innovation

A definition of focus from Steve Jobs

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

— Steve Jobs

This quote was featured in Shane Parrish’s excellent article on speed versus velocity.

The Idea-Revealers: Where Business And Art Intersect

The relationship between business and art may seem a bit hazy, but there are some stark similarities. Foremost is the shared challenge of taking a nascent idea and bringing it to life.

Ideas, whether artistic or entrepreneurial, are by nature, locked away in the human mind. It's only through experimentation, creativity, and collaboration that they are able to be made manifest, and to address some aspect of human need. Not surprisingly, these are the very ingredients necessary in all of business and art. You wouldn't be far off if you were to describe both the businessperson and the artist, as idea-revealers.

Making ideas of any sort, tangible, always begins with a process of reduction, leaving only that, which serves the final result. Successful idea-revealers often end up with what they believe is relevant and good, but since, at the start, their ideas contain the possibility of purveying anything and everything, they inevitably face a struggle over what to leave in and what to leave out. Their real work then, becomes one of cutting away excess, getting rid of the superfluous, until the desired emotion or, (in the case of business), utility, is revealed. No idea-revealer has ever been able to skip the step of wending his or her way through a chaotic, stew of possibilities. They must chip away at that chaos until the beauty of their seminal idea becomes apparent.

As idea-revealers winnow their ideas, they also pare down what is extraneous in their own lives, the noise in their lives —a noise, which, so often derives from people’s expectations. Society dictates what they should believe, how they should think, and how they should measure their own capabilities. Protecting themselves from the sway of this, often, negative influence, takes a resilience that must constantly be strengthened.

Idea-revealers are unique, in that they possess extremely strong points of view. The most successful among them make a concerted effort to examine their own values, and then, to purvey those values in their speech, in their actions, and through their work. Idea-revealers know what they will, or will not do for money for fame. The know exactly how far they will go when it comes to compromising on their vision. This clarity around their sense of purpose is how they guard against external pressures and move constantly forward in the implementation of their ideas. For an idea-revealer, skill-sets and acumen alone will never suffice as a bulwark against the barrage of naysaying they will invariably encounter. 

In the grand scheme, the idea-revealer's job is to point humanity past the immediate, past the already known and already believed, to wondrous things —things obtainable only through tireless diligence, deep conversation, true collaboration, and perhaps most of all, empathic insight into the human condition. At their best, both the artist and the businessperson are able to reveal that the 'impossible' is not waiting at a distance, but rather, it is within us even now.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

How Purpose Drives Innovation: Finding Our Way to Things of Higher Value

Among the most diabolical torture techniques ever conceived is one in which a victim is repeatedly forced to carry rocks up a hill, only to roll them back down. It’s been applied in different forms and at different times throughout the millennia, and always with the sole intention of destroying morale. There’s something unspeakably painful about subjecting a human being to toil at an act he or she believes has no value. But far too many of us are filling our time with things of a similarly Sisyphean nature.

Last week I was in Chicago having lunch with a friend who runs a successful design firm. Over the course of our time together we touched on what it means to do things of higher value. As we got deeper into our conversation we began to consider, even as leaders in our organizations, just how much of what we do each day is mindless, process-driven activity, pursuits that have all the creativity of steering a train straight along a single track. For some in positions of leadership, minimizing mental exertion might seem like a blessing —at least on the surface. After all, who doesn’t want to work less hard? But what researchers have found is that people are happiest when their work involves a degree of struggle. How one conceives of struggle is important. Too much, and you’re suffering —obviously that’s not ideal. But here’s the interesting thing; too little struggle and you’re suffering as well.

Just as my friend and I were about to say our goodbyes he told me about data he’d collected on his employee’s overall job satisfaction, the implications of which were of great interest to him and somewhat surprising as well. His firm had been doing especially well over the past five years. Salaries were up nearly forty percent on average. But still, in blind surveys, he’d found sentiments like “malaise”, “disengagement”, “boredom”, and “dissatisfaction”. What he learned supports what researchers (and smart people who aren’t researchers) have been saying all along: Satisfaction doesn’t come from salary hikes; it comes most often from involvement in purpose-driven activities that promote the growth of others. One more thing my friend learned from his survey was that his people felt they had “no time.”

Time, and in particular, the scarcity of time, is a central theme with so many of us. But what does it really mean when someone says, “I don’t have enough time?” If you examine the statement it’s nonsensical. Everyone has time. We all have exactly the same amount; no one has more or less than 24 hours in a day. But for those who are stuck in roles that preclude them from reaching for what they consider things of higher value, time does indeed feel scarce. When our skills and acumen are underutilized we can often feel that our jobs are too mechanical, too short on purpose, and altogether too easy. But wait; don’t we all strive to make our work easier? Isn’t that what we’ve been trained to do, to make things more efficient, more streamlined?

Yes perhaps, but the moment our jobs become easy is the moment we lose touch with our creativity —and when we lose that, we lose a sense of fulfillment.  Ease alone isn’t what we want to fill our days with. What we truly want is for time to push against us, to pressure us, to create a tension that leaves us cognizant of the fleeting nature of time itself —and then to do something of a higher value with our time. What we crave most are those moments when we are lost in the midst of purposeful engagement.  Lost is the operative word Getting lost means that we have placed ourselves in unfamiliar territory, that we are breaking new ground, and that we are finding our way with our senses engaged, rather than acting on autopilot.

What is that thing of higher value in your life, what is it you do that brings you and the people around you the greatest degree of fulfillment? Are you able to get lost in the work you do, and more importantly, are these ideas deeply embedded in your organization’s culture? People who are engaged in things of higher value will typically find themselves endeavoring to improve someone’s life. Whether you’re working in a laboratory to create a new drug, or working one on one with a child to teach her to read, acting for the betterment of an individual or an important cause has the single greatest influence on generating a sense of personal fulfillment.

While it’s true, getting to a place where more people are accomplishing things they find important, is aspirational, especially given that the vast majority of employees don’t have the opportunity to evince this kind of work in their current roles. But as leaders, we need to bring these opportunities to as many people as possible. We need to understand that being involved in things of higher value and helping others to get to there is not only a moral imperative, it’s about unlocking the very solutions that can prevent the disruption of our organizations.

The way forward is an exploration rather than a recitation, it is finding our way as opposed to knowing our way. What we need to rethink is: How many of the things we do each day fit in the box of: I’ve got this job down to a science,’ and how many of them fit in the box of: ‘this is new terrain, ambiguous territory, with answers that are not well defined and edges that are not yet clear?' It’s only in the latter that we find engagement, fulfillment, and purpose.

For too many of us, money is still the thing we reflexively equate with value. Don’t get me wrong, money is important, vitally so, but its greatest significance becomes apparent only when it buys us and those around us, time to work on things of higher value.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash