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Week of 14 Nov 2016: I can teach you innovation

Email Jim at jthompson@taii.com

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During all my life, I have been categorized by observers as being creative. Of course, this started with my mother, and all mothers certainly label their children as creative, as well as many other positive adjectives. In my case, however, the label stuck and I have heard it as recently as last week.

Sometimes I think it is more of a curse than a blessing to be innovative or creative. It can embitter one. My wife used to brightly point it out to me when someone used one of my ideas. My counter was, "You mean they stole it." But one grows older, more mellow and learns to live with such matters.

After observing and thinking about this function for many decades, I concluded several years ago, that while people like me may be naturally wired to be innovative, creativity can be taught. It boils down to several steps or realizations. I don't think I have shared these in such a wide audience before.

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So, here goes.

First, you should become comfortable in your own skin. This means you must not laugh at yourself for the ideas you promulgate. Further, you cannot let others bother you when they laugh at your ideas. For believe me, they will laugh at your ideas. That is the very nature of innovation, it is something that others have not previously conceived, so naturally they are going to laugh at creative concepts initially.

Second, you have to be prepared for others to steal your ideas. For your good ideas will be stolen and people will do so without guilt, shame, or indeed, even thinking about it. What they are doing is equivalent to taking cash out of your pocket, but they never acknowledge this, for they do not see themselves as thieves in the normal sense of the word. Yet they are. The counter to this is to be so prolific that others come to you seeking your advice due to your reputation for being innovative. This is the way you collect on your talent.

Third, you must be a rabid observer of the world. Indoors, outdoors, everywhere you go, you must look at what exists, how it is grouped, its -phylic and -phobic relationships to everything around it. You must observe things on a macro and micro level. This becomes your mental inventory of snippets of ideas you can use.

Finally, we get to the payoff. If you are not naturally creative, you start with this exercise. Take a real-world problem and smash together two or more completely dissimilar issues related to the problem. For instance, you live in an apartment where the security is poor. On top of that, you travel by air a lot. It is a real hassle to get to the airport and find a parking place. Security-travel-parking-airport. Voila! What if they built condos on top of the concourses and you could live there? Doesn't this solve all the problems in this group?

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Comedy is created the same way. Since the ancient days of Johnny Carson, comedians have had a problem. In the pre-television days, when they toured in vaudeville, they could keep the same routine for months because every audience that saw it was fresh. Once television came along, they had to have fresh material every day--a huge problem. They solved it by learning to create comedy through disparity. They smashed together two dissimilar stories from the day and made a joke out of them. In fact, I have just ruined late night monologues for you, for once you see this, you realize that is all they are--two or more dissimilar stories smashed together into one funny (they hope) joke. They do this over and over in every monologue.

This is the way you can teach yourself how to be creative.

There happens to be a professor at Georgia Tech in Atlanta who understands this. His name is Dr. Peter Ludovice. Pete also is a standup comedian. Pete and I have spent some time talking about professional innovation and its link to standup comedy. We both agree they are more closely related than most realize.

Next week we'll talk about some innovations in my past and why they went well or poorly.

Innovation continues to come to the safety field. Some of it is such that we just need to find it, others have already done the innovating. Safety innovation can be found anywhere. For instance, I recently saw a YouTube video that showed how to dislodge an object in a child's nostril. Open the child's mouth, close off the unobstructed nostril with one of your fingers, put your mouth over the child's and blow. Object pops right out. Who knew...

Be safe and we will talk next week.

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