Girl Scout Cookies and learning to live an entrepreneurial life

Today is National Girl Scout Cookie Day.  I used to not know much about the Girl Scouts, but my wife recently started a troop, and this has given me the opportunity to learn a bunch about this remarkable organization.  In particular, I’ve become really interested in the role of the fabled Girl Scout Cookie in the flow of the Girl Scouts organization, whose misson is to build “…girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”

From a purely financial point of view, sales of cookies help fund troop activities.  A percentage of sales go back to each troop, so the more boxes are sold, the more money a group of girls has to engage in activities in pursuit of the Girl Scout mission.  Selling cookies is a fundraising activity.

Of course, it’s about much more than money.  There’s a lot of potential learning to be had.  The Huff Post recently published an awesome essay written by Girl Scout Olivia Ottenfeld on that point, and here’s an excerpt:

…the Girl Scout Cookie Program is not really about the cookies, but about
all of the life skills girls learn as part of the program. Many people
don’t really understand that. That’s why we’re launching National Girl
Scout Cookie Day on February 8…

…There are so many positive values I’m learning from selling cookies.
There is no limit to what a girl can do: undertaking a service project
to help make a difference in her community, exploring new challenges by
kayaking in a nearby lake, or broadening her horizons by traveling to
another state, or even another country. When I hit the business world
after college, I will fear nothing.

So, people of the universe engaged in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, I have a simple ask of you.  And I’m not asking you to buy cookies (only do that if you really want to eat them).  Instead, I’d like to ask you to pause and engage in mindful conversation with the next Girl Scout who approaches you to buy cookies.  When you’re asked to purchase cookies over the next few
weeks, consider treating that query as a valuable
learning opportunity for those cookie sellers

Whether or not you buy cookies, you can choose to have a quality interaction with that girl by asking her about the project and what she’s hoping to get out of it.  For younger girls, ask how many she’s hoping to sell, what her troop hopes to do with the money, etc… for an older girl, ask her about her marketing plan, how sales are going relative to that plan, how things compare to previous years, how is the Fiscal Cliff impacting cookie sales this year, if at all, up to and including what she’s dreaming of for her future.  By doing so, you’ll help her learn some of the key lessions (including how to deal with rejection) articulated so well above by Olivia Ottenfeld.

Here’s a great video which builds on these ideas:

Opportunities to frame one’s character and worldview as that of a creator, builder, and entrepreneur need not happen solely in a classroom, nor can they.  They happen just as well on a playing field, at the keyboard of a piano, or out selling cookies to benefit your fellow scouts.  Please consider being part of that learning journey, and positively influencing a girl’s life forever.

I’ll take a few boxes of Tagalongs, please!

Eating bacon chocolate, living at the intersection

Metacool Live life at the intersection

Last week I attended the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.  It's like the CES of food, with over 1,300 exhibitors from 35 countries showing 80,000 products to over 17,000 attendees.  If that sounds like a recipe for something big and overwhelming, well, you'd be right — after seven hours walking the floor (even with two espressos and a bunch of bacon chocolate in me), I was ready to cry uncle.  But don't get me wrong — it was really a cool experience!

Thing is, I am not a fancy food aficionado, nor am I an expert on anything concerning the food industry.  To be sure, my employer IDEO does significant work across the domains of food, nutrition, beverages, water, and wellness, but I'm not directly involved with much of that work.  So why did I take a valuable weekend day to attend this show?  Well, the answer is twofold.  First, I wanted to gain more empathy for my colleagues who care very deeply about this stuff; I want to really understand their passion for food. 

Second, immersing yourself in new places, situations and experiences is how you become and stay an innovative soul.  I'm a strong believer in taking a stroll through pastures far flung from those one naturally gravitates to.  It's not hard to convince me to attend gatherings focused on networks of things, robotics, software, or Porsches.  But, if I only ever pay attention to those types of events, my ability to see patterns or make breakthrough associations across unconnected worlds will diminish over time.  If creativity is about making connections between seemingly unrelated things, then living in a bubble (or even a handful of bubbles) becomes a limiting factor on the heights your imagination can reach.  If you're engaged in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, you owe it to yourself to expose your brain to an ever more diverse set of inputs and experiences.

How?  I always think of a point made by — I think by Buckminster Fuller, I'm not really sure? — which in essence said that, to enlarge one's scope of awareness, one should always buy the magazine located in the upper right corner of a newstand.  Doing so ensures that you are always exploring an area you don't know anything about.  In 2013 terms, I think this means following random (but interesting) folks on Twitter, letting your eyes run wild on Instagram, and going to things like the Fancy Food Show.  If you only follow people you know and like on Twitter, how will you ever hear about anything that doesn't make sense to your current worldview?

What did I learn at the Fancy Food Show?  I'm not sure yet, to be honest.  I did experience some, ahem, interesting branding choices, such as a breakfast cereal called Holy Crap.  Aside from those unexpected jolts to my sense of right and wrong and good taste in the universe ("…I wonder how they came up with that?" was a common refrain in my brain), I didn't have an earth-shattering moment.  Yet.  And that's the point.  It may be a year, five years down the road where some synapses fire and what I saw last week makes a difference.  That's what living at the intersection is all about.

So, what next for this year?  I'm planning to have several wilder kinesthetic experiences this year, such as a rally driving school, because I think they're even stickier than a purely intellectual experience, and so have a greater chance of really knocking your hat in the creek, innovation-wise.  In that same vein, I'd really like to run a Zero One Odysseys adventure sometime soon.  And I'll also be trying to attend some technology conferences I've never been to, and I'm going to visit a couple of places I've never been before.  Who knows what I'll learn! 

How will you try living at the intersection this year?



Michael Brecker, Mike Stern, Steve Christopher, and the Art of Infusing Creativity

At one point in David Kelley's interview with Charlie Rose, Rose states that the process of going through life has a way of squeezing the creativity out of people.  A depressing thought.  But if we take it as true, how then do we make sure that the opposite happens?  How might we ensure that everyone — especially kids and teens — has creativity infused into their existence?  I've been pondering that question the past few days since that interview aired.

On a whim this morning I searched YouTube for the following video, which dates back to 1987:

As a saxophone-obsessed teenager, I must have watched my VHS tape of this Michael Brecker performance over 1,000 times.  In 1987 I had the good fortune to be part of the 8 O'Clock Jazz Band at Farview High School in Boulder, led by Steve Christopher, or "Mr. C" as we all called him.  We met at 8am each and every morning, which was just awesome — what I would give now to be able to start each day with a creative hour of music making with group of folks who could swing some Basie or rock out on a Maynard Ferguson tune, too!  Between jazz band practice and time at home, I was probably playing 2-3 hours a day.  Much of my time at home was spent playing with and learning from Michael Brecker's solo album, which was a wicked mix of digital and analog technology, all brought together with his special blend of superior jazz chops and funky see, funky do.  The tune Original Rays was my favorite, and my bandmate Rudresh Mahanthappa and I gave Mr. C more than a few grey hairs as we endeavored to emulate the feel, the emotion, and the total commitment to craft captured by the performance above.

If you've not been able to watch the entire video, please at least forward to the 5:45 mark and listen to Mike Stern's brilliant guitar solo.  ROCK & ROLL.  He totally wigs out, man!  Incredible. 

Infusing creativity: I learned so much from being in 8 O'Clock with Mr. C.  Practical things, like how to work with a creative team of people toward a shared goal and how to stand up in front of hundreds of people and do your unique, personal thing.  It also gave me the creative confidence to formulate a strong personal point of view and to create on top of that; I can think of of few better ways to prepare for life as a designer than to learn how to do jazz improvisation under pressure in front of a live audience.  On a more intangible level, my hours blowing a horn gave me a deep appreciation for the more ethereal aspects of a life well-lied, such as beauty, elegance, and joy. 

Most important of all, I was able to six years of daily reaching a state of flow.  When everything is going right in the creative act, you feel a sense of transcendent joy and power and mastery.  It's simply so awesome to experience as an individual, and in my opinion, it's even better when done as a team.  Just look at the body language of Brecker and Stern in that video above — there's extremely deep communication going on between then without a spoken word shared, and they take deep delight in helping each other get up to the top of that peak, and beyond.

From the standpoint of pure talent, I was never going to be a Michael Brecker-caliber saxophone player, no more than I will ever be as good a driver as Juan Manuel Fangio.  But the beautify of pursuing flow is that it gives you a chance to experience exactly what the greats like Brecker and Fangio experienced, even if the outside world doesn't quite rate your output at the same level. 

No matter: to be a person confident in one's creativity, what matters is what's going on between your ears.  Do you know how great it feels to be in flow, and do you want to keep getting back there?  Because that's all there is.  If we want to help kids and teenagers feel like all that creative juice in them is brimming with excitement, energy, and a passion to create, we need to help them find ways to wallow around in the marvellous experience of reaching flow via creative expression.  And let them go as deep as they want for as long as they want, whatever it may be.  If they can remember how that feels, wherever they go in life, they'll be able to live a creative one.




Designing for Difference with Chris Bangle

Chris Bangle Stanford Revs Program Diego Rodriguez

I'm very happy to be interviewing Chris Bangle onstage next week as part of an Open Garage series event at the Stanford Revs Program.  Our discussion will focus on the topic of "Designing for Difference in a World of Sameness".  I have nothing but respect for what Chris did at Fiat, BMW, Mini and beyond.  He knows what it means to believe passionately in a set of ideas, and to bring forth change to create something new in the world as an embodiment of those ideas.

The car I drive is a sculpture created by Chris and team, so you can imagine how stoked (and honored) I am to be having this discussion with him. 

I'd love to hear what kinds of questions you'd like me to ask Chris — please leave a comment below with your ideas, and I'll use them as input and inspiration for our talk.  Thank you!

Innovating means shipping and executing

As a non-trivial coda to my series of posts on the Nissan DeltaWing and the process of innovating, here's a brief account of how the DeltaWing team fared over the weekend.

When we last checked in on this intrepid crew, they had just finished an epic all-night push to repair their mangled car.  They then took their place on the starting grid at the 1000 miles of the Petit Le Mans, and had a flawless race, finishing an incredible fifth place (as the head of Nissan remarked, likely the most celebrated fifth place in the history of racing).  The drivers drove with speedy care and finess, the work of the engineers endured through the long hours, and the mechanics and support team all did their part along the way.  Though racing always centers on the drivers, it's a team sport of team sports, and when it comes to actually running the race – executing the vision, in other words – the team cook and physical trainer are as important as the head engineer and lead mechanic. 

Here's a nice recap of the team's race experience:

Innovating isn't just about killer ideas or designs.  To say that you've truly innovated, you first need to ship something, which means embodying your ideas in a form which can influence the lives of others.  And then you to achieve impact at scale, which requires meticulous execution of the total business system surrounding your innovation.  Innovation is nothing without experiencing the crucible of having to ship, and the discipline of executing at a level commensurate with the potential you envisioned in the first place.

They payoff to doing what other people said say you cannot do?  Just listen to Ben Bowlby's voice in the video clip above, and then remember his joyous expression.  Priceless.



A new verb for innovators: deltawing

As a boy growing up in Boulder, I attended a wonderful school named Burke Elementary.  An amazing place, staffed with passionate, dedicated teachers, and named for a great American, Admiral Arleigh Burke.  Admiral Burke used to visit our school once a year, and he made a big impression on me.  Why?  Because he was kind and attentive to us kids, but also because his nickname was "31-knot Burke".  That caught my attention!  Here's where Burke's moniker came from, per Wikipedia:

He usually pushed his destroyers to just under boiler-bursting speed, but while en route to a rendezvous prior to the Battle of Cape St. George a boiler casualty to USS Spence
(a jammed boiler tube brush used for cleaning) limited his squadron to
31 knots, rather than the 34+ they were otherwise capable of.
Thereafter, his nickname was "31-knot Burke," originally a taunt, later a
popular symbol of his hard-charging nature.

That idea of charging ahead, going that extra distance in order to make things happen, really struck a chord with me.  You can call it "hurdling", as my colleague Tom Kelly does in The Ten Faces of Innovation, or you might call it being entrepreneurial — doing the most with whatever resources you have at hand — or you can say it's about having true grit: to me these all describe the same worldview, one where effort does indeed equal results, where you can make your own luck, where putting forth that extra bit of energy is what elevates the winners.  For folks engaged in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, it's an essential attitude and skillset to carry in your quiver.

Back to the Nissan DeltaWing, which will go down as my big point of obsession and inspiration for the year 2012.  Here's what happened to the DeltaWing on Wednesday while practicing for this weekend's 1000 mile endurance race:

In case you're wondering, getting clobbered with a 7G hit by an errant green Porsche 911 (not a good example of how to drive a 911, by the way) officially qualifies as an unexpected speedbump in the best-laid plans.  Fortunately only the car was hurt.  But, the car was a wreck, and qualifying was only a day away.  What do you do?  The DeltaWing crew decided to 31-knot it with a truly epic repair session.  They worked through the entire night and the next day brought forth a rejuvenated DeltaWing car:


In the spirit of Arleigh Burke, I hereby propose the addition of a new verb to the English language: deltawing.

Deltawing.  As in, "Things went totally wrong, but we pulled the team together and decided to deltawing it". Or, "I didn't think I had anything left, but I deltawinged, and that saw me through."  To deltawing means to stick with your goals and beliefs even in the face of great adversity and calamity.  It's a verb which all innovators need to know how to put into action. 

If you're trying to be innovative, you will fail.  You will fail many times.  How will you respond?  Your only choice has got to be to deltawing.

DeltaWing Nissan team shirt


Learning from Professor Poubelle

Here's a charming video created a few years ago by my friends Bill Moggridge and Bernie Roth.  It tells the story of Professor Doug Wilde.  Here's the movie caption from YouTube:

Doug Wilde is an Emeritus Stanford Professor who suffers from a diabetic
condition, but instead of resorting to insulin injections, he keeps his
blood sugar balanced by bicycling up a steep mountain road. When this
became a regular habit, he soon found himself picking up the trash by
the side of the road as he went along, so he has become the single
handed Adopter of Highway 84, earning a reputation with the locals for
his sterling work.

I just learned of its existence today.  And I simply love it. 

While I was an undergraduate engineering student I took a class on machine design.  The final project was a team-based thing, and Professor Wilde placed us into teams based on data he collected about us using his principles of "Teamology", which is described as "An original transformation generates a numerical version of C. G. Jung's
personality theory as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
(MBTI). The cognitive mode scores obtained are used to form teams with
desirable high scores for as many modes as possible. The scores also
guide organization of the resulting teams."  It must have worked, because I got the highest grade of my undergraduate career in that class!  I'd like to think it was because of my hard work, but I think it was becaues of Professor Wilde's insights.  I was on a great team that made me a better engineer than I could have been on my own.

If you hang around the Stanford campus at all, you'll see Doug Wilde getting around on his bike, just as he did when I was a student there.  What an interesting human being.  I really dig this video because he not only has a strong point of view, but he puts it into action in a remarkable way.  Doing is the resolution of knowing, and see the nice places it all takes him. 

Thank you, Professor Poubelle!