I remember when I did an Innovation and Creativity talk for the Global Leaders of one of the largest corporations in the world. The slides where incredibly detailed, pretty much all concerned with looking for the “blue ocean space” or unidentified opportunities in segments or verticals of a particular sector or industry. It was PowerPoint presentation after PowerPoint presentation of their year-long challenge and search. It was really challenging for me to get through. I had to pay attention because the agenda had me giving closing remarks to the entire group after all of the formal presentations. Then winners were chosen by the judges —which consisted of myself and a couple of other senior executives, as well as several university professors.
So I intentionally did not prepare any closing remarks because I wanted to glean all of my material from the day and a half of presentations and besides, this way I would learn a lot more than just showing up for my talk and giving a prepared speech. So I did my best to listen intently, but as I said, it was challenging.
This memory surfaced today as I visited Lofty Coffee, my favorite coffee shop in Solana Beach, CA. I was on my second round of work for the day, and I had gone there to work on a specific business to be built around providing restaurants with turnkey healthy alternatives for patrons they may have lost. Why do I mention this second round of work? When I need to be creative or innovative and I don’t have the Code Blue innovation Team assembled, I work in projects or “chunks” to get things accomplished and I pick a different place, each with a different energy, in which to do my work. On a day with limited meetings (which I love, by the way) I usually have four chunks of work and four locations.
My first chunk of work is typically at my office and includes my E2 or elliptical while I’m emailing and then, when I am happy with that body of work or that project, I move on. I might go to a coffee shop (I choose a different place each time) but the next body of work is done at a new location somewhere between 10 – 1 pm. I do this again from 3-5 and then many times from 5-7 —all at different locations, all around different people and all with a specifically different feeling and energy, and even with different beverages. Tea then sparkling water then wine is the normal creative progression. Many times I get my most profound breakthroughs with wine, by the way.
Now I have never really gone into this detail about my schedule, but I want to make a point, because the most profound thing that I came away with —after some of the smartest people in the world and the smartest professors from the top schools in the world presented their innovation ideas to me at that Global Leaders talk, has rendered down to one thing.
As I said above, I was the closing keynote speaker for this event and I needed to summarize or accentuate or do something with all the really hard work that these people had done. Really hard work. I couldn’t take this lightly. I had to nail this closing keynote with a profound insight. I was kind of overwhelmed with all of these visuals from slides that where ﬂowing through my head. Then it hit me. So when they where all finished, the judges – including me – turned in our score cards. When all that shuffling was over and the scorecards where being tallied, the C-Suite exec approached the microphone. People settled and he started to introduce me. At that very moment I had no idea what I was going to say except the usual cliche, thanks for the kind introduction, which I did.
Then I stopped below that very stage that had the huge PowerPoint screens on it, because now the spotlight was on me. I paused for a moment and thought, what am I going to say? Where am I going with this? And I said something like, “How many of you work inside an office?” Most hands went up. I then asked, “How many of you work outside of an office?” About a quarter of the hands went up. Then I asked, “How many of you work purposefully outside of the office at least 2 days a week?” Just a few hands went up. Then I asked, “How many of you purposefully work in coffee shops or public spaces and just observe people?” Out of approximately 250 people, I think there were only 2 or 3 hands that went up.
I proceeded to say that the one thing I thought was missing in those elaborate and detailed PowerPoints was personal and anecdotal experiences —with other people, other cultures, experiences in multiple locations (or something like that). I proceeded to tell the story of how I met my colleague and Code Blue Innovations Team Chief Operating Officer, Paul Wolff, by a chance meeting in an unlikely place. Well, you get the point.
So today my early chunk of work was about the next trends in food, and I pulled up a stool at Lofty Coffee and started writing some observations when I noticed a very articulate middle-aged woman talking with two men in their 40’s about food. She was holding court on antibiotics, GMOs, plant protein… you name it! I left my earbuds in, but turned off the music and just listened. (Yes, sometimes I feel bad about doing this but my intentions are good, and if I tell them I am listening it is sometimes awkward, but I always tell them).
This group gave me more insight than all the market research I had at my disposal. It was a really guttural reaction and very insightful because the two guys had limited knowledge, but were highly interested. They asked questions that would be any marketer’s dream, especially as it relates to package copy and product claims. It made my second round of work incredibly productive.
So, my question to you as the leader of your company or organization is, do you encourage people to get out among the people and observe what they are reading, what they are saying? If you’re looking for innovation, it is an absolute must. If your innovators are in the office five days a week, you have a problem. Your innovators need to be out living a life beyond the office — and guess what…that means you, too.
Onward and upward–