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Two Questions You Need to Ask a Stranger

There are two questions that will get total strangers laughing and sharing stories.  I experienced it first hand at a conference a couple years ago.

There were hundreds of us in the room.   Some knew each other and most did not.  The facilitators asked us to divide into groups based on the decade in which we were born. 

If you were born in the 70s, move to the back corner…the 80s, over here at the side…

We were asked to talk about these two questions:

1. What do you remember wearing as a teenager?
2.
Do you remember the first record, 8 track, cassette, CD, or download you bought?

I met a lady who grew up in the Ukraine.  As a teenager, the first cassette she bought was AC/DC.  She even put an AC/DC patch on her bag that she carried around school.  Funny thing was, she had no idea who they were.  Everyone talked about them so she played along.  Secretly, she loved classical music and went on to study it.

It took a while for the facilitators in the room to bring us back together.  Yes!!! I remember that… Oh my god, I did that too…

You might be wondering if it’s a good idea or not to divide people by age.  I found that it was actually a lot of fun because it brought people together around some similar experiences. We also had choice with which group to join.  Depending on your workplace and group dynamics, you’ll know whether it’s an icebreaker to try or not.

I decided to bring this icebreaker into an online course I was teaching.

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Sharing what we wore and laughing about our bad fashion sense brings us together.  It makes us more than a name on the screen, but rather another person who also made mixed tapes from the radio or used wwaaaaaay too much hairspray back in the day.  It creates connections.

It encourages us to open up to strangers and share a little bit of ourselves.  Which in turn, makes it more likely for us to comment on each other’s work, ask questions, or reach out with an email.

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Me rocking  a loon sweatshirt, turtleneck, and bangs (I can’t even explain) – back in the early 90s

So if you also wore a Northern Reflections sweatshirt or loved a good bodysuit (not the ones for swimming folks), share a comment to this blog!  What did you wear as a teen?  What album did you first buy?

We don’t need to be strangers anymore…

Being “Innovative” is Easier Than You Think

An opportunity to be “innovative” presents itself every day. It doesn’t need to involve brainstorming wild ideas with a group of people at a whiteboard.

Simply including the word in job titles or the name of a team doesn’t make it happen either. It’s simply being creative with what we already have in front of us.

Here are some easy things you can do day-to-day to keep an open mind.

5 Steps to Being More “Innovative”:

1. Stop using the term. Period.

You don’t need to use a word to describe the way we can all see the world every day. Being innovative is to observe, think, and then act. What’s the underlying need? What might work to solve it? Let’s give it a go. Instead it’s become a buzzword that makes good thinking seem out of reach to the average person.

My grandfather had an elementary school education. He lived in a remote area of Northwestern Ontario, where it was sometimes difficult to get into town for supplies. I remember my grandpa’s workshop. It was a jumble of tools, wood, metal, odds and ends from floor to ceiling. It was the place where he could solve any problem, whether he needed to create his own part to temporarily repair an ATV or weld a contraption to store large quantities of fuel. He was always coming up with innovative ideas, and he wasn’t an Innovation Officer or the team lead of an innovation team. It is within reach of us all.

2. Mix it up.

Spend time with people who have different backgrounds, interests, and strengths than you. These are the people who can introduce you to new ideas and information.

An animator from Pixar, a content strategist at Google, a mechanical engineer for GE, a freelance creative director from Los Angeles, a graphic designer from Whirlpool, a video game designer, a recent graduate with her first startup called Bees Downtown…

I’m currently taking an online course with this great group of people. The course, Storytelling for Influence, is offered through the design firm, IDEO. With such a mix of participants, it’s a great opportunity to learn and get ideas from different fields. Yet when it came time to create our smaller working groups, it was surprising to see what happened. Let’s organize by time zone…hey, we’re all in marketing…we all want to convince people to buy our product… It was disappointing that the group didn’t take advantage of learning from people who were quite different from them.

I’m not saying never work with likeminded people. I’m just saying make sure you also look for and take advantage of a chance to mix things up. “Innovation” is about seeing the world in an interconnected way. Kind of hard to do when you’re working and thinking within the same circle.

3. Try a new activity or hobby. Experience something new.

Sign up for that pottery class or start researching nearby bike trails. You will introduce yourself to a new group of people and start noticing connections to your work.

When I first tried yoga, I was teaching a grade eight class. As I was being guided through the poses, I quickly noticed how our instructor would differentiate depending on people’s bodies and their current abilities. The language she used was so accepting and encouraging. “If you are ready for a challenge…if this is where you are today…next time you might try…” It was admirable how she made everyone feel comfortable with where they were and that we all knew what our next steps could be.

I left that first yoga class more aware of the language I was using in my classroom and worked hard to provide a similar environment for my students.

Sometimes it’s what we experience outside of our workplaces that provides us with the new perspectives we need.

4. Read something you normally wouldn’t.

Flip through a magazine that your partner/spouse is reading. Read a different section of the newspaper online, like the obituaries. Yes, you read that correctly. The obituaries.

I know it sounds weird and kind of dark, but I like to read them. A great writer will make you feel like you knew the person or wish you had. The others just blend together with their generic language and colloquialisms. By reading them, it helps me work towards becoming a better writer. I’m learning to make the most out of a few words. It’s pretty challenging to capture the true essence of a person, what you love most about them, in just a few sentences.

Take opportunities to learn in odd places.

5. Look for Inspiration. (This one’s my favourite.)

Open your eyes to the world around you. Look for things that interest you, are clever in design, or make you think.

I took the subway to hot yoga the other night. Across from me was a great poster promoting the places we love around Toronto. The Beach. Distillery District. Kensington Market. Little Italy… I loved the design. It was hand drawn and almost whimsical. I should have taken a photo. If I need to design something in the future, I want to reference it for inspiration.

Or the other day I was waiting on hold for 15 minutes just to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Trying to make the call during a rare moment that both boys were sleeping. 15 minutes…there has to be a better way. Maybe an online booking site? Another idea that might be useful in some way later on down the road. Tuck it away.

Through these five steps, we gather ideas and learn as we go. When a certain project or problem presents itself, then we have a great collection of ideas to pull from and put together in new ways.

So your challenge for this week — change it up! Be wild and let loose.

Purposely sit with colleagues you don’t usually eat lunch with. Sign up for that pottery class that you’ve always talked about. Look up from your phone during your morning commute and see what interests you. Then share your experience in the comment section below.  I’d love to hear about it!

What wild antics did you get up to?  Learn anything new? Congratulations, you’re already being “innovative.”