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Archive for the ‘Creative People’ category

Personal Brand and Creativity

May 14th, 2010

I was interviewed by Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0, on his website this week on the topic of Personal Branding and Creativity.  It got me thinking about the nature of creativity and personal brands on the internet.

In the early days of Yahoo, when I took over marketing and sales, it was clear that the BRAND at the company was both the name/identify of “Y-A-H-O-O” as well as the personalities of Dave Filo and Jerry Yang.  So, our earliest marketing at Yahoo was not expensive television commercials or , it was simple public relations aimed at the top US consumer reads – so with minimal marketing spend we ended up with stories on Filo & Yang in Rolling Stones, People, NY Times, Wired, and more.  All within 6 months of funding and officially launching the company.

In 1996, when I formed Interactive Minds, one could already see the power of Personalities (aka personal branding) on the Web. I teamed up with Howard Rheingold to form a company called Electric Minds.  Electric Minds was initially funded by private angels and Softbank Ventures, but did not survive…we failed to find a business model that would work in that period of the Internet – and our cost structure to produce an early community site was insurmountable.  However, it was an extremely creative endeavor – putting together PERSONAL BRANDS from a variety of technology experts that Howard knew and positioning them as global experts in their field of expertise, then surrounding them with many early social elements.  In a funny way, Electric Minds was an early pre-curser to Social Media market -but was the example of a company TOO EARLY to take advantage of the explosion.  Timing is everything.
Several months after Electric Minds came along, another early community company called The Mining Company, founded by former CEO of Prodigy Networks (@kurnit) came along.  They changed their name to About.com, went public in the dotcom bubble period and today are one of the few pre-bubble community companies still running strong.  About.com took the approach of giving thought leaders for thousands of areas (dogs, boating, stamp collecting) a “voice” and a set of tools for building community.

This is the first example I can think of where personal branding occurred on the Internet with NON-POP CULTURE people/experts and elevated them to Internet notoriety.

In the following years, personal branding has come into vogue in many ways.  First, there as the “Internet Pioneer” – Howard Rheingold is a great example of this. He was followed by Jim Cramer, The Motley Fool, Matt Drudge and Perez Hilton.

Next came the waves of famous Bloggers…..and the age of Youtube celebrities, some of whom, like LonelyGirl15 were not even real…

Now we have Twitterati. 5 Million followers and counting for @aplusk (AshtonKutcher). Byte-sized personal branding at your service.

With each wave of personalities that come to the Internet, they carry their own unique form of creativity – in “voice”/personality, style, and antics.  No one quite communicated like Howard Rheingold (or dresses like him), no one quite had the style of Arianna Huffington, no one has the short-form entertainment appeal of Violet Blue or the techno-social grace of Michael Arrington.

The latest wave of online personalities that are growing include those who are able to capture the heart and spirit of the millenials in several new areas: social consciousness, global savvy, and celebrity.  One great way to watch the celebrity arena is Celebrifi , by Blue Buzz Networks, which I’m mentoring.

Keep a watch for these areas.

See the interview at : http://www.personalbrandingblog.com/personal-branding-interview-randy-haykin/

I’m now thinking about what comes next. :)

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…

Creativity at Any Age

February 20th, 2010

I read this week’s Wall Street Journal article “Fleeting Youth, Fading Creativity” (WSJ, Feb 20, 1010, p. W3) with fascination…

The article, by Jonah Lehrer, suggests the following:

  • Scientific & technical revolutions are often led by younger minds (think Newton, Watson, Einstein, Madame Curie, Jobs, Andreessen)
  • Certain fields lend themselves to innovation by younger minds, including Physics, Math & Poetry, Chess
  • There seems to be an inverted U-curve that describes human capacity for creative thought, with the top of the u-curve coming somewhere between the ages of 25 and 50.
  • The disciplines of  Biology, History, Novel-writing, and Philosophy might not peak until their late 40′s
  • Many individuals have increased their creativity later in life by switching fields of study (thus potentially applying learnings from one field to another in a “intersectional” manner (see my prior blog post on this called “Intersectional Creativity& Mash-ups”)

One key part of this argument I do buy is this:  when we are young, we are likely to take more risks and we are likely to be less encumbered by rules bestowed upon us by marriage, work, community, church, etc.  In other words the YOUNGER MIND, in general, does have the advantage of being FREE to make key connections that the older mind has to work harder to achieve amidst a cadre of society-driven rules which have been enforced for a longer period of time.

While I don’t disagree with the premise that certain professions require young/fresh minds to attack them, the author neglected to mention the wide variety of creative careers that have taken off for LATE BLOOMERS in many fields.

Old Farts Have Been Creative Too!

The NY Times article highlights “Five sicentists who made their marks while they were young”, including: Archimedes (in his 20s when sitting in the bathtub), Marie Curie (just turned 30 when investigating radioactivity), Galileo Galilei (speed of objects falling in late 20′s), William Lawrence Bragg (x-rays and crystal structure; Nobel laureate at age 25), and J. Robert Oppenheimer (Manhattan Project lead, first discoveries at 23 years old).

Indeed, these great discoveries (involving major sciences) were made by youngsters who could view the world in an alternative way and remove themselves from the scientific “rule-sets” of their days. (Archimedes was quite fortunate to thrive in an ancient society of Greece that rewarded created thinking)

But there is a variety of evidence that older humans have the capacity for creativity & innovation – well into their “retirement” years.

Here are a few I immediately dug up:

1) Ben Franklin - perhaps one of the greatest of all American Inventors – invented the Lightening Rod at age 44 and discovered electricity at 46, drafted the Declaration of Independence at age 70, invented bifocals in late 70′s.

2) Henry Ford - founded Ford Motors in late 30s and geared up production lines in his late 40′s.

3) Sam Walton – launched the first Walmart, in , at age 44.

4) Ray Kroc – was 52 when he incorporated the innovative new approach later called “McDonalds”.

5) Ray Kurzweil - author of more than 10 books on topic of scientific thought and futuristic thinking, has come up with some of his most impressive new ideas long after the age of 50 (he was born in 1948 and is 62 this year).  His book The Singularity Is Near was published when he was 55)

6) Alfred Hitchcock - his best and most creative films were done after the age of 50.

7) Guru Singh – one of my friends and mentors, Guru Singh, who is now over 60 is one of the most creative authors, teachers and global social conscience innovators that I know. Check out his blog !

Can you think of other examples?

Conceptual vs Experimental Innovators

A great article from Wired Magazine, written in July 2006, reminds us that Genius can come at many ages. Researcher David Galenson (Harvard) underscores the difference between creative activity can be found in two forms: “Conceptual” innovators and “Experimental Innovators”.  The Conceptual Innovators tend to come up with their ideas at an early age, in big dramatic leaps into new vectors – the Experimental Innovators seem to have a slower path to the great “aha” moment, trying many variations over time (think: Thomas Edison).
I like to think about Bill Gates – he appears to be a Conceptual Innovator in his youth in the area of software, but in later life (post 50 now), he is starting to innovate in new areas  Oddly enough, a number of employees attracted to Microsoft, including Jeff Raikes, Nathan Myrvold, Paul Allen – all seem to be blooming in new creative ways – I suppose they are “experimental” innovators now.

In my role at UC Berkeley, I try to surround myself with the ideas, theory, practice and real world examples of great minds, creativity and innovation…and it seems to come in many forms and many ages.  It all gives me comfort in knowing that at age 49, I still have plenty of time to make my major creative contribution to society.  

What are your thoughts on this topic? Respond below or  Tweet me at http://twitter.com/randyhaykin

Hey, what’s the Big Idea?

January 5th, 2010

How many times have you read a good book and thought to yourself “That’s a good idea, I should apply that to my own life“….but invariably you did NOT apply it to your life because you had no specific way to do so, or you forgot, or you were just too lazy to do so?

Big Ideas in Short Bites

Brian Johnson probably had these thoughts too, but he decided to do something about it…so he’s spent the past 18 months (much of it in Bali – SWEET!) reading his selection of the Top 101 books of all time in philosophy, self-help, business/leadership, and spirituality…and created short compendium notes (think: “cliff notes with actionable items”) of the best-loved books of all time.

Want to apply principles of Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins, Mihaly Csikszentmihayi or Don Miguel Ruiz to your life? Then go get the overviews at PhilosophersNotes , sign up — and gobble up great learnings in short bites.  Brian’s made if available in written, audio and (sometimes) video versions. He’s entertaining and genuinely a nice guy :)

How Creative is this really?

For those of us who suffer from CNG (a.k.a. “Cliff Notes Guilt” as in: “I really should have read the whole book for class but I used cliff notes to get me over hump”), the question you are probably asking is “So… where is the creativity or innovation here”?

I think Brian is onto something very creative – see  this video on his latest project called “LIFE 101″

He has begun to map out the storyboard for a future book/series that will mesh together the great ideas contained in the first 101 books he’s read and reviewed.  This seems to be a creative idea that perhaps others have thought of, but has any one single (other than a book reviewer) actually chosen, read, digested, analyzed, and re-formulated the top 101 philosophy books? That seems useful to me.

See Brian’s blog for more on this…

From “Creativity to Innovation”

If Brian is able to create a Mash-up of the top 101 books, what is the result? Is it possible he will create new connections and intersections (see my past post on Intersectional Creativity and Mashups) that others have not seen before.  Yes, probable. The exciting thing is that by having created a forum in Philosophers Notes where others can view and take action on these books, I think he’s actually using today’s technology in a very innovative way – to turn Ideas and Creativity into actionable results.

Looking forward to Master Brian’s results in the coming year!

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.