May Brainstorm

May 01 2007 by Jurgen Wolff Print This Article

In this months Brainstorm, Jurgen offers a different approach to innovation, some thoughts on the psychology of success and more ideas on how to improve personal productivity by minimising multi-tasking.

In this months Brainstorm, Jurgen offers a different approach to innovation, some thoughts on the psychology of success and more ideas on how to improve personal productivity by minimising multi-tasking.

1: Think in the box (first make the box!)

You may remember Alex Tew, the young man who came up with the Million Dollar Homepage, on which he sold a million pixels at one dollar each. He told Men's Health magazine that when he was trying to come up with the perfect money-making idea, he started by writing down the attributes it had to have. It had to be:

  • cheap to set up, or preferably free
  • simple enough that people could understand it instantly
  • something interesting, novel, with a good name, a brand that would catch people's attention

He said, "If I came up with a bold idea, then that would generate value in the idea and become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

ACTION: If you are trying to come up with an idea, try starting by describing the attributes it has to have. Normally, we talk about thinking out of the box, but in this case you are creating a box within which the idea should fit.

2: Service Innovation: Your Next Big Thing?

A recent article by Reena Janna at says that service innovation is the next big thing. There has been a big round of design innovation (iPod, Dyson, etc.) but now the question is how to come up with new and better ways to deliver services.

An example of what NOT to do: outsource helplines to countries where the operators are given names like Joe and Brenda but don't actually speak English very well. It's easier to think of ways that big companies could do this than how freelancers can, but here are some ideas:

  • how can you be more clear about what you offer? (Websites? Blogs? Podcasts? More frequently updated brochures? Annual reports?)
  • when providing a service, how can you keep the client in the loop better? (E-mails about milestones reached? More frequent phone contact?)
  • when you've finished a project, how can you improve your service next time? (Brief survey of client, asking what went well, what could have been better?)

ACTION: Think for a moment about the services you provide. What innovations could you use to improve the service?

3: Read This Item (Don't Do Anything Else!)

The New York Times recently featured an article by Steve Lohr that updated the research on multi-tasking. The upshot is the same as before: don't do it! "Multi-tasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes," said David E. Meyer, director of the University of Michigan's Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory.

The article also cited a recent study at Microsoft that showed workers there took an average of 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks after responding to incoming e-mails or instant messages. Often they became distracted and looked at sports or news websites or answered other messages.

Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex (a business-research firm) pointed out that in the industrial era, it took 100 years before Frederick Winslow Taylor published his systems of scientific management for increasing worker productivity.

ACTION: The article's recommendations are: check our email once an hour at most, try using soothing background music while studying but avoid songs with lyrics, having the TV on, or receiving text messages when you want to concentrate. Which of these would improve your productivity?

4: The Psychology of Success (What's Yours?)

A new book by academic psychologist Carol Dweck, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" suggests that the key to your success is in how you think about your ability. There are two common perspectives: one is that you are born with talent (or not); the other is that you can develop high-level skills despite initial failure.

The difference emerges when someone doesn't do well. Those who think they're talented shine as long as the going is easy; when they hit setbacks it's a challenge to their self-image and they're more interested in maintaining that image than in learning; those who believe that more effort will lead to more mastery tend to carry on and, indeed, do get better.

In other words, the former want to show off their skills and avoid making mistakes, the latter want to develop their skills and are ready to treat failure as feedback.

The good news is that students and others can adopt a growth mind-set, and doing so allows them to progress.

ACTION: Is there some aspect of your life in which you have decided you have (or don't have) talent and there's no point in pushing things further? What would it be like for you to re-think that and decide to work at it?

5: A Different Approach to Innovation

Innovation expert Larry Keeley says most people are approaching innovation in the wrong way. He considers that most brainstorming sessions lead to random ideas that eventually are discarded.

At his company's website,, they identify ten types of innovation, including: your business model (Dell got customers to pre-pay and offered customization); networks and alliances (Some coffee shops operate within book shops); product systems (like offering software bundles on a unified theme).

His advice: instead of trying to come up with something new, focus on making better or re-combining things that already exist, using the ten types of innovation.

ACTION: These ten aspects of innovation can apply as much to a free-lancer or someone working within a company as they do to larger businesses. If you're interested, take some time to apply them to what you do.

6: And a Quote to Consider

"If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise." Robert Fritz

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About The Author

Jurgen Wolff
Jurgen Wolff

Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and hypnotherapist. His goal is to help individuals liberate their own creativity through specific techniques that can be used at work as well as at home. His recent books include "Focus: the power of targeted thinking," a W. H. Smith best-seller, and "Your Writing Coach".