"Hey mom, I'm going to put mustard on your corn." - the inspiration for understanding the key to innovation
A quick one-page story about the title of the book Mustard Doesn’t Go on Corn!
You may be asking at this point, ‘so what’s up with the title of our book, Mustard Doesn’t Go on Corn! and what could mustard and corn possibly have to do with innovation?’ On the surface, it may seem the answer is ‘nothing.’ However, as you will see, they have everything to do with innovation.
I once brought my young daughter to a small children’s museum. Everywhere I looked I saw words like explore, discover, and imagine. In one section of the museum there was a small play kitchen that could accommodate about 10 kids. I was watching my daughter have a grand old time putting plastic grapes in the play oven when I saw a remarkable event. There was a little boy about 3 or 4 years old who had a plate with some plastic corn on it. He said to his mom, “OK, mom, I’m going to put mustard on your corn.” Just as he was about to do so his mom said, in a semi-nurturing voice, “mustard doesn’t go on corn.” The kid’s face dropped. What made it worse is what happened next. Another little kid very emphatically said, “No, mustard doesn’t go on corn.” Side note – it was an empty mustard dispenser and plastic corn.
You may be asking ‘what’s the big deal here?’ But it was a big deal – to that child. And, it was at that moment in time I realized why innovation is often so difficult for companies and our society. Here was a little kid seeing words and images encouraging him to explore and be creative, and the second he does, boom –‘mustard doesn’t go on corn!’ In a matter of seconds the kid had his idea shot down by an authority figure and was piled on by a peer.
Being the instigator I am, I could not just sit back and watch this happen. I said, “I like mustard on corn.” The kid looked confused. “I do. I put mustard on everything I eat.” Still looking confused and a little hesitant he asked, “You do?” “Yup, even on spaghetti.” Suddenly a slow rolling energy started to take over that little kitchen and within seconds other kids were getting involved. Now, mustard on corn didn’t seem so foolish. “How about Cheerios?” someone asked. “Every day,” I responded. And on and on it went, eventually with the other child who had originally dismissed such a ‘foolish’ idea joining in on the fun.
Let’s play out this same scenario at work. A company has an ‘innovation initiative’ and puts up signs and banners with phrases like ‘every idea counts’ or ‘innovation is king.’ A person (the child who suggested putting mustard on corn) suggests an idea. The boss (the mother in the story above) publicly says ‘that won’t work.’ A co-worker (the other child) then says, ‘yeah that’s not a good idea.’ Now, imagine that a person like me was not there for support. The idea dies. Just like a seed thrown on a cement sidewalk, there is no chance of it growing. And the answer to this issue is not contained in a PowerPoint slide from an expensive executive weekend seminar at Harvard. It exists in the simple premise – and one that is supported by science and research – that it is simple behaviors, coupled with a clear process to bring ideas to action, that enables companies to become truly innovative, not pouring countless amounts of resources into glamorous posters, sophisticated presentations, and high priced advice – all of which are not needed.
In this workplace example, just as with the child at the museum, it is obvious - be open to ideas and respect the input of others. If your organization’s culture does not promote an atmosphere of sincere respect and openness, how can you truly expect people to come forth with ideas? How can you have a workforce that is engaged and contributing more than simply doing their work? How can we focus on implementation of ideas when we don’t even have ideas to implement? The answer to all of those questions is you can’t.
In summary, let people put mustard on their corn!
A crazy things seems to happen to people as they get older. Compared to kids they laugh less, sleep worse, and work much more than play. What if there was a way to combine play and work, generate a laugh along the way, and know that you would sleep better knowing the time and resources you were devoting to making your company truly innovative were being well spent?
We have an idea for this.
The Innovation Company is starting an initiative to 'digitize' its offerings to help companies, schools, and organizations quickly and efficiently get EVERYONE modeling the behaviors that are essential to building an innovative culture. Our goal is to focus on scaling our approach to the masses and do so in a fun, productive, and fast manner. Our first venture into this new territory for us is a game called The Cloud of Negativity and you can check it out by clicking HERE.
Is the game perfect? No. Is it designed to be a stand alone activity? No. Do we need your feedback? Yes! If you have a moment please play the game and let us know what you think about the web and app versions as well as the overview and questions that are on the page in the link above.
More games and simulations are in the works and each will be designed to be part of an overall experience for the user.
It seems as if Big Data is all the rage these days. From being find parking spaces in crowded cities to completely taking the fun out of sports, the use of data is everywhere. Recently I came across a very significant piece of data that is represented by the number 12,345.
12,345. Just on appearance it seems to be an interesting figure. Similar to a straight in poker or any number that makes you wonder the odds of such a number forming, 12,345 is very significant.
Why? Because 12,345 is the exact number of regular season shots that Michael Jordan missed in his career. In fact, he missed more shots than he made. Let's think about this for a minute. Arguably the greatest basketball player ever missed more shots than he made. He didn't just miss a few, he missed thousands.
He once stated that, "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Yes, Michael Jordan worked and practiced tirelessly. Yes, he did possess physical skills and abilities that enabled him to run and jump higher than others. But maybe the biggest thing he possessed was the ability to look the fear of failure in the eye and stare it down. As a freshman in college he hit the game winning shot of the 1982 NCAA basketball tournament when he was only 19 years old. Insert your own millennial or 'kids today' example here.
Are your employees asking for the ball in crunch time or passing it to someone else? While there may be value in both, if you want a truly innovative culture everyone has to feel like he or she can take that shot - without fear. Fear of 'what were you thinking?' Fear of 'that was stupid' Fear of all of the nonsense that has people backing away from even the slightest risks and, most of all, taking the big shot.
Can you have a truly innovative culture without taking risks? I think MJ would say no.
A typo – in a resume, a document, an email – is often seen as a signal of a world ending collapse that indicates impending doom and destruction for the person responsible for such a horrendous mistake. “How dare you write a 200 page document and misspell one word!” People collapse in the street, pounding their fists as they cry out, “why, why?” The reaction to a typo conjures up images of royalty turning their noses with such contempt and disgust. “Away with you! We have no time for your ineptness.” It is amazing how righteous we become when we find a mistake. In fact, I have seen and heard some of the most outrageous stories when it comes to typos. My favorite is a senior leader actually stopping a conference call where the topic was a multimillion dollar project because one word was spelled incorrectly. “I am not your proofreader,” he said. “Reschedule when you are actually ready.” Slam. Down with the phone. Meeting over.
The typo represents our obsession with negativity. We could be presented with an outstanding piece of work and, rather than focus on all of the positive aspects of the effort and all of the hard work someone or a team has completed, we instead focus on a tiny, miniscule mistake and shatter the entire project. Yes, if the mistake was indeed huge and led to a medical mistake or a problem with an engineering design that affected people’s lives then the criticism is well warranted. However, most of us on a day to day basis do not deal with life and death situations that result is terrible outcomes if, for example, we type an ‘n’ instead of an ‘m.’
Imagine for a minute that when the United States Constitution was about to be signed someone proofread it and found some typos. “That’s it! Forget the whole thing. Shut the country down and reschedule the Convention until you are ready.” Well, guess what? There are typos in the US Constitution. Yup, it's true. The U.S. Archives writes that “As the members of the Convention prepared to sign the document, Hamilton took up a position beside the last of the four sheets, laid out for signing, and appears to have taken charge of the process as the delegates from each state came forward to sign. In this capacity, he wrote the name of each state at the left of the growing column of signatures. When he came to the largest state delegation, headed by Benjamin Franklin, he wrote "Pensylvania." And thus the parchment reads today.” (source: US Archives)
Since we are discussing important documents and literary works, how about we discuss the Bible for a moment. A version of the Bible printed in 1631 stated that “thou shalt commit adultery.” Imagine going to the library and opening up to that page. A life changer for some I am sure.
So, don't freak out the next time you see a typo. You are actually in good cmpany.
It seems whenever companies or organizations need creative ideas there is a call for brainstorming. People are brought together and then the ground rules are established. No idea is a bad idea. Let people finish their thoughts. No judgement. The list goes on.
Then, an hour later, the session ends and what happens? People go right back to telling people that their ideas are bad, listening goes out the window, and judgement runs rampant.
Maybe it is time to stop scheduling brainstorming and simply embed those ground rules into the culture. Think about it. Brainstorming may help generate ideas but it also does something else more significant - it illustrates just how dysfunctional companies, organizations, and even families might be. It is almost admitting that without the rules during the session there won't be innovative and creative solutions.
End brainstorming and simply have your culture model those 'rules' every minute of every day. You can't schedule innovation.
Ta da! One less meeting on the calendar.
There seems to be a lot of angst around standardized testing in schools. Kids don't like it. Teachers don't like it. Parents don't like it. Even many administrators don't like it. So how do we stop it? Here is a simple and innovative approach to end standardizing testing.
Let's assume that today was the day that all 9th graders in Concord, Massachusetts were to take the new PARCC standardized test. PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. All of the 8th graders sit down to take an exam that is supposed to take 60 minutes and instead they are done in 5 minutes. How? By just randomly choosing a, c, b, a, d, etc. on all multiple choice questions. No pattern. No thought behind the choices. Just every student happily clicking on the little circles.
Boom! The results of test would be rendered useless. What could the administrators do? Could they demand students take the test seriously? Could they force students to try harder? "You sit down and take this test that has no impact on your life whatsoever seriously young man!" They would be at the mercy of the students. To make it even more fun, maybe students tell the school that some kids did actually take the test as instructed and some were random. The validity of the data would be in such question that no logical interpretation could be made. Chaos would rule the day and, more importantly, the nonsensical exams that have overtaken our education system in America would be exposed as worthless and nothing but a time consuming, high cost, low yield investment in our children.
No lobbyists. No protests. No court cases. Just 5 minutes of what Henry David Thoreau wrote so eloquently about in his essay, Civil Disobedience, which, by the way, makes its way into the school system just around 9th grade. Simple and easy - just like innovation.
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