Improv and Innovation

In May, I attended the Front End of Innovation conference. Here is a great improv technique you can try at your next meeting…

During a packed breakout session, Michelle James led attendees in an applied innovation workshop. In case you were unable to join the workshop, or were too busy to take notes, here is a run down on how to apply Improv techniques to innovation:

  1. Warm-up to break your pattern. Do a handshake without letting go until you’re both shaking hands with someone else as well. This exercise helps to wake you up and helps you get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  2. Practice “Yes, and…”Find a partner and pretend you’re on an amazing trip to Mexico. The first person opens with a sentence to start the story. The second person must say, “Yes, and” then add to the story. By listening to your partner and building, the ideas become generative and focused. “Yes, and” expands the playing field for ideas (Note: Orin goes on great vacations!).
  3. Try “Random Word Generator” where one person chooses a topic and the other person starts telling a story based on that topic. The person who chose the topic, then throws in random words that the storyteller needs to incorporate. This exercise takes “high stakes listening,” justifying, building trust, and lots of practice in adapting.
  4. Co-create a “Living Being” by taking turns drawing one line at a time. Once you’re done creating your Living Being, name him/her by taking turns writing down one letter at a time until a name emerges. (BTW, we named our Living Being “Sidney Taken” – see photo). Because you’re taking turns leading and following, it helps with leadership skills and being open to collaboration.

Improv and generative thinking takes co-creation.

This article was originally posted as Live from FEI 2013: Applied Improv for Leaders: Principles and Practices for Innovative Leadership

What does Creativity and Innovation have to do with age: A look at Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies

Over the last few months I had a chance to get together with folks I do not see very often. One of the folks I visited with was my manager from when I was in my early 20′s. He’s always been one of my favorites – a mentor, a great listener, and someone who has a way of calling a spade a spade. In our conversation, we chatted about how a person’s age effects his/her openness to new ideas. We shared war stories of the many “older folks” we’ve come across in organizations who would rather maintain the current course of business than risk doing something new and novel.

Unfortunately, these older folks tend to be in leadership positions which means they’re also the ones charting the future course of the organization.  We also speculated these managers had an eye on retirement (and not rocking the boat) rather than a calling for innovation (hmm, this may be why there are so many companies clamoring for innovation, but very few actually achieving it).

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The Benefits of Integrating Art into the Classroom

ArtDid you know that today is National Arts Advocacy Day? Well, I didn’t either until I read The Link Between Art and Education. Not to worry, if you are not able to join the live event on Capitol Hill, you can participate virtually.

In some ways, celebrating the arts with a nationally recognized day is a step forward. Yet, the fact that art (particularly in elementary and secondary education) requires a special day reflects a step backward.
While some look at art as one more thing to fit into the school day, art teachers know that learning to apply human creativity and imagination can actually help kids become better students and better problem solvers.

In a study of 25,000 middle and high school students, those with an art education performed better on standardized tests. In fact, the more art classes a student took, the higher their SAT scores. Other benefits of an art education include improved reading and language skills, improved mathematics skills, improved thinking skills, improved social skills, and a greater motivation to learn – all leading to positive school enrollment.

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Can Mandarin Save a Failing Georgia School?

This says something.In a recent segment of the CBS Evening News, reporter, Mark Strassman shared how a failing Macon, Georgia school district is mandating Mandarin language lessons in order to stave off a staggering fifty percent failure to graduate rate. Within three years, all 25,000 students in Bibb County will be learning Mandarin. In fact, third graders at Sonny Carter Elementary School have already begun.

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Gamification and Serious Games

English: A newly unboxed Gold Classic Controll...

A few weeks back  I attended the Useful Social Media conference in New York. It was refreshing to meet people face-to-face, to learn about the new and inventive ways companies are using social media, and to commiserate over the many challenges and roadblocks that still exist when it comes to corporate social media. In many ways social has seen a great evolution, but in other ways social is in its infancy. When it comes to gamification, 2012 shined a spotlight on gaming and game mechanics – the strenghts, the opportunities, and the room for growth.

In a pre-conference workshop, gamification platform provider, Bunchball summarized the game mechanics that motivate and engage. They talked about the importance of progress (levels in games, miles and points, progress bars), status (standings in leaderboards, likes and followers, communities, groups and teams), and rewards (access to exclusives and perks, early boarding/upgrades, recognition). More importantly, the key takeaway was that gamification works best when tied to a business case.

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Poetry: Music of the Soul

Colouring pencils Français : Crayons de couleu...As part of an end of the year project, my oldest son’s teacher embarked on a poetry lesson. In this intensive, active learning project, the kids learned about the different kinds of poems, wrote a half dozen poems, and celebrated the end of second grade with a poetry reading. By the way, did you know poems include acrostic, ballad, cinquain, and more? Fascinating.

The poetry reading was bittersweet in many ways. It marked the end of my son’s time at the school and served as a yardstick to demonstrate how much he had grown, learned, and developed.

Voltaire once said, “Poetry is the music of the soul, and, above all, of great and feeling souls.”

Each of my son’s poems showed different sides of him – playful, serious, fun, logical, sports-minded, and even profound. In particular, my son’s Color poem moved me. I was surprised by how such a young mind (8-years old) could be so introspective. The way my son was able to dig so deep and explore the figurative and affective aspects of nature caught me by surprise.

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The 5 Forces Shaping Advertising

Marketing to kids. An illustration for Forces ...

Those of us in the advertising business know the industry is undergoing a transformation. There is a blurring of lines among advertising, digital,  and management consulting. Traditional folks are trying to be more digital, digital folks are trying to be more traditional, and management consulting folks are looking to upend the industry. All the while, new entrants are testing, learning and trying out new business models.

Agency evolution is “inextricably tied” to an evolving and complex digital landscape. It is no longer black and white. It is getting harder and harder to parse out digital and non-digital work. As complexity rises, brands are bringing on more and more agencies who are expected to collaborate. Things are certainly getting more confusing. Yet, at the end of the day there are 5 forces shaping advertising. Focusing on these 5 forces can help organizations navigate the turbulence.

What are the 5 forces?

  1. An evolving & complex digital landscape
  2. Consumer control & empowerment
  3. Technology growth & proliferation
  4. An expectation for marketing to have a positive  impact on the bottom line
  5. A shift from making campaigns that are one and done to making experiences that live on – and are fueled by consumers and social interactions

The Benefits of an Arts Education

A few weeks ago a friend of mine, Gessica Silverman,  participated in the  Somerville Open Studios. I’ve known Gess for what seems like ages, although in reality it has only been 6 years. I still fondly recall the day she put her wish out there for the world to hear and told me she wanted to “make art.” The bravery it took to say her wish aloud and the work it took to bring it to life was inspiring. It has been many years since we colluded on ways to make art a reality. Now, Gess is doing what she loves best and sharing her talents with the world.

When we learned of Gess’ art show, my husband and I thought it would make a great family event. We packed the kids in the car and headed for Somerville. At the studio, Gess walked us through her pieces and explained how they were made, what they were made from, the concept behind the pieces, the parts of the art making process that gave her energy, and the parts of the process that proved to be challenging. Gess did a great job breaking the conversation down into kid friendly bits. However, while polite, the kids looked like they had some bottled up energy.

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How Doodling helps Facebook and Zappos Generate Ideas

Harvard Social Enterprise Conference 2012

A few weeks ago, I made myself a promise to do something every now and then that scared me. As luck would have it, a friend sent me an email asking if I knew any visual note takers who could help with an upcoming conference. She didn’t have a ton of money to hire an expert. Though my drawings only make sense to me (LOL!), I bit the bullet and offered myself up as a visual note taker in case she wasn’t able to find anyone. The thought of standing up in front of a crowd and visually expressing what was happening at the conference horrified me. It was then and there that I knew graphic facilitation could serve as my “one thing” that week.

After some back and forth, details of the conference changed and my skills, or at least attempt, was no longer needed. That same week I saw a Wall Street Journal article titled, “Doodling for Dollars.” If you’ve ever wondered about the benefits of doodling, read on. Well-known businesses like Facebook, Zappos, Microsoft and Citrix Systems are sending employees to graphic facilitation training and hiring consultants to sketch what is happening in meetings. These cartoon like drawings help to generate ideas, build collaboration, and simplify communications. And, from a learning standpoint, visualizing notes and ideas helps with retaining information.

In case you’re wondering what graphic facilitation or visual note taking is all about, take a look at these YouTube videos.

 

Scribing 101

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How Vodka Cranberries Helps Mad Men think Creatively

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  The cast and ...

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: The cast and crew of 'Mad Men' including Elisabeth Moss, Jon Hamm, Matthew Weiner and Christina Hendricks pose in the press room after 'Mad Men' wins Outstanding Drama Series during the 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE on September 18, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

With the premiere of season 5 of Mad Men just around the corner, I found Time magazine’s, How Getting Tipsy May Inspire Creativity fascinating. I’ve been in the advertising industry for nearly two decades and have become desensitized to drinking. Though Mad Men has been criticized for “promoting a glamourized and unrealistic image of functional alcoholism,a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found drinking moderate amounts of alcohol helped with creative problem solving. Perhaps that explains the acceptance of drinking as a way of life in the ad industry.

On the topic of Mad Men, alcohol, creativity and advertising…a few days ago I went to dinner with some friends. In catching up, one of my friends asked if I was still enjoying Mad Men. When I shared how Mad Men wasn’t relaxing because it was too much like work (umm, maybe not in all the ways you might be thinking!), my friends were surprised. What they were most surprised by was the alcohol. When I shared how I’ve known people who have kept alcohol in their desks, displayed alcohol on their bookshelves, and lugged in mini fridges to keep their beer (and vodka) cold, there was disbelief. I guess this type of thing isn’t normal in other industries.

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