Tag Archives: creativity

Stop Thinking and Start Feeling to Gain Key Customer Insights

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

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 11.44.33 PMCreativity and innovative thinking are great, but the ability to notice the one pivotal piece of information in a creative brainstorming session is key to transforming an organization or making a project truly innovative.  This is why we need to carefully pay attention and notice with our senses, open to the unusual or the irrational, but at the same time analyze and evaluate that information.  Just because something does not make sense from the point of view of logic does not mean that it lacks value.  A simple example:  when Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree, he did not simply see a usual phenomenon of nature.  He was inspired to start thinking about a particular type of motion–gravity–which then revolutionized our perception of the universe.  If he had not been open to his inner feeling of puzzlement, he would have simply seen an apple falling from a tree, and he would not have developed his novel understanding of the workings of the universe through mathematics.

This is why I advise clients to stop thinking and start feeling.  If all we did was to think and only think, we would not allow the sensorial perception and emotions that come along with thoughts to feed our creative imagination.  When we are anchored in our conscious mind, we know only what it knows.  Now ideas–ideas we don’t yet about –cannot be found in our conscious mind, because we already necessarily know everything that is conscious to us!  So the ability of move beyond our conscious thinking an access our unconscious is key to creativity.

And excellent example of the business value of the skill of noticing the unusual can be found in the commercial airline industry.  Many of us have probably wondered how air travel ever became so unpleasant.  What began three generations ago as one of the most luxurious of consumer experiences, an event that people dressed up for and looked forward to, has degenerated to the point that the average consumer approaches it as if preparing for battle.  Today it is an experience marked by bad food (or no food), a smelly environment, narrow seats, poor service, delayed flights, stern-faced flight attendants, shabby cabins, and outdated design.  For frequent business travelers on tight schedules it’s often challenging in both economy and business class alike.  However, one company has been able to provide it clientele with quite a different experience:  Virgin America.

Virgin America, a company that first put its planes in service in 2007, didn’t become an award-winning airline in an industry-wide financial crisis by slashing costs or slashing ticket prices; they did it by raising the bar on design, service and customer experience.  Beautiful design, uplifting colors, clean cabins, warm and personable service, short waiting time to check in, and easy upgrades are among the many ways Virgin America has attempted to make passenger’ experience easier and more enjoyable.  But more important Virgin understand our unconscious needs.  The planes have a mood-enhancing lighting system on board that is reassuring because it relaxes the body and, by doing so appeases our discomfort or fear of flying.  Virgin America also gives all passengers on board the opportunity to order their own food from their seats through a personal digital screen, allowing them to eat on their own schedule.  this last detail is genius because control of one’s own eating schedule is key on an instinctual level. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, managing our hunger at our own will is reassuring.

Both relaxing lights and food on your own time touch the passengers at an instinctual level.  Many will say that they choose an airline based on cost or, for people who can afford it, comfort, and they’ll most likely be sincere.  What they don’t realize, though, is that when they get on board, their reptilian brain is unavoidably evaluating whether they’re safe or not.  And when an airline caters to this basic need, passengers at some level eventually feel it and this positively influences their relationship to the airlines.

So how did Virgin America come to think of these great ideas for the comfort of their passengers?  They put themselves in the shoes of a passenger and truly tried to see and understand the way passengers feel rather than focusing first and foremost on the profitability generated by every ticket sold.  They opened themselves up to their creative imagination by paying attention to two unusual aspects of traveling:  lighting and food service. Two things that were never contemplated before.  Virgin America has been voted the best North American airline multiple times by readers of Condé Nast Traveler, a luxury travel magazine, showing that the ability to notice the unusual is a powerful aptitude, one that can put a company ahead of its competition. 


Why You Should Revisit Google’s Interior Design Strategy If You Want Your Employees to be More Creative

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 11.33.49 PMExcerpted from Francis Cholle’s The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass

Thinking paradoxically is an exercise in setting linear and logical patterns aside for a while and opening ourselves up to the possibility that solutions and new ideas can come from places that challenge common sense.  To wit, Einstein once said:  “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”  The question that follows, then, is this: what happens if a company departs from the traditional business approach, where executives focus on reason and results and where everything that count can and must be counted?  Could this company still be successful with a business approach that reaches beyond conventional logic?

The best example is a company that designed the most playful and instinctual work environment we’ve probably ever known.  This company is Google.

Google’s European headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, offers a slide to take employees to a gourmet company restaurant, swing chairs hanging from the ceiling in study rooms, bathtubs to lie in and relax in front of lit fish tanks in rooms with low light, massage tables and masseurs available for employees’ breaks, and igloo-shaped meeting rooms with penguins and snow as background  It looks like a kindergarten playground, not like the offices of a serious company.  Yet it probably has one of the most analytical and efficient work culture if judged by the number of patents it register every year and its exceptionally high profitability.  This is because Google fully embraces paradoxical business thinking.

First, let’s remember that research shows human productivity does not follow a linear continuum with time.  Specifically, according to Pareto’s principle, people produce 80 percent of what really matters in approximately 20 percent of the time they spend at work.  So when I hear clients complain about summer hours, coffee breaks, or employees’ short days, I always remind them of the result of the study. Timesheets for employees are a relic of the past.  They made sense in the industrial era when the scientific management of labor was implemented to organize work in assembly lines.  But in today’s global economy more and more companies rely on their employees’ creativity for their success.   Because creativity does not follow a linear relationship with time, time management for creative employees shouldn’t either.  For instance, great advertising copy can take weeks or even months to be worked and reworked to final edit, whereas, conversely, a brilliant slogan may come to mind in just a few seconds.  Time spent on copywriting is not a guarantee of success.  So when Google provides employees with space and resources for a break, relaxation, or a massage they actually are managing the 80/20 rule of human productivity very well.  They know that at some point in the day it inevitably becomes useless to require employees to sit at their desk.  Google embraces the paradox of creative time management.  In my work I regularly hear executives in creative firms stating along the lines of conventional wisdom that summer Fridays off are unnecessary and counterproductive and the employees sitting at their desk all day long is their ideal representation of productivity.  They do not recognize the paradoxical nature of creativity management and have a hard time thinking paradoxically when it comes to managing employees’ time.

And what about the slide to get to the restaurant?  What does it do to people? What would it do to you? Do you remember the last time you went down a slide? It’s a physical experience for many of us, it’s fun, but, for others, it may feel risky. In all cases, it involves our body and therefore engages us in our guts and puts us in play mode.  Simply put, it sends people to a place where they can best access their genius.

Similarly, the swing chairs get us literally off of our feet and off of the ground, and take us away from verticality, Language first developed in human beings when we moved from a horizontal position (resting on our hands and knees) to a vertical position (standing on our two feet).  So when we’re sitting back in a swing chair we’re away from the axis of language, which is the instrument of logic.  Therefore sitting in a swing chair takes us away from our rational mind and opens us to our imagination.  Here’s the paradox:  Google is extremely analytical and specific in the steps they take to engage their employees’ creativity and commitment in a playful and instinctive way.  Google is probably the greatest financial success in the history of capitalism.  It’s work reflecting on the face that Google handles the paradox of relying on hardcore brainpower and intellect very well while simultaneously offering headquarters that look more like a school playground than a studious and orderly library.  It obviously understands something that would very likely benefit many other companies seeking higher levels of innovation.  If you wish to have creative and agile employees you need to embrace paradoxical thinking, because creativity does not follow any predictable rule, but rather demands specific ingredients: flexible time management, proper play, physical engagement, and some element of random collaborations, among other things.  In the same fashion, if you wish to tap into more personal creativity you need to embrace paradoxical thinking, because new ideas will not come from common assumptions.

Taking Stock of Today’s Business World

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 10.44.13 PMThe best business leaders want to innovate, embrace change, and create new business approaches because they recognize the need to evolve.  And yet in business too many leaders still do things by the book and stick to the logic of reason and results to the exclusion of other ways of thinking.  Too many of us think and operate primarily this way, especially during difficult times.  The uncomfortable reality is that disruptive ideas come from the combination of instinct and play, so we’re pretty much thinking backward when it comes to engaging innovation.  We’re rearranging our companies rather than exploring the many ways we could create a completely different kind of company.  Organization has the potential to add the most value when it follows creative imagination possibilities, no when it precedes it.

Popular thought says that by applying more analysis, focusing more on results, and working harder to get those results, we will get to the new and different.  But that is not the case.   This is a forceful approach to change, but it’s not actually a smart approach to change.  It’s certainly not a very creative approach to change. Given this way to thinking, however it’s no wonder that we’ve developed business models that are hard to sustain.  The fragrance industry, the car industry, and the media industry, for example, have all been predominantly operating in the same way for many years, still try to innovate with reason to get results, and still hoping that if they use the same business models and the same management models they will be able to capture the market, keep sales afloat, and maintain margins.  But that is not in the cards.  In fact, the odds have been against it all along.

On an even larger scale, it’s no wonder that we’ve developed economic models that are not sustainable and that contribute to dwindling resources, climate change, and pollution.  The way we’ve been thinking about development has been through the linear, rational management systems.  But life unfolds according to very different principles.  Most likely, if we haven’t integrated the fundamentals of play, intuition, and instinct into our development models, it’s because we haven’t conceived of them in the first place.  Yet they present a huge opportunity.

It’s clear that we have evolved, progressed, grown, and prospered through a model that largely excludes the fundamentals of our ecosystem.  But we’ve reached a place where the disconnect is so big that we have no choice but to think differently–really differently–and innovate radically. Play, intuition and instinct show us how to do just that.  They show how we can think in a way that includes the fundamentals of life, the randomness of play, and the power and adaptive nature of our instinct for survival while responsibly harnessing our propensity for aggression and leveraging our valuable scientific heritage and its instrumental tool called logic.  And if we’re able to do that, then we’ll be able to innovate and change more easily.  We’ll also be able to prosper in a way that is more balanced between cooperation and competition, without compromising our ecosystems, our survival, and our legacy for future generations.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011. 

The Importance of Rituals in the Workplace

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 9.56.51 PMRituals are significant and powerful.  Symbols can have a great impact, as they communicate beyond words and convey meanings without explicit explanations. Rituals and symbols play an important role in the success of managing the creativity and innovation because they speak to our subconscious, comfort our unspoken fears, enable us to tap into solution that cannot be found in a linear fashion, and connect us emotionally to our friends and colleagues.

Ritual is a powerful way to harness the life force the lives deep down in every one of us.  The way rituals impact us is through rhythm (rituals occur at well-defined moments: Sunday mass, birthdays, the end of puberty, end of year graduation) regular repetition (Thanksgiving every year, morning ablutions, Sunday family lunch) and dramatic staging (Christmas tree, sculpted pumpkins, candles for a Valentine’s Day dinner).

Rituals imply a certain level of ceremony and require time, but they are profoundly efficient in both the short and the long term.  For example, think about how football players huddle before they go onto the field at the beginning of a big game.  It is a moment that may include a prayer or words of encouragement from their coach, but most important it is time that they set aside to reach beyond self-doubt and turn fear into audacity by connecting to their guts.  In Rugby Six Nations Tournaments, national anthems are played at the beginning of the game to invoke a sense of pride and responsibility for the success of the team.

Rituals are transformative because they help us deal constructively with the intangible dynamics within us and within groups.  They productively channel instinctual forces into creative powers.  Ritual is what allows us to gather the energy needed to achieve great things, often beyond what we could imagine ourselves capable of.  When managing the creative process, celebrating wins and awards is one effective way to reassure creative teams, whose members often question their own talent.  And one thing is certain:  not celebrating wins can cause a lot of damage to the spirit and motivation of your creative team.

Navigating creative and innovative processes is rarely easy; it often entails a lot of unknowns and a lot of erratic moments.  No matter how seasoned and brave you are, self-doubt and fear are simply unavoidable in the process of creation.  Rituals address fear of the unknown, self-sabotage, and procrastination, which can all happen during any creative process–hence the importance of rituals in southwest management.

There are many ways to spark creativity and establish an atmosphere that resonates with creative teams.  These are effective ways to improve creative output that you can apply to your business.  Consider how many of them you’ve thought about before and how many of them you actually implement in your management.  Leaving these out is not a valid option.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.


Giving up on Uniformity can Increase Creativity

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 12.10.30 PMGiving up on uniformity is really about acknowledging in tangible ways the fact that different people require different conditions in order to perform at their best. So rather than requiring everyone to follow the same rules within the workplace, you make allowances that enable all concerned to pursue their responsibilities in the way that best suits them.  Creative people have a tremendous capacity for teamwork, but they can also have a tremendous need to follow their own rhythms or work style.  It is very likely shortsighted to force creative talents to follow rules that inhibit their creativity without adding anything to your company’s goal of generating innovations. For examples, it may be important for everyone to show up to a weekly progress meeting, but is it really important for everyone to show up at 9 a.m. and stay until 5 p.m.?  They may be more productive working at different hours or not coming in at all on some days.  When you manage by exception you honor people’s individual requirements for freedom, and when you manage for inclusion you make sure that everyone feels a responsibility for the collective success (or failure) of the project.  When I was a publisher, my experience in working with authors was that each author was very different and required adaptation and careful attention to approach their creative talent in a unique way.  Over the many year I have worked in the fragrance industry,  I have observed the same thing with perfumers.  Creative talent is rarely separable from the individual’s personality, because it has a lot to do with imagination, sensitivity, and feelings. This is why seeking uniformity is rarely the way to go.  Management by exception will bring much more efficiency.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

The Role of Constraints in Creativity

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 10.29.01 AMFostering an atmosphere of creativity and innovation doesn’t require business leaders to concede all control or throw all rules out of the window.  In fact, the judicious and clear application of constraints frames the challenges that employees are asked to address.  By setting a goal and laying out the constraints, business leaders can create excitement.  Most people like the experience of overcoming some obstacles; constraints are the obstacles that make the finding of the solution exhilarating.

“It is common knowledge that Cirque [du Soleil’s] designers don’t like budgets, deadlines, and limited resources,”says Lyn Heward, president of their Creative Content Division, but she adds, “Privately however, even they will admit that these ‘constraints’ force us to become more resourceful and more creative!  They require us to come up with solutions we’d never thought of before…and they actually become motivators for getting the job done.  In fact, some of our most inspired ideas arise from moderately Spartan situations.”  Cirque du Soleil enforces very strict budgets, and creative teams have to abide with nonnegotiable deadlines.

This is just one of the many paradoxes managing creativity.  As leaders and managers we we need to both establish constraints and free our employees from self-imposed boundaries.  In short, we need to find balance.  Along with budgets, time is of course one of the most obvious constraints.  Deadlines, as daunting as they may seem to creative people, are also their best ally and help them move through the fear of the white page and the unknown.  However, time pressure needs to be handled with a serious sense of balance.  A study by two Harvard Business School professors shows that to develop the creativity of team members it is better in the long run to be careful with excessive time pressure as it easily leads to high levels of stress and potential burnout.  In my experience with creativity, efforts to save time by accelerating the process can sometimes end up costing time.  Creativity often requires patience, because it follow its own rhythm and entails moments of what I call “active inactivity”–moments when creative teams need to lie fallow.  Creativity is quite often about problem solving, and problems by definition have some established factors.  Once the confining factors are clarified, the goal is identified, and balance can be more easily achieved, creative minds are more able to find inspiration to overcome challenges.  A paradox of time management applies:  time constraint is productive, but too much of it, repeatedly, leads to the risk of burnout.  This paradox cannot be resolved by following a fixed rule.  Managing the time of creative teams requires the ability to manage paradox and feel one’s way through it, depending on how your team members react individually and collectively, which talent(s) you are most heavily depending on, and how much leeway with constraints you have in any given situation.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

How Your Office Space Can Affect Creativity and Innovation

Space affects moods. Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 10.57.56 PM A beautiful space can make people happy; a small cramped office can make them feel depressed.  But more important, space also affect 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 in a position 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 an informal communication and feedback loops.  In the end, the precious open space was saved in spite of financial pressures.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.


Can Mozart Manage ADD?

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 10.19.28 PMCompanies like Shell, IBM, and DuPont use music to create an atmosphere that accelerates learning and optimizes memory. Music is a powerful way to access a joyful, playful state of mind. It is also a powerful way to access a relaxed and meditative state of mind, which is another facet of being playful. We know today the impact of music on our emotional state, concentration, learning ability, and intellectual agility in new situations. Dr. Don Campbell has authored a few books on the subject; one of them is The Mozart Effect, which was greatly inspired by the work of late French ENT doctor Alfred Tomatis. Campbell writes that forty-three of the largest industrial companies in the world play music in their offices. Some of them have recorded up to 33-percent reduction in administrative errors. In times of intense mental concentration, our pulse and blood pressure increase, making it harder to concentrate. To counteract this, baroque music in particular is a very efficient way to induce feelings of relaxation because many compositions are performed at a tempo of 60 beats per minute, with long sections of music at the same tempo, mimicking a slow-paced human heartbeat and inducing a natural state of relaxation and improved learning ability. Recent research shows the music fires up certain parts of our brain responsible for memory, language, movement, and our sense of rhythm. Professor Anne Blood, a researcher in neuropsychology at McGill University in Montreal, proved that different types of music fire up different parts of the brain. It can be very useful to manage stress, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder in the workplace.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

How Artists Teach Kohler Best Practices in Innovation

A notable number of companies have artist-in-residence programs.  American manufacturer Kohler Co., based in Wisconsin, is one of them.  Since 1873, Kohler has been producing household equipment, including plumbing fixture, furniture, tile and stone.  Seen as a renowned leader in this area, Kohler is at the forefront of design, craftsmanship, and innovation.  One way they sustain a high level of innovation is through an ongoing collaboration between art and industry, and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  Founded in 1974 it remains unique among all American artist residency programs.  It has provided artists with an entrée to an industrial setting through two- to six- month stays in the pottery, foundry, and enamel shops at Kohler.  Up to two dozen artists per year have the opportunity to learn new ways of thinking and working.  Here they are able to produce entire bodies of work that would otherwise be impossible to execute in their own studios. Sophisticated technologies, unlimited access to technical expertise, materials, equipment, studio space, housing and transportation, plus a weekly stipend, create an unusually supportive environment.  Over time, hundreds of arts and industrial employees have built rapport as they work side by side and learn from each other’s approaches to work.  Through the arts program Kohler aims to give its employees the opportunity to learn from the proximity of artists at work.  They can observe the artists’ creative process, see how hard work has to become play to produce a creative outcome, and develop a better understanding of how to inspire creativity.  They can deduce best practices about managing the creative process and see their value in real life:  the role of giving oneself permission to fail, the necessity of trial and error, and the importance of a space conducive to creativity.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

The Power of Play

Play 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 work place.

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.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011