Monday, October 5, 2009

Where the Ideas Are

It's the age-old question: how do businesses, individuals, and causes find new ways to solve new or lingering problems? Where do the best ideas emerge from? If things have been done a certain way for as long as can be remembered, how does one think about a problem/opportunity differently?

I discovered some insight into how I would answer this a couple of weeks ago, pretty much by accident.

Long story short, I was out for a run.  Running is something I've done consistently since I was in grammar school.  I had my routes around Boston, Carlisle, and Concord where I grew up, and free flowing pensiveness was the norm.  Then I moved to DC.  And joined a running group. And started making friends.  My freely flowing conscious turned into chatty targeted questions and any real pensiveness went out the window.

I've been doing the running group thing for three solid years.  Running solo turned into a true rareity.

Here is how my discovery came to be.

A few weeks ago, I went out for a run (solo).  I moved to a new neighborhood and had consulted enough Google maps to get a general sense of where homebase was, and what routes were runnable.  I wrote down a few directions on a piece of paper, just in case, and went on my merry way.

About 25% of the way through my run, I started to notice something that I hadn't experienced in a while, making it more apparent.  As I focused on a steady stream of cars, glanced at the grass, turned a corner and darted around a couple pushing a baby in a stroller, I started answering questions to current problems and coming up with new ideas.  Luckily, I ran by a condo complex with a mailbox full of marketing materials.  I looked inside and saw a pen.  I jotted down some of my ideas.

Energized by the experience, the next day I set out for the treadmill.  I brought a pen and paper.   I picked a pace and started thinking. 

After about 12 minutes of looking at the wall right in front of me, I realized my experience was not the same.  The running was good, but my idea flow was not.  At that point I decided pensiveness was to be preserved for the outside.

And so I introduce my accidental discovery of where the ideas are.

I had forgotten about this account until recently when I stumbled upon a new book by Jerry de Jaager and Jim Ericson called See New Now.  Similar to how storytelling can help leaders lead, this book presents 24 examples of how to see the world through different lenses.  It takes inspiration from observing caterpillars and from this taking hints on how "understanding the true experience of transformation is vital for succeeding at deep change."  It looks at the great high-wire artist Karl Wallenda and considers how he "fell to his death because he wouldn’t let go of his balance pole" and what companies and individuals can learn from this ("sometimes needing to let go of their most cherished practices and beliefs"). 

When I consider my running discovery, it is clear to me why when outside, the ideas flowed, and when stuck inside looking at the clock ticking on the wall in front of me - I came up short.  When outside, my thoughts were juxtaposed next to grass, traffic, stop signs; and when inside, slim to nothing.

I highly recommend this read.  When considering your most complex problems or when seeking to come up with a way to try something new - look to the world around you for inspiration.  But don't just look in the obvious places and don't believe just because something has been done a certain way for a long time that it is the best way of doing it.  We have many years of history that can aid us in sorting out problems and sometimes the answers can be found in the most random, and basic places.

Of course this book doesn't come with curiousity included.  That part is up to you. 

"To do things differently, we must learn to see things differently.  Seeing differently means learning to question the conceptual lenses through which we view and frame the world, our businesses, our core competencies, our competitive advantage, and our business models.  It means finding new eyeglasses that will enable us to see strategies and structures taking shape, even if we feel we are on the edge of chaos..." John Seely Brown

Friday, October 2, 2009

Eureka? Just do it.

I just read Rands in Repose's blogpost Hurry. It's an eloquent call-to-action (or maybe call-to-courage) reminding us all that when it comes to our own eureka moments, we can't wait.

It's 8:45 am. You have an idea. You know it's great because you get that slightly exhilarated feeling. First step? Due diligence. You Google it. Anything else out there just like in the marketplace living, breathing, and operating? No. Cool. You have time. You need to think it through, after all, and ping it off your boss, co-worker; fantasy football friends. Your phone rings and your email bleeps and all of sudden it's 3:30 next Wednesday. And along the way, you get validation, do more research; you wait for the the perfect time.


There is no perfect time. And like Rands says, "Do the math. We are all staring at the same set of data. Yes, there is a lot of data and there is a very low probability that you’re able to surf it all, but here’s the rub: There’s a lot of us. In fact, there’s a shitload of us, and when you combine all of us with the equally huge amount of data, you understand that when I arrive at work and google my great ideas, I’m no longer surprised when my precisely designed drive-to-work business model is already in play."

We've all read the studies on the power of "going with your gut" (Malcom Gladwell's Blink is a pretty obvious example of this). When you have an idea and your intuition hints (or screams) - that it could actually work, it is often because you care about the topic surrounding it. By being naturally tuned into a certain topic or problem, you have been collecting data along. You know more than you think. What are you waiting for?

Sure. Of course. We all know the answer before you say it. As Rands says -"comfort" because "you've got a mortgage and 1.5 kids" or "Do just enough. Don't rock the boat. Make yourself indispensable without being noticeable" or my favorite: "Maybe you're waiting for validation. You're waiting for that someone you respect to say, 'yes, you bright person, you should do that thing.' It was your parents when you were a kid and then it was your first boss, but now it  simply needs to be you."

We have the internet and we have way more access to information than ever before and in turn every possibility to start something - a new product, a new cause, a new tribe.

Of course, not all ideas first to market are successful (Friendster), and not all that wait fail (Facebook).  Some pop up later and take best practices from what already exists and improve concept #1.  However, the marketplace is competitive and sometimes 2nd place is the first loser.

When you get an idea, don't wait. Don't wait because you are afraid you will fail (you very well might as Derek Sivers reminds us) because if you don't ever try you'll never know.  Consider, as Adrian Slywotzky points out in his book The Upside that Toyata might have never developed the Prius if it took its risk-assessment tools to heart - calculating that the car had only a 5% chance of success.

And above all, don't wait because you are afraid you will succeed, or because things are good enough as they as are. BE the one to start your thing.  The world will thank you.


"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us...Your playing small does not serve the world...As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
-Marianne Williamson