Latest Publications

Happy Humbug

Broken Pattern

Patterns are difficult to break, but breaking them is so refreshing!

What kinds of things just happen in your life? On Friday night, Halloween, New Year’s eve, your birthday? What do you do every Christmas? What would you change?

Things take on greater importance or significance when you change them. That’s how habits and customs get their importance. “Instead of going to the movies like we do every Saturday night, let’s rent a bunch, make some popcorn, and stay home.” A new tradition starts. And it stays until you break that pattern and try something new.

Let the record show that every tradition appeared first as something to do instead of nothing or instead of an already established tradition. The big one, Christmas, knocked over a variety of winter solstice celebrations. And it continued to evolve. The Christmas we call a “dyed-in-the-wool” tradition today is a product of Victorian England. And it’s still evolving.

Funning thing about traditions, follow them mindlessly and they lose their meaning. Put them to the test by breaking their patterns and they come up with more meaning. That’s the beauty of blockbusting or any kind of pattern breaking.

What do you take for granted? What habits, daily patterns, holiday, or traditions do you do without thinking, without gaining any real satisfaction? Write them down. Then take some time to consider what you could change about each one. I guarantee you’ll surprise yourself with every pattern you break. And the patterns you return to, you’ll appreciate all the more after having put them to the test.

Image: © Jill Casara Photography


Managing Failure

There was a manager who made a series of decisions that lost his company a ton of money. He assumed his boss, Mr. Watson, would fire him. But after hearing the manager’s side of the story Mr. Watson said, “We can’t fire you, we’ve invested too much in your education.”

managing failure

Wouldn’t it be great if all bosses were like Mr. Watson? The best bosses are. They discourage laziness and carelessness, but they also encourage experimentation and risk-taking. Because there’s nothing wrong with honest mistakes, unless you keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

You can make the most mistakes by learning what not to do again. Scientists look at mistakes as steps on the way to discover, the most valuable part of the process of elimination, identifying the dead ends.

Never regret mistakes. Just don’t forget to look for the unexpected wonders mistakes are famous for creating. Like Ivory Soap. As the legend goes, someone left a batch of ingredients cooking a little too long and the soap came out full of air. We don’t know if the cooks were fired or not, but the company, Procter & Gamble, sent the botched soap home with their employees. Soon word got back to the top brass that everyone loved the “soap that floats!” You know the rest.

And let’s not forget that discovering America was an accident. For what he set out to do, find a route to the Far East, Columbus might be considered a failure. But he certainly made the most of what he encountered. No discovery is a failure, unless we have our minds made up about what we are going to find. So if your mind isn’t made up about Columbus, applaud your own spirit of discovery.

Always make the most of whatever happens. And don’t just let things happen. Make things happen!

Image: © Juice Images/Corbis


Strategic Stimulation


The following techniques give you specific ways to cheat using existing forces. This first force is strategic stimulation. Here’s what that means, when people brain chain on their own (that is look at stimulus and see what their minds can conceive of), some do pretty well. When they brain chain in groups, they do a lot better. When they brain chain alone or in groups with strategic stimulation, they really score. It’s all in the strategic stimulation.

Strategic stimulation is simply looking at the paper of the neighbor who’s already been there or someplace similar. For example, when working on a new package, study the packaging of leading cosmetics, software, health and beauty aids, candy, breakfast cereal… wherever packaging innovation happens. Look in unexpected places: How do Jaguar dealers “package” their showrooms? Look at an origami website, the Boy Scout Handbook knots section—anything to do with enclosing and presenting stuff.

You can do the same with any problem you’re working on. IF you want to be a better lover, for example, you can go to the typical sources—pick up any Cosmopolitan magazine, watch Austin Powers, read Dating for Dummies. Then reach further and study Shakespeare’s sonnets and the Kuma Sutra, read the love letters of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Think beyond human love and consider the mating rituals of the sexiest animals, like the bonobo monkey. Animals do some pretty outstanding things to impress and care for each other—grooming, singing, strutting, and sharing food. A lot of love and affection goes on between pet lovers and their pets. What can you borrow?

As morning fog sweeps across the desert floor, the water sticks to the peaks of Stenocara’s bumps, You see where this is going. And you can see how your options expand and how fresh and original they can be when you use strategic stimulation. If you want your options to take you beyond the expected, beyond incremental improvement, you’ve got to play outside your neighborhood.

image: © Adrianna Williams/Corbis


Pliable Knowledge


Any piece of information is just that, a piece of information. It can be assembled with other pieces of information. Often these pieces fit well together, most of the time they don’t. In either case, we never throw away the pieces. No! Keep them because any piece of information can help build a new idea when it meets the right piece.

Let ideas live, serve them up, nurture them. It’s never necessary to kill them—ever. And it can be so gratifying to pay them off. Let your ideas live so you can revisit them. Say them out loud so other people can use them. Who gives a crap what others may be thinking! The idea of pliable knowledge says that your scrap heap of ideas forms a foundation that you or someone else can continuously build upon.

The surface of Stenocara Beetle armor-like shell is covered with bumps. The peak of each bump is smooth, like glass, and attracts water. The slopes of each bump, and the troughs in between, are covered with wax, which repels water, like Teflon.

As morning fog sweeps across the desert floor, the water sticks to the peaks of Stenocara’s bumps, eventually forming droplets. When the droplets become large and heavy enough, they roll down from the top of the peaks and are channeled to a spot on the beetle’s back that leads straight to its mouth. This water-collecting ability is critical to the beetle’s survival. There’s a piece of knowledge.

Cars were rusting before the 1990’s because water would rest in certain areas of the car, with no way to escape. The problem, how to get rid of the water.

Most car companies started using the beetle’s design in channeling water through and out of the cars. No more rust! Pliable Knowledge!



Square Peg, Round Hole


When we’re trying to solve a problem, too often we got to the same source for help. No wonder we get the same old kinds of solutions. Instead of putting the round peg in the round hole, remember how nature works—randomly and chaotically. At the chaotic center of our galaxy at this very minute, great masses of stars are forming, dying, and blowing debris far into space. It’s a mess. But it’s our home and we love it.

Why not put those wildly random forces behind the way you think? Try putting the square peg in the round hole. You did it when you were a kid. Unfortunately school taught you to settle for the obvious. So when faced with a problem, you probably looked for an organized problem-solving method. You may have used some and they worked, but in spite of themselves. They seem to work when the people who use them work their butts off, deadline looming, and bump into a solution out of sheer determination and perseverance.

The secret to cheating in idea generation is to color outside the lines.

We’ve all been hardwired to think that certain things belong together and other things don’t. (Ever play that game as a kid where you have to find the object in the picture that doesn’t belong?) And yet a quick review of creative breakthroughs shows that every one is a combination of at least two previously unrelated ideas.

Sometimes the breakthrough gets the name of the word combination as in “horseless carriage” for car or “thinking machine” for computer. Sometimes the combination is hidden in another language as in “democracy,” which means “government by the people,” literally “people power.” Or “karate,” meaning “empty hand.”

Imagine the reaction to some of these combinations. Karate. “Let me get this straight. You want to teach me how to fight without weapons?” Democracy. “What? Are you nuts? Put the people in charge of themselves!” Horseless carriage. “Where the heck do we hang the feedbag?”

image: © William Whitehurst/CORBIS


Say You Like It


What do you do when someone you live or work with screws up? In short, condition yourself to resist giving automatic criticism. More specifically, take the following simple steps next time, and I promise you everyone will come out a winner.

LISTEN. Resist your urge to judge, and consider what really happened. When you get all the facts, all sides of the story, things might be better than they seemed at first.

LIKE. Say you like it. Find something in the mistake you can use to encourage the people you assume have just busted their butts for you.

LEARN. Extract a lesson from the loss. Make sure everyone understands what was learned. In fact, it’s best to draw the learning out of them rather than dictating it to them.

If you practice these three steps—listen, like, learn—you’ll get a whole lot more cooperation and better results all around.

image: © Ocean/Corbis


It Pays to Cheat


What if I told you that after a night at the blackjack tables you’d be $50,000 ahead? If I guaranteed it, would you listen?

Cheating is like a guarantee to win. Figure it out. If you take the best of what’s already been discovered, what’s already known and improve upon it, how can you lose? Cheating isn’t a deficiency, it’s an efficiency. And what an amazing trick for those of us who aren’t natural born rocket scientists—permission to cheat! We were taught to know the answer. Now we can keep crib notes.

Cheating doesn’t mean getting lazy. It means getting to work. Doing better research, getting second and third opinions, always checking your thinking with smarter people and people with different points of view, and measuring your work against best practices. It takes time and sweat. It can be tedious, too, but it will help you create better solutions. How could it fail? Cheating puts a solid foundation under your efforts. You’ll produce more options, solutions and results if you first discover what you don’t know and then fill in the blanks. This way, the road to an answer will always be different, affording you more tidbits of stimulus along the way.

When you cheat, there can never be a problem you can’t optimize

image: © Emely/Corbis


Draw Me a Picture


Get a blank piece of paper and a pencil. Take a minute to relax, and then try to draw without planning a picture. Think about what you want to draw and start making bold marks on the page. Don’t judge the results. Just enjoy yourself. If you don’t like what you see, start over. Stick with this exercise for ten minutes or more. If you draw just for the fun of it, you’ll love the results. Why not display your favorite effort on the refrigerator?

Why limit yourself to paper? You can carry the same kidlike expression into the rest of your world. What about the way you dress, the way you decorate your room, apartment, or home—your Happy Place? You can hang fuzzy dice from your rearview mirror if you want to. Chartreuse ones. You can wear a pinstriped suit with a waterbed mattress. Hang furniture from the ceiling or go completely the other way and make your house look like a cathedral or barn.

Just don’t forget to cheat. Look at the Architectural Digest. The more you cheat, the more you’ll see that a lot of cutting edge artists, decorators, musicians, designers and the like have already captured what you want to express. That’s what they do. Buy their stuff. Use the force they’ve already created and improve it. Make your environment—from what you wear to where you live and work—as much an expression of you as possible.

Make room for your personal interpretations in every corner of your life. Choose colors, scents, sounds and flavors just because they appeal to you—especially if it goes against the accepted way of doing things in your world.

image: © Vladimir Godnik/fstop/Corbis


More than Likely You Were a Genius


You may have seen the extensive George Land studies that proved there was a 98% chance you were once a creative genius before age four.

In the early days of the Headstart Program, 1,600 five-year-olds were given a series of standardized tests designed to measure creative thinking. The first round of tests were administered when the kids were three to five years of age. At that point, 98 percent of them scored in the genius category. Five years later the same children took identical tests. Only 32 percent scored in the genius range. Five years later only ten percent scored as well. Since then more than 200,000 adults over the age of 25 have taken the same tests. Only two percent managed to score at the genius level.

Other research has come to similar conclusions about the trajectory of our creative powers—a 40-year-old adult is about two percent as creative as a five-year-old child. No wonder Dr. Seuss once described adults as “obsolete children.”

Findings like these tell us that creative genius isn’t something you find. It’s something you’ve lost. In fact, the similarities between children and adults we call creative geniuses tell us that people who don’t think like children have lost a great treasure. And here’s the sad part—you didn’t have to lose it. In Land’s own words, “non-creative behavior is learned.” That’s right. If your creative genius had not been beaten out of you by the rules and regulations of a school system designed to produce workers for the Industrial Revolution, you’d still have it. You have a choice, to comply or act like a child and resist!!

image: © Hill Street Studios/Tetra Images/Corbis


Meditate to Deviate


To think out of a rut, you have to turn off the part of your brain that demands sense. Space out. Allow unusual thoughts, contradictions, and fuzzy thinking to play with each other. Take advantage of all the connections in all the space in your brain. What if you programmed some spacing out time in your day or in your employees’ day? Meditate in order to deviate! Would you and they come up with better ideas? You can count on it. Companies who take new product development seriously give their researchers time to work on projects that may or may not pay off. Give your speculative thinking some real respect. Why not mark some space out time on your calendar? You’ll be surprised at what undirected, purely exploratory thinking does to your life.

image: © Hero Images/Corbis