Innovative Thinking

Searching For Meaning at 102 - The Timeless Appeal of Stories

Mark Twain once said that “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Just as family artifacts are passed down from generation to generation, people too can be a vessel for all sorts of stories that are passed on to future generations. Older people (let’s call them “seasoned” due to their wealth of world experience) can be an infinite source of wisdom and guidance in a world often full of conflict and chaos. Even making it to your senior years in this day and age is a source of inspiration!

Listening to stories from members of the older generation can be a fascinating glimpse into the past – and offer hope for the future. A well told honest story coming from the heart can even convince us that, in spite of all the advances, perhaps nothing much has changed in the world over the years.

One of my most recent writing projects (outside of my usual corporate work) is to help a 102 year old lady write her memoirs through a series of short stories – perhaps even adding in a novel or play. At 102, she still has all her “faculties” and is sharp as a whip. So much so that (as many seniors do), she still manages to find a way to correct me at several points throughout the dictation process. Her life could have been plucked straight from a Hollywood movie. A strong and independent thinker, she ran her own adventure travel company for over 40 years offering tours throughout the world. During that time, she also acted as an agent of sorts and recruited speakers and celebrities from around the world to speak at various locations in Toronto. One of her most famous speakers was Sir Edmund Hillary. Yes, the Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame. At the height of her career, she also hosted dignitaries and made the rounds to numerous celebrity parties and events.

She was married to an engineer and moved many times as her husband was offered jobs in different cities. My point is this. Stories often help us find meaning in our sometimes confused and chaotic lives. They offer a temporary means of escape. A good story engages us, draws us in – and in the best case scenario can also teach us something.

And what better way to help us understand our place in the world, than to listen to someone who has experienced just about everything life has to offer?

In life, we’re often told to take “time out” to smell the roses. Yet it’s just as important to take time out of our busy schedules and really listen to the stories that encapsulate our world.

I hope my story sessions will continue and very much look forward to my visits. In a way, I feel as if I’m talking to a sage of sorts. A sort of human search engine plucked from the ages whose goal it is to ensure her experience, wisdom and adventures don’t go unnoticed.

So far, she has been able to weather just about every storm life could throw at her. Yet somehow, looking ahead, I get the feeling that the best part of her story is yet to be written.




From Hollywood to Bay Street: Success is Defined By The Story You Tell

Hollywood1Recently I purchased a book called "The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters." The book is different from others in its genre as it doesn't just look at what highly successful people DO, it digs deeper and looks at how they THINK.

What's striking about the content in the book is its similarities to challenges found in the business world. Whether you're an aspiring screenwriter, entrepreneur or corporate CEO, your challenges are quite similar. At some point in your career, success will depend on how well you can sell your story to people prepared to buy it.

David Brown, a renowned Hollywood producer, once said that "Nothing counts as much as the story, because it is the story that will attract the director, the actors, the studio, the money. The story is the thing." It's the same in business. If you're the CEO of a public company, you better have a compelling and engaging story to attract shareholders and investors. Money begets money, and one way to get it is to have a good story. People tend to gather around a good idea, so make your story compelling and find an innovative way to help solve someone else's problem. Make yourself indispensible and they won't be able to get enough of you.

From the glitz and glam of Hollywood to the driven financial core of Bay Street, success is defined by the story you tell. You have to have something of importance to say, something that's different and cuts through the clutter. You have to tell your story in an engaging way, and develop nerves of steel and dogged determination to be sure your story is heard by the right people, at the right time. Your career will be full of rejection, but successful people are able to take that criticism and constructively use it to get their own story heard.

So take your talent, and hone it through intense dedication to your craft. Feed your passion, and develop the skills needed to effectively present and sell ideas to people who can benefit most from those ideas.

Don't give up. The world is waiting for a good story. Let yours be the one everyone starts talking about and your world will open up in ways you never dreamed possible.

What other similarities do you see between the challenges faced by people in creative industries - and those faced by people who work in the corporate world? Do you think all successful people share the same traits? If so, which ones?


Innovation and Business - An Unnatural Partnership?

I have been on several job interviews lately, and it amazes me that many companies (and interviewers) are still unable to think outside of the box. I continue to get asked the same standard questions over and over again, many of which are not even directly related to the position. When given a chance to ask my pre-prepared questions, several interviewers aren't even able to give solid answers to basic inquiries. In many cases, they end up hiring the same type of person who performed the same duties with a company in the exact same industry (note the repetition of the word "same" here?)

Six months later, I see the same positions advertised because the person they just hired already quit and changed companies. What's wrong with this picture? What's so frustrating is that many companies are unable to see beyond the words on a resume. Qualifications and experience are definitely important, but what about other signs that the candidate would be a good match?

If someone took a new communications job with a not-for-profit organization, had zero budget to work with and no paid staff (only volunteer help), and then was able to pull off a national awards show complete with major sponsorship deals and national media coverage...what does that tell you about that person - and their ability to build relationships, take initiative and complete a task?

Albert Einstein once said that "Our thinking creates problems which the same level of thinking can't solve." If businesses keep making decisions based on the same old criteria and belief in what are frequently outdated assumptions, then there will be no innovation - and no resulting growth. Yet many organizations keep complaining that they don't like the way things are, yet take no action to enable change. To recognize market opportunities or threats would mean challenging old assumptions and rules that made the company what it was in the first place.

Perhaps one answer to the dilemma is to incorporate more "ideas" people into organizations. People who are still able to work with the status quo, but are unafraid to shake things up a little bit.

James Champy, author of "Re-Engineering Management," describes the perception of business this way.."People like to think that businesses are built of numbers (as in the 'bottom-line'), or forces (as in 'market forces'), or things ('the product'), or even flesh and blood ('our people'). But this is wrong...Businesses are made of ideas - expressed as words."

If this is true, then the success of a business will be based on the quality of its ideas. As Howard Sherman and Ron Schultz say in their book "Open Boundaries: Creating Business Innovation Through Complexity"..."If our ideas are out of date, the behaviours they drive will be out of date."

It's time for businesses to think differently. History has shown that it is possible to be wildly successful and innovative. In fact, many of the world's major brands started as a result of great innovative ideas - HP, Coca-Cola, Ford, General Electric. What determines future success is their ability to let innovation guide them through a world of increasingly complex change.