Issue #38

In this edition: Thinksgiving Thursday, why to maximize for optimism, the origin of the term "soft" skills, transformational creativity, imaginative strategy, business model disruption, the Christmas Tree Effect, what we "see" inside our heads, dashed lines, and more.

Issue #38

Welcome to Idea Surplus Disorder. I’m Matt Homann, the founder of Filament, and I’m glad you’re here!

In this edition: Thinksgiving Thursday, why to maximize for optimism, the origin of the term "soft" skills, transformational creativity, imaginative strategy, business model disruption, the Christmas Tree Effect, what we "see" inside our heads, dashed lines, and more.

It's Thinksgiving Thursday!

Over 800 innovators, corporate leaders, nonprofit professionals, and volunteers will gather at Cortex this Thursday (November 2nd) for our fourth Thinksgiving, and we'd love for you to join us:

  • If you're able to volunteer for even part of the day, sign up here.
  • To see what Thinksgiving is about, join us for the Solutions Showcase from 4-6 p.m. at 4240 Duncan Avenue in Cortex (alongside Venture Cafe).

Ideas + Insights

Humans are hardwired to add stuff to solve problems, and we often overlook better solutions that involve taking stuff away. When every adjustment involves adding something — like hanging ever more ornaments on a Christmas tree – we fall prey to the Christmas Tree Effect:

Modern work is nightmarishly insidious about adding stuff to our plates. The cure is to get your group together and ask: What do we still do that is adding needless friction, or is no longer useful — and then stop doing those things.

Wonder why even the best strategy always feels just a bit ahead of the curve? Maybe because it doesn't have enough imagination:

Designing policy or strategy without an imaginative sense of where you are going means your best efforts will land you toward the front of the status quo, but not ahead of it. Imagination enlightens strategy, policy and programming and helps you break free of institutional thinking that leads you to piecemeal reform. 

How might AI disrupt various business models? Spoiler alert: hourly billers are in trouble:

[T]ime-based billing simply won’t work anymore unless the value derived from these services is also compressed by a multiple (unlikely). The classic time-based model of billing for lawyers, designers, consultants, freelancers etc is officially antiquated. So, how might the value be captured in a future where we no longer bill by the hour? Perhaps there is a new source-of-truth for the “value” of tasks across professional trades via a third-party billing service that determines price.

There are some great resources for everyone in ChatGPT's Guide for Teachers.

Why might you maximize for optimism in your day-to-day?

Optimists do better in their careers than pessimists. They get promoted at higher rates; they have better money management; their teams perform better, and even when we look granularly at positions like “sales,” we see that they significantly outperform their pessimistic peers.

We tend to grossly underestimate how many ideas we can generate, and the more ideas we keep on generating, the more creative they become.

I caught this thing that made me say "hmmmmm" in Adam Grant's new book Hidden Potential:

The US Army came up with the distinction between “hard skills” and “soft skills” in the late 1960s to distinguish between those related to operating “hard” tanks and guns and for “soft” broader leadership and teamwork that didn’t involve machines.

Does culture really eat strategy for breakfast?

Unless you get the strategy right, even the best culture won’t make much of a difference. In fact, the key point that the faux Druckerism misses is the sheer difficulty of getting the strategy right in the first place. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in recent years, after transitioning from a 30-year career in journalism to a role consulting with large companies, is just how challenging it can be for leaders to develop a clear and simple strategy that everyone at the company can understand and remember. Strategy documents often suffer from being too complex. Or they are so general that they simply describe what the company does rather than signaling a direction or a goal.

Speaking of culture, stop trying to copy and paste other organizations' cultures into your own:

A benchmarking exercise is one of analyzing and copying the things another company does. That won’t work for cultural elements, because every company’s cultural situation is as unique as a fingerprint. It incorporates emotionally resonant, deeply embedded perspectives and habits that have built up through years of challenges and experience; these factors can’t be easily separated from one another. Moreover, these elements have to fit the company’s strategy and core capabilities, or the company won’t be able to continue delivering value. The behaviors and emotions that should be emphasized in one company may be precisely those that would hold another company back.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the visual language of the dashed line:

The dashed line gives us the visual vocabulary to express something vague or abstract. This idea is even translated into corporate-speak. When someone is a “dotted line report,” it indicates the person is not a direct report, though there is some connection and accountability.

Build some transformational creativity into your daily routine:

Instead of exploring a space and questioning its rules, transformational creativity is about ignoring fundamental rules to come up with potentially impossible but highly creative ideas. Let’s keep on using transportation as an example. Instead of questioning the cost of air transportation, you may ask yourself: Why do cars have to park? Why do we need to travel at all? Transformational creativity has the potential to generate the most radical ideas.

Fun Finds

Words of Wisdom

"Why teach people to think outside the box when you can hire people already outside the box?" – Tea Uglow
"When you tolerate an error, you rob yourself of learning. When you ruminate on an error, you rob yourself of happiness. Notice it, improve it, and move on from it." – James Clear
"When you learn, teach. When you get, give" – Maya Angelou 
"Presenting is a tool of swaying, while conversing is a tool of weighing. Through the former we try to convince people to hire us. Through the latter we try to determine if both parties would be well served by working together." – Blair Enns
“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.” – T.S. Eliot
"Insecurity tells, confidence shows." – Sahil Bloom
"I'm very concerned that our society is much more interested in information than wonder." – Mr. Rogers
“You can have the best plan in the world, and if the culture isn’t going to let it happen, it’s going to die on the vine.” – Mark Fields
“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.” – Roy Ascott

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