Category Archives: innovation

Getting Out of the Boat

Walk on Water 2

“Failure is not an event; it’s a judgment about an event.”

~ John Ortberg

One of the most amazing stories of faith and courage occurs in Matthew 14:22-33.  Recognizing Jesus walking across the Sea of Galilee, Peter asked to join Him.  Jesus gave the invitation, and Peter got out of the boat and walked on water….and then he sank.

Peter remembered the wind and the waves, took his eyes off of Jesus and sank into the sea.  Fortunately, the Lord reached out his hand and caught Peter before he drowned.  “You of little faith,” Jesus said, “why did you doubt?”

You might think Peter was a failure.  True enough, he had such little faith that he doubted Jesus’ ability to overcome the wind and the waves.  But let’s not forget that he did walk on water!  Who else has ever done that? And remember, there were eleven other witnesses to the event.  What were they doing?  They were hugging the boat.

I’m sure they were afraid of the risks of getting out of the boat.  They might drown.  Even if they didn’t, they might lose face in front of all their friends by trying to do something impossible.  Their friends might have been offended that they acted like they were better than the rest. Their friends might have thought they were showing off for Jesus.  Jesus might have scolded them for asking to do something that was His job.  There were probably one hundred reasons for staying in the boat, but Peter didn’t.  So, let’s give him some credit.

On your team, which would you prefer – Boat Huggers or Water Walkers?  If you want Water Walkers who take risks, who innovate, who get out of their comfort zone and find new ways to solve problems, you are going to have to redefine the meaning of the word failure.  Making a mistake while trying something new is not failure.  Missing the target while challenging yourself to try a new skill is not failure.  Offering an idea that no one likes is not failure.  Getting bad feedback about a new way of doing things is not failure.

Failure is hugging the boat.  It’s playing it safe.  It’s staying in your comfort zone and refusing to take risks.  It’s sticking with old, ineffective methods.  It’s waiting for someone else to be the first to step out of the boat.

Getting out of the boat means your team members are going to get wet sometimes when they sink.  Your role is to catch them when they fall and celebrate with them when they walk on water.



Filed under comfort zone, Courage, growth, innovation, Jesus, Peter, Risk

Spud-tacular and A-mash-ing!

The next time your team is faced with an “impossible” goal, try using this visual object lesson to help challenge their disbelief.  You will need a large potato (raw) and a sturdy straw (not the bendable kind) for every person on your team.  Once everyone has a potato and a straw, go through the following steps to impress and amaze:

  • Tell your team that not everything that looks impossible really is.  For example, you hold that it is possible for every one of them to put a straw through a potato (gasps indicating shock and awe!).
  • Ask each team member to stand and hold the potato at naval (that’s your bellybutton) level with their non-dominant hand.  (Fingers should go on the sides of the potato and not on the top or the bottom.  Neglecting this detail could result in an equally neat but somewhat messier object lesson.)
  • Have them hold the straw with their dominant hand.
  • Ask them to put their thumb over the top opening of the straw.
  • Have them visualize the straw going through the potato in their mind’s eye.  (They may need to do this several times in order to squash all unbelief.)
  • When they are ready, have them quickly thrust the straw through the potato.  It should go through cleanly.  (More gasps and some fainting.)
  • Point out that just like they put the straw through the potato, they can accomplish the “impossible” goal.  However, it won’t work unless they believe they can do it and fully commit to making it happen.

I could explain the complex physics behind the demonstration, but why?  Isn’t it enough that it works and has the power to elevate you to legendary status among the dynamic leaders of the world?


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Filed under Attitude, belief, Challenges, Change, coaching, creativity, determination, expectations, Goals, innovation, Just for fun, learned helplessness, motivation, overcoming obstacles, paradigm shift, Problem Solving, success

The Waffle Innovation

Bill Bowerman was a legendary track and field coach at the University of Oregon.  He coached 24 NCAA individual champions, four NCAA championship teams, 64 All-Americans and the 1972 U.S. Olympic track and field team.  But what he’s most famous for wasn’t accomplished on the track.  It was accomplished in his garage.

Bowerman was an innovator.  He was always trying to protect his team members from injuries and make them faster.  He encouraged them to wear the lightest clothing possible.  He filmed top athletes and looped the tape so that he and his team could study the athletes’ techniques over and over.  He photographed close finishes and developed the pictures in a dark room he created at the field.  He helped develop the rubberized asphalt material used for track fields, because it was safer than grass, particularly when it rained.

But more than all these things, Bowerman was interested in improvements that could be made in an athlete’s running shoes.  Poorly designed shoes accounted for shin splints, foot sores, leg cramps and aching backs.  In the 1950s, he developed a shoe with a heel wedge, better support and lighter sole, but he couldn’t find a company to make it.  So, he began making shoes in his garage.  When he came up with a new design, he would try it out on his team members.  He experimented with different materials in order to lighten the shoe.  By his own calculations, every ounce of weight removed from the shoe was equal to removing 200 pounds of weight from a runner during a one-mile race.

In 1962, Bowerman started Blue Ribbon Sports with Phil Knight, one of his athletes.  Originally, they imported high-tech, low-cost shoes from Japan, but Bowerman quickly became dissatisfied with their design.  He continued to improve shoe designs in his garage.  Then, one morning in 1971, as his wife cooked waffles for breakfast, Bowerman had a mental breakthrough.  He could pour a combination of latex, leather and glue on the waffle iron, let it cool and create a running shoe much lighter than any other on the market.  Even better, the waffle pattern on the sole would allow for better traction.  It took some work (and forgiveness from his wife, no doubt), but he soon had the prototype worked up.  He showed it to Knight, and within a few years, the “waffle shoe” from their upstart company (now named “Nike”) revolutionized the athletic shoe industry.  A few well-placed marketing dollars later, and Nike is now the largest sports and fitness company in the world.

You might think you aren’t creative – that you can’t innovate like a Bill Bowerman or a Thomas Edison or a Bill Gates – but you can!  Innovation begins with a passion for what you do.  Creativity is important, but passion is essential.  Passion keeps you engaged after frustrating failures and costly setbacks.  Passion keeps you thinking over possibilities even after you’ve set the work down.  Passion keeps the door open for creativity to enter in at the most unexpected moments (like when your wife is making waffles).

You ARE creative!  You are made in the image of a Creator God, and He has put His creative spark in you.  All you have to do is find something you love and concentrate on it long enough for that creativity to emerge.

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Filed under creativity, dedication, innovation, overcoming obstacles


Start with a cage containing five monkeys.  Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.  Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.  Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.  Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.  The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.  To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.  After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.  The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.  The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.  The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.  Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.  Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.  Why not?   Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been around here.

Put people together for a long enough time, and we will repeat the illustration of the monkeys.  Seasoned veterans indoctrinate the up and comers.  While this process can save us time and wasted effort in meaningless pursuits, it can also kill creativity, innovation and ambition.  The up and comers are encouraged and pressured not to even try for new goals and new ways of doing things, because of the obstacles and failures experienced by the seasoned veterans.

TTWWADI (“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”) spells death to the spark of innovation and creativity that newcomers often bring.  TTWWADI spells a sometimes dangerous conformity.  If you’re a seasoned veteran, don’t be so quick to pick up the hose the next time one of the new monkeys reaches for the banana.

(NOTE: No monkeys were harmed during research for this article.)

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Filed under Change, comfort zone, culture, Fear, Group dynamics, group think, innovation, learned helplessness, paradigm, social faux pas

The Serendipity Effect

What do the following things have in common?

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Coca Cola

Ivory Soap

The Leaning Tower of Pisa


Post-It Notes

Silly Putty

Give up?  They were all products of mistakes.  Had it not been for lack of planning, miscommunications, botched experiments or just plain irresponsibility, we wouldn’t have any of them.  (You can read their stories below.)  It’s called the Serendipity Effect, and it happens when you discover something new even though you were looking in a different direction.

But really, that’s oversimplifying the process.  A mistake doesn’t automatically turn into a breakthrough.  Certain conditions need to exist first.

1) An environment of accountability. If the person who made the mistake covers it up, its potential will never be discovered.

2) A blame-free culture. If mistakes are punished and those responsible labeled, it’s next to impossible to get individuals to act with accountability.

3) Individuals empowered to think creatively. Those closest to the mistake need to be able to exercise their possibility thinking when the error is made.  Teach them to ask questions like “What can this teach us?” and “How could we use this?” or “What problem does this solve?”

What would happen if we began to celebrate mistakes on our teams?  How would your team react if the next time they made a mistake, you said, “Fantastic!  I can’t wait to see what we’re going to learn from this.”  Their reaction might tell you a lot about the culture of blame or accountability on your team.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mrs. Wakefield was making cookies one day at the Toll House Inn and realized she was out of chocolate.  She substituted baker’s chocolate and realized that it didn’t melt in the baking.

Coca Cola

Dr. Pemberton was trying to make a health tonic that would relieve headaches and stress.  (The early version probably did, since it included a derivative of the cocoa plant, and it aided sales as people became addicted to the drink’s effects.)  He took it to Jacob’s Pharmacy and asked Jacob to add water and ice to it, but Jacob accidentally added carbonated water.  The two men tasted the result and decided it would sell better as a fountain drink.

Ivory Soap

While mixing soap one day at the Proctor and Gamble Company, a man responsible for operating the soap-mixing machine went to lunch, forgetting to turn it off on his way out.  When he returned and realized his error, he found that the extra mixing had worked air into the soap.  Assuming that it was a small mistake, he sent the soap mixture on for hardening and packaging.  Within a few weeks, Proctor and Gamble was getting letters from customers asking for more of the “soap that floats.”

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Pisano intended to build a bell tower in Pisa, Italy, in 1174.  However, during construction the soil beneath the tower began to loosen and the building efforts had to be stopped.  100 years later, construction resumed, but the tower began tilting more and more each year.  Even recent attempts to pump concrete underneath didn’t help.  To Pisano, the bell tower was a complete failure, but millions have been to see the tower who couldn’t name even one other tower in all of Europe (okay, maybe one other famous one in Paris).


Frank Epperson was eleven when he accidentally left his soda powder mixed with water in a cup outside his home.  Due to record low temperatures during the night, he awoke to find his drink frozen with the stirring stick still in it.  Many years later, he remembered his mistake and created Popsicles.

Post-It Notes

Scientist Spenser Silver was doing experiments to find stronger adhesives for 3M in 1970.  One experiment was a complete failure.  The adhesive was actually weaker rather than stronger.  Four years later, Arthur Fry, another 3M scientist was having trouble keeping his spot in his hymnal as he sang in his church’s choir.  He remembered his colleague’s weak adhesive and found that it worked terrifically for sticking and peeling off paper.

Silly Putty

The US government needed a synthetic rubber for airplane tires during World War II.  Scientist James Wright experimented with a rubbery substance by adding boric acid, and the result was bouncing rubber.  In 1949, he sold the rights to Peter Hodgson, who then marketed the rubber as a toy.

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Filed under Ideas, innovation, mistakes, paradigm shift