Category Archives: Innovation

Why allowing your team to fail can help it succeed

hands-people-woman-workingFrom the mailroom all the way to the C-suite, employees have developed an exceptional capacity for reading between the lines. The boss or the shareholders may say they want innovation, but the unspoken message may be, “but only if it’s risk-free.” If we want innovation, we have to tolerate risk, and we have to make it safe for our employees to take those risks. When corporate leaders make it clear in their words and actions that employees aren’t expected to be perfect–that “mistakes” are not only acceptable, but are indeed just part of the process of getting to winning ideas and products–then employees can relax in a way that supports their own creativity. And when employees get creative, innovations can happen.

Cirque du Soleil, which reinvented the traditional slow-growth genre of the circus and in doing so became a multinational company with four thousand employees, twenty simultaneous shows running worldwide, and one hundred million spectators in less than twenty-five years, embraces risk taking and sees occasional failures as simply part of the creative process. In an interview, Lyn Herward, president of their Creative Content Division, explained that at Cirque du Soleil “employees are offered the protection and support that they need to take risks on the company’s behalf.” Successes and failures are seen as the result of a team effort, and this reduces the fear or shame that is associated with personal failure. As a result, individuals feel encouraged to take risks and even protected from adverse consequences

Making failure an acceptable part of the creative process is also a core value at Mango, a men’s and women’s fashion company. Founded in 1984, Mango now has the biggest design center in Europe in a highly competitive industry, and is present in ninety-one countries, with 1,220 stores and 7,800 employees. Mango explicitly promotes, “the practice of a culture of mistakes” in their written policies, or more explicitly, ”our organization encourages a climate of trust and communication, working in teams, and learning from our mistakes.” They acknowledge that the final design for a dress does not always manifest in the designer’s first draft. And they go as far as to recognize that not every single final design of the eighty million articles shipped out throughout the globe will necessarily become a success. Mango executives know it is essential to acknowledge this important part of their business, because not accepting it and denying the possibility of human error can become very stifling to the creative process of fashion designers.

How can you encourage “failure” in your company to allow your employees more room to innovate?


Startup Stock Photos

Space affects moods.  A beautiful space can make people happy; a small cramped office can make them feel depressed.  But more important, space also affects behaviors and communication.  Open space offices allow an easier flow of communication among team members and can convey a strong feeling of belonging, but they also can make it harder to focus.  Separate offices allow for more privacy and concentration but can easily create silos that separate people and teams.  Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, you need to be ready to manage space not only from a budgetary standpoint but also from the perspective of what it is your creative teams actually need in order to be creative and to deliver the level of innovation your company needs.  To achieve this, some companies will have to literally give away space–that is, to sacrifice space for its positive impact on the environment, the company culture and ultimately the creative output.

Office space is an expensive commodity, especially in the world’s most competitive markets, and historically offices have been designed and furnished to maximize administrative efficiency and minimize facility costs (private offices only for senior executives, “cube farms” for lower-ranking personnel).  But today companies are looking at efficiency differently, and consequently they are looking at space differently.  They are looking for ways to maximize the creative output of their employees, and from that viewpoint the most efficient use of space is one that supports creative interactions.  For example, Pixar’s California headquarters–where bathrooms, mailboxes, and meeting rooms are clustered at the center of the building–are designed to ensure that employees from different divisions of the company are certain to run into each other throughout the day.  This facilitates informal and random conversations among diverse team members and allows creative ideas and collaborations to be born.  I once had a client who wanted to close off an open space in their New York City offices; I struggled hard to convince them otherwise.  The company needed more private meeting rooms.  Moving out of their existing facility was not an option, nor was renting another floor, so the president of the company wanted to build elegant glass walls to enclose what in his opinion was wasted space.

My observation was quite different.  The open space, which offered an inviting round table nestled by a large staircase, was the only place in the office where different members of the product development team would spontaneously sit to discuss their projects.  Account managers would stop there after coming back from client meetings to share the latest developments about those clients and their projects.  In other words, it was the perfect spot for informal communication and feedback loops.  In the end, the precious open space was saved in spite of financial pressures.

How can your workspace benefit by creating places for accidental encounters or informal meetings?


Why Play Is Essential to Results

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

Imagine yourself driving to someone’s house for a surprise birthday party.  Every guest has been asked to arrive at a certain time to keep the surprise a surprise. You left home late. You’re in a hurry. You’re now focused on the road in order not to be late. You don’t want to miss the face of your friend completely surprised, between tears and laughter. You’re completely absorbed in one goal:  to get there as soon as possible. You don’t have “time” to notice the surroundings.  You’re all about the destination. There’s no real journey, because you’re not taking in what’s around.  And if someone asked you whether on your way over you saw a house under construction a mile away from your friend’s house, chances are you’d say that you had not seen it because you were too focused on trying to be on time.

Now imagine yourself this time driving along the same road.   The road goes through the Colorado Rockies.  You’re here on vacation.  This is the first time you’ve ever been in Colorado. It’s Sunday.  You don’t have to be anywhere at a particular time.  No real plan for the day besides reaching your next destination at some point, whenever you get there.  You set out early.  You have plenty of time ahead of you.  Chances are this you will enjoy the spectacular scenery, very aware of what’s around you; you’ll notice the particular light on that day, the colors of the mountains, the vegetation, and many other minute details.

Same road, same person, two totally different attitudes; one is about the destination (result): the other is about the journey (play).  So if we accept that creativity is essential in life in order to adapt to change and to keep evolving (whether as individuals or organizations), then we need to allow for and cater to the journey, the playfulness that defines the creative process.  Being obsessed with results leaves out the playful, imaginative dimension of life.  Our tendency is to focus too much on results, because our rational mind tells us that focusing on results is the best way to make good decisions.  This focus also feels more comfortable and gives us a sense of control over the situation we’re in.  This is why we tend to approach efficiency in a linear way.  Yet in a highly complex environment, linear efficiency is not the answer.

It’s really not about results and play being in opposition.  It’s about understanding the need for a collaborative synergy between play and results in order to reach a creative outcome. Obviously we need to get things done.  But without a balance between the two, we run the risk of either never getting anywhere or getting someplace but not being aware of the changes in our environment.  This is why it is important that in our approach to life, or a project, we keep a dynamic relationship between linear efficiency and the random nature of creativity.

Why Play is Essential in the Workplace

pexels-photo-61129Play is magical.  And profound.  Not only is it essential to our growth and development when we are children and a source of joy throughout our lives, but it is also a largely untapped channel for innovative ideas in the workplace.

Play is essential to the survival of organizations in a complex and fast-changing marketplace, as it is a key factor in creativity and agility.  I have used play to help people become more creative, deal with challenging emotions like self-consciousness or even fear, and regain energy, enthusiasm, and hope when their company was going through difficult times.  Play opens the doors to our deeper creative potential, helping us achieve change and implement innovative solutions.

To understand how play works, it’s important to understand what it is.  It’s also important to understand what it isn’t.  Play isn’t some reprehensible at-risk behavior that threatens to make slackers of us all.  Western culture, unfortunately, often sees it that way.  Play is perceived to be, at best, a child’s pastime, or an indulgence for the very wealthy or in the worst case, the hallmark of a slacker.  Certainly play does not come across as something that serious people in serious businesses should be doing on a daily basis.  In fact, play isn’t even necessarily perceived to be beneficial for our children.  It is often thought to be more of an at-risk behavior that prevents children from doing more important things.

Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the National Institute for Play, who has extensively researched the functions and purposes of play, believes that one way to overcome negative attitudes toward play is to offer skeptics a view of play that is closer to their comfort zone: the science of play.  He says, “Our experiences indicate the executives require sufficient immersion in the science of play before they understand and value it.  The intellectual and scientific basis of play can provide the understanding—and permission—to deploy new play-based practices in their organizations. But, they must also value the new practices: without a positive play ethic, the climate for innovation is spoken of as important, but is not acted upon.”

So what is play?  Is it the same as fun?  Sort of. The key ingredient in play is engagement: engagement within your own mind, with another person, or with an object. Play is always a dynamic experience.  Play is really about immersing oneself in a pleasurable activity for the sake of it, with no other particular intent or specific goal.  It can be about immersing oneself in reading a book, drawing, sculpting, or fixing a collector’s item such as an antique piece of furniture for the love of restoring a beautiful object.  Play can be experienced alone or in a group.  In business, observing people play, I have seen the energy in the room immediately become lighter and stronger.  Play creates new ways of interactions, allows a different type of bonding, encourages trust among team members, lowers inhibition, and facilitates the production of original ideas because people dare to speak up and express themselves more.

According to theorist and professor Johan Huizinga, play is “free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life.” He also described it as being “‘not serious’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly.”

The National Institute for Play defines play as “a state of being that is intensely pleasurable. It energizes and enlivens us.  It eases our burdens, renews a natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.” They go on to note, “Scientists—neuroscientists, developmental biologists, psychologists, scientists from every point on the scientific compass—have recently begun viewing play as a profound biological process.” In other words, play is a core aspect of human nature.  As such, it needs to be an essential part of work in order to leverage all that people have to offer.  When play becomes a key component of a healthy corporate culture, it fosters positive thinking and creative imagination.

If we choose to leave our childish things behind, we not only deny our essential humanity but also cut ourselves off from a tremendous reservoir of creativity with the potential to make us happier and make us more effective contributors at work.

How to manage for creativity

creativityIt is a truism that the one thing that doesn’t change in life is change; we are constantly dealing with the unknown.  A decade immersed in the performing arts and cultural studies gave me a new perspective on how the modern world deals with change.  When directing or acting, I had to accept that great art is not about control.  It is about having discipline in the preparation and surrendering during the performance.  Management, at least the way I had experienced it, is about controlling the environment to ensure flawless execution and reach the expected results. Management is a powerful means to reach one’s ends, but my artistic journey made me realize that in the modern world, our fear of change and our inability to deal creatively with the unpredictability of change leads us to seek control over the process of life.  This means that although management should be about stabilizing our environment to facilitate the natural creative process belying any human activity, we attempt to control the process to secure the results we want; we do everything we can to eliminate the unknown, but in doing so we work against the creative nature of life.

In recent years, neuroscience research has revealed three key facts that may change forever the way we think about and approach creativity:

–       Instinct plays a leading role in complex decision making.

–       Eighty percent of our grey matter is dedicated to nonconscious thought.

–       Imaginative play is one of the most direct means of activating our creativity and problem-solving abilities.

These three discoveries open up unprecedented opportunities for progress, creativity, and efficiency if we only embrace the instinctual and unconscious aspects of the mind and the randomness and chaos of life.

The uncomfortable part of this is that we are not used to relying on instinct and the unconscious, and we are certainly not used to accepting randomness or chaos.  We are used to seeing life and reality as linear and logical when they aren’t.  Success in modern times mean making a leap from seeing the world as we think it operates to seeing how it really operates.  In reality both life and the whole of the human mind operate in a way that is closer to chaos than to linear order.

In my seminars at L’Oréal, SAP, and other companies, I often recount Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” a story that beautifully illustrates this aspect of chaos theory.  It describes how three brothers go out on their fishing boat only to be caught in “the most terrible hurricane that ever came out of the heavens.”  The storm drives their boat into a powerful whirlpool, the maelstrom of the title.  One brother is thrown overboard into the whirlpool and quickly carried under.  Another brother goes mad with terror. But the third brother is suddenly struck by the awesome beauty of the maelstrom.  With an inner calm he notices that some objects are being spun around at the top of the whirlpool rather than sucked into it.  Unable to convey this to his mad brother, he submits himself to the sea, clinging onto a barrel, and rides the maelstrom until it subsides and he is rescued.  In the meantime the mad brother, because he fights the chaos rather than submitting to it, drowns when their boat spirals down to the depths. Although the experience turns the surviving brother’s hair white and makes him look older than his age, it gives him a deep insight into the working of nature, and an enduring serenity.

I always remind participants that Poe’s story shows that the way each one of us chooses to handle confusion and chaos may have a huge impact on the final outcome for everybody.  Each brother acted his own way and by doing so chose his own final outcome.  In Poe’s story, when the third brother decides, in spite of his fear, to give up the fight with the maelstrom, he actually facilitates the organizing principle that creates all the marvels that have evolved in nature. In our minds, it brings reason, feeling, and instinct into balance, if only we have the wisdom to trust it and stop trying to override it.

Thrive in Disruption at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference

“Wisdom 2.0 is a conference tackling one of the biggest challenges of today’s age. Connect through technology, but do so in a way that supports a person’s well-being, work effectiveness, and is ultimately useful to the world.”

— Inc Magazine

I am very excited to announce my participation in the Wisdom 2.0 Conference (Jackie, attach link to “Wisdom 2.0 conference”: people’s stage contest.  The conference will take place on February 20-22, 2016 in San Francisco.

The initial voting process is open to anyone and everyone. In order to vote, you will first need to register for the People’s Stage voting system here in order to log in and cast your vote.

Here is the link to my video on the wisdom 2.0 page:

I’ve included the summary of my video below.  Please take the time to check out the video contest and vote.  I believe that it is an interesting and essential conference and that I can truly help people by spreading our message there.

Thrive in Disruption and Create and Sustainable World

We are The Human Company, a unique management-consulting firm. We work in a very original way that makes organizations fit to thrive in disruption. Beyond a successful business approach for our Fortune 500 clients, it’s a practical philosophy for creative sustainable living, grounded in real science. To make it actionable we designed a model for decision-making: The Intuitive Compass® and a skillset for true leadership: Intuitive Intelligence. It can be learned and applied to anything, from education to politics, to science or simply to daily life. How does it work? It brings out the universal in everyone, the part in us that lives beyond ideology and culture. That’s how change, breakthroughs and innovation can happen. That’s where we all need to work from together to create a sustainable world. It’s actually quite simple. Everybody can learn it and apply it!


How to Take the Leap to Sustainable Value Creation

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 7.59.52 PMMy advice to any executive who has decided to take on an accelerated path to innovation and sustainable growth is to resist the temptation to systematically seek immediate financial results and short-term solutions.  To go beyond business as usual, and to reach truly innovative solutions, you need to shift your focus from financial profitability to sustainable value creation.  The financial logic is exact but not very conducive to imagination.  The concept of sustainable value opens our business reflections and strategies to new horizons.  To make deeper and better decisions, you need imagination, patience, and open mind, and tolerance for ambiguity and confusion.

This calls for a new awareness.  It requires us to balance our faith in logic with the secular wisdom of instinct.  In doing so, we will need to tap into our intuition, an attribute of the feminine part of our psyche.  Intuition opens up new possibilities to feed the masculine part in us, which is ruled and often restricted by the logical mind.  And that is the message of Intuitive Intelligence: anything is possible when the feminine and masculine energies join to cooperate creatively, where improbable solutions can come to our rescue.

In our postmodern age we are still not used to the discomfort of the unknown, the demands of the feminine, and the fact that we are not in control.  But with determination, courage,and faith we can surrender to another belief system, one that enables us to overcome our fear and escape the deadening impact of our need for control.  As is the case with any creative journey, we have no guarantee of success, and no one can show us the way, because the way is unique for each one of us.  But we can receive guidance from the part of ourselves that knows better–the intuitive voice of feminine wisdom–and finally find our way out of control mode into a novel clarity and a deeper relationship with life.

Just as it always is for the mythical hero, the path we’re facing is filled with challenges and unknown factors.  However, we can choose to look at these challenges as parts of a creative process:  the process of evolution.  And we can rely on Intuitive Intelligence to help with decision making and creative problem solving in these unpredictable times.  It will provide unexpected creative answers, which will feel like magic to us because we cannot always explain them.  In this particular time of many unprecedented challenges we have a unique opportunity to engage and be taught in new ways.  

There are many real-life successful examples in the business world that prove there is a plausible route beyond conventional logic.  This will always require a leap of faith, but the leap can be an educated one.  We need to rethink the way we think.  We need reinitialize our thinking program in light of a new scientific understanding of the power of instinct and play and the quantum laws of matter, which show the paradox of our limited individuality within the holistic force of our interdependence and an unlimited number of possibilities.  In this new world view, power has to be reconsidered, money deconstructed and reconstructed into its real purpose:  the prosperity of all.  We’re called to move on.  No time to waste.  A new generation is already there, and we can all do it.  Together we can create a more meaningful, more prosperous, and more balanced world, It requires some adjustments and faith, but it is possible.

The Lakota people have a saying: “It is not about peace on earth but peace with earth.”  When we observe nature, we see how everything and everyone in nature contributes to the whole; that nothing can exist without the others, the conflict, tension, destruction, complexity,  and mystery are also part of it; and that the sum of it all is the most mystifying system we could ever imagine and learn from.


An Important Listening Exercise to Sharpen and Develop Your Creative Skills

Excerpted from Francis Cholle’s The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass3

I am going to teach you an exercise, call The Listening Posture, in which you focus on your ability to listen differently.   Listening is very powerful.  It is a receptive function, which is a feminine quality.  Therefore proper listening can greatly help you access the feminine dimension of your psyche and develop your creative sensitivity.  There are many other reasons putting the emphasis on your auditory sense.  Some are scientific; some are related to ancient wisdom and rituals. Professor Alfred Tomatis developed the Listening Posture.  Although designed for therapeutic reasons, it is also a great way to sharpen your sensitivity, and access and develop your intuition.  You can do it anyplace–in your office, or even in a loud environment such as a waiting room.

Instructions for the Listening Posture:

  1. Set your intention: Think about an area in which you would like to get insights.  Make your question open ended.  Write it down.
  2. Sit still in a comfortable chair, feel your seat in the chair.
  3. Leave your legs and arms uncrossed and relaxed.
  4. Close your eye and focus and your breathing.  Breathe naturally.
  5. Relax your diaphragm (allow the muscular “floor” in your abdomen to move up when you exhale and down when you inhale).
  6. Relax your neck and shoulders, lower back, middle back, and upper back.
  7. Relax your facial muscles and the muscles around your upper lip, and tighten the skin of your face up and out to make it more smooth and even.
  8. Pay attention to the sounds in the room
  9. Focus on your right ear (unless you have impaired hearing, it is the one that can relay sound to your brain in the quickest way).
  10. Focus on all high-pitched founds,
  11. Focus on the harmonics of all sounds )the luminescent part of all sounds, like the crest of a wave).
  12. Float in this sonic bath.  Let these harmonics energize you as much as they open you to greater awareness.
  13. Stay in this state for five minutes.
  14. Open your eyes and look around the room.
  15. Look at your question.  Write all the ideas that come to you.


Why You Need Intuition in Business (part two)


This week we continue exploring techniques to sharpen and hone your intuition.  For more about the case for intuition in business, check out last week’s post.2

Relax and Practice Noticing

  • the world-renowned mime Marcel Marceau said, “Our body knows things the mind does not have access to.”  The best gateway to information from our subconscious mind about the world around us is through a relaxed body.  The most efficient way to relax our body is not a five-star vacation, it is breathing.  Breathing can dramatically alter our experience in any given moment.  You can do this almost anywhere with a simple meditation.  Sit quietly with both feet on the floor, hands at rest on your thighs, eyes closed.  Don’t try to alter your breathing in any way, just pay attention to it.  Don’t think about anything–not your problems, not even happy things–simply focus on the movement of your breath.  Do this for a minute, or five minutes, or as long as you like,  Taking this little break, even for just five minutes, may at first make you anxious, but give yourself permission to take five minutes in which you do nothing but breathe.  To focus on your breathing, simply notice the movement of your diaphragm–the horizontal muscle that moves up and down in your mid-torso.  when your diaphragm goes, up, you exhale and your rib cage narrows.  When your diaphragm goes down you inhale and your ribcage expands.  Becoming mindful of the movement of your diaphragm is enough to largely improve your breathing.  When you give yourself this permission, your body will relax and your breath will deepen naturally.
  • Pay attention.  It is very easy to stop noticing small things, or even large things.  Buddhists have a practice of mindfulness in which every movement, whether lifting a cup of tea to one’s lips or placing a foot on the ground while walking, is afforded the greatest attention.  Be mindful during a routine event such as eating breakfast; afterward, record the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arose in the short interval.

After you have tried the exercises from both this week’s and last week’s post, keep practicing the ones that resonate with you.  Over time these exercises will help your intuitive abilities get stronger and will make it more likely that they will become natural part of your daily life. Intuition is a skill not made by either nature alone or nurture alone.  We are born with a capability, and we turn it into a capacity by using it over and over again.  Once you’ve identified the exercise of the few exercises that are most natural to you, with regular practice you will improve your ability to reflect about a decision or a situation beyond pure logic.  This will greatly enhance your ability to pay attention and notice, to trust the unknown and tolerate the confusion that comes with ambiguity and complexity.  You will be more comfortable with your own subjectivity.  It will prevent you from too quickly jumping to a logical conclusion, which would not necessarily get you to the most creative answers


Why You Need Intuition in Business (part one)

In Frederic Laloux’s recent groundbreaking book “Reinventing Organizations”, he makes the case for the value of developing your intuition:1PM

     Wisdom can be a found in intuition, too.  Intuition honors the complex ambiguous, paradoxical, non-linear nature of reality; we unconsciously connect patterns in a way that our rational mind cannot.  Intuition is a muscle that can be trained, just like logical thinking: When we learn to pay attention to our intuitions, to honor them, to question them for the truth and guidance they might contain, more intuitive answers will surface.

Just as we prepare ourselves for an important interview or set our minds to achieve a challenging goal like running a marathon, we can take step to invite intuition into our daily experience.  The following are a number of ideas to ponder and exercises to do.  Consider adapting them in a way that speaks to you.

Revisit Your Perspective and Perceptions

  • Consider the possibility that wherever you are now is now the optimal place from which to get where you want to go.  A Native American proverb says:  What do you do when you get lost?  Stand still.  The trees and bushes beside you are not lost.
  • Look at a painting by Monet or Picasso and contemplate your ability to alter your perception of reality and bring forth something completely new and unexpected.
  • Pay attention to details–like a word, color, or song that catches your attention or comes to mind for no apparent reason–as elements that have the capacity to reveal the whole.  Look around you with a fresh eye to rediscover the environment you’re in or all data and aspects of the situation at hand that you would like to resolve.

Get Comfortable with the Part of Life That Is Not Logical

  • Don’t immediately ban an idea because it is paradoxical and appears illogical.  Welcome paradoxical data or situations.  The word “paradox” comes from the Greek paradoxos “opposed to existing notions, from para- + doxa opinion”; so something that is paradoxical is something we should all look for because we looking for new ideas, not what is already known and widespread.  
  • When you receive information that appears to be out of context, take a moment to notice it.  It may appear to be out of context, but it could lead you to a deeper understanding of something that is not obvious.

Accept That You Are Not in Control

  • Allow yourself to be carried away by energies that appear to be chaotic.  Your acquiescence can help the emergence of a new order that you could not have imagined.
  • Try to stay in tune with your emotions, especially in moments of stress or chaos.  Emotions are energies that are all part of a same circle; if we shut one down, we break the circle, and we close ourselves off from all emotions, good or bad.  If we can avoid trying to harshly control emotions that feel uncomfortable, they will pass and we will return to a state of balance.  The more we accept our emotions, the faster they evolve and the faster we can move on.