Innovate or die

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Hats off to the leadership of BizTimes Milwaukee, Dan Meyer and Steve Jagler, for inviting Josh Linkner as the leadoff speaker for the recent Biz-Tech Conference & Expo. Linkner’s focus was on growth through creativity and innovation.

Linkner has been a successful entrepreneur, having founded ePrize. He is also a venture capitalist and knows how to spot a potentially successful entrepreneur. He’s written a new book, “Disciplined Dreaming, A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity.”

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You can buy the book at a bookstore or you can get it in the form of an E-book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a variety of other new age booksellers.

Think about it. A few years ago Amazon, one of the largest book sellers in the United States, introduced the Kindle to offer electronic books. This is known as disruptive technology. It was a new product that actually competed with their sales of physical books. Meanwhile, Borders continued with business as usual. Guess whose sales have continued to grow dramatically and who has filed for Chapter 11?

As a venture capitalist I review hundreds of business plans and interview numerous entrepreneurs. Why do some succeed and others fail?

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Those entrepreneurs that offer creative and innovative products or services, that established companies haven’t introduced, succeed when they can identify willing customers.

Why does that happen?

Are they born brilliant and creative individuals programmed from youth to think outside the box? Not so. A Harvard business school study found that 85 percent of creative thinking can be taught.

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So why aren’t more business leaders more creative?

Linkner has an answer. He suggests some reasons that we don’t:

  • In the corporate environment it’s fear. Our new ideas may be laughed at or ruffle entrenched power players and we could pay the price.
  • In the world of work we get caught up in our to-do lists. If we have a 40 hour week we use our 40 hours to get the work out. We do not spend a lot of time doing right brain activities, which is the source of innovation and creativity.
  • How many hours does your company set aside asking you to think creatively? Probably none.
  • We are educated and programmed from youth to find the right answer. And there is only one right answer.
  • The toys for our youth have evolved to the point that a Lego set comes with a 192-page instruction book on how to build a Death Star. Whatever happened to cardboard boxes?
  • We are indoctrinated to keep our heads down and stick to the grindstone, not to look up and envision a different future.

No greater symbol of the transition underway in American society is the passing of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It has been replaced by Google and Wikipedia.

What can you do to make sure you’re not the next Encyclopedia Britannica?

Start by reading Linkner’s book “Disciplined Dreaming.” It contains a wealth of ideas and tools that will help generate creativity in your company and your personal life.

Here’s just a few:

  • Dedicate spaces within your company where employees can get out of their cubicles and think creatively.
  • Build creative thinking time into people’s schedules.
  • Go for walks or take showers! What famous composer, musician or artist claims they got their best ideas sitting in a cubicle in an office environment?
  • Program humor into your work schedule. It will ensure any team members move from the left analytical side of their brains to the right creative side.

In my next column, I will talk about how to track metrics for creativity and innovation.

For now, start to practice some of the tools of creativity. Your company will not survive without innovation or a lot of luck. I say: “Pray for luck, but plan for creativity.”

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