9780345530691|excerpt DeGraff / INNOVATIVE YOU
Henry Martin is important to me for what may seem a humble reason. A chemist in Buffalo, New York, in the mid-twentieth century, Martin changed dry cleaning forever when he created a cleaning solvent that wouldn’t burst into flames. Until 1949, the storefronts that people called “dry cleaners” were only pick-up and drop-off sites. The chemicals used to clean clothes were so dangerous that the actual cleaning had to be done in the safety of a factory, where a fire could be contained. But Martin’s nonflammable solvent meant that dry cleaning could be done where the customers were.
This new approach, “Martinizing,” saved customers days of waiting and gave Martin’s stores an advantage over every competitor. In a similar way, the first step toward innovating your own life is to look for the opportunities to add creativity to each element of what you do—not just sending out for creativity like the old dry cleaners used to send out their clothes to the factory, but adding in creativity yourself where you live and work. Martinizing made dry cleaning safe, ordinary, everyday—and hugely successful. That’s what creativity needs to be in your life.
The innovation visionary Marshall McLuhan made the point that innovation is not a thing. It’s an attribute or quality: An innovation is anything that is enhanced—made better or new. To see what I mean, pick up any business magazine. You are likely to find examples of the most innovative companies in the world. But look a little closer and you will find that some of these businesses excel at marketing, while others excel at technology development, and yet others don’t seem to do anything revolutionary, but they are great at increasing revenues.
The point is that these examples are all over the place, because innovation is something you can do in different forms, at different times, in different places. If it makes your business (or your life) better relative to your own idea of what better would be, it’s an innovation. Sometimes the biggest innovations are actually steps backward into the past, like the local food movement, in which well-off people with access to a global transportation network that can bring them food from anywhere in the world try as hard as they can to eat the food grown right nearby, as farming people did when there were no planes, trains, or automobiles. Innovation is any creative improvement, and “creativizing” can improve any area of your life.
Shandra creativized when she received an unexpected medical diagnosis: Cancer. Aggressive tumors. Odds no better than fifty-fifty. All she could think at first was, This wasn’t supposed to happen. She had lived through a difficult divorce and was raising three children on her own. After years of night school and crummy jobs, she had found a position at a company that saw the good in her. She had advanced quickly to become an executive secretary. Now everything she had built for her family, from the condo in the good school district to the college tuition savings accounts to the possibility of retiring to watch over future grandchildren was all at risk. T
he doctor spoke compassionately and made his recommendations. A patient like this should start chemotherapy right away. He offered a list of support groups to help with the emotional strain. Yet Shandra felt she’d been given a death sentence. When she finally got home, she couldn’t bear to speak to her children. She paid the sitter, made her way upstairs, and climbed into bed.
The next day, Shandra went to a support group of cancer patients in treatment, but it only made her feel more afraid and helpless. Resigned to her fate, she called her family together. There was a long silence after the announcement. Finally her oldest daughter spoke up. “You taught all of us that anything may be possible as long as we were willing to take responsibility for giving our best,” she said. “I want to believe you’re due for a miracle. We are here with you to help you in any way we can.” After that emotional homecoming, the family pulled together. If conventional medicine only gave Shandra a fifty-fifty chance, what alternatives could they find?
If the support group wasn’t enough, where could she find even more support? Together they began making phone calls, searching the Internet, reading books, and holding regular kitchen-table conclaves. They knew the cancer was not in their control, but few situations are. Together they set out to do what innovators everywhere try to do: improve the odds, both for a good outcome and for a better experience for Shandra, no matter what happened.
The following week, Shandra visited a few different specialists, including Dr. Li, who was highly regarded for both conventional and Eastern medical practices. In his office, she took a seat near the comforting babble of a tranquillity fountain. The attendant brought an elegant tea tray. Then the doctor pulled up a chair and quietly introduced himself. He explained his approach of partnering with patients because only they really know what their body needs. At the next kitchen-table gathering, Shandra said she believed that Dr. Li could help her find her own way to healing. Along with regular checkups and a regimen of chemotherapy, the program would include meditation, Chinese herbal remedies, and daily Qigong exercises.
The treatment was disruptive and hard to endure. At the start of each session with Dr. Li, Shandra would relate which treatments she thought were working and which were not. The doctor weighed her impressions as he adjusted her program week by week. She found meditation helpful but wanted to add some traditional prayers, as well as ones she had written, to incorporate her deep faith. Months later, after follow-up tests, Dr. Li announced that Shandra showed no more traces of the disease. He cautioned her to remain ever vigilant and wished her well. She was deeply grateful and returned to work, but now devoted time each day to the regimen she had created to maintain her health.
Shandra was fortunate, but she had also done what she could to create her own good luck by approaching her challenge like a master innovator. Her first doctor had offered her the standard “recipe”—chemotherapy, a hospital-based support group, and waiting. But Shandra went beyond the standard approach. What I admired so much was not that she tried alternative medicine—lots of people do that—but that she found ways to add her own creativity at every step. She took her doctor’s advice but added her own research as well. She joined the hospital’s support group but also established a second support group from her community of family and friends. She took the conventional Western medical approach and added Eastern medicine. She prayed, which had always been a support for her, but she added meditation and visualization, techniques she had never tried. For every element of her treatment, she added new, creative ingredients and methods. She “creativized.”
People who don’t creativize may never know what they’re missing. The price of not creativizing comes in missed opportunities to grow and thrive, but if you miss those opportunities you may have no way to know what, specifically, was lost. Had Reuters not created Reuters Market Light, the company might never have realized that its international sales were far below their potential. They only found answers by improvising. They only discovered the possibility of success by creating it. How? The key to creativizing is to open up your thinking to see your true situation and your range of possible responses in the widest possible way.
Most people facing a crisis or opportunity will start out with an idea or two about what’s wrong and what they could do differently. They’ll probably deny the situation for as long as they can. Then maybe they’ll get a little advice. If they’re not desperate, they’ll probably procrastinate. When they finally do feel desperate, they often leap at any chance that comes along. But when you creativize, the goal is to see a much wider range of possibilities. This takes some courage, because to begin, you have to take an honest look at where things stand now.
Often—not always, as we’ll see, but often—things look pretty grim. Your old methods have stopped working and you have no guarantees about what could take their place. The weather is threatening. You’re already working hard. It may feel like you have no options at all. No one is coming to save you.
So what can you do? Look around, and keep your eyes open. Find out what exactly are the threats that require you to innovate. Where are the new areas of growth that could sustain you and improve your life? How are your assumptions about creativity holding you back? What is keeping you from finding the people and the trends that can help you make the changes you need? These are the questions we’ll address here in Step I. It’s a preparatory step, in which you develop the skills and habits you will need on your innovation journey. By the time you reach Step II, you may feel that instead of seeing too few options for achieving any specific change you would like in your life, now you will be creativizing too many.
I hear this from my business students sometimes. We look at a case together and I start asking questions they don’t expect. I talk about people and factors that weren’t mentioned in the case. And they say: Wait! You’re creating too many options! It feels like chaos. I tell them: No, it’s not chaos. It’s possibility. This is what it feels like when you take off the blinders and see possibility all around. You don’t have to follow up on every single one. In fact, later on in this process we’ll learn ways to winnow and to test the possibilities to find the ones that are worth your while to test. But as you begin to creativize, if you feel overwhelmed with possibility, good. So many people start to change when they feel that life has backed them into a corner or when they feel tapped out of ideas or energy or are at a loss. Only when you realize you’re surrounded by possibility—practical, start-today possibility—will you be ready for the later parts of the book, which guide you to select the best overall approach for reaching your goals, and then to find the specific methods that will turn your new approach into satisfying results.
Excerpted from Innovation You by Jeff DeGraff. Copyright © 2011 by Jeff Degraff. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.