Getting “Out of the Box”

Greetings. While I am keen on the importance of strangers in our work and lives, I have a bit of an aversion to the popular notion of thinking “out-of-the-box” as the key to greater creativity and innovation. Yet it is still a widely-used phrase in companies and organizations that are trying to figure out how to think and act in new ways. My biggest concern is that too many businesses believe that simply calling for “out-of-the-box” ideas, often accompanied by a “suggestion box,” will create a veritable landslide of brilliance as employees suddenly feel liberated to suggest amazing possibilities for new products, services, solutions, customer experiences, and new ways of doing the things that matter most.

If only it were that simple.

As we all know, coming up with (and implementing) the right new ideas takes strategic focus, real discipline and commitment, curiosity, humility, a willingness to take calculated risks and make some mistakes, a sense of urgency, and a culture that is truly open to learning, fresh thinking, new perspectives, and the insights of people and places that are very different.

Having said this, and in the spirit of trying to be as open-minded as possible given that some things are just plain weird, I must admit that a recent feature in the New York Times challenged me to be a bit less critical of “out-of-the-box” thinking…or at least one particular example. The article in question was about a remarkable innovation in the world of funerals in which the star of the show (a.k.a., the “deceased”) is able to attend their own service in a favorite setting or pose. Settings that include sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by favorite possessions or important life symbols like a bottle of Jack Daniels, being dressed like Che Guevara with a cigar hand, sitting behind the steering wheel of an ambulance, sitting atop a favorite motorcycle, or standing up dressed as a boxer in the corner of a boxing ring.

Yes, even I must admit that this seems to represent a new and graphic way of getting “out of the box” (or out of a specific type of box).

According to the Times, this new approach to funerals first appeared in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and has now become increasingly popular in places like New Orleans…which doesn’t seem like a big surprise. And its growing popularity might even suggest a world of untapped creativity aimed at making us look as fantastic as possible until closing time. It even brought back memories of the passing of my favorite great uncle who had just returned to Boston after spending the winter in Florida. Upon seeing his tan self, one of his closest friends remarked: “The winter by the beach did him a world of good!” Not exactly. But as Billy Crystal use to say on Saturday Night Live, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

NYT FUNERAL-articleLarge

Which begs the question of how all of us might conspire to reinvent our industries in ways that get us out of the traditional context in which we offer value to our customers. And how we might do an even better job of customizing our offerings to the unique needs, desires, and personalities of those we have the privilege to serve so they can look as good as possible.

We win in business and in life when we seek to create greater meaning in our most important moments. And when we always try to look our very best.


Encouraging New Connections

Greetings. In Brazil, a country that is filled with great potential, great challenges, and large disparities in income and education, the government has launched a bold initiative to increase access to culture. It is an idea intended to make art, music, dance, theatre, films, and books a more important part of the lives of the country’s lowest-income residents. The program is called “Vale Brasil” and it provides people with $20 a month in the form of a “coupon” or debit card that can be used to go to movies, learn to dance or play an instrument, buy a book, visit a museum, or anything else that will stretch their interests, abilities, and cultural appreciation.

Brazil Music

Vale Brasil is an intriguing idea that merits all of our attention because it imagines the possibility of opening peoples’ eyes to the wonder all around them and the genius in themselves. Possibilities that are essential if countries like Brazil, and even the U.S. and other “developed” nations, are to ever unlock their full potential and the full potential of all of their citizens.

Clearly there are at least three powerful benefits if this social “innovation” works. First, it will broaden the reach and sense of what is possible for Brazil’s poorest people. Second, it will increase the amount of funding and investment necessary to spark greater development of culture and the arts. Third, it could be a ticket out of poverty for those who use their card to discover and develop their own remarkable gifts in this nation of over 200 million.

Which begs the question of whether it is another government “handout” or a thoughtful and brilliant gift?

And if it does work it could inspire other nations to invest more creatively in their own people.

It might even inspire all of us to re-imagine how we invest in the artistic interests and talents of the people in our companies and organizations as a key to their personal growth, business engagement, retention, and innovation.

Vale Cultura

$20 a month to open minds and hearts about a remarkable world that seemed just beyond grasp.

Certainly an idea worth paying attention to…and pulling for. And an idea that should cause all of us to think in new ways about our work, civic and personal lives, and the investments we make in ourselves and others.

We win in business, government, and life when we commit to unlocking the curiosity and innate gifts of those around us. And when we see the magic of the arts as an essential part of learning, growing, and making a compelling difference.


The Genius of Mentors

Greetings.  Behind most successful people there is a mentor.  Someone with the experience, wisdom and dedication to teach and guide.  Someone able to see and unlock our great potential long before it ever takes shape.  Someone to bounce ideas off of.  Someone to listen and encourage.  Someone to bring a different and more knowledgeable perspective from having made a similar journey…often on a road less traveled.  

And while most companies, organizations and leaders readily admit that mentors are valuable, few have figured out how to create mentoring programs and a culture of mentoring that really works.  Instead, initiatives launched with great optimism and fanfare seem to vanish quickly–except in rare cases in which mentoring is part of a company's DNA and the roles of mentor and mentored (or is that "mentee") are seen as essential to innovation, growth and business success.  Which suggests that we need to be more innovative in how we think about mentors, because the truth is that practically every one of us would benefit from having one or more along our journeys.

The idea of having more than one mentor was brought to my attention by my wife Lisa, herself a wonderful clinical nurse, educator and mentor, who suggested that people find their real talents by being exposed to different mentors whose insight and styles gives them a broader base of guidance on the real keys to success.  And when mentors work as a collaborative team the benefits are even greater.  Plus, the pressure is taken off a sole mentor who must fit their support into the constraints of everything else on their plates.  So just as many enlightened organizations have job rotation opportunities for high-potential employees, we might imagine mentor rotation opportunities too.  The main differences being that we don't give up our engagement with a first mentor when a second mentor enters our lives, and that we view all of our employees as being "high-potential" and capable of reaching new heights with the help of someone who has already been there.

And just for fun, here's a bit of historical context.  The word "mentor" actually comes from ancient Greece and a very clever fellow named Mentor who was a close and trusted confidante of our buddy Odysseus.


We win in business and in life when we are eager to learn from those who have walked on the path before us.  And when their support and passion for mentoring enables us to discover their wisdom and our own unique brilliance.


Leaping Ahead

Greetings and Happy Birthday to everyone born on February 29th.  You've waited a long time to celebrate so make sure to have the best day possible.  After all, your next real birthday won't come for another four years.  Yes, it's another "Leap Year" and a time for the rest of us to set the calendar straight by adjusting for the odd fact that our days are only 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds long.  It's the amount of time that it takes our favorite little planet–known affectionately as the "Earth"–to rotate on its axis.  And a year, in case you're wondering, is actually 365.2425 days long–or 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds.  But who's counting, other than the Gregorians?

Though we should be counting for another important reason.  Because it turns out that the idea of "Leap Year," and having an extra day, is a great way to think about achieving greater business success.  And a great way to challenge us to view time as a gift.  Especially when it always seems to be in such short supply, and when we struggle to "find the time" to focus on the things that matter most.  What if we could commit to giving ourselves and the geniuses we work with an extra day to pursue ideas and projects that have great potential but are too often confined to the back burner?  What if we could give ourselves an extra day to question the way we do things in order to make them better?  To pause in the midst of business as usual to take a fresh look at our products, services and solutions to make sure they deliver the greatest value.  Or a fresh look at the customer experiences we provide to make sure we truly engage, inform and empower those we have the privilege to serve.  Or to take a fresh look at our organization's culture and the results of our attempts to enhance innovation, collaboration and learning.

Simply by giving ourselves, more often than once every four years, the gift of a day well-earned by a business working overtime to compete on a spinning planet filled with challenges and opportunities.


We win in business and in life whenever we take the time to be more remarkable.  In fact, it should be a cause for celebration!


What’s in Your Museum?

Greetings. It seems as though every place in Italy has its own museum.  Big cities have dozens of museums of all shapes and sizes.  And practically every small town clinging to a mountain top in Tuscany and Umbria has it own unique collection of stuff that someone thinks really matters.  And why not?   There's quite a lot of art, history and culture to display here dating back to our friends the Etruscans.  And, there are also a lot of important old and new ideas to share.

So let's imagine that you and some of the other geniuses you work with were given the not so simple task of assembling a museum for your company or organization. What would you put in it?   What would you share about the art of what you do, the history of what has made you great (or at least meaningful to those you serve), and the culture that drives your work and everything you do?  

And, what ideas would you offer visitors about your hopes and dreams for the future?

It's a fun, challenging and helpful exercise that gets to the heart of what in takes for any business or organization to succeed.  And to be more than simply a set of artifacts collecting dust!

Venice museum

We win in business and in life when we put our best on display.  And when we leverage it to deliver the most compelling value for those we have the privilege to serve.