Month: April 2010

What’s in a Tweet? Mining the torrent for meaning.

Researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) are developing new ways to deal with the torrent of information flowing from social media sites like Twitter. They have developed a Twitter “topic browser” that extracts meaning from the posts in a user’s timeline. This could help users scan through thousands of tweets quickly, and the underlying technology could also offer novel ways of mining Twitter for information or for creating targeted advertising.

Full story at

How will this be useful to you? How can businesses benefit?


WorldBlu /  Principles

After over a decade of research into what organizational democracy is, we’ve discovered the ten principles that it takes to cultivate a highly successful and sustainable democratic workplace.

The WorldBlu 10 Principles of Organizational Democracy must be put into practice on both the individual and leadership levels, and be supported by democratic systems and processes to have a successful democratic organization.

The WorldBlu 10 Principles of Organizational Democracy™

1 :: Purpose and Vision
A democratic organization is clear about why it exists (its purpose) and where it is headed and what it hopes to achieve (its vision). These act as its true North, offering guidance and discipline to the organization’s direction.

2 :: Transparency
Say goodbye to the “secret society” mentality. Democratic organizations are transparent and open with employees about the financial health, strategy, and agenda of the organization.

3 :: Dialogue + Listening
Instead of the top-down monologue or dysfunctional silence that characterizes most workplaces, democratic organizations are committed to having conversations that bring out new levels of meaning and connection.

4 :: Fairness + Dignity
Democratic organizations are committed to fairness and dignity, not treating some people like “somebodies” and other people like “nobodies.”

5 :: Accountability
Democratic organizations point fingers, not in a blaming way but in a liberating way. They are crystal clear about who is accountable to whom and for what.

6 :: Individual + Collective
In democratic organizations, the individual is just as important as the whole, meaning employees are valued for their individual contribution as well as for what they do to help achieve the collective goals of the organization.

7 :: Choice
Democratic organizations thrive on giving employees meaningful choices.

8 :: Integrity
Integrity is the name of the game, and democratic companies have a lot of it. They understand that freedom takes discipline and also doing what is morally and ethically right.

9 :: Decentralization
Democratic organizations make sure power is appropriately shared and distributed among people throughout the organization.

10 :: Reflection + Evaluation
Democratic organizations are committed to continuous feedback and development and are willing to learn from the past and apply lessons to improve the future.

My take: I am soooo going to be blogging about this at work tomorrow.

We have met the enemy, and he is PowerPoint (or is it?)


“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.

The slide has since bounced around the Internet as an example of a military tool that has spun out of control. Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.

Extract from NY Times. Read the very good full story at Helene Cooper contributed reporting. 

My take and 5 useful tips: 

Having experienced a slide crash in mid-flight last week ( as reported in my previous blogpost), and luckily able to successfully complete my talk without any audio-visual aids, I have 5 observations to make:

1. NEVER rely on your slides as your notes. If you can’t tell your story without slides, you have to wonder why you are up there in the first place. Bullet point slides went out of fashion in the 90s. Take the time also to explore alternative tools for augmented storytelling. takes a vastly different approach to most presentation software and could be much more useful in clustering themes or demonstrating connections. 

2. Instead of text, can you use a picture to “convey a 1000 words” and create a mental hook or metaphor of the concept/ point you are communicating? If you choose images that are emotionally evocative, these can be a useful “aide de memoire”. This can take HOURS to find, and tie up lots of resources- so consider the ROI on people’s investment of time vis-a-vis the magnitude of the impact you need to achieve with your message. In my experience, its very difficult to outsource this process and get a good result unless the speech writer is closely involved in the selection of the imagery, because we all see the world through different eyes.

3. If you want to provoke reflection, thinking or discourse among your audience, could you talk the message and use a slide only to interject and frame the questions you want the audience to ponder at various stages of the talk, or to signify a transition?

4. Can you introduce the “back channel” at various stages of the talk, or even participate in it in mid-flight? This depends on the nature of the audience, talk and degree of tech savviness, but its a real way of bringing the thought stream of the audience into the dialogue or to make the zeitgeist visible. (Not advisable for insecure speakers, newbies to Twitter or those unable to think on their feet.)

How can you execute this?

 Via my clever friend @kcarruthers, I was alerted of a tool to integrate live tweeting in real time with a Powerpoint presentation using this. I havent used it yet, but will report on it as soon as I do- count on it for AMP’s next Social Media Cafe ( my safe experimentation space!)  Via @stevenringo, I was alerted via Twitter to this Applescript that will allow you to insert code into your Apple Keynote slides  that will “tweet” into the back channel while you are talking (how cool is THAT? ). And via @ethos3 presentation gurus, the cloud-based presentation software from allows for a range of audience interaction facilities, including live polling and engaging in the conversation- view the demo here. Some good tips on how to master all of this available here and here.

By the way- there is a very insightful post on the blog “Learnlets” about the etiquette and value of the back channel – a contrarian view and I recommend this read! Another good discussion in similar vein from @engin_eer over at (Hat tip: @katiechatfield)

5. Can you deliver the talk without slides and focus on audience intimacy, but make your content available on Slideshare for those who want to refer to the notes? Could this offer the best of both worlds? Sharing materials via generates influence and reputation value for the speaker/ thought leader and knowledge value for the researcher- so this is a win-win. (Although I find slides full of pretty pictures but without notes to explain them/ link the argument are not terribly useful.)

What other comments do you think we should add to this post? Was this useful? 

Being helpful is the new black

Some months ago, I read this great line on the “Conversation Agent”blog of Valeria Matoni, and I loved it- it instantly conveyed to me the essence of social capital that is circulating so freely through the new digital and networked economy. Later that same morning, I had a meeting with Paul Dumble, CEO of the Australian Institute of Training and Development, who had heard about my work at the AMPLIFY Innovation Festival. Paul then asked if I might be available to speak about the practices that we lead at AMP around nurturing a collaborative culture at the AITD National Conference – and I was very honoured and so I agreed. 

That conference was today and it was a great deal of fun- and a lot of late nights because there never is time during the working day to do these sorts of things- to sort through and structure one’s thoughts- and then- to do a slide deck, or not. In the end, I decided to do it…..because I wanted to make visible the “online” manifestations of our thriving social media world behind the firewall of AMP.  But, in mid-presentation….the deck just died! All these beautiful slides just went blank…..

Speaker’s nightmare, but luckily, I had a print out of my pack, and it helps to know your subject really well!  (I have a suspicion that the Macbook Pro that I borrowed didnt have sufficient memory….even though I tested it all before the time and it was all good and well then!) 

Seeing a lot of what I talked about was self-leadership, experimentation, emergence, living in ambiguity and letting go of control….it was a perfect test ….and, I passed with flying colours- some even saying that my talk was even better without the slides! Thanks guys…very kind of you!

I promised I would share them online via SlideShare, so here it is:

<div style=”width:477px” id=”__ss_3816081″><strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”>Being Helpful is the New Black: Building a collaborative culture and accelerating organisational learning and strategic renewal</strong><div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”>View more documents from maverickwoman.</div></div>






Daydreaming: Critical to the creative process

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Classroom Creativity

Posted on: April 12, 2010 10:06 AM, by Jonah Lehrer

Everybody wants a creative child – in theory. The reality of creativity, however, is a little more complicated, as creative thoughts tend to emerge when we’re distracted, daydreaming, disinhibited and not following the rules. In other words, the most imaginative kids are often the trouble-makers.

Eric Barker recently referred me to this interesting study, which looked at how elementary school teachers perceived creativity in their students. While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn’t. In fact, when they were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures – the list included everything from “individualistic” to “risk-seeking” to “accepting of authority” – the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their “least favorite” students. As the researchers note, “Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity.”

This shouldn’t be too surprising: Would you really want a little Picasso in your class? How about a baby Gertrude Stein? Or a teenage Eminem? The point is that the classroom isn’t designed for impulsive expression – that’s called talking out of turn. Instead, it’s all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.

Look, for instance, at daydreaming. It’s hard to imagine a cognitive process that’s less suitable for the classroom, which is why I was always castigated for staring out the window instead of looking at the blackboard. In a culture obsessed with efficiency, daydreaming is derided as a lazy habit or a lack of discipline, the kind of thinking we rely on when we don’t really want to think. It’s a sign of procrastination, not productivity.

In recent years, however, it’s become clear that daydreaming is actually an important element of the creative process, allowing the brain to remix ideas, explore counterfactuals and turn the spotlight of attention inwards. (That’s why increased daydreaming correlates with measures of creativity.) Virginia Woolf, in her novel To The Lighthouse, eloquently describes this mental process as it unfolds inside the mind of a character named Lily:

“Certainly she was losing consciousness of the outer things. And as she lost consciousness of outer things, her mind kept throwing things up from its depths, scenes and names, sayings, memories and ideas, life a fountain spurting over that glaring, hideously difficult white space.”

A daydream is that “fountain spurting,” as the brain mixes together ideas, memories and concepts that are normally filed away in discrete mental folders. The end result is a kind of subterranean creativity, as the mind makes new connections on its own.

Of course, daydreaming is less helpful when we’re supposed to be learning our multiplication tables, or studying for a standardized test. In such instances, the lack of focused attention is a classroom failure, and not a potentially useful state of mind. The danger, however, is that we’re teaching our kids a very narrow and stultifying model of cognition, in which conscientiousness is privileged above all.

The solution, I suppose, is rather banal: we really do need arts education in our schools, if only to give kids a break from this one-size-fits-all model of thinking. Because sometimes we need to daydream. And sometimes we just need to let it all out, even if we haven’t raised our hand.


World Creativity Week 15-22 April: Creativity at the best restaurant in the world

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Main | Ten quotes on creativity from the best restaurant in the world »

Friday, April 16, 2010

Creativity lessons from elBulli: the best restaurant in the world

One of my big passions is food and eating out and I was lucky enough to receive a copy of ‘A Day at elBulli’ (link at bottom of page) as a present. 

As well as being a beautiful book it also contains some great insights and lessons on the innovation process that underpins the food philosophy of head chef, Ferran Adria.



ElBulli has been voted ‘Best Restaurant in the World‘ four times and has held three Michelin stars since 1997.  The restaurant does one sitting a day and is only open for six months a year, as the other six months are spent researching and creating the menu, which is changed every year, as no dish is ever repeated. 

ElBulli receives a staggering two million reservation requests for the 8,000 diners it can accommodate every year.  Despite all the accolades and awards elBulli actually loses money (the profit comes from speaking engagements, books, etc) and Ferran announced that it will close later this year.

ElBulli’s approach to creativity and Ferran’s leadership is something that everyone can learn from and I wanted to share some of the key points in the book.

The creative process

ElBulli concentrates not on creating specific dishes, but on creating new cooking techniques.  This opens the door to new ways to handle ingredients and preparing food.

It is not just the food that is creative but also the cutlery and crockery.  For example, they developed scent spoons, which have a point onto which an aromatic herb can be attached, so that a fragrance is released while the food on the spoon is eaten.

Spherical Olives


Spherical Olives – notice the spoons…

Test, test, test is a key mantra as they strive to develop new concepts and techniques.  All chefs are encouraged to keep a notebook with them at all times and to capture ideas as they come to them.  They take photos of inspiration and sketch ideas down.  These are then archived and so they can then dip into them whenever they need inspiration.

Overall there are seven steps to creating a new dish

1: Have an idea for a new technique, concept or dish.
2: Idea is developed by using a creative method or by working intuitively.
3: Carry out testing and catalogue the results.
4: Analyse the test results and compare to previous flavour combinations.
5: Final testing, which results in a prototype, which is developed into a dish.
6: The new dish is served to guests and feedback is collected.
7: Make refinements and once 100% happy with the dish it is listed in the general catalogue of results.


Another unique dish

Creative Methods Used

The following are all methods the team use to come up with ideas for new dishes.

  • Technique-Concept Search: taking an existing technique and apply it to an ingredient that has never been prepared that ways.
  • Association: consists of making lists and tables of ingredients, methods etc and using these to help think of new ways of putting dishes together.
  • Inspiration: requires a reference from any field, such as art, fashion, music, which is then used to inspire a dish e.g. a bird’s nest inspired a new way of presenting a dish.
  • Adaptation: taking an existing dish and then putting a new twist on it.
  • Deconstruction: involves taking apart a dish and then presenting it in it’s component parts.  For example, a chicken curry was presented as curry ice cream, apple jelly, coconut soup and chicken juice!
  • Minimalism: creating maximum ‘magic’ or sensory appeal with minimum ingredients.
  • Senses: when designing a dish the team look to appeal to all senses, not just taste. For example, crisps (chips) are made intentionally large because eating them with your mouth slightly open amplifies the sound of the initial crunch.


The best petit fours selection ever?

Relevance to Fundraising

Coming up with new ideas is a constant problem in fundraising and it is worth looking outside the profession for inspiration.

The approach elBulli take to generating ideas and how they embed innovation into their culture is something any fundraising organisation can learn from.

The seven creative methods outlined above can be used to look at your fundraising products and methods and can be adapted to help generate new ideas.

Later today I will also share some of the key quotes on creativity from the book.

Photos are courtesy of this excellent review at the Laissez Fare blog.

On the off chance that anyone has a spare reservation, then please do let me know! 😉








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