The Power of 3

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In the design realm there is a well-known phenomenon named “The Power of 3”. It prescribes that when you desire to make an impact with color or pattern, it’s best to repeat them. The rule has been applied to other arenas as well — think of the “Rule of three” as applied to writing, the “Rule of thirds” in photography — or even the magical combination of the The 3 Tenors.

In work life, the power of 3 might help us to become better change agents. When contemplating change, we (as human beings) require multiple exposures to a new idea or path before it is finally woven into our work lives. (I believe this protects us on some level from charlatans and fads.) Time and time gain, I’ve seen worthy ideas posed, yet it  can take time and considerable energy for the bulk of the message to be absorbed. Often the moment for change is lost. (In fact, researchers who pose amazing theories often move on to new horizons, before we entirely catch up.)

Could we utilize the “Power of 3” to make those changes come to life in our own workplaces? When you do have an idea that warrants attention — let’s ensure that it has real impact. Here is one “tripod” of potential influence to consider:

  • Recognize the emotional response. You’ll know when this happens to you — the light bulb switches to the “on” position. You realize you are “on to something”. Inspiration has found you. You might think to yourself: “I do this and it works for me. Would this work for others?”, or “I used to do that, and I stopped. Now things are much, much worse. Is there a correlation?” Own those moments and offer them the deference they deserve.
  • Start the conversation. Express your idea (yes, out loud!) to someone else. Get feedback. Make improvements. Craft a meaningful conversation around the idea. Add a bit of research to round out your “platform”. (I think Nilofer Merchant’s TED Talk, about our penchant for sitting, represents this perfectly in less than 4 minutes! See it below.)
  • Capture the idea for others. Offer your idea a beautiful visual mechanism — so that your idea can continue, and be shared by others. Find the vehicle that best communicates your vision. You can explore great methods to grow its impact, such as Prezi, Ignite or Slideshare. You may even want to write a brief TED style talk.

Don’t rest until you’ve harnessed all 3 elements. Hopefully with this trio on your side, your ideas can take flight.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.


Photo: Don Bodio

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Where Did the Ideas Go?

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It is a question heard around the world. Where did all of those great ideas really go? Like you, I find it intrinsically satisfying to share ideas that can improve how we carry out our work. But, while this exchange of ideas is a fundamental component of knowledge work — bringing those ideas to life can prove challenging. Many of us have the opportunity to share ideas; whether in team meetings, off-site conferences or brainstorming sessions. But, what really happens to all of those promising ideas once collected?

While we place great emphasis on innovation in today’s world of work — the fact remains that many worthy ideas will never see the light of day. I would venture to say that many organizations have a back-log of great ideas, languishing untouched and undeveloped. Ultimately, we likely do a good job of generating ideas. But utilizing them effectively — well that can be quite a different story.

Forward progress is just as much about managing the ideas we generate, than any other element in the dynamic. Many worthy ideas fail to become reality, because we fail to utilize a process robust enough to properly select and implement them effectively. In many cases, we are stymied as to how to wade through that mountain of collected ideas.

One key problem is the tendency to view idea management as a spontaneously occurring event — when in fact, we need to employ a winning process to ensure success.

A few topics to consider:

  • Build trust. In the cultural scheme, if there isn’t an adequate level of trust within the working team, it is nearly impossible to evaluate ideas effectively. To begin evaluating ideas, the stage has to be set for an open and honest discussion. If we are wary of bucking authority and voicing all sides of the story, we can land in trouble. Pixar calls this cultural element the “Braintrust” — the notion of offering an “unvarnished” opinion to move idea development along effectively.
  • Complete a postmortem. Carefully consider worthy ideas that never reached their full potential — what caused this to happen? Was the idea not properly communicated? Inadequately defined roles in the field? Lack of data concerning value? Use this information strategically, going forward.
  • Connect ideas with mission & vision. An idea floating in the stratosphere can have little meaning to the work your organization completes. So, offer context, to properly identify idea potential. Attempt to connect an idea with desired end-states that align with company mission and vision. How can the idea provide a route to valued goals?
  • Narrow the field. At some point we have to focus on the ideas that are worthy enough to devote valuable time and resources. For that to occur, you must develop selection criteria relevant to your team and the situation at hand. (For example, ideas that meet an urgent need or those with the greatest potential to impact customers.) Without these criteria, you cannot move forward. (See other selection techniques here.)
  • Don’t look for a single “winner”. One trouble we encounter with idea management, we tend to narrow the focus quite quickly to one path — when it’s likely there is more than one great idea circulating. One idea really does not have to “win”? You can often combine ideas, to enhance product development or service improvement.
  • Capture potential value. To drive your idea home, take the time to draft a “business case” which adds dimension and clearly outlines future cost and benefit. As discussed by Microsoft, this can serve as an integral step in the evaluation process.
  • Find an owner. Yes, just like people, ideas need guidance and care to develop fully. So identify an owner — and make this choice by aligning with interests and passion. Offer the role to a team member who believes in the idea, and can envision its potential.
  • Give things time. Great ideas have the potential to turn the normal state of affairs “upside down” and trigger a powerful emotional response. As discussed here, ideas need to be fully digested before we can act on them effectively. Take this into consideration when planning any implementation phase. A little patience may be entirely in order.

What at strategies are you utilizing to manage ideas and bring more of them into the fold? Weigh in here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and workplace strategist. She also writes at Linkedin.

 

Creativity First, Innovation Will Follow

creativity4I am officially obsessing about creativity. This has everything to do with all of the content devoted to innovation. Discussions about innovation seem to be everywhere — yet, we don’t to fully understanding how to cultivate it. Yes, innovation is a critical concept in today’s workplaces. However, I can’t help but think that we might be putting the cart before the horse. Which leads me to one crux of the innovation dilemma. When it comes to innovation — don’t we need creativity to be there first to pave the road?

Where creativity is concerned it is wise to learn from the masters. I’ve just listened to HBR’s interview with Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios. Undeniably, the folks at Pixar seem to have a handle on the creativity realm, and the innovative results which follow. Catmull explains that the dynamic they have built at his studio isn’t perfect. However, the employed creative process has successfully contributed to some incredible game-changing outcomes. (Consider Toy Story for a moment).

The ideas Catmull proposes may initially make us a bit uncomfortable — and go against the grain of how we might usually work. But, the dynamic has undeniably been proven to be a winner.

Here are a few of Pixar’s strategies to consider:

    • Banish perfectionism. There is a misconception that an idea has to be perfected to share it. Throw that rule out the window — and take a leap of faith to trust your team. Share your ideas earlier and gain useful input to build on its strengths.
    • Don’t let risk dictate. Give ideas enough time to “flesh out” before the looming possibility of risk snuffs out the possibilities. Evaluate risk as time goes on, and address those risks one step at a time — after the true potential of the idea is presented.
    • Don’t focus on just one idea. Becoming creative isn’t about locking in on one idea and never letting in another creative thought. Look to accumulate a number of ideas, and group them to help catapult a project forward. If you work in a group (as they do at Pixar), let a number of ideas from different contributors co-exist for a time. See what develops.
    • Not all ideas are initially money makers. Sometimes the process of following a creative path is simply good for the soul. Even if the idea doesn’t prove lucrative, it might pave the way for other ideas which have a much greater payoff.
    • You can give up. Not every creative endeavor deserves long-term attention or resources. If you have the feeling that you’ve entered a dead-end, offer yourself permission to move on. File the work for a later date —  it may become more relevant down the line.

How do you stoke innovation in your team? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, consultant and speaker. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Power of an Idea: Developing Your Own Idea Management System

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I adore the movies — particularly films set in the workplace. I suppose this is an occupational hazard. (See a running list of the best of them here.) There is often a lesson to be learned from a great workplace inspired movie. But, there are a few which include classic themes about life and work. These are without a doubt, the movies we watch time and time again.

“Working Girl” is one of those movies. (See Siskel & Ebert’s 1988 original review here.) It has it all. Big business, big opportunities, romance — and the added interest of a really, really despicable boss. In this “David and Goliath” themed script, a secretary from Stanton Island (Tess, played by Melanie Griffeth), takes on the her silver-spooned, self-entitled boss (played flawlessly by Sigourney Weaver).

The plot centers on the ownership of a creative business proposal drafted by Tess, but peddled by Katherine as her own. There is an iconic elevator scene, where Katherine is finally put in her proverbial place after dishing out a hefty dose of lies and deceit. She is shut down so succinctly and so completely that you find yourself muttering, “Yes!”.

How the less powerful protagonist , shuts down her boss is worthy to note.

She did so with the power of inspiration.

It is the crucial moment where Tess explains how she happened upon her idea. The “Aha Moment” that ignited the notion that “Trask”  should move in an entirely different direction, toward radio instead of television — was the key to turning the tables on her boss.

“See”, Tess explains as she shows the clippings from the newspaper. “Trask…radio…Trask…radio.”

It’s one of the most satisfying moments for me in movie history — and it’s all about the power of a single remarkable idea.

Never underestimate the value of an idea
Some of the greatest moments in science and the arts come from a quick flash of thought. We’ll never be able to predict when those moments will occur. However being prepared to note them is critical. Few of us take the time to records and cultivate these moments.

Ultimately, it is up to you to effectively capture and nurture these moments.

What to do:

  • Respect your ideas. When you have an inspired idea don’t ignore it — listen and record it. Type a message into your phone or keep a notebook. Don’t let it slip away. Even DaVinci kept notebooks to keep his thoughts close to him.
  • Identify supporting materials. If you are reading a newspaper and find something useful or interesting, clip it. If you are on-line, bookmark the page.
  • Connect the dots. Once a week, review what you have collected and organize your thoughts into a concrete idea. Try writing each thought on a post-it note and sort them accordingly. Is there a pattern or common thread? Do they fit together somehow?
  • Evaluate. Review the idea the next day. If you feel the idea still has merit, do research and see what you come up with. “Deep Google” the topic to reveal nuances and applicability to your business. If you like what has developed, run the idea by a friend or colleague.
  • Develop the idea. Write a one-pager with details. Include your supporting sources and how the idea would be applied to your work.
  • Communicate. If the idea is still solid, map out a business plan or mini-proposal. Write a blog post. Draft a story. Develop a Slide Share deck to present it to others. Move forward somehow.

Vow to never waste another moment of inspiration. Value your ideas and give them the respect they deserve.

But keep the clippings — just in case.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin.