Friday, January 27, 2012

Genius and Innovative thinking

Cover of Surrounded by Geniuses by Dr. Gregerman
Recently I attended a presentation on original and innovative thinking given by Dr. Alan S. Gregerman.

In today’s interesting and challenging business environment, innovation is more important than ever. Companies of all shapes and sizes need to do a better job of tapping the real genius in all their people, by unlocking their curiosity and openness to a world filled with possibilities. That can also be applied to librarians and information professionals as we support our clients in government, business, academics and students, and the general public.

Alan is internationally known for his expertise in business strategy and innovation. Over the past 15 years, he has helped more than 300 teams create important innovations—with a 90 percent success rate.

Author of Surrounded by Geniuses, Alan takes his audience on a fun-filled journey to discover the keys to innovation and business success—one sure to challenge your understanding of your own potential, the sources of brilliant ideas, and the value of innovation to customers.

Dr. Gregerman was introduced by way of mentioning that he is an accomplished geographer and:

  1. Loves to travel
  2. Spends part of each year in a small Swedish fishing village
  3. Is certified as a referee for both soccer and swimming
How do we enhance the services that we offer? How do we improve and innovate? This generally doesn’t happen in a meeting room just by a leader explaining the need for people to think outside the box.

In order to come up with new ideas or take other ideas and adapt them, improve ideas – we need to take what we know and reach out to others and combine our knowledge. We also need to get out and take a look at the world around us – nature, people, and commerce, and learn.

We need to focus on

  1. My potential to be brilliant!
  2. Where do ideas come from?
  3. What does it mean to cast a wide net?
Curiosity is the key!

Innovation requires change over time and sometimes getting rid of the old, clunky stuff even though it is/was cool at the time it was new.

Dr. Gregerman pulled out something that made him the coolest guy at his college campus in 1979 – a Sony Walkman! At that time, with the Walkman (walkperson?) he was able to take his music everywhere – 12 songs! And if he had a backpack he could carry multiple cassette tapes. He was a party waiting to happen! But along came digital music players and with Apple technology and marketing – the ability to have thousands of songs available on multiple gadgets – iPod, iPad, iPhone, etc. With all that – the Walkman is a breakthrough relic of the past. It was wildly innovative – but it is a relic.

Observe nature part I

I studied Philosophy at one point and one of my professors said – If you want to be a good Aristotelian, then you need to observe nature! That’s what Aristotle did!

Dr. Gregerman told a story of how engineers at Nissan wanted to develop cars that won’t crash into each other. The tackled the problem from many angles but weren’t getting the results they wanted. One day, one of the engineers observed that bumblebees and schools of fish travel in tight formation and change directions suddenly and yet never crash into each other. They brought in experts who explained about the fish – fish continuously emit three kinds of signals that indicate location and keep them from colliding and allow them to signal turns.

Here’s how Dr. Gregerman tells it in his blog – Fishy Business.

Nissan has developed the EPORO Robot Car that is so far testing with great success.

Working with Geniuses

We often don’t know much about the people we work with. We probably doubt our own potential for genius so we don’t really expect the woman down the hall or the guy we see on the subway each day to be a genius. But many of them are, or could be if they tapped into their genius.

Why are they geniuses? They may be subject-matter experts. What makes a genius in business? They are people who hang out with customers and listen and work to understand the customer needs and interests.

Each day we pass by people, places and things that, if we were to stop and experience them could change our lives.

Observe nature part II

Swiss engineer, Georges de Mestral was out walking with his dog and noticed how burrs clung to the dog’s fur. He was fascinated – he studied; he talked to others; he imagined; he adapted. He invented Velcro!

Listen to Customers

Enterprise car rentals didn’t invent the car rental business – but he did take it from the travel sector to the local clients. Then he asked customers what they needed. The response was something like, Come pick me up at the mechanic after I drop off my car – and I’ll rent a car from you.

So Enterprise took the market lead simply by picking up their customers at the point where they needed the car.

Open the windows!

Expertise is good – but we need to stay open-minded. It is great to be well-grounded in a field – but we need to be open to the possibility that other fields can enlighten our own field of knowledge.

Curiosity is the key to our becoming remarkable!

What knowledge gaps exist with my customers? I need to stay with my customers to learn those gaps and learn how I might fill in those gaps.

To be effective – we need to stand behind what we do in a compelling way. LL Bean offers a lifetime guarantee of all of its products.

R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center – University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, MD.

The center runs 24/7/365.

The doctors realized that if they can treat a victim of serious accident within an hour, they have the strong likelihood of returning that person their normal, pre-accident life. There is a commitment on the part of the state of Maryland to have regional heliports that can transport patients and get them to the Medical Center within 40 minutes.

Further, the Medical Center is staffed at all times with expert staff and specialists trained in any and all areas that might be needed. That is on all three shifts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Now – my business may not be saving lives – but how important is my customer? How important is it when s/he is on hold waiting to speak to an associate or technician or professional and listening to a looped recording telling how important this call is to us?

Is it any wonder that customers lose patience and are angry by the time they talk to the associate, technician or professional?


Life is funny. For over 10,000 years people all over the world were swimming the free-style stroke. Only in Northern Europe, where they only knew the breast stroke – the slowest swimming stroke – did people care about competitive swimming.

Most of us are stuck doing a variation of the breast stroke. We stay in our comfort zone. We may tweak our product or service a little bit – but we will stick with the breast stroke.

It is time for us to get out of that comfort zone. Take a field trip! Go to a zoo, a museum, a park. Visit a factory or a laboratory where they do/make things completely unrelated to what you do.

Follow up:

I was able to get a copy of Dr. Gregerman’s book – Surrounded by Geniuses. It is full of stories like he told in his presentation. The book is only as good as the reader is – indulge your curiosity. Get out of the office. Take a field trip. Read an children’s book and imagine what could be!


As someone who gives presentations from time to time – I was impressed by the way Dr. Gregerman gives his presentations.

At the front of the room was a table with an array of props – a stuffed dog, a teddy bear wearing a lab coat and stethoscope, a Spiderman doll, a UPS truck, other toy cars, a grocery bag from Whole Foods.

The props were excellent visuals and helped him to illustrate his stories. And that’s the other key – he was telling us stories packed with content. He wasn’t just telling us about sales and marketing effectiveness at a half dozen companies.

Gives me lots of ideas for the next time I get to give a presentation. There will be props! There will be music! There may even be dancing!

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