Since crayons don’t come with spell check: INNOVember – Your opportunity to invent


out of the fire and into the frying pan

We don’t often have the chance to really look at the imaginative artwork created by children. Quickly walking past bulletin boards of preschool artwork, I recently saw written in day-glow orange crayon the word Innovember” and this got my attention.

With my brain preloaded for all things creative, I mistakenly took this to mean: “Innovation in November,” and thought: what a great theme! Then, looking more carefully, the word accompanied an illustration of a Thanksgiving scene and I realized the little typographer who created this amazing idea had actually left out the spacing between words and meant to say: “In November.”

Well, it’s not exactly Rocktober but still a great theme and InNovember we have a built-in opportunity to be innovative. Our harvest festivals around the northern hemisphere and Thanksgiving in the United States in particular are steeped in traditional foods that are ripe for shaking up. However, as we are giving thanks and reflecting on our good fortunes, many people come to expect their stuffing and cranberry sauce cooked a certain way — and many families have traditional dishes that even the most courageous of us won’t dare to mess with.

Our opportunity doesn’t come from reinventing the whole meal or redefining a treasured side dish but from bringing an entirely different creation to the table. Whether it’s your favorite everyday food that you’ve perfected and want to share or a wholly new experiment involving bat’s wings, eye of newt, or the nearly forgotten sun dried tomatoes — either have the potential to become next year’s tradition. Assuming you use ingredients that don’t exceed their expiration dates and are fully cooked, there is little risk in serving a new dish since a singular disaster in a vast feast won’t leave anyone hungry — and mistakes provide the best leftovers that can be warmed up into stories for next year – and some even may even become legends. Try something new! And if you can, please December to help the less fortunate.

What was your biggest holiday food disaster or your greatest success? What will you cook this year?


Is the City Mouse a Creative Mouse?

city mouse

City mouse

Have you ever gotten a great new idea through randomly running into someone and having an unexpected conversation? Do you think crowded cities where people bump into each other breed creativity?

In his recent book Imagine, Jonah Lehrer points to studies showing that patents more often build on the ideas from inventors that live nearby. He also discusses the idea that in cities people walk through multi-use and crowded places like Hudson Street in Greenwich Village and literally bump into each other and share ideas.

This seems to be only part of the story. I’ve unscientifically walked down Hudson Street many times and have been bumped into plenty! Although words are sometimes exchanged, for me it hasn’t been the start of any fruitful exchange of ideas. For some reason while walking around the streets in Asia, it seems I was bumped into even more frequently. My only creative result was defensive. To avoid bumps, I started to wear bright “caution” orange shirts to become more visible and it worked – a little. With all the narrow spaces and crowded cities in Asia and all those collisions, I wonder why they haven’t developed a reputation for creativity? (With the obvious exception of Japan)

test It seems when it’s too crowded, people don’t talk with their neighbors, with people in elevators or subway cars and this gives a sense of privacy. On the other hand, with too much space, it becomes out-of-the-way to walk down a long driveway to causally say hello to your neighbors. Have you noticed there is seems to be some magically in between distance that sparks conversation?

Perhaps, it’s not the physical space as much as the people who are drawn to the cities. From my experience, people who are interested in using their creativity are open to change and new experiences and they move to cities in search of opportunities for whatever their specialty. Masses of people in cities support masses of creativity that fill every niche.

If you’re a city mouse, have you noticed the real estate brokers are musicians and actors, and the babysitters are culinary chefs and choreographers? Everyone you bump into is a conductor, actor, artist, or has at least one degree of separation away from the arts. In cities, the only people who don’t call themselves artists are the people we find in our art and music classes since most of them are busy being doctors and accountants.

Of course creative ideas are randomly shared in cities, but not as efficiently and relevantly as they are shared electronically. Maybe it’s like when you find an interesting article while flipping through a magazine that you didn’t know you were looking for. Do you think it’s the layout of the city or the people who are drawn to cities that contribute to creativity? Or do you think the best ideas come from the country mouse?


Save the Economy with More Exercise, More Showers, Longer Commutes

Banking Hours?

Do you have certain hours of the day when you are most creative? People always say they get ideas while showering, exercising, or commuting. If these are indicators for creativity, I wonder which countries have the great environment for generating ideas?

I don’t know who takes the longest showers, and does the most exercising but there are numbers available for longest commute. According to Worldmapper The world average commute is an hours and twenty minutes each day and the nation with the greatest commute time is Thailand with over 2 hours. In fact, Southeast Asia, on averaged commutes almost twice as long as workers in North America. Bad for fuel consumption, pollution, and productivity but is it good for generating ideas?

Do you think urban or suburban commuting makes a difference and which is more conducent for generating new ideas: Mindless driving? Or being a passenger in a taxi and letting your mind wander?
Here is an innovation: for Fashion Week, A fleet of 50 taxis in New York City are providing free rides to test a new service. The already equipped in-taxi TV screens will be used for this experiment to allow passengers to view advertisements and make direct purchases of items, like lipstick, by scanning a code with their mobile phones.

Apparently, a supermarket has tested this idea in Seoul allowing passengers to buy groceries (for delivery) directly from billboards in their wifi enabled subways. This could certainly revolutionized and expand the concept of what is a store, if anything printed with a barcode becomes an opportunity to buy and sell. But will it give us more to do during our commute and take away our precision time to daydream?


Are Forever Stamps 4ever? 9 More Predictions

fortune sticks

Pick your fortune

Got to the post office to mail some gifts just before the holidays and even a futurist like me was surprised by the short line. Then it made sense when a piercing alarm went off from the overhead speakers. The cashier at the counter said: “oh no! not again!!” “The siren has been sounding constantly all week!” It seemed nobody was authorized or capable of turning it off and I was second in line so I held my place and covered my ears.

When it was my turn, I was barely able to hear the clerk try to sell me insurance for packages going just a few miles – Maybe I need to recheck my crystal ball to see if the packages will be delivered. Signing my credit receipt the pen she handed me didn’t have any ink so I scratched my signature on the thermal paper. With the alarm sounding at the post office, perhaps it was a mistake to buy all those “Forever” stamps, like a lifetime membership in the gym that won’t be around next year. With so much of our mail going by email, what will happen with fewer visits from our friendly mail carriers?

With so much happening in the east, it seems fitting that we shake some Fortune Sticks 求籤 求簽 to see what unfolds. The cylinder is shaken until one stick falls out. Each stick has a number that corresponds to a prediction but these are no fortune cookies and many omens are NOT good.

Like last year’s “9 Things That Could Happen ”(my inbox is so overloaded from your thank yous, that I can’t respond personally) it’s difficult to know what happened yesterday and predicting the future is anyone’s guess. Here are some long range guesses mostly related to arts and entertainment.

1) Our economy is shifting from an information economy to a creative economy. Jobs and growth will be driven by big creative ideas for new products and services in health care and energy and these will put more people to work.

2) Health care will begin to become more automated. Using devices to examine people remotely is only part of the picture. Getting proper treatment is based on the experience and specialized knowledge of practitioners, however much of this is routine. Databases for diagnostics will help identify the unusual and also use our genetic makeup/age and lifestyle to predict our personal risks – leaving experts to the more difficult cases.

3) The future of books, board games, songs, movies and everything under threat from digitization will survive by providing sensory experiences that are superior to their e-counterpart. Books printed on fine paper, games with wooden pieces, concerts and movies that provide a live experience are the future.

4) This year passive television will get a big push from Youtube, Apple, Google and others who want to give you entertainment on your own schedule. A wider assortment of on-demand entertainment will continue to fracture the audiences providing fewer resources for each program causing overall quality to be reduced and we will have to search a million channels to find Seinfeld and Cheers.

5) Calls for transparency in government and business is opening those closed door sessions and clearing those smoke filled rooms. With social media and blogs giving anonymous freedom of speech a greater reach, some calls for transparency, will lift the veils calling disclosure of real identifies and affiliations.

6) Video games are reaching across demographics and will become more popular than movies and television. As corporate training budgets are reduced while, more specialized skills are required at work, expect to find gaming technologies to be used to teach through simulations for everything from accountants to welders.

7) More regulations in the finance sector will continue to be seen as expensive overhead without adding security, and finance will continue to flow to less regulated and lower cost centers.

8) Those with the greatest need have the greatest incentive to innovate. Asia with its choking pollution will lead the way with green energy technology.

9) Less frequent mail delivery will put weekly magazines printed on paper on the endangered species list. Decline of the post office will be the biggest boon to e-readers.

Did you get the packages? Do you hear an alarms sounding? What happened to number 8? What do you think will happen next?


Found in Translation: The Right to Be Yourself

Hearing Spanish in my left ear and the English translation in my right ear, the cross talk was confusing. Have you ever had a mismatch between what you’re hearing and what you’re hearing? It was my first experience using U.N. style earphones with a live translator and I was sitting so close to the people speaking that for the first few minutes there was a disconnect between my ears. Then, suddenly my brain synchronized and everything made sense.

Isn’t art also about getting ideas to synchronize? Through art we can express ideas that often cannot be said with words. When we couple our creative efforts with ideas we can clarify and amply essential messages. Whether visual arts, music or pottery, when our creations are synced with messages, then our ideas can carry beyond the borders of a canvas or the walls of a concert hall, and they can carry more water than any pot. Of course art can stand alone, but when coupled with essential ideas that must be spread, then art becomes a media that adds clarity and increase a messages impact.

I had the honor of producing the “Freedom Kite” painting that is being used by the Pan American Health Organization
to promote and protect health and human rights for Human Rights Day today and beyond.

In the experience I had the opportunity to learn about the essential work being done so passionately by the people at PAHO and by other world leaders who actively use their creativity to protect and promote human rights in their daily job, making the world a better place for all of us. The challenge for all of us is to help people like these by using our strength and our abilities.

In my speech at PAHO, I said: “when we do something we love we often succeed, but we also need the freedom to be ourselves and the freedom to be ourselves is a basic human right.” Creating is all about being yourself too. We are influenced by others but our greatness does not come from copying or fitting in but by being ourselves. What do you think?


Encouraged by the Bottom 10 percent

"Can" you make it across (click to enlarge)

If you’ve been to Hong Kong, have you noticed the flashing man on the WALK signs look uncharacteristically overweight? Occasionally in NYC, you can see WALK and DON’T WALK lighted simultaneously, but have you ever seen a WALK sign made entirely out of cans of food.

Massive structures are built using cans of food as part of a design competition with the winners displayed at the World Financial Center in Manhattan. The event is sponsored by Canstruction which uses cans of food as a catalyst for change. When the structures are dismantled after November 21st, the food is donated to City Harvest,who uses the cans to feed hungry people.

While most structures are incredible, pointing to one that seemed lesser, I friend surprised me by saying , “if I could do that, It’s not very good.” Conversely and thinking back many years when I first started painting,

Why so angry? (click to enlarge)

I would go to group art exhibitions and feel challenged by the best watercolors yet encouraged by the bottom 10 percent. I would say “I could do that!”

The same sentence, “I could do that” can evoke opposite responses between people. Do you compare your abilities with professional athletes while watching a football game and say, if I could catch that ball, the player must not be very good? Why is our creativity so difficult to accept? Perhaps we could recast our self image on creativity, especially if we see proof that we can do something other creative people are doing.

Which one is your favorite? See more photos of the constructions [Read more…]


Put your subconscious to work so you don’t have to

Fishing for ideas?

Fishing for ideas? (Nha Trang, Vietnam

In the ancient watertown of Hongcun, the Chinese thought of everything – including private indoor fishing holes in the homes along the canal. Just open the gate, add some bait and wait. After the fish swam in for brunch the ancient non-mariners closed the exit. Solving problems with creative solutions is like setting fish traps. Set the bait by defining the problem. Then walk away, and spend some time doing something else like driving, watching a movie, taking a nap, jogging around the block, writing your blog and setting more traps. Keep setting traps by posing more questions. This puts your subconscious to work so you don’t have to. Through heightened awareness, solutions that you never would have noticed start to swim in and all you have to do is catch them. Have you found that when you set a trap, answers fall into your lap?

fish trap

Hongcun aquarium


Is it a MISTAKE to be comfortable with FAILURE?

Time to celebrate?

Failures cost us virtually nothing when we take photos with our digital cameras, yet failures cost us plenty when our banks make bad loans. Our political leaders fail us when the only agreement they reach is raising our debt ceiling allowing themselves to continue spending.

We hear that our creative spirit can save us all and according to conventional wisdom, to innovate we need to take fearless risks and be open to: “fail now,” “fail today,” “fail this afternoon,” ”fail tomorrow,” “fail often.” A recent Wall Street Journal headline reads
Better Ideas Through Failure: Companies Reward Employee Mistakes to Spur Innovation, Get Back Their Edge.

I wonder if even George Eastman would have thought failure has become overexposed. Are we producing an entrepreneurial culture or a culture of failure? Are we getting too comfortable with failure?

Of course we don’t expect to paint a masterpiece the first time we walk across a stage, and we shouldn’t be afraid of trial and error. Are we justifying and celebrating too many of our errors as we say: “At least I got the interview,” “it was an honor to be nominated,” “what a great experience,” “I met so many interesting people,” or “we designed a great product that was ahead of its time.” In our winner take all society; ask Al Gore, or yahoo what second place is like. Remember that we can learn from our successes too!

Winning isn’t everything. The will to win is the only thing.” described Vince Lombardi in an earlier era. In our acceptance of some inevitable failures, we can’t lose the will to win! Winning is the only option when the game is on, and only after the whistle blows can we allow for acceptance of failure and lessons learned. If you go into a supermarket expecting that you won’t find Key Limes, you probably won’t. When we expect failure, we give up too soon.

Your secret plan

  1. Start without concern about failing.
  2. Play to win! And failure is not an option!
  3. Evaluate your wins or losses for learned lessons.

What was your biggest mistake that you used to make a towering success? Or what is your biggest success and what did you learn?


Do you feel like you’re talking on a Banana Phone?

Refusing interviews but posing for photos, a group of macaques living at the beach in beautiful Krabi, Thailand, clearly had life figured out. Monkeys are no lone wolves and even these primates know life’s creative solutions can come through collaboration.

Suddenly, several started a loud commotion and in the confusion, one leaped down from her hiding place in the trees and grabbed an unguarded gin and tonic, chugged the drink, slammed the cup down, and staggered

No ice?

back into the trees. Funny to watch since it wasn’t my lost beverage, I noticed they collaborated using a unique common language which sounded to me like a mix of Thai and Chimpanzee.

Do you use a common language with those you collaborate with? Or do you feel like you’re talking on a banana phone with nobody on the other end?
With Twitter, facebook, linkedin, blogs, email, sms, voicemail, fax, and ancient practice of talking in person, we all have preferred modes of communication and each mode has its own characteristics.

Are your messages getting through or do you hear: “I don’t use LinkedIn,” ”I never check voicemail,” or “What’s Klout?“ The first step for us to reach our audience in order to collaborate is to use a common mode of communication, but with so many choices our preferred mode seems different for all of us.
Have you experienced miscommunications from using mismatched technology? Do you have a favorite mode of communications? And what brand of banana phone do you answer ?
Take a moment and count to three before responding – one chimpanzee – two chimpanzees – three chimpanzees – Please tell me your favorite monkey story by commenting, twitter, emails…


Running against the RACE FOR THE CURE

River runs pink

What risks do you assume when you’re going against the norms? How does it make you feel?

During a short visit to Portland, Oregon last weekend, I decided to defy the time zone difference and stay on Eastern Standard Time by following Ben Franklin’s advice: “early to bed, early to rise.”  Staying downtown, I went for a quiet run along the river each morning to mentally prepare for my meetings.  Because of the light drizzle early Sunday, I expected deserted streets and was surprised to find police activity and thousands of people about.

My route happened to take me toward the starting line of the RACE FOR THE CURE. This yearly event has special meaning for many, what does it mean to you?  Hoards of mostly women wearing pink were walking in the same direction I was jogging. Although it could have been my imagination, I felt their approval and solidarity as I ran in the direction

Race For The Cure

of the registration booths; after all, I do support the cause.    My route took me under their pink balloon arch as I turned left along the river. At that moment I realized turning left wasn’t perceived to be right, and  I was running into the wind.

It could have been my imagination again, but now I felt hundreds of passing women’s disapproval as I ran in the opposite direction of the startling line without a pink number attached to my clothing. Have you ever had an experience like this of going against the norm?

Often when we are creatively inspired and making something new we are headed into the wind. This does not mean we are against the crowd but instead motivated by individual ideals. Courage to be different comes through believing in yourself.  What do you think?