In this episode of Hooray for Failure we chat with Minneapolis-St Paul Minnesota-based innovation practitioner, Matt Hunt, Founder and President of consultancy Stanford and Griggs. With over 20 years of business and technology experience he has a demonstrated excellence in business strategy, innovation, and leadership development with large companies, small companies and non-profit organizations. I had the good fortune to meet Matt at the Business Innovation Factory Summit in Providence Rhode Island this Summer. In this episode we explored the concepts of failure forums and the ways to grow into being comfortable with learning from failure. Good stuff. We also consider the challenge of failure for business leaders and the fine line between avoiding both “sinking the ship” and “missing the boat”.
Certain sections of the Internet worked themselves into a lather this week over the “leaked” internal report on innovation at the New York Times. What followed was a broad cross-section of responses ranging from, “they just don’t get it,” to, “here’s what they need to do to fix it,” and, “here’s what it means as an example to the rest of us”. To call it a provocation would be an understatement.
Regardless of the self-congratulatory tone the report takes at the outset, there are few companies anywhere that would ask the question, “how are we doing in this area?”, let alone would deliver such a comprehensive answer. For this, the Times should be lauded. Especially since they do recognize their own shortcomings almost as swiftly noting that, “…Huffington Post and Flipboard often get more traffic from Times journalism than we do.”
For all the general analysis, and some of it quite specific and valuable (consider the response from Nieman Journalism Lab), there is a lot to learn for all incumbents seeking to innovate in their current markets with their existing business models. However, I think the most value to be gained here is actually on the part of the Times itself. Not only has it done a great job of exacting self-examination, in leaking the report it has also widened the range of possible responses and potential solutions to its concerns.
A more fragile organization might have buried the report, or severely restricted access to it. The Times, being what it is—a news organization, is not going to do that, but what it gains now via leaking the report has paved the way to foster open innovation. Although no specific external partners have been solicited for feedback, the public way in which the report has come to light has fostered some excellent commentary. As a paradigm for using external ideas by building on internal ideas, especially as a firm seeks to advance their technology position, this accidental slide into open innovation is an unexpectedly positive outcome for the paper.
I heard once that Google made a habit of sometimes choosing not to hire every smartest person they could find, instead adding them to a broader network and leaving them where they were in order to foster a more robust technology ecosystem. Mark Zuckerberg also espouses the value of more perspectives, “In terms of doing work and in terms of learning and evolving as a person, you just grow more when you get more people’s perspectives…”. Perhaps this is an opportunity for The Times to recognize the unintended consequences of their report in the public domain might be a whole lot of valuable feedback to help them on their innovation path.
Whether it chooses to recognize the gift of this commentary as feedback remains to be seen. One of the primary rules of feedback is that in order for it to have value a recipient must be ready and willing to listen to it, let alone accept it. As I see it the public response to the leaked report is a gift. Yes, there is certainly a truckload of snark to wade through in order to uncover some observational gems. The challenge will be to see if the Times can take these responses and fold then into their good work.
In this episode of Hooray for Failure we chat with Prince Edward Island-based, April Ennis, the founder of Pure PEI — a site dedicated to celebrating Canada’s smallest province. We explore fear of personal failure and lessons learned from failure even though they suck. We also explore the philosophy of failure as a learning opportunity and how some leading creatives like director, Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Weiner, series creator of Mad Men, frame failure for themselves.
In this episode we explore failure as a learning laboratory. Renee Hopkins spends some time chatting with us about the failure of print journalism (and her super power for escaping it), the challenges of helping innovation thought leaders to innovate (and her work with Innochat), and the lack of room for failure in the “perfect enterprise”. We also have a great conversation about the semantic minefield that is innovation. And a snapshot of a spectacular failure on the part of the UN in Bangladesh in the 1950’s-60’s during which they went from failure to failure.
When one is compassionate it has profound affect on the severity, occurrence and length of disease. Dr. James Doty, the CEO and Founder of CCare shared that this has been identified scientifically to be true.
He asked, how can a privileged, white, male have a leg to stand on in the face of the ridiculousness of the lawmakers in Washington DC who have little understanding of physiology expounding on women’s reproductive health? By declaring where they stand. Doty declared: “I am a feminist and a humanist.”
Every person has a right to dignity, to flourish and to thrive.
Doty made it very clear that everyone will suffer in their lives. He said, as others have before him, that it is our lot to suffer but it is also within our nature to care and intervene to alleviate the suffering of others. Human gestation and the need for care developed the depth and the range of nurturing required for humans to survive.
These social bonds also resulted in the development of culture, society and religion, and this paradigm has worked for the last several hundred years. But it is not a sustainable model. Change happens over generations and we are experiencing a tumult of change. When people are authentic and connect with others based on who they are, they derive the maximum benefit from those interactions. When we are compassionate our immunes system is boosted. These behavior traits will ensure our continuity.
Observing another being compassionate results in you being more compassionate.
Doty left us with a recitation of the following poem by Nancy R. Smith, “For Every Woman”
For every woman who is tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong, there is a man who is tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.
For every woman who is tired of acting dumb, there is a man who is burdened with the constant expectation of “knowing everything.”
For every woman who is tired of being called “an emotional female,” there is a man who is denied the right to weep and to be gentle.
For every woman who is called unfeminine when she competes, there is a man for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity.
For every woman who is tired of being a sex object, there is a man who must worry about his potency.
For every woman who feels “tied down” by her children, there is a man who is denied the full pleasures of shared parenthood.
For every woman who is denied meaningful employment or equal pay, there is a man who must bear full financial responsibility for another human being.
For every woman who was not taught the intricacies of an automobile, there is a man who was not taught the satisfactions of cooking.
For every woman who takes a step toward her own liberation, there is a man who finds the way to freedom has been made a little easier.
Evan Ratliff shared three powerful lessons:
- Sometimes you have to create the world you want to live in
- You have to appeal to or assume the better nature of your audience
- You have to go all-in
He, and his partners have created a new publishing site called The Atavist—and to do that they found that they needed to create a new platform to be able to tell those stories which is call Creatavist.
Ratliff shared more of his motivations in an interview after sharing his story here:
There came about a movement for long-form storytelling online across both old and new media which Ratliff recognized. More and more people are looking to tell these kinds of stories. The people who care about what you have to say will give you their attention and loyalty.
Bruce Nussbaum is a Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School of Design in New York City, is a former Managing Editor at BusinessWeek and blogs for Fast Company and Harvard Business Review. He taught third grade science in the Peace Corps in the Philippines and studied anthropology, sociology and political science in grad school at the University of Michigan. At BIF-9 he shared the power of transforming the world around us through our intention. His new book is Creative Intelligence.
When we think about what is meaningful to people, big data can give us information but without cultural context it can be misleading.
There is a huge difference in generations. And what is meaningful to each of them. The fastest way to change an organization is to change generations, at the very least you need multi-generation teams. You also need to pay attention to the translation and transition between the two. You are inattentive at your own peril.
Xiao Xiao took the bench at the piano and then simply plays, along with herself! She developed a new piano media enhancement as part of her work on her PhD with the Tangible Media Group at MIT, the result is the Mirrorfugue.
For Xiao, she sees the utility of mapping analogies for music – classical = score, jazz = more sparse but based on theme. Both of which can describe landscapes and terrains like cities. The projection of yourself onto the city occurs in the same way that projection onto music creates layers of meaning leading to unique interpretations. And is so doing transporting your audience to new realms.
The way we understand things is fundamentally shaped by the way we capture our experiences. With the proliferation of recordings it precipitated a shift in the art of classical performance from interpretation to correctness, taking the energy out of the music. You more easily recognize wrong notes rather than the energy of the interpretation.
The approach to classical music that is thematic is the order of the day, but it is in the variations that the true meaning lies. Themes and short form interpretations lack the physical, emotional and intellectual engagement of variations.
Two prove her point Xiao played with two others across the Mirrorfugue! Brilliant! Bach Two Part Inventions.
Peter Hirshberg of Re:Imagine asked, how do we turn our cities and into platforms for innovation? By way of an answer he shared the notion of the World’s Fair as an immersive form. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York was perhaps the worlds greatest World’s Fair. A canvas like no other. The vision was a very controlled and structured one—certainly as offered by GM.
The notion of turning the city into a lab was also shared by Walt Disney – see EPCOT at Walt Disney World as a classic 20th Century example of that. A community of tomorrow that will never be completed. The future was to be given to us by American enterprise and not something that could be co-created. The present day version of the city of tomorrow should be something like Burning Man. It’s 60,000 people to a desert. You have to participate (no bystanders) and you have to reframe the world.
Make ideas worth stealing.
Art becomes a tool to fundamentally reframe how we see the world. The next World’s Fair is the one we create ourselves.
Saul Kaplan moderated a discussion between Tony Hsieh CEO of Zappos & Bill Taylor (Founder of FastCompany magazine). Taylor has come to BIF 7 out of 9 times. A writer and an editor who loves to meet people who are not in the headlines every day. This is an important part of his year. Hsieh has been to BIF 3 times and has shared his story, too.
October 2013 is the 20th Anniversary of the FastCompany business plan. To celebrate they are hosting a mini BIF. The theme is “What are you working on?” Best-selling novelists, TV network directors, investors (Tom Peters), gadflies (Seth Godin) will be participating. Taylor sees himself as being a skunk at the garden party, “It is hard and difficult to make deep-seated, long-lasting change,” but you have to talk about that so that you can be ready for the hard and challenging work involved.
Hsieh shared the challenge of transforming downtown Las Vegas and the serendipity of meeting someone who was leaving town because she didn’t want to work in casinos any more. They funded her lunch spot. He also shared the promotion for the Downtown Las Vegas, Life is Beautiful Festival – a multiple focus festival. He spoke to the action of making change a reality.
The last storyteller who shook up the room was Rabbi Irwin Kula founder of Clal, who said of his honorific: “It’s like any title, it is being rapidly deconstructed today.” Much in the same way he said, we need to innovate in religion. As secular spaces become sacred. And the most religious are the least.
Religious leadership has nothing to offer because we are reinventing religion. Through that reinvention how the hardware of humanity gets used will be very dependent on the software of humanity.
Cognitive and physical enhancement also demands moral enhancement.
We have to be disruptive moral innovators. As with most religious leaders Rabbi Kula left as with more questions than answers…
What do symbols mean? What do practices mean? Do they work or do you become a bastard. What would it mean to be incented by acceptable behavior?
How do we disaggregate wisdom and practices that designed to help us become wiser, kinder and gentler? How do we move people from the cathedral to the bazaar? Real religion is happening in our lives all the time. How do designs reflect the products that shape consciousness and awareness? We need metrics on what practices work.
When the fastest growing religion is “none” – how do we engage our complete selves in ways that are meaningful to us and to those around us? Which regardless of religion is what BIF-9 was all about—engagement to make shared meaning.
My recommendation: come and be a part of the story to unfold in 2014. You won’t be disappointed.
One of the true pleasures of BIF-9 was seeing the range of experimentation on display. Straight out of the gate we were dazzled by the wise beyond his years, Easton LaChapelle. This young man, with the earnestness of someone out to change the world took us through the development of his robotic prosthetic are and bio-feedback remote-manipulation glove (designed using an old Nintendo PowerGlove no less!). What was most remarkable about LaChapelle’s projects was how quickly he was iterating them, how much knowledge he had to acquire to make them work, and how much he is driving cost out of the equation.
This is someone for whom the pursuit of knowledge is not only valuable act in itself, this is the engine that fuels his ability to innovate.
LaChapelle’s most compelling tale arose out of a time when he was at a science fair and met a girl with a prosthetic whose single servo, single sensor, arm cost $80,000. He responded with a completely 3D printed prosthetic arm that can be produced in a week for $400, is approximately 10 lbs today (planned to be 4-5 lbs), and can be controlled using your brain. The resulting arm shook the hand of the President.
Also demonstrating the power of experimentation was the the delightful Ping Fu, CEO of Geomagic. She started Geomagic as a result of the work of Chuck Hull who created the world’s largest 3D printing company. Ping Fu is creating a platform for connecting the real world with the virtual world. She demonstrated her enthusiasm for pushing he envelop of 3D printing by dressing in fashion accessories produced by 3D printing, including rocking some fantastic and other-worldly hot pink platform shoes.
She was not the only person to bring props. Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics, Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT, also brought props—spacesuits, but these were not your father’s spacesuits. As an engineering professor she studies motion on earth and in space. She brought three spacesuit versions to illustrate the evolution of extravehicular space wear and to discuss the experiments conducted to produce them. Building a suit that doesn’t require the astronaut to overcome the pressure of the suit is the chief concern now that environmental considerations are fully understood. Today she and her team are considering electro-spun designer materials. Spraying asymmetry into the functional membranes layer-by-layer gives them more of the multi-directional movement they are seeking
BIF-9 was not only about experimenting in physical space, it also revealed the opportunities for learning through experimentation between physical and mental spaces
Through the work of his performance art collective, Big Nazo, Erminio Pinque demonstrated the power of changing up reality. He presented mask work and street theatre and delved into the chaos that occurs on a controlled level through that ground-level interaction.
What I’m doing is absurd on a number of levels. There was no business plan. Instead I moved forward with intensity and love of transforming spaces and moments.
The delight in seeing the Big Nazo characters next to children become children was contagious in the room. Seeing the world differently in order to shift the context launched us into whole other directions.
Paul LeBlanc, the President of Southern New Hampshire University, shared his university’s major initiative—College for America that is disaggregating the tertiary education experience. By unbundling college education, College for America is making higher education accessible to a much broader range of student participants.
The USA is behind much of EU and Canada, as LeBlanc clearly identified. He also emphatically made the case that education remains the difference-maker for intergenerational mobility. LeBlanc shared the story of Zac Sherman working making Slim Jims on the midnight shift who earned his Associates Degree for $1250 in 100 days. An exceptional example certainly but one that illustrated the power of will when the economic imbalance is addressed.
Education and a degree changes the trajectory of people’s lives.
In order to recapture that mobility something needs to change: we need to be clear about what needs fixing; we need to consider the power of disaggregation; and, we need to be clearer about how technology can be deployed.
With his pop-up Jazz trio who had not played together before hitting the stage, Carl Störmer, shared the incredibly personal story of his wife’s stroke and the power of giving over to the inspiration of improvisation. He noted that small groups mean solos for everyone – moments to shine, take individual risks—the same can be said in organization life.
Here is a little of the improvised music that Carl shared (forgive the recording, it was captured on a whim and at a distance)
Create a network and share. Being personal without being private. They built a network of people who could provide just-in-time support. By sharing, people know when and how to help you give you the things you really need.
Control is for beginners – Carl Stormer’s wife
Let go of the notion of where we want to go. And be open to what is going on. True of jazz and true of life. Be open to the implicit and opening order of things.
Mary Flanagan added to the mix by exploring the role of games and game play in helping people understand their world and improve it. She is exploring how people might be moved to be come an effective force for change and presented a game she worked on engage people in considering vaccination—POX.
New technology is boundless but our greatest achievements lie not so much in our breakthroughs but in how these breakthroughs are used to better the world around us.
Her card game, Buffalo, was a fantastic low-tech demonstration of how a game might address stereotypes in sciences. It directly tackled, Social Identity Complexity. The purpose of the game was to open receptivity to learning about complex social identities. Flanagan believes we can change, even without the desire to want to change. This game helps people recognize their own prejudices based on availability bias. In recognizing that we can begin to change it.
The most surprising storyteller who revealed the power of experimentation as a learning opportunity was the Chief Marketing Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, David Butler. Butler showed how even the largest of enterprises can learn how to experiment and capitalize on their size as a platform for innovation.
Start-ups know how to start but not how to scale. Big companies know how to scale but not how to start.
Butler illustrated the differences between start-ups and larger enterprises…
Start-ups know how to start:
- Developing assets
- Rapid learning
Enterprises know how to scale:
- Leveraging assets
- Network effects
To demonstrate how serious Coke is about tackling the start-up mindset, Butler shared the wealth of experiments that they have launched or are about to:
Coke is the first non-tech company that has joined the Start-up Weekend events and sponsoring 10 Maker-focused weekends. They are sponsoring the first start-up weekend in Myanmar. They have created a co-working space inside Coke and are hosting a series of in house unconferences. On top of that they are hosting their first failure conference and first Hackathons inside Coke.
If a company like Coke, founded in 1886, has developed this mindful approach to experimentation and learning, there is no excuse for any other large enterprise not to reinvent itself.
Lessons in Innovation (and Life) from BIF-9
On September 18 and 19 I had the great good fortune to be in the room for the Business Innovation Factory’s annual symposium/happening/gabfest/love-in, BIF-9. What transpired over two days was a phenomenally inspiring exploration of the ways we can engage ourselves and others in the creation of breakthroughs to make our world a better place. Yes, I know this sounds hyperbolic. The simple fact is that this event was a shock to the system in unanticipated and exciting ways.
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. – Hannah Arendt
As the founder of BIF and the host for BIF-9, Saul Kaplan framed the experience at the outset citing the need for catalysts and recognizing the need to include youth in the co-design of solutions, “they will, after all, be the ones to inherit this world after we depart.” BIF-9 continued to drive home the expectation that this was an occasion for “random collisions of unusual suspects” in service of new and better ways to address the most pressing social, economic and business issues of the day. It did not disappoint.
Over the course of two days there were over sixteen vignettes during which individuals and small groups shared their personal stories, presented their work, held conversations. The storytellers ranged from Easton LaChapelle a prosthetic roboticist and student who is seeking to revolutionize the way in which prosthetics are developed, to Rabbi Irwin Kula who exhorted the audience to seek new ways to engage with the practice of faith and spirituality in that they are being rapidly disintermediated. We also managed to pull off a live Innochat, streamed via Ustream and moderated by Renee Hopkins.
Rather than providing a blow-by-blow account of the presenters (a not-so-subtle incentive for you to sign up for BIF10) here are five of the broad lessons I took away from this experience:
- The value of your network is how well you use it for others
- Everything is an opportunity to experiment, learn and grow
- Problem-finding is more powerful than solution-creating
- Risk is critical for change but the spectrum of acceptable risk is personal
- Create the world you want to live in
Each of the lessons is explored in a separate post (one a day the week following BIF-9). Take a look at some of the surprises shared by the great storytellers and ask yourself, “What story could I share that might inspire another?” We all have a story (or more to share). What’s yours?
In this episode we begin to explore the implications for reframing failure in education. Our conversation with Wanda Hopkins McClure explores the need to value the opportunity to fail and her work with Expeditionary Learning. Wanda is a veteran educator who is deeply passionate about leadership and education and she is a leader in the Atlanta education arena, especially leading EdCampAtlanta. To round out the episode we highlight a moment with the Oracle from Omaha and his fondness for failure.
In this second episode of Hooray for Failure! podcast we explore failure with the ever-charming Andrew Webster, Director of Change and Innovation at ExperiencePoint during which we talk about the challenge of working in an organization in which failure is accepted and expected. We discuss the value of moxie, too! And I share a tale of how the a physical remembrance of failure can resonate through the ages.
Starting at the Beginning, NASA freaks out the Martians. We chat with Chris Brogan, CEO and President of Human Business Works, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet, he laughs in the face of failure. I share an Opportunity For Personal Growth That Sucked.