Tuesday, January 4, 2011

NEW YEAR’S MESSAGE: Keeping the Inner Child Alive


By Matt Nish


I was reading the book Innovate the Pixar Way by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, and read one of the chapter breakdowns:

“Managing innovation by numbers alone will result in unimaginative and trite customer experiences!”

Pixar has been so successful by giving their employees the freedom to create.  Many companies still think solely about profits, and the best way to increase profits.  Recently, though, corporate culture has been given more recognition as an essential factor for successful companies.  With Tony Hsieh’s knockout book, Delivering Happiness, culture is on the mind of every well-read entrepreneur.

But where does this type of culture stem from, and why does it seem so difficult to achieve?

I think a large part of if comes from our school system, and how it instills a certain limiting perspective.  We’re taught that getting good grades on report cards will take us on the path to success, and those that don’t get adequate grades are labeled as ‘stupid’, ‘incapable’, or ‘ADD/ADHD’.  (Even though someone like Richard Branson has dropped out at 15 and become a billionaire entrepreneur.)

It assumes that these classes we have to take will give us the opportunities to find out what we are really good at and love.  It assumes that 1 hour classes in every subject 5 days a week is the best approach to learning for everyone.  But it always seems like formal education has lagged behind the demands of society.  Most majors today don’t seem to give students enough practical knowledge in the work environment.  This is one of the reasons why people say that most graduates don’t use their majors after college, because its lagging and not keeping up with the information age. (I’m not going to go into our screwed-up testing approach, which only gauges memory as opposed to creative or critical thinking.)

Our school system has fostered this type of “number” thinking.  It’s results-oriented, like the final grade on a report card.  It’s the bottom line perspective, without taking into account the human element necessary for continued success.

“Too many people grow up.  That’s the real trouble with the world.  They forget.  They don’t remember what it’s like to be twelve years old.”  Walt Disney, awesome entrepreneur who visited over 200 banks to find the funding for Disneyland.

It’s important to know what the numbers indicate, but also be aware that they never paint the whole picture.  Long-term success is more influenced by your people than today’s higher profit margins.  Foster experimentation and idea generation.  Innovative people, which seems to be the most valuable asset to today’s companies, are attracted to innovative culture.  Companies like Google, Pixar, Mahalo, Zappos, and on…all have creativity ingrained within them.  They let you play, like children having recess.  They want you to have fun and give you the freedom to innovate, because this encourages everyone to focus on creation and not profit-maximization.  And all businesses, even the dinosaurs, must continue to innovate well or they will eventually die off.

“Innovation is one of our core values.  It sounds trite, everyone says this, but we really live it.  The way we work at Target is a lot of the ideas bubble from the bottom up.  It’s not a top-down organization…”    Michael Alexin, Target VP of product design and development

So, how does this all boil down for those of us that don’t run a company?  If we’ve been taught all our lives to be results-oriented, then we should set ourselves apart by developing a different type of perspective.  But how do we gain that?  By continually trying new things and learning.  By fostering our creative abilities.  Trying a new approach or activity.  Stepping outside our comfort zone.  Thinking of unconventional ways to do things, and finding connections where most see disconnections.  Then we can grow as creators.

And it’s important because today, we are all creators.

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