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Get Smart — Like Einstein!

Dear Readers,

I promised that our next post was to be on ideas on how to foster the creative collaboration that is foundational to innovation in organizations.  I also had some other posts lined up for some logical progression.

However, my time will be very limited for the next several weeks because a U.S. government training project for our returning military personnel is calling upon my creative skills.  Imagine that!  😉 — Did I mention that I design and deliver training programs?

In the meantime, I will share a couple of articles that I find of interest that tie directly into what we're exploring together in this forum, which, in simple mathematical formulation can be summarized as:

   Curiosity Creativity
x Good Management (Respect + Support)
= GENIUS!  

(Yes, I actually made that up on the spot, and math isn't even my strong suit.  😉 )

Look for themes below that tie back to previous posts.  Again, it can all tie back to our earlier posts on the 2010 IBM CEO report on best practices for organizations that want to thrive and key points we reviewed from How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci:

  • Einstein never squelched the innate curiosity that we all were born with.  He just loved to learn and explore; that was his primary drive.
  • He didn't grow up in a family who's main preoccupation in life was looking good and fitting in.  Modus operandi such as that does not generally foster original thinking.  Integrity does.
  • He wasn't afraid to experiment and (gasp!) fail as a means of learning what didn't work, so he could ultimately uncover what did.
  • He used "whole brain thinking" with the music; let his mind wander with daydreaming and unrelated things while his subconscious continued to problem solve; he was suspicious of the convergent "single answer" thinking encouraged in many of our schools and organizations; and, I like this one, he believed we could learn about the spiritual realities (or, for those who prefer, God) by paying attention to the world around us.  — A very worthwhile pursuit.

Namaste!  EnJOY!

 

How Einstein Got So Smart – 10 Learning Hacks
Einstein Got So SmartHow would you feel if many people thought you were the smartest person in history? How might your life be different if you actually were that intelligent? Although we often think of Albert Einstein as one of the smartest people ever, we don’t investigate what it was that made him so. People who speak highly of him often attribute his genius to some mysterious gift. They don’t believe his smarts came from a certain attitude about learning. I believe you can recreate some of his habits to get smarter and find more rewarding work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Einstein…the Failure?

Before you get the list of Einstein’s learning habits, consider some interesting facts about his early life. These things set the stage for appreciating his educational philosophy a little more.

  • Although he worked in engineering, Einstein’s father failed at several business ventures and had to depend on relatives for support.
  • When Einstein’s father asked his son’s headmaster what profession the boy should adopt, he said, “It doesn’t matter; he’ll never make a success of anything.”
  • He failed his first admissions examination to the Swiss scientific school he wanted to attend.
  • Some family friends told Einstein’s parents, “That young man will never amount to anything because he can’t remember anything.”
  • After graduating from the university, Einstein was denied a low-level teaching position there. (Other friends in his graduating class did get teaching positions.)
  • Many scientists and professors stonewalled his requests to work for them.
  • Einstein struggled for a few years to even find decent employment and finally got work as a third-class government patent examiner.

These things represent just a taste of the irony about his early life. Looking back – in light of his eventually recognized genius – these facts even seem humorous.

10 Things Einstein Did to Get So Smart

From what I can find, no one has compiled details about how Einstein actually studied. I doubt that his true genius was even observable to the eye anyhow. The real accomplishments went on inside his mind. I suspect his brain looked no different than ours; and genetically, nothing seemed remarkable. So, to benefit from his example, we need to look as much at his character and philosophy about learning.

1) He daydreamed and contemplated
Who has the right to say what is absentmindedness and what is pure genius? What others labeled as forgetful or even spacey, Einstein knew to be some of his most insightful, creative brainstorming sessions.

2) He Rubbed Shoulders with the Best and Brightest
Especially after his reputation became known, Einstein sought out the instruction and mentorship of the smartest people in his field, like Max Planck. If he didn’t get to know these people personally, he studied their writing and research.

3) Einstein Cross-Trained
He learned to play the violin well and loved the mathematical structure of music. He used music as a “psychological safety valve” throughout his life.

4) He Trusted His Own Curiosity
One legendary story says that his father gave him a compass when he was five years old. After lengthy observation, Einstein figured out that some outside force was acting on the needle to keep it pointed in the same direction.

5) He Maintained a Deep Suspicion of Educational Authority
Too many teachers, even in our day, feel you should believe what they say because, “I said so.” While they claim that “thinking for yourself” is part of the curriculum, their own biases and the school system’s structure discourage independent thought.

6) Einstein Nourished a “Radical Inquiring Attitude”
A Chinese proverb reads, “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” True learning requires exploring assumptions and other facts that many take for granted.

7) Einstein Designed His Own Curriculum
He had friends at the university take notes in class for him while he was away reading his preferred “extracurricular” books or journals on physics and mathematics.

8) He Relied on Faith to Learn
Einstein’s faith was that by inquiry and discipline you could learn things about invisible objects or phenomena. His “God” was not arbitrary and conformed to natural, discoverable laws.

9) He Avoided Preoccupation with Trivial Things in Life
How much time would Einstein spend on YouTube or Facebook if he were around today? His mind reverted consistently to “exploring and understanding the physical world.” What do you think about when you have nothing else to think about? Einstein’s discoveries didn’t come easily; they came from discipline!

10) Einstein Was an Autodicact. 
As one biographer (Ronald W. Clark) wrote, he “found his real education elsewhere, in his own time.” Schooling provided the basic building blocks of language and concepts, but Einstein’s initiative took his learning far beyond the limits of academics.

Einstein's Learning Hacks - Free Infographic
Get this high resolution graphic (pdf) on Einstein’s Learning Hacks – for free!

Read more: http://www.betterlearningbetterearning.com/posts/success-stories/84-einstein-learning-hacks.html#ixzz1UgyQkAwp

 

Proud mantis

As discussed in previous posts, it is commonly held that there is creative genius in each of us.  But, along with our innate curiosity (creativity’s inextricable partner) most of us found our creativity repressed by the tender age of thirteen by the pressure to “fit in,” not be seen as “weird,” [i] not ask too many questions, and as we got older, to go by “The Rules,” and do as we’re told if we want to succeed.   I wholeheartedly agree with Langdon Morris of InnovationLabs who wrote that “It may only take only the right mix of context, curiosity, support, and environment for it come abundantly forth.” [ii]

Pearl in oyster And so, smart managers understand that good ideas come from everywhere in organizations.  “Hence, the average Toyota worker, including those on the assembly lines, is said to contribute on average more than one hundred ideas each year.”  Despite some of its recent troubles (and current tragedies in its homeland), Toyota is universally recognized as the most efficient auto manufacturer on the planet.[iii]

Gathering and Channeling the Collective Genius:

Referring back to the top layer of the cake as described in “Let Them Eat Cake!” a couple of posts ago, below are some suggestions I have found for creating an entrepreneurial environment throughout the organization, as recommended by the innovation leaders surveyed in the 2010 IBM CEO report. [iv]

 

Mardi Gras Float Create and Communicate a Shared Vision of What Innovation Looks Like in Your Organization:

    Use cross-departmental input to create a shared language and lexicon.  (Jorge Barba) [v]
    Go beyond the mission and vision to make innovation the responsibility of each and every employee (“50 Ways…”) [vi]
    Involve as many people as you can at the beginning to get upfront buy-in.  (“50 Ways…) 

 

Co-create A Vision for Innovation with Everyone in Your Organization:

Help employees to present their ideas and make their cases:

  • Establish an Entrepreneurial Environment: Ideas come from everywhere. Give every “intrepreneur’s” idea an objective hearing. Provide management support in building the business case* in presenting the idea. (“10 Crucial Elements…,” Jim Miller) [vii]

    * I discussed this point in my 2/12/11 post on "A Shared Failure to Communicate". 

    • Ask employees what gets in the way of their ability to offer contribute creative solutions and innovation, and work to remove those blocks.   

    Create Efficient Systems for Collecting Ideas: Easter egg basked

    • Create formal opportunities for offering ideas: Intranet repositories using an idea 
      management software, internal conferences, etc.  (“10 Crucial Elements of Building an Innovative Company,” Jim Miller & “”50 Ideas…, “)

    Embrace the Numbers Game:

    • “…Harness everyone’s creativity by involving them in the ideation process; generate lots of ideas, for only a few winners will result, and then broadening your view of innovation to not just technological, products, or services, but also innovate the business model.” (Jorge Barba)
    • Have a number of ideas in the works. Short and long-term, incremental, and discontinuous.
    •  “The main difference between companies who succeed at innovation and those who don’t isn’t their rate of success – it’s the fact that successful companies have a LOT of ideas, pilots, and product innovations in the pipeline.” (“50 Ways…”)

    Create Efficient Systems for Low-Cost, Rapid Prototyping:

    • “Fail often to succeed sooner.”  Tom Kelley, GM IDEO.
    • Prototype using videos and models or other quick and cheap methods early on to visualize which projects to further develop and which to discard. (“Get Creative,” Bloomberg Businessweek [viii] and “50 Ways…”)

    Support Cross-departmental Collaboration:

    • Reroute reporting lines and create physical spaces for collaboration. …collaboration requires more than lip-service to breaking down silos… team up people from across the org chart. 
    • ‘You have to…get down into the plumbing of the organization and align the nervous system of the company.” (J. Andrew, BCG) [ix]
    • Provide “Skunkwork” spaces with visual tools like white boards everywhere, even on ceilings and floors. (“50 Ways…”)
      • Encourage informal, cross-functional networking and exchange of ideas through shared space, social activities, etc(“10 Crucial Elements…,” Jim Miller)

     

    A nd  Let Go! Confetti

    • “Innovation requires no fixed rules or templates – only guiding principles.  Creating a more innovative culture is an organic and creative act… Don’t make your innovation processes so rigid that they get in the way of informal and spontaneous innovation efforts.”  (“50 Ways…”) 

     

     

    I’ve only scratched the surface here regarding employee partnership in innovation.  Please, share your ideas, experiences, and success stories!

     


    [i] Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work, John Putzier. AMACOM,  2001.

     

     

     

    [iii] “The World’s Most Innovative Companies,” Bloomberg Business Week. (April 24, 2007).

     

     

     

    [v] Jorge Barba, http://www.game-changer.net/

     

     

     

    [vi]  “50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation,” The Heart of Innovation. Idea Champions

     

     

     

    [viii] “Get Creative,” Bloomberg Businessweek

     

     

     

    This week, we'll take a not-so-happy look at the state of affairs in many organizations: underlying blocks to innovation.  Gotta look at what’s broke to be able to fix it!  Next week, I promise the happier view, looking at solutions and inspiring best practices being used by innovative companies. 

    Ducks in a row According to Bloomberg Businessweek’s “Most Innovative Companies” article, “Most businesses operate in ways that are antithetical to innovation.  They want stability, predictability, avoidance of risk…”  But “innovation is more about managing risk” than avoiding it…” [i]  The functions of quality control and Six Sigma are about “control.”  “The cultures of most organizations are set up to resist fluctuation and purge deviants,”[ii] known to others as “the innovator’s DNA.”

    “But innovation is all about novelty and the unexpected…. innovators upset the apple cart, and move the cheese!” [iv] “In almost every company there are the ‘rebel’ thinkers, people who are always looking for ways to improve things, solve problems, individuals that look to the future, not the present or the past.” [v]  Research varies, but reports that 50-90% [vi] of all new product innovations “fail” at even the most successful companies. 

    Given this predominant modus operandi, most organizations have a lot of work to do so that employees will feel safe enough to openly share their ideas and take risks.  A great amount of trust must exist in an environment in order for innovation to take place.  Very hierarchical “Win-lose organizations usually are not trusting environments…” [vii] In short, a sense of trust, safety, and partnership are key to innovation which is “a collaborative endeavor… There is little innovation without collaboration, and there is no collaboration without trust.” [viii]

    Parallel Organizations: “Skunk Works”:

    Some believe that it may be more efficient for large organizations to start satellite entrepreneurial organizations to germinate and develop the innovative ideas, rather than undertaking the significant task of changing the ways and culture of the primary organization.  These sub-organizations are often called “skunk works” or “skunkworks”: “groups within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy,” tasked with working on various projects. (Wikipedia)  The term "Skunk Works" is a registered trademark of Lockheed Martin, which by some accounts, was responsible for the creation of both the practice and term around 1943. 

    This model will be explored in an upcoming post, as well.  However, I will say that I am highly skeptical about the wisdom of viewing this approach as the panacea.  It may be best for some rapid solutions or time-to-market “hits.”  However, it does not solve two significant and interrelated problems.  By simply handing over creative thinking and innovation to the parallel, more agile “David” structure versus forcing the larger "Goliath" organization to reshape its management practices leaves the same problem in place: the creative ideas and full range of talents of all of its employees continue to be blocked and wasted.  “Skunk work” organizations can only do so much.  What if the creative genius of everyone within the entire primary organization was cultivated and set to work – what would be possible then? 

    As the 2010 Boston Consulting Group report recently summarized in this blog pointed out (and other studies concur) – U.S. businesses do not have time to leave the creative thinking to the few.  All hands are needed on deck.  For the first time since Bloomberg Businessweek began ranking the Most Innovative Companies in 2005, the majority of corporations in the Top 25 are outside the U.S. as new global leaders emerge from Asia.

    From My Soapbox… 

    I believe the primary shifts that need to occur boil down to this:  “In many organizations, the Exclusive Gate real thinking is seen as the purview of a privileged few.”[ix]  There’s the rub!  From my professional experience, from what I learned in my organizational development master's program, and based on the research I have conducted thus far, innovation and management bottle-necking cannot co-exist.  That’s what many of the IBM CEO study innovation leaders were telling their colleagues.  “Flatten thy organizations!”  Lose, or certainly lessen the hierarchy. 

     “People are dying to bring their passionate, authentic selves to their jobs.  In most cases, their jobs often won’t let them.  These people often represent the undervalued intellectual capital in a company.  Choke personal creativity, and you choke that organization’s chance to flourish.” [x]

    Mannequin headsAs the saying goes, “A good mind is a terrible thing to waste.”  Sadly, most organizations, from corporations to small nonprofits to governmental agencies, are wastelands of brilliant, potentially profitable or otherwise beneficial ideas that were smothered by others before they were allowed to see the light of day.

    And on a More Cheerful Note

    In the next post, I’ll share specific practices being utilized by some to create a “thinking organization that encourages discovery and celebrates new ideas and the people who generate them.”  And then how they gather, vet, and prototype those ideas.  I hope you'll send in suggestions for some of the best practices you've encountered, as well!  Butterfly freedom image

     

     


    [iv] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).

     

     

     

     

     

     

    [vi] “50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation,” Idea Champions puts it at 50-70% and Wikipedia offers the 50-90% figure.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    [vii] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).

     

     

     

     

     

     

    [viii] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).

     

     

     

     

     

     

    [ix] “Fostering an Innovative Company Culture,” EOS Strategies White Paper (2010) attributed to Daniel D. Elash, Ph.D., “Thought Partnerships Build A Company's Thinking Skills.”  (2003). 

     

     

     

     

     

     

    [x] “Fostering an Innovative Company Culture,” EOS Strategies White Paper. (2010).

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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