Books and the Genius of Thomas Edison

Part Two of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020


As one of America’s foremost inventors, Thomas Edison was certainly adept at questioning the world around him.  In order to better understand the natural world, Edison was constantly developing new context by asking different questions. And the framework for formulating these challenging questions?

Edison readbroadly.

I didn’t read books – I read the library.

 Thomas Edison

Among Edison’s first steps when undertaking a new collaborative effort was zeroing in on reading material with themes aligned to the subject matter he was evaluating. This often meant plowing through textbooks and papers spanning diverse scientific topics. But he also read fiction and fantastical works that were completely unrelated to the subject of his endeavors.

Edison believed feeding his mind diverse perspectives through the written word was critical to prevent specifically shaping or tainting his perceptions in any one direction as he began his questioning process.

Thomas Edison LibraryAn ardent lover of books and newspapers, by 1887, when Edison was 40, his personal collection at his laboratory exceeded 10,000 volumes. Though seemingly small by today’s standards, it was one of the top five libraries in the world during the late nineteenth century.

Drawn from the reaches of acoustics, botany, electricity, mathematics, photography, chemistry, materials sciences, and physics, Edison shared the resources of his library with his employees, encouraging them to continually stimulate their own thinking and questioning skills.

Reflecting on his love for storytelling and the deft use of language, Edison’s library also embraced extensive works of classical Greek literature plus a vast collection of Shakespeare. He particularly valued science fiction novels by pioneering French writer Jules Verne for the flights of fantasy and freedom from logic they spurred.

We can link Edison’s reading to many of the provocative questions he asked. Diligently recording his queries and insights in the notebooks that were ever-present at his side, Edison returned to these deep, probing questions again and again. His intentional gathering of questions became a pivotal spur for experiments and hypotheses that he later introduced when working jointly with his team.

Edison’s voracious reading created a constant stream of ideas, insights, and inspiration that led him to breakthrough solutions. His never-ending quest for greater depth and breadth of knowledge helped him develop an unprecedented approach to experimentation in service of innovation.

Through reading, Edison “cross-trained” himself in multiple disciplines, using books as a pathway into new fields of endeavor. (Innovate Like Edison, Gelb and Caldicott)

Just as Edison’s hours of reading in his library sparked questions to be pursued via new hypotheses and experiments, your own reading endeavors can yield serendipitous yet brilliant questions from angles you least expect.

For Your Consideration

  • When was the last time you reached for a new hardcover book or bought an e-book?
  • How frequently do you change the types of materials you read?
  • Do you follow the same reading routine over and over again?
  • Why not experiment and select three new bloggers to track over the next month?
  • Why not take a reading retreat?
  • If you were to shift your reading list so that it looks something Edison might devise, what would be on it?

Material from this post adapted from Innovate Like Edison by Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott and Midnight Lunch, by Sarah Miller Caldicott

 

 

Inspiration Comes from Things That Are Infused with Life

The word inspire means “to breathe into or upon; to infuse with life by breathing.” When we say, “I am inspired,” it has a deeper significance than we think. We are “breathing in” the living environment of ideas, enthusiasm, and energy that comes with the creative process.

If we look in the Bible, we see the same idea. In Hebrew and Greek the words for “spirit” are the same as the words for “breath” and “wind.”

WheatWind

In fact even in English our word “spirit” comes from Latin word meaning breath. “Inspiration” and “respiration” have the same root. This is no mistake. From the earliest times people could see the connection between breath and active life. When a person’s body stops breathing, it also becomes inactive and dies. Breath is the outward manifestation of activity and life. This intimate connection between breath and active life is the reason why the same word is used for both “spirit” and “breath” in Hebrew (ruach) and in Greek (pneuma).

Inspiration comes from things that are infused with life.

In creating, Disney’s Imagineers always work from a basis of their training, exposure to others’ work, their research, and their life experience.  Working together, they are inspired by their collective histories, training, experience, predecessors, and mentors.

When we are inspired, ideas that are living inside us will find a way to be expressed.

Thistle

Here’s an exercise from the Imagineers: Select a creative challenge – painting, writing, inventing – anything that requires creativity. Now, make a list of creative souls that could inspire a solution: artists, scientists, inventors, musicians, writers. Select one or more people from the list, reflect on their talent, research their work, and let them breathe life into your thinking and imagination.

Now, find your own answers by letting your imagination soar with multiple solutions.


part of a series of ideas to shape and tone your creative muscles

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

The Disney Imagineers

 Imagineering logo

World Class Leadership Takes Place Off the Court

Yesterday the 2016 version of March Madness kicked off.

College basketball is not my favorite sport, although spending 6 years in between supporters of the Louisville Cardinals and the Kentucky Wildcats, and now in my 21st year of ACC basketball craziness, I do get excited as the tournament rolls around in March.

My wife (who is actually the biggest sports fan in our house) and I do a bracket each year just to see who gets closest to the winner.

So as the tournament gets going in earnest, my thoughts are on…

John Wooden.

John Wooden and his historic UCLA dynasty won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, including 88 straight games. Named Coach of the Century by ESPN, his honors and milestones cover 2 pages.

But it’s not his basketball coaching skills that draw me in – it’s his philosophy of world-class leadership that takes place off the court.

Practicing character-based leadership before the term was invented, John Wooden consistently led his legendry teams to victory and has since taught countless business leaders his fundamentals for achieving and sustaining success.

Coach’s Pyramid of Success is one of the most popular and effective motivational tools around.

Pyramid of Success

Corporations use it. Speakers laud it. Books have been written about it. Coach Wooden talked about it as often as he could. Many of his former players point to the Pyramid as the key to their personal success, both on and off the basketball court.

When Coach Wooden talked about the Pyramid, he always started at the cornerstones of industriousness and enthusiasm. He moved up the Pyramid one block at a time. Before reaching the top (success) he always talked about the mortar elements of faith and patience.

Sounds like a good plan for success to me.

The past is for reference; the future for dreamers. The present moment is where you create success: make it a masterpiece.

John Wooden

 

I’m Learning What Makes Me Fascinating to Other People – And You Can Too!

This post isn’t about me. It’s about YOU.

How cool is this? I just got a gift code that allows me to invite 100 people to take the Fascination Advantage assessment for free.

I want to share my code with YOU, so that you can discover what makes you most fascinating to others.

As a part of this project, Fascination author Sally Hogshead has given me a special code – JOY-VRC2015 – to share with to you. The first 100 people who use it to take her Fascination Advantage® assessment will receive the assessment for free!

The best part is, you will trigger a chain reaction—a pay it forward situation. When you take the assessment using , you will receive 100 assessments to share with your circle for free, too!

That’s $1,000 of free market research at your fingertips!

So how do you take the assessment? Simple.

  1. Go to HowToFascinate.com/you and use code JOY-VRC2015.
  2. Once you’ve taken the assessment, Sally’s team will load 100 assessments into your new account. Rinse and repeat.

That’s it. Now you’re ready to discover how your personality is custom built for certain situations, and which situations you should learn to avoid. And it only takes 5 minutes (you can even do it on your phone!)

28 questions. 5 minutes. A whole new way to communicate your value.

FascinateSally Hogshead

Your Fascination Advantage® Report is the first big step towards knowing how you can be heard and remembered in an overcrowded market. Sharing the assessment will help others do the same. I want to help you see the very best in yourself, so you can feel confident and captivating, every time you communicate. Take the assessment today and encourage your friends and followers to do the same.

Here’s a sneak peek at what the archetype from my Fascination Advantage Report looks like:

FascinateArcher

What do you think? For those of you who know me, a comment below would be awesome!

Don’t Let a Steep Learning Curve Become a Cliff

A learning curve is a graphical representation of the increase of learning (vertical axis) with experience (horizontal axis).

LearningCurve1

When we encounter a “steep learning curve” we face an uphill struggle to learn new ideas, practices, systems, etc. The goal is survival and ultimately, to be at a better place at some point in the future.

You know – the best in the world.

Anyone who is going to hire you, buy from you, recommend you, vote for you, or do what you want them to do is going to wonder if you’re the best choice. –Seth Godin

If you’re not going to put in the best effort, why bother?

Your learning curve should always be up and to the right – if it’s not, you’ve come to the edge of a cliff…

LearningCurve2

…now what?

Moving from Chief Executive Officer to Chief EXECUTION Officer

What happens when the CEO gets involved in the details of strategy execution?

The E in CEO gets changed.

It’s all too easy for a leader to delegate the actions of strategy execution to levels of management below them.

And it’s a mistake.

By retaining the execution of strategy, the Chief Execution Officer can achieve consensus and commitment across the leadership team; establish and preserve the integrity of the strategy; and engage the team. If done correctly, this approach and these achievements can greatly improve any strategy’s performance.

Randall Russell, VP at Palladium Group and founding editor of Balanced Scorecard Report, has identified the following three practices that can lead to a successful management style of a Chief Execution Officer.

Lead the Leadership Team – creating a leadership team that is unified around the strategy is the most important prerequisite for successful strategy execution. Consensus on and commitment to the strategy provides a litmus test for determining who should stay on the team – and who should go.

Share the Story of the Strategy – too many strategies never get executed because they remain the closely guarded secrets of the leadership team. To be effective, strategy should be shared with all team members. Successful organizations believe that people who perform non-strategic but vital roles should know the general outline of the strategy so that they can become more engaged and find ways to contribute.

Leverage Strategic Performance Feedback – Once the strategy is se and the extended team is engaged, a system of strategic performance feedback must be established. Alignment of performance reward and recognition systems with strategy execution must be done early in the process. Team members who see how their individual roles make a difference will be powerfully motivated.

Application for ChurchWorld Leaders

  1. Establish cross-functional integration, high-level consensus, and commitment to the strategy across your leadership team.
  2. Translate the strategy into a set of measurable objectives that guide behavior across all your teams.
  3. Integrate organization-wide measurements that enable individuals to understand their contribution to the strategy
  4. Align reward and recognitions to the overall strategy while acknowledging unique individual contributions.

Smart leaders translate strategy into execution.

For more information, see the full story here.

Why Be Ordinary?

The first step to becoming extraordinary is simply to stop being ordinary.

Here are five suggestions to help you:

  • Avidly collect firsthand experiences– Sherlock Holmes’ greatest claim to fame was his power of observation. Make the effort to observe and understand the nuances of what is going on in your organization. Just one among many leaders? You are still the only “you”, and you know your experiences better than anyone else. Get out from behind your desk, and know what’s happening out there. First-hand observations are critically important-make it a part of your regular routine to gather them.
  • Have a “beginner’s mind” – set aside what you know and be open to looking at things with a fresh perspective. You have extensive education and experience, you may understand tradition, you probably have preconceived notions about things. Don’t forget the importance of starting with a blank page when confronted with new opportunity.
  • Keep an “idea wallet” so you don’t lose momentary insights– anthropologists carry a notebook and camera to record their discoveries. Try recording ideas in real-time – make use of current technologies like your mobile phone with camera, or do it the old-fashioned way with a journal or index card. When you see or hear something interesting, record it for later development and exploration with your team.
  • Become a proactive “idea-broker” and practice continuous cross-pollination– Develop solid, trusted relationships across departments and lines in your organization so that you can understand and apply the lessons you learn in one context to another. Combine learning and collaboration so that you become a conduit for fresh ideas for your team.
  • Embrace the power of storytelling – telling a story has an emotional appeal that transcends the raw data we often collect. Listen to your team. Encourage them to listen to those they come into contact with. Let the stories that come out of those conversations become the vehicles for communicating your message. It will be powerful, memorable, and uniquely yours.

Stop being ordinary TODAY. Reject routine and set yourself and your team on a course to becoming extraordinary.

The world will notice.

inspired by and adapted from The Big Moo, edited by Seth Godin

The Big Moo

Have You Watched Your “Game” Film Lately?

Working an an article for VisionRoom.com about the power of TNT (it’s probably not what you think), I was reminded of this post from a couple of years ago. Since we’re in the middle of football season this time of year, I thought it would be appropriate to bring it back again.

There are a few scenes in the movie “Remember the Titans” in which “game film” plays a critical role: the school’s math teacher breaks down an opponent’s plays; one coach’s daughter loves watching game film with her dad while the other coach’s daughter thinks it’s silly; by the final game the reluctant daughter has come around and joins her new friend watching the team’s film every week.

It’s a great film with lots of leadership lessons – one of which is the importance of leaders watching their own “game film.

Seeing the movie reminded me of a great article by Dan and Chip Heath (authors of Made to Stick, Switch, and Decisive). Published in Fast Company magazine, it’s entitled “Watch the Game Film.” You really need to check out the whole article, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Football coaches use game film to spot things they’d never see in real time. They have an entire week to review a 60-minute game.
  • In the business world, every day is game day, and leaders don’t take the time to “study the film” of their activities. It’s unfortunate, because studying game film can yield unexpected results.
  • Doug Lemov, a consultant to school districts, utilized film of top-tier teachers in the classroom to train other teachers – resulting in raising students a grade level and a half in one year.
  • It doesn’t have to be film – Jump Associates, a strategy consulting firm, uses trained observers to record client meetings. After the meeting, the Jump staff holds a debriefing, modeled on the Army’s after-action reviews.

What insights might your team be overlooking because no one is observing carefully enough?

Maybe it’s time to press the PAUSE button and start screening some game film. There are some things you’ll never see unless you look.

Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and being Ridiculously in Charge

In the end, as a leader, you are always going to get a combination of two things: what you create and what you allow.  – Henry Cloud

According to clinical psychologist and leadership consultant Henry Cloud, boundaries are made up of two essential things: what you create and what you allow.

A boundary is a property line. Boundaries for LeadersIt defines where your property line begins and ends. If you think about your home, on your property, you can define what is going to happen there and what is not.

As the leader of an organization – a small group, a team, a department, maybe even the whole organization – you are responsible for the boundaries of that organization:

  • The people you invite in
  • What the goals and purposes are going to be
  • What behavior is going to be allowed – and what isn’t
  • The culture
  • The agenda
  • The rules

The leaders’ boundaries define and shape what is going to be and what isn’t.

In Boundaries for Leaders, Dr. Cloud leverages his expertise of human behavior, neuroscience, and business leadership to explain how the best leaders set boundaries within their organizations–with their teams and with themselves–to improve performance and increase employee and customer satisfaction.

In a voice that is motivating and inspiring, Dr. Cloud offers practical advice on how to manage teams, coach direct reports, and instill an organization with strong values and culture.

Boundaries for Leaders contains seven leadership boundaries that set the stage, tone, and culture for a results-driven organization, including how to:

  • Help people focus their attention on the things that matter most
  • Build the emotional climate that drives brain functioning
  • Facilitate connections that boost energy and momentum
  • Create organizational thought patterns that limit negativity and helplessness
  • Identify paths for people to take control of the activities that drive results
  • Create high-performance teams organize around the behaviors that drive results
  • Lead yourself in a manner that protects the vision

Boundaries for Leaders is essential reading for executives and aspiring leaders who want to create successful companies with satisfied employees and customers, while becoming more resilient leaders themselves.

 

part of the BookNotes Series – brief excerpts from books I am currently reading

Living on the Digital Divide

My parent’s generation viewed office paperwork in terms of duplicate copies made by using carbon paper. Correcting mistakes was a laborious process of erasing the original, erasing the copy (messy), and then correcting the mistake.

carbon copy typewriter

I’ve been around to experience the same thing, but not for long. In graduate school I can remember writing and dictating research papers while my wife typed on an IBM Selectric with self-correcting type. We thought we were in heaven!

My first position out of graduate school came with my very own workstation, part of a network of 20 staff positions, with the wonderful world of word processing. We all used a central printer for the output. Like Henry Ford said, we could have any color we wanted as long as it was black.

Through several church staff positions, then as a consultant, and now as the Vision Room Curator at Auxano, I have come to accept the digital universe as normal. I’m typing this in one of my dozens of field offices around the region (Starbucks, for appointments of 1 or 2; Panera Bread, for 3 or more). My laptop is my assistant; I carry a printer around in my 4-wheel office, along with just about anything I would need to talk with a client. I can produce anything from my files in full color, customized for the client, in minutes.

And yet, there’s something gratifying about sketching an idea on a napkin (literally; I do it all the time). And I have several “theme” notebooks that I jot ideas, quotes, and the like in. Sometimes they make it into my digital files; sometimes not.

My world is a digital divide – I can’t do my work without all the innovative developments of the last couple of decades, but I’m drawn to the “old-fashioned” way of writing, in ink, on paper pages.

I’m looking around at kids (anyone under 35) flipping through a tablet, typing on laptops, talking on cell phones, texting on their mobile phone and wondering: Do they have this same feeling? Or are they over the digital divide, living on the next level, moving forward?

Then I think about my granddaughter, who wants to Skype with my wife and me via her parent’s phone almost every week, and my grandson, who makes a beeline for my wife’s iPad whenever he visits. At the same time, our fridge proudly sports the latest fingerprinting, crayon, and marker artworks from these two. For at least awhile, they seem to be comfortable in both worlds.

How long will that last?

Just wondering today…