Posts filed under Wrinkles

The irony of "what works"

Once we discover “what works,” inevitably, it stops working. Introduce time and competition and expectations to anything, and suddenly, what once felt like a smash hit slowly wears away.

Time: The context changes. Maybe the thing we did no longer makes sense, or maybe we keep returning to the work so much, we’ve stopped caring as much.

Competition: The market saturates. Whatever we did that was a success thanks to its originality no longer feels like a competitive edge as others catch up.

Expectations: We exceeded their expectations once, which is great, except now their expectations have changed. We can’t keep relying on that same thing, because now they just expect it. That’s the paradox of exceeding expectations: Once we do, we’ve changed their expectations.

Whatever the cause, we experience something called emotional decay — the process by which an initial moment of innovation stagnates as others lost interest and we lose results.

It looks like this:

emotional decay

We move left-to-right from the local maximum (the point at which “what works” will return the best results it ever will, because others like it as much as they ever will), to diminishing returns, to stagnation, to this terrible moment where everything feels broken and we panic that I’ve decided to call the crapping point.

As a result of all of this, to get back up to where we once were, we need to “go big.” We jump in a room to brainstorm, hire consultants and agencies to put out fires, or fire people because we don’t have the money to pay them any longer. We have to trend-hop, leaping between ideas sold to us by experts online. We panic-search for the next big thing. It’s an all-out sprint to manufacture the next spike in the numbers.

This is simply unsustainable.

It’s also ironic.

In our efforts to cling to the tried-and-true, we’re trying to mitigate the risk of change. Why try new things when we’ve found “what works” and can keep repeating it? It’s risky to do anything new, exciting, creative, and innovative when we have our playbook and it’s paying off.

Except it’s not. It’s just a question of where the risk occurs, and to what degree.

When we cling to “what works” for awhile, and the effects of emotional decay render the thing stagnant or even obsolete, we then have to execute some kind of massive change to get back up to where we once were. That’s far riskier than making small changes all the time, trying little things when our results feel strongest.

In other words, when things are working is the perfect time to reinvent ourselves — not through big changes once it’s too late, but small and refreshing changes on the status quo made all the time.

If we normally change only after something stops working, what if we changed what was working while it was still working? Maybe then we’d avoid emotional decay. We’d never stagnate and never reach the crapping point.

The irony of “what works” is it’s a shortcut to do work that’s been de-risked. Except it’s fraught with risk. We just don’t see it … until it’s too late.

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Posted on September 17, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.

Which box do you mean?

The science is inescapable: constraints breed creativity. Creative freedom doesn’t work. Just think for a moment about a project where you have total freedom. Here, I’ll give both of us such a task right now:

Write a blog post about ANYTHING.

Already, we have a few constraints our brains must grapple with:

Write: put your thoughts into complete sentences using the language you know.

A blog post: whatever you picture when you hear “blog post,” you’re now anchoring to that notion of this project.

About ANYTHING: we understand that we should pull from the entire universe of things one could write about, but since we’re incapable of being “one,” and you can only be “you,” you’ll inevitably pull from YOUR list of “anything” — work, hobbies, personal interests, observations from your life, etc.

Without ever naming what we typically think of as “constraints,” our brains have automatically begun constructing the walls of the box.

Next, given that same command to write a post about anything, we move to the obvious constraints that we mindfully seek: When will I write this? Using what app? How long will it be? Any stories or ideas I have percolating? Do I need to submit this to you, Jay? By when? And how?

We are incapable of action when given too much freedom, because complete and total freedom (or how we interpret that idea — the total lack of constraints) literally can’t exist in the creative process.

So when we say “think outside the box,” it’s a sign that we (or, more commonly, the corporate overlord willing to sound so cliche as to say that phrase to begin with) fundamentally do/does not understand creativity. Because it is literally impossible to think outside of all boxes. Our brains immediately begin to construct one the moment we start thinking or doing anything.

Thus, a far better question: When we say “think outside the box,” which box do you mean?

So often, when we yearn for creative freedom, we’re actually yearning for one of two things: We want a different box than the one we’re in, or we don’t understand the walls of the box we’re already in, and so we keep smashing into what feel like invisible walls.

“Think outside the box.” Okay … but which box do you mean?

Do we mean the box where the walls are made up of historical norms at our company? Do we mean the box that fits us into a mold of what someone in our position is “supposed to” act like? Or do we mean the box that shapes who we are as individuals, because I’m quite certain, I can’t demolish THOSE walls? What about the box that helps us understand who we’re serving on the receiving end of our work? Or the wall of our job’s box that has that big painted sign “BUDGET: $5,000; DEADLINE: December 5”? Do we knock that down?

And which box do we build so that we can truly get creative?

When we want to do exceptional work, the science is inescapable: Constraints are our strengths.

We don’t need freedom. We need a better box, or we need clarity on the box we’re in. If you’re a team leader, help the team both understand and agree to the walls of the box. Frustration comes when they dislike the current walls, or run into barriers they didn’t even know where there. Then, crucially, once the box has been made clear: STAY OUT OF THE BOX! Meddling can also lead to frustration and the desire for creative “freedom.”

If you’re an individual contributor, proactively ask about constraints: time, budget, team, inspirational sources, you name it. Help shape the walls of the box. It may seem counterintuitive, but it yields better work, more ideas, and more effective ideas.

Creative freedom doesn’t work. It doesn’t even exist.

“Think outside the box”? That’s missing the truth entirely. Which box do you mean?

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My book contains an entire chapter on constraints and their effects on decision-making in the working world. Through story and science, we explore how to best construct a box that yields exceptional work, outlining the roles that team leaders play and the roles individual contributors play too. For more on that, consider buying Break the Wheel: Question Best Practices, Hone Your Intuition, and Do Your Best Work, on Amazon. Available in print, Kindle, or audiobook form (narrated by me).

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New to my writing? Subscribe if you haven’t yet. You’ll get each new idea as it’s published — a few short posts per week. Subscribers also get exclusive announcements, access, and experimental projects every few months. You can also support what I do by purchasing a book.

Posted on September 16, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.

Are you all about it?

There’s a flower shop near my home that uses a clever sign to lure customers into the shop. It says, “Come on in for a free rose if your name is Samantha!” Each day, they change the name. They’ve done Amanda, Tim, Bryce, Alicia, Tara, Lindsay, and Jason. (I declined my rose, thus sending myself home from this episode of The Bachelor in Rye Brook.)

We see that sign all the time, though it comes in different forms depending on the business. It’s a clever ploy to catch the eye, a pithy statement to acquire a customer, and a get-it-while-you-can deal to prompt an action. But these are just gimmicks, short-sighted approaches to marketing. They don’t change how the business operates.

But they should.

Imagine if that flower shop was all about human connection. They’d use that clever little sign to advertise not JUST that they have flowers (congrats, so do all your competitors), nor that they’re giving free roses to (checks today’s sign) Marie. Instead, if they were all about human connection, they’d use that sign to introduce you to that concept in a short, delightful way, before you tumbled into an entire business that was all about human connection.

They’d show you a slew of products you could personalize for that special someone. They’d follow-up with a touching, non-automated email or phone call or postcard. They’d remember your birthday and your partner’s. They’d hire empathetic people, participate in their local community, and partner with only the warmest of local business owners. Because to them, human connection isn’t a stunt to drive a sale. They’re not interested in whatever “works” before moving on to the next thing. For this business, human connection is the way to operate. They’re all about it.

We keep talking about things like “authenticity” and “customer-centricity,” and we’ve long talked about differentiation. But what we forget is how to turn these nice ideas into action. It doesn’t happen through one-off stunts or clever ploys. It happens everywhere across the business in small ways ongoing.

When an organization allows that core idea to seep into every nook and cranny of the business, those clever signs and messages aren’t gimmicks. They’re a tiny ray of light shining through, and if you decide to look behind the curtain, you’d be positively basking in sunlight. Because it’s everywhere. It’s not a gimmick or an ad. It’s the way they operate.

Whatever you do, whatever your “thing” is, ask yourself: Are you all about it?

Posted on September 10, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.

Consistency is sexy

When most teams hear the call to “innovate,” the work devolves into a stress-fueled, feverish race to manufacture spikes in the numbers. We obsess over finding “what works,” instead of identifying WHY something works, thus equipping ourselves to be proactive, original thinkers. We try trend after trend, endure hype cycle after hype cycle, doing anything in our power to get those spikes. We pull all these random acts of creativity because we don’t have a plan otherwise.

Just gimme those spikes! We need the spikes!

This is maddening. This is exhausting. This is simply unsustainable.

So how can we make creativity consistent, instead of random?

We don’t talk about this enough in the business world, but consistency is sexy.


I mean, give me a brand that really knows how to evolve with me, because I am a grown-ass man. (That’s the worst thing I’ve ever written. Let’s move on.

Consistent creativity doesn’t create one-off spikes. It shifts the trajectory of the entire damn line. (That’s pretty sexy.)

So how DO we make creativity consistent? Is it possible to turn innovation into a habit, rather than a Hail Mary? I believe so, but we need to shift our perspective on what these terms mean, find the first priciples, then re-build our thinking back up from there.

In the following two episodes of my podcast, Unthinkable, we uncover a couple stories and a few helpful frameworks to help us achieve what feels impossible today: making creativity consistent.

These are the two most popular episodes of the show this year, published only a few weeks ago. They have a different style and approach than most of my prior 150+ episodes, and I think you’ll enjoy this short but enjoyable format.

First episode: “Innovation Impossible” (Stream it on your computer, listen on Apple, or listen on Spotify.)

Second episode: “Wrinkles” (Stream it on your computer, listen on Apple, or listen on Spotify.)

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New to my writing? Subscribe if you haven’t yet. You’ll get each new idea as it’s published — a few short posts per week. Subscribers also get exclusive announcements, access, and experimental projects every few months. You can also support what I do by purchasing a book.

Posted on September 3, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.

First-moment creativity and what to do instead

It’s easy and therefore, if you look around the business world, pretty darn common for people to focus all their creative energies on the first moment people arrive to their work. Whether we create content, build entire brands, deliver trainings, run people through a process — anything wherein someone else is on the receiving end of our work — it’s tempting to focus solely on what happens when people arrive:

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.30.56 AM.png

Here, people arrive with an initial set of expectations. Naturally, then, our goal is to exceed those expectations.

If we do, it feels refreshing to them. It’s like a gift — the proverbial “surprise and delight.” We’ll call that the thrill of novelty:

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.31.15 AM.png

It turns out that “surprise and delight” isn’t just pablum. There’s actual science underpinning the desire to deliver something new and refreshing to others — even if most of us aren’t aware of it.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh revealed that novelty of experience creates long-term memories in the brain. They examined the effects of surprises on students and their ability to remember their math lessons later in the afternoon. For some students, the researchers created a surprise music class they weren’t expecting to take that day. Those students remembered their math lessons which followed far better than peers who had the typical, expected day.

This is a phenomenon called “behavioral tagging.” When we’re surprised, our brains release a hit of dopamine, which helps form memories. Not only do we remember the moment of surprise, however, we remember the moments around it. That’s why students remembered their math lessons in the afternoon following a surprise music class in the morning. When we’re surprised, we remember that experience and those which surrounded it.

This is an evolutionary trait. When our ancestors stumbled upon a patch of delicious berries in the woods, it was rather useful to remember both the berries and the path they walked to arrive there — even if, while walking that path earlier, they weren’t consciously trying to remember it.

And so, when we deliver something to others that creates a thrill of novelty, behavioral tagging sets in…

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.31.24 AM.png

…and a memory of us forms:

Unfortunately, it’s right here where we tend to lose our way as creators and strategists responsible for experiences. We want to do one thing that feels refreshing and then, once we deem it successfully, we often put it on repeat because, apparently, it can work forever now.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.31.35 AM.png

Of course, ONE interaction is never enough. Trust is earned over time. Advocacy requires ongoing commitment. Relationships are formed through deeper engagement.

No, regardless of what we create, results don’t happen thanks to one moment, one interaction with us.

We need a plan for what happens once someone begins to engage with us more deeply. Because as they do, they start to pick out certain traits that make the experience identifiable. In other words, by agreeing to come back or to spend more time with our work, others begin to make sense of it.

Let’s call that process “identifying anchors.” Anchors are the traits of a project or a brand which others can recall and we can control. People identify a few key traits to remember us and to describe us to others (word-of-mouth). They identify those anchors while engaging with our work more deeply than that first moment they arrived. It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.32.13 AM.png

Crucially, as people identify anchors, it creates a new set of expectations, and this hurts our ability to return to that initial successful thing. What was once refreshing no longer is, and in fact, it grows stale rather quickly.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.32.29 AM.png

So, no, we can’t rely on that “first-moment creativity” that created an initial, positive memory of us. This is the paradox of exceeding expectations: once we do, we’ve now changed their expectations. They agree to engage more deeply, which causes them to identify anchors and make sense of our work to know what to expect, and therefore, they think they know what to expect. Their expectations have changed compared to the first moment of interaction.

Sadly, our work often does NOT change, and if that’s the case, if we return too often to the “tried and true,” something called Emotional Decay kicks in. Emotional Decay is the process by which an initial moment of innovation stagnates as others lose interest and we lose results.

The first time they experienced our work, it was thrilling and new. It was refreshing. That created a positive, long-term memory of us. But then that memory starts to fade rather quickly, as they update their knowledge of our work. If we hand them the same exact experience as before, it might feel good, but not as good as the first time. The third time might feel okay, the fourth fine, the fifth a bit annoying, until eventually, over time, they tune out. They loved it. Then felt good about it. Then fine. Then stopped caring. And we PANIC! We try to pull a random stunt to get back up to that initial thrill of novelty, that initial moment of innovation.

And it’s all because we’re changing our work AFTER it’s too late.

We need to get proactive about the tweaks we make to our work. We need to change before stagnation hits. We need to change what’s working while it’s still working. That way, we avoid Emotional Decay. We change things along with their expectations changing. Right as they know what to expect, we add in something refreshing that they didn’t, a tiny change on the status quo. We can call those wrinkles.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.33.07 AM.png

If we do that, we can renew their interest in us. Which again creates a thrill of novelty. Which again triggers behavioral tagging, forms a brand new positive memory.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.33.16 AM.png

Once again, however, they update their knowledge of us. They think, “Okay, THIS is what I can expect from them.” So once again we add in a little wrinkle. Again they renew their interest in us, again they experience a thrill of novelty, and so on, and so forth. It’s this constant, continual flow of others changing their expectations and us exceeding them by changing what’s working while it’s still working — not through huge stunts, but small yet refreshing changes on the status quo, all the time. Wrinkles that we can add consistently in order to teach others to expect the unexpected from us. Wrinkles that create a sense that we’ve mastered this art of reinvention.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.34.58 AM.png

First-moment creativity is never enough. It’s all about consistency.

Consistently great work consistently changes.

Does yours?

Not a subscriber yet? Get each new idea and story the moment it’s live. I publish a few per week, a few paragraphs at a time. You’ll also get exclusive access, announcements, and projects every few months.

Posted on August 29, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.

Telic work terrorizes us all

Yanno that old notion that, when you select a car to buy, you start seeing it everywhere? That’s called a frequency illusion or, if we’re getting official (and we are, we’re on the internet here, after all), it’s the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. “

Historians may not love the name. If most reports are accurate, the name for this concept came from a comment board run by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. That’s not the hard thing to love. (I hear St. Paul is lovely.) The hard thing to love is the name “Baader-Meinhof,” which was a militant West German terrorist group, active in the 1970s. On that discussion board in the ‘90s, apparently, people were lamenting the fact that they lacked a name for this phenomenon of suddenly seeing something everywhere once you’re made aware of it. One commenter suggested he’d recently learned about that group by name (maybe due to the terrorist group, or maybe due to the curious number of songs carrying the same name). He suggested they call it Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, and the name spread.

Want to experience the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon yourself? Learn about the word “telic,” and go observe the working world for awhile.

Telic means “done to a definite end.” When a task is telic, it feels like a chore. The point is to finish it, to reach the end. When someone approaches that task with a telic mindset, they are ending-oriented.

The opposite of telic is “paratelic,” or intrinsic. This means you are moment-oriented. You seek to enjoy the experience in the here and the now. When someone approaches a task with a paratelic mindset, the process of doing that task is its own reward.

People who create games for a living constantly fear their work becoming telic, and they build in certain mechanics to ensure they don’t. Just think of what happens when you keep dying in a level of Super Mario. The first part of that particular level was once enjoyable, once intrinsically motivating to play. But then, as you have to repeat that part just to reach the part where you keep dying, it becomes telic. You’re like, “Yeah, yeah, I get it: I jump here, go there, beat this bad guy, and now I can finally enjoy myself again.”

And so what do they do? They build in a little halfway checkmark you can reach so that if you die in the second half of a level, you can start from the halfway mark, instead of the beginning — which would turn Super Mario into quite a chore.

Crucially, when something is telic, versus paratelic, it changes the degree to which we pay attention. Something intrinsically motivating to us is something we seek out more, seek to improve, and bring our full selves to doing. When something is a chore, we’d rather just blink our eyes and be done. And so, we wonder: Can we outsource it? Can we push it off? Can we find automation for it? Can we cut corners? Tell me, friend, “what works,” so I don’t need to think critically about this chore and can move on to things that are more intrinsically enjoyable for me.

Sound familiar?

Just think: Is the process of sweeping floor the reason why you sweep the floor, or the outcome? Nobody is going home today and saying to their partner or roommate, “Let’s wait 30 more minutes before dinner, okay? I’m really just loving my sweeping form right now. I’m feeling such flow sweeping this floor!” That’s because it’s a telic activity. The point is to reach the end. And so we push it off, waiting until things are dire before panic-acting. We outsource it. We cut corners. But if we loved the process of sweeping floors, we’d have cleaner floors.

Conversely, when you do other things like, say, eat ice cream, you enjoy the process. Nobody is turning to a friend and saying, “Hey, uh … can you finish this ice cream? Yeah, I really just want a dirty bowl.” No! We enjoy the process of eating ice cream, and as a result, we seek it out more. We seek out ways to improve it. We eat ice cream in extra large cups, and extra large cones, with extra large amounts of toppings. (Don’t even get me started on kiddie sizes. Kiddie sizes are for quitters.)

If we can find ways to make our work feel intrinsically motivating, where the process IS the point, not only do we feel enjoyment in our work more often, but we get better results. By focusing on the means, not the ends, the ends are achieved far better.

Now that you’ve heard about this notion, you’ll start seeing telic behavior everywhere. It plagues the workplace. In fact, you might say, it’s our Baader-Meinhof. I don’t mean the phenomenon (though that too). I mean the group. Because making work telic terrorizes us all.

Avoid telic work. Make the work intrinsic. Become moment-oriented, not ending-oriented. Your means and your ends will both be better served for it.

Posted on August 23, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.

When it comes to our inspirational sources, we point to the wrong thing

A few years ago, a software company called InVision created Design Disruptors, a feature-length documentary series profiling the world’s best in software design. It was a jaw-droppingly large, complex, and gorgeous project.

Today, leaders everywhere continue to cite the film as something they might consider doing.

The problem isn’t drawing inspiration from others. The problem is where most leaders point when they point to inspirational sources: the output.

The output, the resulting work, isn’t the reason the thing initially succeeded. The insight, the underlying truth about the humans on the receiving end, definitely was.

In the case of InVision, they’d been creating video case studies for years. We all know the type: A customer sits down and looks just off-camera to the interviewer. The interviewer from the brand asks a set of expected, boring questions, which yields expected, boring answers:

What was the problem you wanted to solve? What changed when you found our product? How did you use it? Why is it a success? Why would you recommend it to others?

But all those years ago, InVision’s team decided to ask a simple but refreshingly different question, and that’s when everything changed:

How did that make you feel?

“How did it make me FEEL?” they’d hear from design leaders. “Like I finally mattered to this company. Like I finally have a seat at the table. Like I’m no longer a last-minute, last-mile ticket system for the product team.”

They realized: Product designers didn’t need more tools or a set of how-tos. They need a sense of community, a sense of belonging. The profession was so nascent that they needed a sense of identity.

So, yes, an hour-long film portraying design leaders from Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Dropbox, and more all feels like a rather logical approach to marketing IF your insight is that your audience needs a sense of identity.

And, sure, releasing the film exclusively offline, as InVision did, seems strategic IF you understand that those you serve need to come to together to build the community.

But pointing to the output, the film itself, as the reason you should do it at YOUR company? Now that’s just a stunt. That’s justifying action with a superficial layer of understanding, not the first principle.

Any successful person, team, project, or organization began their process by putting their fingers on the first principle insight of the world around them, then building up something original from there. It was sound in its thinking and execution, because it started in the best possible place. But others who see the resulting, whether they aim to copy in lazy fashion or they draw inspiration with good intent, usually can’t see the insight. It could be due to the lack of access to their actual thinking, or maybe we blame to the passage time. Regardless, when we’re pointing our fingers towards an inspirational source, we’re usually pointing at the wrong thing.

In the end, we look for “what works.” It’s far more powerful (and practical) to start with “why did it work?” That’s first principle thinking at its finest.


I explore the story of InVision and the concept of first-principle thinking in more depth in my book, Break the Wheel: Question Best Practices, Hone Your Intuition, and Do Your Best Work. Available on Amazon in print, Kindle, and author-narrated audiobook forms.

Posted on August 22, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.

The 4 traits of consistently creative teams

We watch (sometimes enviously) as teams make these ideas of “innovation” and “creativity” feel like a natural occurrence, and we wonder, “How can we do that?” Our response tends to be too staccato, too sporadic. We hire someone with “innovation” in their title. We jump in a room to brainstorm. We schedule a team retreat to break from the norm.

This doesn’t address the underlying issue, that our way of operating isn’t cutting it. Rather than make innovation a discrete thing, something to focus on from THIS moment until THAT one, shouldn’t our aim be to make innovation consistent? To make creativity consistent?

Teams that organically innovate, who seem to just naturally and routinely exceed expectations no matter the changing times, all exhibit four underlying traits.

They are…

Intrinsically Motivated:

The process of doing the work is its own reward. They aren’t focused on skipping to the end, on blinking their eyes and pointing to the results they generated. When we’re intrinsically motivated as a team, we become moment-oriented, experiencing enjoyment in the here and now, instead of ending-oriented (which is how most work turns into a chore). Additionally, to be intrinsically motivated is to focus entirely on the process and the enjoyment of that process. This means we seek it out more, and we seek to improve it. We become keenly aware when something is growing stale and needs refreshing.

The tradeoff to make to become intrinsically motivated is hard for many leaders to encourage: Purpose-over-Profit. Choosing the vision over the metrics as the motivating factor and getting alignment on WHY we do the work can be the most liberating thing … and the thing that drives greater results. Funny how that happens.

Exploration Minded:

Having the bias to act. Teams that are consistently creative admit that knowing the answer in theory matters far less than finding it in reality. They test, tinker, and reflect. They identify whatever is growing stale (being intrinsically motivated helps them naturally pick up on that), and then they experiment with the best ways to improve them. They don’t do this on the macro level, either. They aren’t implementing sweeping changes, because they never reach the point where they need to do so. If we have to make giant changes, that’s a sign we weren’t paying attention all along. We were clinging to one solution too long, instead of constantly exploring.

The tradeoff we make is thus to explore rather than to exploit. We don’t see our current position as the best one, ever. We know there’s always room for improvement. “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway,” is far more likely to be heard on the lips of those who are consistently creative than the more common or “correct” quote. In the end, explorers take little steps all the time, constantly updating their knowledge. They recognize that creativity doesn’t mean big. It’s the sum of lots of little choices, all strung together.

Momentum Obsessed:

This means we have a preference to find and build on what’s going well to create success that compounds over time. I was an English literature major, so I had to double check, but the formula for momentum is as follows:

Momentum = Mass * Velocity

We tend to over-index on time spent caring about velocity. We undervalue mass — not “more stuff,” mind you, but “more stuff that’s going well.” Lean into what’s working, not to put it on repeat, but to explore it and change it and evolve it and apply it to more things.

Few things are as motivating or as exhilarating as using current progress to create more progress. It rallies teams, and it creates results that compound. Rather than pure hustle-based work (like digging holes in dry sand), the previous work makes the current work more effective, while the current work makes future work effective too.

To be momentum obsessed as a team is to tweak the standard way we operate in business, however. Companies are normally viewed as complex sets of problems to solve, which then unlocks growth as you do so. Instead, those who are momentum obsessed view companies as systems built to unearth a few things that work … so we can then build on top of that.

Inquiring into what’s going well, so we can both build on top of that and use the good to address the bad, is a process called “appreciative inquiry.” (Sue Annis Hammond writes a nice little guide to this called The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, available on Amazon.)

Lastly, teams that are consistently creative are…

Usefully Delusional:

The bestselling author AJ Jacobs writes about this brilliantly in the article, “An Entrepreneur’s Most Important Tool: Self-Delusion.” In it, he points to the quote from Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, who rightly claims, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”

Expanding on AJ’s writing on the subject, from an individual entrepreneur to an entire team of thoughtful people, I’d define the need to be usefully delusional pretty simply: The confidence to act as if.

We’re all doing something kind of insane, when you think about it: We’re trying to make a difference. (To a single other person, to a group of people, to millions of people, it’s all the same: an irrational desire.) Nobody has ever set out to do something that they were 100% convinced they sucked at, only to trip into the kind of success we crave. Doing innovative work involves nothing if not the people behind that work, all acting as if.

Creativity might be portrayed as big, random acts. Innovation might come off as giant stunts. Make no mistake: The teams who make creativity a habit, not a Hail Mary, reject the silver bullets and embrace a way of operating. These four traits can help.

Posted on August 13, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.

Wrinkles: The Creative Power of Changing What's Working While It's Still Working

When we want to innovate, we need to know what to change, when, and how. So, um ... what exactly should we change? Also when? And while we're at it (yep, you guessed it), HOW? In this episode, a deconstruction of one of the most popular shows on the internet, plus two new concepts and frameworks we can use to answer all those questions.

You can subscribe to Unthinkable wherever you get your podcasts, like Apple Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify. The show is a narrative-style series about conventional thinking at work and the people who dare to question it.

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Posted on August 12, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.

"Creativity" Does Not Mean "Big"


Why do so many leaders scream "INNOVATE!"? Why do so many teams treat innovation like a bunch of random stunts or infrequent, radical changes? It always feels too urgent or too last-minute when we finally evolve. Why? What if there was a better way? What would it REALLY take to make innovation a habit, not a Hail Mary?

We explore that and more in this episode of Unthinkable.

You can subscribe to Unthinkable wherever you get your podcasts, like Apple Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify. The show is a narrative-style series about conventional thinking at work and the people who dare to question it.

Join marketing leaders from Red Bull, Adobe, Shopify, Salesforce, the BBC, and Mailchimp who subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Hidden Gems.

Posted on July 12, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.