Pure Content

Look at more stuff. Think about it harder.

office by design / Look at more stuff / Rule #17

"Companies that set out in some formal, structured way to get ideas--I think that's bunk. You've got to make sure that it's done in a free-form environment, where people have self-confidence. Ideas come at unsuspecting times, at unusual places."

- Lawrence Bossidy, former chairman of Honeywell International Inc.

another gem from the Business Week article that explored how good ideas emerge in business. (What If) Bossidy recalls running into Honeywell's director of new product development in the airport. The director had just burned his hand while changing his oil and it got all over his driveway and had a flash of inspiration. He saw the opportunity to sell the valve and hose oil drain systems that had been available only to owners of heavy-duty trucks. He took that product and downsize it to owners of regular automobiles. Bossidy was receptive to the idea because he was juiced up and enthusiastic for an upcoming sales meeting and was in a receptive frame of mind. (mindset)

The article describes how the investment research firm, Morningstar Inc., likes to hire diverse, eccentric people and mix them up in unexpected ways, while asking them to do something unexpected. That work environment also seems to yield new ideas. (confusion tolerance)


Look at More Stuff, Think About It Harder

"And what is creativity? Linking two seemingly unrelated things."

-V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain & Cognition at the University of California at San Diego.

a recent Business Week article explored how good ideas emerge in business. Ramachandran expanded that exposure to poetry, music, art, and humor all seem to widen pathways among the brain's lobes. Intense concounters with inspirational people, professional or personal, may stir traffic flow on these paths.

the article profiles Partha Mitra, one of Bell Laboratories' most prolific young researchers who already has seven patents and four pending. (collaboration / Rule #17) When Mitra has come up with his best ideas when he was with colleagues from other disciplines,, while in relaxed settings. He came up with an idea for high capacity antennas while having lunch with another Bell Labs scientist. "It was sort of like a jam session. We were having fun." Mitra found that part of the fun was in being rebellious because your ideas will be dull unless you relish the prospect of toppling at least part of some existing order.


this job bites

the Conference Board recently reported the results of a special survey and finds that more Americans ae expressing unhappiness with their jobs.

"The widespread feeling among many Americans that their jobs aren't providing the satisfaction they once did is likely to be a growing concern for management," declares Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. "Workers are least satisfied with bonus plans, promotion policies and educational training programs. About the only thing workers seem exceptionally pleased about is their commute to work. Even a declining percentage of Americans say they enjoy working with their colleagues -- 58 percent compared to more than 64 percent in 1995."

if you work and are in the age bracket of 55-64, only 48 percent of your working age group are satisfied with your job. the study also found that respondents rated their commute to work as the best part of their job. these people obviously do not work in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. they also don't consider waiting 45 minutes in the drive through line of Krispy Kreme line as part of their daily commute.


the 4 square model of creativity and sea slug ice cream

a great story in the Sept 9, 2002 Wall Street Journal about a Japanese ice cream innovator who harnessed the powerful of stinky sea creatures to create some truly original ice cream flavors.

(individual creativity) As he lay in a hospital bed recovering from an ulcer, Yoshiaki Sato was jarred by TV images of piles of fish sliding off a delivery truck and into the street. The waste of perfectly good fish engaged his curiosity and he pondered as to whether the fish could be used for ice cream. He owned a confectionary shop, so passionate was he about his idea, he left the hospital to go to his ice cream factory to develop a Saury ice cream.

(team / organizational creativity) The strong fish taste and high water content of the Saury fish made it a difficult ice cream to make. Mr. Sato first got complaints and then suggestions from his workers on how to prepare the ice cream. Ultimately, Sato's company came up with a 7 step process to make the ice cream.

(creative collective consciousness) Mr. Sato's exotic ice cream are not only popular, but they emerge as an economic development tool for rural communities to attract tourist by serving up their local specialties in the form of ice cream. Mr. Sato's inspiration for a new ice cream flavor has led to fishy and exotic ice cream flavors becoming a part of Japanese popular culture.

think a chicken-wing and eel ice cream sundae.


I knew eating a croissant for breakfast was a good move

I just found out that Pure Content has been featured in a magazine ... what I'm deeming "Fast Company for France." It's called Sesame, and they did an article about weblogs. They also highlighted Pure Content. To read the article, click here and click the link that says "Le Weblog, genre multiforme et polyvalent." To see the feature, click here, and find the link that says "Coup de pouces à la créativité." Google, by the way, translates that as "blow of inch to the creativity." If you know what it really says, let me know.

Anyway, Vive la France!


civilizing beijing begins with me

This is direct from The Week: One of China’s leading dailies has launched a summer campaign to encourage men to keep their shirts on, the Los Angeles Times reported. Potbellies swinging free in the sun are a common sight all over the capital. But the Beijing Youth Daily wants the city to practice covering up so as not to appall the many foreigners who will arrive in 2008 for the Olympics. In an effort to shame people into wearing shirts, the paper runs a daily photo spread of local men caught walking around topless, flabby guts in view. Any man who finds his picture in the paper can claim a free T-shirt that says, “Civilizing Beijing Begins With Me.”


stupid stupid stupid

So this weekend, I went to the DMV to transfer a title and to get a new license (since Sarah and I moved back in April). The lines were ridiculous, of course, and it turned out that I needed Sarah's signature for the title. Things looked brighter, though, when I saw that you could change your address online. "Sweet." I thought. "I'll take care of half of this online, and I won't have to deal with the lines and whatnot." Today I go to the Virginia DMV site, and I click on "Change Address." It's all good, right? Well ... before you can change any information you have to enter a PIN. That makes sense. I certainly don't want anyone to mess with my info. So I enter my "customer number" (my social security number) and my birthdate. And then I hit "submit," thinking that it'll take me to some other site where I can add additional info and access a PIN number. Then a screen pops up that says "Within 3 business days, DMV will mail a letter with your new PIN to the address we currently have on record. The letter will also explain how to activate the PIN. This PIN will expire 30 days from the date of the letter if you do not activate it at our website. Your PIN provides secure and confidential access to DMV services. Be sure to keep your PIN in a safe place and do not share it with others."

I would keep it in a safe place, and I would be sure to not share it with others, if they didn't send it to the address I left four months ago. Sheesh.

Do you have any similar stories? Commiserate.


playshare - priority shift

Sunday, being the first of the month, saw another Playshare head out the door of the Play warehouse in Richmond. If you'd like to receive Playshares (like the one that follows) in your Inbox, send us an e-mail. If you want to receive Pure Content (this blog) in your Inbox each day, just enter your e-mail address in that box on the right.

Chances are good that at some point this Labor Day Weekend, you’ll travel along a stretch of America’s interstate highway system. Here’s a quick history lesson: in the ’50s and ’60s, the US government began building the highway system to help coordinate a response in the event of a nuclear attack. Evacuating cities. Moving troops. Shipping ammunition. Its construction has been described as one of the marvels of the modern world. And yet, as we travel along the country’s major byways, we don’t think of their intended use. The role of America’s highways in our lives has shifted. We see them as channels for us to get to Grandma’s, or to get to the beach house, or to play License Plate Bingo, but the concept of the roads being a part of our national defense is foreign to us. We had certain priorities in the mid-20th century. Those priorities have been replaced by new ones. “The way it was” isn’t valid anymore.

One of the great gifts we have is that we can take a system that was intended for one particular use and fashion it for our immediate needs and wants. We can adapt as the world changes shape around us. Are there old ways in your organization that need to be reconsidered? Maybe a system that can be repurposed to meet some new objective. Creativity isn’t simply found in generating something new. Take something old. Make it new again. If necessity is the mother of invention, a shift in priorities is the mother of re-invention. If “the way it was” isn’t valid anymore, consider what has changed, and develop an application for “the way it is.”

let's play.


Passion for Music = Creative breakthroughs on the job

"Music, just like solving technological problems, necessitates careful, solitary concentration. It's essentially about being fascinated by systems, the way things work and the way things are put together."

- Chris Mandra, the executive producer of NPR online. Mandra has a master's degree in computer music and composition and is a guitarist with a rock band. He has expanded the content offerings of NPR and developed sites dedicated to NPR shows. Since Mandra took over, NPR.org has seen a fourfold increase in site traffic.(reported by Adam Baer, "Chris Mandra, Radio Star," Business 2.0, August 2002)


Why I've Started Sniffing Glue

“There will always be persuasive reasons not to take a risk. But if you only do what worked in the past, you will wake up one day and find that you’ve been passed by.”

- Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, discusses what makes a great leader. (Interview by Joshua Macht, “What Makes a Great Leader?” Business 2.0, August 2002)


Innovation is a weed

“Invention is a flower, innovation is a weed.”
- Bob Metcalfe, Ethernet inventor and founder of 3Com commented in an essay (Technology Review, Nov-Dec 1999).

In a recent column for Technology Review (Jan-Feb 2002), Michael Schrage goes on to explain,

“That is, an original idea can be brilliant, profound and compelling—but what ultimately gives it power and influence is that it spreads. Great ideas aren’t enough; they have to be adoptable and adaptable. They have to thrive outside the nurturing greenhouse and the loving gardener’s care.”

What this points out is that what often makes something an innovation, has little to do with the original context/application for which it was developed. If you agree with this, then which do you think makes for an easier proposition: developing a culture and environment that allows ideas to flow or creating mechanisms and processes which enable ideas to be developed and evolved in a way which will most likely be adapted by the marketplace?


4 square- Nathaniel Wyeth and the plastic soda bottle
Nathaniel Wyeth invented the plastic soda bottle or the polyethelene terephthalate (PET) soda bottle.

(individual) Wyeth was an engineer at DuPont. His natural curiosity led him to question why plastic wasn't used for soda bottles.

(team) A colleague answered that plastic wasn't strong enough, since the carbonation would make the bottles expand and explode.

(ccc) Wyeth was intrigued and went out and bought a plastic bottle of detergent. He forced a connection between the seemingly unrelated bottle of detergent, which was part of everyday life in America (creative collective consciousness), and the possibility of applying the plastic detergent bottle to a completely different substance. He replaced the detergent with the soda and left the plastic bottle in the refrigerator. Just as his colleague had suggested, the bottle ballooned, but Wyeth had resolved to develop a plastic strong enough to hold carbonated beverages without expanding.

Wyeth experimented with thousands of polymers before he found one that gave him clear, light weight bottles that could contain carbonation without expanding. He filed a patent for his plastic soda bottle in 1973 and today plastic bottles have become one of the most recycled household products. Billions of bottles are produced each year in the US. When recycled, the polyester from the bottles goes into carpets, fabric, insulation and stuffing for furniture.

story taken from the "Trailing Edge" column of the Jan-Feb 2002 issue of Technology Review


Has anyone seen Louis Anderson lately? I'm worried about him. Same goes for Jerry Lewis.



Some Labor Day Thoughts
There was a commercial a few years ago (late 1999) that sticks with me, along with with a questionable response to the company presenting it. It was for a system development company and features a vignette showing someone preparing a sandwich for a co-worker while chatting with another person. They talk about the fact that their friend is in "crunch time," preparing for the roll out of some new e-commerce system in a day or two. They then deliver the sandwich by flattening it and passing it to their "crunched" co-worker under his door.

I'm not sure what kind of message this company was trying to send with this ad (I think they mention something about commitment to their customers), but I got a couple different, less flattering messages from it. What I got from it was that they either were ineffective in managing and delivering projects in a timely manner without last minute heroics, or that they didn't care a lot about the satisfaction of their employees by depending on those heroics.

I've come across this sort of thing personally a number of times. I once did a presentation on Project Management to a bunch of folks in a software/hardware development environment. There have been units in this organization that have been known to require mandatory 7-day weeks and mandatory 10-hour (minimum) days of everybody to accomplish projects. I have heard an executive in another unit of this organization say that he expects his people to be "sprinting" all the time. These kinds of comments usually come as a response to my suggestion that task estimates be predicated on performing work with a full level of focused effort that can be maintained as a sustainable pace, stressing that unending long hours are not sustainable.

The new comment that came out of the group I spoke to this time was "The profits of our XYZ Company come out of the unpaid overtime of our developers and engineers." That was surely an exaggeration, given the prices they get for their products -- at least back in the dot-com/telecomm bubble, but the pressures on people to kill themselves to minimize the amount of scope cut or overshoot of promised due dates (they had seemingly long ago given up on expecting to meet such commitments) certainly made it feel to the folks in the trenches that it was coming out of their hides.

An old essay on the subject, and on the responsibility of management to provide a creative environment seems even more applicable today, as the continual down-sizing and restructuring takes more and more slack out of organizational systems. Survior syndrome and burn-out are the mental equivalents of the physical maladies for which the labor movement of the last two centuries offered some protection.

Happy Labor Day! -- Frank Patrick

who / what / why

At Play we create brands, strategies, new products, and better cultures for Fortune 100 companies. Our formula for creativity: "Look at more stuff. Think about it harder." Pure Content is one place where we do that, daily.

the cool kids' table

Ben Domenech
(politics, football, and a boatload of know-how)

Creative Generalist
(if Pure Content had a doppelganger ...)

Heath Row
(punk + business
+ creativity = Heath)


go go gadget google:

stuck in an airport

A Pattern Language

Creative Company
Orbiting the Giant Hairball
The Ultimate Book of Business Creativity

The Little Prince

Wittgenstein's Poker

The Dancing Wu Li Masters

The Tipping Point

new to you

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see our neighbors
Comments by: YACCS