Tag 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?

You Already Have All the Resources You Need to Innovate

pen-idea-bulb-paper-mediumPlay opens us up to the possibility that we don’t need more of anything—time, money, knowledge, and so on—in order to produce more.  It is a radical idea, especially in business, where we often hear the argument that budgets are limited and therefore the ability to innovate is limited.  How can you get the same result with half of the resources?  How is that possible?  It’s possible because human motivation is not linear; the way one person gets motivated is a complex function of many intertwined factors, which do not follow a linear continuum, but which can be greatly influenced by play.  When we tap into the part of people that responds to play and inspiration, we unleash possibilities and huge potential for new sources of motivation that we could not have predicted or accessed otherwise.  Thus when people are engaged in play, truly and deeply engaged, they lose track of time, they stop thinking about whether their paycheck is bigger today than it was yesterday, they form close and fruitful bonds with their playmates, they withstand discomfort and inconvenience, and more often than you might imagine, they create magic.  Play moves people into an optimistic frame of mind, a place where they are more adaptable to change and more likely to improvise, and where they begin to dance in the groove of life.  In that joyous groove, success and innovation become far more likely outcomes than they ever could be in an atmosphere of grinding unhappiness and perceived lack.

Take, for instance, a story of how dice games were invented, according to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.  In pre-Roman times, 2,500 years ago, the kingdom of Lydia was suffering a famine that left it only able to feed half of its citizens.  The Lydian king invented a game—sheep knuckle dice—and established a policy that every other day, every person in the kingdom, would do nothing but play sheep knuckle dice.  They would not work, they would not just hang out, and they would not run errands for their grandma.  And they would not eat.  Such was the level of immersion the sheep knuckle dice provided that the people managed to survive an eighteen-year famine.

What does this tale reveal to us? It shows that the impact of play reaches far beyond the realm of reason.  It also tells us that the power of play is such that it can provide an effective distraction even from something as elemental as hunger.  Play is a strong catalyst for changing behavior, helping people shift perspective and refocus their energy to overcome hardship or challenging situations without necessarily increasing material resources or the number of team members.

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”: http://www.wisdom2summit.com/) 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: http://wisdom2contest.com/?contest=video-detail&video_id=198

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


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. 


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.


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.

Get Past Inertia (Part 2)

It is relatively easy to see how play can generate fabulous new ideas, but what is less obvious is the critical role of play in giving those ideas a chance at life against some very serious odds. Innovation is change, and change sends many of us running for cover—for good reason. Change activates our survival instincts and is at least partly responsible for our tendency toward inertia, and inertia, again is a serious barrier to innovation.

Experts agree that the critical stage of innovation is implementation. Implementation is where the rubber meets the road. It requires us to change our behavior, and changing behavior is not only an intellectual but also an emotional challenge. It also requires us to step into the unknown. But perhaps the greatest challenge is that it requires us to overcome inertia, and that is something that humans are hardwired to resist. That hardwiring is key to understanding how inertia works and what its function is.

The human brain wants to say where it is, in the comfort zone. If we stay in our comfort zone, we don’t have to struggle to survive. We minimize the risk to our survival by staying where we know we are safe. I often explain to my MBA students that the reason they take the same seat in class every week, and the reason we lay our towels in the same area of the beach every summer weekend, is that we are, at our core, instinctual animals. Once we have chosen a seat and made it through class safely without being attacked, the part of our brain responsible for our survival tells us that our best option is to repeat that behavior, because in a way it is the most economical use of our energy. As part of its strategy for survival, our brain wants to conserve energy, so once we sit in a particular spot and know that it’s safe, we will subconsciously want to sit there every time and avoid having to reevaluate the safety of a new spot.

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