Friday, September 14, 2012

Creativity and Culture (R2P2)

So, this post is all about R Squared Part 2 (R2P2) - or the bookend post, as I like to think of it. This is all about the inspiration gleaned Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon.

Josh Linkner
Monday morning kicked off with a keynote presentation by author and entrepreneur, Josh Linkner. Below are some of the golden nuggets of information that made me go, "wow..."

Pike Syndrome: I summarize this as letting invisible barriers keep us from success. Josh was much more eloquent in his explanation describing the scientific expeirment that lead to the coining of the syndrome. 

"Scientists conducted an experiment where they put a pike in a tank with many other smaller fish that they pike would ordinarily devour. Instead of the normal feeding frenzy, the scientists separated the pike from the smaller fish by inserting a layer of glass which prevented the pike from reaching its dinner.

The hungry pike continuously smashed itself against the glass trying to get a good meal. As much as it tried, however, it was unsuccessful in breaking through the barrier. After many attempts, the pike become discouraged. It stopped trying to break through the barrier and eventually sank to the bottom of the tank and just laid there. At this point, the scientists removed the barrier allowing the pike to feast.

What happened next was surprising to everyone. The pike continued to ignore the smaller fish, even when they were swimming right next to the pike. The predator remained at the bottom of the tank, and ended up dying of starvation even with plenty of tasty fish easily within his reach." [from Josh's blog] Josh presented as an example of how even the largest, most successful holders of market's share can have their foundations shaken (not stirred) by small businesses. All it takes is creativity, risk, humor, humanity, and just a little bit of money - not a lot. Watch the YouTube video if you don't believe me.

Creativity is 85% learned behavior: yes, you read that right. 85% of our creativity can be developed through practice. It's just like exercising any other muscle. If you don't work it then it's gonna turn to flab. Fortunately, there are plenty of creativity 'gyms' out there to help you get pumped up. Start by downloading Josh's Guide to Creativity - for free!

How to unleash curiosity
  1. Get curious. Ask why, what if, why not at least 5x. Pretend you're a 2 year old, like in this segment of Louie CK's routine - the 5 Whys bit starts at 2:38. 
    1. Also, take a look at This business competes on originality, not price.
  2.  Encourage courage. Failures are our portals to discovery.
  3. Challenge assumptions. Josh told the story of a little girl who was helping her mom make meatloaf and before putting it into the over, the mom cut the ends off. The little girl asked, "why do we cut the ends off the meatloaf?" Mom says, "well, I don't know. I guess I've always done it because that's how my mom did it. Let's call grandma to find out." So, they call Grandma and ask her the same question. Grandma gives the same response. So, they call Great Grandma and ask her the same question. Great Grandma laughs and says, "Well, I have no idea why you're cutting the ends off of your meatloaf but I had to do it because it wouldn't fit into my pan." LOL Get it?
  4. Think small. Like a start-up.
  5. Shatter conventional wisdom.
 There is going to have to be a R2P3 because this post is getting a little lengthy. Stay tuned to learn about 3 exercises that help put some zip into your brainstorming sessions!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Marbles, and Mazes, and Mines, Oh My!

I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Risk and Rewards Conference in Telluride, Colorado, September 9th - 11th. As part of the registration I had to choose an Experience (aka Track). So, I chose the Culture Track. This will be a 2-part blog post.

Here's a little bit more about the Culture Track:

"Staff culture is at the heart of any organization, and core values influence an organization's culture, including internal processes and community perception. The Culture Experience will help attendees understand the key concepts of what builds a vibrant, creative, risk-positive organizational culture and how employees at all levels can influence and support it.

We believe work should be fun. This experience-based learning adventure will take attendees out of their comfort zones and into Telluride's gorgeous Mountain Village to discover ways they can foster courage, collaboration and communication in their libraries."

So, what did this look like in practice? Well, first we were randomly assigned to groups of about 10-12, each identified by different colored bandanas. We had to come up with a name for our team and assign a team captain. I'm not quite sure how it happened but we ended up being the Aqua Butts and our captain was a summer camp counselor in a former life so she always had fun cadences for us to yell as we moved from each of the 8 challenge stations we faced that afternoon.

Everywhere we go!
                               Everywhere we go!
People wanna know!
                              People wanna know!
Who we are!
                             Who we are!
So we tell them!
                             So we tell them!
 We are the Butts!
                             We are the Butts!
          The Mighty Mighty Aqua Butts!
                             The Mighty Mighty Aqua Butts!

What were the 8 challenge stations? 

Sherpa Challenge
We were asked to pretend we were mountain climbers on an expedition up Mount Everest and we needed to assemble a climbing team made up of our other teammates. Each of us was randomly given a card which was tucked into our bandanas so we could not see but so our teammates could. Our value as a mountain climber was determined by the card on hour forehead. Aces high all the way down to the lowly 2 (suit made no difference). We were asked to treat each other based on our cards so that we could guess which card we had. This exercise helped us identify ways our libraries explicitly and inexplicitly place value on employees and which qualities/positions appear to have more or less value.

Body Spelling

As you might guess, this was an exercise in non-verbal communication and teamwork. Working together without talking we had to spell words out with our bodies. We successfully spelled three words: Risk, Aqua, Butt. 

Obstacle Course
I like to call this one the Bouncy Castle Maze challenge. Working as a team we had to go through a huge (at least 50 meters long) inflatable obstacle course. In the center of the course was a large piece of paper with a hangman-type code written on it. There were 10 words written in symbols (triangles, arrows, astrological signs, etc). We had to come up with a strategy for memorizing them and then bring them back to the start of the course, write them down, and then decode them to find out what the hidden message was. The hidden message was, "Be the change you want to see in the world." 

Disc Golf
We had to play disc golf as a team. There were three 'holes," 2 were fairly close and one was further away. Each team member had to get one disc into one of the closest holes. Two team members had to get one disc into the furthest hole. Each hole made was awarded with a puzzle card. If no one got a disc in the furthest hole the team could instead opt to do 2 alternative challenges like playing a round of charades or creating a 30 second synchronized swimming routine sans water (both of which we did). Then, using the puzzle cards, we had to assemble a 3D version of the puzzle using wooden geometric blocks. Did I mention all of this was timed? Yeah, we had 5 minutes to do the disc golf portion and then we were trying to complete the puzzle in the shortest amount of time. We completed it in 2 min 20 sec, doubling the shortest time on record - we celebrated our failure with gusto as that was one of our core values (celebrate every failure).

Rock Climbing
Yes, we each had a chance to climb an indoor rock wall. Two of the team members had to put on harnesses and make it all the way to the top. The rest of us has to climb sideways from one side to the other. Two of us made it to the top. None of us made it all the way from side to side. Rock climbing is really difficult!!

Fear Factor
So, this challenge was one of two indoor activities. We walked into the room and on a long table were 4 terrariums. The first one had about 3 inches of yucky smelling earthworms and mulch. The second one had 5 field mice sitting atop a bed of cedar shavings. The third one had a huge tarantula sitting atop a similar bed of cedar shavings. The fourth one was tall and all black so we didn't know what was inside it. Then there was a large cardboard box on the floor that barely contained the 15lb boa constrictor that was inside it. Our challenge was to pick a card, the image on which would tell us which terrarium we and our partner would be pawing our way through to find our Aqua Butt blue-colored poker chip. I drew the snake card (see the very top right image of this blog post). However, since gently nudging the cute Boa (her name was Zoe) wasn't too much of a challenge for me I asked to hold the tarantula since that was a huge challenge. I have a very strong aversion to spiders and they seem to be everywhere outside my house this time of year. Anyway, here's proof that I could hold a more-than-palm-sized arachnid and not be scarred for life:

For this challenge we paired up to take turns guiding each other through a duct-tape mine field. There was more than one person working their way through the mine at one time and our partners had to stand at the far end of the mine field so, with our blindfolds on, we really had to listen for our partner's voice. Most of the time, if we were the ones giving directions, we'd preface everything with our partner's name and that seemed to help. If our partner touched a mine we had to start all over. 

Marble Race
Our last challenge of the day was the marble race. There was a route marked by little red flags out in the grass and around some trees. Through this route we had to pass a marble from one person to the other using about 18" of PVC pipe cut in half length-wise. The only rules were: you can't move your feet if you're holding the marble in your PVC pipe, your body can't touch the marble in any way, if you drop the marble you have to start over, and you have to complete the race in less than 3 minutes. So, each of us had our own length of pipe and we lined up shoulder to shoulder passing this marble to each other. We dropped the marble 3 times but on the 4th time we successfully completed the race in less than 2 minutes!

In part 2 of my R Squared blog post I'll share what we did Monday Morning and Tuesday afternoon when all attendees were together in one room! Stay tuned...