The Power of Similarities and Differences

Greetings. In the two years since “The Necessity of Strangers” was published, I have been struck by the willingness of audiences around the U.S. and the world to embrace a simple and (I believe) important idea…

That our similarities are the glue that should bring us together, and our differences are the raw materials that should enable us to learn, grow, innovate, and do remarkable things.

But recent news, and the responses of some politicians to it, suggests that we still struggle to value and appreciate people who are different than us. People with different religions. People of different colors. People from different parts of the world. People of different generations. People with difference sexual orientations. People with different knowledge and training. People who look at the world, or at least some important aspect of it, with different understanding. Even though almost all of them wake up each day with same hopes, dreams, and fears that we have.

We seem programmed to hone in on differences as though they are way more essential or predictive of someone’s worth than our similarities.

But what if we were to focus on the essence of what makes others who they are? People who care deeply about family and community. People who are working hard to create a better life for their children and themselves. People who desire to make a positive difference and live lives of meaning. People who find joy in simple and important things. People who believe in finding the goodness in others. People who believe in a god (or gods) that is (are) just. The overwhelming majority of people who are a lot like us when we dare to be at our best.

So I was struck by the following video that our daughter Carly shared today titled “Meet a Muslim.” A video that strikes at the heart of what it means to be human. A video that is really about all of us and what is possible if we choose to look at others based first on what we have in common.

It turns out the biggest challenge facing all of our companies, organizations, and societies is not a lack of knowledge or expertise. It is a lack of openness to other people, their ideas, and their humanity. And a lack of appreciation for the necessity of strangers and the power of what we can accomplish together when we dare to think differently.

Cheers!

Gadgets That Have Changed Our Lives

Greetings. Time magazine has just come out with its list of “The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time” and it is definitely a blast from the past (and present). It is also a really fun way to think about innovations that have shaped our lives and changed the way that we connect, explore, listen, picture, learn, play, make, share, and entertain ourselves.

As you go through the article and the gadgets and their brief histories, try to think about why each of these inventions generated so much interest and what lessons they offer in how you and your colleagues can create even greater interest and value in the products, services, and solutions you offer. Then imagine how some of the most recent gadgets, especially those that deal with connecting and educating people, might be used to enhance your work and build an even stronger bond with your customers, team members, and stakeholders.

regency-transistor-radio

But most importantly, have fun taking a stroll through this brief history of every day technology.

And in case you are pressed for time, here are the Top Ten…

10. The Hitachi “Magic Wand” (1968)

Let’s just say that this is the only item on Time’s list that is not always intended for children of all ages.

9. The Apple iPod (2001)

The device that changed the way a new generation consumed music and made Apple and the iTunes Store the world’s biggest music retailer.

8. The Kodak Brownie Camera (1900)

Talk about a revolution, Kodak put photography within everyone’s grasp 116 years ago when it made it possible for the world to capture and share the moments of our lives.

7. The Regency TR-1 Transistor Radio (1954)

It is fun to think back to countless evenings as a child when I fell asleep listening to San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s baseball games with my transistor radio under my pillow. It is also fun to think about how we tell our kids today to put away their slightly more versatile electronic devices and go to sleep.

6. The Victrola Record Player (1906)

While the phonograph was invented in 1877, the Victrola was the first record player to bring classical music and opera to homes around the U.S. and the world.

5. The IBM Model 5150 (1981)

Remember the day when almost everyone had an IBM PC or an “IBM Compatible” computer running the DOS operating system? And to think it wasn’t that long ago!

4. The Sony Walkman (1979)

I fondly recall having my first Walkman at the University of Michigan and delighting in my ability to take my music anywhere, in multiples of twelve songs. All by the same artist. I was literally a party waiting to happen! I also fondly recall trying to explain to our kids who have grown up in the digital age, why this large, limited, and somewhat lame gadget was so cool and revolutionary.

3. The Apple Macintosh (1984)

Bold, brash, intuitive, and launched with much fanfare and symbolism in 1984. While it might not have been what George Orwell intended, the first Mac would begin to reframe our connection to “thinking” machines.

2. The Sony Trinitron (1968)

While it wasn’t the first TV or the first color TV, the Trinitron would raise the state-of-the-art in televisions and establish Sony’s place as a global leader in consumer technology.

And Number One is…

1. The Apple iPhone (2007)

An elegant and user-friendly device that would revolutionize our notion of phones and smart phones, and that today places more apps and more computing power in the palm of our hands than a major university computer center did when I was going to college.

It is an intriguing list and an interesting lesson in modern history. And except for missing the waffle iron, twist top bottle, nose hair trimmer, and Popeil’s “Pocket Fisherman,” I would have to say that the folks at Time are pretty spot on in capturing the gadgets that have shaped our lives.

Popeil

Cheers!

The Power of Freshness

Greetings. If you would like to be totally inspired about the real power of music, and the real potential of life, work, and learning, then commit to spending fifty minutes listening to the BBC’s recent interview with Chinese pianist Lang Lang. But you will have to hurry because it is only up on their website for the next 26 days.

By way of background, Lang Lang was a child prodigy and is now one of the world’s foremost and most dynamic classical pianists. But he is also, at the age of 33, a renowned teacher, United Nations cultural ambassador, and remarkable voice for the power of learning across cultures, generations, and genres. And his thoughts about how we continue to stretch, grow, and stay fresh, focused on music but with much broader implications, are worth our time and attention.

In listening to the interview I was struck by his passion for a wide range of musical traditions, his sense of why so many young people never get past the early stages of learning (an instrument like piano), his thoughts on why being perfect is overrated, why it is important to “look for the notes between the notes,” and his belief that the greatest composers throughout history would probably delight in the knowledge that future generations were passionate about their music but also willing to try to reinterpret it. And the more I listened to his words and his playing, the more I felt the value of his insights and their broader application to life, business, and innovation.

Lang Lang, Piano / 18.02.2010 / Koelner Philharmonie

All of us and all of our organizations need to dare to try new things, figure out how to not become discouraged when the going gets tough, find joy in the work we do, and build on the ideas and brilliance of others.

Here is a fascinating excerpt on the power and necessity of keeping music (and whatever we work on) fresh and new…

“In music we need to always remind ourself why you play the piece over and over and over it again. You forget about the freshness. You really forget why we are loving music so much. You know. Because you repeated the same thing so much.

What I think we need to do is always play the music but try to imagine in a different eyes everyday. Different angle. And then when you play this piece you feel more like ‘Oh, it is quite fresh.’ I know the piece, but I don’t really know the piece. Today is my first time playing it. You always need to have that and if you start repeating the same thing you become, what you call, ‘autopilot.’ And that’s the worst part because then it’s not art anymore. It became kind of like ‘whatever.’ ‘Whatever’ in music is the danger. It’s the biggest danger.”

Think about how this might apply to your company and how you can avoid the danger of your work becoming ‘whatever.’

And if you would like to see and hear one way to avoid ‘whatever,’ check out Lang Lang’s collaboration with Metallica at the 56th Grammy Awards.

We win in business and in life when we approach the things that matter with different eyes and from different angles. And when we are open to learning from others and from different walks of life.

Cheers!

The Magic of Stepping Back in Time

Greetings. Ideas and inspiration often come from unusual sources. Like a warehouse filled with old furniture and memories. And this was exactly the case not long ago when our daughter Sara went searching for a few items to furnish her new apartment. In her search she came upon an old stamp album, published in 1928, and belonging to a gentleman from Westfield, Massachusetts, named Edward Pomeroy.

Stamp Album Cover

Now I should probably backtrack as some readers might not know that I am an avid and enthusiastic stamp collector, or “philatelist,” and have always viewed stamps as wonderful little journeys into the lives, cultures, histories, and geographies of other places and people. In fact, a few years ago I wrote a blog post suggesting that the world might actually be a better and more understanding place if its leaders collected stamps and in the process gained greater insight about other countries. So finding an old album filled with lots of intriguing stamps from around the world was a source of real delight.

But back to Edward Pomeroy who it seems was the secretary of a local stamp club and, as such, left in his album a wide variety of handwritten notes, news clippings, and meeting minutes describing the workings of the club, stamps and topics that were of particular interest, presentations made by various members about their interests and expertise, and an explanation of the club’s 10 cent monthly dues.

And while I found all of this fascinating, one note was especially remarkable. It explained how Edward was able to send himself a letter that flew on the Graf Zeppelin’s maiden flight to the United States. The note read:

For the Graf Zeppelin I had to send (my letter) to the Postmaster of New York City asking him to put it on a boat in time to reach Fredrichshafen by April 18, 1930. After reaching Germany it was put on the ‘Graf’ which went from Germany to Brazil then to United States which was delivered to me day after.”

And in his letter, adorned with a $2.60 Graf Zeppelin stamp, he enclosed the postcard pictured below that read:

He who never made a mistake never made a discovery.”

Words that strike at the heart of what it means to be human. Words that underscore the central challenge in all of our efforts to create organizations and cultures that consistently learn, grow, and innovate. Words that, in 1930, literally flew across the Atlantic as part of a history making voyage when the world of commercial aviation was in its early, daring, and formative years. And words that might have been lost in the dust of an old building had Sara not discovered Mr. Pomeroy’s stamp album and a small part of his life.

One more powerful reminder of the power of curiosity and the potential to find ideas and inspiration in the most unexpected places.

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We win in business and in life when we wander through old warehouses and age old lessons about innovation, progress, and community.

Cheers!

The Fastest Companies

Greetings. As a strategy and innovation consultant, I always look forward to Fast Company’s annual issue on “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.” It is a quick read and a great chance to be inspired by some of the most creative and disruptive businesses and organizations on the planet. And I would think that it should be required reading for all of us as we try to keep up in our super-fast changing economy.

Fast Company 2016

This year’s issue shows just how diverse and remarkable the practice of innovation has become as new technology companies like Buzzfeed, Airbnb, Uber, Spotify, Robinhood and others continue to re-imagine existing industries while more traditional companies like CVS Health, Universal Studios, GE, and even Taco Bell reinvent themselves in ways that bring greater value to their customers. In the case of 53-year-old CVS, a company that gained a lot of very positive publicity when it decided to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products, it is not-so-quietly morphing from a huge ($153 billion in annual revenues) drugstore chain into a one-stop retail healthcare business with its Minute Clinics, optical and hearing exams, a new focus on wellness offerings, and a new “predictive medicine” partnership with IBM.

Buzzfeed, this year’s top innovator is continuing to transform the media landscape of video, news and information, and advertising through its culture of constant learning and embracing change, a sharp focus on data-driven metrics, and a deep understanding of what made companies like Paramount Pictures and CNN connect with audiences in the past.

I often talk about the power of learning from strangers and getting outside our offices and our comfort zones to discover new insights and new business models. And while the physical and psychological act of getting up and out is a powerful part of what it takes to stretch our thinking, a quick or slow read of this issue is bound to inspire anyone with a commitment to being faster in a world that demands that we pick up the pace.

We win in business and in life when we pay attention to brilliance all around us, and when we recognize the need for speed.

Cheers!