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Archive for the ‘Creative Culture’ category

The U.S. Constitution – creativity & innovation in Action

July 9th, 2010

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, is a massive structure located near old-town Philadelphia (2 blocks from Independence Hall).  I visited the museum on July 4th – a fitting day to be prancing around Philadelphia – at 10:00 am that day, I was the only visitor walking around the 2nd floor  huge (circular) multimedia atrium and one of only 8 people to sit through the first showing in the theater-in-the-round presentation (“We the People”) on the Constitution.

This museum is a must-see if you want to understand how this country was founded on principles of freedom, democracy and innovation.  During the 17-minute “We the People” live show, it really started to sink in with me how special this country is that we live in…and how the combined creative genius of Jefferson, Franklin, Paine,  Adams, Hamilton and others living in America in the late 1770-1790 time-frame came together to form a government and nation never before attempted.

The Consitution was delivered on Sept 17, 1787, after months of debate and draft in what was to become know as the Philadelphia Convention.  So, not a bad place to be on July 4th, 2010.

Who Wrote the Constitution

Picture a team brainstorm meeting that you have attended in the past and the process and results it yielded.  Now picture a similar meeting – only the participants are Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and other luminaries.

Interesting “sketches” on many of the Constitution’s authors were written by William Pierce.

Madison is generally credited for drafting the Constitution. But the ideas contained in it were the result of 12 colonies/states (one state did not send a delegate) all contributing ideas and sending their most critical thinkers to the Philadelphia Convention.

Thus, the Convention had was incredible intellectual horse power behind it.  It also had ideas and ideals from men who had studied governments all over the world and throughout history.  The goals, in my opinion, for these men was to craft something that would suit the particular situation that America found itself in following the Revolution:

  • America was a relatively newly settled land, each State in the union had its own priorities and needs
  • The patriotism of the American people was at an all-time high
  • The States required coordination between them and a set of laws that would govern them
  • The entire operation could not be headed by a dictator, but required a unique set of democratic processes in order that all opinions/needs would be fairly heard

The Creative Process at Work

But Horse Power is not enough.  For amazing results to play out of this milieu, the leaders needed a process. I cannot claim to be an historical expert on the process that played out, but I plan to learn more about it.

By my estimation, the creative problem solving process they employed was astounding.  The process needed to identify the critical needs of the day, brainstorm creative ways that the States could COLLECTIVELY and separately, solve these issues – and come up with common vision from all this.  Finally, the group of delegates had to identify a future implementation process by which the newly formed solution could unfold over time as new ideas and needs were revealed.  At any one of these junctures, things could have fallen apart.

Failure to come up with a way to “unite” the states?  Things fall apart.

Can’t think of a way that we can ensure freedom ? Things fall apart

You fail to be able to get the delegates to “converge” on a set of solutions that benefits all? Things fall apart.

No options for growing the collective prosperity of a newly formed “united states”?  Things fall apart.

Can’t think of a process by which all this can evolve (try thinking out 200 years into the future – it ain’t easy!).  Things fall apart.

This was Pretty Darn Innovative

What made the US Constitution so innovative when it was adopted in 1787?

  • The initial “brainstorming” process include separate plans for the Constitution from Virginia, South Carolina, New Jersey, Alexander Hamilton (a plan resembling the British government) and Connecticut
  • The document was crafted so it could be additive & flexible (it has been amended 27 times since, including the first 10 amendments in 1787-8)
  • It was the first document of its kind in modern times to include Freedom as a central theme, yet the heated topic of the day was slavery, yet the plan avoided this issue initially so as to be ratified – otherwise the debate might have lasted years or decades and nothing would have been accomplished
  • The document itself allowed for a complete process for democratic vote and amendment
  • The document included an elaborate plan for Balance - a judiciary system, a legislative branch and executive decision-making
  • Required was some fair way for States to vote on future issues – so a system for representation and voting needed to be put into effect

This is Hard Work!

I must say, that Washington,  as a leader of this highly innovative new “experiment” has also impressed me.  Our first president had to take on a role that no human being had ever experienced – “President” of a “united” group of men and women who were anything but united.The newly united states were a pot full of idealistic, commercial, political and social ideas  – all simmering to a boil.  Washington had to be SOME POLITICIAN to get many factions to work with one another (heck his two top men, Jefferson and Adams, could not even get along), interpret the newly formed constitution, continue to protect his country, battle the concept of slavery in a land that had just declared itself free.

There’s a Lot More to this Story

I’m only scratching the surface here, being neither a top historian, nor actually being there over 200 years ago – I can only guess at some of the processes and innovations that came up during the Philadelphia Convention and beyond it…I’d love to hear your thoughts on additional areas of Creativity and Innovation that I”ve undoubtedly missed.

The History of Innovation…and where ideas come from

March 30th, 2010

Once in a while, I like to get an historical perspective on Creativity and Innovation.  I found four websites that are very helpful in doing this:

1) my favorite site is The Great Idea Finder - this site looks like it was created in 1996 and in serious need of  a web 2.0 programmer, but it’s full of great research, ideas and history.  Check out It’s About Time for a day-by-day history timeline, or Invention and Inventor Lists for interesting lists of patents, inventors, entrepreneurs and more.

2) About.com Inventors - this community is full of great insights on the history of inventors (a subset of creators and innovators in my mind).  Wonderful information on the history of many famous inventions and inventors -or search by your favorite invention

–> an added bonus to the site is “Today in History” - pick any date and the site has a wiki-list of famous inventions, patent filings, and note-worthy “aha-moments” that occurred on that date.   For example, this day, on March 30th, the following happened: “1956 Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land Is Your Land” was copyrighted.” Click on “Birthdays” and you find:

  • 1842 – Dr. Crawford Long was the first physician to use ether as anesthetic
  • 1865 – German physicist, Heinrich Rubens
  • 1876 – Clifford Whittingham Beers was a mental hygiene pioneer
  • 1892 – Polish mathematician, Stefan Banach
  • 1894 – Russian airplane builder, Sergei Ilyushin
  • 1912 – Andrew Rodger Waterson was a noted naturalist

3) the Inventors Timeline – takes you back to the Paleolithic Era then forward to present time, identifying all key inventions known to the world…a very interesting way to see how the pace of technology is quickening.  

4) the Timeline Index – a nice visual timelime of Inventors through the recent ages – also an interesting timeline for other areas such as artists, philosophers, actors, etc).  Click on any person’s name and it gives you a detailed page on their biography, related links, etc.

Where do all these ideas come from?

The big question that people often ask me about my work with entrepreneurs and innovators is “So, where do ideas come from? Conventional wisdom is that ideas come from an “AHA” moment that an inventor has – for example, the moment that Art Fry at 3M Corp realized he had inadvertently created a sticky substance that could be used on paper to create the “post-it” note,  or the moment that Archimedes sat in his bath tub and realized that the water he had displaced held an important clue to measuring density of matter.
But in looking HISTORICALLY at actual inventions that have made produced the most profound changes in human history —   the wheel, electricity, the automobile, the light bulb, the small-pox vaccination, the computer chip, the television,  the Worldwide Web — we find that there was no “AHA” moment…there were a myriad of smaller progressive discoveries leading to a key discover from one person or group that seems to solidify

I was speaking at the Computer History Museum this past week and arriving early, took the time to look at the work of Charles Babbage, who is regarded as the “Father of Computing.”  In 1822 he created an entirely mechanical “Difference Engine” (see photo I took to right, owned by Nathan Myrvold) which was meant to calculate mathematics (polynomials) and he later created a “Analytics Engine” that used punch cards. Babbage’s inventions resulted from a hundreds of years of European discoveries of how machines work, including work dating back to the time of Leonardo Davinci and the abacus dating back to Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.  It was Babbage who lived in a time where the “technology” (small metal parts) and mathematical understanding enabled him to implement the first working prototype.  Babbage worked through his lifetime to complete these designs.  The engine was a creation born from a series of historical baby steps.

Take a more recent invention – the PDA…Palm gets much of the credit for it, but its birth was due to a number of companies all working the overall product from various angles.   Psion, Apple,Xerox, others …a visit to the Computer History Museum in Sunnyvale shows the tale. There was no “aha” moment of innovation in the discovery of the PDA – it too seems to be more Evolutionary rather than Revolutionary.

In his book, The Myths of Innovation, author/entrepreneur/blogger/professor Scott Berkun makes a pretty good case for the fact that innovations never seem to evolve in a straight line.  Ideas are formed, tested out, failures occur, competitors emerge in an area of great “hope” and eventually some lucky company emerges as the one to popularize the new innovation.

According to Berkun, ideas come from either hard work in a specific direction, or the combination of two or more (heretofore separate) ideas, or curiosity, or wealth, or necessity or luck — or some combination of all of these.

In his book The Medici Effect, my friend Frans Johansson points out that some of the most prolific bursts of new ideas (such as those found in 15th Century Italy, banked by the Medici Family in Florence) come from a confluence of different disciplines or cultures, combined in new and unusual ways.  Johansson delineates “directional” and “intersectional” innovation.  Directional innovation – like the light bulb which  Thomas Edison found through years of testing, is evolutionary with a focused linear path.  Intersectional innovation – for example the Googles combination of new search algorithms with an approach to listing advertising as words -  is ALSO evolutionary.  The research the Google founders did at Stanford was  descendant  from previous work at Yahoo and Infoseek, and the advertising approach they used was borrowed from goto.com (later became Overture).  It was the fortuitous combination of these two ideas (intersection) that led to the most innovative company of all time.   Serendipity certainly played a role for both Edison and Google founders – more on that in a future blog post.

I’m challenged to think of an example of innovation which was not in some way evolutionary – building upon prior ideas, research or thought.

I’m curious if any of my readers can think of examples…

The iOrganization – Building That Innovation Culture

February 24th, 2010

Just read Josh Cable’s Industry Week article on Building an Innovation Culture.

Several thoughts on this, as someone who has worked for both large (IBM, Apple, Paramount/Viacom, AOL) companies in my past  — all of whom where relatively innovative, and someone who has worked with many innovative START-UP companies in the past 20 years…

I agree with Josh that some tenets of a culture of innovation are:

  • risk-taking  and unconventional thinking are encouraged
  • technical personnel are pushed to venture beyond their comfort zones
  • leadership takes a role in shaping this “entrepreneurial” behavior with the firm
  • specific corporate roles (like Chief Innovation Officer) are used to drive policy and action
  • mentoring programs from senior execs to model/encourage organizational creativity

This principals mirror many that I talked about in a previous post “10 Ways Leaders Create Innovation”.

However, I may disagree with Josh on one fundamental point – it’s not just the TECHNICAL personnel that one can push, it is ALL DEPARTMENTS.  There are enclaves of originality/entrepreneurship often locked up within many different parts of the organization and leadership can influence innovative/creative behavior from many different departments…but it takes very different forms in the iOrganization.  I call this “functional creativity” and the idea is to unlock it in several areas – not just technical/product sides of the business.  For example:

  • Marketing can be very innovative in the way it marks target markets and draws in new customers
  • Sales can become very creative in the way it sells/distributes to products
  • R&D can innovate in product, design, and “customer development” (how it includes the customer in its design process
  • HR can be innovative in the way it sets the culture (building upon the example leaders are setting)
  • Production/Operations can be creative in how it reduces expenses and re-engineers core “activities”
  • and…the entire organization can be innovative in the way it develops new business models (as a team)

I call a firm that has 3 or more of these innovation pockets moving at once The iOrganization (The Innovative Organization).  The typical iOrganization has 3 overall elements combined into one: (a)  the leadership to set an example of how to be creative in a corporate setting , (b) the culture to match the leaders’ examples – one that embraces change, flexibility and risk-taking, and (c) surrounded by the right environment — leading to a the bias for creative action.



In the next 5 years, I believe that adopting an iOrganiztion mentality and  innovation as a “survival” strategy and not just a growth strategy for firms, as Josh points out in his article. And the senior team (particularly the CEO) have to exude the qualities that they want their iOrganization to follow – creative behavior can be taught and caught.

In a recent email exchange with author Robert Brands (a new book on corporate innovation called “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival”), we both concurred that this is where the iOrganization typically falls short – the leadership has to set the example, and has to do it in concrete and visible ways.
I’d like to hear others’ thought on this and real world examples  – please comment on this blog post, or tweet me at

Freedom to Fail – Part 2

September 25th, 2009

In my last post, I talked about Vinod Khosla’s “freedom to fail” thinking.  But, how do entrepreneurs develop this? Is it acquired or are they born with it?

Freedom to Fail Learned?

One wonders: where does “freedom to fail” come from? Some of us seem to be born with a “spirit of exploration” (one that tends to drive our parents nuts in early years). Think of Ted Turner in his younger years (dropped out of Brown U) –probably exhibited a high “freedom to fail” component in many things he did – a certain irreverent personality. Picture Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard undergrad (failure to finish Harvard? so what!).  Or, modern day repeat, Mark Zuckerberg on an even faster race to financial freedom.  It doesn’t appear that they harbored a concern with failure.  I’m sure there were some healthy debates with college-paying parents, but ultimately the some of the greatest entrepreneurial examples of our times seem to exhibit a freedom to fail.

Yet, for others, environment definitely shapes our “Freedom to Fail”.  It comes with maturity.  Did parents use an encouraging touch? Were influential teacher allow students to make mistakes and learn from them. Did peers reinforce mistakes or mock them? Tim Brown, Found/CEO of IDEO talks about this “freedom to play” in his TED Talk from 2008 Serious Plan conference.

Pixar’s “Peer Culture”

Greg Brandeau, SVP of Pixar loves to talk about the culture of Pixar that the executive team has developed. The company strongly values collectigregbrandeauve creativity – the “peer” culture in which employees are encouraged to help one another out. Greg points out the “culture makes the team” – by that he means that keeping a culture where it’s safe for one express their opinions, make mistakes, learn from others (Pixar University has an incredible number of topics/courses for employees). Key to this is attracting VERY talented people – the rule of thumb is hire someone brighter and smarter than yourself. However, at Pixar “the Team builds the culture” – the company is run as a meritocracy (the better ideas float to the top) and innovation is all about the concept itself not whose idea it was in the first place. All of this basically creates an environment where an extremely bright set of people are not afraid to express their creativity.

Setting the Creative Culture

Patty McCord, the SVP of “Talent” and architect of Netflix’s unique culture, says that allowing people to fail at what they doPatty1_image is one of the most critical elements of the success of Netflix. At Netflix Inc., CTO (“Chief Talent Officer”) Patty McCord and founder, Reed Hastings, have taken this one step further, creating the “Freedom and Responsibility” culture. The company has deliberately built its culture in a way that allows employees the freedom to experiment, take on challenges and sometimes even fail. In essence, by giving employees the freedom to create and solve problems on their own accord, they fight off bureaucracy and control issues at the company grows.

You can see Patty’s Freedom and Responsibility Culture posted in PPT format. Patty is joining me on October 7th at UC Berkeley for my class on Innovation, Creativity & The Entrepreneur and the unveiling of a virtual case study on Netflix that we filmed at Netflix.