In working with hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs, corporate innovators, and creative professionals over the years, I’ve discovered a single process that works best for generating new ideas for products, services, or companies. No, it’s not plastering a wall with Post-It notes. Nor is it a general brainstorming session, where every crazy idea is pitched in hopes that it will inspire some genius insight.[Read more…] about The Best Way to Generate New Ideas
Do you have a creative project idea and are overwhelmed at where to start?
The Creative Canvas is for you.
The Creative Canvas is an idea exploration and planning tool for creative projects. I first developed the Creative Canvas in 2017 to help artists, designers, and other creative professionals gain clarity on their work, and to guide them in transforming their ideas into reality.
The Creative Canvas is based on two other popular business management templates, the Business Model Canvas (BMC) and the Lean Canvas. Both are now a standard part of every startup’s toolkit. In fact, if you visit any coworking or entrepreneurial incubator space, chances are high that you’ll see a business model canvas tacked to some wall or drawn on a whiteboard. These canvases are also used as strategic tools in nonprofits as well as at major corporations around the world.
Why a different canvas was needed
In working with art and design students, creative professionals, and others who did not have business training, I realized that a new canvas was needed. In particular, I noted three reasons:
- Creative projects are not always entrepreneurial products or services.
Often these projects are centered on personal expression or social good. While they may have entrepreneurial elements, these initiatives often require thinking and planning that go beyond business considerations.
- Individuals in creative disciplines often develop projects with success measured in ways that differ from a company.
While a company is generally focused on revenue and profits, creative projects may have different metrics. These could be as diverse as building a brand or reputation, tracking attendance or reach, charting community and social impact, or even measuring how much fun the project was to do.
- Business terminology can be confusing and intimidating to those in non-business fields.
I wanted to demystify the language that often surrounds strategic business tools and to provide access to these powerful planning methods to a much wider audience.
Introducing the Creative Canvas, version 3.0
The Creative Canvas has been tested with hundreds of students and professionals, ranging from art and design students in studio classes and workshops, MBA students in entrepreneurship programs, and my executive consulting clients in the field. I am pleased to share with you the most recent version, the Creative Canvas 3.0. The new version reflects key refinements that address the context and competitive landscape of a project, as well as specific metrics that indicate progress toward a project’s goals.
As before, a full tutorial on how to use the Creative Canvas is included on the back of the sheet. (It is a two-page PDF download.) The file can be printed at any size, but 11×17-inch tabloid format seems to work best.
Available to share freely
I invite you to download the Creative Canvas and join the growing number of individuals who have developed their creative project from idea to successful completion using this tool. The Creative Canvas remains licensed under Creative Commons, so it is available to share freely. It’s been very satisfying to see the many projects that have arisen from using the Creative Canvas, and I look forward to hearing about yours. Thanks for spreading the word.
Make something happen,
Look around your workplace. Chances are, more than half of the employees are putting in time, either with a “meh” feeling about work or they’re actively disengaged. This can have an immense impact on an organization, particularly one that is trying to launch an innovation project or build an entrepreneurial culture. It’s important to select entrepreneurial mindsets for an innovation team.
Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report reveals that of the 100 million full-time employees in the United States, only a third are what Gallup calls engaged at work. At the other end of the spectrum, 16% are actively disengaged. The 51% in between are at work but likely not fully present.
Do they own, rent, or destroy?
I think of these three groups as homeowners, tenants, and arsonists. Fully engaged employees are homeowners. They take initiative, feel a pride of ownership, and if something is amiss they will address the issue immediately. They have mentally bought into your efforts and will actively support your entrepreneurial goals. Their proactive, positive outlook can help you build momentum across your innovation team and your organization.
In contrast, the vast middle are tenants. They adopt a transitional attitude. If that pipe leaks or the microwave breaks, it serves their self-interest to address it. Similarly, if your innovation project can positively affect them, they’re on board. But don’t count on them being strong advocates if it doesn’t serve their own purposes.
Scariest of all are the arsonists. They are intentional, deliberate, and malicious. They will burn your house down or sabotage your project. New research shows one employee can negatively impact an entire team. This contagion can offset all the planning, focus, and resources you’ve allocated to making your efforts succeed.
Innovation team impact
As a consultant and strategic advisor, I’ve witnessed all three of these mindsets in action, in organizations large and small. Some projects soar while others stumble, due in large part to the level and quality of workplace attitudes and entrepreneurial mindsets.
In the weeks ahead I’ll be sharing more insights about building an entrepreneurial team and establishing momentum for your innovation initiative. If your project is languishing, you may need more individuals with a homeowner mindset to support you.
Your challenge this week: Review your current organizational landscape and make a list of the 6-8 individuals who are most important to your innovation initiative. Determine who is a homeowner, tenant, or arsonist, and how individually and collectively they contribute. Armed with this knowledge, make changes to increase your chances of positive results.
Make something happen,
P.S. I was pleased to be Sean Ammirati’s guest on Episode 3 of his Agile Giants podcast recently. We discussed best practices and biggest fails of Innovation Labs, my innovation advising for companies like Bosch and Oracle, who should be on an innovation team, the role of Business History, and more. Know someone who might enjoy listening? Encourage them to sign up for my newsletter.
Circles also populate the common frameworks of innovation. We see it in the Lean Startup methodology of Build-Measure-Learn. Design Thinking is often presented as the triple circles of the Venn diagram of Desirability-Feasibility-Viability.
Choose spirals instead
While the cyclical nature of innovation has been adopted as a given, I believe it’s the spiral that’s a better pictorial choice. Instead of coming back to your origin point, your aim is to begin the pattern again at a higher and more expansive level. Always moving upward and outward, creating a cycle of continuous improvement — even if it is incremental.
Negative connotations of “running around in circles” also support the preference of spirals over circles. I’m all for the power of repetition, but who wants to repeat work or experience only to arrive back at the same spot?
Move from 2-D to 3-D
Shifting from circle to spiral imagery also means you can recast your path from 2-D to 3-D. Your journey no longer needs to be flat and listless on a sheet of paper. Instead, it transforms into a three-dimensional mental space that’s dynamic and poised for action. Can you feel the movement?
My challenge for you this week: Find one area of your life where you have traditionally been thinking in circles. How might your journey — whether today’s To-Do list, annual goals, project objectives, or even life mission — be changed by thinking in spirals instead of circles?
Make something happen,
P.S. I received some great emails on last week’s post on the Snow Tap and Tacit Knowledge (see it here if you missed it). A colleague from California wryly pointed out that it’s a “Sand Tap” out West. A softball coach of teens noted the similarities in guiding young athletes to develop muscle memory, writing that a large part of her coaching is “breaking down my tacit knowledge into step-by-step instructions.” And my stepdaughter in India shared that at every house — and sometimes even in stores — shoes are automatically removed. Yes, tacit knowledge crosses knowledge domains and cultures. Thanks for writing.
With Chicago facing its snowiest winter in decades, the other day I chose to opt for a ride-sharing service. We stopped to pick up another rider who joined me in the back seat, dragging a huge mound of snow with him. “Wow,” he said. “I’ve never been in this much snow before. It’s pretty impressive.”
As I watched that pile of white fluff turn into a small lake beneath his feet, I thought, “Yup. You don’t know about the Snow Tap.”
For those not used to snowy climates, the Snow Tap is the 2-second action that happens on each foot before you enter a car in snowy weather. You open the car door and tap your foot on the side of the car frame to knock all the excess snow off your soles, leaving the wet outside. (A variation also takes place before you enter your home.) Tap, tap. Tap, tap. It’s a small act with big consequences, as my out-of-town ride-sharing companion discovered when his feet got soggier.
For many of us living in colder environments, this action becomes second nature. It snows. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. Whoever taught you this action is likely long forgotten. But it has become a natural part of your habits, called upon when you need it — and likely dismissed from thought for most of the year.
This knowledge is tacit knowledge, distinct from explicit (and more traditional) knowledge. Tacit knowledge is experiential, intuitive, fluid. It’s rarely written down, yet can have profound implications on an organization’s operations and culture. (It was philosopher Michael Polanyi who explored the concept in the 1950s.)
Sometimes tacit knowledge is recognized as “That’s the way we do things around here.” Or, “People like us do things like this.” Yes, it can carry moral or value-based meaning — but tacit knowledge also expands to adaptations that humans make to processes or operations as they recognize ways to improve results. Often this knowledge is only shared through personal experience and trusted networks.
My challenge for you this week: Consider the tacit knowledge that guides you daily. How can you improve your own level of tacit knowledge — about your work, about your industry, about the world? Who can unlock some tacit knowledge for you? In turn, how can you share some tacit knowledge that you’ve gained through experience, observation, imitation?
Make something happen,
Innovation professionals are often curious about the world of the artist or designer. Where do creative ideas come from? How do they assess their work in progress?
Today let’s peek inside one of the most powerful processes of creativity and innovation: the critique.
Critiques play a central role in the development of artists and design professionals. These hands-on review sessions gather experts and peers to allow a review of recent work for assessment and guidance. As an art professor and later Dean at one of the country’s leading art schools, I’ve led a lot of critiques. I’ve also witnessed them in a work environment. While conducted in different settings, the process is remarkably similar — and powerful.
Critiques begin with the creator selecting one or more a pieces to share. For those new to the practice, it’s not unusual for hands to be shaking as they pin their work to the walls or set up their display on a tabletop or desk. Mouths become dry as they get ready to speak about their work.
The critique continues with a few moments of silence, as all participants focus on the work being shared and take in the creative expression. Ground rules are established. Participants are expected to fully see, not just look at, the work. Comments must be thoughtful — cheap shots or glib comments are outlawed. The critique moderator plays an important role by keeping comments focused on the work and not the individual. Then the creator is asked a few questions:
- What were you trying to achieve with this work?
- Who was your intended audience?
- Do you believe you were successful?
The conversation is free-wheeling after that, filled with both kudos and suggestions for improvement. Critiques are not intended to dwell on failures or be harshly critical — although many youthful tears are often shed. Rather, the goal is to open up one’s creative output to responses, and to undertake an honest assessment of what has been accomplished, what needs refinement, and which avenues to pursue next.
Most of all, a critique demonstrate that creativity is a professional process, always ongoing. Perfect results are rarely found — and that’s OK. What’s more important is to recognize what is working, and what is not. The dialog leads to clarity of next steps and future possibilities.
If generating innovative results is your life’s focus, the critique process can be an important guide. Understand that opening your work to others for comment may bring temporary discomfort but often leads to better outcomes. Asking — and answering — the three key critique questions brings clarity to what you’ve achieved and what to explore.
My challenge for you: In the coming week, explore how a critique mindset could benefit your work. And if you have critique sessions in your workplace, please zip me an email. I’d like to hear about them.
Make something happen,