pool of possible drivers.

On a long weekend, I started out from the University and did fairly good until I got to Toronto where there was a traffic jam. Nobody wanted to stop, but finally I got a ride that at first unnerved me. It was a fellow I knew as a bully in Haliburton. He had gotten a job in Toronto and was going home for the weekend. It was an awkward time for me. There weren’t that many university students from my high school class and he was a high school drop out. However people change.

The scariest ride was with my younger brother when we both decided to visit friends in Oshawa from our home in Haliburton. We got picked up by a group of young men with the driver hitting over 100 miles per hour on many stretches.  Just naming the places doesn’t really give you a picture of how scary it really was. The rural roads for the first half of the trip are very curvy and hilly. Later I learned they were visiting a lawyer in Oshawa regarding a very serious auto accident.

In Haliburton the students and teachers come from a very wide area. One of the teachers offered me a summer job doing handy work. I ended up hitch-hiking most of the time in both directions, sometimes smelling of grass, splattered with paint or a few times with insulation fibres in my skin, but it was easy.

Hitching a ride in Haliburton I got picked up by a fellow from Hamilton who told me I lived in “God’s country.” He described a scene that sounded horrific and looking back I realize he was describing the inside of a steel mill and not the city itself.   Nonetheless it turned me off the idea of ever working or living (or even visiting) the city that I now live in and love. He was right though, Haliburton is “God’s country.”

A trip from Guelph to Haliburton again took me around Toronto. Rides seemed to be short with long waits between. An unusual vehicle driving by was a truck pulling a house, obviously going very slow. It passed me several times before the driver stopped to offer a ride. He said he would have given me a ride earlier, but he felt I would get there faster with other drivers.

For a few trips I traveled from Guelph to North Bay and back. For a few legs of the trips I used a train pass, paid for a bus ride and got a ride from a friend of a friend. He lived in St. Catharines and thought that Guelph Line was on the way to Guelph (only in a very indirect manner). I had no idea, but headed north. The irony being that not too many years later I drove the same exit to visit a girl friend (now my wife) and also more recently for my job. I was very lucky as one driver spotted my sign and realized I was way off course. He was driving about half the distance to go home, but decided he would visit his sister in Guelph. Lucky for me as otherwise I would have been totally lost.

An unusual trip for me was from North Bay to Haliburton. At Hunstville there is a cross over to a road going to Haliburton. It was very late and I thought for the first time I had better find a place to stay overnight. However I had very little money and no connections. I decided I would hitch-hike all night and if necessary sleep in a ditch. I got picked up by a fellow and got talking.  I had been a very big fan of the Oshawa Green Gaels (who won several national lacrosse titles) and talked about a lot of different players, some of whom I remembered had come from Huntsville. It turned out one of the players I talked about was the driver. He asked me how much money I had and then took me to a boarding house and talked the landlady into letting me stay overnight (she actually kicked her husband out of a bed). I think my lacrosse playing driver may have sweetened the offer, because I only paid $3.00 for my overnite stay in Dwight.

The next morning was another memorable one for me. A fellow and his wife were up from Windsor as he had heard the fall colours were very spectacular. They certainly were on that day and he stopped beside the road and asked me if I minded if it he took a photo of his wife with my sign against some of the trees and fallen leaves. He said he was “high on fall colours.” I had barely noticed fall colours before but with his enthusiasm I have since appreciated them a lot more, especially since I don’t get to see them as often in such a spectacular fashion.

Out of university looking for a job. On one of my trips someone suggested a particular line of work that I had never thought of before.  Based on the enthusiastic suggestion I applied to agencies all over Ontario. I got a response from one in Belleville who was interested to interview me. An almost totally new route for me that took me a couple of hours to do. I didn’t get that job, but it did help me understand better what was expected and I got hired for a similar job a few weeks later.

You meet a wide variety of people hitch-hiking and hear a lot of different stories. One I remember was one fellow who had discovered Greek music (he wasn’t Greek) and had me listen to a lot of it. It didn’t bore me at all and in fact was just another example of opening a door.

My first visit to Kitchener was done by hitch-hiking. On a Saturday with a friend we hitch-hiked for no particular reason except looking for something different.  I was impressed enough that later I sought out a job in Kitchener.

I hitch-hiked in all kinds of weather. Sometimes hot and sweaty, sometimes rainy. The worst I remember was winter weather, cold and snowy. I have spent hours in that kind of weather. To keep myself going I would keep saying my ride had just left and would be by within a short time. Eventually I did get a ride and sometimes some people felt it was a merciful thing to do in such weather. I learned later on that bad weather is not always a bad thing.  

While at university I saw a movie that involved young people hitch-hiking across Europe and had the line that if I ever get a car I will never pass a hitch-hiker. I kept my word for a few years, but eventually fear became a factor. A job, a wife and kids all made me look at the matter a little differently. Also "In Cold Blood" left a strong impression.

I regret that today it is not always advisable to trust people to do the right thing. There is nothing wrong with hitch-hiking. I am happy to help out others and am very grateful that so many people helped me and gave a lot of interesting experiences and truly enriched my life.

Friday, February 3, 2012

STILL HANGING IN THERE WITH JAN 3RD RESOLUTIONS

This is a slightly edited post that appeared yesterday on the official OKD blog.

It was only 34 days ago that many of you made some New Years Resolutions. I actually made mine official on January 3rd. How are you doing? If you are like me and millions of others the results are probably a mixed bag. The first month is the hardest.
The function of a resolution is to change habits—get rid of a bad one or develop a good one. The truth is your day is loaded with habits. Without habits you would be making endless paralyzing decisions every hour. You will get further in business and enjoy life if you can program more good habits.
As a salesman working in a marketing company one of our primary goals is to change the habits of other people. We want them to accept our solutions. The reason marketing companies exist for this function is that is very difficult to get people to change.
When I set my resolutions up I was mindful that they needed to be challenging, simple, realistic and above all monitored.
You can take my word for it or you can check the original in an earlier blog. I was a bit too wordy, but felt the need to explain my reasoning. Specifically I mentioned a number of pushups (25) I needed to accomplish and that I would take one extra walk per week and use an elliptical machine that had been made more convenient for me. Also I set two simple (but lately difficult for me to attain) sales effort standards. I included a few vague resolutions such as mindful eating, respect others and some thought to using social media more. I threw in a photo of my immediate family as a sort of motivator.
To make it more effective I broadcast my resolutions to my social network. In fact to be honest over the holidays I had made a decision to get involved with facebook and with some encouragement from one person in particular I had hit a tipping point. I would actually tie in the vague social media goal to my need to develop some good habits.
My immediate family, quite a part of my extended family many of the people I work with, friends, a few people I would like to get to know better all have access to what I have said. I got one bit of feedback, that was very helpful towards achieving one of my goals. The feeling of accomplishment motivates further efforts to improve my habits. I had promised to inform people of my progress (this is part of that process).
For exercises after struggling for several years I already achieved 25 pushups in one set and now feel can go much higher. I did my three walks a week, but feel it is not enough. Have put in some time on the elliptical and gradually working up to more total time. On the work front I have achieved either of the two goals a few times, but am nowhere near the average I wanted. A part from a three day phone problem the main cause is the winding down of two projects, but shortly two more bigger projects will start. I hope my habits are developing in the right direction.
It is very difficult to change a habit on your own. Reminders and incentives help, but if you are the only one aware they will gradually lose their power. Social media offers an opportunity to turn peer pressure to habit changing.
You can actually make resolutions any time you want. I am upping my resolution to 50 consecutive pushups and 50 consecutive situps. Go ahead, pick one thing you would like to change, really think about it. Let us (and others know). Start now.
The photo is of the renovated Hamilton Public Library at night. One of my inspirations to get me walking more.