Tag Archives: innovation

“I lower my standards”: William Stafford and How Progress Trumps Perfectionism

The poet William Stafford wrote a poem daily – every morning, starting at either 4 or 4:30 AM depending on which account you read. When asked what happened if the poem wasn’t amazing, he replied, “I lower my standards.” Lowering standards – I can see a sea of executives and testing afficionados react in horror. Standards are standards, right? Not if you want to progress at something you care about. There’s time enough for high standards later, when you publish. The daily act of creation, of innovation of producing the work you were born to produce is going to give varying degrees of quality. The important part is to keep the flow flowing, no judgment. And when it does come in, be like William Stafford – lower your standards. This is the second part of a 40 Days to Change for Good ritual – the first part is to do it daily. Robert Frost also tells us to make sure the work is motivated by delight. Progress is the #1 motivator. If you want the power of the #1 motivator as one of your tools, make sure it trumps your urge for perfection. There’s time later for polishing. Lower your standards until you get the flow flowing and the work moving.

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“What is it about a great teacher?” – Bill Gates asks the right question

Bill Gates runs the U.S.’s richest foundation. His focus is education and so far he’s spent $5 billion on it. The result so far? Not so great. So, he’s shifting his focus into one of his strengths – research. Here is part of a recent Wall Street Journal interview: “I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts.” Compared with R&D spending in the pharmaceutical or information-technology sectors, he says, next to nothing is spent on education research. From a strengths standpoint, that’s a great move. He’s focusing his energy into something he’s naturally interested in, where his talents lie. He has a better chance at being effective. The next right move is the focus of the research: “We all know that there are these exemplars who can take the toughest students, and they’ll teach them two-and-a-half years of math in a single year,” he says. “Well, I’m enough of a scientist to want to say, ‘What is it about a great teacher? Is it their ability to calm down the classroom or to make the subject interesting? Do they give good problems and understand confusion? Are they good with kids who are behind? Are they good with kids who are ahead?’ “What is it about a great teacher?” is the right question. It focuses on the best and digs in. We’re all fascinated by what’s wrong – “what makes a bad teacher” (and how can we fix that) is usually the implied question. From the research done already in the positive psychology field he’s got a better chance at success now – he’s focusing on what’s right. What is it about a great manager? A great parent? A great friend? What is it about a great you? A great day for you? Great relationship, work, play, recharging moment? Learn from your best to be at your best. And you don’t need to spend five billion dollars to do it!

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Pat Metheny, the Orchestrion and Innovating Using Limits

As the instruments started to trickle in from the various inventors, the experience of writing for them and figuring out what might be possible with them provided a self-imposed challenge that proved to be difficult and time-consuming, but absolutely exhilarating. -Pat Metheny I recently wrote a post about innovating by limiting yourself. Here’s another great example of the limiting concept from my favorite guitarist Pat Metheny (he of the crazy hair). His latest album and project is called Orchestrion. Inspired by the player piano in his grandparents’ basement when he was a boy, he eschewed all of the digital samplers available and commissioned inventors around the world to create new ways of playing acoustic instruments. He ‘plays’ every instrument on the album at the same time, no over-dubs. It’s stunning to listen to the first track especially, and realize that this is all happening in one room, triggered or played by one guy, let alone the fact that he composed and orchestrated the music – incredible! Here’s a picture of some of the instruments: And here’s a video of Pat talking about it: This limiting himself to only acoustic instruments that can be played or triggered created something unique that enriched his life and is enriching others that are enjoying it (it’s been in heavy rotation in my car for a while now). How can you limit yourself? Where do you want to innovate? What do you want to take away that seems important or even essential? How will you jump-start your brain to create something new and better? Here’s more of Pat Metheny’s quote to inspire you. You can read the complete essay he wrote here. I am excited to share this project. If nothing else, this has turned out to be something unique. And in the process of developing all this music and these instruments and discovering what they can do and what they are good at, I learned so much. It feels like progress and has gotten some notes out of me that I didn’t know were there. But the surprise was just how far I was able to go with it all. Within this new environment, I found something in there that took me to some new places. I hope you too will enjoy it. -Pat Metheny, November 2009

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Want to innovate? Limit Yourself

For this third album, Peter Gabriel made a strange request of the drummers on the sessions – no cymbals. No high hat, no ride cymbal, no crash cymbals. This must have been hard for the drummers – when I see a great drummer at work it’s as if all parts of the drum kit, especially the cymbals, are a part of their body. It would be like taking three of the strings off a guitar and asking a guitarist to play it, or covering over half of the harmonica. But the result was a sound that was new and fresh. The first song, Intruder, has Phil Collins on the drums. That new sound that he and Gabriel came up with on that song defined the eighties drum sound. It’s what you hear on Collins’ hit In the Air Tonight. This primal, dark sound especially suited the Gabriel material. For his latest album, Peter Gabriel decided to limit himself in another way – no drums, no guitars, no electronics. The result is Scratch My Back, with him singing some of his favorite songs by other artists backed by an orchestra. It’s a fresh new sound for him. In the 1990s, I developed tendonitis and couldn’t play guitar for years. It was so bad that it hurt to turn a door knob or pick up an apple. That limit led me to playing the harmonica, something that has enriched my life immensely and in so many ways has led me to this moment in my life and how it is constructed. When you want to innovate, limit yourself. Take something that you depend on away. Now adapt. When something gets taken away from you, something you rely on, care about, use it as an opportunity to innovate, to grow in a new way, to enrich your life and start out fresh in a new direction. Want to learn more about innovation? Sign your team up for Quixote Consulting‘s Innovation Quest training program!

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