FRESH IDEAS.
HAND-CRAFTED WEEKLY.

Inspiring thoughts on innovation, growth, leadership,
creativity, transformation, and disruption.

 

Quick reads, powerful results.

The No Decision Trap

When we have an important decision to make, we often fall prey to a most insidious trap. Wanting to make the right choice, we carefully weigh all our options before finalizing a decision. We gather information, solicit opinions, read articles, receive coaching, and consult with trusted mentors. With high stakes, we mistakenly believe that delaying […]

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Sent is not Received

Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to fly on a small, owner-operated plane while listening in on the conversation between the pilot and air traffic control. Besides geeking out as both a tech and aviation nerd, I observed a powerful communication technique that can be a game-changer for us all. ATC: “989-Foxtrot-Echo, ascend to […]

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Flood the House to Catch the Mouse

Imagine you were tasked with inventing a better mousetrap. Literally. A typical brainstorm session may yield incremental improvements in the spring or the bait or the construction materials or the packaging. One common innovation mistake involves an over-commitment to a particular solution type. We envision a typical mousetrap and search for ideas to optimize the existing approach. But […]

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Innovation Techniques from Jazz Musicians (Part 3 of 3)

For the last entry in my three-part series featuring the creativity techniques of jazz musicians, I’m excited to share two more approaches to sparking ideas and unlocking your creative genius: Technique #5: Isolated Substitutions Great jazz musicians love to substitute one thing for another. Like a chef who decides to swap out red pepper for […]

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Innovation Techniques from Jazz Musicians (Part 2 of 3)

As a music geek and a student of jazz for over 40 years, I’m obsessed with the intricate, dangerous, soul-filled improvisational skills of legends like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Ella Fitzgerald. Which is why I’ve decided to share some of the inside approaches that have delighted audiences and made history. Last week, we covered two techniques: Trading […]

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Innovation Techniques from Jazz Musicians (Part 1 of 3)

Having studied jazz improvisation for nearly 40 years, performing thousands of times all over the world, I can tell you that instantaneous creativity is the language of jazz. Jazz music is a real-time art form; there’s no going back to re-do or touch-up your work. The improvisation is intense, fluid, and dangerous. Let’s take an […]

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The Stone Cutter’s Quest for More

There was once a stonecutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life. One day he passed a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could […]

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There’s Always an Alternative

There are few projects more complex, difficult, and expensive than rebuilding a gate at an existing airport. Inoperable during construction, gate closures create huge losses for airlines. Further, doing the construction work in a live airport setting is especially tricky for the craftspeople working the project. Often toiling away in the middle of the night […]

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When Traditions Should Change

I had the great honor to deliver a keynote speech this past Sunday on Northern Michigan’s beautiful Mackinac Island. Sweeping vistas. Historic homes. Unpolluted air. It’s right out of a storybook, but there is one tradition that is long-overdue for a change. There are no cars on the island, which is pretty darn cool. Fun […]

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Creating the Perfect Circle (a Zen Proverb)

One day a small boy was playing near the river when he saw an old man with a long beard seated in the sand. The boy moved closer and watched as the old man drew a perfect circle into the sand. “Hey, old man, how did you draw such a perfect circle?” asked the boy. […]

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Two Danger Traps That Can Derail Your Growth

Whether you run a two-person graphic design shop or a 200,000-person global manufacturing conglomerate, you’re likely craving growth. We all do. Expansion fuels profits, serves customers, drives share price, and impacts the world. Through building five companies of my own and helping at least 100 others scale, I’ve seen two repeating growth traps that have […]

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Duct Tape and a Paperclip

From the time I saw MacGyver use candlesticks, an extension cord, and a rubber mat to create an improvised defibrillator to save a man’s life, I was hooked on the show. Whether it was creating a makeshift bazooka out of a muffler, gear shift knob, seat cushion stuffing, and a cigarette lighter to escape a […]

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Want Fresh Ideas? Try This.

In these competitive and uncertain times, most of us long for that bold, fresh idea that will shake things up and drive meaningful progress. Yet great new ideas can feel harder to find than a five-leaf clover. We stare at the same problem – with the same set of eyes and the same perspective – […]

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A Simple Way to De-Risk Innovation

We know that embracing innovation is the only way to grow and win over the long term, but it sure can feel risky and overwhelming. This is often because we overemphasize idea generation while skipping the most important step in the process: experimentation. Most of us think: Step 1: Generate an idea Step 2: Widespread […]

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Three Little Big Ideas

We are unquestionably living in a landscape of overwhelming VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and uncertainty).  In other words, we find ourselves in batshit-crazy times.  The only way to fight back: inventive thinking.  Here are three real-world examples of bold creativity in action, leveraging the hottest tech trends of our day: (1) LASER BEAM SHOOTING DRONES […]

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WARNING: These 17 Questions Will Result in Dangerously High Levels of Creativity

What is this thing made of? What’s missing? What was the thinking and context that led to its initial creation? Why did this work in the past? What’s different today? How has the customer’s or user’s (internal or external) needs changed since this was originally conceived? What are the core rules, truisms, traditions or beliefs […]

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Three Little Big Ideas

(1) THE BAD IDEA With so much pressure to discover the perfect idea, we can easily get stuck. Instead, try thinking up the worst ideas you can imagine. Stupid, impractical, illegal, or downright lousy. That’s right, conduct a Bad Idea Brainstorm. After you exhaust your bad thinking, review the list and see if you can […]

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Three Little Big Ideas

(1) FOXCONN OR FENDI? Foxconn, a Taiwanese contract electronics manufacturer, rang up $179 billion in sales last year by a relentless focus on cutting costs and creating huge volumes of non-sexy stuff to sell to other companies. Fendi, on the other hand, is an ultra-luxury brand that hand-makes bespoke apparel, shoes, timepieces and fragrances, selling […]

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Three Little Big Ideas

(1) IDEA CHIPPING When staring down a big problem or opportunity, most of us try to solve the challenge by seeking out a single, gigantic, perfect, silver-bullet solution. But when that idyllic answer doesn’t appear from the heavens, we throw in the towel. Instead of trying to conquer all at once, try Idea Chipping instead. See if you can […]

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Three Little Big Ideas

(1) PLAN Z The great majority of us live our lives playing it pretty safe. Then to be even safer, we craft and scrutinize and ruminate over our Plan B’s – that game plan for what we’ll do if everything goes wrong. Flipping that around, why not also craft a Plan Z? Your Plan Z is […]

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Three Little Big Ideas

(1) THE ALL-AT-ONCE TRAP When tackling a big problem or seizing a juicy opportunity, we instinctively try to solve the challenge with one, gigantic, perfect idea. Problem is, those silver bullets can be elusive and we end up freezing or quitting when perfection fails to magically appear. Instead of the all-at-once approach, try discovering a […]

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The One Question Effective CEOs Ask Themselves Everyday

Jaws dropped last week when readers devoured The Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO compensation report. Despite the pandemic-savaged economy, Paycom Software founder and CEO Chad Richison hauled in a whopping $211 million in 2020. Robert Kotick, CEO of the video game maker Activision Blizzard, came in second place with $155 million, while Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer scored $135 million. […]

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Awesome, Dude

Most of us have experienced that chills-down-your spine feeling of awe. The texture of handmade al dente pasta at La Darsena, an outdoor café in the lakefront town of Como, Italy. The dangerous acrobatics of a Cirque du Soleil performance during a hot Montreal summer. For me, seeing my newborn twins—Avi and Tallia—make it through […]

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A New DaVinci Code

I never had a dog growing up. In fact, for years I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. Pets seemed messy, expensive and illogical. And then my wife Tia and I found the smallest yorkie you could imagine and I discovered a new partner-in-crime. My little sidekick with a big name… DaVinci. […]

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What Your Brain And Your Lawn Have In Common

When we hear stories about world class creators like Lady Gaga or Lin Manuel-Miranda, or ultra-successful entrepreneurs like Elon Musk or Sara Blakely, we immediately think these people must have some special gift that we normal folk are missing. As if the skies opened for a brief moment and the gods anointed a chosen few […]

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An Open Letter—A Sperm’s Advice on Improving Your Odds

Hi, my name is Samuel J. Sperm Jr. I know you’re hoping to have successful innovation up there, so I figured I’d drop some wisdom. If human conception is the ultimate act of invention, I’m clearly a qualified expert since my entire life’s focus is on that one thing. I don’t play golf, watch reruns, […]

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How a Forced Experiment Led to a Faster Commute

When news of the labor strike broke, commuters were furious. London’s Underground, affectionately known as the “tube”, is the subway system responsible for transporting millions to their destination each day. So when some routes were shut down during the 2014 strike, commuters were forced to find alternative ways to get to work. Since Underground passengers […]

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Busting the Five Myths of Creativity

Mention the word creativity, and people begin to squirm in their chairs. The very thought can prompt anxiety, fear, and doubt — even in the most accomplished professionals. At the same time, we know that innovation is mission-critical in these disruptive times. As many competitive advantages of the past have become automated or outsourced, creative problem solving and […]

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Overpromise

We’ve heard it a hundred times. “Under-promise, and over-deliver.” It’s one of those truisms that appears indisputable, right up with “the customer is always right” and “the early bird gets the worm.” But as one who enjoys balking traditional approaches, I respectfully disagree. To me, this false wisdom encourages mediocrity. It grants permission to make […]

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The Math of Worrying

Think about how much time you spend fretting about what might happen.  Those deer-in-the-headlights moments are not only agonizing but they are profoundly unproductive. With each minute you spend in a state of worry, you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to contribute to your own success and the world around you. The funny thing about […]

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