Tag Archives: Innovation

Creativity: It’s Not Just for Kids Anymore…5 Keys to Creativity

According to an IBM study of 1,500 CEOs conducted in 2010, creativity is the most important quality of 21st Century leaders. Creativity and the creative process are hard to define, and can vary depending upon the nature of the work you are doing.  However, we do know certain characteristics common in creative people:

  1. Woman light bulb1The “Creativity Muscle” – The capacity to be creative is like a muscle – it either strengthens with use or withers with inactivity.  So you want to be creative? Take time to read a book, paint a picture, write a song, or snap a few photos – and do it consistently.  Don’t have time? Close your eyes and visualize something completely from your imagination – a vacation paradise, a fictitious form of transportation, or a prehistoric animal. Do it 5 minutes a day.  Everyday!  (THINK MUSIC AND ARTS EDUCATION ARE A WASTE OF YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATION TIME?  THINK AGAIN!)
  2. If You Believe You’re Creative, You’re Creative – Have you heard the quote, “Those who believe they can and those who believe they can’t are both usually right?” Creativity studies show that people who believe that they are creative tend to be creative. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Besides, we’re all born with the ability to be creative. If you doubt it, watch a group of 4-year olds when a teacher tells them to take out their crayons and a blank sheet of paper.
  3. Be Fearless – Creative people are fearless, and don’t worry about mistakes.  If you’re a manager who tends to have punitive measures in place in your organization, whether formal or informal, you’ll get consistent results from your employees.  Consistently mediocre.  Until the rewards of innovation are greater than the consequences of failure, your organization will never foster creativity.
  4. Awareness – There are ideas all around you.  Do you ever notice them?  Drive down the street.  Every sign you see – someone made the decision which color it should be, where precisely it should be located, and the font of the lettering.  Most great ideas are spawned by simple observations.  If you’re sleepwalking through life, you’ll never make them.  That cashier at the convenience store where you stopped for coffee this morning – what was her name (she had a nametag, I’ll bet), what was she wearing, what color was her hair, and how many people were in the store at the time…See what I mean.
  5. Reset Button – In his book The War of Art author Steven Pressfield discusses the mindset of the artist.  Paraphrasing – the artist doesn’t define his or herself by a particular piece of work.  They understand that it’s just one item and tomorrow there will be another blank canvass, ball of clay, music manuscript paper, etc.  Some efforts will be better than others, but it’s just a process.  Like a cornerback in football who just gave up a touchdown pass or a pitcher who gave up a home run, shake it off… AND GET BACK TO WORK!


10 Business Meeting Creativity Ideas

by Craig M. Cortello (Article available for reprint with author and website acknowledgment)

Developing an innovative spirit in the workplace doesn’t require extraordinary measures. Managers can experiment with simple ideas that merely break routines, allowing your employees permission to drop the façade that we all don to some degree when we punch the clock. Here are a few ideas that will help you lighten things up for your staff and get their creative juices flowing, if you have the courage to take the leap:

1. Dart Board
Start every staff meeting by allowing everyone a shot at the dart board. Best shot gets to kick off the meeting, appoint the moderator, or tell what they did over the weekend. Starts things off on a playful note and gets your people out of their chairs. For safety purposes, stick with the magnetic or Velcro variety.

2. Colored Markers for the Flip Chart
Sounds simple, but we are programmed from an early age to correlate the amalgamation of colors with the awakening of our imaginations. If you need further evidence of this phenomenon, observe a classroom full of first graders the next time a teacher instructs them to put away their math books and take out their crayons. And experts agree that the key to creativity lies in the ability to awaken the child inside each of us.

3. Music Creativity
Ask each team member to write a 4-line verse to a song that relates to their job duties, hobbies, business ideas, etc. Go around the room and ask them to sing, rap, or simply recite (military cadence perhaps) their verse. Print the compilation in the next company newsletter to get a little PR for your department or office (others in the organization might want to transfer in when they realize that you’ve given your staff permission to have fun).

4. Music Creativity II
Ask your staff to bring in a CD with a song that describes their personality, work attitude, or how their weekend went. Play excerpts before the meeting for a laugh.

5. To Serve Mankind
Ask your staff to convey what they did over the weekend that was a service to another person, charitable organization, or noble cause. Vote to determine whose action was most heroic and award a gift certificate to the winner, let them leave work early on Friday, or take a longer than usual lunch break. This will encourage your staff to think of new ways to develop a sense of community. It will also help your people feel good about their co-workers, get to know them better, and give them a sense of pride in the organization.

6. Vocabulary Expansion
Ask your team to bring a rarely used or obscure word to the next meeting. Have them use it in a context that is applicable to your business.

7. Memory Exercise
Read a list of 10 or 15 things, preferably something related to your business, your industry, or to a customer and give an award to the person who can commit the most items to memory. This exercise can help your staff become more familiar with your organization and with your customers. Memory development is also a key to developing new customer relationships that will help your business prosper.

8. “If I Ran This Place…”
Ask your staff what they would consider the ideal job, the ideal workplace, and the ideal location. You can’t transform your place into utopia, but you might gain some insight into feasible, marginal changes that will improve things. Now that you have them thinking without barriers, ask them what they would do first or different if they ran the company, office, or department. This one takes some courage and is not without risk, but you’ll be surprised by the answers.

9. Show and Tell
Have your staff bring something that they’ve created, that they are proud of, or from their childhood that the group would find interesting or funny. Demonstrate an interesting or unusual talent, perhaps. We loved this game when we were in kindergarten, and for some reason they made us stop playing as we got older.

10. Top 10 Lists
Until David Letterman decides to pursue intellectual property infringement, go ahead and try this one. Give a topic at your staff meeting, and ask for the answers the following week. Remember to keep it clean and non-offensive. Have your staff rank the answers and use a point system to determine the winner.

We would never ask our employees for quality without offering the resources, direction, systems, and commitment to develop procedures that ensure improvement in that area. Yet we ask employees for creativity or to “think outside the box” all of the time without giving another thought as to how to initiate the creative process. Take the first step and give your staff permission to shake things up a bit at your office. You’re likely to see some changes – for the better!

Looking for CEOs to Jump on the Arts Education Train

Previously we posted an impressive list of CEOs of Canadian High-Tech Companies who signed on to a letter advocating liberal arts and a balanced approach to education. We later posted an additional list of CEOs and executives advocating the arts.

Looking for more CEOs and Business Leaders to get on board the arts advocacy train. Any high-ranking CEOs and executives willing to support the following simple statement will be acknowledged here:

“We support funding of arts education as core subjects in our educational institutions. The 21st century workplace requires innovative and creative minds, and arts education is a critical component in the development of the skills necessary to compete in a global marketplace.

“Our employees with a diverse education have increased their value to our companies, our economy, our culture, and themselves.”

Arts Education & the Changing Workplace

“The nation’s top business executives agree that arts education programs can help repair weaknesses in American education and better prepare workers for the 21st century.”

“The Changing Workplace is Changing Our View of Education.” Business Week, October 1996.

“FROM THE BAND ROOM TO THE BOARDROOM…The 9 Common Lessons of Music Education That Translate into Success”

Craig’s Thought for the Day

“The greatest innovations often come when you leave the harbor of predictable outcomes and sail into the sea of uncertainty.”

Craig M. Cortello


Musicians are risk takers. They lay themselves on the line and subject themselves to the scrutiny of others every time they perform. Improvisation is also a risk. Yet musicians understand that risk is the only path to growth.

“Risk acceptance” – one of the 9 common lessons of music education that translate into success.

Education Dilemma: Think Outside the Box or Dismantle It? (Turning a Cliche into a Culture)

In the corporate world, I attended conferences and encountered speakers who used the term “Think Outside the Box” more times than I care to remember. I think the term has been around so long that it was formerly “Think Outside the Cave.” The problem is that those words were usually spoken by someone who had a blue pen, a red pen, and a mechanical pencil in their shirt pocket – always in that order. Managers can set the tone for innovation, but that’s a whole other discussion. See “Business Meeting Creativity Ideas” or “Fostering Creativity” for more info.

I posted an interesting article from James Carlini recently where the author advocates a movement away from the 3 R’s of education toward a F-A-C-T approach that teaches Flexibility, Adaptability, Creativity, and Technology. I wonder how we can apply that approach to the educational culture where those concepts and systems are so engrained in all of us.

Let’s start with the breakdown of subjects. How did we arrive that these divisions of learning (math, science, English/grammar, social studies, etc.) and are they still appropriate? Taking Carlini’s lead – why not Problem Solving, Team Projects, Creative studies, and Technology as common subjects?

Some would argue that we learn problem solving and creativity in our mathematics and science classes. I ask, “Would it be better to introduce mathematics and science as a component of a Problem Solving, Group Project, or Creativity class (that’s where the arts come in)?” After all, accessing scientific data and performing mathematical tasks are increasingly tasks that computers can accomplish. Just a thought.

Does it strike anyone as odd that in the 21st century, the most heralded academic competition (The Spelling Bee) is one that can be performed in a millisecond by pressing a function key on your computer? How about a “Common Sense Bee” or a “Problem Solving Bee” instead.

I don’t claim to have the answers, and I can only imagine the frustration of the dedicated and exhausted members of teaching profession every time someone tells them how to do their jobs better.

My point is simply that when you really want innovation, you need to discard all preconceived notions of the way things have been done in the past, at least during the brainstorming stage. In other words, don’t “Think Outside the Box.” Dismantle the box and determine what shape will best serve you moving forward.

Creativity & the Hiring Process

Organizations often struggle with a difficult dilemma when targeting college graduates for hire. Do you place greater credence in academic excellence, or look for the well-rounded mediocre student? Do you hire the 4.0 GPA candidate who served as student body president or the 2.9 student who carried a full-time job as a retail manager to subsidize tuition? Do you hire the dedicated research assistant or the fraternity president who organizes the keg parties and knows everyone on campus? The answer is balance.

Success in the 21st century will increasingly demand a greater mix of skills and the ability to think and react independently to respond to market challenges. In conducting interviews and assembling staff members, I’ve tried to look beyond the obvious credentials and to look for unique perspectives and experiences.

The assemblage of a melting pot gives access to a broader pool of ideas in a business world that increasingly demands creativity and innovative solutions. One diminutive office in which I worked consisted of expertise in swing dancing, triathlons, independent film, and jazz guitar, in an industry typically characterized by “left-brain” or analytical thinkers.

It is said that you’ll get nothing original from an echo. If you ask only standard interview questions that solicit canned responses, you’ll likely assemble a team adept at implementing prescriptive plans by the book, lacking independent thought and seeking constant guidance from above.

One question I ask is, “If you could have dinner with any person living or dead, who would it be and why?” I also ask questions like, “What do you do when you’re not working?” and, “What are your hobbies and interests and what appeals to you about them?” There are no right answers.

I’m only seeking to fill in gaps in the resume. For instance, if you interview a 4.0 student, you have a pretty good sense that they are diligent, intelligent and hard-working. Your concern is that they might be more comfortable hitting the books than interacting with people. I’d prefer to find that they played guitar in a reggae band, enjoyed surfing off the coast of Maui, acted as a volunteer for Junior Achievement, coached the intramural softball team, or organized a campus fund-raiser to get wireless internet service and a new sound system for the university center on campus. I’m looking for something that demonstrates social skills or runs counter to the overly conservative nature of the stereotypical serious student. I prefer to hear that they would like to have dinner with Jimmy Buffett or Jerry Seinfeld rather than Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton.

The reverse scenario requires the same attention to balance. With the marginal student who is the campus socialite, you’ll want to look for dissimilar responses. Interests such as volunteering as a counselor for a Special Olympics camp, an internship with a professional service firm, reading books on leaders such as Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi, or an active role in a church or civic group are appropriate. A hobby that reveals diligence, organization, or a serious side of their personality is preferable.

These questions aren’t deal breakers, but rather additional data points beyond the standard, “What are your goals, strengths and weaknesses, and reasons for wanting to work for our firm” queries. They can act as differentiators when you have difficulty separating candidates. You might also consider the current makeup of your staff. If you feel as though your office is getting conservative or “stuffy” based on the personalities of your employees, you might look for candidates that can lighten things up, or vice-versa.

Some interviewers intentionally present an intimidating façade, in order to see how a candidate handles a stressful situation. Interviews are awkward enough, however, and not at all indicative of the true work environment. Once a candidate becomes guarded during the interview, it becomes more difficult to get an authentic assessment.

I prefer to put the candidate at ease, allowing them to show their true personality. I find that I also get more revealing and honest answers when a candidate lets their guard down, allowing me to truly assess what makes them tick and whether or not they would be a good fit for our firm.

As we develop educational curriculum to prepare students for success in the 21st century, we must resist the temptation to identify them as either left-brain or right-brain students and to polarize them. We must rather move toward more balanced programs that integrate elements of each, in an effort to produce more complete or “whole-brained” professionals. And we must assemble balanced workplaces as well.

Steve Case and the Significance of a Liberal Arts Education

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Steve Case, founder of AOL, regarding the significance of a liberal arts education in a rapidly changing world. The interview is from the Academy of Achievement website.

Steve Case: “Williams College is a classic liberal arts school, so there is nothing really business-oriented about it. There’s no business classes. There’s no marketing classes. It’s really a more traditional kind of thing. So my degree was in political science, which I think was — the closest I could come to marketing is politics. You know, for better or worse, a lot about marketing and positioning candidates and so forth, but I was sort of interested in it anyway.

“So, I wouldn’t say that any specific course really was instrumental. I do think that a general liberal arts education is very important, particularly in an uncertain changing world. I think what a liberal arts perspective gives you, is you know a little bit about a lot of things, and look at the world as sort of a mosaic and kind of see how the pieces come together. I think that gives you a perspective that I found to be very valuable. And so in one sense, there’s nothing specific that I learned that was applicable. In another sense everything I learned was a useful foundation. Because I do think — not just in building AOL — but just the world in which we live is a very confusing, rapidly changing world where technology has accelerated.”

Link to interview at the Academy of Achievement website

Amazing Pantene Commercial, The Future of Advertising, & Why We Need the Arts in Education

This amazing Pantene commercial is extraordinary on several fronts. Number one, it illustrates the future of advertising. In a 21st century multi-media world, you can sell with just facts and information – you’ve got to engage hearts and minds, while entertaining your audience. It also illustrates why we need the arts in our schools. Now more than ever, the sensitivities of the artist are needed in the business world. Notice how subtle yet powerful the message of the sponsor is – the product Pantene doesn’t appear until the final 5 seconds of the video. Brilliant!

Jazz Impact by Michael Gold

My friend Dr. Michael Gold is a world class jazz musician. He is also a keynote speaker/performer who lectures corporate and education groups regarding the lessons of the jazz improvisational group that can be applied to business. Hear my interview with Dr. Gold on this fascinating topic