Tag Archives: creativity

Go to Bed!

It’s doubtful that Thomas Edison had any idea what the full implications of his incandescent light bulb were.  How could he have know that his invention would create the potential and eventually the fulfillment of a 24/7 society, where darkness no longer limits the length of our productive day?  Before Edison’s incredible breakthrough, most went to bed when it got dark.  (There’s only so much you can do by candlelight.)  But today, we create our own daylight with the flick of a switch.  As a result, more and more are getting less and less sleep.

Many of us view sleep as a “nice-to-have,” rather than a “need-to-have” activity.  Our work ethic leads us to look at sleep as wasteful and unproductive.  As a result, sleep deprivation has become a huge problem in hard-driving cultures around the world.  Increasing workloads, long commutes, busy after-work schedules and limitless entertainment options lead many of us to shortchange our body’s need for sleep.  We often brag to others about how little sleep we are getting.  But when we elevate sleep deprivation to the level of an achievement, we are really showing our ignorance.

The average amount of time an adult should sleep is 8 to 8.5 hours per night.  Your body needs to sleep one-third of the day to recover from the day’s activities.  During that time, your body conducts important maintenance work.  Inadequate sleep leads to:

  • A reduction in the amount of growth hormone that our bodies produce. This often leads to weight gain, but even if it doesn’t, those who don’t get enough sleep often crave carbohydrates and junk food.  Their bodies produce less leptin, a molecule secreted by fat cells that tells our brains when we shouldn’t be hungry, and insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes.
  • Hypertension and cardiovascular problems. The levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) rise when we are sleep-deprived.
  • Less creativity and problem-solving ability. German scientists at the University of Luebeck say they have demonstrated the first hard evidence that during sleep, our brains restructure memories before they are stored.
  • A decrease in immune system function as measured by white blood cell count. Sleep researcher Eve van Cauter at the University of Chicago had students sleep no more than four hours a night for six nights.  When they are then given a flu vaccine, their bodies only produced half the normal antibodies.
  • Impaired judgment and reflexes. A study published in the British journal “Occupational and Environmental Medicine” said that 16% to 60% percent of road accidents involve sleep deprivation.  Researchers in Australia and New Zealand have reported that sleep deprivation can have some of the same hazardous effects as being drunk.  They found that people who drive after being awake for 17 to 19 hours performed worse than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent.

And if these effects aren’t enough, try this one on – sleeplessness causes death.  In experiments with lab rats, scientists have observed that a sleep deprived rat quickly develops abnormally low body temperatures and sores on their tails and paws.  Soon after, all their hair falls out.  While the normal life span of a rat is 2-3 years, rats deprived of sleep live for only about 3 weeks.

In humans, death from all causes is lowest among adults who get seven to eight hours of sleep nightly and significantly higher among those who sleep less than seven. The Japanese have coined the word “karoshi” to describe a type of death that occurs from working too many hours.  Some estimates indicate that there are approximately 10,000 deaths from karoshi in Japan every year.

It’s time to make some payments on your sleep debt.  Your body is an exacting creditor.  It will allow you to borrow from your sleep account, but it always adds the interest to the end of your loan.  Sleep now or “sleep” later.  If you don’t make some changes in your lifestyle, you might be looking at a large balloon payment at the payoff.



Filed under fatigue, habits, health, heart

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

Passion and the Process

When famed composer Johannes Brahms was in his latter years, he announced that he would no longer compose.  His friends and adoring public were shocked and saddened by the news.  “Why?” they asked him.  “Why, when you still have so much beautiful music left to write?”

He explained that he was old and wanted to spend some time enjoying his last years. Who could blame him?  He had already given many years to his craft, making music that blessed so many.

And so, Brahms laid down his pen and spent his time visiting friends and pursing hobbies.  Those who were close to him said that he definitely seemed to have more spark since stepping away from the demands of being in the public eye.

And so it was that everyone was totally surprised a few months later when Brahms announced that he had just completed a new work.  “But we thought you were going to retire…” they declared.

“I was!  I was!” he said, “But after a few days’ leisure, I was so happy at the thought of not writing that the music just came to me without effort!”

Ever been weary of well-doing?  Sometimes the pressure to do the thing you love to do takes the passion out of the process.  Everyone’s expectations for faster, better, more have made you forget how much you enjoyed doing a task just for the sake of doing it.

Maybe all you need is a break.  Can you take a time-out for awhile, go on a vacation, delegate the day-to-day part of the task to someone else, get someone to take a piece of it that you don’t like?  Maybe you need to lower your customers’ (internal or external) expectations.  Tell them that you’ll no longer be completing the task each day (or week, or month).  Let them know that you are going to scale back on the quality, quantity or speed a little.   Often times, you’ll find that you only thought they needed it at the level that you were producing it.

It’s important that you maintain your passion.  If you don’t, the quality, quantity or speed are going to suffer anyway.  You’ll find yourself resenting all the extra effort you put into it.  You’ll feel trapped by your own standard of excellence.  Before that happens, step back from the task and create some new boundaries for it or step away from the task so that you can get a clear perspective.

If it’s worth doing and it’s worth you doing it, we’ll wait for you to sort it out.

(S – Parts adapted from Braude’s Handbook of Stories for Toastmasters and Speakers, Jacot M. Braude, editor, Prentice Hall)

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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