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New Years Resolutions: Gratitude & Living in the Present

January 2nd, 2011 by admin 6 comments »

Yesterday marked the 365th day for an experiment that I started on January 1 of this year   –> a “creative” online experiment designed to focus me on “Living in the Present Moment.”

The Gratitude 365 Experiment

Historically, on January 1st, I devise a checklist of challenges to accomplish for the year ahead, then plan out the year in order to achieve the checklist.  But, like many of you, I’ve often found that the hardest goals to achieve are the ones that require a “state of mind” (happiness, gratitude, joy, love, giving, etc). At year end, I look back and think it was overall a “joyous” year, but I’m not sure how I felt day-to-day.

One of my top life values is “living in the present moment“. This is something I am challenged by each year — perennially I add it to the the New Years resolutions list, but fail to find a way to execute on it. One of the smartest things I’ve done in my life to focus on the present moment is to marry my wife, Patty.  As those around us know, she has a knack for being in the present moment, so she often reminds me when I’m drifting away from this elusive goal.  But what to do when Patty has other things to tend to :)  ?

For 2010, I decided to use the power of Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, and Facebook to try an experiment:  Gratitude 365.   For each day of the year, I focused on the things around me:  people, activities, and every-day joys and twogged (tweeted and blogged) one thing each day THAT I AM GRATEFUL FOR ….along with an associated visual (photo, drawing, image, video, etc).

The result of my visual experiment is on Flickr here.  The daily chronicle of things I posted is here on my Twitter posts for the year.  I found that Facebook was the best medium for encouraging ongoing response from friends/family to my  my daily musings, so I “Twogged” to facebook, twitter and LinkedIn simultaneously.

Living in the Present

It seems to me that to live in the present moment is one of the hardest things to do.

“To be completely in the Present Moment, one must Forgive the Past…and Faith the Future.”

- Guru Singh, 2010

My friend, Guru Singh, presented this year at my UC Berkeley  class on “Innovation, Creativity & the Entrepreneur,” and answered a student’s question which was “How does one live in the Present Moment?”   He pointed out that happiness itself is tied to the percentage of time that we spend living in the present moment…and few people on this earth can claim that their % is high.

I’ve thought about that over and over since the 10/27 class…and so have many of my students.

  • If I’m thinking about a grudge I hold, or something I failed at, or a fear someone placed in my mind, then I”m living in the PAST and haven’t forgiven myself or others…and I’m not in the present moment
  • If I’m thinking about something I want/need, or something I’ve planned, or day-dreaming about somewhere I’d rather be, or “bored” (a sure sign I’m not in the present) or considering somewhere I need to do, then I’m also not in the present.
  • If I’m WORRIED about a future activity, relationship, interchange, or …then I am lacking faith in the future.

How does one begin to forgive the past and faith the future? Perhaps by acknowledging the little things that we have each day, remembering to notice and acknowledge the things we take for granted, that are right under our nose.  Or perhaps to remember that many things we have are gifts from God, and not at all something we earned. This includes the homes we live in, the people around us, the food we eat, the water we drink.  Ask someone who has spent significant time in a Third World nation  and you realized that much of what we have is far and above what the “rest of world” has.

How do I “Faith” the Future?

Faith in the future means being aware that there is a higher source looking out for you, and trusting that this source (call it YHWH, Allah, Jesus, Holy Spirit, God, or Divine Energy – whatever pleases you most) has a plan for you.  Reading the book America’s Prophet (by Bruce Feiler) this holiday weekend, I was reminded that the phrase we American’s have chosen on our dollar bill is “In God we Trust”.

If I have faith and trust in a higher source, then I am willing to take more risk AND go with the flow.

For me, “Faithing” the future, does not mean giving up planning.  Actually, according to StrengthsFinder tests, my top life strength is “Futuristic”, so it would be unfortunate if I were not to use my top strength.  It means creating your best plans and setting the wheels in motion to achieve those plans, but also having faith when those little daily challenges test us, to “stay the course.”  And it means having the flexibility

What daily Gratitude taught me

“Gratitude 365″ was a helpful experiment in learning about myself.

I found that:

  • being grateful for things in my life mostly places me in the present moment – gratitude about the past is a nice dream, and gratitude about the future is a wish - the only real measure of PRESENT MOMENT is a moment of gratitude for what God has given me.
  • noticing things I’m grateful for requires focus – it’s hard to do if I’m stuck in the past, or dreaming about the future.  It is possible to simple close my eyes and think of 5-10 things I’m grateful for, just by focusing on what it is that I have.  Nothing else is required
  • once I practice noticing things I’m grateful for, I find it easier and easier to do

Ultimately, I think I’ve confirmed for myself that the things in life I’m most grateful for in life are relationships - everything else is really a “story”, a brief moment of happiness, or a whim.  So, for this year, the focus will be on creation, resolution, restoration, and deepening of relationships.

“ You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever–because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

- Steve Jobs, Stanford Graduation speech, June 2005

Gratitude may be the source of all great virtues

I’m glad that I chose Gratitude for the focus of 2010. It creates a foundation for continuing my own understanding of how to live a life of gratitude and focus on the present moment.  As the Roman philosopher Cicero said (circa 40 BC):

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

Creativity Tool: Mind Mapping

December 18th, 2010 by admin 1 comment »

I was inspired this week by a set of mind-maps delivered at the end of a course by student Bryan Alvarez, who is a PhD  Psychology student in my UC Berkeley class on Innovation, Creativity & the Entrepreneur.

Bryan sat in each class this past semester, diligently creating little masterpieces of art/notes while the class discussed all matters of creativity,innovative organizations, famous entrepreneurs, design thinking, wicked problems, and  living in the present moment (to name a few topics). Bryan is also using mind maps to create the game-plan for a very ambitious project he’s under-taken at UC Berkeley called the Virtual Human Body.

What is a Mind Map?

Mind maps are writings/drawings that may include words, graphics, notes, tasks, etc…which are arranged around key ideas, words, or thoughts.  A nice overview of Mind Maps is given on MindTools videos by Amy Carlson & James Manktelow.  Mind maps can created with a few simple words connected by lines, or they can be elaborately drawn as near works of art.  Bryan Alvarez had a simple way of putting it:  “A mind map is a precise way to consolidate a lot of information into an organized system that appeals to our perception in an intuitive manner and can fit on a single page. If a picture is worth a thousand words, one good mind map is worth a thousand notes.

How are Mind maps used?

I’ve seen mind maps used for note-taking, speech-giving, list creation, creative problem solving, visualizing concepts, creating to-do lists, organizing information and group brainstorming.  A quick check on Google yields some wonderful and beautiful mind-maps – like works of art.

Since Alvarez has studied the Brain and Cognitive Science, I thought I’d ask him: “In what ways do you feel that mind-mapping correlates to the way that your mind/brain stores and retains information?”

Here’s what he said:

1. There are at least 17 dimensions (different categories of features) that the visual system uses when creating a visual image. These include dimensions like color, shape, size, orientation, texture, luminance, etc. Map mapping takes advantage of many of these to group related objects (or distinguish unrelated objects) by color, borders, textural patterns, branches extending at different orientations, etc.

2. Your brain can hold about 3-4 different things in mind at one time. This is the capacity of the average working memory. If you are shown 10 numbers very briefly (9238547601) and ask to memorize and recite them in the right order, you will likely remember about 3-4 numbers in the correct sequence. However, if the numbers happen to be ordered in a meaningful way with a clear pattern (0123456789) you will remember all of them easily. In this case, you have “subitized” the 10 bits of information into one meaningful concept. Mind mapping works the same way by grouping different branches with different colors, textures, etc., and by nesting the details of a concept (e.g., 10 different numbers) within a broader framework (e.g., numbers ascending 0 to 9).

3. Mind mapping demands a certain level of attention and focus compared to rote copying. Mapping necessitates an understanding of the way things relate and thus challenges the mapper to find the broad structure of an idea and it’s related pieces and organize them in a way that clearly shows this relationship visually. This means a person must pay close attention, think about and absorb the information deeper, and thus understand it better to structure it in a way that is most meaningful. Attention is a critical part of learning and memory — you learn things better that you attend to and you remember things better that you’ve learned

These are just a few of the cognitive benefits I get from mind mapping. I’m sure there are many more!

How does one get started?

Using Mind Maps is easy, and you can start with no training at all, by following a few simple rules:

  1. Place your central idea, problem, focus-area, etc – at the center of your paper within a small balloon or box, allowing space on all sides of the idea.
  2. Consider roughly how many major sub-topics or “tracks” might emanate from the central thought (and add 2, assuming something new will come to mind later).  Then plan your space around the mind-map so there will be room for all the sub-topics.
  3. Starting with sub-topic #1, create a line to a new box or circle.  Label the line to the new concept with the sub-heading topic name.  You can add a drawing depicting the new sub-topic (for example a drawing of a book if the new sub-topic is “information”) at the end of this sub-topic line.
  4. As new ideas come related to sub-topics of sub-topics, you can branch the line from the central thought and create further branches. Think of the way a tree grows (roots or branches). The central trunk represents a sub-topic, and branches coming off it are further descriptions or sub-sub-topics, and minor branches then become even further sub-sub-sub topics. This is the Divergence step.
  5. New information can be added later to your Mind Map, but finding the appropriate spot to add it and simply drawing a new line.  When you are done, the  map may have “branches” coming out of it in all directions.
  6. After you are done with your drawing, you can go back and make new connections between branches, add color to more easily see the sections/sub-sections or add drawings for major topical findings.  This helps the mind map TELL A STORY.
  7. Some find that an important Mind Map can be improved by consolidated and made more crisp by re-drawing it and re-thinking its structure.  (like a “convergence” step)

Technology Tools Available

There are a variety of tools out on the market that you can use with your Windows PC, Mac or iPad.  MindMeister, is an online tool that allows you to create and share mind maps that reside in the cloud. My students tend to use MindMeister because it’s free/low-cost and can be shared and shown from any browser.  MindJet is a software company specializing in software for the Mac and PC – it is more sophisticated that MindMeister, and better suited to business use in my mind.

Resources for Mind Mapping

There are several great books on the market about mind mapping.  The ones I like best are:

Four Key Elements of Innovative Marketing

November 27th, 2010 by admin 14 comments »

A tradition at my U.C. Berkeley class “Creativity & Innovation & The Entrepreneur” (ICE) is to set aside one class each semester to discuss “innovations in Marketing”.  I ask the students to each contribute 1-2 examples of highly creative, imaginative and innovative marketing and post them to a WIKI.  This year, we had over 70 postings and great discussion in class about the nature of the “creative” advertising agency, and what makes a marketing campaign highly innovative.

As a former marketing exec (IBM, Apple, Yahoo, Netchannel, Overture and others), I’ve worked with hundreds of highly creative people  – in fact, at a place like Apple, marketing seemed to be a never-ending game between creatives as to who could create the most innovative plan.

I learned that sometimes, just simple ingenuity and the element of surprise and delight works wonders…for example the simplicity of the Apple logo, the release of the Mac in 1984, the irreverence of the iPod and simplicity of iPhone advertisements, all underscore the innovative culture of Apple. Our class found several great examples of creative, yet highly simple, marketing campaigns in every-day advertising:

The game in marketing is to figure out who can create the most innovative ad campaigns, the most effective lead drivers, and the best branding and positioning. Naturally, with so many creative people in this industry, lots of creative ideas occur.  How many are truly innovative?

Top Four Elements of Innovative Marketing
This year in class, we tore apart several of the marketing campaigns to figure out what makes for truly innovative marketing.  Here are the five elements of innovative marketing that came from our Wiki this year:

1. Highly innovative marketing campaigns employ the age-old craft of story-telling, sometimes allowing the user to fill in the missing pieces of the story. Everyone loves a good story.  And, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other sites are perfect viral channels for the spread of a good story.  Here are several examples of highly viral campaigns that tell a great (and personal) story:

Google posted a particularly clever campaign during a period when it was under fire from the press for some of its practices.  5 million viewers have watched the viral video.  The video shows the “human” (softer) side of Google (often said to be a bit “tc in its culture) and the viewer is pulled into the story with a certain “that could be me” feel.

Not to be out-marketed, Facebook posted a similar video recently, although its viral effects have been minimal so far. But still, it’s fun to watch.

Another very effective campaign that tells a poignant story to get its point across is the Dove Evolution campaign that hit the ‘Net in October, 2006.  This innovative marketing example used stop photography to get its point across, leaving the reader to think about Dove in an entirely new light.

2. Highly innovative campaigns draw the user in …often engaging the user in the story or campaign. Given the nature of the social web today, the best way to engage many users is to draw them in on a personal level.  One of my all-time favorite viral videos “Where the Hell Is Matt?” (33 million views) does an amazing job at this.

One great example of this is the Pepsi Refresh project, which has (as of this writing) attracted 640,000 viewers. The project engages entrepreneurs around the country in submitting socially beneficial business plans.  The music and visuals suck you in and tell a motivating story.

This Nissan Sentra advertisement highlights the takes personalization to an new level, but actually showing the main character living out of his Nissan.  Young audiences could relate well to this.

3. Innovative campaigns draw their creativity from the intersection of 2 or more marketing devices. When one discovers the power of a new medium but leverages the legacy of an older medium, great things happen.  For example, Paranormal Activity was a run-away low-budget box-office smash, based on the incredible viral marketing the film used prior to theatrical introduction.  One key element of this was the combination of Twitter and viral video.  People “tweeted their screams”.

Here are several other, more recent, examples:

  • Groupon is combining crowd-sourcing with location-based marketing to craft campaigns that draw big crowds into locations for on-the-spot promotions
  • Volvo – teamed up with Double-Click to create innovative banner ads that incorporate live Twitter feeds
  • Ikea came up with a completely novel use for Facebook “tagging” by allowing users to claim prizes

The campaigns that are most innovative will come up with novel ways of combining 2 or more forms of existing marketing to arrive at new combinations.

4. Highly innovative marketing utilizes an element of surprise and delight , which crosses the expected with the unexpected.  The result is a campaign that people want to share among themselves and watch over and over.

  • Coke used this highly effective campaign to brand itself to happiness and fun – and who doesn’t want happiness and fun?
  • Burger King allowed people to “have it their way” by personalizing the experience, delighting and surprising their customers in the process
  • A favorite among the 20-something crowd is the Old Spice viral videos from 2009 which used surprise and humor to re-build the brand’s image.

These are four approaches to creating innovation in Marketing.  What other examples match up to these four findings?  What other sources of innovation defines the Marketing field?

Innovation in an 8000 year old profession?

October 16th, 2010 by admin 29 comments »

How do we identify Innovation in one of the world’s oldest professions?  No, not THAT profession, the other oldest profession: the wine-making profession. I’ve long had a love-affair with wine, not just because of it’s social lubricant qualities and enjoyment on the palette, but also because the process of wine-making is itself a CREATIVE endeavor, honed over 8000 years into both a craft and an enormous industry at the same time.

I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15)


Wine-making starts with selection & planting of a  terroire and vines. The soil that the vine is placed in is critical to the fruit it will produce.  The vine has to be trained, stressed, pruned, watered – nurtured just right.  The weather, over which the vintner has little control, dictates the region that one might choose to do this in. For thousands of years the wine-maker (typically trained by family over generations) would determine by touch, taste, smell, if the grapes on the vine were ripe for the picking. Each “varietal” of wine has to be harvested: de-stemmed, crushed, re-crushed, then  mixed/combined with the juice from other grapes (most wines are not 100% of one varietal), and finally set away in barrels to ferment and age.  All the decisions involved in each of these steps involve a certain creative/artistic approach. No two seasons or harvests (vintage) are the same, no two sets of produce are the same. By the time the wine is bottled and labeled with a branding message, the wine has gone through a considerable number of creative steps.  This is an annual form of creative problem solving process hat the wine-maker goes through each year: “in what way can I maximize the variables to produce the most optimal yield, quality and product for each vintage?”. The art of wine-making is a great example of the creative process at work…over the past 8000 years.

The quintessential Entrepreneurs

By the same token I have always found the wine-maker to be the perfect example of American entrepreneur in action. Part creator, part business-man, part risk-taker.  A successful winery involves a blend of art, science and management.

This week in class at UC Berkeley my students in “Innovation, Creativity & the Entrepreneur” class (ICE, as it is fondly known), were introduced to Steve Mirassou, founder of Steven Kent Winery (Livermore, CA).  Steve, who is as passionate about wine as I’d imagine his forefathers were, is a direct lineage of the OLDEST wine family in the United States – he is a 6th generation in the wine business. His great-great-great grandfather started one of the earliest vineyards in the US, which later became the Mirassou Family Vineyards in the San Jose area (sold to Gallo). Steve started his own winery in Livermore in the 1992 with his father.  Today the winery produces some ~30,000 cases of wine per year and offers 2 wine clubs (“direct to consumer” model), many varietals, and just launched a new high-end label called Lineage. Steve is a highly unique individual – a blend of business talent, artistic taste and PASSION for what he does for a living (we all want that!).  He lives and breathes wine.  Here’s a clip of Steven which is part of a video I took for my Creativity class:

Also joining Steve was another entrepreneur, Alyssa Rapp, founder of BottleNotes - a leading online start-up in the

AJR New Headshot

area of wine-making. Alyssa’s enthusiasm for wine comes out in a different form from Steven. She loves educating the public about wine growing, tasting and collecting.  Bottlenotes offers interesting new approaches to wine, using a unique mix of events, online information, social media, email marketing and more.  Alyssa spoke to our class about innovations, particularly in marketing and online media, in the industry over the past decade, but she also cautioned that the regulation of the industry by the government and the pressure on the industry by lobbyists is something is a constant check-and-balance to potential creativity and innovation.

Innovation in the wine industry

A key question that came up in discussions with Steve and Alyssa was the nature of innovation in an somewhat slow-growing and notoriously stodgy industry.  The wine business in the US and abroad has seen considerable consolidation in the past 25 years. Today, 80% of wine production in the US is owned by a small number of huge wineries.  Are these large players innovating or simply consolidating? Are mid and smaller wineries showing signs of innovation or creativity?

The question I pose here:  based on examples like BottleNotes, Steven Kent and others – is the wine industry showing signs of innovation in the past 5 years…or is it simply evolving?  I’d like to hear reader’s thoughts and in my next post will share some of my own thoughts on the topic.

Evolution and Innovation – where do Ideas come from?

September 17th, 2010 by admin 15 comments »

I’ve recently been giving thought to the evolution of  ideas …and how they lead to innovation.

Peter Drucker, in his book Innovation and Entrepreneurship, points to 7 “sources” of  organizational innovation – seven PLACEs where organizational ideas come from:

1) Unexpected consequences - there are many examples of this through history, but one well-known example was the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928 is a classic.

2) Incongruities – Drucker points out that whenever an industry has a steadily growing market, but falling profit margins for its participants an “incongruity” exits – and some company will eventually exploit this incongruity by inventing a lower cost or more efficient way to compete – for example, process innovations in the steel industry.

3) Process needs -the excample of the Guttenberg press, is to me a major change in process.  It was borne out of the need for mass-producing the Bible and other valued writings, and it allowed for a major shift in the process of putting these writings to paper.

4) Industry & market changes – often innovation is born out of competitive necessity – your company either comes up with a more innovative business model, product, marketing campaign…or you die.  A great example of this is – its cloud-based SaaS business model was more efficient for many customers than the competitors and it stole customers away from other players as it grew.

5) Demographic changes – in the mid 1990′s many first-time users were coming onto the web, causing a demographic shift to the Internet, which companies like Yahoo, Excite, AltaVista and Google created innovations around

6) Changes in Perception – we are living through a period in time right now, best described by Richard Florida as The Great Reset, in which Americans and Europeans are dramatically changing their perceptions of spending, real estate ownership, needs vs wants – and there are a variety of innovations that will likely be born out of this shift.

7) New Knowledge – many an invention has come from new knowledge of the materials, processes, or changing needs of the customer. For example, the computer chip invented by   Walk through the Computer History Museum in Santa Clara, CA and you can see many, many examples of how technology has progressed over the past 60 years as new knowledge of tubes, transistors, microprocessor became available through research labs.

One of the students in my UC Berkeley class claims an 8th source might be “male hormones” or pro-creation as he pointed out that the male species can be extremely CREATIVE in ways of approaching the opposite sex.

While this one seems a bit far-fetched to me, I personally believe that the Collective Conscience could be considered an 8th source of Innovation.  Jung first coined this term in pychoanalysis to refer to conscious thoughts and ideas that are not personal, but are a shared part of our culture or of being human. He called common ideas shared by humans “archetypes” and he claimed to find examples in his psychoanalysis of behaviors resulting from the “collective conscience” (a form of sub-conscience).   Ever wonder why several scientists seem to simultaneously come to a similar conclusion; or several entrepreneurs are working on a similar new product/service at the same moment in time?  My guess is that there is an element of our genetic make-up, that is embedded in the connections in our brains,  which is triggered by external/environmental factors.  When some change in our world occurs, or some challenge presents itself to the human species, a pre-destined response is elicited and the result is that a sort of “collective conscious” is released – several people in the right time, at the right place have the same epiphany.

How do Ideas Come About?
Whereas Drucker answes the question “From Where do Ideas Arise?,” he  does not quite answer the question of HOW ideas arise.  For example, one common view of new ideas is that they come about by some  sort of epiphany, stroke of luck, or being in the “right place at the right time.”  Newton was hit on the head with an Apple, Archimedes sat in his bathtub noticing how it overflowed, and the Reeses Peanut-butter cup came together when two people holding chocolate and peanut-butter collided :)

Perhaps it’s more Evolutionary than we think?

The invention of the world wide web is a good example to look at:  Tim Berners-Lee is credited with the creation of the world-wide web, and the general public views this as a major break-through innovation of the 20th Century.  But Berners-Lee seem to me to be the final/missing piece of a mosaic that included many other prior smaller discoveries. For example, the notion of “hyperlinking to other locations” had already been explored by teams at Apple, and researchers (Andy Van Dam and Norman Meyrowitz) at Brown University, well before it became a component of the WWW.  And the internet under-structure behind the WWW was long in place an used by ARPA and universities before it was exploited by Berners-Lee. The initial prototype website in 1991 and  The standards proposed by Berners-Lee in 1994 and beyond where the missing piece to the puzzle or mosaic of inventions that allowed for this “innovation” to take off.

And, all this was incremental and evolutionary.

Many major innovations in history seem to take this evolutionary path: electricity, the light-bulb, radio, television, the micro-computer, the Internet – all seem evolutionary and a product of several great minds.  There were a set of small discoveries made over time until such point that all the key pieces were in place for an “innovation” to occur.  A good example I like to use at UC Berkeley is the emergence of the PDA .

Many prior innovations added up to the innovation of hand-held devices or PDAs.  The Apple Newton device with its hand-writing recognition, the EO device (a start-up by industry veterans), and early prototypes at Xerox Parc.  But it was Jeff Hawkins and his team at Palm who put the final pieces of the puzzle together – using unique (Graffiti) software and the right combination of features – that lit the consumer market on fire with a new “innovation.”  Lots of smaller discoveries led to the success/launch of the PDA market.

I’d like to hear from others whether they believe innovation comes from serendipity, from epiphany, or from some series of evolutionary discoveries…