Tag Archives: Innovation

Most managers don’t want creative employees

A couple of summers ago I read Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. The book lives up to its title and one that I heartily recommend. It contains a wealth of ideas and views on management that you don’t often come across.

For example, this on the management of creativity:

Real creativity, the kind that is responsible for breakthrough changes in our society, always violates the rules. That is why it is so unmanageable and that is why, in most organizations, when we say we desire creativity we really mean manageable creativity. We don’t mean raw, dramatic, radical creativity that requires us to change.

As much as managers and organizations say they want to be innovative and groundbreaking, they usually don’t mean they want each of their individual employees to be innovative and groundbreaking. They want the rules to be followed, because that’s how things are supposed to work. They don’t believe that rules are meant to be broken.

The real message, though, is this: break the rules and be successful and we’ll back you all the way, but break the rules and fail and you are on your own.

This is something that Seth Godin talks about quite a bit. Don’t expect any cover from your boss when you try something new, he tells us, because that’s not your boss’s job. If your creativity, your art, is important to you, the best thing you can do is to simply do it. Or, as he says in Linchpin:

The reason you might choose to embrace the artist within you now is that this is the path to (cue the ironic music) security. When it is time for layoffs, the safest job belongs to the artist, the linchpin, the one who can’t be easily outsourced or replaced.

Update: This post is an updated version of something I first wrote in June 2008. I was inspired to update it by a common search term in my referral logs (rules are meant to be broken), my earlier post (Some) Rules are meant to be broken, and the recent series of Hey Leaders, Wake Up! posts at hackingwork.com.

What organizations need isn’t always what they want

From Seth Godin’s recent article Why ask why?

The secret to creativity is curiosity… The student with no curiosity… is no problem at all. Lumps are easily managed.

Same thing is true for most of the people we hire. We’d like them to follow instructions, not ask questions, not question the status quo.

This reminded me of something I jotted down in my notebook from Richard Farson’s book Management of the Absurd:

Real creativity, the kind that is responsible for breakthrough changes in our society, always violates the rules. That is why it is so unmanageable and that is why, in most organizations, when we say we desire creativity we really mean manageable creativity. We don’t mean raw, dramatic, radical creativity that requires us to change.

As much as organizations say they want to be innovative and groundbreaking, they usually don’t mean they want each of their individual employees to be innovative and groundbreaking.

Even though that is often exactly what they need.

It’s a good time to be a Nintendo based virtual musician

It is a good time to be a virtual musician, especially if your platform of choice comes from Nintendo. This past weekend saw the release of versions of the popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band game franchises for the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii, respectively.

Guitar Hero On Tour brings the guitar strumming fun to the DS. I had a chance to try it out over the weekend and it is, in the words of my niece, “freaking sweet”. Like the console versions, GHOT has a custom guitar controller.

“But the DS doesn’t use separate controllers,” you say? Check this out:

That in combination with a pick-shaped stylus and the DS touch screen make for very cool game play. Check out the official game site for all the details.

The Wii version of Rock Band is, I’m sure, quite similar to the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 versions in terms of music and playability. Since I already have Rock Band for PS3 (working my way through a “Hard” solo tour), I doubt if I’ll get the Wii version, but I know my brother’s kids are already hounding him for the Wii version.

The blogs of Leonardo da Vinci

da Vinci:  Studies of Embryos

Continuing on a bit of a theme this week, imagine if, instead of his famed notebooks, Leonardo da Vinci had used a blog to record his observations, inventions, sketches, science, mathematics…. Well, you get the idea.

Instead of nearly 6,000 pages of notes, many on what is essentially loose-leaf paper, in no particular order and with no way to correlate them, we might have 6,000 (or more, if you count the estimated 10,000 pages that haven’t survived to the present day) tagged, cross-linked, commented blog posts.

Not only would this have likely helped da Vinci himself organize his notes (a task he unfortunately did not complete before his death), it would have made his knowledge, his discoveries, and his observations available to the world at large.

I did a quick search on the Notebooks of Leonardo (a more exhaustive search will have to wait until I’m not exhausted), and came up with two interesting sites:

  • Interconnected.org: From this site you can browse the notebooks page by page, go to a random page, or get the notebooks via a daily RSS feed. At over 1500 pages, you will get a new page every day for over 4 years. Text from Project Gutenberg.
  • AskSam ebooks & databases: A searchable version of the notebooks. I haven’t done a detailed comparison, but the text appears to be the same as the version at Interconnected.

You can also download both versions for your reading pleasure when not connected.

Sadly, neither of these versions of the notebooks include the numerous (and incredible) sketches from the notebooks, such as the study of embryos shown above. Just as sadly, neither of these online versions of the notebooks are hyperlinked, so any connections between the 1500+ pages are left to the reader to sort out.

What if Benjamin Franklin had a blog?

Portrait of Benjamin FranklinLast summer I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Blaine McCormick, author of Ben Franklin: America’s Original Entrepreneur, what he thought Franklin would think of the internet, social networking software, and blogs. McCormick’s response was along the lines of, “Franklin probably wouldn’t pay much attention to them, blogs are not up to the right standard.”

I have to admit, I don’t really agree with McCormick’s assessment. I think that his response to my question comes partially from an ignorance on his part of what blogs and the other tools are and what they are capable of, and partially from confusing the sometimes dismal quality of blogs, etc and the potential of the tools themselves. (Remember, having good tools do not the master make.)

In the hands of Benjamin Franklin, a master of getting his message out in the media of the day, I can only imagine how the media tools of today could be used. (I’m sure it would be much more than a simple collection of links.)

The web log is 10; tips for new bloggers from original blogger Jorn Barger

According to this story on Wired.com, Jorn Barger coined the term “web log” 10 years ago today to “describe the daily list of links that “logged” his travels across the web.” Barger provides some tips, dating back to what he calls the “Golden Age of Web Logs” (1998-1999), for new bloggers:

  1. A true weblog is a log of all the URLs you want to save or share. (So del.icio.us is actually better for blogging than blogger.com.)
  2. You can certainly include links to your original thoughts, posted elsewhere … but if you have more original posts than links, you probably need to learn some humility.
  3. If you spend a little time searching before you post, you can probably find your idea well articulated elsewhere already.
  4. Being truly yourself is always hipper than suppressing a link just because it’s not trendy enough. Your readers need to get to know you.
  5. You can always improve on the author’s own page title, when describing a link. (At least make sure your description is full enough that readers will recognize any pages they’ve already visited, without having to visit them again.)
  6. Always include some adjective describing your own reaction to the linked page (great, useful, imaginative, clever, etc.)
  7. Credit the source that led you to it, so your readers have the option of “moving upstream.”
  8. Warn about “gotchas” — weird formatting, multipage stories, extra-long files, etc. Don’t camouflage the main link among unneeded (or poorly labeled) auxiliary links.
  9. Pick some favorite authors or celebrities and create a Google News feed that tracks new mentions of them, so other fans can follow them via your weblog.
  10. Re-post your favorite links from time to time, for people who missed them the first time.

This is an interesting list, especially for new bloggers. Very few blogs today are simply lists of links to other sites; in fact, most blogs are explicitly setup for the authors to share their original thoughts, sometimes inspired by the writing of others but just as often based on events of daily life, their PhD research, etc. Sites like del.icio.us (mentioned in Barger’s list) provide the function that he seems to want to have blogs perform, and they are popular for just that reason.

That’s not to say that the list is not without merit. Tips 4-9 are good tips for all bloggers, new and old, independent of what they blog or how they blog it.

While the ways people use ‘blogs today may not really fit with what the word literally means, it’s not the first time a concept or a word has evolved beyond its literal meaning, or the use of a tool has evolved beyond its original use.

It certainly won’t be the last.

Books, books, and more books

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, it was a social networking site related to books, Shelfari, that recently brought me back into the blogosphere. I’ll write some more about that (and social networks in general) in a bit, but for now I just want to talk about books themselves. Or, at least, books in the news. It was a busy week last week in book news.

This week, On the Media is dedicating the entire show to one of our favorite topics – books. From Oprah’s Book Club to the Google Library Project, the way we buy, search, read and even discuss books is changing. And so we begin with a look at some of the forces now tugging at the industry.

A new report from the National Endowment for the Arts reveals that Americans are reading less frequently and less proficiently. The report links the decline in voluntary reading among teens and young adults to poorer performance in school. It also raises questions about the role of reading in a world full of digital distractions.

  • And then, while I’m in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, I see the 26 November issue of Newsweek, with a picture of Jeff Bezos and the headline The Future of Reading.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos already built a better bookstore. Now he believes he can improve upon one of humankind’s most divine creations: the book itself. (If you’ve shopped Amazon.com recently, you know what Bezos is talking about: the Kindle.)

Like someone’s trying to send me a message: READ MORE BOOKS!!!

I’m the first to admit that I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. And the subjects of my reading has changed quite a bit too. I used to have a steady diet of fiction, then a bit of a mix of fiction / non-fiction, and now an almost exclusive diet of non-fiction.

Looking back, it seems that my taste in reading is somewhat tied to my life at the time. My interest in military / political fiction was undoubtedly sparked by my service as a military officer. Though fictional, the stories in these books provided great insight into leadership, conduct of operations, etc.

As I moved into the “corporate” world, where there is a bit less (a lot less, actually) fiction that can be helpful in learning and growing, I turned to non-fiction business books. The books that appealed to me most were the ones that have a bit of narrative feel to them. I have a few of the “checklist” type books, but never really got much out of them.

And as I’ve gotten older – and as my kids have gotten older – I’ve developed a bit more of an interest in the nature of the world and our place in it. My elder son’s autism has also inspired a deep interest in how the human mind works, and what it is that makes each of us unique (or not).

My wife, on the other hand, reads a lot. I mean a whole bunch, putting me to shame. This is consistent, though, with the findings of the study mentioned in the Talk of the Nation piece, so I don’t feel too bad. (Read “Why women read more than men” on the TOTN page for this story for more details.)

Still, that’s no excuse. I know it’s not quite New Year’s, but I’ll go in for a resolution anyway: I resolve to read at least as much fiction as non-fiction. Just watch me on Shelfari if you want to see how I do. (And let me know if you’d like to join my friends list, I’m curious what you are reading, too.)

When musicians become gamers

Video games like the Guitar Hero franchise and the recently released Rock Band give gamers a chance to become “musicians”, if only in pretend. It was by happy accident (thanks to shuffle mode in iTunes) that I heard a discussion yesterday with NPR music blogger Carrie Brownstein on an (unfortunately unknown to me) NPR program on the subject.

The discussion centered on what Carrie had written in the post Are We Not Gamers?, which in turn derived from a review of Rock Band that Carrie wrote for Slate.com.

The line between gamers and non-gamers is clearly diminishing, if not already obsolete…. The best and newest games, such as Rock Band, meld the virtual with the actual; they make little distinction between what is palpable and what is imagined. With Rock Band, you are hanging out with your very real friends, playing along to the master recordings of real songs, and on screen you are atop some of the biggest stages in the world.

Of course, the truth is that you are nowhere except in front of your TV. But Rock Band professes that it doesn’t matter–though you might not be creating memorable music with your friends, you are creating a memorable, real-life moment, all with the help of the unreal.

I likely would not have written anything here about that discussion (or the blog or the review), except for something that happened to me on Monday night. On that night, I attended a parent’s meeting for my son’s high school band (he’s a percussionist) at which a local music store salesman presented SmartMusic.

My first thoughts (I hesitate to say) as he went through the demo were along the lines of, “This is a lot like Guitar Hero, except with real instruments.” To say that I was impressed with the system would be an understatement. Of course, it could have just been good salesmanship by the rep, but I don’t think so. Here’s the basic description of SmartMusic in their words:

Students never practice alone when they have SmartMusic at home. This interactive, computer-based practice system helps students get better faster, and makes practicing more fun. With amazing accompaniments for more than 30,000 titles, challenging exercises, and the ability to record personal CDs, SmartMusic is the future of music learning.

With SmartMusic loaded on a computer, students plug in a vocal or instrumental microphone and begin practicing. They play or sing their part with accompaniment and receive, in real time on the computer, detailed feedback on their performance. Ideal for woodwind, brass, string, and vocal musicians of all levels.

SmartMusic is your instant backup band that makes practicing fun!

If you remember Marc Prensky‘s 12 reasons games engage us, SmartMusic seems to meet all but the last one. Basically, they’ve taken the things that make learning in video games fun and applied them to learning in real life.

Time out (please?)

What I really wanted to say (shout, really) was, “Please make it stop!” I am referring, of course, to the (seemingly) never-ending supply of new tools and applications that allow me to create, connect, comment, collaborate, etc etc.

Several years ago (not that many, really), I wrote a paper for an organization addressing the evolution of corporate communications from the interdepartmental memo, to e-mail, and the emergence of instant messaging, with a bit of voice mail thrown in. I was trying to help managers, who had always had a secretary to take dictation or decipher their hand-written notes, figure out how to use these new tools themselves. (They had no choice, as secretaries were slowly removed from the workforce.)

I can only imagine what that paper would look like if I tried to write it today. In addition to e-mail and IM, now we’ve got blogs and wikis, intranets and portals, social networking apps, and cell phones with text messaging, photo messaging, video messaging. Assuming an organization had a coherent information architecture and strategy, you would still be hard pressed to be able to explain all this to someone who didn’t just “get it.”

I have to admit that I kind of fall into that latter category. I’ve been messing around with blogs (with varying success) for over 5 years now, have set up and contributed to my fair share of other online sources like wikis and as a commenter to other blogs. But I’ve only recently really understood the value and, yes, appeal of text messaging and the ability to send photos and videos from anywhere on my phone. And, though I’ve recently signed up and started experimenting with Facebook, I’m still not quite sure exactly what to do with it. And don’t get me started with things like Twitter – as much as friends and others praise it, I just don’t get it.

One of the key questions I’m still not sure how to answer is: with all of these means of communications available with my friends, colleagues, and strangers that I’d like to get to know, what is the best way to actually communicate – E-mail? Facebook? Post a comment on their blog? Post to my blog about their blog? Update Twitter?

As if that isn’t enough, a recent post by Jack Vinson – commenting on a post by Amy Gahran – now has me thinking of another issue raised by all this: How do I keep track of it all? Fortunately for me, Jack provides some possible solutions to explore as I try to answer that question.

All of this is why I ask for a time out, to try to sort it all out and figure out what to do with it all. (Just kidding, of course, I really do love this stuff!)
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The new gamer generation: Not who you think

The New York Times today writes about the new gamer generation in Retirees Discover Video Games. Yep, retirees. They are making up a larger and larger part of the market for “casual” games, and game developers and distributors are taking notice. The Nintendo Wii, with its simple controls for many games, is making a splash of its own.

My favorite part of the article is that told by semi-retired businessman Dick Norwood:

Dick Norwood, 61, a semi-retired businessman who lives in a community for residents 55 and older in Crest Hill, Ill., spotted the Wii in a mall in December. After playing Wii bowling with two other couples at home, he persuaded Giovan’s, a local Italian restaurant, to begin a “seniors only” Wii bowling league, where nine couples now show up every Thursday.

“When I started calling people about it, they had no idea what I was talking about, and they were laughing at me saying, ‘You want to start a bowling league on a video game in a bar?’ ” he said. “Well, we got there the first time, and we were there for six solid hours. In the past, I probably would have agreed that video games are just for kids. But I’ll tell you, at our age when you bowl for real, you wake up with aches and pains. Those balls aren’t light. But with this you’re getting good exercise, but you’re not aching the next day.”

Regular readers here know my fondness for the Wii, and I’m not the only one. My wife, my brothers, even my mom love to play games on the Wii, especially Wii Sports. The appeal of the Wii, especially in a sports game, is captured by Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good For You, in 5 Thoughts on the Nintendo Wii:

What strikes you immediately playing Wii Sports — and particularly Tennis — is this feeling of fluidity, the feeling that subtle, organic shifts in your body’s motion will lead to different results onscreen. My wife has a crosscourt slam she hits at the net that for the life of me I haven’t been able to figure out; I have a topspin return of soft serves that I’ve half-perfected that’s unhittable. We both got to those techniques through our own athletic experimentation with various gestures, and I’m not sure I could even fully explain what I’m doing with my killer topspin shot.

In a traditional game, I’d know exactly what I was doing: hitting the B button, say, while holding down the right trigger. Instead, my expertise with the shot has evolved through the physical trial-and-error of swinging the controller, experimenting with different gestures and timings. And that’s ultimately what’s so amazing about the device.

Games for years have borrowed the structures and rules — as well as the imagery — of athletic competition, but the Wii adds something genuinely new to the mix, something we’d ignored so long we stopped noticing that it was missing: athleticism itself.

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Update:  For every silver lining, there is apparently a cloud, including for the Nintendo Wii.  The physical exertion that makes the Wii so fun seems to be leading to an increased risk of physical injuries, as described in Virtual video games cause real injuries.  Just like all games, people need to learn to play in moderation.

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