Category Archives: Creativity

Productivity Tip: Walking Meetings. In the Park.

File this one under the general category of things business owners can do to preserve physical and mental health, despite the rigors of running a business. It goes along with getting regular exercise, and shutting down every so often out of range of devices. Do as many meetings as you can walking, instead of sitting. And when you can, walk in a park, with trees and bushes, noty on a sidewalk.

I know several CEOs and team leaders who conduct walking meetings. Steve Jobs, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. Consider that for your business.

Obviously we can’t all go take a walk during the day, and much less a walk in nature; or even a park. There’s the job thing, and working for a living. Still, last week I happened upon two different research studies related to walking. And one part of a normal work day that’s basically just talking is the meeting. Especially one on one meetings.

Where you walk matters

First, Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. I summarized the findings in the image below.

Amazon Park Eugene Oregon

I realize not everybody has a park within striking distance; several of my loved ones live and/or work in Manhattan. Still, lots of us do, and even some Manhattan offices are close to Central Park, or a riverside park. The picture here is where I walk, in Eugene, Oregon. It’s two minutes from my office.

The study, by Gretchen Daily, Gregory Bratman, and two others, looked at comparing the value of a walk in nature vs. a walk on city streets. The brain reacts differently to each, and the study found advantages for walking in nature.

In the study, two groups of participants walked for 90 minutes, one in a grassland area scattered with oak trees and shrubs, the other along a traffic-heavy four-lane roadway. Before and after, the researchers measured heart and respiration rates, performed brain scans and had participants fill out questionnaires.
The researchers found little difference in physiological conditions, but marked changes in the brain. Neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment.

Walking and creative process

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”

A second, completely different research study (despite the similar them), Stanford Study Finds Walking Improves Creativity, looked for a connection between walking and creativity. Done by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz, this one set up experiments comparing results from people walking vs. people sitting. This one found no significant difference between walking inside vs. walking outside, but noted a big advantage to walking vs. sitting.

Here are some interesting details

The overwhelming majority of the participants in these three experiments were more creative while walking than sitting, the study found. In one of those experiments, participants were tested indoors – first while sitting, then while walking on a treadmill. The creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when the person was walking, according to the study.

Think about it. Better yet, take a walk, and think about it while walking.

Creativity is Doing New Things with Old Things

Stanford business school prof Bob Sutton (I”m linking to his Amazon author page, because you’ll recognize several books he’s written) talks about how creativity really works in business. It’s making new things out of old things. The iPod for example, and the whole phenomenon of Silicon Valley.

If you don’t see this here, it’s also on this link:

Startups: The High of Creation, the Wizard of Oz

(Note: this is a rare guest post, the third in the right-year history of this blog. It was originally published in Medium as Why We Startup: the High of Creation and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by Megan Berry, head of product @RebelMouse, my daughter. I’m reposting because it captures the thrill, and the work, of developing software.) 

Startup Magic

I first did magic when I was eleven. I made a lemon dance across a screen. It looked effortless but it took me countless hours. I debated the lemon’s smile; I finagled the dancing animation; I almost quit, but I did it. I put it on my site and watched it dance.

The (not currently) dancing lemon
The (not currently) dancing lemon

Just like the Wizard of Oz I had discovered the truth: magic requires a lot of hard work and a curtain. And there is no high like successfully pulling off magic.
So why do we throw our lives into startups, working long hours, fighting through daily failures and (mostly) not being paid enough? I don’t think it’s for some future payoff. Instead, we’re addicts seeking that next high.

You might think this high comes from having an idea. Certainly, there is joy in an idea. It can energize, inspire and push you to do great things. But it is fragile and could fall apart with one wrong word or bad day. The true startup addict knows that ideas are too fleeting for the high you’re really chasing.
The high comes from creating something out of nothing. Because, after all, what is more magic than that?

Magic in Programming

So, together, we work hard behind our curtain. We nurture our ideas into a plan. We start building, brick by brick. We change our plan. We build more. Halfway through we look at what we’re building and are sure everything is going wrong. We panic and then push harder. The last 10% seems to take as long as the previous 90%. Finally, we release. Our idea is live. It is all worth it.

All too soon the high is gone and we must start again. Looking for our next tweak, our next idea. Searching for our next creation high. Won’t you join us? We might even let you look behind the curtain.



Laughter, Creativity, and Data to Prove What You Guessed

Here’s another Friday video offering. I admit that when I saw the title Boost Creativity with Humor, featuring this video by Stanford business school prof Jennifer Aaker, I was expecting funny. The Disney World story it opens with made me chuckle, but the video itself isn’t. But if you want studies to show that funny is good for creativity, health, and, well, humans … this is it. It has nice details.

Just in case you need to prove it.

In case you want to see the original, it’s at How to Use Humor to Boost Creativity on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website.

Screen time helps build next generation of techies

What makes a kid a future entrepreneur or tech wizard? Of course that’s an impossible question, with a million answers and no consensus. And I’m not claiming any expertise beyond a lifetime as a tech entrepreneur and concerned parent (father of several successful entrepreneurs and tech wizards). kids-computers-flickrcc-donnie-ray-rones

But I do say that easy access to keyboards, computers and the right kind of video/online/tablet games are steps in the right direction. And good for kids.

Do you have kids in your house? Do you regulate their screen time?

I’d like you to take a second look at kids and computers. Not all screen time is the same thing. And I’m pretty sure the right kind of screen activities can be good for kids. I’m not suggesting that unlimited access to mobile devices, living on the smart phone, is good for anybody. But some kinds of games, and screen time connected to keyboards can be really good.

Not that all parents want their kids to be entrepreneurs or techies — nor should they. But some do, and for any kid in 2015, a comfortable relationship with technology is a good thing. High tech is not going away.

I draw from my experience first:

  • My brother and I grew up in the 1950s with strategy games. Sure, we played football, baseball and basket ball first. But we also spent hours with strategy board games moving pieces of cardboard over a map. We learned how to optimize results within a framework of set rules while playing, and it was good for us.
  • I argued with my son’s fourth-grade teacher back in the 1980s about his bad handwriting. She worried about it; I didn’t. Even back then I knew they needed keyboarding skills, not handwriting. Fast forward to today, and wow, I was so right.
  • My five kids grew up with computers and some computer games. They’re now ages 28 to 40, and all in high tech. I treasure the hours I spent playing computer strategy games with one or the other (and so, they tell me, do they). With Warcraft and Age of Empires (real-time strategy games) they learned how economic resources trump military power. With Diablo and Dark Crystal they solved puzzles and planned ahead. And these games were collaborative, the opposite of isolating.

Aside from my experience, there is research. The American Psychological Association reviewed research on video games for an article in the February 2014 issue of its journal Monitor on Psychology. They found:

  • “While one widely held view maintains that playing video games is intellectually lazy, such play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception, according to several studies.”
  • “Playing video games may also help children develop problem- solving skills, the authors said. The more adolescents reported playing strategic video games, such as role- playing games, the more they improved in problem solving and school grades the following year, according to a long-term study published in 2013.”

Last weekend I watched grandkids aged 7, 8 and 9 spend a couple of hours together, collaboratively, solving puzzles involved in a Lego-based game getting Lego-character super heroes through mazes and over obstacles. It reminded me of the real-time strategy and role-playing games of 20 years ago. It was good for them.

And then there’s Minecraft, in which kids create new worlds of structures and adventures using virtual block landscapes, managing resources and building virtual things. There are lots of other examples of good computer games, including some in which kids program robots, solving puzzles with programming sequence. Or consider Scratch, the programming language MIT developed for kids to play with.

So, yes, I agree with all of you generation X and millennial parents that you need to limit screen time in general, and particularly those mobile devices that end up replacing real life with non-stop txt messages, or endless cartoons and such. But don’t treat all screen time as the same. Differentiate between screen time with keyboards, programming and programming-like games, strategy and adventure games, and other potentially educational computing experiences.

Some “screen time” is good for these kids in my opinion. And whether or not it encourages them to be future entrepreneurs, if it helps them develop the right kind of familiarity with technology, it can’t be that bad.

(Note: this is an only slight modification of  my latest column for the Eugene Register Guard, my local newspaper in Eugene, Oregon.) (Illustration: thanks to Donnie Rae, Flickr, creative commons)

This 2015 Trends Piece Could Set a Trend Itself

Delightful serendipity: this gorgeous work, The Future 100: Trends and Change to Watch in 2015, 110 beautiful pages on trends for the future, is also in itself a new way to do things. Global ad agency J Walter Thompson delivers it, for free, via (the illustration here is just one of the 110 pages):

JWT trends slideshare

The content here is the best kind of food for thought. You’ll recognize most of the trends, but some will surprise you and some will make you disagree.

It’s a great use of the medium. It’s designed as a slide deck (PowerPoint or Keynote, presumably) but reads like a beautifully-laid-out horizontal book. I opted to give it my full screen 27” monitor, full screen, and the visual effect is stunning. However, it is designed to be read, not delivered as a presentation. And it works great in full screen, with enough text to make it stand alone, but full use of the images.

Now it’s making me think I want to do something like this on lean planning

Are you Running a LIFO Time Management Strategy? How Bad Is It?

Do you do what I do? I suspect a lot of us do. With me it’s not just what’s urgent or important, but also what’s on the screen, which window is in the forefront, and what just happened. 

It’s like urgent vs. important vs. recent. With a distortion filter for fun, or interesting. 

The title of this post comes from basic accounting, handling inventory for accounting purposes as either last in first out (LIFO) or first-in first-out (FIFO). Lately I’ve been doing extreme LIFO. And I’m not sure that’s good. 

Urgent vs. Important. It’s a really old paradigm, right? I bet you’ve been aware of it forever. I think most people identity author Steven Covey with bet you’ve heard of the problem of confusing urgency with importance. The video here puts it clearly in just a couple of minutes, so I decided to include it with this post.

But that’s not what really happens with me. I’m grateful for what seems like a problem. I’m involved with a lot of interesting things … my flagship company that I founded, business planning, social media, blogging, and lately I’ve had a kick with video editing. My days are easy to fill. 

But damn. Every so often I pull my head up out of the immediate and look at what I’m doing and it’s disorganized, not prioritized, kind of fun but not as productive as it could be. I have no discipline about what’s the next thing I do. It might not be either urgent or important; it might just be there. I do whatever is fun or interesting, or just came in. 

Is that what you do? 

50 Great Productivity Tips from Famous People

The blog at onlineMBA has an interesting post called 50 terrific productivity secrets of the rich and famous. It’s a lot of fun, and some good tips too. You can see the highlights here in the graphic. But click the post … it’s hard to stop reading.

They aren’t all straight lines to productivity, like Bill Gates’ “go paperless,” Warren Buffet’s “say no,” or Winston Churchill’s “take a break away from your desk.” They also include some really good life tips like Richard Branson’s “don’t forget to work out,” Arianna Huffington’s “get enough sleep,” or –one of my favorites — Mark Cuban’s “avoid meetings.”


20 Excellent Online TED Talks

TED — stands for Technology, Education, and Design — is a great resource. They recently posted their top 20 most watched talks. This is a great resource. I’m happy to see that I’ve already posted, previously, several of these on this blog. And this is a great list. 

  1. Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity (2006): 13,409,417 views
  2. Jill Bolte Taylor‘s stroke of insight (2008): 10,409,851
  3. Pranav Mistry on the thrilling potential of SixthSense (2009): 9,223,263
  4. David Gallo‘s underwater astonishments (2007): 7,879,541
  5. Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry demo SixthSense (2009): 7,467,580
  6. Tony Robbins asks Why we do what we do (2006): 6,879,488
  7. Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action (2010): 6,050,294
  8. Steve Jobs on how to live before you die (2005): 5,444,022
  9. Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen (2006): 4,966,643
  10. Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability (2010): 4,763,038
  11. Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation (2009): 4,706,241
  12. Arthur Benjamin does mathemagic (2005): 4,658,425
  13. Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing your genius (2009): 4,538,037
  14. Dan Gilbert asks: Why are we happy? (2004): 4,269,082
  15. Stephen Hawking asks big questions about the universe (2008): 4,153,105
  16. Jeff Han demos his breakthrough multi-touchscreen (2006): 3,891,251
  17. Johnny Lee shows Wii Remote hacks for educators (2008): 3,869,417
  18. Keith Barry does brain magic (2004): 3,847,893
  19. Mary Roach 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm (2009): 3,810,630
  20. Vijay Kumar demos robots that fly like birds (2012): 3,535,340

I post about education and particularly business education on this blog. A great TED talk is sometimes about business, often about thoughts and leadership, also about creativity, always about presentations and speaking, and always real education. 

Really Great Ideas Seem Obvious

Amazing fact (to me at least): the first wheels on suitcases appeared in the 1970s. My wife and I, both baby boomers, have asked ourselves: how is it possible that we all dealt with suitcases without wheels all the way through the 50s and 60s? What was wrong with all of us?

And sliced bread first appeared in 1928. I’m not talking about cumulative technological advances here, like computers and cell phones and ATMs. 

Still, isn’t that the way with a lot of the really great ideas? They seem obvious. But only after you see them. 

Can you help me with this? Can you remind me of some other great-but-obvious ideas?