The Power of Collaboration — A Note to Management

Success occurs in clusters.

— Julia Cameron | The Artist’s Way

Watching Daft Punk win at the Grammys last night made me think of the power of collaboration and its ability to unleash creativity. Artists are known collaborators.

Think about it for just a second: what did the Impressionist paint? Lunch…with each other. What did the Bloomsbury Group write about? Dining out with — and gossiping about — each other. Who did John Cassavetes make films with? His friends. Why? Because they believed in each other and enjoyed helping each other achieve their dreams.

— Julia Cameron | The Artist’s Way

Even people who you would think would be born rivals collaborate.

I will give you a case in point. Film director Martin Scorsese developed, shaped, and fine-tuned the script for Schindler’s List — then gave the project to his friend Steven Spielberg, feeling the material should be his. This unballyhooed act of generosity finally gave Spielberg his shot at an Oscar as a “real director” — even though Scorsese knew that it might cost him his shot, at least this year.

— Julia Cameron | The Artist’s Way

I know first hand that artists like to help each other. My creative friends where there for me when I was plotting the two graded readers I wrote. In the end, they not only helped be hash out the story, they helped me create something that was much better than it would have been if I had written it on my own.

Artists often help each other. We always have… The truth is that when we do, powerful things happen.

— Julia Cameron | The Artist’s Way

And then, as I was watching Daft Punk,  I started wondering, “What makes artists so different from people who work in organizations?” One answer I came up with is — who’s at the top.

Artists run themselves. People who work in organizations are run by the organization and if the organization doesn’t set a tone that breeds collaboration, it won’t happen.

Through their structures and incentives, organizations may, however, unwittingly compound the reluctance to provide or seek help.

IDEO’s Culture of Helping | The Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2014

The usual suspects get it and relay it through their philosophies as well as the physical design of their offices (which encourage collaboration). As a result, these are the ones that we laud as being innovators.

But there are others that talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. They may have adopted the office design. They may want to be innovators in their respective field, but when management shoots down collaboration, it won’t happen. Instead you get:

  • meetings in which people don’t talk (and management wondering why no one talks);
  • an organization that doesn’t reach its potential, and;
  • talent drain (or people who came in with ideas and energy shutting down and management wondering, “What happened to so and so?).

Research across many kinds of companies finds that those with higher rates of helping have lower employee turnover, enjoy greater customer satisfaction, and are more profitable.

— IDEO’s Culture of Helping | The Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2014

If this isn’t true of your company today, and you want it to be, then you need to adjust your company’s culture so that your employees can truly engage in collaboration.

For some ideas on how you can get your company there read:

IDEO’s Culture of Helping (Harvard Business Review): You have to register or purchase the article to read all of it online.

Luma Institute’s Taxonomy of Innovation

Yesterday, I started reading the January — February issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and got stuck on what I found on page 30 — an article entitled “A Taxonomy of Innovation.” The article describes how an educational company, Luma Institute, has taken the 36 “most effective” methods that innovators can use to uncover the wants and needs or users and grouped them into three categories:

  • Looking — Observing Human Experience
  • Understanding — Analyzing Challenges and Opportunities
  • Making — Envisioning Future Possibilities

Under each category are 3 sub-categories and under each sub-catetory are 4 methods  you can use. Let’s take the category “Looking” as an example.

LOOKING — Observing Human Experience

Ethnographic Research — Studying human behavior in its natural setting to uncover opportunities for innivation

1. Interviewing — Gathering information through direct dialogue

2. Fly-On-The-Wall Observation — Doing unobtrusive field research

3. Contextual Inquiry — Interviewing people in their own environment

4. Walk-A-Mile Immersion — Building empathy through first hand experience

Participatory Research — Learning from people by giving them a way to express themselves, revealing critical and latent needs

1. What’s On Your Radar? — Plotting items according to personal significance

2. Buy A Feature — Using artificial money to express trade-off decisions

3. Build Your Own — Expressing ideal solutions with symbolic elements

4. Journaling — Recording personal experiences in words and pictures

Evaluative Research — Assessing the usefulness and usability of products and processes in order to set a course for improving them

1. Think-Aloud Testing — Narrating one’s experience while performing a task

2. Heuristic Review — Auditing on the basis of 10 rules of good design

3. Critique — Giving and receiving constructive feedback

4. System Usability Scale — Quantifying feedback from a usability survey

“A Taxonomy of Innovation” | HBR

The other two categories (Understanding and Making) have the same structure. The idea is to mix and match the tools:

…for each step of the innovation process, according to the people you’re designing for and the complexity of the systems in which you operate.

I like the idea of having a framework because, as the article states, what challenges people isn’t finding a tool, there are plenty out there, it’s knowing which one to use when. And it’s important to know which one to use when because of the speed at which new products and processes need to be developed. Time pressures barely allow for the time that’s really needed to apply the necessary rigor to the process. You don’t need to have the extra burden of using a tool just to find out that it wasn’t the best one to use in your particular situation.

I also like it because it’s always nice to show management your road plan. It gives you a good point for discussion and it’s a lot easier to get buy-in for something that you can show in black and white (or color if you want).

For More Detail

I just gave you an overview, but you can see it all for yourself.

Vision Statement — A Taxonomy of Innovation (HBR)

I would also suggest reading the following:

How to Use Design Thinking to Improve Your Nonprofit’s Digital Strategy (bethkanter.org)

If you have problems with either link, you can also link from the Luma Institute site.

Design Thinking at Carrefour: Everything Old is New Again

I recently saw a “revolutionary” new shopping cart that’s being tested at Carrefour. But the thing was, I had seen it years, and I mean years, before. It was a version of the IDEO shopping cart. And then I started laughing because just a few weeks ago I read a comment saying that if IDEO was so great, why is it that you never see any of its concepts. Wow, I wish I could remember where I saw that comment.

But I did find a picture of the shopping cart. You can see, and read about, it here:

http://www.inprocess-group.com/works/carrefour-mobi-the-trolley-of-the-future/

The lesson? Sometimes what seems like a failure isn’t a failure. It’s just before its time. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to see the difference.

Do What You Love And The Money Will Come, But Don’t Expect It Overnight

Today I saw two examples that the saying, “Do what you love and the money will come” has some validity. Interestingly enough, both examples involve photographers.

The first example is Joel Robison whose ability to look at the world differently landed him a dream gig with Coca-Cola.

A few years into his photography, Joel took a picture of a few Coke bottles in the snow and posted it on Flickr. A friend of his suggested he send the photo to Coca-Cola in hopes they’d use it. At the time, Joel laughed it off and didn’t think anything of it.

“It was about a year later that I got this message from someone that works inside Coke saying, ‘Hey we’d like to take your picture and share it on Twitter. Would you be OK with that?’” Joel says, “I was very excited, and it made my day.”

“About three weeks later, I got this phone call from them saying they had developed a project for me to moderate their Flickr community,” Joel recalls. “They [Coca-Cola] wanted me to take their Flickr page, help it grow and to use my photos to encourage other people to submit their photos based around their positive themes.”

Joel moderated Coca-Cola’s Flickr community for about a year and a half. When it was all over, Coca-Cola presented Joel with an incredible opportunity.

“In 2013, they offered me a role on the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour,” Joel says. “It’s a worldwide tour, led by Coca-Cola and FIFA, taking the FIFA World Cup Trophy on a world tour of 90 countries. And they offered me the role of photographer and voice of social media. I was shocked.”

“It totally changed the course of my life,” Joel admits. “I was able to quit my job and accept photography as my full-time career, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s been non-stop, I feel more passionate about it every day, and I feel like I am allowed to share with the world what I see, and I feel very supported in that.”

— Imaginative Photographer Lands World Tour Job At Coke | Flickr Bog

Joel was a teacher before, but didn’t really feel as if he was connected to the creative part of his mind. One day he bought a cheap camera on eBay, taught himself about photography and Photoshop and the rest is history.

Notice that his breakthrough did not happen overnight. It took years.

Next…

Scott Schuman, aka, the Sartorialist. I’ve followed Scott’s blog for a long time. What pulled me to it was his authenticity. He was one of the trail blazers who paved the way for the fashion bloggers who now sit on the front row during Fashion Week.

He is also a self-taught photographer. His work has landed him commissioned ad campaigns with Nespresso, DKNY Jeans, Gant, OVS, Crate & Barrel, and Absolut. Burberry commissioned him to shoot a really cool (on his blog described as groundbreaking) social-media advertising campaign “Art of The Trench.” His photographs are displayed as part of the permanent collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Plus he has two books.

But today, I read that he now teaches a social media course at Domus Academy (way to go Scott).

Once again, none of this happened overnight. He started his blog in 2005.

If there is something that you really love to do, do it and let your love for it feed your efforts. If you do this, I really believe that sooner or later (most likely later) you will reap monetary benefits from your efforts. There’s no such thing as a lasting, overnight success.

Is Technology Making Us Less Creative?

The other day, I was reading the 5 factors John Cleese listed in his 1991 lecture to make your life more creative.

1.Space (“You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures.”)
2.Time (“It’s not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time.”)
3.Time (“Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original,” and learning to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.)
4.Confidence (“Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”)
5.Humor (“The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”)

—  John Clesse on the 5 Factors to Make Your Life More Creative | Brain Pickings.

And the focus on space and time made me start wondering about the impact of multitasking on creativity. Because if you’re doing lots of things at the same time where is the space and the time to let your mind work?

It didn’t take long for me to find out that the two don’t mix. Which is pretty much what I expected.

Managing multiple tasks at the same time requires a lot of working memory and “executive control” – the ability to direct and focus your attention, says a 2010 study in the journal Intelligence. But working memory and the ability to focus actually work against the cognitive processes that generate light-bulb moments, says a 2012 study at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Too much focus can actually harm creative problem-solving,” preventing the diffuse, open thinking required to come up with new approaches and novel connections, the study says. Multitaskers may have to work harder than others to block out time for the daydreaming, exercise or mind-wandering that generate “aha moments,” the research suggests.

— Why Multitasking Block Creativity — The Juggle  | WSJ

But it is what I read in the next article that I chose that got me thinking about how our use of technology — always being connected (texting while we’re walking, supposed to be talking to other people, and working; keeping out ear to the phone, checking e-mails at every ping ) is blocking our creativity.

As James O’Toole notes on the strategy+business blog, the dangers of multitasking are as multifarious as they are nefarious.

  • Multitasking stunts emotional intelligence: Instead of addressing the person in front of you, you address a text message.
  • Multitasking makes us worse managers: The more we multitask, the worse we are at sorting through information–recall the broadcast news kerfuffle above.
  • Multitasking makes us less creative

–What Multitasking Does To Your Brain | Fast Company

Technology companies seem to follow John Cleese’s advice. The most innovative ones tend to give employees an environment that includes the space and time factors Cleese mentions. Their employees have the confidence to create because their efforts are supported (all of this is generally speaking, of course).

But the people who use the technology are running the risk of becoming less creative. It’s a situation that’s easy to rectify, however.

Want to become more creative? Start today by disconnecting.

Is “Follow Your Passion” Really Bad Advice?

If work were supposed to be fun, they wouldn’t call it work.
— My Mother

Work is hard. Not every day is fun. Building the skills that ultimately lead to a compelling career can take years of effort.
— Cal Newport

When you read too much a lot, you’re bound to come across conflicting views. No two people are the same and two people could have a totally different take on the same experience.

But recently, I read something that sent my mind reeling. It was the article Why “Follow Your Passion” is Bad Advice by Cal Newport.  In it, he states that the advice to “follow your passion” has two strikes against it.

Strike 1

The first strike against this advice is the lack of scientific evidence. Motivation and satisfaction in the workplace is a major research topic, as happy employees are better employees.

It’s difficult, however, to find studies that argue the importance of matching a work environment to a pre-existing passion. Most studies instead point to the importance of more general traits, like autonomy or a sense of competence (see, for example, the voluminous research literature on Self-Determination Theory for more on such findings).

These traits are agnostic to the specific type of work performed, contradicting the idea that you must find the exact right job to be happy.

Reading this made me stop and think. It’s true that I know many creative people who have “followed their passion” and ended up complaining as much about their “dream” jobs as the people I know who think they are unhappy because they aren’t following their passion. These people have included actors who were making a living acting, successful  graphic artists working for agencies, and staff writers working for international magazines. Whenever they complained about their work and wished they were doing something different, everyone else would frown and ask “But you’re an actor/writer/graphic artists. How can you not like your job?”

But maybe the problem was that their need for autonomy, or something else wasn’t being fulfilled in their work environment. The writers I know, for example usually dreamed of quitting and writing a novel or setting up their own company that still used their writing skills. Actors I’ve know quit the stage to teach.

In contrast  think of the story of the fish market that created such a great atmosphere that everyone loved their jobs.

Different people are looking for different things in their work, but in general, if you study people with compelling careers, they enjoy some combination of the following traits: autonomy, respect, competence, creativity, and/or a sense of impact.

Ok. So, yeah, Strike 1 makes sense to me. Matching a work environment only to a pre-existing passion is not enough.

Strike 2

The second strike against this advice comes from the anecdotal evidence. If you study the career paths of people who end up loving their work, you’ll find that clearly identified pre-existing passions are rare.

Some people do figure out early on what they want to do with their life, but most follow much more complicated paths on which passion emerges slowly over time.

His point here is that people need to cultivate, or build the skills they need to have work that they enjoy. He thinks that it is bad to tell people to follow their passion because that implies you have a pre-exiting passion and he thinks that pre-existing passions are rare.

This has not been the experience of the people I know, but that is my experience.

The article has made me think about the people that I have known who did “follow their passion.” I think being happy in this instance also involves having a sense of autonomy, respect, competence, creativity, and/or a sense of impact. Without that, you’ll be just as unhappy as if you had taken some other type of job. Following your passion alone is not enough (this goes back to Strike 1)

Whether it’s choosing a career, finding the right place to live, or working on our personal productivity, what we thought we wanted may be quite different from what we actually need and what makes us truly happy.
— Elizabeth Grace Saunders (Time Coach)

If we accept the notion that people don’t know what they want to do early on in life, then the message that passion:

is not something that you “follow” (which implies you can identify it in advance). It’s instead something you have to purposefully cultivate over time,

makes sense to me and I think this is a good strategy to live by.

Work is hard, but that’s why they call it work.