Be An Innovator

"Almost all new ideas have a certain amount of foolishness when they are first produced" - Alfred North Whitehead

"To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself. - Soren Kierkegaard

"Growth requires a temporary surrender of security." - Gail Sheehy

What Kind Of Person Do You Want To Become?

The great playwright Neil Simon said it very well:

" Don't listen to those who say 'It's not done that way.' Maybe it's not, but maybe you will. Don't listen to those who say, 'You're taking too big a chance.' Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor, and it would surely be rubbed out by today. Most importantly, don't listen when the little voice inside you rears its ugly head and says, 'They're all smarter than you are out there. They're all more talented, they're taller, blonder, prettier, luckier and have connections. They have a cousin who took out Meryl Streep's baby-sitter... I firmly believe that if you follow a path that interests you, not to the exclusion of love, sensitivity, and cooperation with others, but with the strength of conviction that you can move others by your own efforts, and do not make success or failure the criteria by which you live, the chances are you'll be a person worthy of your own respect."

When you come up with something new for yourself, keep these good guiding thoughts in mind, and you'll be just fine.

            The burial site of Leonardo DaVinci - the epitome of innovation

         (Next to Amboise Castle, France)


Finding Yourself

Cheryl Richardson in Take Time for Your Life offers these suggestions in her very useful book:

- Remove energy drains: What are the top five things that are draining your energy?

- Where did 'me" go?

- Connect your head to your heart through your work and what you do.

- Go within, and be yourself, and show who you are.

- Exercise "extreme self-care": Don't run out of gas. Stop regularly to refill. Listen to your body.

- What aren't you doing and ask why?

Developing New Ideas

In My Voice Will Go With You, Milton Erickson provides help in overcoming habitual limitations that stifle innovation and creativity. "Two elements are very important in extending limits:

- Establish a mental set broader or less limited than the preceding one.

- Approach the task without focusing on the limits, but focusing on the task itself.

In golf, for example, 'On every hole, you think it is the first'...The question of limits, then does not arise. That's determined later when you look back at the score.

If you want to become creative or think creatively, you must practice 'divergent thinking', in contrast to 'convergent thinking', which adults tend to adopt as they become more and more restrictive in their behavior. In convergent thinking, a number of stories or themes converge into one. In divergent thinking, one idea moves out into many different directions, like the branching of a tree.

Peter Drucker said: "Many people think discovery of new ideas is random. Far from it. Such discoveries come from scouring the landscape and translating sightings into 'what we don't know might matter'...Look for opportunities as if your survival depended on it." (It might.)

Innovation needs time and an incubator to allow it to succeed. Not only do organizations have to provide encouragement, extra sustenance and protection to new ideas before they can thrive, we need to do the same thing for ourselves, and also to allow for mistakes.

A best selling book on innovation was Blue Ocean Strategy by Chan Kim and Renee Maubourgne. Some of its principles can be useful to us individually. The metaphor used in the book was "blue oceans" and "red oceans", relative to a given marketplace condition for a product or service. The novelty helped attract media attention to the book. Blue oceans represent industries not in existence yet. The idea is to develop something novel, so there is no competition in the arena yet, but a great deal of opportunity to reap all the profits. A new value must be created to attract the interest and dollars of the consumer. Eventually, of course, others can invade the blue ocean and turn it red like other competitive markets. In red oceans, there is fierce competition that turns the water bloody, hence the red ocean.

Try some "blue ocean thinking" yourself. What new concept, product or service can I offer in my current business, in a new one, or as a job candidate that will provide a significant differential. When thinking about things like this, it's probably more effective to try to serve a specific "market niche", rather than trying to be all things to everyone.

I wrote a real estate principles textbook quite a while ago with the intention of having it appeal to a national market. It was adopted by some colleges and real estate schools outside of New Jersey. The problem was that even though I tried to include elements that would encompass all states, it was not as good as having a book that was state specific. In retrospect, I should have written a book just for New Jersey real estate, instead of for a national market. The lackluster sales reflected my error in judgment. (Fortunately, the books didn't go to waste because I had my own New Jersey real estate school where I was able to use the books.)

In short, I would have been likely to have more sales if I had just focused on the market niche of New Jersey, rather than on trying to serve the needs of more states less well. So, focus your efforts. Don't try to have "one size fits all". This is even more so today in an era of customers wanting more customized product offerings and super-rapid delivery, which in some markets is going to mean same-day deliveries and Sunday deliveries. Look up, and watch your head too. There might be drone delivery coming to your door.

Making Changes - Lawrence J. Danks

Knowing that we want to be happier and to feel more successful is a good thing. But we can't just wish it into existence. It takes focus, time, a lot of hard work, and self-discipline. But self-discipline is hard. In Happier, Tal Ben-Sharar presents some thoughts from several of his colleagues to help.

In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz suggest that instead of focusing on self-discipline as a means toward change, we need to introduce rituals: "Building rituals requires defining very precise behaviors and performing them at very specific times - motivated by deeply held values...Introduce no more than one or two rituals at a time, and make sure they become habits before you introduce new one's."

Trying to make changes can be difficult. As the Bible noted long ago, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." We can easily get distracted and forget, or do things sometimes and not others. Trying to regularly make something a habit can produce the change you want.

Also, try these two things:

Make the change as "idiot proof" as possible

I rarely lose my keys at home or forget to take them with me. The same with my wallet and cell phone. A long time ago, I put a brown wicker basket near where I come and go. When I get home, everything goes into that basket. When I leave, I always check it. The result is that I have what I need with me. When I don't want to forget some others things, such as mailing some letters or bringing something with me, I lean them against the front door, so I can't get out without taking them.

Have you ever had dinner leftovers or dessert you want to remember to bring home with you when you're at someone else's home? Put your car keys on the box in the refrigerator. I did this a few days ago at my daughter's. When I was leaving, I got to the car and realized I didn't have my keys. Then I remembered that they were "on ice." Set up little systems and rituals like these to help you. I learned long ago that I just can't depend on my memory. Many others do the same things, or similar ones. What makes it work? You have started a ritual. Rituals produce the results you want. Do the same thing with higher level goals you have.

If I had the goal of learning to speak French, rituals to start might be to sign up for a class that meets regularly, which would force me to learn more about French, learn five vocabulary words every day, watch the French news program "Le Journal" every day, watch a French movie once each weekend, and read "Le Monde", a French newspaper, on Mondays. These would be rituals that would help me make the change I want. Continuing to wish that "I could learn French" is not going to get anything done. There's a quantum difference between "a wish", and "having a plan" - and executing it.

Put things "on automatic"

When we set things up to happen automatically that fit with goals we are trying to achieve, good things are going to happen. When we try to rely on ourselves alone, there are often slip-ups between the cup and the lip. If you have a financial goal to reach, sign up for payroll deduction and have a proportionate amount taken from your check every two weeks to be automatically deposited into a savings account, and by next year you will have reached your goal.

If you are trying to motivate yourself to go to the gym to improve your health or lose weight, pay up front for three months, and you will follow your money. The same thing can happen when you have a friend to pick you up on the days you are going to go. Things like those mentioned in this section often won't happen, if all we do is depend on our standard behaviors alone.

Stimulating Your Creativity -  Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys To Creativity - Hugh McLeod 

Here are some of his selected concepts:

Ignore everybody

The more original your idea is, the less good advice people will be able to give you. (That may be largely true, but it doesn't mean you can't benefit from getting input. I'd get as much as you can, then just disregard whatever you don't find useful.)

Put the hours in

Doing anything worthwhile takes forever. Ninety percent of what separates successful people from failed people is time, effort and stamina. (Positive psychologists agree that when you're trying to make a change that it is hard work - harder than is ever expected.)

Sex and Cash Theory

The creative person has two kinds of jobs - One is the sexy creative kind. The second, is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task at hand covers both bases, but not often. (This suggests that you may be more likely to find your success keeping a reasonably solid floor under yourself, and if you can't pursue your bliss there, then seek it in other ways, as much as you can in some other venue.)

Avoid Regrets

You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven. (Hopefully by yourself, too). But if you don't make at least one attempt to get above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness. ( It's also likely to feel empty long before that too. One of the most poignant quotes I've ever heard, can be applied to many situations in life, including this one, from John Greenleaf Whittier's poem "Maud Miller":

"For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: 'It might have been.' ")

(If it's something important to you, make it happen instead.)

The Value of Creating

Doing something seriously creative is one of the most amazing experiences you can have, in this or any lifetime. If you can pull it off, it's worth it. Even if you don't end up pulling it off, you'll learn many incredible, magical and valuable things. It's not doing it - when you know full well you had the opportunity - that hurts more than any other failure. (You may well also learn some things on your journey that will produce value for you far into the future.)

Real Rewards

The more you practice your craft, the less you confuse worldly rewards with spiritual rewards, and vice versa. Even if your path never makes money, or furthers your career (like writing books or painting), that's still worth a ton. (Following dreams is what can keep everyone, even "successful" people, from being "bankrupt "human beings.)

The Market For Something To Believe In Is Infinite

(Start by believing in yourself and your abilities, even if you don't know what they are yet.)


The less you can live on, the more chance your idea will succeed. This is true even after you've "made it." Had I lived more modestly I would have been able to weather the storm better. (A similar concept I heard before was that, "He lived a lifestyle more merry than wise.")


The biggest mistake young people make is underestimating how competitive the world is out there...To deny the importance of the material world around you is to detach from reality. And the world will punish you hard, eventually, for that. (It's important to pursue your dreams. It is also important to retain a degree of practicality in your everyday life, or there will be some unpleasant consequences - which are no one's dream.)

Which do you think is a better career choice: "Creativity" or "Money"?

I say they are both wrong. The best thing in the world is to be an effective human being.


The size of the endeavor doesn't matter as much as how meaningful it becomes to you. (Most people wouldn't care about raising prize winning roses or opening an auto body shop, but it only has to be important to you and not hurt anybody else.)

Why You Should Write, Paint, Invent or Do Whatever Else Is Important To You

Was it worth the cost? Not really. It never is. Van Gogh lies next to his faithful brother Theo in a cemetery in Auvers-sur-Oise across from a quiet field, and just up the road from a church he immortalized ("The Church in Auvers-sur Oise -View from the Chevet" painted in 1890, the one that looks "all squiggly"). He told his brother, "No painting ever sells for as much as it cost the artist to make it." I've yet to meet in the flesh any artist who could prove him wrong. (Of course, Van Gogh didn't live to see what his art sells for now! The author's point is well-taken though. The true value of many dreams is largely going to be the satisfaction you derive from it, and not from monetary rewards you'll reap. Believe me, I've found that very true of being an author.

As an aside, I have actually taken the walk the author describes. I spent a day in Auvers-sur Oise, having lunch in a restaurant that was downstairs from VanGogh's accommodation there. Just up the street, there is also a very novel, multi-media Impressionist museum - it has no original paintings - in the gorgeous Chateau d'Auvers-Sur-Oise. The grounds and setting are beautiful. Afterward, we walked up a hill from town to the church Van Gogh painted. It's a sweet church in excellent condition. Then we continued on to a beautiful field on the left and to the cemetery on the right. At the back of it, lies Van Gogh and his brother Theo in simply marked graves. A poignant reminder that for even the greatest among us, it all ends here with a small patch of earth. It's the good we all do, and the value we produced, that stays behind.)

Use Innovative Thinking To Deal With Obstacles To Success

Sometimes innovation to succeed requires developing a better self-awareness. In the "Secret Ingredient for Success" by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield (NYT, January 20, 2013), the authors pointed out that when success is elusive, sometimes what is needed is a brutal self-assessment. "During the 1970's, Chris Argyris, a renowned business theorist at Harvard, began to research what happens to organizations and people when they find obstacles in their path. He called the most common response 'single loop learning' - an insular mental process in which we consider possible external and technical reasons for obstacles.

Less common, but vastly more effective, is the cognitive approach Professor Argyris called "double loop learning". In this mode, we question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh thinking about our lives and goals. (It may be an asset to this process to seek the assistance of a counselor to help take ourselves out of our standard loop thinking pattern.)

In interviews we did for a book, we expected to hear that talent, persistence, dedication and luck played crucial roles in their success. Surprisingly, however, self-awareness played an equally strong role.

The successful people we spoke with, in business, entertainment, sports and the arts all had similar responses when faced with obstacles: they subjected themselves to fairly merciless self-examination that prompted reinvention of their goals and the methods by which they endeavored to achieve them. In their conversations, the authors found that challenging our assumptions, objectives, and at times even our goals, may sometimes push us further than we thought possible.

Innovate Like Edison - Michael Gelb

This book provides a great deal of biographical information about Thomas Edison and his laboratory and factory in West Orange, NJ. His home is nearby. It makes for a fascinating day trip. For those visiting the Detroit area, "Greenfield Village" in Dearborn also has an Edison laboratory.

Edison is most famous for his discovery of the incandescent light bulb, the world's first phonograph and a transmitter he developed to make voices on Bell's telephone more audible. He also had flops, like his iron ore milling venture, underscoring the importance of recognizing that runs for success typically involve failures along the way. They can provide a source for learning and refinement of ideas for everyone.

"Edison took on big problems throughout his career, but he approached then with the attitude that his success was inevitable...he was not discouraged when results proved elusive." Edison was a great believer in persistence and patience, two characteristics that can serve us well in our own personal pursuits.

Leonardo DaVinci: Model of Innovation and Creativity


Inside a very small church next to Amboise Castle in Amboise, France on the Rhone River, there are tablets identifying where Leonardo DaVinci is purportedly buried. He spent his last three years in France at the invitation of King Francis II. It was a strange, but special feeling, to be in that tiny church alone with one of the world's great geniuses.

Amboise is a wonderful small town with good accommodations, many fine restaurants, lots of shops, a huge Sunday market overlooking the bank of the Rhone, and of course the massive Chateau at Amboise which is directly adjacent to the business district. Only a few miles away is the spectacular Cheonceaux castle, which is easily an all day activity. It something not to be missed.

My main purpose however is to introduce you to Walter Isaacson's biography, Leonardo DeVinci. It's easy to read, but necessarily detailed, so it isn't something you can blow through, nor would you want to. It exceeds 500 pages covering all facets of his life including his comparatively few paintings, notebooks of drawings showing his many inventions and extensive miscellaneous thoughts, analyses of his work and the many faces of Italian and European history. It is in short one of the finest and best written books I ever read. Meticulously researched, it is highly instructive and motivational for anyone in virtually any field.

The dust jacket and the book itself are beautifully rendered on quality paper with many art and design illustrations, It would be a perfect  gift for for anyone interested in the arts, history, biography and design. It is a beautifully produced book and a real keeper. Reading it is like taking a vacation. Keep a highlighter or pen handy. I have included this summary as a model of not only innovation, but inspiration too.


There is no reasonable way to summarize all the gems this book contains. So I've selected certain segments from it in the hope that it may encourage you to buy it - and I would recommend buying it. Certainly you may be able to access it from a library, but then you can't highlight it, make notes and make it your own. I do it with all books I read. Then I review what I highlighted and create summaries with commentary, for my management and business students or use them as a basis for LinkedIn posts to benefit other professionals.

Leonardo was born in 1452 and died in 1519 in Amboise. He grew up in Florence, also spending seventeen years in Milan, and also in Venice and France.
• "He saw beauty in both art and engineering and his ability to correlate them is what made him a genius." - Steve Jobs. His genius was the type we can understand, even take lessons from. It was based on skills we can aspire to improve in ourselves, such as curiosity and intense observation.
• There exists now, at most, fifteen paintings fully or mainly attributed to him, lncluding of course, the renowned "Mona Lisa", which hangs in The Louvre and "The Last Supper".
• His unstoppable curiosity won. He went into the cave. There he discovered, embedded in the wall, a fossil whale, "Oh mightly and once living instrument of nature, your vast strength was to no avail."..."Oh time, swift despoiler of all things, how many kings, how many nations hast thou undone, and how many changes of states and of circumstances have happened since this wondrous fish perished." (Suggests the littleness of self-fascination, reminiscent of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations: "All things fade into the storied past, and in a while are shrouded in oblivion. Even to men whose lives were a blaze of glory this comes to pass; as for the rest, the breath is hardly out of them before, in Homer’s words, they are ‘lost to sight alike and hearsay.’ " If that doesn't give us proper perspective, nothing will.
• The Medici family, the phenomenally wealthy bankers, dominated Florentine politics and culture without holding office or hereditary titles. Later they became dukes. Lesser family members became popes. They were important patrons of the arts that Leonardo sought commissions from, as well as from the Sforzas in Milan.
• Interested in every art and technology, he would grill people from all walks of life. (Obviously, an early forerunner of Sam Walton. A good practice for all "learners" to follow.)
• Leonardo was a left-hander. He wrote from right to left on a page so his hand could glide across the page without smudging the ink. Isaacson says that his script has been thought to be in code, or requires a mirror to read it ("mirror writing"), but he says it can be read with or without a mirror.
• He had a trademark style of dabbing the oil paint with his hands. His finger smudges can be seen on a number of his paintings. Far beyond my ability to express it lucidly are techniques used by Leonardo, but they are fascinating, even for a layman to read. Artists would obviously gain far greater benefit from them: e.g. "Do not draw your figures with hard contours.." "Do not repeat the same movements in the same figure...nor should the same pose be repeated in one narrative painting." "The good painter has to paint two principal things: man and the intention of his mind."
• Leonardo is well-known for his famous "notebooks" which contain a wide variety of his thoughts, drawings and other information. Paper was expensive, so he wrote many things on the same sheet, and at different times, which has created some diffculty in establishing a proper chronology. His papers are held Italy, France, England, Spain and the United States, some by Bill Gates.
• In what Isaacson terms "The Job Application", Leonardo seeks a patron by outlining many different inventions he designed, heavily weighed toward military purposes, such as a chariot that featured rotating blades to cut down the enemy or a super-sized crossbow. His prose is Trump-like,extolling all that his inventions would be able to do. In fact, Ludovico Sforza of Milan, to whom the letter was directed, did not fund the creation of any of his many ideas. Leonardo did add that "I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible, as well as any other man, whosoever he may be."(In his case, it was no idle boast. His paintings and the contents of this book assuredly back it up.)