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Why the Manufacturing Industry Needs Diversity

Why the Manufacturing Industry Needs Diversity

I’ve worked in many male dominated industries, from being an innovation keynote speaker to being an inventor to being a manufacturer. Quite often I’m the only woman in the room, but I’ve never felt left out of the conversation. Most men I’ve worked with welcome a fresh perspective they haven’t thought of and are more than willing to answer questions. This is especially true when hanging out with a group of inventors, who will look for an answer wherever they can find it, and for as long as it takes to find it. Inventors are innovators and problem solvers.

 

I was proud to be included in a recent article on women manufacturers with the CEOs of General Motors, Lockheed Martin and Siemens. They are incredible role models for other women who might be thinking about going into the business or don’t even know that’s possible for them.

 

Even though women make up about half of all US jobs, they only make up 29% of manufacturing jobs. One of the reasons is that it’s not a career that many women even know is open to them, and the manufacturing industry in general hasn’t started courting women to work in manufacturing like they have been doing with women engineers. 

 

As the keynote speaker for engineering conferences, I learned that for many years the industry was not only not open to women engineers, it was an openly hostile environment for them. That is changing. Now women engineers are being courted aggressively by major corporations as early as high school and college.

 

Studies have shown that organizations that have a team of people with different industry backgrounds, different social and economic backgrounds, genders, cultures, attitudes, and belief systems tend to innovate faster and more efficiently. 

 

Failure to create highly diversified teams often results in GroupThink, a psychological phenomenon where the need for group harmony outweighs rational decision-making and stunts innovation. Studies in science labs have proven that the lab teams with the most diversity in all areas created the most innovative projects, and exhausted all possibilities in problem solving

 

A recent Harvard Business Review article states “By breaking up workplace homogeneity, you can allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases — entrenched ways of thinking that can otherwise blind them to key information and even lead them to make errors in decision-making processes.”

 

Diverse leaders create a more innovative workplace where creativity and innovation are not only okay, but encouraged. This leads to a more innovative company with more disruptive ideas that help them with sustainable competitive advantage. When employees feel comfortable speaking up, they are more likely to share their ideas.

 

I’ve been told by some of the women engineers I spoke to that they didn’t feel comfortable sharing ideas when they were the only women in the room. And that’s a shame because women have so much to contribute to the conversation. That conversation needs a more diverse set of ideas from people with different genders, backgrounds, races, education, and ways of thinking.

 

One way to get more women involved in manufacturing is by first letting women know that it’s a viable career path. This is the same problem we have as women inventors.

 

I’m glad there is starting to be more information out there about women in the manufacturing industry. Now if they would just start courting women like they do for engineers, things might start to change.

 

 

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Why You Should Hire an Inventor as Your Innovation Keynote Speaker

Why You Should Hire an Inventor as Your Innovation Keynote Speaker

Where would we be without inventors? Practically everything we touch in the course of a day is thanks to an inventor who saw an opportunity most people overlooked. Inventors are problem solvers who are never satisfied with the status quo and believe there is always a better way. That comes at a heavy price as inventors are truly outliers and have to go against the grain if they want to be successful. 

 

When I tell people I’m an inventor they are curious to know more. It’s not a typical job on a resume, but the skills you need to be a successful inventor make a great employee. Motivational speaker is also not a job you typically find on a resume either. But then again, most jobs I’ve had wouldn’t be. Like actor and spokesperson. When I decided to go into speaking as a profession I used my background as an actor and my skills as an inventor to teach others everything I know about creativity and innovation that you can’t learn in a book.

 

When it comes to creativity and innovation, experience trumps book sense any day. To be a creator you simply have to get down in the trenches and learn by doing. You can talk about innovation theory all you want, but innovation is “the action or process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value for which customers will pay”. Inventing is an action verb. An idea in your head is not an innovation until you turn it into something useful. In fact, The Patent and Trademark Office defines a patent as being “new, useful, and non-obvious”. 

 

If you want to learn about innovation theory, hire a professor. If you want to learn how to generate ideas on a consistent basis to create new revenue streams, outwit the competition, design unique marketing campaigns, cut costs, improve sales, create new products, services, business models, and unique promotions, then hire a working inventor and learn step by step exactly how to become an innovator and turn your employees into innovative problem solvers.

 

Here are 5 reasons why you should hire an inventor as your innovation keynote speaker:

 

  • High energy – Inventing is not a 9 to 5 job. It’s more like a 9 to 9 job or even more. Inventors like Leonardo Da Vinci had a sleep schedule called the Uberman sleep cycle, which consisted of 20-minute naps every four hours. Telsa only slept two hours a day and would work in his lab for several days straight without any sleep. “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success. Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything,” said Tesla. (He was also a virgin when he died, so I guess that makes sense) Keynote speakers are meant to rev up the crowd and inspire them in some way. There’s nothing like a focused inventor to draw people in. Which brings me to my next point…

 

  • Passion –  Inventing isn’t an overnight process. It’s a grueling and lonely journey with a staggering amount of ups and downs, mostly downs. Sometimes the only thing you have to sustain you is your single-minded passion. When everyone tells you to give up, you have to hold on to the passion you have for your idea. It’s the same trait you want in your innovation keynote speaker. Passion for your profession will show through. A passionate speaker lives to be on stage and genuinely wants to transform the audience so that they leave with their own passion for innovation. 

 

  • Curiosity – There is one trait that I always hire by and it doesn’t require a college degree – curiosity. Curious employees will elevate your organization to be more innovative. Curiosity is the number one most important trait of all innovators. This is something inventors have in spades. We are constantly asking questions and delving deeper into topics than most people. This is what you want in your keynote speaker. All of my keynotes are customized because every industry and company is different. A big part of what I enjoy about speaking is getting to know industries I don’t know anything about. Yes, it’s a lot more work to do weeks of research into a new topic as opposed to a canned speech, but the curious inventor part of me enjoys that. I’m the geek that thinks a great evening is back to back episodes of the Science Channel and the explorer who wants to experience new things. Our brains are hard-wired for novelty, but most people never even use a fraction of that ability. A good innovation keynote speaker will spark that curiosity in the audience so that they are excited and intrigued by the world around them. Curious employees are happy employees!

 

  • Big Picture Thinkers – A successful inventor doesn’t just think of an idea, but sees the big picture on how to sell and market an idea. Inventors are very goal oriented and realize the need to get their ideas on the market. After all, an idea needs to be turned into something useful that customers will pay money for. You want your innovation keynote speaker to be someone who sees the big picture for your organization. This involves knowing what your organization’s pain points are and what you want to accomplish instead of just spouting off some talking points and stories. Which leads me to the final reason…

 

  • Problem Solvers – Most of all, inventors are problem solvers. And the world will never run out of problems to solve! Inventors know that there is always more than one way to solve a problem. Human beings tend to get stuck in a rut. We all do. And the more we think in one way, the deeper the rut gets and the harder it is to get out of it. But inventors know the techniques you need to use to get out of that rut and where you need to search for the answers. Inventors believe there is a solution out there somewhere and never give up until a problem is solved.

 

Inventors simply think differently and that’s a good thing. That’s exactly what you want in your innovation keynote speaker. Someone who is able to see the world in a different way and inspire your audience to do the same. 

 

 

 

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Trade Secrets as Competitive Advantage

Trade Secrets as Competitive Advantage

Trade secrets are information that your business would want to keep secret from competitors, and whose value comes from the fact that it isn’t widely known. Examples might include customer lists, or unique ways (that only your business knows about) of delivering services that enable you to outperform the competition. 

 

Patent attorney and Founder of IPWatchdog, Gene Quinn explains why businesses should have trade secret protection:

 

Trade secrets are a very important part of any intellectual property portfolio. It’s not much of an overstatement to say that virtually every business has trade secrets worth protection, regardless of whether the business is run as a sole proprietorship, a small business, or a Fortune 500 company. Perhaps it’s better to say that every business has assets that could and should be protected as trade secrets, but the truth is that many companies, even large companies, fail to do so properly. 

 

Trade secret protection can exist for virtually any business information. And trade secret is extremely easy to obtain.

 

By definition, a trade secret is any information that is valuable because it is a secret. While most consider trade secrets to be synonymous with inventions, that is an oversimplification. It is, of course, true that trade secrets exist for most, if not all inventions, but trade secret protection can be had for such things as customer, vendor, or supplier lists. This is true because your customer lists are something that you benefit from keeping away potential competitors. 

 

If a competitor could obtain your customer list and just solicit them, the competitor would have lessened or eliminated the need for advertising expenses because they are starting with a targeted list of people who are already predisposed to being interested. 

 

Trade secrets are easy to protect because all the law requires is that you take reasonable precautions to keep the information a secret. What is reasonable will vary depending on the value of the business information, but keeping things such as customer lists in a filing cabinet in a locked office and stamping the file “Confidential” are relatively low cost efforts and should be employed. Any other efforts you take are certainly helpful, but you must do something. 

 

So, what is the downside of trade secret protection? As with many thing that are easy to acquire, they are also easy to lose. As soon as the trade secret is no longer a secret, you have lost all protection. Trade secrets are indeed fragile. So this means that while you can and should keep trade secrets, and take reasonable efforts to protect them, if other forms of intellectual property are available you should at least consider them. 

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Trademarks and Copyrights as Competitive Advantage

Trademarks and Copyrights as Competitive Advantage

As an inventor and patent holder, some of my strongest intellectual property has been my trademarks and copyrights. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office:

 

trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Some examples include: brand names, slogans, and logos. The term “trademark” is often used in a general sense to refer to both trademarks and service marks.  

 

Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks do not expire after a set term of years.  Trademark rights come from actual “use”. Therefore, a trademark can last forever – as long as you continue to use the mark in commerce to indicate the source of goods and services.  

 

Must all trademarks be registered? No, registration is not mandatory.  You can establish “common law” rights in a mark based solely on use of the mark in commerce, without a registration.  However, federal registration of a trademark with the USPTO has several advantages, including a notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration. 

 

Melissa Dagodag of the Law Offices of Melissa K. Dagodag specializes in trademark and copyright law. Melissa answers some of our questions about both:

 

What is the most important thing business owners need to now about copyrights and trademarks?

 

You want to make sure you’re not stepping on someone else’s toes by using a substantially similar (in the case of a copyright) image, literary work, photographic work, etc., or by using a confusingly similar (in the case of trademarks) brand name or logo. So, you should hire an attorney to search existing copyrights and trademarks before you actually start using them.

 

What is the difference between a copyright and a trademark? Do you need both? 

 

These are frequently confused, and in fact are very different. A copyright gives the owner the right to control how a creative work is used and is made up of a number of exclusive rights, including the right to make copies, authorize others to make copies, make derivative works, and sell and market the work, and perform the work. In contrast, a trademark gives the owner the right to exclude others from using a confusingly similar trademark or brand name or logo (a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business, or other entity to identify that the products or services with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source and distinguish its products or services from those of other entities).

 

Do you need to protect everything with a copyright or trademark?

 

It’s not a question of necessity. If you want to minimize your chances of being sued for trademark or copyright infringement, then it’s a good idea to have an attorney run a trademark or copyright search before you begin using a trademark, or publishing an image, design, or photograph, etc. that may be copyrighted. Federal registration of both copyrights and trademarks may also give the owner certain rights to statutory damages in the event of an infringement of the owner’s copyright or trademark that the owner will lose if the owner does not have a federal registration.

 

How long is your work covered by a copyright or trademark?

 

The term or duration of a copyright in the U.S. is generally the life of the author plus seventy five years if the work is created today. If it was created in the past, the rules are more complicated. You can go to www.uspto.gov to learn more. As far as trademarks are concerned, the way one gains and keeps ownership of a trademark is through actual use of the mark on goods or in connection with services. Therefore, as long as one continues to use the mark in commerce, one keeps the trademark alive. The duration of a trademark is therefore potentially unlimited. 

 

 

 

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Patents – Intellectual Property as Competitive Advantage

Patents – Intellectual Property as Competitive Advantage

As a patent and trade dress owner, my favorite competitive advantage is intellectual property. There’s no better way to keep your competition at bay than with intellectual property that literally keeps them off the market, at least for a set period of time. It allows a business the time and space to make as much as they can in profit. 

 

You don’t have to have a patent to sell a product, but having a patent does exclude others from selling the same product, and it gives you an instant competitive advantage. The patent gives your business a valuable asset, and the more the customer needs that product, the more valuable the patent will be. With a valuable patent you’re able to charge more for your product and increase your market share.

 

The Patent and Trademark Office defines a patent as being “new, useful, and non-obvious”. For that reason, all inventors are innovators, but not all innovators are inventors.

 

The three types of patents are: utility, design, and plant:

 

Utility patents are granted to inventors who discover or invent a new and useful process,  machine, or software, or a functional improvement to an existing invention.

 

Design patents protect an invention’s design, shape or improved ornamental appearance. I was able to obtain a design patent on my wrist water bottle because of its unique shape. It’s a contoured bottle that fits on top of the wrist.

 

Plant patents are given to an inventor who has discovered or invented a new variety of plant. The U.S. Plant Patent Act wasn’t established until 1930. In order to be granted patent rights, the plant must have been asexually propagated.  Rose bushes and apple trees are common examples of plant patents.

 

Here’s what patent agent Allen Hertz has to say about the patent process:

 

Do all products need to be patented?

 

Not all products can be patented. You should try to protect your product utilizing any and all possible means, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and even domain names. Each has its own unique benefits and limitations, and you should contact an intellectual property attorney for guidance, as each situation is unique. You need to insure that you’re not infringing on other patents.

 

What is a provisional patent, and should you start with that first or go straight to a regular patent?

 

A provisional patent is essentially a registration with the government that you have a product you are desiring to patent. This process allows you to continue development on your product while having some patent pending protection. There are some drawbacks that one needs to consider before filing a provisional patent. A provisional patent is not considered “a reductio to practice”, whereas a utility patent is. This could be a factor should you be involved in an interference against another inventor’s application. You could effectively gain up to one year of protection using this process. A provisional patent should really be written and submitted as close to a non-provisional as possible to ensure the non-provisional requirements are met. 

 

Should you keep an inventor’s notebook, and does that give you any legal protection as the first person to come up with the idea?

 

Absolutely. Documentation is a key asset in the U.S. for determining rights and ownership. A proper logbook would be considered legally binding evidence. 

 

When you do get a patent should you license it to your own corporation or not? 

 

Each case is unique and needs to be considered as such. If multiple inventors are involved, the patent should be assigned to a company and the inventors should draft an agreement between themselves early on. 

 

What happens to patent rights if you file if you file with someone else and the business relationship breaks up? 

 

It’s critical to have things in writing from day one. The more that is discussed and documented in advance, the better the relationship will be long term.

 

How many people can you license your product to?

 

It can be an exclusive with one party or infinite numbers.

 

Should you give full license rights to one company or many different ones?

 

Each agreement is unique and needs to be considered on a case by case basis. One thing to remember, once you enter into a non-exclusive agreement, it is extremely difficult to pursue and exclusive agreement with another party.

 

If you want a strong and long-lasting competitive advantage in your business, a patent is one of the best ways to do it.

 

 

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Innovation in Meetings and Events – Festivalization

Innovation in Meetings and Events – Festivalization

I just got back from Charlotte, North Carolina where I was the innovation keynote speaker for the NC Festival and Event Association’s Showfest 2019. The conference was packed and it was great to see such a fun and receptive crowd. These were people who took copious notes and brought them back to their teams to implement. 

 

According to Bureau of Labor statistics, the event industry is expected to increase in the U.S. by 11% between 2016 and 2026. Outlook about the future is positive and 85% of event planners are optimistic about the future. The meetings and events industry has a lot to celebrate! They are riding high!

 

This is why now is the time for meeting and event planners to innovate. I’m usually hired to go into companies, industries and organizations that are being disrupted. They are usually at the point where they’re spiraling down in a sea of change that they can’t get out from under. Don’t give me wrong, there’s never a bad time to innovate, but innovating when you’re on top can keep you from getting to that downward spiral to begin with. This has saved many industries from the brink that people had written off.

 

It’s much better to focus on innovating when things are going well because you have more of what you need, which is resources, talent and time. When a company is down, people tend to want to leave a sinking ship, so you may loose some of your top people and not have the time and money to implement any good ideas you do have.

 

Once people get to the top there is a tendency to rest on their laurels and start thinking that disruption will never happen to them. The outlook is rosy and their bank accounts are too. “We’re invincible and we’re not worried about the future or competition!” This is dangerous thinking, my friend. 

 

All industries, all companies, and all organizations will be disrupted at some point. They will all go through some kind of change. And anything can change your business – technology, customer tastes, competition, government regulations, counterfeiters, the weather, etc.

 

The time to think about innovation is when you’re riding high, so you can stay ahead of the curve and remain flexible when it comes to changing trends.

 

I’m happy to see that one current trend is festivalization – an integration of festival elements into a business event. Even though the festival audience I spoke to were there for solid business takeaways, they integrated it with fun and interactive workshops and general sessions. The audience wanted to be involved and learn in a more tactile way, which is part of the trend of festivalization. The attendees want to be immersed in an experience they will remember.

 

According to CWT Meetings and Events “a wonderful resort in an exotic location is no longer enough- a complete buy-out is becoming critically important for some planners to achieve maximum attendee experience.”

 

It’s known that younger audiences tend to favor experiences over things, but the attendees I met at the festival conference were all ages and were all into the interactive experience. 

 

As an innovation keynote speaker I like to get audience members on stage for improv and involve the rest of the audience in content participation, which is another critical aspect of festivalization. It closes the gap between entertainment and business. When the audience feels like they are more of a participant in the event, they tend to want to share it more, which is good news for meeting planners who want a broader social media reach. 

 

The meetings and events industry is changing. Are you prepared?

 

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Innovation in Education

Innovation in Education

Years ago I was invited to a private screening of “Waiting for Superman” where teachers in the audience were free to express their true feelings. This was before I started speaking on innovation in education. What I learned from the teachers in the audience is still a problem now that I hear from teachers and administrators. Innovation is a buzz word that’s thrown around, but rarely implemented. 

 

It’s not that unusual. I hear it in the corporate world too. What I hear from teachers and employees is that bureaucracy makes creativity and innovation almost impossible. Creativity doesn’t fit neatly into a box that always has a definitive outcome. And failure isn’t a positive trait in that industry. As I found out when I got all A’s except an F in math.

 

But there are schools out there that are embracing creativity and innovation and outperforming the competition. One such school was the Rialto school district in CA. I was hired as their innovation keynote speaker for their school district business conference. Employees were encouraged to get out of their comfort zone and be willing to fail in order to generate new business ideas using improv and creativity games. 

 

Innovation starts at the top, and if education leaders want to get new, fresh ideas from their employees, they have to be open to them having some bad ideas along with the good. The more ideas you have, the better the chance of getting a good one.

 

Here are 3 schools that are implementing innovation in education:

 

Carpe Diem Schools: The Carpe Diem classroom is designed like an office setting, with students learning from their computer in a cubicle. Part of the day is spent doing online work, but at their own pace. If a student is blazing ahead of the rest of the class, they aren’t held back, but are put into the next grade level of work. An example is that a student may be in 6th grade math, 7th grade English, and 8th grade history. Where they’re falling behind they can get more help from the teacher to catch up, and actually graduate early if they want to. The kids have said that it’s incentive to work harder and ask for help where they need it.

 

Clintondale High School: Clintondale High School has one of the most innovative ideas I’ve heard in education innovation. It’s an example of not falling into the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mode. So, the typical way of doing homework has always been that the teacher gives a lecture at school and then gives the students homework to take home. The problem is that many students who need help with homework may not have parents there who could help them. Also, one of the main things kids hate about school is the homework. So, Clintondale decided to flip things around. They do the homework at school where they have access to the teacher if they need help. And then watch the lecture at home online. This has reduce the failure rate in English by 33%, reduced the failure rate in math by 31%, and reduced the failure rate in science by 22%. This is a brilliant example of why you should always look at things from another angle. 

 

The Steve Jobs School: The Steve Jobs School is self-guided instead of having everyone learn at the same pace. Rather than feeding the students knowledge, teachers, who are called coaches, actually coach the students instead. Parents and coaches meet every six weeks. The lessons take place on an iPad and technology, math, science and engineering are taught alongside creativity and problem solving.

 

Waldorf School of the Peninsula: The most interesting school on the list is one that is innovative because it uses the techniques of the past. You would think the tech giants in Silicon Valley would send their kids to the most tech savvy school, but most of them actually fork over a huge amount to send their own kids to a school that doesn’t allow technology. No computers, tablets or smart phones are allowed. Subjects are taught using creativity, arts, games, and exploration – use knitting to teach math, and games to teach language. Topics like resilience, problem solving and social and emotional intelligence are favored over rote learning. They equip students with the skills to navigate a fast-changing future.

 

The future of education will be more diverse and personalized. The more choices students have, the more innovative education will become. Parents will always want the best education possible for their kids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more money. It does mean thinking outside the box for a better way to learn.

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The Value of Prototyping in Research and Development

The Value of Prototyping in Research and Development

Last week I was the innovation keynote speaker for the James Hardie Research and Development Conference for their scientists and engineers. I normally don’t show anyone my first prototype, but I wanted to show how simple prototyping can be, and the value of prototyping in research and development.

 

A prototype is an original model of something from which other forms are developed. Depending on how complex the prototype is, it can test a new concept, or in my case, it served as a visual sample that designers could use to make a final product.

 

When I first came up with my idea for a wrist water bottle, I tried to explain the concept to people, and most just couldn’t visualize it. They were picturing a regular water bottle strapped to your wrist. This is because we tend to see what we already know. Scientists refer to this as “structured imagination”. In other words, when we try to imagine something new and unique, our brains are still stuck in existing concepts and ideas. That’s why everyone pictured a regular, existing water bottle strapped to the wrist. Most people simply cannot picture a brand new concept. And you don’t want them to imagine the wrong concept. This goes for products, websites, scripts, books, and any other creative endeavors. No one else is going to imagine exactly what you imagine in your mind.

 

I knew if I was going to explain what it was I would have to make a prototype model so it would be obvious. A first prototype doesn’t have to actually work, so it can be made of anything. I went to the art supply store and bought a variety of supplies to work with like clay, string, popsicle sticks, paper clips, styrofoam, ribbons, etc. 

 

The first wrist water bottle design was made of clay, ribbon and an off-the-shelf cap. 

 

prototype

prototype

 

It was bulky and goofy-looking, but once people saw it they were instantly able to visualize the concept. It was also the first and only prototype I made before taking the clay model to a mold maker. Making the prototype enabled me to go from an abstract idea in my head, to a physical item I could hold in my hands. It was also helpful to be able to see where the flaws were instantly as opposed to guessing about them.

 

One of the flaws I wouldn’t have guessed was in the weight of the bottle when filled with water. By putting the heavy clay prototype on my wrist, I realized it would have to be a little smaller since it would be filled with water. It had to be just the right size. Not so big that it would be top-heavy, and not too small, so you would get enough water for a normal run.

 

The mold maker was also better able to see the concept and instantly figure out where the flaws were and how to fix them. The same goes for designing a website, marketing materials, video games, or anything else that will be handed off to a designer to make a final product. The TV and film industry uses storyboarding in order to show visually what the entire product will look like. In fact, we did a storyboard for the TV commercial we used for the wrist water bottle before we shot it.

 

My main goal as the innovation keynote speaker was to prove to the scientists and engineers that prototyping didn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, risky or expensive.

 

One valuable thing about prototyping is that you get instant feedback. When I showed people my clay prototype, people had lots of questions. By actually seeing something that would resemble the final product, they were able to see things I hadn’t thought of. Having a good prototype allows you to make changes before you invest a lot of money in a product. So prototyping is actually less risky.

 

Prototypes don’t have to be expensive. The one and only prototype I had cost less than $10. If you’re just making a prototype to show others a general idea of what it will look like, it can be made out of materials from an art store, like I used. A working prototype is more expensive, but can be done using 3D printing, fabrication and off the shelf parts, like I did with the cap. It will still be less expensive going this route first before investing a lot of money in a final product. If you find out something doesn’t work you can easily fix it in this stage. 

 

The process with the wrist water bottle went through several stages of design and change before the final finished product, even though I did get the product on the market when it was in the beginning stages of design and packaging. Software companies do this all the time with version 1.0, 2.0, etc. Here is the final retail version, which has now sold almost a million units around the world:

 

wrist water bottles

wrist water bottles

 

The basic design of the bottles and the caps didn’t change, but the material of the bottles and the bands did change. The original bands were made out of terry cloth. They were soft, but didn’t stay on very well and were thick and bulky, which made threading them through the loops difficult. 

 

The idea for the new bands came from the medical industry. One of the most important concepts about innovation is that you should always be looking to get ideas from other industries. By looking in the medical industry I was able to find a material called vel-stretch that was thinner and more durable. It’s easy to thread them through the bottle loops and they fit more snugly than the terry cloth. 

 

I was happy when several scientists and engineers came up to me after the speech and said they were now excited about prototyping. They were finally convinced that it wasn’t as complicated or risky as they thought. My journey through the invention process itself was long and difficult, but the prototyping part was rather quick and easy, and was the least expensive part of all.

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Halloween Innovation

Halloween Innovation

People love the tradition and rituals of holidays. It’s a comfortable time of doing something we’ve always done year after year, and usually involves family and friends getting together for a structured event. It’s a time when the uncertainty of life becomes certain, if only for a day.

 

But that doesn’t mean innovators can’t add some newness to the holiday. After all, we live for not doing it the way it’s always been done. As an innovation keynote speaker I’m always confronted with structured organizations who say “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. This is why I advocate adding innovation in baby steps. Keep the traditions and rituals, but try something new. Don’t change everything, just experiment with creativity a little at a time. This is especially true for holidays, like Halloween. 

 

One way to innovate, especially if you’re new to innovation, is to take each element of something and find a way to innovate it. For example, for Halloween you would have candy, costumes, trick or treating, events, decorations, movies, etc. Here are some examples of Halloween innovation:

 

Vampire Cruises: Holland America offered a special cruise for fans of the undead by putting together a vampire cruise. This included a vampire ball, scavenger hunt and charity auction, along with special screenings of vampire movies and educational speeches on the topic of vampires.

 

Haunted Hayrides: The Haunted Hayride took the tradition of hayrides and added a level of fright to it to come up with one of the biggest Shark Tank deals ever. 1031 Productions started out only doing haunted Halloween hayrides, but after Mark Cuban’s investment of $2 million dollars they’ve expanded into doing haunted sleepovers and other unique live events. 

 

Knotts Scary Farm: The amusement park Knotts Berry Farm capitalized on the holiday theme and turn their whole park into a spooky, ghoulish event once a year.

 

Halloween Candy: When trick-or-treating started in the 1930s and early 1940s, children were given homemade goodies like cookies, cake, fruit, and nuts. 

 

In the 1950s, candy manufacturers saw an opportunity to promote their products, which were more affordable than giving out homemade treats. In the 1970’s wrapped candy was seen as a safer alternative.

 

Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without candy corn, which is so popular it even has it’s own holiday on October 30th, to honor the production of 9 billion pieces of the iconic confection. It was invented in the 1880s by a Wunderlee Candy Company employee named George Renninger. 

 

Since then, Halloween candy has seen its share of innovation from giant gummy rats to candy bags of blood and bug encrusted lollipops. Adults can indulge in candy corn jello shots.

 

Trick or treating: Halloween projection videos can now turn your ordinary house into a haunted house with the click of a button thanks to Total HomeFX™, which is a brand of Productworks™ LLC. It’s founder, Kenneth McCorkindale, wanted to bring technology innovation to the holiday tradition.

 

 

A modern Halloween invention from Snapchat uses technology to find the most popular trick or treating spots in your neighborhood.

 

Halloween Costumes: The custom of wearing costumes on Halloween is as old as the holiday itself. It originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain, where people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. Halloween costumes have gone from the simple bedsheet ghost to pretty much anything the imagination could dream up, including costumes for dogs, like the ones created by Eugenia Chen, of Pandaloon, who ultimately got an offer from Shark Tank investor Daymond John. 

 

 

Halloween Decorations: 

 

Want to create a spooky mood for trick or treaters or party guests? Use this spiderweb maker:Forum Novelties Webcaster Gun II Combo Fake Spiderweb Shooter, Black

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Innovation in Nature – Cell Phone Screens

Innovation in Nature – Cell Phone Screens

How many times have you tried to use your cell phone in bright sunlight and were unable to see the screen? Thanks to mother nature, that may be a thing of the past.

 

According to the Optic Society, “Reflection is the major reason it’s difficult to read a phone screen in bright sunlight, as the strong light reflecting off the screen’s surface washes out the display.”

 

American Physist and inventor Shin-Tson Wu, a professor at the College of Optics and Photonics at the University of Central Florida has potentially found a better way thanks to the moth. He was inspired by the nanostructures found on moth eyes to develop a new antireflection film.

 

The eyes of moths, who are mostly nocturnal, are covered with a pattern of antireflective nanostructures that allow moths to see in the dark. They also prevent them from being seen by predators.

 

A recent article in Scientific American explains the concept. “A moth’s eye is coated with tiny, uniform bumps that gradually bend (or refract) incoming light. The light waves interfere with one another and cancel one another out, rendering the eyes dark.”

 

Experimentation has been done to reduce the sunlight off of the surface of solar cells, so Wu and his team thought the same technique might also work on mobile screens. Current cell phones can boost the readability, but they also drain the battery.

 

The new film makes it 4 times easier to read in sunlight and 10 times easier to read in the shade. The special films may also serve another purpose which is to keep your phone screen from getting fingerprints. They have a built-in, self-cleaning effect since the film is able to repel moisture. They are also scratch-proof.

 

Nature is one of the best places to go to find solutions to problems. Inventors have been doing it for centuries.

 

 

 

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Creativity and Problem Solving Through Low Tech

Creativity and Problem Solving Through Low Tech

As technology takes over more of our lives, there is one skill a machine just cannot compete with…creativity. According to The World Economic Forum’s recently released report, The Future of Jobs, that skill has moved from 10th place in 2015 to #3 in 2020. This is based on information supplied by leading international organizations. They surveyed executives from more than 350 employers in nine different industries.

 

The top skill on the list now and the one that will be needed in the future is complex problem solving, followed by critical thinking. Both of these require creativity.

 

 

Top 10 Skills You Need to Thrive in 2020
future of jobs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When most people think of innovation, they tend to think of high tech first. The basis of innovation is creativity. Some of the biggest moguls in high tech know the value of creativity and problem solving. This is why smart high tech executives send their kids to schools like the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, where kids learn math through knitting, and language through game playing.

 

When the Waldorf School says they are “old school”, they really mean it. Classrooms have blackboards with chalk, wooden desks with hard copy workbooks and pencils, and book shelves with encyclopedias. Computers, iPads, and iPhones are also frowned upon at home.

 

A Princeton University psychology department’s research study proved that taking notes with a pen and paper as opposed to typing on a laptop, led to better problem solving skills. The conceptual thinking and note taking study was conducted by psychological scientist and author Pam Mueller and involved 65 college students. Some of them took notes from a TED talk in a laptop and some took notes in long-hand in a notebook with pen and paper.

 

They were then quizzed on what they learned through both fact recall and conceptual thinking types of questions. They both performed well when it came to the fact recall type of questions, but the ones that used good ole’ fashioned pen and paper out shined the laptop note takers when it came to conceptual questions. It seems that the pen and paper note takers were more likely to remember the conceptual information, even when questioned a week later.

 

Reading regular hard copy books is also better for problem solving. A 2005 survey at San Jose University by Ziming Liu, found that people were more likely to take shortcuts when they read books on an iPad.

 

Writing out a hand-drawn mind map is also a good way to look at problem solving. I’ve always liked seeing things spread out where I can see them. That way it makes it easier to see the big picture all at once, which helps your brain form new associations.

 

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both limited the amount of technology they would allow their own kids to use. Bill Gates’ kids weren’t allowed to have cell phones until they turned 14. The average age now is 10.

 

Fractions at the Waldorf School are taught by cutting up apples or pieces of cake into quarters and halves. Learning this way engages both the body and the brain. Findings from a research study in the Netherlands shows that children learn more by engaging the body and the brain at the same time, or kinesthetic-tactile learning.

 

Brightworks schools base their learning on creativity, and encourage students to follow their curiosity about the world around them. Teachers are called collaborators and classrooms have students of different ages.

 

I’ve always hired employees on the basis of their problem solving abilities, creativity, and curiosity. These are employees you don’t have to hand-hold, who will find new opportunities for your organization.

 

CareerBuilder.com gives advice on how to demonstrate your problem solving abilities:

 

When you’re demonstrating your problem-solving skills on a resume, you should concisely note how you identified the problem, developed a solution, and implemented this strategy.

 

Some examples of strong problem-solving statements include:

  1. Reduced safety violations 30 percent by installing strategically placed railings on the production floor
  2. Increased customer satisfaction ratings 20 percent by developing new scripts to address common questions
  3. Cut shipping expenses by 10 percent quarterly with customized software solutions

 

As someone who is a creative, natural-born problem solver, I’m always surprised that it’s not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. But luckily it’s a skill that can be taught. And a very valuable skill to have in your back pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creativity and Problem Solving Top Job Skills for the Future

Creativity and Problem Solving Top Job Skills for the Future

According to the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report”, creativity and problem solving are listed in the top three skills that employees will need by 2020. Critical problem solving is one of the most important attributes that employers look for in a new hire because no organization is without problems, and every industry will eventually be disrupted.

 

I deliver a keynote speech called “Turning Your Employees Into Problem Solvers“, which I’ve given to hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, scientists, engineers, etc. A company’s biggest line expense is payroll, so why not hire the most creative problem solvers possible? As a small business owner, I’ve always hired creative people who have curiosity and enthusiasm. I like having the trust in my employees that they will find a better, more efficient way of doing something that I haven’t found.

 

In this highly competitive world, having creative problem solvers working for you means seeing things from another angle. This is why brainstorming with a group of people is better than figuring everything out on your own. There is always something you’ll miss. Creative problem solvers are great at finding new opportunities for your organization.

 

Most companies say they would like to be more innovative, and innovation starts with creativity. If you hire creative employees you’re already ahead of the game. Amy’s Ice Cream in Texas has one of the most creative hiring practices I’ve seen. Here is their job description:

 

“Pick up a white paper bag. We ask that you take the bag home and bring back something creative. We would like you to express your artistic and creative side through this bag! Decorate it, make it into an object, write an original song on it, fill it with amazing things…the possibilities are endless! Most importantly, have fun and take your time. Show us who you are through the paper bag. It does not have to be artistically brilliant, just creative.”

 

This has proven to work well for Amy’s. One of their annual events, the Trick Olympics, was started after her employees began doing tricks with the ice cream like throwing it up in the air and catching it behind their back. Now the Trick Olympics is held every year and donates a portion of the profits to a local charity.

 

One way to hire creative employees is to give them problems to solve when they come in for their first interview. How they react under pressure and how creative they are at solving problems then will give you a good idea of how they will solve problems when they’re working for you.

 

Once you have your employees, create an environment for them to be creative and trust that they will find the best solution. If they’re not being micromanaged and have a creative environment, they will usually rise to the occasion and surprise you.

 

 

 

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Innovation in Home Care

I was pleased to be the innovation keynote speaker recently at the Rocky Mountain Home Care Conference in Beaver Creek. The topic “Turning Your Employees Into Problem Solvers” was well received by a packed crowd of people in the home care and hospice industry.

 

One of the things I like most about being a speaker is being able to research and learn about so many different industries. And I learned a lot about the home care industry that I didn’t know. A statistic from AARP says that 90% of older adults say they would rather stay in their own homes as they age. For people who aren’t frail enough to need around the clock care, but do need some help, home care is a perfect solution. And innovation in home care technology is increasing. These can be broken down into active and passive technologies.

 

Active technologies require someone to activate the device. Passive technologies allow a patient to be monitored without having someone around to activate it. This can include devices such as sensors and cameras.

 

GreatCall Responder is a wireless device that helps give older adults added security wherever they are. It connects to highly trained response agents who can pinpoint their location and send help if needed.  www.greatcall.com

 

Older adults who live alone often have to remember to take certain medications. This is where the TabSafe System comes in handy. The base unit allows the pharmacy or caregiver to load medication into a cartridge, and its patented design allows only the right amount of medication to be dispensed. The TabSafe Personal Health Website contains all of the data concerning the various medications and keeps track of things like scheduling, drug contents, and when the prescription needs to be refilled.

 

Another safety innovation is a product called Fire Avert which automatically shuts off a stove when the smoke alarm goes off. It was invented by Firefighter Peter Thorpe who was tired of responding to unattended stove fires that could have been avoided. For older people who are living alone, (or anyone else, for that matter), this innovation could be a lifesaver.

 

And for the home care provider, there is a mobile app from AtHoc which will summon help for the worker or their patient at the touch of a button on their smartphone.

 

The home care industry will continue to evolve and be disrupted as all industries are. But even as new technology makes their jobs easier, the human touch and human connection will always be needed. That’s one thing that never changes.

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Innovations in the Fire Industry

Innovations in the Fire Industry

Last month I had the pleasure of being the innovation keynote speaker for the Southeast Michigan Fire Chiefs Association on “Fire Industry Leadership in the Age of Disruption”. It was an honor to be among so many heroes, and what I didn’t know is that 69% of all firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers.

 

All industries, including the fire industry, are constantly having to deal with change and disruption. According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, there is a long list of problems involving recruitment and retention of firefighters today. Some of those include more demands on time, both parents working, more demanding training, more alarms to respond to, less community pride, and failure of leadership to manage change.

 

All change can be seen as an opportunity for new inventions and innovation. Just like the military, the fire industry is full of innovation. From the early days of the simple bucket brigade, fire industry professionals have been dreaming up new ways to fight fires.

 

In 1824 Charles Dean invented a Medieval-looking device called a smoke helmet after experiencing fires on ships at sea. He obtained a patent for it and eventually sold the patent. But the idea never really caught on, so Dean refashioned it into a diving helmet for the diving industry, which did catch on.  Sometimes an idea that is meant for one industry will become even more popular in another industry.

 

A Danish inventor came up with an invention called the Fire Express, a compact, mobile device that uses 93% less water to fight fires. Because of its precision accuracy, the Fire Express only uses 5 gallons of water to put out a car fire. The patented dual nozzle is able to produce micro drops of water or foam at a range of up to 15 metres.

 

Two engineering students from George Mason University have figured out a way to put out fires without all the messy chemicals by using low-frequency bass sound waves. It works on the principle of focusing deep sound waves, a type of pressure wave, in a specific direction, instead of spread out like music. Right now the invention is only effective at putting out small fires, but they’re working on a device that could be used on a larger scale for forest fires.

 

The Dubai Civil Defense launched a fire innovation called Dolphin, which is a water jetpack that enables firefighters to put out fires on bridges, boats, and shoreline buildings.

 

Firefighter Peter Thorpe was tired of responding to unattended stove fires that could have been avoided. So he invented Fire Avert. It’s a simple product that shuts off your stove if it’s left unattended. Fire Avert automatically shuts off the stove when the smoke alarm goes off.

 

Boston firefighter Rob Duffy invented the Quick Step Anchor after his friend fell off a roof. Many times firefighters are also dealing with less than perfect conditions like ice and snow. Rob’s invention anchors into a roof so you have better traction while up there fighting fires.

 

Inventor and firefighter Jeff Stroope came up with the idea for Hy-Conn after dealing with the problem of connecting fire hoses to fire hydrants. It’s a time and labor-intensive process for firefighters. Hy-Conn cuts down on the time it takes to hook them up.

 

It’s hard to say what will come next in the fire industry. I’m sure robots will probably play a big part in firefighting in the future. But, I look forward to seeing many more innovations coming from the fire industry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Associations Need to Innovate

Why Associations Need to Innovate

Associations are a legacy business, like newspapers, and the TV industry. And they have all enjoyed many years of success without being challenged…until now.

 

Early roots of associations could be found in craft guilds, churches, and trading groups. Guilds were formed to protect the interests of merchants and craftsmen. Guilds provided skills training and lobbying, much like you see in associations today.

 

But guilds were disrupted during the Industrial Revolution when they no longer served their purpose. Mass production became more important than making a quality product, and we’ve been going down that road ever since.

 

Like all innovation and disruption, things go in cycles. After the Transcontinental Railroad began linking trade in the East to the West, trade associations sprung up to deal with expanding markets and competition. Associations were back in business and remained unchallenged for decades until the Internet came along.

 

The Internet has disrupted more than one business. Legacy industries like newspapers and associations are especially susceptible to disruption through technology. Thanks to online content and education, and social networking like Linked In and Facebook groups, new potential members may wonder what your association has that is unique and different. That’s where creativity and innovation comes in.

 

All aspects of your association can be innovated, from your memberships to the events you put on, to the content you provide. According to Kellen, the association management group, there are numerous streams of income you can innovate, such as:

 

  • Continuing education
  • Training, workshops
  • Webinars
  • Selling mailing lists
  • Advertising
  • Vendor workshops
  • Sponsorships
  • Vendor programs

 

Today’s associations are being challenged with members who are looking for more value for their membership dues. By giving them something they can’t get anywhere else, you are increasing your value, and will attract more members.

 

I will be the innovation keynote speaker for the .org Innovation Summit. Check out this promo video:

 

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The Creativity Gap Between Management and Employees

The Creativity Gap Between Management and Employees

The creativity gap between management and employees keeps getting wider. As a creativity keynote speaker I’m hired to get employees excited about creativity and innovation. By the end of the speech, which is a combination of creativity education, fun creativity exercises and interactive improv, I have accomplished what I set out to do. Employees would comment that they were excited about innovating and coming up with new ideas, and management was happy with the results.

 

But in private the employees would say, “This is great, but they don’t pay us extra for doing this” or “Nothing is really implemented on a regular basis to continue what we just learned” or “We don’t feel comfortable taking creative risks in the office”.

 

As I sat at lunch or dinner with the management team I would hear something totally different. I asked management if they would be willing to have some kind of plan to compensate employees for generating new ideas that made the company more money. I was told on more than one occasion that “They don’t really want compensation. It’s part of their job”. As far as being comfortable taking risks, management was sure they provided a safe environment for that, but employees would tell me otherwise. Obviously there is a gap there in communication.

 

The think tank Workforce Institute at Kronos did some research into workplace culture and found that management and employees don’t agree about workplace culture and how to create a good workplace culture. If they don’t even agree with the basics, how can they move on to become a more creative and innovative environment?

 

In the research study about a quarter of the executive team felt they shaped the workplace culture, while almost a third of the employees felt they were the ones who determined it. This was especially true with millennials, where about 40% felt like they were in charge of the workplace culture and that employees held more power.

 

Employees who come up with valuable ideas are an asset to the company. Some ideas improve the bottom line, some save the company money, and some improve the way the company does business. Having a creative and innovative workforce is extremely valuable to a company.

 

An idea doesn’t have to be a product. It can also be an idea for a marketing campaign, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was for the department store Montgomery Ward. Employee Robert May originally wrote the story as a poem for a Christmas marketing campaign to drive customers into the store. When May fell on hard times, the company gave him the rights to the beloved character he created.

 

To get good ideas, you have to go through some failure. Creativity involves a lot of failure, and employees must have the trust of management to be allowed to fail. Creativity doesn’t involve spending money. Coming up with a new idea is totally free. Until someone decides to implement it and spend money, management has nothing to lose.

 

It would be a good idea for management to set up a way to test new ideas without putting a lot of money into them. Having team-building exercises and real world scenarios where new ideas are put into action help employees see that they are allowed to make mistakes and fail without risking their jobs.

 

Have a smaller version of the new idea that can be tested out first instead of spending a lot of time and resources on an idea that may not work. Get management involved at that point to make sure everything is on the right track.

 

Studies have shown that employees who are involved in creativity are more satisfied with their jobs, especially if they are rewarded and appreciated for it. And the ones who are allowed to follow what they’re personally passionate about are more likely to stick with it until they come up with a great idea. This is why Google and 3M have always allowed employees in the past to spend a certain amount of their work time on ideas they find interesting.

 

Other companies are starting to realize that giving employees some slack time for play is a good idea. Apple’s Blue Sky program allows employees to take time to develop projects of their own. They got the idea from Google, who got the idea from 3M.

 

And then there is Linked In’s InCubator which does basically the same thing. Employees are encouraged to come up with ideas, then form a team around it and then pitch the idea to management. This is in addition to hackdays where employees take one Friday off a month to work on creative projects.

 

MicroSoft launched The Garage, which has at least 50 projects going every month. Some of those projects result in patents, which trickles down to a monetary bonus for those employees who are working on them.

 

Iconic companies like Procter and Gamble have a solid management innovation system in place. When I was the innovation keynote speaker for their International Engineering Summit I saw that first hand. Engineers already have the skills it takes to invent new products and generate innovation. P&G works hard to keep those valuable employees happy so they will stay with the company.

 

Innovation is at the heart of what P&G does. Here is what it says on their website:” For more than 175 years, innovation has been in our DNA. It’s how we drive growth, prevent the commoditization of categories, reduce costs and deliver value”. They go on to praise their research and development team of almost 8,000 employees from around the world for their contributions to innovation.

 

Keeping employees happy is vital to a workplace culture. One way to keep them happy is through creativity and a mutual trust and understanding of their value. Ultimately both management and employees should be on the same page if creativity and innovation is going to be a cornerstone of the corporate culture. Creativity is fun and makes the office a place to look forward to instead of dreading it. When employees are excited about coming in to work on Monday, you know you’re on the right track!

 

 

 

 

 

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How Creativity and Innovation Can Save Your Life

How Creativity and Innovation Can Save Your Life

Lately I’ve been hooked on the Weather Channel’s new show “SOS: How to Survive”, where survival expert Creek Stewart teaches innovative skills to help you survive in a dangerous situation. Each episode is about real people caught up in true stories of life or death survival, and how you can learn from their ordeals. The show

 

This is a great example of how creativity and innovation aren’t just about the future and technology. A cell phone with no signal is useless in the wilderness against Mother Nature. Anyone could find themselves in a situation where having a creative and innovative mindset might just save their life.

 

A well-known example is the Kim family, who set out on a drive and ended up lost on a logging road in a snowstorm. With limited food and no survival skills, the family did whatever they could do to stay alive. Stewart retraces the scene and gives the audience a look at what could have been done by using innovative survival skills, like starting a warming fire next to their car that would burn all night, and a signal fire that could be seen by rescuers.

 

He also explains that if you had to leave your car to go find help, there is a way to carry fire with you that was practiced by primitive cultures who carried embers in what was called a fire horn. Any kind of non-flammable container would work, like a soda can, glass jar, or your car’s side mirror.

 

You fill the container with punky wood, which is dry, rotting wood, and an ember from an existing fire. Cover the ember with more punky wood and you can walk all day with portable fire.

 

Repurposing everyday objects like Creek did with the car mirror is a basic creativity and innovation skill. You can test yourself by imagining 20 uses for a common household object. This gets you out of seeing only one solution for a problem. It’s easy to get stuck seeing only one way to do something, or seeing an object as having only one purpose. Finding another purpose for something will lead you to all kinds of new discoveries.

 

Those new discoveries can lead you to other ideas. Sometimes you have to look at an object from a different angle. View it upside down, sideways, or inside out. If you’re stranded in the wilderness or in a dangerous situation you’ll be forced to start repurposing things. Don’t wait for that to happen. Get in the habit of doing it on a consistent basis. Get in the habit of challenging yourself to find other uses for things sitting on your desk. What else could you do with a computer screen or a book or an ink pen?

 

Try to get as wild as you can with your answers. Since there are no wrong answers, you can be as creative as your imagination will go. Get as far away from the object’s original use as possible. This is where you’ll find true innovation.

 

In Cade Courtly’s book “SEAL Survival Guide: A Navy Seal’s Secrets to Surviving Any Disaster”, he tells about how a former teammate in Iraq had to improvise on a raid and grab anything he could find to protect himself. He ended up using a toaster as a deadly weapon and became the first American to get a confirmed kill with a small kitchen appliance.

 

In the 1980’s TV show “MacGyver”, secret agent and scientist Angus MacGyver, used unconventional problem solving and improvised with ordinary objects like duct tape and a Swiss Army knife in life and death situations in a matter of minutes. He believed in using non-lethal means and his extensive knowledge of science to save lives and stop crime.

 

One of the reasons MacGyver is so interesting is because he is able to do so much with so little. He had to escape using only a bobby pin, scotch tape and a thumbtack. Having limited resources is one way you might be forced to use your creativity. Watch any of the prison TV shows and you’ll see creativity at its finest.

 

 

Prisoners have very limited resources and yet they are able to find ways around it. To protect themselves and save their lives using creativity, prisoners have made flame throwers out of coffee creamer and a tube or a paper-mache shank made out of toilet paper. Homemade guns have been made out of metal and loaded with pieces of steel.

 

 

Of course they have plenty of time on their hands to run through all of the options, but after being forced to survive and thrive with very little, they simply figure it out. And you should too. Force yourself to come up with a creative solution to a problem by limiting your resources.

 

Creativity can save your life in another way. Realtor Ed Rosenthal took a wrong turn in the desert in 100 degree heat and ran out of water. He found shelter under some rocks to escape the heat, but he still had no water. Days went by as he felt himself slipping away. To keep up his spirits he wrote poetry on his hat. When he was finally rescued after 6 days, he had them published in a book called “The Desert Hat”.

 

Many psychologists have heard stories from their patients who are bored with their jobs or their lives. Do you ever remember being bored as a kid? Probably not. Because kids use their imaginations, and imagination is endless. A solution may be reconnecting with a passion you had when you were younger or taking up some kind of creative hobby you find pleasurable.

 

Creativity also reduces stress. When you’re involved in a creative activity your blood pressure decreases and your blood flow increases. Endorphins are released and your immune system improves. Studies have shown that people who are creative are less depressed and take fewer medications.

 

Creativity and innovation can save your life, but it can also give your life purpose and meaning. Your creative imagination is as endless as you want it to be.

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How to Kill Innovation – That’s The Way It’s Always Been Done

How to Kill Innovation – That’s The Way It’s Always Been Done

When I ask people why we still have daylight savings time, most shrug their shoulders and say “I don’t know. That’s the way it’s always been done”. I hear this a lot as an innovation keynote speaker. Many times systems are put into place for a particular reason, and even when that reason is no longer needed, the systems stay in place with no thought of changing it.

 

The idea of Daylight Savings Time was first created by New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson, who suggested setting clocks forward 2 hours in October and 2 hours back in March. But the idea never caught on, until Germany introduced it in 1916 to save fuel for the war effort by minimizing artificial lighting.

 

Before the industrial revolution when we were an agrarian society it made sense to want to wake up early with the sunrise and get more done in the fields. Why do we still hold on to that when we’re no longer an agrarian society?

 

Change just for change sake may not be a smart way to go. There’s usually a good, logical reason why a system was put there in the first place. But we can always challenge systems to see if they need to be changed or updated.

 

So many things can change your business, like technology, competition, govt. regulations, economy, customer tastes, or even the weather. Regardless of why things have been done in the past, it’s a good idea to occasionally evaluate what you’re doing to see if you need to update it.

 

Most people resist change for a number of different reasons. As an innovation speaker and trainer I’m in a position to be the outsider looking in. I don’t work for the company so I’m able to see things from a different angle. I haven’t been exposed to the old “that’s the way it’s always been done” systems.

 

The first question I ask when people say that is “Why?” Many times people don’t know or remember why something is being done a certain way. This is a good time to start asking questions. “Does this still work for us?” “Is there a better way to do it?”

 

There are plenty of reasons people and companies stay stuck in systems. Sometimes those systems genuinely work well. But other times the systems stay in place because someone benefits from them and doesn’t want them changed.

 

It takes courage to challenge the old systems and stand up to the people who say “that’s the way it’s always been done.” But if you want to be more innovative, it’s the first challenge you need to face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inventor of Scotch Tape – Richard Gurley Drew

Inventor of Scotch Tape – Richard Gurley Drew

As a creativity keynote speaker, one of the things I talk about is serendipity, or finding something valuable that you’re not looking for. Scotch brand tape was one of those serendipitous ideas that was invented to solve one problem and ended up solving many more.

 

One way many inventors come up with ideas for inventions is by seeing a problem that needs solving. Usually it’s your own problem, but in the case of Richard Gurley Drew, inventor of scotch tape, it was a problem bodyshop owners had.

 

He had dropped out of college where he had been studying engineering and gotten a job at the 3M company, when he spotted a problem that would change the trajectory of his career.

 

Cars with two-tone paint were popular in the 1920’s, but it wasn’t a very easy job for the people who painted them. Richard was making his rounds delivering sandpaper samples to bodyshops when he overheard the guys painting those two-tone cars complain about the process. They would paint the car, then cover the painted part by gluing newspapers to part of it or using tape. But the tape didn’t work very well.

 

With a limited knowledge of chemistry, and an enormous amount of hutzpah, he promised the painters he would invent a type of tape that would help solve their problem.

 

He set out experimenting with different types of oils, resins and glues. Like all inventions, there were a lot of failures. Either the adhesive was too strong or not strong enough. Eventually he came up with a tape that would adhere strongly and strip off easily.

 

About that time Dupont had invented cellophane, which was used to package baked goods, but they didn’t have an effective way to seal the bags. Drew thought he could figure out a way to make the tape so it would seal the cellophane bags seamlessly. It wasn’t as easy as he thought, and by the time he finally got the tape to work, Dupont had already started using a self-sealing material.

 

It was now the first full year of the Great Depression, which was the worse time possible for a company to be launching a new, untested product. But serendipity was once again at play because Scotch tape turned out to have many valuable uses to people who were struggling during the Depression. The tape helped them prolong the life of items they couldn’t afford to replace, like books whose pages were torn, window curtains with tears, or even torn clothing.

 

Though customers loved the product, they complained about the tape disappearing into the roll once it was used. It was hard to find the end of the tape. So another 3M employee invented a solution to that problem… the tape dispenser.

 

Sales manager John Borden experimented with it for about 18 months and finally came up with a snail-shaped tape dispenser that had a built-in cutter blade, so each tape use was perfectly cut and ready for the next one. That shape hasn’t changed much since it’s invention in 1939.

 

This is a good example of inventing an add on product for a particular product or line of products. This alone can generate an enormous amount of money for a company.

 

While other companies were laying off employees during the Great Depression, 3M was one of the few in the world that didn’t. All thanks to the success of a serendipitous invention and an inventor who saw opportunity where others only saw a problem.

 

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Creativity and the Value of Improv

Creativity and the Value of Improv

Creativity shares some of the same rules as improv. For one thing, every idea is the best idea you’ve ever heard. There’s no judging and no denying. And that’s the beauty of it. Companies and organizations that are worried about the costs of innovation, need not be worried about creativity. It’s the first step in innovation, and ideas don’t cost anything until they are implemented. Creativity should be practiced by everyone who wants to keep a steady stream of ideas ready to go. It’s a good thing to practice on a consistent basis. It’s also a lot of fun.

 

When you’re in the middle of doing improv, your analytical brain shuts off. You literally don’t have time to analyze what you’re saying. It’s more like reacting on the fly. When someone labels you as a character in a scene, you can’t deny it. You just have to roll with it and own it. You might fail miserably, but that’s okay. It’s a numbers game. Eventually you’ll hit gold.

 

I remember a late night improv class where everyone was punchy and wanted to go home. My teacher, who was one of the best in the business, was known for pushing people as hard as he could. One guy in the class was an accountant and was always trying to be logical. My teacher constantly fought to get him out of his head so he would just react and be in the moment. He was suppose to be doing some kind of activity in an office cubicle, but he kept going to something logical like typing or inputing data on the computer. The teacher pushed and pushed until the guy finally screamed out of total frustration, “I’m cooking peas!” The class roared with laughter and it was the breakthrough he needed. From then on he pushed the envelope, even if it didn’t make sense. He learned that he was never going to get the laugh by being logical. By the way, he went on to become an in demand commercial actor.

 

Charles Limb is a musician and neuroscientist who studies the effect of improv on the brain, and believes that musical improv could eventually lead to a new and improved treatment for hearing loss. Limb is Chief of Otology/Neurotology and skull base surgery at University of CA, San Francisco and a faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, who does cochlear implant surgery on patients who have lost their hearing, so he has a special interest in helping to perfect hearing.

 

He studied jazz musician John Coltrane and how he could improvise masterpieces on stage. Not just a little improv, but over an hour of pure jazz improvisation. Limb and his collaborator Allen R. Braun started putting musicians through sensitive imaging machines to find out how a musical improv genius does it. One thing they’ve learned is that they are able to deactivate the self-censoring part of the brain while they are in the middle of doing improv, and also shut off their inhibitions, both critical traits of improvisors and creatives.

 

You’re also able to shut off inhibitions after a couple of drinks. Psychologist Jennifer Wiley wanted to know if being intoxicated helped people become more creative, so she set out to do some research on the topic at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She recruited a group of willing participants into her lab and gave some of them vodka cranberry drinks and some without the vodka. Then she had them do a series of problem solving exercises. She found that the people who had the alcohol were able to do the exercises better and faster than their sober counterparts.

 

Teamwork is a big part of improv. To come up with great ideas in a brainstorming group you have to be willing to give the other person credit and back up their ideas, no matter how bad they are. Make your fellow improvisors look good, and you’ll look good. Do that by taking their ideas and adding to them. That’s also very important for creativity and a good way to be a prolific creativity team.

 

One of the first things you learn in improv is the game “Yes…and”. One person starts a sentence. “Purple is a beautiful color”. Then the other person adds information to it. “Yes, and, it’s the color of royalty”. So, instead of shutting down someone else’s idea, you treat it like it’s the best idea in the world and add information to it. You advance the scene this way instead of trying to advance your own agenda. As my teacher used to say “Bring something to the party”.

 

This is how creativity should work in an organization. It’s the way to come up with great ideas together and make teamwork work. Instead of shutting down ideas because they may be stupid or crazy or not work, you rejoice in those ideas. You can always edit them later, but never in the idea stage. Be wild and crazy and say “Yes…and!”

 

Listening and observing are two other traits that are important for improv and for creativity. The best improvisors are able to read their fellow actors almost as if they could read their minds. Attention to detail is needed in improv and in creativity.

 

I like hanging out with smart, creative people. I’m okay at coming up with ideas on my own, but when surrounded by people who aren’t afraid to generate a lot of ideas and keep a good, interesting conversation going, it stimulates my brain to become more creative. Hang out with people who have a diversity of opinions and backgrounds and you’ll expand your thinking.

 

When I lead an audience through an improv game there is always the tendency to try and make it perfect without making mistakes. But the mistakes are usually what ends up making the funniest scenes and the most creative ideas. If you want to be more creative you have to be willing to jump off the cliff and say “yes…and!”

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Play is Important for Creativity

Why Play is Important for Creativity

Most of the articles out there about play involve children and how important it is for their development. But what about adults? I guess adults don’t really have to incorporate play into their lives, but how boring would that be? According to Plato “Life must be lived as play”. And if you want to be more creative, play is absolutely essential.  

As a creativity keynote speaker I always incorporate play into every speech or workshop I do, whether it’s improv or creativity games. Play helps you relax the neurons in the brain so you’re able to make connections your unrelaxed, analytical brain would never even think of.   It usually takes a while to get people out of their comfort zones. I notice that many don’t want to look silly in front of their boss or co-workers. They don’t want to fail. That’s human nature.   Creativity is all about trial and error, and that means you will fail a lot. It’s much easier to laugh at those failures and learn from them. After all, that’s what kids do when they play.  

Watch how kids experiment through play, and how totally engrossed they can get in a game or putting together a toy castle. Kids can turn an empty box into a spaceship or use it as a counter in a store. They make up their own rules as they go along. And they fall down a lot. But they learn from it.

What I notice in doing creativity exercises and improv with a large group is that once the first person jumps in and starts having fun, others want to join in the fun. One person is always willing to jump off the cliff and take some risks. Once people in the audience see that the reward for taking risks is having fun, it makes it okay to try it.   Kids play for some of the same reasons adults do – to relax, have fun, develop better social skills, express yourself, and strengthen imaginations. When I teach creativity it’s all for the end result of business and making money from it. But it all starts with play.   Here is why these elements are important:  

  • Relax – Have you ever wondered why you tend to come up with your best ideas at the end of a long day, when your brain is exhausted? Or when you’re out having a couple of beers with your co-workers? It seems there is something to that. A psychology professor at Albion University did a study where he gave analytical and insight-based problems to over 400 students at different times of the day, and found that students did better on problems that involved insight when they were tired. Having a couple of drinks has been shown to increase creativity also for the same reason. Focusing and concentrating too much on a problem can block the creative process for problem solving. When you’re more relaxed you’re more likely to come up with ideas that aren’t the first ones that pop into your head. Those tend to be much more creative an unique.

 

  • Have fun – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Being bored and boring is a bad combination. Life is full of stress, and stress is a creativity killer. It can actually make the brain smaller. A study on rats showed that the hippocampuses in their brains shrank after chronic exposure to stress. Play is a great way to relieve stress. A recent study conducted at the neurology department at Ohio State University by assistant professor David Beversdorf, proved that student’s stress levels affected tests that were creativity based. According to researcher Sergio Pellis, free play in children “changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of the brain”. This is critical for problem solving. And problem solving is a big part of creativity.

 

  • Develop better social skills – Anyone who’s played an improv game knows it’s mostly a team sport. If you want to get better at brainstorming, improv is a great way to bounce ideas off of each other. It teaches you how to work together to solve problems. You can’t spend your time worrying about what you’re going to say next because you have no idea which direction the conversation will go in. It allows you to just roll with whatever happens and sometimes the most creative things come out of the unexpected. It’s an element of comedy and an element of creativity.

 

  • Express yourself – Many great ideas never see the light of day in business meetings because many people won’t speak up for fear that others won’t like their ideas or will think they are stupid. And sometimes they are right. When those ideas get shot down quickly in a meeting, those same people are hesitant to shout out any more ideas. When you are in the middle of a playful improv game that’s less likely to happen since everyone is shouting out stupid, silly answers. Play helps people express themselves better because it’s all in good fun, and there are no wrong answers. I purposely want people to be as silly and outrageous as possible. The more outrageous the better.

 

  • Strengthen imaginations – Reality sucks sometimes. A lot of times. It seems like a never ending cycle of paying bills, pleasing the boss, pleasing clients, traffic, waiting in lines, waiting on hold on the phone, and just getting through the day. But in your imagination you can be anywhere and anyone you want to be. A rock star. An astronaut. On a deserted island. Albert Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” Without imagination we would have no inventions. Imagination has allowed us to advance as a society and have a better life. Escaping reality is very good for relieving stress and vital for creativity.

  So, the next time you want to feel more creative and generate some new ideas, add a little play to your life.  

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Inventor of Coston Flares

Inventor of Coston Flares

If inventors know one thing it’s how to make lemons out of lemonade. History is full of stories about inventors who have succeeded despite failure and tragedy, and inventor Martha Coston dealt with both.

 

She married a man, Benjamin Coston, a scientist who was already an inventor who was just starting to make a name for himself. He worked for the Navy in a pyrotechnic lab. Like many inventors, his inventions were stolen and he was never compensated for them. The risk of working with dangerous chemicals finally got the best of him and he died at the age of 26, leaving behind a young wife and 4 children. Soon afterwards Martha lost her youngest son and her mother.

 

Pretty soon all of the money she had left was gone and things were starting to look very grim. It was then that she started looking through her husband’s work to see if there were any finished ideas that he hadn’t patented yet. She didn’t find any that were finished, but she found one that sounded promising. It was a system of maritime signaling flares.

 

The original flares that her husband came up with didn’t work, but Martha was convinced the basic idea was there and that she could improve on them. What she needed were flares that were bright enough and lasted long enough to be used for signaling over great distances. Her husband didn’t leave any notes about how to mix the chemical compounds that would create the brightness, and Martha didn’t have a background in chemical engineering. So she would basically have to start from scratch to figure out how to make them work.

 

For the years she was working on the invention she and her children stayed with friends. She first wanted to find out if the idea was even worth pursuing, so she contacted some people she knew in the Navy.

 

The first attempt at the flares was a failure since the brightness was too weak. But she kept on trying. She also only had two of the colors she needed and couldn’t figure out how to make the third one. But one night she was watching a fireworks display and had an idea. Maybe the pyrotechnics company could make the third color. She contacted them and started working with them.

 

She kept improving on the system, and eventually secured a manufacturer to make them. After many tests, she finally had the product at a point where the Navy was ready to give her a contract to supply them with a starting order of 3,000. She was granted a patent on the “Pyrotechnic Night Signals” in 1859. It was basically the same formula that is used in highway flares today.

 

The Navy tested them for the next two years under many different kinds of situations and were pleased with the results. The flares proved to be invaluable during the Civil War, and Martha sold over a million of them to the Navy. Eventually the Coast Guard would also use them in their search and rescue operations.

 

After a few improvement changes, and a new patent, she also sold them to maritime insurance companies and yacht clubs. As an inventor you will probably find new ways to market your products and new industries to sell them to as you get out in the trenches and start selling. This is what Martha did as she learned that there were many more applications than she had imagined.

 

The US government finally bought the rights to her patent for $20,000, and she then traveled to Europe to pitch the idea to governments there.

 

Martha Coston fought to be recognized and respected as a woman in a man’s world of inventing and manufacturing. She achieved success after much hard work and sacrifice, and went on to write her autobiography as encouragement to women inventors not to give up. Here is an excerpt from her book:

 

“In this attempt to recount my life and some of the varied experiences attendant upon my efforts to per perpetuate the name of my beloved husband and to support my children and myself, I am actuated by no idle vanity, nor yet the wish to pose as a writer, but by the honest desire to encourage those of my own sex who, stranded upon the world with little ones looking to them for bread, may feel, not despair but courage rise in their hearts; confident that with integrity, energy, and perseverance they need no extraordinary talents to gain success and a place among the world’s bread winners.”

 

Martha Coston never gave up her focus in seeing her invention, which was started by her husband, become a success, and her dedication to making a better life for her and her children. Martha Coston is a definite role model for women inventors and women business owners!

 

 

 

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Are You a Genius?

Are You a Genius?

What do you think of when you hear the word genius? If you’re like most people, you think that person probably has a high IQ. But IQ test scores only measure problem solving and reasoning. It doesn’t measure creativity, and it doesn’t account for savants.

 

It’s been reported that artist Andy Warhol had an IQ of only 86. And the real life Rainman, Kim Peeks, had an IQ that is well below average, yet he was able to read two pages at once (one with his left eye and one with his right) and could remember every piece of music he’d ever heard.

 

Stephen Wiltshire was a mute, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old and sent away to a school for children with special needs. Unable to speak, he was able to communicate on paper through drawings. Finally by the age of nine he spoke his first word, “paper”.

 

His drawings of landscapes got progressively better, and now he is able to draw a detailed landscape of a city after seeing it only once. After a brief helicopter ride over Tokyo, he drew a detailed and accurate picture of the city.

 

Psychiatrist Darold Treffert, who specializes in savant syndrome, believes that Wiltshire is able to tap into excess reserves of creativity through unique wiring between the left and right brain.

 

The study, “The Corpus Callosum of Albert Einstein’s Brain: Another Clue to His High Intelligence”, which was published in the journal Brain, showed that the genius’ left and right brain hemispheres were unusually connected.

 

Studies have shown that the more different parts of the brain interact and connect with each other, the more likely it will be that that person has a higher IQ and is more creative. This makes perfect sense, since people who are classified as geniuses, in IQ or creativity, usually have a wide variety of interests and are more curious.

 

Members of Mensa, also known as the “high IQ organization”, also have a wide variety of interests, in subjects like literature, science, language and the arts. The qualification for membership is that you must score in the top 2% of the population on their standardized intelligence test. There are more than 100,000 members worldwide and range in age from 2 to 102. (yes, there is a 2 year old mensa member!)

 

Even a society like Mensa doesn’t claim to represent true genius, which is the merging of intelligence, creativity, and outstanding achievement. True geniuses have an incredible ability to focus on a task with blinders on. They will explore all angles and cast a wide net to solve a problem. A genius knows they may have to fail a lot over and over again in order to find the right answer. Their intensity and passion for a topic or a project keep them energized and constantly searching for answers.

 

But just having a high IQ isn’t an indicator of success. University of Michigan Professor of Psychology, Richard Nesbitt, thinks that curiosity is a better indicator. Also, being flexible, open minded, and having a tolerance for chaos and change helps.

 

Charles Darwin’s cousin Sir Francis Galton had a very high IQ. Much higher than Darwin’s. Galton had a great career as a scientist, but unlike Darwin, he never went on to master any of the fields he went into.

 

Darwin, on the other hand, focused on one passion and pursued it with vigor. He loved collecting biological specimens, and it became his life’s work. He was able to endure all of the hard work and learning because it wasn’t work to him. This is common among many people who dedicate their lives to something they want to master, until they rise to the top of their field.

 

Another genius, Leonardo di Vinci, was an extremely skilled painter, inventor, artist, scientist, engineer, architect, cartographer, anatomist, botanist and writer. He wasn’t just someone who dabbled in all of those fields, he actually mastered them all. Even if he had only painted The Mona Lisa and Last Supper, he still would have been a genius.

 

Da Vinci grew up poor and had no formal training. This may have been a blessing because he was left to his own devices and didn’t have to rely on what the scholars said. He was self taught and studied what he found interesting. He observed the world around him, and spent a lot of time outdoors studying nature, keeping detailed notes of everything. He called himself a “disciple of experience” because he learned about life by observing it and experiencing it.

 

He came up with theories and constantly tested them, using scientific method before it was invented. He was a creative genius who never wanted to copy anything someone else had done. As an inventor he came up with unique ideas like the anemometer (an instrument for measuring the speed of wind), a revolving bridge, which could quickly be packed up and moved, and scuba gear.

 

Like most creative geniuses, he would work on multiple projects at the same time, or what psychologists call “diffused attention”. Creative geniuses tend to have a variety of interests and are easily bored.

 

Sir Francis Galton was the first to put together a study on whether people inherit their genius or not. In his book “Hereditary Genius”, he argued that genius is something you are born with. But that argument has been challenged, most recently with Malcolm Gladwell, who says that genius is a product of years of hard work, dedication and practice.

 

Philosophers have wondered for centuries whether genius is born or made. Though a person may be born with some of the traits of genius, true genius requires an enormous amount of study and hard work to excel in an industry and reach the pinnacle. Geniuses are also able to come up with ideas no one else has ever thought of. So, it’s not just having the skill, but also coming up with innovative ideas.

 

This is why I believe creativity is something you have to work hard at to master. If you’re born with incredible genius genes, great. If not, there’s still hope if you really want to master something and rise to the level of genius.

 

 

 

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How Daydreaming Improves Creative Problem Solving

How Daydreaming Improves Creative Problem Solving

So, you’re sitting there in class, reading a book or listening to a lecture, and suddenly you find yourself on a tropical island beach sipping a pina colada as the waves caress your toes. Then, just as suddenly, you snap out of it when the teacher calls on you. We all do it, but did you realize that there may be a productive purpose behind it? Did you know that daydreaming improves creative problem solving?

 

Scientists estimate that most of us spend up to a third of our life spacing out. It helps explain why, at the end of a day, you could ask yourself “Where did the time go”? Contrary to what your teacher would say about you wasting time, at least as far as creativity goes, you may actually be putting that time to good use.

 

But if you want to make good use of your daydreaming time, you have to “capture” those daydreams. Just like regular nocturnal dreams, daydreams need to be written down and followed up on. This is why I always keep a pen and pad of paper handy everywhere I go. You never know when a great daydream idea will hit you. And if you don’t record it in some way, you most likely quickly forget it. Studies have shown that people who catch themselves daydreaming tend to be the most creative. People who are creatively prolific know how to sort through random ideas and piece together the ones that are valuable.

 

Usually the most creative ideas tend to be those unconscious ones that are simply floating around waiting for us to grab them. These are the kind of “aha” moments that appear when our brain is in a more relaxed or playful mode. Aha moments can’t be forced.

 

Most people don’t spend their lives daydreaming about tropical islands, but about immediate problems that need solving, like how they’re going to ask their boss for a raise, or how to get their kids to sleep. This is why daydreaming is so valuable to creative problem solving. You could force yourself to come up with solutions, but a better way is to simply daydream to solve the problem. It’s easier and a lot more fun.

 

So, the next time someone chides you for daydreaming, tell them you’re busy solving problems.

 

 

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The Woman Inventor That Saved the Cotton Industry

The Woman Inventor That Saved the Cotton Industry

One reason only a fraction of patent holders are women is because women simply aren’t encouraged to invent. That wasn’t the case with Ruth Benerito, who was surrounded by encouragement in her formative years, which was spent in the grips of the Great Depression.

 

Her father was an engineer, who made sure his daughters had access to the same education that was available to boys, at a time when girls didn’t go on to college. Ruth started her college education at the age of 15 and earned a degree in chemistry and math, though chemistry suited her the most because she enjoyed solving practical problems. Her parents both encouraged her to compete in a man’s world, and then, STEM fields were even more of a man’s world than they are now.

 

She spent most of her career working at the US Department of Agriculture in New Orleans. It was there that she began researching cotton fibers and would go on to hold 55 patents in that area. Before Ruth’s system of chemically treated cotton was invented, clothing had to be ironed by hand, which took considerable time. Cotton clothes could now, not only be wrinkle resistant, but flame and stain resistant as well, through her process known as cross linking.

 

Since synthetic materials like nylon and polyester had already been invented, many people were switching to those to avoid ironing. For this reason, Ruth was known for saving the cotton industry with her new inventions in wash and wear fabrics. Her research and patents in the cotton industry would become the basis for new, future developments in that area. Ruth, like many other woman inventors, created something that would save women time.

 

She also developed a way to deliver fat intravenously to patients who were too sick to eat. This was a method used to feed seriously wounded soldiers during the Korean War.

 

She enjoyed a long career as a chemist and inventor, retiring in 1986. Ruth received the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award for her work on textiles at the age of 86, and was elected to the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

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How Humor Affects Creativity

How Humor Affects Creativity

As a creativity keynote speaker I love seeing audience members jump up on stage and get out of their comfort zone with improv. Not that it’s easy to get them to do that. But once they find out how much fun it is, their creativity is unleashed. Because creativity is and should be fun.

 

Now science is discovering that creativity is also linked to being funny. Researchers at USC wanted to find out what happens in the brain when we try to be funny. They wanted to find out how the brain physiology changes. So they had amateurs and professionals, along with a control group of non comedians come up with two captions for a cartoon – one that was funny, and one that wasn’t.

 

Then they used functional magnetic resonance imaging to track brain patterns while they were coming up with the captions. What they found was that the medial prefrontal cortex and temporal association regions were both activated, but the temporal region was more active in the brains of people who were professional comedians.

 

This makes sense because the temporal region is responsible for processing auditory information and helps us interpret speech and recognize the meaning of words. It’s also the place where remote associations occur. Anyone who has done improv knows you have to constantly be on your toes, listening and comprehending everything in a scene, at the same time you make random associations to hopefully come up with a funny line.

 

Amateurs and non comedians relied on their prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for complex problem solving and multi-tasking. It filters our decision making. The prefrontal cortex for most people is probably so busy processing the world around us that it may stifle imaginative thinking. In today’s highly connected world where we’re glued to our cell phones and emails constantly, and are bombarded by messages everywhere we go, our prefrontal cortex usually doesn’t get a day off.

 

It appears that the professional comedians who use their temporal regions more, have strengthened their ability to shut off their prefrontal cortex and let their imaginations run wild. They’ve developed a trust that their imagination will come up with the right answer. As a creativity keynote speaker I’ve noticed that people who have never done improv will quite often prejudge their answers. They want to try and maintain control so as not to say the wrong thing, especially in front of their boss and co-workers.

 

In order to be prolifically creative you have to be willing to make an idiot of yourself. Be willing to let yourself go and laugh at it all. And especially laugh at yourself. I guarantee you’ll be more creative.

 

 

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The Surprising Reason for Lack of Women Inventors

The Surprising Reason for Lack of Women Inventors

At a recent innovation keynote speech I gave to Fortune 500 women executives, sponsored by Cognizant Technology Solutions, we examined some of the reasons fewer than 19 percent of all patents in the world are secured by women. This isn’t patents held by a single woman, but patents that have at least one woman listed on them. Fewer than 8% of all patents have a single woman as the primary patent holder.

 

This is still a dismal number, but better than it was 40 years ago when only 3 % of patent holders in the world were women.

 

In doing some research into why this number is so low, I discovered that, even though things have changed enormously in society for women, we still have a long way to go when it comes to intellectual property ownership.

 

When patent Law was passed in 1790, women were granted the same privileges as men. Even though single women could do whatever they wanted with their patents, married women didn’t have the same rights. Their husbands owned everything, including their patents. It would take another 50 years for the laws to change and 130 years for women to even get the right to vote!

 

So, now that women can vote, own property, and invent, why don’t they? Between scientific studies and my own personal polling, I discovered that the answer wasn’t what I thought it was. The obvious answer is that there is still a very small number of women in STEM careers. But that doesn’t answer the question about why there are so few women inventors.

 

According to an article written by Karen Frenkel for the Association for Computing Machinery in 2013, “women with such degrees are barely more likely to patent than women who lack them.”

 

I’m a patent and trade dress holder, but I certainly don’t have any kind of background in science or engineering. Even though my product isn’t technology based, you still don’t have to have a STEM degree to have a technology based patent.

 

A great example of this is Hedy Lamarr, inventor of spread spectrum technology for use in radio guided torpedoes. Her background was the same as mine…actor. She had no formal degree in science or engineering. She simply saw a problem that needed solving, (safely controlling torpedoes with a radio signal), and was able to apply the system of electro-mechanical technology of player piano rolls to come up with a solution.

 

The World Intellectual Property Organization, global experts in IP policy, completed their study of gender in inventing and found higher numbers of women inventors in biotech and pharmaceuticals. The women patent holders in biotech was an impressive 58% and in pharmaceuticals it was an equally impressive number at 55%.

 

But the least women patent holders were found in mechanical elements at 11%, transport at 13%, Machine tools at 14% and engines at 15%.

 

According to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, “The new global data give us a baseline for understanding the role of gender in the filing of international patent applications, which is one metric used in measuring a country’s innovative capacity. These data prove that a gender gap exists and it needs to be addressed”.

 

This brings me to why I feel there aren’t more women inventors. It’s the same reason there aren’t more women in STEM careers. As far as we’ve come in society for women, there is still a lot of bias that remains. When I ask people in the audience to name an inventor, I rarely get anyone who names a woman inventor. Women have invented all kinds of things that have shaped our world, but they don’t get the same recognition male inventors do.

 

Also, girls aren’t encouraged to invent. One way to change that is to make inventing cool. Get girls involved at an early age. After leading several Girl Scout creativity workshops, I can tell you that I was very impressed at how creative and innovative the girls were. We need more of that. More programs for girls to get them involved and excited about inventing. Women have a lot to contribute to the world and we need more women inventors.

 

Inventions are created because someone had a problem that no one else had solved. So women, the next time you come across a problem that no one else has solved… invent it yourself.  Because your invention just might change the world.

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Inventor Spotlight – Louis Pasteur

Inventor Spotlight – Louis Pasteur

Because of the nature of their jobs, many inventors are scientists and engineers. One scientist who was also an inventor was Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist, who was known for his discovery of pasteurization and microbial fermentation. His germ theory states that many diseases are caused by microorganisms and his scientific breakthroughs in the cause and prevention of disease have saved millions of lives.

 

Pasteur invented the process known as pasteurization, where bacteria are destroyed by heating beverages, like beer, wine and milk, and allowing them to cool. This all started with a bad batch of beet juice. While serving as the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Lille, he was given a problem to solve.

 

Lille was where much of the alcohol was made in France at the time. And a man named M. Bigo was working at a factory that made alcohol from sugar beet. Several vats of beet juice had gone bad and he hired Pasteur to find out what the problem was. He noticed a thin film of grime covered the juice in the vats that had gone bad. Pasteur figured out that it was tiny micro-organisms coming in from the outside air that were causing the problem.

 

The wine industry suffered from the same problem. Wine disease was affecting a portion of the exports from France and spreading across Europe. The affected wines would taste bitter, sour, or had no taste at all. Pasteur’s simple method of pasteurization, or applying heat and minimizing exposure to bacteria, didn’t kill all the microorganisms, but enough that it would keep the wine from tasting sour or bitter. This revolutionary process would change the wine industry forever.

 

Louis Pasteur left us with the Institut Pasteur, one of the world’s leading research centers, to carry on his work. The non profit foundation was set up to continue his studies of biology, diseases, vaccines, and micro-organisms. The organization has been at the forefront of groundbreaking research on infectious disease, including being the first to isolate HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. 500 permanent scientists and hundreds of visiting scientists work diligently at the Institut to keep Pasteur’s legacy alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Primitive Creativity and Innovation

Primitive Creativity and Innovation

Creativity and innovation cover such a wide spectrum, it’s hard to say when it all actually started. Since the beginning of mankind we have had a propensity to come up with new ideas, and constantly improve on existing ideas. The need to create is built into our DNA.

 

Some of the most primitive ideas generated by mankind were the controlled use of fire, farming, language, tools, and the wheel. Creativity and innovation were used to create the first tools to hunt animals, farming to grow food, fire to cook the food, and devices to build shelter. But the art that decorated their caves was purely aesthetic. Creativity and innovation continued long after basic needs were met.

 

This didn’t happen overnight, but over thousands of years of evolution. The most dramatic burst of creativity occurred between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago with a sudden increase in brain size, which was favored through natural selection. This brought about an increase in more complex tools and art. It’s possible that a larger brain allowed for more memory capacity or more complicated pattern recognition, which is needed for innovation.

 

As population growth hit a critical mass, creativity and innovation began exploding since more people were generating more ideas and connecting to each other, which also improved the chances of coming up with great ideas. The more ideas you are exposed to from more sources, the more chances you have of combining ideas and improving existing ideas to generate new and innovative ones. Today we would call that crowdsourcing, the practice of engaging the collective wisdom of a group in order to solve problems.

 

Population growth wasn’t the only reason creativity and innovation progressed, but was just one factor, along with social and biological changes.

 

As an inventor who speaks on inventing and innovation, I usually get at least one person who says that everything that could be invented has been invented. That’s not even close to the truth. We haven’t yet scratched the surface of innovation. With the invention of so many devices that keep more people than ever connected and sharing ideas, I predict a new explosion of innovation in the coming years. We can’t even imagine now exactly what the future holds. But it will be interesting.

 

 

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Could There Finally be Diversity for Women in the C-Suite?

Could There Finally be Diversity for Women in the C-Suite?

We’ve been hearing forever that there need be more women in the C-Suite. Tiny baby steps have gradually been pushing this into becoming a reality. But maybe it will finally happen… in 2030. I know, that sounds like a very long time to wait for women who have only seen microscopic changes, but 27 companies have now put it into a pledge to reach gender parity by that time. It seems like a lofty goal since only a mere 19% of top executive positions are currently held by women.

 

CEOs from Bank of America, Linked In, Coca Cola, American Electric Power, Nordstrom, and Newmont Mining Corporation have agreed to set goals and hold themselves accountable with regular progress reports.

 

Simply putting more women in the C-Suite just for the sake of gender equity wouldn’t be a smart business move. But studies show that gender diversity is good for the bottom line and for innovation in a company.

 

A recent Gallup study of 800 business units from 2 companies in different industries showed that business units that are more gender diverse have better financial outcomes. A study done by Catlyst, (a non profit organization focused on workplace inclusion) on gender diversity on boards, showed that “on average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 66%.”

 

Another smart business move they will be implementing is to evaluate the women executives based on their performance and impact on the company and promote accordingly.

 

The idea for Paradigm for Parity originated from several female executives who were tired of the snail pace of women advancement in the C-Suite. They came up with a plan to eccelerate the pace and enlisted other male and female executives to join them.

 

Chief executive at Accenture, Pierre Nanterme set an aggressive goal of 40% new women hires world-wide by 2017. They’ve also discussed hiring by using “blind” resumes.

 

These executives hope to set off a chain reaction in other companies so the goal of wide-spread gender parity will finally be reached.

 

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Inventor Spotlight – Garrett Morgan

Inventor Spotlight – Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan proves that you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to be an inventor. You also don’t have to have a college degree. But there is one trait you must have if you want to be an inventor, and that’s curiosity.

 

Garrett Morgan was the son of former slaves who set out at the age of 16 with a 7th grade education and headed into Cincinnati, Ohio to find work. He was good at repairing things since he had spent his teenage years working as a handyman. He found work repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer, and that’s when his curiosity really took shape. It’s not surprising that he would come up with his first invention during this time.

 

Before the war women would tend to invent the things that they were exposed to everyday. So, in the beginning those inventions were things that made their work at home easier. Once they started working on assembly lines in factories, they were exposed to different problems and would create inventions to solve them.

 

Since Garrett was exposed to the problems of fixing sewing machines, that’s where his focus was. Inventors solve problems. It usually starts with a problem of your own and a great need to fix it. Garrett sold his first invention, a sewing machine belt, which helps improve the machine’s efficiency, for $50. Besides just being a clever inventor, he also had a knack for business. He opened his own sewing machine repair shop, and eventually his own tailoring shop, which employed 32 people.

 

This would have been enough for most people, but Garrett Morgan was just getting started. In 1914 he was granted a patent for a gas mask and set up a manufacturing company to produce them. The product was called the Morgan National Safety Hood. Garrett traveled across the country pitching his invention by wearing the mask in a smoke-filled tee-pee, and proved that he was quite a showman. If he was around today, he probably would have done his own infomercial.

 

His mask was put to the test when he used it to save over a dozen men from a tunnel explosion below Lake Erie. He put on the mask and went into the tunnel to save the trapped men. He was awarded a gold and diamond medal by a group of citizens in Cleveland for his heroism.

 

Ever concerned about safety, Garrett noticed the increasing number of accidents at intersections, since horse-drawn carriages had to share the road with cars. One in particular involved a young girl. This was the impetus for him to figure out a way to do something about it. He received the first patent for the three signal stoplight in 1923, and eventually sold the rights to General Electric for $40,000.

 

Garrett Morgan would go on to invent other things and would start his own newspaper. He was a prolific inventor, but always considered himself an entrepreneur first.

 

 

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Innovative Experiential Learning

Innovative Experiential Learning

Entrepreneurs who bootstrap businesses will tell you that the best way to learn is by actually getting your hands dirty and learning by doing, or experiential learning. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years as a serial entrepreneur. As long as I had a passion for a business, I always knew I would be able to figure it out along the way, even if the learning curve took many years.

 

The innovation comes from making mistakes, learning from them, and figuring out new ways to improve. Along the way you get those “aha” moments you would never get from just listening to a lecture or reading about something in a book. You can’t force serendipity to happen.

 

Now, as a professional speaker, that learning curve is worth a lot of money. I spent years in the college of hard knocks to learn things that can’t be or aren’t taught in a regular college. That’s because I’ve learned that valuable information by actually doing it, making many mistakes along the way.

 

Experiential learning isn’t something new. In fact, Aristotle coined the phrase “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them” in 350 BC. Luckily experiential learning is making a big comeback as organizations realize that they get a better ROI when participants have a combination of lecture and hands-on experience.

 

The learning pyramid or the cone of learning, was developed by the NTL Institute and finds that learners retain approximately:

 

90% of what they learn when they teach someone else
75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned
50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion
30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration
20% of what they learn from audio-visual
10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading
5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from lecture

 

The 5% that attendees learn from a lecture alone seems like a big waste of money to an organization. This is why I always like to make speeches interactive. You can’t learn about creativity and innovation just by reading a book or hearing a lecture. You have to do it yourself, just like you can’t learn to be a speaker, actor, dancer, singer, chef, mechanic, or just about anything by simply hearing a lecture of reading a book. You have to jump in and do it.

 

I teach creativity and innovation by having audience members go onstage and participate in improv and brain games or learn storytelling by writing and telling stories. Most people resist because they don’t want to look stupid in front of their peers or managers. They don’t want to make a mistake.

 

Innovation isn’t something that is neatly wrapped and perfect right out of the box. It’s a lot of trial and error and experimentation. So, if you do it right, you will make mistakes. But, that’s how you learn. And that’s how you retain the information, as the cone of learning shows. That person who jumps on stage and dives into an improv game is going to learn 70% more than the person who hides under their chair and doesn’t want to be called on.

 

I usually start by telling the audience that everyone is going to get an F, so you might as well be brave and open yourself up to making mistakes. The more mistakes you make, the more you learn. As an inventor and entrepreneur I’ve gotten used to it. I know the learning curve is simply part of the process.

 

 

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Bra Inventor and Art Patron Caresse Crosby

Bra Inventor and Art Patron Caresse Crosby

Caresse Crosby lived the life of an upper class debutante in New York and Connecticut growing up. One night while she was dressing to go out to another ball, she put on her customary whalebone corset under her evening gown. Disappointed in the way it made her dress look, she called her maid to help her fashion another garment to wear underneath.

 

She stitched together two handkerchiefs which accented her bustline, instead of the clunky corset women were wearing.

 

At the ball she was mobbed by women intrigued by her new invention. When a stranger offered her a dollar for one, she realized she might have a valuable product on her hands and she set out to patent it.

 

Her patent claims stressed that it didn’t interfere with evening gowns and was suitable for a variety of different customers. It also stressed the versatility of uses from evening wear to tennis wear. The patent and trademark office granted her a patent. She called it the Backless Brassiere.

 

She decided to manufacture the product herself and formed the Fashion Form Brassiere Company where she hired women to sew the garments. At the request of her new husband, who had a very generous trust fund, she closed the shop and sold the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1500. They went on to make over $15 million on the product throughout the years. The “crosby” bra that Caresse had manufactured was manufactured and sold by Warner Brothers for a while, but the style never caught on and it was discontinued.

 

Caresse and her new husband, Harry Crosby, went on to live an adventurous and exciting life, traveling around the world in a whirlwind of art and decadence. They became publishers and art patrons who rubbed elbows with the likes of Dorothy Parker and Salvadore Dali.

 

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3 Reasons People Resist Change and How to Fix it

3 Reasons People Resist Change and How to Fix it

Change is something that’s going to happen whether you want it to or not. As a business owner, if you wait for change to happen, your competition is going to eat your dust. Getting stuck in the same old tired ideas that aren’t working anymore is a formula for failure.

 

As a keynote speaker and consultant, I’m hired by corporations to encourage their employees to change and think differently. I stand on a stage and cheerlead for them to try something new and break out of their old patterns of thinking.

 

But the truth is that we all resist change, including myself. Patterns become so engrained in our brains that, unless we constantly create new pathways, new connections, new experiences, and new ideas, those neural patterns are doomed to stay stuck in neutral.

 

Are there people who spend their whole life stuck in neutral? Sure. But they will never be innovators. Companies, individuals, countries, communities, and organizations that stay stuck in neutral risk developing brains (and companies) that are deeply embedded in sameness. By using the same neural pathways over and over again, it gets harder and harder to get out of that rut. Kind of like a car that gets stuck in the mud. If you keep your foot on the gas, all you do is dig yourself deeper into that rut. Neural patterns in the brain work the same way.

 

Change is Hard Work

 

So, one reason people resist change is because change is hard work. If you want to grow new neurons and build more connections, you’ll have to work those areas of the brain that are weak. Just like a weak muscle, weak neurons require a lot of work. And not everyone wants to work that hard.

 

This is why I disguise my creativity and innovation “work” as play. When we are playing we get lost in the moment and we’re much more likely to suspend criticism and simply have fun. It becomes easier to try something new and experimental.

 

Fear of Being Different

 

Another reason people resist change is because they fear being different from everyone else. The worst thing I hear from organizations is “that’s the way it’s always been done”. As an outsider I can instantly see when something doesn’t make good common sense. As an outsider I can question those things without fear of retribution. But for those in the organization who have to live with those bad choices every day, sometimes it’s safer just to go along and not rock the boat. It takes courage to buck the trend and stand up for change.

 

Not in Their Best Interest

 

The third reason people resist change is because it doesn’t work in their best interest. If someone is in a good, cushy, high paying job, radical change may not be in their own best interest. Why upset the apple cart and risk losing that sweet gravy train? Again, as a consultant on the outside looking in, it’s baffling the amount of money that’s being wasted on stupid, stuck in the mud decisions.

 

I have a friend who takes over failing companies and turns them around to make them profitable. One of the first things he does is eliminate the waste, fraud and abuse in the company’s budget. He eliminates duplication, like having two vice presidents, both with big salaries. Neither of those people would ever complain or instigate change because it’s not in their best interest.

 

Management can help their employees adjust to change by letting them know what’s going on and being honest about how the change is going to impact them. Also, involving them in the change will help ease them into it and give them permission to speak their minds about it without fear of punishment. Change is not only inevitable, it’s vital for growth.

 

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The Future of Newspapers

The Future of Newspapers

The thing about innovation is that people are inherently resistant to change. That’s never been truer than in the newspaper industry. And, I mean, who could blame them? For decades newspapers were raking in such enormous profits it was literally like printing money. Pun intended.

 

Nobody in that position wants the gravy train to end. So, even when the gravy train was slowing down, many people in the industry were still in denial. “Oh, it’s just a phase. It’ll pick back up.” Instead, the patient has been hemorrhaging for quite a while now.

 

Subscriptions and advertising have been slowly dying off over the past few years. This has been the business model since the beginning, so looking beyond that business model that had been such a cash cow has been hard to let go of.

 

Since the Internet was becoming more of a place where people got their news, it would seem to make sense to just take the print version and put it online, then sell subscriptions and advertising there. But that was easier said than done. The public was now used to free content and having access to it 24/7.

 

I recently delivered an innovation keynote speech to 700 executives at the Mega Conference on the future of newspapers and learned quite a lot about an industry that seemed to have a simple and very effective business model. When the old business model isn’t working anymore, it’s time to start innovating. Time to look for new markets and new ways of doing business if the industry is to survive. But innovation in the newspaper industry has been incredibly slow.

 

The newspapers that are doing well are great at local coverage. They can do local better than anyone. Local people, local places and local events. Small and mid-sized businesses represent the largest growth opportunity in local markets. But traditional advertising solutions aren’t working for them.

 

Not all newspapers are suffering. Many are actually making money, especially the small town newspapers who have the only game in town. TV host Maury Povich, found out when he bought the Montana newspaper the Flathead Beacon, that it would take more than just putting out a print version of a newspaper to generate income. After 9 years he says he is almost breaking even on it. But he has also purchased a local glossy magazine and a marketing firm, which he has integrated with the newspaper. This is the kind of creative thinking newspapers have to have in order to stay in business and ahead of their competition.

 

 

Another way newspapers have expanded is by innovating within their competitive advantage. They have two major things that could be capitalized on… their brand name and audience.

 

Building a brand name takes time and a newspaper that has been around the community long enough to develop that brand name has something of value. People like them and trust them.

 

Another asset they have is their audience. Again, it takes time to build an audience, and that audience is worth money. One thing many newspapers are doing is to put on events those audiences want to attend.

 

Events seemed to be a buzz that permeated throughout the conference, and is starting to be seen as a new, additional revenue stream. Those small businesses who used to just stick an ad in the newspaper now want to connect with their own audiences in a more intimate and personal way. Event sponsorship is one way to do that. Small business sponsorship is an untapped area for newspapers.

 

Many small businesses don’t even know about sponsorship. In my experience, small businesses often think that they have to invest millions of dollars to play in that game. But a small business could sponsor a local event for very little. And their return on investment is good because they are reaching a very targeted audience.

 

Disruption is occurring in all industries. The newspaper industry has had the same business model for many years. And that’s worked just fine… until now. If you don’t learn how to innovate within your industry, you risk being made irrelevant. But the good news for the newspaper industry is that opportunities are everywhere. It just takes getting out of your comfort zone to find them.

 

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Innovative Balloon Technology

Winnie the Pooh said “Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon”. And many of Pooh’s adventures involved balloons. Simple latex party balloons, which haven’t really changed that much over the years. But there is more to balloons and balloon technology if you include balloons in the medical industry, defense, transportation, and meteorology.

 

Here are three organizations who are expanding on balloon technology:

 

glooeys – glooeys is billed as the first patented, self-sealing latex party balloon, which works with air, helium and water. It all started with a problem, which is how most inventions start. Wes Warner watched in frustration as his young son struggled to tie a balloon. Thinking that there must be a better way, he called up his friend and fellow pilot Troy Stark for a brainstorming session.

 

The two dad inventors got to work testing out different adhesives and testing numerous prototypes until they finally stumbled upon the perfect combination. That’s when they set out to find a patent agent and eventually obtained a patent.

 

glooeys balloons are set to totally disrupt the balloon industry with its innovative technology.

 

www.glooeys.com

 

 

NASA

 

Super pressure balloons are used for long, unmanned flights for scientific experiments in the upper atmosphere. An altitude of 110,000 miles was achieved in 2015 when a NASA super pressure balloon was launched in New Zealand. The flight lasted for 32 days. The record for a NASA balloon of this type is 54 days. The balloon was the size of a football stadium when fully inflated.

 

On May 17, 2016, NASA sent out its latest super pressure balloon for a record-breaking ’round the world flight. They hope to break a record of 100+ days at mid-latitudes.The balloon is expected to circumnavigate the southern hemisphere’s latitudes once every one to three weeks.

 

These balloon flights provide inexpensive access to the near-space environment for scientific and technological research.

 

For more info, click here: NASA balloon

 

Helium Free Plastic Balloon System

 

One way to change a product is by making it out of a different type of material. That’s what Chris Wicken of Balloon Innovations did when he invented the helium free plastic balloon.

 

Regular latex balloons don’t tend to last very last outside in extreme weather, so Chris invented one that would. Car lots use a lot of balloons to attract attention, but the latex balloons didn’t hold up outside in the heat and cold. Chris invented and applied for the patent on a plastic version that could be used over and over again.

 

With a global helium shortage and a potential ban on mylar balloons in CA, Chris’s balloons are positioned well. They are also non-allergenic so they can be used in a hospital setting or around anyone who has a latex allergy with conventional balloons. His balloons are long lasting outdoor solutions that can be used in extreme cold or heat for months if not years! The fiberglass rods still give them the moving attention-getting action.

 

 

 

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Can Creativity Be Automated?

Can Creativity Be Automated?

The topic of artificial intelligence taking over the world has been something fiction writers have been talking about for years. But should we be worried about robots taking over our jobs? I mean, they are already capable of cleaning our floors, like the Roomba, and they can drive our cars. But those are manual tasks. What about creativity? Can that also be automated? And should actors, speakers, writers and artists be worried about losing a job to SpeakerBot 2000?

 

 

Moshe Vardi, a computer scientist from Rice University believes that day may be closer than we think. In fact, he believes that within 30 years, artificial intelligence could put half of all humans out of a job. “We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task”, said Vardi. Then “what will humans do?”

 

And he’s not the only one who thinks that. Michael Osborne and Carl Benedikt Frey, are University of Oxford researchers who have estimated that 47% of all US jobs could be taken over through automation by 2033.

 

It’s not all bad news though. Automation has raised productivity in the industrial sector, but the bad news is that it has also raised unemployment.

 

So, does that mean that robots will be able to take over all jobs? What about jobs that involve creativity? Most experts say that creatives are relatively safe from being replaced by a machine. Osborne and Frey have concluded through their research that 90% of creatives don’t have to worry about losing their jobs to robots. Other things maybe, but not robots.

 

That doesn’t mean robots couldn’t eventually evolve into a creative force to be reckoned with. But for now, robots lack complex problem solving, empathy, and intuition, all elements that can be used by a creative person to do their job. But, we’ve been wrong about robots before. So maybe artists shouldn’t take them for granted.

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Women Inventors – Marie Van Brittan Brown

Women Inventors – Marie Van Brittan Brown

In keeping with Women’s History Month, I wanted to highlight women inventors who exemplify the phrase “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”. Marie Van Brittan Brown is one of those inventors.

 

Marie was a nurse who didn’t keep regular hours. While her husband, Albert, was at work, she was often home alone for hours at a time. Her neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens, New York was becoming more dangerous, and she wanted to find a way to make her feel safer.

 

One thing that bothered her was having to open the door to find out who was there.  So, she worked with her husband to devise a series of four peepholes in the door to show different heights of visitors, so she wouldn’t have to open the door. The peephole at the top showed a tall person and the one at the bottom would show if it was a child at the door.

 

They kept a TV monitor in their bedroom, which had a two way microphone so they could communicate with visitors. The wireless system fed images to the TV monitor. There was even a button that could be pushed in case the home owner felt threatened, or another one that could be pushed that would let a friend in.

 

Today, buildings everywhere are equipped with this technology, but at the time nothing like it existed. She and Albert applied for and received a patent on their home security device in 1969. It has since been referenced in future patent searches. And there have been many.

 

Since then the home security business has skyrocketed. With rising crime rates, closed circuit security cameras are becoming much more popular. But it all started with the “necessity” of one woman’s feeling of safety and security to get the ball rolling. Home owners everywhere can rest easier, thanks to this woman inventor.

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Valentine’s Day – Innovating Within a Tradition

Valentine’s Day – Innovating Within a Tradition

The basis of innovation is about making a connection that didn’t exist before. But what about innovating within a tradition? The real history of Valentine’s Day isn’t completely clear, but the underlying theme is one of love, fertility, and marriage. Like all holidays, Valentine’s Day, once it became a tradition, has changed very little.

 

Traditions and rituals bind us to others, whether it’s a significant other, a family, a community, or society as a whole. They make us feel comfortable and secure, and take us back to a time in our memory when life was good. Traditions make us feel like we are a part of something bigger.

 

So, since innovation is about change, how do you change something that has been ingrained in our psyche?

 

Take Valentine’s Day. You can’t completely change a holiday. That would be too jarring. But you can change one or two variables and still keep the holiday tradition intact. The trick is to keep most of it anchored in something familiar.

 

Exchanging Valentine cards in the U.S. probably started in the 1700’s, but the first mass produced ones came out in the 1840’s.

 

The first chocolates to be given in a heart-shaped box came from Richard Cadbury, who decorated them himself. The innovative Cadbury company was also the first to sell edible chocolate. Before that it had always been served as a drink.

 

The custom of sending flowers started in the 1800’s. It was a way of communicating non verbally. Since each flower had a specific meaning, you could have a whole conversation using just flowers.

 

Cards, candy and flowers have been a Valentine’s Day tradition for many years. But other items are starting to become associated with the holiday.

 

Here are 3 examples of companies that innovated within a traditional holiday:

 

  • Shari’s Berries – Shari Fitzpatrick, founder of Shari’s Berries, decided to combine her love of strawberries with chocolate. But she didn’t set out to become known as “The Strawberry Lady.” It happened through serendipity. She started out giving dipped strawberry gifts to friends and co-workers. But they became so popular, she thought she might be able to actually turn her passion into a business. Now chocolate covered strawberries are making their place among regular chocolate as a Valentine’s Day favorite.

 

  • Teddy Bears – John Sortino put the giving of teddy bears for Valentine’s Day on the map. His first bears were sold mostly to friends, then he started selling them from a kiosk at an open air market. After a tourist mentioned that they wanted him to ship a bear, he got the idea to sell them online, and they were soon sold during Valentine’s Day as an alternative to candy and flowers.

 

  • Pajamagram – What do pajamas have to do with Valentine’s Day, you ask? Well, women like them. Pajamagram is the sister company of Vermont Teddy Bear, so they seem to have a knack for knowing what women want.

 

If you’re going to come up with an innovation for a holiday tradition, make sure you keep the integrity of the tradition, while coming up with something new.

 

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Innovators Embrace Uncertainty

Innovators Embrace Uncertainty

Uncertainty isn’t a comfortable place. In fact, it triggers a flight or fight response in the amygdala part of the brain. And most people choose flight. But innovators embrace uncertainty because we venture into uncharted territory every day.

 

I was talking to a friend who made the decision to move to another state. She’s lived in the same place, in the same neighborhood, with the same friends, and the same job for 25 years. But after losing the job that seemed so stable, she was thrown a curve ball, and knew she was going to be forced to leave.

 

Most people don’t change unless they are literally forced to. And it usually takes something drastic to make them change. My friend said she is actually glad she lost the job and was forced to move, because otherwise she would have lingered in a bad situation forever. Sound familiar?

 

We are creatures of habit and tend to get into our comfortable routines. This is why ideas get stale. Innovation is all about getting out of those comfortable routines and embracing uncertainty, wherever it takes you. Whether it’s a new invention, new business idea, or to another state. If you want to be innovative, you have to shake things up constantly and willingly jump into the unknown with your mind and heart wide open.

 

When I do an innovation keynote speech, I usually drag people on stage to play some improv games. I have no idea what direction they’ll go in, and neither do they. But some brave volunteers like the challenge of uncertainty. They embrace it and welcome the chance to jump off the cliff.

 

That really is what innovation is about, because you have no idea if your ideas will be good or if anyone will like them. You have no idea if a new idea will sell or not. But you have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

 

I know my friend is anxious about leaving the known for the unknown. But is also excited about the possibilities. That’s it! Instead of fearing the unknown, embrace the possibilities… every day.

 

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How a Bird Inspired a Bullet Train Engineer to Innovate

How a Bird Inspired a Bullet Train Engineer to Innovate

Inspiration for innovation is literally all around us. Mother nature has supplied us with billions of years of natural R&D. If you ever think that everything that could have been invented has been invented, think again. If you only got your inspiration from nature, you’d still have enough material to keep you busy for the rest of your life.

 

When it comes to travel, who knows more about it than birds. The Arctic Tern travels an average of 44,000 miles a year, more than any other migrating bird. And the Bar-tailed Gotwit wins the award for the longest non-stop flight – 7,145 miles from Alaska to New Zealand in nine days. And this is without ever having to stop for water, food, or rest!

 

So, when Japan needed innovation help with their Shinkansen bullet train, they turned to the birds. This train carries more passengers than any other rail line in the world and travels at a speed of over 200 miles an hour. Travelers got a smooth, comfortable and speedy ride, which was mostly very quiet.

 

The one problem it had was the sonic boom that occurred when the train emerged from a tunnel. People complained of getting headaches from the noise that was a result of air being compressed by the speeding train.

 

The solution to the problem came from a savvy engineer, Eiji Nakatsu, who also happened to be a bird watcher. When he analyzed the problem he realized the train was pushing air in front of it, creating a wall of wind. When the train emerged from a tunnel, it put pressure on the train and created a loud booming noise. The solution he was looking for was equivalent to a diver slicing through the water.

 

He found his answer in the Kingfisher bird, who lives in the trees above lakes and rivers. The Kingfisher has a large head and a long, narrow beak shaped like a knife. This enables them to dive from the air into the water without making a lot of noise. Nakatsu took mother nature’s perfect design and integrated it into the design of the high speed trains.

 

The design worked so well, that now, not only are the trains noise compliant, but they’re also 10% faster and 15% more fuel efficient.

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What Type of Innovator Are You?

What Type of Innovator Are You?

In 1962 the book “Diffusions of Innovations” came out. It was a phrase coined by communications professor Everett Rogers to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology is spread through cultures. Rogers explained in his book that four main elements are responsible for spreading a new idea – the innovation, time, communication channels, and a social system.

 

A true innovator is someone who has the guts to be the first with a new idea and be fearless enough to stand up and defend that idea when everyone else thinks it’s crazy. The more radical the innovation is, the more likely you are to be ridiculed in the very beginning. Inventors are constantly pushing the envelope of what’s possible.

 

As an inventor sometimes I’ve felt like the only people who could really understand me are other inventors. Inventors are able to see what others miss, until of course, that new idea hits critical mass thanks to the trendsetting, early adopters.

 

Rogers lists the adopters of a new product as innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Most people are very conscious about what other people think of them and hesitate to be the first one to try something until it catches on with the majority.

 

Early adopters of the Croc shoe weren’t wearing them because they were a fashion statement. Doctors, nurses, boaters, and restaurant workers were among the early adopters because they were super comfortable for people who were on their feet all day. But once they hit a critical mass that all changed.

 

The early adopters of the Croc shoe became evangelists. For an ugly shoe that started out as a footwear alternative for boaters, Crocs soon caught on as a mainstream fad, and the rest is history. They went on to sell millions.

 

What type of adopter are you?

 

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Inventor Spotlight – Ann Moore

Inventor Spotlight – Ann Moore

Inventor and pediatric nurse Ann Moore proved that you can make an old idea new again. It was during her time in the Peace Corps in West Africa that she first saw mothers carrying their babies around on their backs in fabric harnesses. The babies seemed very content with the emotional bonding they received, and when Ann gave birth to her daughter, she wanted the same kind of bonding with her baby.

 

She tried to replicate the idea by taking a piece of cloth and wrapping the baby in it. Then she added a pouch to keep the baby from slipping out. When the garment needed some sewing improvements, she recruited her mother to help her out.

 

Holes were cut so the baby’s legs could fit through, and a waistband was added that tied in the front to make it more secure. Soon, mothers were stopping her in the street to find out where they could get one. Moore was making several of them a month on her kitchen table and selling them on her own. She found that she sold a lot more after improving the head support.

 

The product was originally put in her mother’s name, but later was assigned to Moore as sales of the product skyrocketed from a few a month to a few hundred a month. Part of the reason for this was that the family was touring the country doing public speaking on topics like natural childbirth. It was because they were face to face with their target customers that really helped push Snugli over the edge.

 

This is a good lesson for inventors, who have to step out of the creative mode once their products are ready for market, and put on their marketing hat.

 

Also, Moore saw a bigger picture than just inventing a product. She envisioned a deeper bond between parent and child. This is another good lesson for inventors, who want to make a bigger impact in the world beyond just their inventions.

 

She eventually sold the company to Gerico, who have since expanded the product line with different models and updated styles.

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The Value of Incremental Innovation

The Value of Incremental Innovation

A good portion of my day is spent working with small businesses, especially bricks and mortar stores, on how to compete and stay ahead of the curve in a time when change is so rapid. But there is a lot of resistance to being the first to jump off the cliff and try something new.

 

In fact, today I spoke to a small business owner who said they not only would never lead from the front or even behind. They just want to follow from behind and wait until something becomes mainstream to latch on to it.

 

Well, at least he was honest about it. But this is exactly why so many businesses risk becoming irrelevant or losing business to the innovation pioneers who know that in order to stay ahead of the competition you have to take some risks.

 

Risk is scary. But it doesn’t have to be. I try to get companies to at least take baby steps and try incremental innovation. You don’t have to invest a ton of time or money to be innovative.

 

A friend in the food manufacturing business recently told me a story about how they were able to save tens of thousands of dollars every year from a tiny drop of soup. A factory worker noticed that this tiny drop of liquid ending up being wasted because it missed the can on the conveyer belt.

 

One person might have looked at it as just being a nuisance, but this astute worker realized that one tiny drop multiplied hundreds of thousands of times meant lost money.

 

So they brainstormed different ways to change it without having to spend a fortune buying new equipment. By looking at it from multiple directions, they finally figured out that it was as simple as just shaving down one small piece on the machine so the dripping would stop.

 

This small incremental innovation solution saved the company a lot of money and earned a bonus for the worker. It’s these small changes that can be made in all businesses that can add up to improvement in their bottom line.

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What I’ve Learned as an Innovation Keynote Speaker

What I’ve Learned as an Innovation Keynote Speaker

For the past five years I’ve worked with corporations and associations as an innovation keynote speaker. The speeches are very interactive with the audience, with games and improv, so no two are ever the same.

 

I’ve worked with children’s hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, scientists, engineers, and banks as an innovation keynote speaker. I’ve had all age groups in the audience from small kids to a pair of 90 year old twins.

 

And I’m always surprised by the amount of creativity they will unleash when given the chance. Even people who claim they don’t have a creative bone in their body.

 

Here are some of the things I’ve learned from both management and employees:

 

  • Innovation isn’t consistent – The day I show up for an innovation keynote there’s a lot of excitement about trying something new and being able to just let go and have fun. I always tell the audience that there are no wrong answers and they’re allowed to be as wacky and zany as they want to be. But unfortunately it’s usually not kept up. People tend to fall back into the “That’s the way it’s always been done” mode, and the fun, creativeness makes way for bureaucracy. It happens so often I’m thinking maybe there’s a reason why creativity and innovation isn’t kept up. Big corporations are in business to make money. Maybe they think taking time out to be silly and coming up with wild, out of the box ideas, isn’t a good use of time… until they go the way of Blockbuster and Kodak. I’m sure the Royal Typewriter Company could never have imagined they would be disrupted by innovation. In 1957 they had sold over 10 million typewriters and they were riding high. Most companies don’t even think about innovating until it’s too late. Innovation is something that needs to be done on a consistent basis.

 

  • Employees want to be creative – I do several improv exercises where I ask for a volunteer from the audience. At first most people are hesitant to do it and look around to gauge a reaction from the boss. The most creative employees are the ones who are given lots of encouragement to say what they think. Creativity can’t be contained. You have to be free to say what you want in the brainstorming room without being fired. Once they get the go-ahead, those employees who have been stifled start to blossom on stage. This is the kind of creative productivity managers could get from their employees if they allow them to let loose occasionally and do some free flow creativity for an hour a day or at least once a week.

 

  • Lack of incentive – I’ve had people come up to me after a speech and say that they really enjoyed it. But then they whisper “but we don’t get paid any extra to come up with good ideas”. Good ideas don’t cost the company money until they are implemented. And if an employee does come up with a brilliant innovative idea that would make the company money or save the company money, they should be rewarded. It doesn’t have to be much and it might not even be monetary, but at least they should be recognized for their achievements. Reward those creative types and they will continue to be a valuable asset to your company.

 

If I had to think about what my purpose in life is, I would have to say that my mission is to spread the joy of creativity and help turn as many people as possible into innovators. One of the best ways I know to do that is by being an innovation keynote speaker. The world will never run out of good ideas and with all the problems in the world, we need more problem solvers.

 

 

 

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Innovation Lessons Companies Can Learn From the Pilgrims

Innovation Lessons Companies Can Learn From the Pilgrims

A pilgrim is someone who makes a long and difficult journey. As an inventor and innovator I have definitely found that journey to be a rough and rocky one, that has never gone as planned, and I’ve learned a lot of innovation lessons along the way.

 

For the 102 pilgrims that sailed from England to their new home in America, their journey didn’t go as planned either. To begin with, they arrived about 150 miles north of their destination and eventually ended up at Plymouth.

 

They faced many hardships, and over half of them wouldn’t survive. But the ones that did used their bootstrapping innovation survival skills to not only survive, but thrive in a foreign land many miles from home.

 

Here are some of the lessons they can teach companies about innovation:

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Inventor’s Spotlight – Woman Inventor – Margaret Knight

Inventor’s Spotlight – Woman Inventor – Margaret Knight

I’ll never forget the day I got a call from someone who was shocked that a woman had invented the wrist water bottle. We should be so far beyond that in our society, but the fact that fewer than 15% of all patents are issued to women proves that we still have a long way to go. I can only imagine the scrutiny Margaret Knight must have gone through in 1871 when she invented the paper bag machine, which churned out flat-bottomed, foldable paper bags.

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Maximize Innovation With a Creative Office Space

Maximize Innovation With a Creative Office Space

What do flowers, plants and waterfalls have to do with innovation? A lot, according to an eight month study conducted by Texas A & M University. The study found that offices that included plants, flowers and waterfalls caused women to become more flexible and creative problem solvers and men to generate 15% more ideas.

 

Maybe it’s all that extra oxygen and negative ions in the air or just that flowers and plants make employees happier and more peaceful. Whatever it is, it can’t hurt.

 

A creative space is usually more open and light. There’s room for whiteboards, pushboards, art supplies, and anything else that’s unique to your industry and helps spark creativity.

 

But having a creative office space is more than just aesthetics. It should be a place where employees feel comfortable expressing ideas and being able to brainstorm without being judged. Innovation is all about coming up with ideas. If you want to come up with a great idea, you have to come up with a lot of ideas. And that means most of them are going to be bad.

 

This is why nothing should be criticized in the brainstorming stage. In fact, this is the time that everyone should be encouraged to throw out as many ideas as possible.

 

Ask questions and add on to other’s suggestions. Seek opinions from your fellow co-workers. This builds respect and encourages them to generate even more ideas. Everyone likes to feel that their opinions are worth something.

 

When your ideas are struck down, that’s when people shut down and stop participating. Make it okay to be wrong and fail. As long as you’re allowed to fail there’s no pressure to be perfect, just to keep generating more new and original ideas. Because you never know where a good idea will come from. 

 

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Inventor’s Spotlight – Frederick Walton

Inventor’s Spotlight – Frederick Walton

It’s hard to image that at one time people walked on bare boards in their homes. Rugs had been around for centuries, but a mass-produced, easy to clean floor covering didn’t exist until the mid 1800’s. That was until British inventor, Frederick Walton, invented and patented the world’s first synthetic floor covering.

 

It all started when Walton noticed solidified linseed oil that had formed on a can of oil-based paint. Knowing that the natural process would take too long, he sped it up by heating it up with zinc sulfate and lead acetate.

 

His initial idea was to sell the varnish to manufacturers of water-repellent fabrics. But as all inventors know, the invention process doesn’t always turn out the way you plan. The varnish didn’t work on cotton and it took way too long to complete the process. He also had other setbacks, such as his factory burning down and painful, persistent rashes.

 

He reformulated his varnish and applied for another patent. By this time he had competition from other floor covering manufacturers, who had a cheaper product. He was still able to secure a good amount of the market share and began exporting his linoleum product to the U.S.

 

One of those competitors started using the name linoleum and was sued by Walton for trademark infringement. Unfortunately Walton had failed to trademark the name and he lost the lawsuit. But he would have lost anyway since the term linoleum had become a generic term by that point and became the first product to become a generic name.

 

For many years linoleum was considered a luxurious material, but was eventually replaced by less expensive, artificial vinyl. The original linoleum fell out of favor and was stripped out of homes and forgotten for years.

 

But today linoleum is making a comeback because of its eco-friendly properties, and its durability and versatility. It’s bio-degradable, anti-bacterial, recyclable, fire-resistant, hypo-allergenic, and can last up to 40 years. Plus, there are no environmental toxins involved in the manufacturing process.

 

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Women Scientists and Engineers as Inventors

scientistThe first creativity workshop I ever put on was for a group of women engineers. Years later I’m still an innovation keynote speaker for many conferences of engineers and scientists. They’re not only able to come up with great ideas, but they also know how to make those ideas work. As an inventor I can come up with the inventions, but have to hire someone like that to turn the idea into a viable product.

 

Even though an inventor can come from any industry, many inventors have a background as a scientist or engineer. Having a job that puts you in a position where you’re able to experiment to find different solutions to problems already preps your brain for creativity and innovation. This is why I love speaking to scientists and engineers, like I did at Proctor and Gamble at their international engineering summit or to international scientists at Novartis Pharmaceuticals. I don’t have to explain why creativity is so important and necessary. They already know.

 

Not all scientists and engineers have an interest in being an inventor, but they certainly have the ability. In fact, most engineers never invent anything in their entire career. Since fewer than 15% of all patent holders in the world are women, I’m always trying to recruit more women (and men) into the field of inventing. Scientists and engineers have all of the tools they need to be inventors. They are both problem solvers who apply their knowledge to the construction of real world applications.

 

Here are two examples of women scientists and engineers, who became inventors:

 

Katharine Burr Blodgett developed an interest in mathematics and physics from an early age. She would later become the first woman to receive a doctorate in physics from Cambridge University. She would also become the first woman to be hired as a scientist at General Electric, where her father had been a patent attorney. Katharine’s mentor, Irving Langmuir, encouraged her to participate in some of his discoveries. She conducted her own research into an oily substance Langmuir had developed in his lab. This eventually led to her most significant invention of non-reflective glass. This non-reflective glass has been used in camera lenses, movie projectors, and submarine periscopes. It’s still an important component of computer screens, car windshields, and eye glasses.

 

Her contributions to the military included saving hundreds of lives during World War II, by improving the smoke screens, which protected troops from the toxic chemicals in smoke.

 

A good example of a woman engineer who also became an inventor was Edith Clarke. She was the first woman to receive a degree from M.I.T. in electrical engineering. Like Katharine, she also worked at General Electric. But in the beginning she couldn’t get work as an engineer there, so she started out as a supervisor in the turbine engineering department.

 

It was then that she invented the Clarke calculator, a device that could solve line equations ten times faster than normal methods. Her patent was granted in 1925. Even with all of her accomplishments, she still wasn’t able to get a job as an engineer. So she left the U.S. to teach physics in Turkey. A year later she was finally able to secure an electrical engineering job at G.E.

 

 

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Inventors Spotlight – Abraham Lincoln

abraham-lincolnAbraham Lincoln is best known for the Gettysburg Address and for abolishing slavery, but did you know he is also the only President to be an inventor and patent holder? In 1849 he filed a patent for a device that would help lift riverboats over sandbars, and two months later his patent was granted.

 

It seems that honest Abe developed an interest in all things mechanical early in life, which may have been a trait he inherited from his father, who was also interested in how things worked mechanically, and how they could be designed to be more time-saving.

 

 

As a lawyer and inventor, Abraham Lincoln had a strong respect for the patent system and believed it was vital for moving innovation forward because it gave inventors the incentive to take risks. I definitely agree. Though you don’t have to have a patent to get a product on the market, it does offer you a lot of legal protection in exchange for the enormous time, energy, and money you put into the development of an invention.

 

 

Lincoln was fascinated with inventions before he became President and did two speeches on the topic. His creative problem solving is one thing that made him such a good president. He was always trying to find a better way to do something.

 

 

So, when a boat he was riding in got caught on a sandbar, the “aha” lightbulb went off. He came up with a better way to get the boat over the rocks without using a lot of manpower by having buoyant chambers expand and contract as needed.

 

 

When he got home, he enlisted the help of a local mechanic and made a small prototype of the idea he envisioned. He took that prototype to an attorney who drafted up the patent. Though the actual product was never manufactured, Lincoln still goes down in history as the only President to date to be a patent holder.

 

 

He stated that “the patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius”. His prototype remains on display at the Smithsonan Institution National Museum of American History.

 

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Why Creativity Gets Better With Age

Why Creativity Gets Better With Age

Aging, in general, gets a bad rap. Though it’s true that as you age your body slowly goes through changes and all vital organs begin to lose some of their function. A seventy year old may not be able to compete physically with a twenty year old in a marathon, but there’s one area where they could run rings around someone decades younger… creativity. And creativity gets better with age.

 

Let me see if I can sum it up in a simple, non technical way. Much of creativity is about making connections. You need a wide range of connections in order to cross-polinate those ideas into new ideas. So to put it another way, the older you get, the more “stuff” you have in your brain to connect.

 

Because you’ve done and seen more, learned more and lived more, by the time you reach your senior years you’re better able to see the big picture. As Steve Jobs put it “Younger people don’t have enough dots to connect”.

 

So, am I looking forward to getting older from a creative point of view? You bet! But just getting older doesn’t make you more creative. Creativity is something that needs to be constantly used, like a muscle. The more you use it and challenge yourself, the better it gets.

 

Here are some ways to challenge your creativity:

 

  • Expand your social circles – You can learn something from everyone. If you only hang out with people who are exactly like you, that’s all you ever learn. Expand your circle to include people who are drastically different from you, with different backgrounds, different ages, different career paths, different cultures.

 

  • Read constantly – No matter how much you read you will never tackle it all in your lifetime. But make an attempt to. Become a living sponge and absorb all of the knowledge the world has to offer.

 

  • Keep an open mind – Learn to see both sides of an argument. Engage in conversation with people you disagree with. This challenges you to think beyond your own world view.

 

Once you begin to see the endless possibilities the aging brain is capable of, the more exciting creativity itself becomes. It’s like a book that’s never completely finished.

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The Innovator Behind “A Christmas Carol”

The Innovator Behind “A Christmas Carol”

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley has withstood the test of time since 1843. The classic novella written by Charles Dickens, cuts to the heart of even the most jaded, and brings a ray of hope that the Christmas “spirit” is alive and well.

 

Dickens drew on his childhood memories living in poverty and incorporated the colorful characters of his neighborhood into his writing. After watching his father end up in debtor’s prison he vowed that would never happen to him. His hard work as a writer coincided with the prosperity and opportunities available during the industrial revolution.

 

Because of the innovations created during the industrial revolution such as the steam powered rotary printing press, and innovations in transportation, writers were able to keep up with consumer demand both in England and abroad.

 

Shortly before Christmas in 1843, Dickens found himself in debt, so he wrote a small book that he hoped would stave off his creditors. But his regular publisher turned the book down. So he took what little money he had left and self-published the book. He then hired an illustrator, oversaw the book cover, and did all of the marketing himself.

 

“A Christmas Carol” turned out to be a huge hit. And since Dickens put his own money into it, he kept 100% of the profits. Besides being an innovator in self-publishing, he invented the concept of publishing in serial form. His novels and novellas were the original soap operas of their day. He used the serial publishing technique to test out new characters and plotlines, based on audience feedback. He knew how to keep them in suspense, and did it with the use of the cliff-hanger.

 

He was also an innovator in sponsorship for writers, putting ads into his novels for brands looking for unique ways to market. His sponsorship ads sold umbrellas, jewelry, glasses, and insect powder.

 

To this day “A Christmas Carol” has never been out of print, and it’s timely message of giving from your heart never goes out of style.

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Does Your Company Have an Innovation Plan?

Does Your Company Have an Innovation Plan?

The innovation industry, like any other industry, is full of buzz words. People like to latch on to the latest academic sounding terms and have lengthy discussions about them. This all sounds impressive, but the bottom line is “what is your company doing about it?” Are you innovating or not? Does your company have an innovation plan?

 

Being in the trenches I can tell you that most companies say they want to be innovative. The truth is that many just talk about it. Because innovation is cool. It’s a buzzword that usually gets thrown around, but rarely implemented.

 

How do I know? Because I like to follow up on companies who have hired me to speak on innovation to see how they’ve followed up. Many times I find that programs haven’t been implemented yet or they are sporadically implemented. Innovation isn’t something you do occasionally. It’s something that should be done on a daily basis. Creativity is a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it. You must have an innovation plan and stick to it. You can give someone the innovation tools, but it’s up to them to use them.

 

There have been many studies out in the past few years that talk about how companies think they should be innovating and want to innovate, but aren’t. A recent study from GE states that “60% of respondents say that the inability to generate disruptive ideas is killing their ability to innovate”. Or that “nearly two thirds of executives are convinced that businesses must encourage creative behaviors and disrupt their processes more often”.

 

I like to teach innovation in such a way that anyone from a child to a rocket scientist could understand it. Make it too complicated and you suck all the fun out of it. And then guess what? People will stop wanting to do it.

 

Creativity and innovation should be implemented on a regular basis. If it’s not, it’s just latent innovation. Hey wait! Maybe that’s the new innovation buzzword we’re looking for. And yes, you can quote me on that.

 

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Conceptual Thinking and Creative Note Taking

Conceptual Thinking and Creative Note Taking

Anyone who has seen my office and the piles of hand-written notes on legal pads, in the backs of books, on scraps of paper and napkins, and on various Post-it notes stuck to the wall would probably label me a bit kooky. So, I’m glad to hear that a recent study at the Princeton University psychology department has vindicated my crazy note taking. The conceptual thinking and note taking study was conducted by psychological scientist and author Pam Mueller and involved 65 college students. Some of them took notes from a TED talk in a laptop and some took notes in long-hand in a notebook with pen and paper.

 

They were then quizzed on what they learned through both fact recall and conceptual thinking types of questions. They both performed well when it came to the fact recall type of questions, but the ones that used good ole’ fashioned pen and paper out shined the laptop note takers when it came to conceptual questions. It seems that the pen and paper note takers were more likely to remember the conceptual information, even when questioned a week later.

 

Yippee! I can finally justify my system to non-believers.

 

Conceptual questions test your understanding of the ideas. So you’re not able to just memorize answers, but really have to engage your brain in problem solving. I’m sure this has something to do with being an innovator and a creative type that I simply can’t stop scribbling ideas and solving problems.

 

I can’t prove this with a university study, but I would also bet that it has something to do with the fact that you have to write it out and your brain remembers the certain way it’s written. When you type on a laptop it all looks the same.

 

All I know is that pen and paper note taking does work. I’m able to remember much more when it’s hand-written. And pen and paper will never crash.

 

 

 

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Disruptive Innovation Creates Opportunity

Disruptive Innovation Creates Opportunity

Disruptive innovation is innovation that disrupts an existing market and creates a new one. All industries are subject to change. And people will hang on to the status quo as long as possible. Society in general often feels threatened by the disruption of the status quo. But if you are able to look into the future and roll with it, you will be able to spot and profit from opportunities others will miss.

 

I was watching a segment on self-driving cars and how that will change everything else. For one thing there will be fewer accidents. Which is a good thing. There will be fewer people in the hospital. Which is also a good thing. Fewer patients means less money for hospitals. I’m not debating the ethics of self-driving cars, just saying changes in one industry disrupts another.

 

Since there will be fewer accidents, auto insurance premiums will be lower and insurance companies will be scrambling for business. Some will even go out of business. So, it’s a good thing that premiums will be lower, but bad for the bottom line of auto insurance companies.

 

If self-driving cars never or rarely get into accidents, that means the cars would last much longer. Good for consumers, but bad for the car companies, who would be selling tons of self-driving cars in the beginning, but then people would be keeping them much longer.

 

I can think of some great things that will come out of this disruptive innovation. One is that you would never get lost. And because everything would be skillfully coordinated, there would be far fewer traffic jams.

 

I would love the idea of being able to check email and write blog posts while my Nissan Altima guided me safely to my destination. I’m already thinking of all the movies and TV shows I could catch up on while heading down the 405 freeway.

 

I know it’s easy to be nostalgic and cling to the familiar. But if you want to make money, look into your crystal ball and spot those innovative opportunities while others are still stuck in the present.

 

 

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Mothers of Invention Grants

Mothers of Invention Grants

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, even though fewer than 15% of all patent holders in the world to this day are women. But Toyota is doing its part to help draw attention to women innovators and women inventors at the fourth annual Women in the World Summit.

 

Three grants of $50,000 each were awarded to women who are doing their part to help find solutions to global problems. Kativa Shukla, founder of Fenugreen, Caitria and Morgan O’ Neil, co-founders of Recovers.org, and Sejal Hathi and Tara Roberts, co-founders of girl tank were all recipients of the grants.

 

The women were also given a $15,000 “pay it forward” grant to give to another up and coming Mother of Invention woman innovator for the project of their choice.

 

Kativa’s innovation is called Fresh Paper and addresses the issue of food spoilage. Fresh Paper allows food to stay fresh for up to four times longer than normal. She came up with the idea while still in high school. It’s being used by consumers and farmers and is being considered for other useful applications as well.

 

Caitria and Morgan came up with an idea to help match local communities with resources in case of a disaster. They came up with the idea after a tornado destroyed their home.

 

Sajal Hathi and Tara Roberts came up with the idea for girl tank, which is a crowd funding platform specifically for women and girls. It’s already reached 1500 women in over 104 countries.

 

Toyota is also the presenting sponsor of the Women in the World Summit which celebrates women innovators, women inventors and social entrepreneurs from around the world. Women in the World Summit features women artists, industry icons, grassroots activists, and women CEOs who are making a difference in the world. Women who are fighting poverty and violence in war-torn countries.

 

 

 

 

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Woman Inventor – Josephine Cochran

Woman Inventor – Josephine Cochran

If you’re like most people, washing dishes is a chore. Okay, maybe it’s just me. But back in 1886 a woman inventor named Josephine Cochran thought the same thing. Technically Joel Houghton patented a dish washing machine, but it was a wooden machine that just splashed water on dishes. Josephine wanted a fully functional machine, so she invented it herself.

 

Josephine was known for throwing lavish dinner parties. But one day after a big party she noticed that one of the servants had chipped a very expensive piece of china. So she decided to start washing the dishes herself, even though she really hated having dishpan hands.

 

One day she simply got tired of the task and set out to make a dishwasher that worked. As she held a cup in her hand, she had an epiphany. Why not make a machine that holds the dishes in place while the pressure of hot soapy water totally washes over them? That very day she had put together the basic concept for her mechanical dishwasher.

 

Shortly after she came up with the concept, her husband died, leaving her with a mountain of debt and only about $1500. But Josephine was determined to see her idea through to fruition.

 

Josephine’s father was a hydraulic engineer, so she probably learned a lot from observing him. If she did get help from a man at home, she certainly didn’t get it when she was in the prototype phase. It was frustrating to have men tell her her way wouldn’t work and that they could come up with a better way. But eventually they saw her vision and ultimately the Garis-Cochran dishwashing machine was patented in 1886.

 

She thought she was making a machine that would take some of the drudgery out of dish washing for women, but women thought they didn’t really need to spend the money on them.

 

She sold her machines to restaurants and hotels through cold calling, which she continued to do almost until the day she died at 74.

 

 

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How Creative Entrepreneurs Can Be More Productive

How Creative Entrepreneurs Can Be More Productive

Since creative entrepreneurs don’t punch a time clock or have a boss standing behind them making them work, they have to be their own boss and learn to be more productive on their own.

 

Here are some ways creative entrepreneurs can be more productive:

 

  • Start early – It seems that Ben Franklin wasn’t far off when he said “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”. A study at the University of North Texas found that students who were morning people got better grades, had more success in their careers, and eventually earned more income. If you’re not typically an early morning person, start gradually and get up a little earlier every day. Since most of the world operates on a nine to five schedule, if you can get up before the rest of the world, then you are already ahead of the game. There’s a reason most billionaires are early risers.

 

  • Do the most brain-draining things first – Writing and other tasks that require a sharp mind are best done when, well, your brain it at it’s sharpest. Prioritize and do the things on your list that don’t require brain power towards the end of your day. Also, if you don’t have a regular office to go into you can schedule things like grocery shopping around your own schedule. Since grocery shopping doesn’t require any brain power, it goes at the bottom of your list. Most grocery stores are open at night, so you can mindlessly wander the aisles after putting in a full day’s work.

 

  • Take breaks – Creativity uses a lot of brain power. Taking breaks every hour or so will give you the energy to keep going. Well, that and lots of caffeine. If you work at home, get out and take a walk around the block. It really works. Also, don’t go past the point of diminishing returns. Once your brain gets to the point where you aren’t making sense, put everything on hold for tomorrow. Don’t send out that email, blog post or newsletter yet. Double check it in the morning. You might be surprised how many mistakes you’ve made.

 

Creative entrepreneurs can be more productive, but it does take some good time management. Get this down to a science and you’ll be amazed at how much more you get done.

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Women Inventors – Tabitha Babbitt

Women Inventors – Tabitha Babbitt

I’ve heard too many times that women inventors tend to invent “girlie” things. Sometimes that might be true, but not always. Take the case of the shy and quiet inventor Tabitha Babbitt, who invented the circular saw, which is certainly far from being a girlie invention.

 

One day Tabitha was watching two men use a pit saw. They were expending a huge amount of effort going back and force. Tabitha noticed that half of the motion was being wasted, since the saw only cut one way. The rest of the motion was just wasted.

 

They say inventors tend to invent what they know or at least they tend to use what they know in their inventions. Tabitha made her living as a weaver, so she took her knowledge of the weaving machine she used to spin her fabrics and created a circular saw blade which she put onto a fast-spinning axel. This greatly increased productivity and cut down on labor.

 

She improved the spinning wheel process by coming up with a double spinning head. This allowed women to spin twice as much as they normally would spin.

 

Tabitha also helped to create the process of cut nails. Instead of making them one at a time, she came up with the idea of cutting multiple nails from a sheet of iron.

 

Tabitha was a prolific inventor, who believed in increasing productivity through mass production. Through her invention of the circular saw she helped increase production in the lumber and furniture industry.

 

But since Tabitha was a member of the religious organization, The Shakers, she never patented any of her brilliant inventions as this went against the religious beliefs of the Shakers.

 

She was also working on the idea for a false teeth manufacturing process, but died before the idea was fully finished.

 

 

 

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Inventors Spotlight – Woman Inventor – Ruth Handler

Inventors Spotlight – Woman Inventor – Ruth Handler

Ruth Handler’s claim to fame as a woman inventor and woman innovator is that she invented the Barbie Doll. But Ruth’s resume was much bigger than that. She started off in 1945 as the co-founder of the toy company Mattel, which made toy furniture, music boxes, plastic mirrors, and picture frames.

 

At the time the dolls that were marketed to little girls were all cherubic baby dolls. But Ruth watched her own young daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls that she imagined were adults. Ruth had seen more adult type of dolls in Europe and wanted to invent her own so that little girls could create their own futures with them.

 

Many people thought the idea of an adult doll with adult features was too riskque’. The Barbie Doll, named after her daughter Barbara, debuted at the New York Toy Fair and sold over 300,000 in it’s first year. Mattel went public and was soon a Fortune 500 company with Ruth at the helm as president.

 

Barbie had a boyfriend, Ken, named after her son, and several friends of different ethnic backgrounds. Ruth was criticized for creating a doll with unrealistic features that no woman could live up to. But Ruth didn’t listen to the criticism. She felt that Barbie was more of a fantasy creation.

 

In 1970 Ruth discovered she had breast cancer and had to have her left breast removed. When she had a hard time finding a prosthetic breast that fit perfectly, she invented one. Until then they were interchangeable. But Ruth thought they should be more like shoes, a left one and a right one that fit perfectly. She started a company called Nearly Me that manufactured the prosthetics, and she traveled the country as an advocate for early breast cancer screening.

 

Ruth passed away in 2002, but Barbie’s legacy lives on and continues to be Mattel’s biggest seller.

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A Week of Creativity and Innovation

A Week of Creativity and Innovation

Every year fifty countries around the world take one week to celebrate world creativity and innovation week. This takes place between April 15th through April 21st in communities and organizations who want to think differently.

 

World creativity and innovation week was started by several Canadians in 2001 who were shocked by a newspaper headline that Canada was having a creativity crisis and they knew they could do something about it. So they started a creativity movement that caught on around the world.

 

If you ask me I think that there is an ongoing creativity crisis, especially right now. And not just in Canada. I’m not sure if it’s that most people don’t know how to be creative or that the process of what you have to go through to be creative is just way out of most people’s comfort zone.

 

But I do feel like many people are stuck in neutral and need new and innovative ideas to get out of it. Many companies are stuck in neutral without the skills to generate new ideas that might help them become more competitive.

 

World creativity and innovation week is at least starting a dialogue to get more people to realize that people can step outside their comfort zone and do something different, even if it’s just for one week.

 

The thing about creativity is that once you start and find out how much fun it is, you want to keep it going. It’s like a muscle that needs to be used every day or it suffers from atrophy.

 

The world creativity and innovation organization is completely run by volunteers who are interested in connecting people from all over the world to become more creative.

 

If you want to join in the movement set aside the week of April 15th, which happens to be Leonardo di Vinci’s birthday, and do something different. Anything. Creativity starts with one step.

 

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Inventors Spotlight – Women Inventors – Marjorie Joyner

Inventors Spotlight – Women Inventors – Marjorie Joyner

Since March is Women’s History Month, we’ll be highlighting women inventors and women innovators who deserve their place in history. In 1928 it was hard enough for a woman to get a job, but for African Americans the unemployment number was twice as high. But one black woman who was employed was Marjorie Joyner. She worked for a self-educated businesswoman named Madame C. J. Walker, the first African American woman millionaire.

 

Madame Walker created a series of hair products specifically for black women that would smooth out their hair. She had employees she called “hair culturists”, stylish and perfectly coiffed women who went door to door with the Walker products, and would style women’s hair in their homes. Twenty year old Marjorie learned her craft while working for the Walker Company selling Walker Way products.

 

During the Depression Marjorie stressed the importance of good grooming for women, and men, who wanted to find work. She quickly worked her way up to national supervisor for the Walker Beauty Schools and eventually owned her own salon.

 

While working for Walker, Marjorie came up with an invention called the permanent wave machine. She was making a pot roast one night and noticed that the rods that held the roast together heated up from the inside. The lightbulb went off and she realized this might be a solution to a problem of being able to curl an entire head of hair all at once, saving time for the stylist and the customer.

 

She made a simple prototype by hooking 16 pot roast rods to a hair dryer hood. She experimented until she figured out a way to style an entire head of hair so that it would stay that way for days. Marjorie patented the wave machine in 1928. But since she was working for the Walker Company at the time and they legally owned the patents, Marjorie never saw a dime from the invention. She also invented a scalp protector to make the process less painful after hearing customer complaints about the rods burning their scalp.

 

Marjorie’s philosophy about women in business and women inventors was very straight-forward. She said “they just have a whole lot of common sense. They can bridge the gap men don’t see. There is nothing a woman can’t do”.

 

Well put, Marjorie. Well put!

 

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Why Your Corporation Should Hire a Creativity Keynote Speaker

Why Your Corporation Should Hire a Creativity Keynote Speaker

Today’s markets are so saturated that the only way to differentiate yourself from the crowd is through constant and consistent creativity and innovation. According to a recent Fortune Magazine poll, most CEOs say that innovation is their #1 priority. But the truth is that most companies don’t innovate until a crisis hits. I’ve found this to be true as a creativity keynote speaker and innovation keynote speaker over the past few years.

 

To truly set yourself apart and generate giant leaps in innovation, you need to create a culture of creativity and innovation in your company, which includes all of your employees, not just those at the top. A good creativity keynote speaker can inspire, educate, and instill a creative mindset in your employees that literally turns them into idea and problem solving machines.

 

Here are a few benefits you’ll get from hiring a creativity keynote speaker:

 

  • New products and services – You may be number one in your market now, but if you don’t innovate, you’ll lose your ranking. The marketing industry is full of stories about companies who had a hit product, but rested on their laurels and eventually went out of business because they didn’t continue to innovate.
  • Boost your bottom line – Innovation isn’t just about coming up with new products. Creative, problem solving employees will also be able to spot areas where your company could save money. This translates into a leaner, more efficient way of running your business.
  • Unique marketing ideas – Word of mouth is the best form of advertising your company can get. It’s also free. But you won’t get people talking about your company if you don’t have something unique and interesting for them to share. Creative employees will naturally generate unique marketing ideas. By turning your employees into innovators, you instantly double productivity while saving money. Make creativity fun and embrace creative failure and you’d be amazed what they will come up with.
  • Improve your public image – Innovative employees will come up with unique ideas for corporate social responsibility. If you involve them in the creative process, they’ll also be more excited about participating in community volunteer projects, which will elevate your company’s public image.

 

Hiring an entertaining and educational creativity keynote speaker for your next meeting will give your company an excellent return on investment by instilling in your employees the techniques of creativity and innovation, and making the process fun and exciting for your employees. 

 

 

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Christmas Inventions and Innovations

black fridayThe celebration of Christmas is full of innovative ideas. Not all innovation has to be an invention or product. Innovation can be an idea or a series of ideas. The very concept of Christmas, I think, is a genius innovation. It’s a marketer’s dream, wrapped up as a sentimental holiday celebration. Here is the origin of some of those Christmas inventions and innovations, and a couple of new ones.

 

 

  • Santa Claus – The jolly guy in the red suit and white beard actually derived from the Dutch figure Sinterclaas, which derived from the giver of gifts, Saint Nicholas. The American version of Santa Claus was created in the early 1900’s, but Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, goes back seven hundred years ago. In 1881, cartoonist Thomas Nast, elaborated on a Christmas Eve poem written by a minister, and gave us the first pictures of Santa’s reindeer and elves at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus.

 

  • Christmas Caroling – Some of the first carols were sung during the Winter Solstice. Pagan songs turned into Christian songs and eventually were all sung in Latin. But most people couldn’t understand them and by the Middle Ages caroling was losing some of its popularity. Then St. Francis of Assisi started putting on nativity plays with new carols people could understand. Eventually people started singing these carols in the street, and the modern version of Christmas caroling as we now know it continues to this day.

 

  • Christmas tree – The Christmas tree was started in 16th century Germany when Christians decorated their homes with them. The idea of putting lights on the trees came from protestant reformer Martin Luther, who came up with the idea one night while he was walking home composing a sermon. He looked up at the stars twinkling through the evergreen trees. He wanted to capture the beauty for his family, so he rigged a tree with wires on the branches with lighted candles. The candles were eventually replaced by Edison’s bulbs, and later by inventor Albert Sadacca, whose family made novelty products. These were a very safe version of the bulbs, which we still use today.

 

Here are a couple of new Christmas innovations:

 

Christmas innovations

Christmas innovations

Designers Fabio Milito and Francesca Guidotti came upon their Wordless wrapping paper discovery after Christmas, when they realized they couldn’t use leftover Christmas wrapping paper for other occasions. They ended up combining wrapping paper with a card and out of that, the word search just came naturally.

 

 

 

Mark and Tammy Bulleit from Santa Clause, Indiana, got the idea for Santa Clause telegrams after having a conversation with their local postmaster. More mail was coming into the town in the month of December than all other months combined. So, they decided to use their creativity and start a telegram from Santa business. Now children all over the world can get their own personalized letters from Santa, straight from the town that was named after him.

 

What do you think will become the next Christmas innovation?

 

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Charlotte Odlum Smith – Champion of Women Inventors

Charlotte Odlum Smith – Champion of Women Inventors

Inventors and innovators are a unique breed. Creative Innovation would like to spotlight those people who have helped change the course of history or simply made life better and easier through their innovative products, designs or processes. We’ll start with the editor of The Woman Inventor, Charlotte Odlum Smith, a woman who tirelessly worked to champion the rights and accomplishments of women inventors.

 

Smith wasn’t an inventor herself, but she had a passion for women inventors. This passion was fueled by her friend, inventor Mary S. Mary who created 53 inventions, including some on mechanical devices, but lacked the money and knowledge to get them to market. She ended up selling them for as little as $5.00 a piece to men who had the finances and connections to get them launched. The men went on to patent the ideas in their own names and enjoy great financial rewards. Mary S. died penniless and was buried in a pauper’s grave. But before her death she begged Smith to make sure justice was done to women inventors.

 

The first thing Smith did was to ask the patent office for a list of women inventors from the time the office opened in 1790. She wanted to see for herself how many women inventors were out there. This request would prove to be more daunting than she imagined. It took 10 years to obtain the list.

 

She also urged the government to reduce the fees inventors had to pay and asked that they reward patent holders with money to improve their inventions.

 

For women inventors she asked the government to extend protection to women patent holders and that they prosecute those who infringe upon the patents. She also asked for a permanent display at the Patent Office honoring women’s inventions and an open invitation for women to attend an inventor’s association at the Patent Office centennial.

 

Charlotte Smith continued her fight for women inventors until the day she died. For someone who was always in the spotlight where everyone knew her name, she died alone and was buried in an unmarked grave. But we honor her sacrifice and dedication in the Inventor and Innovator Spotlight.

 

 

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Do Creative People Think Highly of Themselves?

Do Creative People Think Highly of Themselves?

A recent study on creativity showed that people who are highly creative tend to score low on tests of humility and honesty. After spending most of my life in the entertainment industry and being surrounded by creative people, I’ve run into plenty who thought highly of themselves and would score low on honesty. But I’ve also been around plenty of creative people who are also very honest and humble.

 

I would have to say that the ones that are still humble are less likely to make it to the A list though. Being creative and making a great living from your creativity seem to be two separate things. Unfortunately some of the most creative people never make great money at their craft and remain very humble and honest.

 

The study, which used the HEXACO model of personality structure, said that the people who scored low on humility and honesty were more likely to bend the rules for their own monetary gain and had a sense of entitlement. So, does this mean you have to be arrogant and dishonest in order to make a lot of money with your creativity. I hope not. And certainly the most creative people, whether they are writers, actors, artists, etc. don’t always make a lot of money.

 

There is another piece here besides just creativity. In today’s world you also need to be a good pitch person. And that requires a different set of skills. Most creatives are not very good at the business side. It helps to have both.

 

Creativity means putting yourself on display for others to judge. That means your ego will take a beating and you have to be pretty confident to keep doing it for the long haul. You have to have a thick skin to keep taking that beating over and over again. Maybe this helps to explain why creative people think highly of themselves. You have to believe in your own creativity before others will.

 

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Robots Can Inspire Creativity in Kids

Robots Can Inspire Creativity in Kids

Okay, so kids think robots are cool. But it appears robots are now able to help kids be more creative. This is according to Latitude, an international research firm. They asked kids around the world to write and illustrate a story that answers the question “What if robots were a part of your everyday life in and out of school”?

 

 

The goal of the study was to help educators and others see the relationship between learning and play among children. It covers both high tech and low tech solutions. The study had about 350 kid innovators between the ages of 8-12.

 

 

Kids blur the line between technology and human learning, whereas adults tend to see technology as separate. But here’s what I find fascinating. Robots, in the kid’s eyes, would support and encourage them without judging them. Interesting.

 

 

So, does this mean an end to the human teacher as we know it? After all, robots can teach for hours and hours without getting tired or having to take a break. Robots don’t need a lunch hour. And, I would bet they don’t make anywhere close to a teacher’s salary. And they never call in sick.

 

Kids also said that the robot teachers inspired them to be more creative and to take more risks. It makes sense. After all, a big part of taking risks is the knowledge that you won’t be judged. This is a great lesson for every human teacher that wants to inspire their students to become more creative and innovative in everything they do.

 

Teachers can inspire creativity in their students by allowing them to play and experiment. Play is how kids learn to be creative. They learn by trial and error, curiosity, working with others, and by letting them make their own mistakes without judgement.

 

Come to think of it, that’s exactly how adults can be inspired to be more creative too.

 

 

 

 

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Why Kids are so Creative

Why Kids are so Creative

Today I spoke at the Girl Scout Conference on the topic of women inventors/women innovators. The session was sponsored by the people at THQ who make the U Draw Game Tablet for the Nintento wii.

 

Then the Girl Scouts had a unique kind of roundtable area where the Girl Scouts could sit and talk to a woman who had excelled in some kind of career. Mine was inventor.

 

At first I thought there weren’t any girls that were even interested in being an inventor. But I ended up having quite a few. The first group felt that inventing was just too hard and they could never do it. So when the second group came by I tried to coax ideas out of them and convince them that anybody could be an inventor by giving examples of kid inventors that had come up with successful products, like Abbey Fleck, who invented the Makin’ Bacon rack for the microwave. She came up with the idea after running out of towels to soak up the bacon grease. She became a million by the time she was a teenager. Now, that’s what they wanted to hear. Someone their age who had actually done it.

 

Once I got them to start talking they couldn’t stop coming up with bigger and better ideas. The sky’s the limit with kids. They don’t have much of a filter on their imagination. Once I asked them to start coming up with problems to solve, they just kept going. And they would also come up with many different ways it could be done. Adults will tend to analyze an idea and eventually figure out ways it wouldn’t work before it’s ever had a chance.

 

If adults could take the filters off and dream big like kids do, they could solve more problems.

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Market Your Products Globally

Market Your Products Globally

When I first started my business I never thought about selling internationally. It was overwhelming enough just selling my product in my own neighborhood. But now 90% of my business is international. The Internet has made international business more accessible for a small manufacturer and easier to market your products globally. There are multiple ways to sell overseas with the click of a mouse.

 

Being in the U.S. I always thought I’d manufacture my product in the U.S. But after trying it once and barely breaking even, I realized I would have to move my manufacturing to China, like most of the rest of the world. It took a few tries to find a good, honest factory, but I finally found the right one.

 

Dealing with China has its own challenges, like the language barrier. This is why it’s a good idea to have someone there who can act as a middleman. Pay them a percentage. It’s worth it. They have a better understanding of the local culture and can help iron out any problems that arise. They will also be in a better position to negotiate prices for you.

 

I’ve found that there is a different sense of urgency there, so you want to make sure you allow plenty of time to get your merchandise. Don’t cut things too close. They also seem to have an awful lot of holidays, and some can last weeks, like Chinese New Year’s. So plan accordingly. You never know how many orders they have ahead of yours.

 

Allow extra time for time zone differences. If you’re dealing with a distributor in South Africa and a factory in China, everyone will be in different time zones. You’ll always have a few days here and there arranging wire transfers and getting art work in. When banks are open in one country, they’re closed in another.

 

Factor in all extra expenses and adjust your prices so you don’t get the short end of the stick. Make sure everything is discussed beforehand.

 

When quoting your customer’s prices take everything into account, like the taxes and duties they will have to pay once it gets to them and what kind of certifications you will need, if any for their country. I always get 50% up front and 50% before they leave the port. Collecting money from a foreign country is a nightmare legal hassle. Make sure it’s all in your bank account before inventory leaves the port.

 

I’ve found the easiest way to sell internationally is through distributors. They buy in volume and basically run their own business. I just help them with marketing and publicity. They hire their own employees and do their own advertising.

 

A good way to get the word out about your product is by getting listed in online wholesale directories. There is also plenty of international PR that you can do to call attention to your brand.

 

There’s a great big world out there waiting to buy your products. They just need to know how to find you.

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Trust Your Intuition

Trust Your Intuition

According to Einstein, “The only real valuable thing is intuition”. It’s especially true for entrepreneurs. Sometimes you just have to trust your intuition. You have to listen to it, even if you’re not really sure where it’s going to take you. As an entrepreneur, your brain can process information that you don’t even realize is valuable yet.

 

If you already have most of the information in your brain and it’s churning around in the background, you can probably make a good decision based solely on that.

 

If you don’t know anything about a particular business, you might not want to rely just on your intuition and put everything you have into it. You can test your intuition to see how often you are right. Pick some stocks, but don’t buy them. Pick them solely based on your intuition and see how often you are right. Get used to using your intuition on a daily basis and it will get stronger.

 

The more you use your intuition, the better you will get at it and the more opportunities you will spot. Entrepreneurs are immersed in it every day.

 

Entrepreneurs who use their intuition are able to think several steps ahead to figure out trends in their industry. Like a professional chess player, they are able to see the big picture and figure out what moves they need to take to get them where they want to be.

 

To be a successful entrepreneur you need to be a good listener. Listen to your customers, listen to the news (from all sources), listen to your neighbors, your friends, your family, your employees, etc. Take information from all sources and draw your own conclusions. Practice using your intuition to spot future trends. See the patterns that emerge before anyone else and stay ahead of the curve.

 

You don’t have to have a crystal ball to know that change is constant and will happen no matter what. People who are intuitive are more likely to be able to deal with change when it happens. Intuitive people expect change and are better able to cope with it. They know that change is inevitable and they prepare for it.

 

As an entrepreneur you need to strengthen and trust your intuition. Learn to listen to it. Gather your knowledge, listen closely, and use your gut feelings. You will probably be right.

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Minimizing Risk in Small Business

Minimizing Risk in Small Business

There is always a risk when you start a new business, but there are also many rewards to being a business owner and controlling your own destiny. Many people avoid starting their own businesses because of the risk. But you can start minimizing risk in small business by being prepared and knowing where the landmines are. You don’t have to be overly cautious, just know that a certain amount of risk is to be expected with a new venture.

 

Look into the future and try to predict what could possibly happen. You can’t predict everything, but cover as much as possible. There are a few things to consider before you open your doors for business.

 

  • Get everything in writing – Even if you are working with your family or best friend, you need to have it in writing. This isn’t to say that they will turn on you, but it will help everyone sleep at night knowing it’s formal. Just the act of writing a contract and putting down on paper what you expect from the arrangement is helpful to clarify who does what. It avoids misunderstandings later. If you stand to lose a large amount of money in the future, then a contract is necessary.

 

  • Make sure you are properly insured – Anticipate what could go wrong and prepare accordingly. You at least need to have general liability insurance and product liability insurance if you sell a product. Disability insurance will cover part of your income should you lose the ability to work.

 

  • Set up the correct business entity from the beginning – Get the advice of a qualified attorney and accountant and do it right to start with. Use separate entities to protect your assets.

 

  • Manage cash flow – It’s easy to underestimate how much you will need. It seems like it will always keep coming in when times are good, but you need to prepare for downturns in the economy, the loss of a key customer, changes in technology or your industry or any other event that could cause your cash flow to dry up. Figure out how much money you have now and how much you would need to have coming in if anything changed. Have a backup plan and make sure to keep at least three to six months of money in the bank just in case you need it.

 

You can’t eliminate all risk, but if these things are in order you will at least have a good chance of minimizing risk in small business.

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Innovation and Winning Streaks

Innovation and Winning Streaks

With the big Mega Millions Lottery reaching a record-breaking jackpot this week, I thought I would write a post on winning. Does it contain the winning lottery numbers? Of course not. We have those under lock and key.

 

Have you ever noticed how winners seem to have things so easy? Everybody loves a winner and everybody wants to be around someone who is on a winning streak. Winners get the best table in a busy restaurant and people are drawn to them and their confidence.

 

But losers get the cold shoulder, don’t get into the trendy nightclub, and seem to fall into a spiral of doom. People don’t want to be associated with losers, who also tend to be in a bad mood. They don’t want to be dragged down by them or be associated with them.

 

Winning and losing streaks happen in sports and celebrity careers, but they also happen in business. A new business struggles to build itself up, and suddenly good sales and good word of mouth advertising propel the company into the spotlight. Your company is hot, trendy and popular. Everyone wants what you’re selling. They want anything you’re selling. Venture capitalists want to invest in you. It seems like you can’t go wrong and that’s when you might start taking things for granted. After all, you’re on top of the world.

 

You stop innovating because you begin to rest on your laurels. The competition tries harder and comes out with something new, exciting, and popular. Your fans lose enthusiasm. Your employees lose enthusiasm. The company starts to lose money. And so begins the losing streak.

 

That’s why it’s important for the company’s leaders to keep their fingers on the pulse of the people who make them winners, their employees and their fans. Employees want to know that the company values them. They want to do work that matters and makes a difference. This keeps morale and productivity high. A little innovation goes a long way and keeps employees excited about their job. They should be encouraged to bring in fresh ideas that could keep the company on a winning streak and have the confidence to know that their ideas count.

 

You also can’t ignore your customers when things take a downward turn. They are your fans, your word of mouth soldiers keeping up the buzz. If you ignore them they will leave for companies that appreciate them. Keep them happy and find out what they want. It may not be what you think. Engage them and value their opinion like you would a valued employee.

 

Winning and losing streaks happen to everyone and all businesses. Staying on top all the time is hard work and takes dedication from the entire team.

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America Invents Act

America Invents Act

Here is the press release from the White House regarding the America Invents Act:

 

President Obama Signs America Invents Act, Overhauling the Patent System to Stimulate Economic Growth, and Announces New Steps to Help Entrepreneurs Create Jobs

 

Today, at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, President Obama signed the America Invents Act, historic patent reform legislation that will help American entrepreneurs and businesses bring their inventions to market sooner, creating new businesses and new jobs. In addition, the President announced additional steps that will help convert the ideas from America’s universities and research labs into new products, expanding our economy and creating 21st century jobs.

 

“I am pleased to sign the America Invents Act. This much-needed reform will speed up the patent process so that innovators and entrepreneurs can turn a new invention into a business as quickly as possible,” said President Obama. “I’m also announcing even more steps today that will help bring these inventions to market faster and create jobs. Here in America, our creativity has always set us apart, and in order to continue to grow our economy, we need to encourage that spirit wherever we find it.”

 

Passed with the President’s consistent leadership and strong bipartisan support, the America Invents Act represents the most significant reform of the Patent Act since 1952. It will give a boost to American companies and inventors who have suffered costly delays and unnecessary litigation, and let them focus instead on innovation and job creation. These reforms were also a key recommendation of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which has been a strong advocate for patent reform as a way to support job creation and strengthen America’s competitiveness in the global economy.

 

President Obama was joined at the signing by Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, US Patent and Trademark Office Director David Kappos, Ellen Kullman, CEO of DuPont and a Member of the President’s Jobs Council, John Lechleiter, CEO of Eli Lilly, as well as students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Members of Congress who have been instrumental in passing the bill, and inventors and small business owners who will benefit from this reform.

 

Key Elements of America Invents Act

 

The America Invents Act was passed with the President’s strong leadership to move this bill forward, after nearly a decade of legislative efforts. It reflects strong bipartisan cooperation and Congress working together on behalf of American innovation.

 

Many key industries in which the U.S. leads, such as biotechnology, medical devices, and advanced manufacturing, depend on a strong and healthy intellectual property system. The America Invents Act will help businesses, inventors, and entrepreneurs in five immediate ways:

 

* A fast track option for Patent Processing within 12 Months: Instead of an average wait time of almost three years, the Patent and Trademark Office will be able to offer startups growing companies an opportunity to have important patents reviewed in one-third the time – with a new fast track option that has a guaranteed 12-month turnaround. Patent ownership is a critical factor venture capital companies consider when investing in entrepreneurs hoping to grow their business.

* Reducing the current patent backlog: Under the Obama Administration, the patent backlog has already been reduced from over 750,000 patent applications to 680,000, despite a 4% increase in filings. The additional resources provided in the law will allow the Patent and Trademark Office to continue to combat the backlog of nearly 700,000 patent applications and will significantly reduce wait times.

* Reducing litigation: The Patent and Trademark Office will offer entrepreneurs new ways to avoid litigation regarding patent validity, at costs significantly less expensive than going to court.

* Increasingpatent quality: The Patent and Trademark Office has re-engineered its quality management processes to increase the quality of the examinations and has issued guidelines that clarify and tighten its standards for the issuance of patents. The legislation gives the USPTO additional tools and resources to further improve patent quality, and allows patent challenges to be resolved in-house through expedited post-grant processes.

* Increasing the ability of American Inventors to protect their IP abroad: The new law will harmonize the American patent process with the rest of the world to make it more efficient and predictable, and make it easier for entrepreneurs to simultaneously market products in the U.S. and for exporting abroad. The Patent and Trademark Office has also expanded work-sharing with other patent offices around the world to increase efficiency and speed patent processing for applicants seeking protection in multiple jurisdictions.

 

Additional Initiatives Announced Today to Move Ideas from Lab to Market

 

Launch of new National Institutes of Health (NIH) center to assist biotech entrepreneurs: To help industry shorten the time needed and reduce costs for the development of new drugs and diagnostics, the NIH plans to establish a new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). NCATS aims to help biomedical entrepreneurs by identifying barriers to progress and providing science-based solutions to reduce costs and the time required to develop new drugs and diagnostics. For example, as one of its initial activities, NCATS will partner with DARPA to support development of a chip to screen for safe and effective drugs far more swiftly and efficiently than current methods.

 

Development of a National Bioeconomy Blueprint: By January 2012, the Administration will develop a Bioeconomy Blueprint detailing Administration-wide steps to harness biological research innovations to address national challenges in health, food, energy, and the environment. Biological research lays the foundation of a significant portion of our economy. By better leveraging our national investments in biological research and development the Administration will grow the jobs of the future and improve the lives of all Americans. The Blueprint will focus on reforms to speed up commercialization and open new markets, strategic R&D investments to accelerate innovation, regulatory reforms to reduce unnecessary burdens on innovators, enhanced workforce training to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers, and the development of public-private partnerships.

 

University Presidents Commit to Commercialization Initiative: In coordination with the Administration, the Association of American Universities, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, 135 university leaders committed to working more closely with industry, investors, and agencies to bolster entrepreneurship, encourage university-industry collaboration, and enhance economic development. Today, over 40 universities are answering the President’s call to expand their commercialization programs and goals. These institutions include The Georgia Institute of Technology, which has outlined its expanded initiatives, as well as universities like the University of Virginia and Carnegie Mellon University, which are announcing plans today.

 

Coulter Foundation and NSF Launch a University Commercialization Prize with AAAS: This prize competition will be used to identify and promote incentives to adopt best practices that improve university commercialization efforts. Supported by $400,000 in funding from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation and NSF, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will lead the design and implementation of the prize in coordination with a diverse array of partner agencies, foundations, and organizations.

 

Developing University Endowments Focused on Lab to Market Innovations: Today, the Coulter Foundation is announcing that they have selected four new universities to participate in their Translational Research Partnership program — Johns Hopkins University, University of Louisville, University of Missouri and University of Pittsburgh. As part of the program, each university will create a $20 million endowment to foster research collaboration between biomedical engineers and clinicians, with the goal of developing new technologies to improve patient care and human health. Translational research moves new ideas and discoveries from university laboratories to new products and services that directly impact human health, often by creating startups or by partnering with established businesses.

 

New Tools and License Agreements for Start-Ups and Small Businesses: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Technology Transfer has developed new agreements for start-up companies obtain licenses for early-stage biomedical inventions developed by intramural researchers at NIH or FDA. Companies that are less than 5 years old and have fewer than 50 employees will be eligible to use the new, short-term exclusive Start-Up Evaluation License Agreement and the new Start-Up Commercial License Agreement. These agreements allow a start-up company to take ideas sitting on the shelf, and attract additional investments to develop these NIH and FDA inventions into life-saving products.

 

New Help for Small Businesses: In addition, the USPTO, in collaboration with NSF and SBA, will pilot a program to assist SBIR grant recipients in taking advantage of the USPTO’s small business programs and resources. The USPTO pilot will provide comprehensive IP support to, initially, 100 NSF SBIR grant recipients to take advantage of accelerated examination and benefits stemming from the America Invents Act and will engage external stakeholders to provide pro bono or low cost IP services to awardees.

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How a Fulfillment Company Can Increase Your Sales

How a Fulfillment Company Can Increase Your Sales

Any small business owner who sells products and has bootstrapped their business probably started out shipping their products themselves. If you’ve done this you know that means buying shipping products like boxes and envelopes, packing items yourself, driving to the post office, and then standing in a long line to ship them. You also have to fill out paperwork for customs if you’re shipping to other countries, and sometimes other paperwork is involved. A fulfillment company can do all that for you and more.

 

Another thing a bootstrapping entrepreneur with a product knows about is warehousing inventory. Ask anyone who’s done it and you’ll hear stories about boxes being stacking in living rooms, offices, basements, and closets. I can tell you from experience that it takes up a lot of space. There was one room that I couldn’t even walk in for months. This is one of the things product entrepreneurs complain about, even ones with lots of space in the basement.

 

But at some point your time will be worth more and it will make sense to start using a fulfillment company to do your shipping and warehousing. If you find the right fulfillment company it will actually reduce your warehousing and processing costs and free up your time to do other things, like marketing and sales. They understand shipping and can use the best, most efficient ways to ship. They also get discounts from shipping companies because they ship in large volume. This is less expensive than having to get your employees to do the shipping for you.

 

A good fulfillment company will provide you with references and won’t have any hidden charges when they give you a quote. Give them as many details as you can about your shipping habits and how you expect your business to grow. They should be able to grow with your company and be flexible. They will be able to make suggestions about the best ways to ship and expand your business. It’s a lot like being a partner with your business, so you want to make sure you choose the right one.

 

Another important thing to think about when deciding on a fulfillment company is their location. You want to find one that is centrally located to make shipping more efficient. If you will be shipping to Canada it’s important to find a fulfillment company that’s located closer to the border.

 

No matter who you choose, do your homework before making a decision. But once you are set up with a good fulfillment partner, you’ll see that it will make your life easier in the long run.

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Why China Lacks Creativity

Why China Lacks Creativity

As someone who’s been a victim of Chinese counterfeiters, I’m one person who wishes the Chinese were more creative and not just copycats. But it wasn’t always like that.

 

One of the most important innovations in history came from China. Ts’ai Lun, the inventor of paper is considered to be one the top ten most influential people in history. It’s hard to even imagine a world without paper. Before paper, most books were made of bamboo, which made them quite heavy to carry around. There were a few books written on silk, but only the wealthy could afford them. Papyrus was used in the Western world, which was more advanced than China.

 

After the invention of paper, China became one of the most productive civilizations on earth. This continued for seven or eight centuries. Other inventions, such as gunpowder and the compass pushed them even higher up the scale.

 

But these days creativity in China has been replaced by a rote system of learning. Chinese children are good at memorizing, reciting, and repetition, but not good at using their imagination.

 

The “gao kao” test hangs over the heads of all high school students like a cloud. It’s a grueling, stressful test that high school students must take to get into college. But it’s much more than that. It basically determines what path they will take in life, what college they get into, what kind of job they’ll get, who they marry, and how much money they’ll make. No pressure there, huh?

 

This is one reason Chinese students are programmed from an early age to memorize answers instead of working on problem solving and coming up with their own solution. Parents and teachers spoon feed them answers and they parrot them back. There is so much riding on this one test that there is no room at all for creativity.

 

But the Chinese do understand that in order to compete in a global economy they’ll have to do more than just repeat lines.

 

At the same time it’s hard to convince people in a strict, formal educational system that play is just as valuable as study. In order to be creative you have to step outside your comfort zone and be willing to fail. That is a very hard pill to swallow when you’ve spent your whole young life avoiding it at all costs. Decades of doing things one way and doing it so strictly makes change uncomfortable. But China will eventually get to the point where they will either have to change or be left behind by innovation.

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