Posts filed under ‘creativity’

Problem Solving Webinar – Today – August 14th 2008

Tricks, Traps and Tips for better Problem Solving

Cost: Nada!
Although you’re more than welcome to send me a note of appreciation and/or order some books as a way to support the costs of providing this service.

Where? Head here for all the details.

Summary:
If you work for a living, then you solve problems of all types.This session will explore some simple PS concepts and explain how we can use formal, and informal, PS techniques in every day Life.

Prerequisites:
Peter believes very much in the idea that we learn by doing, more precisely? That we learn by failing at doing.

So??? This presentation WILL be interactive.
1) Make sure you have a deck of playing cards handy.
2) Peter will take ‘questions’ via e-mail as he presents.

Feedback from a similar live session:
Peter … We reviewed the feedback forms this week – of the 90 collected for the Problem Solving sessions, overwhelmingly the ratings were 5s (highest) We summarized the feedback as follows, included member quotes:

‘Over the top’ successful. Very dynamic, excellent speaker.
Members wanted more from Peter; many felt his sessions were too short.
“..energizing & interesting. Very helpful.”
“..too short – was enjoyable & thought provoking!”
“Fabulous, awesome presentation. Great interaction & exercises.
Could have spent the whole afternoon in his session.”
“Excellent session, extremely dynamic presenter! Useful for any level of team member.”
“Peter was the “BEST” part of the day.”
“Please bring Peter back to talk to us.”

August 14, 2008 at 9:10 am 1 comment

Why to Write

Writing serves many purposes – here are some of the reasons why I write (even why I participate in list serves)

1) It helps you think.
If you can put an idea down on paper then you are inevitably deciding, from one word to the next, what is important and what is not.

Since writing is sequential, since you can’t say everything at once, you have to impose an order on your thoughts. As a speaker – this is useful, but it’s useful to anyone in any endeavor.

2) It’s practice.
As a speaker, I’m essentially a word smith. My primary tool is the English language, and writing allows me, and forces me, to play with words, phrases, cadence and meter. Since I’m always writing to an audience, I am in a sense, always presenting.

3) It’s advertising.
I DARE you to contact the advertising department of any publication and ask them what it would cost for you to run a full page ad describing your services. Be sitting down when you do this. Yet… a full page article is far more powerful a means to demonstrate your ‘power’ to a potential client. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’ll pay you for the privilege.

**Note… keep all your copyrights. It’s your work – unless it’s a ‘work for hire’ – keep your copyright – you want to be able to use your own work in perpetuity. Give them the right to use your work… but keep your copyright.

4) It’s marketing.
Marketing isn’t advertising. It’s just general exposure. Write enough and people will ‘SEE’ your articles in publications that don’t even know who you are. They’ll insist they know you… when they’ve never met you.

5) It’s your PR ambassador. And it works forever… for free.
Write ‘timeless’ articles – articles that will as useful 10 years from now as they are today. That isn’t always possible or desirable… but it’s a goal to follow when you can. You want your work to speak for you when you aren’t there. Once you’ve written what I classify as a ‘keeper’ (this posting is a self referential example of that I hope) then it gets saved… and then passed around. And literally becomes a personal employee and PR agent.

6) It’s multipurpose.
I’m the world’s laziest man. Anything I produce, must carry several loads. A good article is all of the above, and it’s a potential presentation at the drop of a hat.

7) It’s plastic.
As in… any well written article can be tweaked and twisted to generate at least one more significantly different article, if not half a dozen. Hmm… this ‘article’ was first posted to an online discussion… it’s morphed already, and will again!

8 ) It’s something you’ll learn from.
If you don’t write much – then you’ll likely not even believe this one… if you do write a lot, you might know what I mean. When you write… and then read what you’ve written later… then you’ll learn stuff you didn’t know you knew. I can’t really explain this, but I’m a smarter, more insightful person when I write. I often come up with ideas as I’m writing that I literally did not know I knew.

9) and finally? Writing is calming. Well… sort of.
If you’ve got writer’s block? Well, you’ll just have to shoot yourself – it’s the only real cure. BUT when the muse takes over, and the words begin to flow like water across the page? Then it’s the best thing going to boost your spirit and your ego.

Now… go break a pen
Peter de Jager

July 23, 2008 at 1:02 pm Leave a comment

Simple Wisdoms… Difficult Lessons?

We call them many things, from adages and aphorisms, to maxims, proverbs, old sayings and memorable quotations, but regardless of how we’ve labeled these sage old saws, they all deliver exactly the same thing. They are all, snippets of wisdom, lessons learnt, sometimes at great expense through hard won life experience. Together they provide a large library of life lessons, all neatly encapsulated into pithy phrases. Sometimes they’re repeated so often, they lose meaning through excessive exposure.

Somewhere along the line we arrived at a point where we shun the simple in favour of the complex.

We’d rather take a long, expensive University course on Ethics, than adhere to the ancient Golden Rule, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”

We’d rather invest in extensive quality programmes, than follow the advice of an old carpenter, “Measure twice, cut once.” And we need to be beaten into submission before taking regular backups, rather than remembering, “An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.”

Despite our proven reluctance to follow these inherently simple bits of advice, all of them demonstrate a remarkable ability to survive in our global consciousness. Every country, every culture has a variation on, “Look before you leap!”, “A stitch in time saves nine” and “Slow and steady wins the race.” They persist from one generation to another because, even though we don’t always pay them any heed, we offer them as our best possible advice. We practice a bizarre contradiction, we know these sayings contain deep truths, but we choose to ignore both our own knowledge and the wisdom of the past.

While there are many management (and personal) challenges, the most important of them all, and perhaps the most intractable, is the answer to the question, “Why don’t we do, what we know we should do?

While I don’t think there’s a simple answer to the question as to why we ignore what we know, I do believe there’s a proven strategy to overcome this human flaw. Pay conscious attention to what we’re doing, and compare what we’re doing, to what we know we should be doing.

That’s so obviously true that it’s almost one of the maxims we’re discussing. In a sense it’s nothing more than a verbose variation of “Look before you leap!” or even “An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.” Is it any less true because of that similarity?

One could examine our organizations and identify problems solvable and avoidable if only we consistently followed a set of simple maxims, but that could get awfully complicated faster than we could blink. Imagine having a “Department of Aphorism Audits & Accounting”, or an “Administration of Adept Adages”? The mind boggles and things just get silly.

A simpler approach, (and that’s the goal… right?) is to adopt a personal motto and measure all our actions against its succinct guidance. No, my personal motto isn’t, “Keep it Simple Stupid” (although it could be as evidenced by this article), mine is a little more suited to the world’s laziest man, “Never do today, what you can put off until tomorrow!” (Consider this advice carefully, it doesn’t necessarily mean what most people take it to mean. As an exercise for the reader, think of it in terms of Pareto’s 80/20 Principle and a rationally prioritized to-do list.)

The obstacle to all of this sage advice (the traditional proverbs and maxims, not my ramblings) is still the point identified in the second paragraph; we shun the simple, and insist on elevating the importance of the complicated, and costly. The phrase, “This can’t work, it’s too simple” is heard frequently in most organizations, along with another thought, “If it costs more, it must be better.” (The retailers of the world salute this thought process.)

So? If all the accumulated wisdom of the world is to have any value, we have to pay attention to at least one small snippet of it. What truth will you make your own? What one bit of advice will you measure all your actions against?

If you get comfortable enough with that concept, what one truth would you select as the foundation of how your team, department or organization operates? Start with just one, and if that becomes second nature, then add another one, move slow and steady and win the race. Remember big trees fall under small strokes. Aw heck… you get the idea.

July 2, 2008 at 10:48 am 1 comment

On the Mechanics of one Election

Asimov’s classic “Foundation” is the purest form of SF. It takes a fundamental desire – our need to predict the future – then presents a “What if?” scenario and pushes it to the boundaries of belief. Whenever I’ve read “Foundation”, I’ve always spent more time wrestling with the central idea than actually enjoying the story line.

Is it possible, will it ever be possible, to predict how people will react to a specific event, to any useful degree of accuracy? Are there rules, perhaps waiting for a Seldon to discover and formalize for human behaviour? Will it be possible to use an understanding of those rules to shape the future? Could our tomorrows become manufactured products of calculated action?

I first read “Foundation” during my second last year of high school. I was, by any reasonable definition, a ‘geek’… not quite of the pocket protector crowd, but I owned a slide rule and knew how to use it. My buddies at the time were also addicted to SF and we spent many hours arguing over the possibilities presented by the science of Psychohistory.

We were then presented with an opportunity to use our high school as a grand experiment.

Like most high schools we had a Student council, elected by the students, and responsible for school activities such as parties, fund raising, proms and concerts. We also, like many other schools, had a raging case of student body apathy. Nobody attended school functions, sports events or concerts. School spirit was non-existent.

We, a cadre of invisible students, devoid of popularity, suffering from a dearth of cool, decided to fix this problem.

While the formal tools of Asimov’s Psychohistory were beyond our reach, there were some basic rules of human behaviour we could use in our social re-engineering project. The rule which best fit our situation, was the concept of the swinging pendulum. The notion that popular opinion/behaviour swings from one extreme to the other. The ‘trick’ is to identify the extreme ‘states’ and then apply just enough ‘force’ to nudge the system into one of these ‘states’.

We ran for student council on the platform that student councils were a tool of the administration to distract our attention from the real problems of poor education, over-crowding etc. etc. If WE were elected we would abdicate our responsibility, we would shut down the council, we would do nothing for the following year, and we would ban all future student councils… Anarchy would Rule!

The administration hated us… therefore the students loved us. We geeks won by a landslide. We abandoned the student council. Phase I of our project was complete. Now we waited.

Winning this election was an accomplishment of sorts. We had no prior status or influence within the student body, yet we beat much more popular and influential jocks, cheerleaders and divas. Rule #1? It’s easy to get elected if that is your ONLY goal… Just promise the people whatever they want. Some of our politicians are very good at this.

Throughout our elected year, we threw not a single party, flew no banners, we raised no funds. The first 2-3 months everything was ‘fine’. Then slowly but surely, discontent festered in the land. The value of a student council grew conspicuous by its absence. It grew in importance, because it didn’t exist. Phase II of our project was well on the way to completion.

That was our final year before we scattered to our universities, but we kept an eye on our little experiment to see if it would develop as we expected.

It did.

At the end of our last year, the students demanded a student council election. We knew someone, would step into the breach at the appropriate time. A full council was elected. The next year our school experienced a huge increase in student involvement. Parties, event attendance, fund raising all reached historical highs. The Pendulum had swung from abject apathy to total commitment. Phase III complete. Mission accomplished. Apathy defeated. Hari Seldom would have been proud.

Were there unintended consequences to our little experiment? Two of them come to mind.

Fact: The individual who became student council president… went on to become a Member of the Canadian Parliament.

Fact: I now speak for a living. My topic? Change Management.

May 26, 2008 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

Jeering at Jargon

The IT industry is afflicted with a brain eating virus for which there is no known cure. The medical term for this highly contagious disease is Argotism. The incubation period of the disease ranges from one to eight hours, at which time the subject becomes highly, and permanently, contagious.

The primary symptom of this incurable malady is the ability to speak for hours at a time without uttering a single comprehensible sentence. A secondary symptom is the uncontrollable desire to display incredibly complex visuals using the most sophisticated technology available.

At first it was thought these visual manifestations of the disease, were failed attempts by the patient to overcome the impaired ability to speak plain English. However, extensive content analysis of more than 10,000 visuals has uncovered no evidence to support this hypothesis.

While medical experts admit to similarities between Argotism and certain aspects of Tourette syndrome – in particular the uttering of coprolalia – they have, as yet, found no biological connection between these two conditions.

Scientists are baffled by the contagion vector. The primary methods of disease contagion are typically inhalation, ingestion and physical contact. Argotism ignores these vectors and is instead, spread through the auditory and visual systems. The World Health Organization (WHO) headquartered in Atlanta, GA admits that this method of infection will lead to a global pandemic unless a cure, or at least a vaccine, is found.

Early onset of the disease is identified by a subject’s inability to raise a hand above their head and voice the words “I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Could you please explain it to me?”

In the advanced stage of the disease, subjects repeat the phrases which first infected them, but which they still don’t clearly understand.

(In the interests of not spreading the disease further, this author does not wish to represent any of the “active” phrases in this article. Luckily there is one phrase which has lost most of its ability to infect, which will serve as an example of the virus. Please read it carefully and if you sense the urge to use it in conversation in the next 24 hours, please report immediately to your nearest medical facility. The phrase is “Web 2.0″.)

While it is possible to become infected after a single exposure to Argotism, it usually takes repeated exposure before the subject demonstrates full blown Argotism and becomes a carrier.

A recent WHO study found that being in the presence of a superior when first exposed to Argotism, greatly increased the risk of infection. This increase in the risk factor is assumed, though not yet verified, to stem from our natural reluctance to admit ignorance to management.

While there is no known cure for the disease, there is evidence to suggest that those already infected with Curmudgeonism, or those equipped with a technological advance known as a “BS Detector” (origin unknown), are highly resistant to all known strains of the Argot virus.

An additional finding which has researchers puzzled, is that all the inhabitants of, and everyone from, the state of Missouri are immune to the disease. While stumped by this finding, researchers do believe this anomaly could eventually lead to a cure for Argotism. The researchers are currently herding thousands of Missourians into medical facilities for extensive testing.

Citizens are warned the most likely places to contract Argotism are technology conferences. The most virulent strains of this disease are usually found in the keynote presentations. Members are urged, if they must attend these breeding grounds of pestilence, to bring blindfolds and earplugs to reduce the chance of infection.

There is another home remedy proving useful in isolated cases. Prepare a small tape recorder loaded with the sentence, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you just said. Could you explain what you meant by that?” When a presentation drops into incomprehensibility, you know the presenter is falling into an acute attack of Argotism and is entering their most contagious stage.  Before you lose consciousness, press the PLAY button on the recorder and hopefully this will jolt the presenter back into a temporary state of comprehensibility, perhaps long enough for you to escape into the hall.

© 2009, Peter de Jager – Peter is an inoculated Keynote speaker and Management consultant, contact him at pdejager@technobility.com – This article first appeared in Computer World Canada 2003. Sadly – as of this posting, no progress has been made in the search for a cure. We are beginning to lose all hope.

April 11, 2008 at 8:55 am Leave a comment

An Exercise in self observation

Can you watch yourself think? It’s a useful skill. Useful enough to spend some time trying to learn, and since we learn by practicing… here’s an exercise.

The internet is filled with a new form of ‘magic tricks’ – a particularly good one is located here: http://www.quizyourprofile.com/guessyournumber.swf

So… the challenge here is – watch yourself ‘solve this’ and post the running commentary that went on in your mind as you puzzled your way towards understanding what’s going on. It’s ‘obviously’ not magic – but what is it?

If we get a dozen responses – then we’ll have a nice little collection of problem solving thought. Good luck.

January 16, 2008 at 12:44 pm 3 comments

Five Moments to Creativity

If you’ve ever managed a production line, then you would be well acquainted with the concept of a ‘bottleneck’. For those that haven’t, here’s the concept in a nutshell; Assume process ‘A’ creates items for process ‘B’, and process ‘B’ can only handle five items per hour. There is no point in increasing the productivity level of process ‘A’ past five items per hour. Process ‘B’ is the bottleneck.

With that example in mind, let’s examine this thing called ‘Creativity’. I’d like to suggest the problem is not in a lack of new ideas, but an overly effective set of stage ‘B’ bottlenecks, that allow very little to escape from your mind and into the light of day.
(more…)

September 26, 2007 at 10:01 am Leave a comment


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