Connect-Inspire-Transform Well Lived

BIF’s motto is Connect-Inspire-Transform.  That’s exactly what happens at the magical BIF conferences.  We hearChristine Costello, Eli Stefanski, Katherine Hypolite, Chris Flanagan, Tori Drew incredible stories, have profound conversations, eat and drink (even al fresco!), and have Wi-Fi.  What more could we need?

Connect-Inspire-Transform is also what it takes to make the magic happen.  Oh, along with some collaboration and leadership, which define the smiling faces of BIF team: Tori Drew, Chris Flanagan, Katherine Hypolite, Eli Stefanski, Christine Costello, Jeff Drury, James Hamar, Sam Kowalczyk, and Saul Kaplan.  At BIF-7, these folks are so welcoming, smiling and make it all seem so simple.  And perhaps at some level it is simple, but it’s definitely not easy. 

The BIF team is authentic.  They truly live and breathe their mission – it’s not just a saying or a goal, it’s a way of life; it’s how they work.  There are many moments of more perspiration than inspiration, of last second changes.  BIF’s core values remain constant throughout.  That’s part of the paradox of innovation – the need for the stability of core values and beliefs to transform our world for the better.  Having been privileged to sit in for a brief moment of rest and nourishment with Olga’s fabulous tarts (and #innopies) before BIF-7, the passionate kaleidoscope of laughter, frustration, triple checking, sighs, and smiles was palpable, and powerful.

One example stands out.  BIF was live streaming.  My friend and client, Matt Hlavin of Thogus was at BIF (along with a bunch of “Clevelanders” who were nagged into going to BIF, gratefully).  During Angela Blanchard’s story, Matt’s right-hand, Lisa Lehman, watching it live in Avon Lake, OH, texted Matt that Angela didn’t have the ‘clicker’ in her hand seconds before Angela looked for the clicker!  Someone watching in real time, 650 miles Tori's "Magic" Shoesaway, was so engaged that she noticed such a detail!  And the next book for the Thogus leadership team’s “group” read is John Hagel’s Power of Pull along with Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation.  That is the power of BIF – connecting people all over the world and inspiring them so they transform their worlds, miles and time zones away.  Next year, when you’re at BIF, remember that – and thank one of those BIF team smiling faces.

Providential #RCUS at BIF-7

Last week was BIF-7, Business Innovation Factory’s 7th annual innovation conference, rightly billed as one of the top conferences to attend.  It is hard to describe the power of a BIF conference; it needs to be experienced.  It’s not just the storytellers sharing the amazing things they’ve done to impact and change systems, companies, communities and individual lives.  It’s also the attendees doing amazing things to impact our world.  Last year’s conference was summed up in a great quote by Carmen Medina in her story, “Optimism is the greatest form of rebellion.”  At BIF-7, Angela Blanchard’s, “You can’t build on broken” took optimism the next step.

You can’t build on broken.  But we sure do try!  We look at what’s wrong first, we analyze and try to fix it and sometimes we do.  We start with a negative mindset: what went “wrong” with this project? What expectations didn’t you meet? What (who?) caused this failure? Perhaps it’s in our nature. Perhaps it’s the path of least resistance. Yet, maybe that’s why many of the ways we try to fix big systemic problems in our society (education, healthcare) don’t work.  Face it, it’s hard to motivate and impassion from the negative.

What if we build on what’s right? What’s working? That’s how Angela created Neighborhood Centers, Inc.  When we start with what is working, what is going right, we focus on the positive, on opportunities, on how things have been solved, creating energy and passion to really make a difference.  Chip and Dan Heath refer to these as “Bright Spots” in Switch.  The positive mindset expands, not limits, opportunities:  what went well, what expectations were met or even exceeded?  If we adopt this type of mindset, think of how we can impassion and motivate each other to design system solutions to wicked problems!  Think of what this would do to motivate our spouses, our children, and our colleagues? And yet it’s so rare.  Some call this Appreciative Inquiry.  I call it the way we should think, period! Because when you look at what’s right, it’s liberating, freeing. This seems obvious, doesn’t it? 

Angela’s had another wonderful line, “We are the only species in the world that creates the future out of our own imagination.”  This summed up many of the day’s other storytellers (and Day 2’s too!). Storytellers shared how they just went for it, how they didn’t stand by and wait to be told or asked, but saw an opportunity and decided to act.  And that’s the point – see what’s working right and go make more ‘rights’.  Connect with those who can help you, Inspire people to share your dream, and go Transform…by making a RCUS!

P.S.

Here are the other stories from Day 1 – about people transforming education, healthcare, churches, communities, art and even mountain climbing:

John Werner, Chief Mobilization Officer & Managing Director, Citizen Schools – getting plain old people, not teachers, involved in educating our youth

Graham Milner, EVP Global Innovation at WD-40, a company none of us can live without!

Eva Koleva Timothy, amazing photographer who know it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer’s personal lens

Jim Mellado, President of the Willow Creek Association, a Christian organization mobilizing volunteers across the world to respond to those in need

Alex Jadad, Physician, Teacher, Innovator at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation asked us to teach our tongues to say “I don’t know.” (and who has an infectious smile)

Rebecca Onie, Co-Founder & CEO of Health Leads looking at at common, obvious solutions to change a formidable healthcare system for the poor.

John Hagel, Author, Co-Chair Deloitte Center for the Edge, drew an important distinction between a story (finite, contained) and narrative (open-ended, participatory, evolving)

Dale Stephens, Founder of UnCollege & Thiel Fellow, shared how he hacked his own education and took it as his responsibility vs. ‘educators’

Fred Mandell, Author and Artist, called creativity a quest that not only changes the world around us, but us as well

Matthew Moniz, 13 year old Alpinist, who used his passion for mountain climbing to understand his friend’s pulmonary hyper-tension and raise funds to help find a cure.

 

 

Power in Innovation Networks

A few weeks ago, I was driving by an abandoned Ford plant in Lorain, OH.   The plant, a key regional employer closed in 2005.  What

struck me were the parking lots.  Some of them were fields!  You couldn’t even see any concrete.  Others were still in the process of re-fielding.  In 6 years, the force of nature was powerful enough to break through concrete and asphalt, not just in cracks made from wear and tear but also in solid concrete.  Do you know how much power and strength that takes?  So I thought I’d find out. Two of my ‘learnings’ really hit me:

  1. The Network: since plants need light and water (remember osmosis and photosynthesis?), all it takes is 1 plant sprouting up between a crack to ‘distribute’ the energy and nutrients of light and water throughout its underground root system causing others to grow and push through.
  2. The Chemistry: the cellulose, starch and lignin in the plant cells creates electrical charges when wet – like water (2H are +, 1O is -).  The water permeates these natural polymers creating a chemical bond (hydrogen bonding) that makes the cell contents and wall swell exponentially, which creates tremendous pressure - pressure strong enough to break through concrete and asphalt.

The Network.  Nature has an incredible under-on-over-ground network that I believe is indestructible – not that we can’t damage it a lot.  Man has a lot of hubris to think we are powerful enough to fully destroy what existed long before us.  We have a lot to learn from nature’s powerful networks. Networks increase strength, resilience, diversity, and adaptation, which facilitate growth and innovation.  We can use networks to create these same traits in society, in communities and even our companies: to solve wicked problems facing our world; to tell, share and create stories that transform; even to just have fun. We need to get over our hubris of our individual power and knowledge, just like our hubris with the planet, and realize its “The Network, Stupid”.   We – as companies, organizations, people - need to stop fearing the network (e.g., twitter, Facebook, etc.) and embracing it – it is a key to survival.

The Chemistry. Have you ever met someone and you just clicked? The same strength of physical chemical bonds between atoms happens between people.  These can’t be commanded or coerced, they happen (or don’t) naturally.  It’s the power of these bonds between people that create, sustain and grow networks.  That’s why networks, which are collaborative are great at innovation – whether in sustainability or other areas.  When atoms collide, they create energy and new structures.  When people collide, they create energy and new ideas, solutions.

So, look at the parking lot again.  What can you learn from the power of nature, from its underlying extending network and adaptive evolving chemistry?  How can this apply to your company, project, initiatives and people? You don’t have to start at some grand scale.  All it takes is one small stalk sticking up through a crack in the seemingly impermeable concrete (your culture?) to spread.

For Innovation, Don't Round up the Usual Suspects

This is the final #RCUS – Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects post. It’s one week til BIF7, time to talk about S – Suspects.  The word has a negative connotation: criminal, shady, basically no good and so does its origin.  Suspect comes from the mid 14th Century Old French suspect meaning suspicious from the Latinsuspectus/suspicere meaning look up at, mistrust, suspect, look at secretly, distrustfully.  The noun form’s first recorded use was in the 1590s.

Being suspicious is not always a bad thing.  How many of us have been viewed suspiciously because we were challenging the status quo or not playing by the rules?  If we are trying to do something new then we are suspects.  As long as what we are doing is good, benefits customers (and thereby society), creates real value (and is moral and legal), then it’s just fine to be a suspect.  When others regard us with that raised eyebrow, we know we’re on the right track.  If you haven’t been viewed suspiciously, while you may get the big corner office, so what?

Who are the suspects in your organization? How do you treat them? How do others treat them? Perhaps its time to listen to your suspects and let them collide with others in your own organization let alone the outside world.  Today’s Status Quo was once suspicious.  Think of the radical troublemakers we call our Founding Fathers who created an amazing country and democracy that still shapes the world in unprecedented ways; think of Henry Ford who dared to not only obsolete the horse & buggy but also pay his people well enough to buy what they made; think Galileo, Zweig, Watson & Crick, Tesla.  What are you doing to encourage your suspects, to put them (and yourself) in situations to make a #RCUS?  Just try.

So, go make a #RCUS – Random, at the edge, Collisions, that create energy, of Unusual, not ordinary, Suspects, suspicious challengers of the status quo.  It may be a bit scary, strange and incredibly rewarding and fun.

p.s. If you can’t make BIF-7, it will be live streaming – check the website for details!

The Unusuals Innovate

As we near major #RCUS-making at BIF7, let’s move onward to U! You and U!  We’ve discussed Random Collisions, so its time to talk about Unusual.  (I do tend to think ‘differently’ - in paradoxesoxymorons so bear with me.) Unusual created the image of a slinky in my mind: what we know greatly depends on whom we know which greatly depends on what we know which greatly depends on whom we know…iteratively in a potentially closed, yet expanding slinky spiral circle.

Therein lies the challenge! How do we expand our circle beyond the usual? How do we create intersecting circles? How do we even step out on the edge of the circle? Well, it’s not that different from how we put ourselves in situations to have Random Collisions.  Etymology first.  The word unusual is ‘not’ (un) in front of the word usual which comes from the late 13th Century Old French usuel, from the Latin usualis meaning ordinary and usus meaning custom. Not a big surprise; no big revelations.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t help thinking of Capt. Renault ‘s (Claude Rains) classic line in Casablanca, “Round up the usual suspects.” (By the way, Casablanca is one of the most quoted movies of all time!)

When we think of unusual people, we think people who are a bit different, perhaps a tad bizarre, perhaps distinguished, eccentric – different from you and me.  We usually don’t expect to meet these types of people in our everyday lives and routines, but perhaps we could!  Since I live in Oberlin, Ohio – home of the eponymous college - it’s pretty easy to meet unusual people in my ‘routine’.  But I’d posit that meeting unusuals is not just an issue of physically colliding with them, but a mindset of looking at the unusual, atypical, unique aspects of people we already know, as well as new ones we meet.  Porter Gale, in a terrific post, talks about the impact of her serendipitous encounters in seat 4C.

In the past year, at least for me, it seems the velocity of serendipitous #RCUS’s is increasing.  You know when you’re looking to get a new car you start seeing that car all over but you didn’t before?  I wonder if we start becoming attuned to look for the unusual the more unusuals we meet!  In hindsight, as I look back at the many unusuals I’ve met over the past 18 months, the collisions don’t seem as much random as somehow ordained, even destined. There is a great word in Yiddish – Bashert (באַשערט) – destined, fated, meant to be. That defines most of my #RCUS’s over the past year or so.   And these #RCUS’s, while starting out on a professional plane quickly becomes multi-dimensional – adding depth and impact.  They have led to amazing clients, colleagues, collaborators, co-conspirators, co-creators and chums.

So, in this upcoming week, can you step to the edge of your circle to meet some unusual people? To discover something unusual in the usual people you meet?  Take Good’s 30-day challenge with me and let’s share meeting unusuals this week!