Entries in Innovation (9)

Did you ever "wonder"...


"When they invented sliced bread, what did they say it was "the greatest thing since"?

(C) Todd Cherches

Have you ever asked yourself...


"What did the inventors of the drawing board go back to when the first one didn't work out?"

(C) Todd Cherches

De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats”: A Powerful Visual Thinking Method That Will Forever Change the Way You Think












Of all the different management, leadership, communication, innovation, and thinking tools, tips and techniques that I’ve learned over the years, nothing has impacted me more, or has had more practical applications and benefits, than Edward de Bono’s classic “Six Thinking Hats” model.

De Bono, the guru of “thinking about thinking,” originated this framework that I now use -- either consciously or unconsciously -- literally every single day. It’s one of the best examples of how we can use visual and metaphorical thinking and communicating to solve real-world challenges.

The model in brief: There are six metaphorical “hats” — each a different color...and each hat represents a different type of thinking. By metaphorically "taking off" or "putting on" a different hat, you can intentionally and strategically switch to a different type of thinking.

Here are the six hat colors, and a brief overview of what type of thinking each represents:

1. White Hat: Neutral; objective; facts; data; information; objectivity

2. Red Hat: Emotion; gut feeling; intuition; passion; subjectivity

3. Black Hat: Cons; critical; caution; risks; costs; weaknesses; disadvantages

4. Yellow Hat: Pros; optimism; benefits; strengths; advantages

5. Green Hat: Creativity; innovation; brainstorming; new ideas; possibilities

6. Blue Hat: Process; structure; thinking about thinking; next steps


The Six Thinking Hats method can be applied in many different types of situations, for example:

  • In a meeting: as a formalized, structured process (e.g., a group brainstorming or strategy process);  
  • In a one-on-one discussion: as a common language that will encourage dialogue and minimize conflict;
  • In your own mind: as a way to frame your own thinking, separate fact from emotion, and make better decisions.

When used in a group, it enables what de Bono calls “parallel thinking,” which occurs when all members metaphorically “wear” the same color hat at the same time. This dramatically improves communication, minimizes conflict, and fosters innovation.

How do the Six Thinking Hats do this? The best way to understand it is through a real-life illustration:

Say you’re in a meeting, trying to reach a decision. Instead of the normal chaos and conflict caused by endless debate, cross-talk, shooting down ideas, etc., what if we were able to say:

“Let’s temporarily put aside our Red Hats (our emotional reactions), our Black (negative/critical) and Yellow (positive/supportive) opinions, and all put on our White Hats to first objectively identify the objective facts and relevant data, before we start jumping to possible solutions (Green Hat) and proposing next steps (Blue Hat).”

Once agreed, from there the group can efficiently, and with minimal conflict and debate, run the situation through this simple and logically sequenced series of questions:

1. White Hat: What are the facts about the situation at hand?

2. Red Hat: How do people feel, emotionally, about the situation?

3. Black Hat: What’s not working — and why?

4. Yellow Hat: What is working – and why?

5. Green Hat: What’s new (ideas, possibilities)?

6. Blue Hat: What’s next (where do we go from here)?

(Note: You don’t necessarily always have to use the hats in this exact sequence; but this is an example of a very common and effective approach.)

By enabling parallel thinking – by having everyone "wear" the same color hat at the same time (and headed together in the same direction) — you will see how much more orderly your meetings will be, and how much more quickly you can reach decisions and get things done!

And if you assign one person in the meeting to be the Blue Hat leader, that person (regardless of organizational role or rank) will serve to make sure that things run smoothly, stay on track, and that everyone plays by the rules.

Using this methodology, my company has successfully conducted numerous executive-level strategy meetings, facilitated cross-functional team-building and brainstorming sessions, and helped hundreds of individuals maximize the effectiveness of their own decision-making skills, along with their ability to more effectively conceive and communicate ideas.

Here’s another real-life example, this one using the Six Thinking Hats method relative to a job search:

Let’s say that you were presented with a potential job opportunity. What kind of question might each Thinking Hat pose to help you make the best possible decision?

1. White Hat: What are the objective facts about the position and the company (title, salary, benefits, location, industry, work environment, department, new manager, etc.)?

2. Red Hat: How do I feel about this opportunity; what is my gut telling me (am I excited, nervous, hesitant, concerned, etc)?

3. Black Hat: What don‘t I like about it, what’s bad about it — and why (i.e., what are the negatives or concerns associated with the White Hat facts and my Red Hat feelings)?

4. Yellow Hat: What do I like about it, what’s good about it – and why (what are the positives associated with the White Hat facts and my Red Hat feelings)?

5. Green Hat: What are the various options, alternatives, choices available to me (i.e., what’s going through my mind in terms of what-ifs, and out-of-the-box possibilities; what does it look like if I visualize actually taking this job)?

6. Blue Hat: What are the next steps; where do I go from here (when do I have to make a decision by, what do I have to do next, what actions should I take)?

Although this is just one simple and common example, you can easily see how using the Six Thinking Hats to frame your thinking can go a long way toward maximizing your effectiveness – and enhancing your confidence – when it comes to making any decision.

It is important to note, however, that while it takes just a few minutes to learn this seemingly simple model, it takes time, training, and much practice to truly master it.

For more on de Bono and his Six Thinking Hats method, there are tons of online resources, including a number of good (as well as some really bad) YouTube videos available, including this three-minute clip of de Bono himself talking about it. I also highly recommend the Six Thinking Hats book itself...which just might be the best $12 you spend this week!

That’s a Novel Idea! How Reading Literature (and Other Non-Business Books) Can Benefit You at Work and in Life


As an entrepreneur who runs a management consulting firm and teaches a graduate course in “Leadership & Team Building” at NYU, most people assume that I have a degree in business.

But I don’t.

I was an English literature major.

And while I LOVE reading business books (and average one a week), the truth is that today’s businessperson cannot – and should not – live by business books alone.

With the word “novel” having the same Latin root, “nov” (meaning “new”) as the word “innovation,” it follows that reading more non-business writing may be not only an engaging and enjoyable escape, but a catalyst for new business ideas.

When my students ask me, “How can I become a better writer?” my response is always: Become a better reader.

And when I am in need of inspiration, I often find myself going back to my English major roots to revisit the classics. As the French novelist Marcel Proust famously said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” So every time I go to my bookshelf to grab some Shakespeare or poetry, or a play or a novel – even those (especially those) I have read before – I tend to find that these great works not only hold up over time, but take on new meaning, foster innovation, and provide fresh insights into the human condition. Insights that can be directly applied to the everyday world of business. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote that one “cannot set foot in the same river twice,” for both the river and the person are, forever, in flux. So it is with reading and re-reading the classics: Each time, a new adventure. Each time, a new voyage of discovery.

A few examples:

SHAKESPEARE: The story of “Julius Caesar” is as current, meaningful and impactful as in the time it was written (1599), as well as when it actually happened (44 BC). It explores the world of individuals, organizations, and teams -- as well as the themes of politics, public speaking, persuasion, and power. To see parallels to today, all one needs to do is open up the newspaper or turn on the tv. And how many times has your workplace turned into “A Comedy of Errors” in which you needed people to do things “As You Like It” so that “All’s Well That Ends Well”…only to find yourself working for a boss who always makes “Much Ado About Nothing,” and is as indecisive as Hamlet, as weak as Macbeth, as over-emotional as Othello, and/or as mad as King Lear. Turning everything into a “Tempest”…when what you really want and need is the inspirational leadership of Henry V.

PLAYS: Arthur Miller’s classic dramas “Death of a Salesman” and “All My Sons” each explore numerous, timeless business-related themes, from core values (e.g., truth and integrity) and work/life balance, to relationships, communication, motivation, influence, and human nature in general. In the devastating drama, “All My Sons,” factory owner Joe Keller must make a choice between shipping a batch of cracked airplane parts (hoping nothing will happen) or admitting the truth and taking responsibility, thereby risking the loss of his government contract. You can probably guess which option he chooses and what the tragic outcome is. While this was a work of fiction, the fact is we can see this type of tragic scandal play out in the business section of the newspaper everyday – from faulty airbags (Takata) and ignition switches (GM), to tainted food, and toxic water supplies (Flint, MI).

FICTION: In this age of crowdsourcing, mob mentalities, and social media flaming, might there be a cautionary tale for us to heed hidden within Shirley Jackson’s still-shocking, horrifying, and controversial 1948 short story, “The Lottery”? And who hasn’t wanted to say to his or her boss at one point or another, when asked to do something, “I would prefer not to,” as the title character famously does in Herman Melville’s classic short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" (1853)? And having recently re-read five of my all-time favorite novels – 1984, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and To Kill a Mockingbird – though times have changed, I found the themes and messages contained therein to be as relevant, thought-provoking, universal, and impactful as ever. And there is a powerful reason, from a leadership perspective, why Atticus Finch (the original To Kill a Mockingbird version, not the recently-published, unauthorized Go Set a Watchman version) is often held up as one of the greatest fictional heroes, role models, and real-life influences in the history of American literature (and film).

POETRY: Reading poetry by the likes of Keats, Shelley, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Cummings, Yeats, Eliot, and so many others reminds us of the importance of language when attempting to effectively communicate with others. Poetry demonstrates the power of visual imagery, alliteration and allusion, rhyme and rhythm, meter and metaphor, and more. For example, one of the hot topics out there in the business world right now is “mindfulness.” What better example of that is there than Wordsworth’s 1804 poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (aka “The Daffodils”) in which he illustrates the concept of “emotion recollected in tranquility”! And when it comes to the subject of decision-making, is there a more well-known, thought-provoking, and impactful metaphor than Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”? And while we set off on the rat race each morning, striving to climb the corporate ladder (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?), it’s important to keep in mind our core values, maintain a sense of perspective, strive for work/life balance, and seek happiness, taking heed of the cautionary tale of E. A. Robinson’s “Richard Cory.”

Beyond entertainment, enjoyment, and escape, great literature transports us to another place and time, allowing us to experience the world through the eyes of others. It often brings us back to the basics, and reminds us of the universality of the human condition, making us more informed and literate, more educated and enlightened, more aware and self-aware, more empathetic, more humane, and more human. And, all together, this will (hopefully) make us both better business leaders and better people.

And while the focus of this post is on the business value of fiction, the same can be said of non-business, non-fiction books. Whether you enjoy reading about the arts, sports, science, politics, history, biography, travel, self-help, etc., if you are open to “seeing with new eyes,” you are guaranteed to discover valuable business and life lessons hidden in plain sight within anything you read. So if you are thinking about switching careers, looking for leadership lessons, or seeking out fresh new ideas and approaches, one of the best ways to stimulate innovation and open up the world of possibilities is to look outside of, and beyond, your usual field of vision.

And, in addition to books, business and life lessons of all kinds can, of course, be gleaned every day, both online and offline, from such diverse media as newspapers, magazines, e-newletters, blog posts, or even the back of a cereal box. There is so much out there to read and so little time; so much to learn, wherever we turn...if we are proactively looking for it and open to seeing it. As Simon & Garfunkel once sang, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls…and tenement halls.”

If “Wisdom is where Knowledge and Experience Meet,” then when we enhance our knowledge through reading, and combine that with the real-world experiences of our everyday lives, we eventually attain the wisdom that only time can teach.  

So if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to start reading more – and even if your high school English lit days seem like a distant memory – it’s never too late to dig up and dust off one of your old novels or anthologies and read or re-read those timeless classics. It’s a great habit to get into, and one that you can continue to enjoy and benefit from for the rest of your life. Though we are all growing older with each passing day, it’s never too late to hit the pause button, turn back the clock, and rediscover the classics. 

As the Fool put it to King Lear: “Thou shouldst not have been old before thou hadst been wise.”

14 Books That Will Make You More Innovative in 2014

A lot of people use the words “innovation” and “creativity” interchangeably, but my favorite definition helps differentiate the two: “Innovation is the value-added application of a creative idea.”

Of course, knowing a snappy definition is one thing — putting it into practice is something else altogether. If you’re struggling to truly innovate, or if you just want to refresh your creative mojo, start with this list of books that will make you more innovative in the new year.

I know there are a LOT of books out there on these topics, but this list is made up of some of my own trusted favorites. It’s an eclectic mix of exciting new releases from the past year combined with a few of what I consider the all-time greats. Each of the books on this year’s list will help you generate more creative ideas, communicate and present your ideas more effectively, and/or foster a culture of innovation.

Plus, they’re all highly entertaining and enjoyable to read. Written by some of the top thought-leaders out there today, some of whom you may already know and others you most definitely should. As my company’s mission and motto is “Educate, Engage, and Excite,” TM I assure you that every book on this list fulfills this slogan with flying colors. They will inform you, capture and hold your interest, and inspire you to new heights.

*If you missed it, here's my 2013 list: Thirteen Books That Can Change Your Life (If You Actually Read Them). 

14 Books, 365 Days of Innovation

My 14 recommended books for 2014, in alphabetical order, are (drum roll please…):

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People and 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People
Susan M. Weinschenk Ph.D.
These two beautiful, colorful, companion books take a fascinating, psychology-based (and yet extremely practical) approach to both technology design and presentation design based on how people see, listen, think, feel, learn, and act. Here’s a fun
video sample from the author (otherwise known as the “Brain Lady”), as well as a link to her blog.

Back of the Napkin, The: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures and Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-on Method for Solving Complex Problems With Simple Pictures 
Dan Roam
Cave drawings (and, therefore, visual communication) existed long before the written word was invented. These books (especially the fun and interactive “Unfolding the Napkin” workshop-in-a-book) will teach you how to think, problem-solve, and communicate more visually, and master the art of napkin-sketching, whiteboard-drawing, and more. Tons of great resources on the
website as well.

Design For How People Learn
Julie Dirksen
The simple and straightforward title pretty much says it all. But what it doesn’t tell you is how extremely creative, visually appealing, and entertaining this amazing book is. For people who design and/or deliver training or facilitate workshops of any kind, this book is my new #1 recommendation. Even if you don’t do training, it will help to make you a smarter thinker and learner.

Doodle Revolution, The: Unlock the Power to Think Differently
Sunni Brown
The Beatles sang, “You say you want a Rev-o-lution, we-ll you know, we all want to change the world.” Well, visual thinker Sunni Brown IS changing the world through her Doodle Revolution by single-handedly shifting the paradigm from thinking of doodles as useless scribbles to giving the doodle its rightful place as a powerful and under-appreciated catalyst for innovation. Warning: If you visit her
website, just know that you will be entering a wonder-filled world of color and creativity that you may never want to leave.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
Adam Grant
While this book is not necessarily about innovation, per se, the creative and powerful storytelling by Wharton professor Adam Grant teaches us how being a “giver” rather than a “taker,” and and how selflessly cultivating a climate of generosity can help foster a culture of collaboration and innovation. One of the best business books of the past year, by a terrific guy who definitely practices what he preaches.

Icarus Deception, The: How High Will You Fly?
Seth Godin
No book list on the topic of innovation would be complete without a selection by the brilliant and prolific thought leader Seth Godin. Last year it was
Linchpin; this time around it’s Icarus. Impossible to describe in a sentence, the basic premise is: you are an artist and your work – whatever it is that you do – is your art. So now that you realize that, the question is: “what are you going to do about it?” If you don’t know Seth Godin yet, or don’t yet subscribe to his
blog, you must. You just must. Take my word for it.

Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs
Bryan W. Mattimore
Staring at a blank screen, flip chart or whiteboard is no way to come up with new ideas — especially as a team. So ideation specialist Bryan Mattimore generously shares with us a number of his time-tested ideation and innovation secrets, including his simple but powerful (and energizing) “brainwalking” process, as well as numerous other idea-generating facilitation techniques and an array of inspirational and entertaining real-world innovation success stories.

Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia — Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing the Way We Run Things
Brad Szollose
In a world where Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials are thrown together and expected to work side by side in peace and harmony, the question becomes: “how can we leverage the power of this generational diversity to cultivate a climate of collaboration, creativity, and innovation?” Internet entrepreneur and keynote speaker Brad Szollose tells us how through humorous and insightful research and storytelling.

Naked Presenter, The: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides
Garr Reynolds
To gain buy-in for your ideas, you need to be able to communicate and/or present them to your listener or audience. And this book is, without question, the single best book on public speaking I’ve ever read. And I’ve pretty much read them all. Written by Garr Reynolds, who I consider the king of presentations, this simple, aesthetically beautiful book is a resource that you will refer back to time and time again.
Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
Garr Reynolds
About how many business books can you say, “This book, literally, forever changed my life and the way in which I see the world?” This awe-inspiring, Zen-based piece of work  will take your breath away — and make you unable to sit through (or produce) another horrible PowerPoint presentation ever again. His
website and blog are amazing resources, as well.

Quick and Nimble: Lessons From Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation
Adam Bryant
Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So what can business leaders do to “build and foster a corporate culture that encourages innovation and drives results?” In his brand new book,
New York Times business columnist and author of
The Corner Office, Adam Bryant, identifies six key drivers that help companies to stay quick and nimble, as well as innovative.

Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences and Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations
Nancy Duarte
If Garr Reynolds is the king of presentation design and delivery, then Nancy Duarte is the queen. There is no way to put it other than to say that these two amazing – and amazingly beautiful – books will blow your mind. While
Slide:ology is all about creating more effective visual presentations, Resonate is about telling more visual and impactful stories. Together, these two awesome works will transform you and help you transform your audiences. Great resources on her
site as well.

Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get And Keep Your Creativity Flowing At Home, At Work & In Your Studio
Noah Scalin
Do you ever feel stuck when trying to come up with new creative ideas? This fun, colorful, visual, interactive book by Noah Scalin provides you with page after page of exercises intended to kick-start your creativity and help you generate new ideas. Whether you read it cover to cover, or simply open it to a random page, this stimulating do-it-yourself guidebook will help jump-start your creative flow.

White Space is Not Your Enemy: A Beginner’s Guide to Communicating Visually Through Graphic, Web, & Multimedia Design
Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

This book is a wonderful introduction to design thinking for non-designers. For someone like myself who previously knew very little about design, this visually beautiful book opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.

While there are definitely other great books out there on the topic of innovation and creativity, you have to start somewhere. So this list of personal favorites is as good as any and, to me, they are some of the best of the best. Now is the perfect time to start turning those New Year’s “resolutions” into “real solutions,” and one way to do that is through reading.

I know this list may, at first glance, seem a little overwhelming, but remember that, as Confucius said, a reading journey of a thousand (or even 14) books begins with a single book. Or something like that. So let the wonderful books on this list be the fuel that powers your innovation engine and speeds you down the highway of success in 2014.