Beach Balls, Truth and Innovation

April 16, 2010

Have you ever tried holding a small beach ball under water? It’s not too difficult at first… but the longer you try to hold it down, the harder it becomes. At some point, the upward force (buoyant force) wins and the beach ball surfaces. Back in 200 BC, Archimedes, the brilliant Greek scientist, discovered the deeper you hold a buoyant object underwater, the higher it shoots above the surface once it’s released. Buoyancy = weight of displaced fluid. Archimedes’ principle seems to apply to truth as well. Try as you may to keep it hidden, eventually it surfaces.

One technique I’ve used to hide a ball in the pool is to sit on it. This seems clever at first, but it’s a bit risky… one wrong move and the ball shoots right out from underneath you and flies out of the water for all to see. This is what happened to Bernie Madoff… he made some bad moves, lost his balance, and the truth surfaced in a flash. Sometimes, if you’re careful and have enough power, you can let the ball up slowly. This is what the tobacco industry did regarding the dangers of smoking. They realized the truth was going to surface sooner than later… so they let it up slowly. Whether it’s a beach ball or the truth, it’s not a matter of if or how it will surface, but when. At some point, even master beach ball hiders need to leave the pool and take a break. Read more

Sacred Cows and Innovation

April 6, 2010

Without all the pieces, it’s hard to solve a puzzle… and developing innovative solutions is no different. I’ve always considered the creative process a search for truth. That’s what I love about creativity… it has no “sacred cows*”… everything is fair game and anything is possible. When you consider that creativity fuels innovation, the notion of truth (the whole truth and nothing but) can’t be taken lightly—especially if you’re really serious about innovation.

The number of “sacred cows” that dwell within organizations always intrigues me. You can see them in government, education, business and religious institutions. They can even be found in your own home! Contrary to popular belief, everyone has “sacred cows,” existing at every level and in many forms. Once you start looking for them, they’re relatively easy to spot. How? Start by asking some basic questions or suggesting some alternative ideas and watch how people respond. The more honest and logical your questions are, the better. You’ll soon realize that sacred cows are immune from questions or criticism, so doing either makes people defend them. Expect to hear these kinds of responses:
“That won’t work.”
“That violates the rules.”
“We shouldn’t be discussing this.”
“You don’t understand…”
“I can’t believe you asked such a question.”
“You’re missing the point.”
“That could get you fired.”
“It’s too complicated.”
“That’s outside our process.”
“You’re being irreverent.”
“That’s too radical.”
“That’s not the way we do things here.”
“You don’t have the authority.”

In addition, these kinds of responses are often cloaked in argot to make them appear more complicated, important or official-sounding than what they really are. Read more