Innovation is Personal — It's the People

Interview with Stephen Lundin, author of Cats, and Co-author of Top Performer, Loops, and the Fish! series of books
By Vern Burkhardt
"Innovation is at the heart of a life well lived." "…any individual, company, or country wishing to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century will do so by developing the brain's seemingly infinite capacity to create and innovate."

Vern Burkhardt (VB): What led to your interest in creativity, leadership and innovation?

photo of Stephen LundinStephen Lundin: My curiosity about creativity, innovation, and how the brain works started at a place called Camp Courage, a camp for children and adults who had maladies like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and polio. It started with a provocation from one of my campers who had some brain related struggles in life and the challenges she endured following experimental brain surgery. The surgery was "successful" but unexpectedly affected her personality.

My interest in leadership came from being in positions of responsibility and wondering how I might do them better. It bore on my own life experiences as a leader. How could I help this person along? How could I help this person to get on track and do something more helpful for the organization. What could I do about that person's negativity?

VB: What is the significance of your point that "…all innovation is personal?"

Stephen Lundin: The world is fascinated with celebrity and when a company does something remarkable the media loves to focus on the CEO. The business literature is strategic and organizational in nature. When the subject is innovation most of the focus is on the culture, strategy, or systems in place at the company in question. I read these articles and learn from them. They are an important part of the literature on innovation. But they are incomplete and unbalanced.

The truth is that organizations don't do anything, people do. And if you want a more innovative organization then the place to start is with the employees. It's these employees who will populate the culture, strategies, and systems. That is why my focus is best described by, "All innovation is personal".

VB: In Cats you say, "If you wish to create a vital life, one that is meaningful and deeply satisfying, innovation can help you get there." What do you mean by that?

Stephen Lundin: I see personal innovation as the main contributor to a vital life. The philosopher Tom Morris has said, "Creativity is life". Aren't the most vital parts of your life those where you are bringing something into existence by using your personal resources, alone or in a "hot group"?

To me, creativity and innovation represent the natural energy of life. I have written about natural energy in the book I wrote with a street performer, Carr Hagerman, titled Top Performer. We long to bring something into the world that comes from our own uniqueness.

VB: "At the beginning of each and every innovation there was a human being with a vision." Why does vision play such an important role?

Stephen Lundin: The second of the nine lives of innovation I identify in the book is "cats are prepared for innovation." There are two kinds of preparation. One is long-term preparation – organizing your knowledge files so that you have instant and random access to them. The second is short term and highlights the importance of clarity of purpose.

Vision is one of the ways we create focus in our lives, and what a clear vision excludes is just as important as the things it includes. I have a colleague, Jerry McNellis, who does a lot of creative project management work. The first thing he does with a team is ask the question, "Why?" Then he asks it again, and again, and again. His clients discover that after the fifth "why?" they have clarity in identifying exactly where innovation is needed. In the process they have removed a lot of the extraneous things, which sometimes can muddle creative thinking. Anything that helps with clarity is desirable, and vision is a very powerful aid.

VB: How is personal vision related to vision in an organization?

Stephen Lundin: Organizational vision is the vision shared by people, and each person has a unique understanding. Words don't carry meaning, people do. The words the organization uses to define its meaning are important but, without discussion, understanding of the meaning of that vision may be illusive.

VB: What led you to use Cats as the title of your book and to talk about innovation in terms of the attributes of cats – nine lives, Cat Wranglers, Cat Pause, Cat Nip?

Stephen Lundin: I'd been dragging the cat analogy around for a long time. I'd been searching for an appropriate and instructive metaphor. My interest in innovation goes back at least 45 years, so I have been assembling my material for a long time. I tried buildings, boats, and a variety of metaphors when a cat showed up.

The primary cat connection is curiosity. The old phrase "Curiosity killed the cat" intrigued me, and I began asking audiences whether they had ever seen a cat die of curiosity? They consistently talked about cars, trucks and dogs, but never curiosity. I think the purpose of this phrase is to keep us in our place. To keep us from doing anything that might make someone else uncomfortable. And there is another well-known phrase, "Cats have nine lives." Nine lives became the organizing structure.

I like to have fun so the rest of the cat stuff is a result of playing around with the ideas. Cat Wrangler was a natural because I had seen some cat wranglers at work. They are fascinating. We once needed a cat for a film and had to hire a cat wrangler. The cat wrangler brought a collection of cats from which to choose. Once a cat is chosen it's the job of the cat wrangler to direct the cats. They use puff balls on the end of sticks to direct the cat. And of course the cat goes where it wants to go regardless.

VB: Cat Nip gives a good connotation and a good image.

Stephen Lundin: Cat Nap is also a good thing when you need a break every once in awhile. I didn't want to be corny using the terms Cat Nip and Cat Nap, but I wanted to add a little levity.

VB: It was very charming, a good message, and easy to understand.

In Cats you say, "The revolution we are now embroiled in at this early part of the twenty-first century is the intelligence revolution." Would you talk about this in terms of creativity and innovation?

Stephen Lundin: "Knowledge revolution" doesn't do it anymore. The concept of the knowledge revolution is sort of static; instead, it's about the way you use knowledge.

We have a lot of excess capacity in our people. Most of that excess capacity is bouncing around on their necks. Harnessing that capacity is the intelligence revolution.

VB: An important part is understanding how the brain works as well?

Stephen Lundin: It is. Absolutely.

VB: You say, "…personal innovation produces the natural energy of life. And natural energy is what gives life its juice." Would you talk about this?

Stephen Lundin: I covered this topic lightly in an earlier question but I can go into more detail. "Natural energy" is a phrase that came out of my work with the fish market called Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington. It came from trying to understand how twelve fishmongers could create an international tourist destination, selling the same fish they sell down the block. It became clear that by focusing on "who they were being while they were doing what they were doing" a magic environment was created. And when we looked closely at the way they engaged their customers it became clear that they behaved like street performers.

There is one thing that the top street performers do – they learn how to release the natural energy. It's the energy of life and it's authentic. It's what happens when you talk to someone as a person and not as an object. It's what happens when you engage somebody using your uniqueness and not working from a script. If you're in that type of venue there is an energy flowing that is magic, and it's the kind of energy you find in the most innovative organizations. This is where the Top Performer title of one of my books came from. Top performers generate natural energy.

I've gotten to the point where natural energy is my North Star. Whether it's a personal relationship, a business relationship, a speaking engagement or a teaching assignment; if the energy isn't natural I will withdraw gracefully.

VB: In the books Fish! and Cats you use the term "toxic energy." What is this, and why is it such an inhibitor of innovation?

Stephen Lundin: Toxic energy puts a damper on everything. You can walk into a room and sense the toxic energy in many cases. Somebody can walk into a meeting and everybody's face drops, because they know what is about to follow. They know that when this person opens his or her mouth out of it will come negativity and sarcasm, making it a lot less enjoyable to be there. Sometimes that toxic energy feeds on itself.

Toxic energy is the opposite of creative energy or natural energy. Sometimes as a manager the way you deal with it is through confrontation. Sometimes it's through coaching. Sometimes you can't deal with it and you say goodbye, and hope the person can find a place to play where they will have a little more natural energy.

VB: Would you agree that virtually everyone has the potential to be more creative by overcoming some of the basic challenges to innovation? Is being aware of those challenges a good first step? (Vern's Note: the four challenges are: doubts, fears and distractions that give us no peace of mind; reliance on normal ways of thinking about things such as routines and paradigms; fear of failure which eliminates learning and innovation; and leadership that eliminates toxic and encourages natural energy.)

Stephen Lundin: The four challenges are universal. They are ever present.

I don't think understanding the four challenges does anything other than perhaps build some credibility for the nine lives of innovation. It's mostly an intellectual process, other than the fact that by understanding those challenges you know why the nine lives are required. You know what you are working against.

Each of us must confront our own examples from those four challenges. From that standpoint being aware of them is a good first step. If you vigorously jump directly into working on following the nine lives of innovation, it probably wouldn't hurt not knowing what the challenges are, because you would be working on becoming more innovative.

VB: We need "peace of mind", "space to innovate." Why?

Stephen Lundin: There are some interesting things I have learned about how the brain works.

Some research was done on approaches to learning. It was found that when people are learning a task and stop for a period of time, when they come back to the task they start at a higher level than they were at when they left it. What is happening is your subconscious is getting an opportunity to integrate what you have learned and associate it with other things you know.

We live in a work world that is becoming ever more crowded and busy. I recently read in an article that multi-tasking is not effective at all – you can only do one thing at a time. I've felt that for a long time, but didn't have a research base to prove it. Now there is a research base. When you multi-task, you are just creating a busy mind, a mind that isn't capable of making anything happen. All it does is generate anxiety. (Vern's Note: Dave Crenshaw wrote in the book The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing it All" Gets Nothing Done (2008) that multitasking is "worse than a lie" because multitasking "is neither a reality nor is it efficient.")

It is important to create space in your day, in your month, and in your year. It is during those times of spaciousness that your subconscious has a chance to surface what its been working on. If you don't give your subconscious that kind of time day-to-day busyness overrides it.

An example is the story about Edison out on the end of a dock with a fishing pole. He never had a hook or any bait, but he knew people wouldn't bother him when he was fishing. He had to create that time for himself and he knew how to do it.

VB: He needed "quiet time."

Stephen Lundin: Yes. It comes by a lot of names. For some people it's meditation. For some a walk in nature works.

I used to strategically use jogging, because my mind would silence. I would get into the rhythm of the run and things would start popping into my head. It always worked that way, and never let me down.

A break is sometimes when the real work gets done.

VB: "Innovation favors a prepared mind." Would you talk about this and "knowledge files?"

Stephen Lundin: While working with Tony Buzan I became cognizant of how important it is to put things into your brain in such a way that you can get them out. At the moment of creative sparking what you have random access to is all you have to offer. It's not what you can "Google," or look up, or find over a period of time.

The things that are most vital are the things you have immediate access to. This connects to mind mapping. It's beneficial when putting things into your mind map to do so with knowledge of the laws of association so that you can then access them the way the brain is designed to store them. It enables you to organize your knowledge so you are prepared. It's hard to create anything if you don't have any content to bring to the party in order to bounce up against somebody else and make a creative spark happen.

VB: You are a strong advocate of using mind maps to organize knowledge. Do you continually update your mind maps, and if so, how does that work?

Stephen Lundin: I do. There are few that have become so internalized that it isn't necessary to update them on paper. I use and update mind maps for all the things I have a deep commitment to learning.

My children all did mind mapping in high school and college. Other kids would wonder why it took my children so little study time to accomplish the same level of performance. Buzan has estimated that 95% of the words in a text are superfluous. When mind mappers reviewed for a test they didn't need to go back to the text, they had a map. They could see everything they had laid out, and they avoided 95% of the words that din't really contribute anything to understanding. Their classmates, on the other hand, would have to read all the words and review the entire text when studying for exams. It's a tremendous waste of time, and fatiguing as well.

VB: "… much of innovation occurs at the intersection of the boundaries between disciplines, departments, and roles." That sounds like a call for extensive collaboration of diverse people. Is that true?

Stephen Lundin: Innovation happens at the edge, whether it's at the edge of departments or the edge of cultures. Think about what happens when you move to a foreign culture and operate within it. That's an edge where your culture is rubbing against another culture, things are sparking, and you are seeing things in a new light.

The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson is a book worth reading. The Renaissance is an example of edges rubbing against one another. It wasn't until the Medici family brought people from different disciplines, such as Galileo and Machiavelli, into the same space at the same time that it became possible for them to collaborate, talk, discuss, argue, and grow in ways that otherwise would not have occurred.

I have a lovely video I use from time to time of Mick the Juggler. I talk about him in Cats, and how he became a world-class yoyo person by applying juggling to yoyo tricks. He did things no yoyo person had thought of doing before. The only reason he thought of them was because he brought another discipline in and sparked that way.

VB: "Our reliance on these normal ways of thinking about things also can be a barrier to innovation." If we want to be innovative do we need to avoid a life filled with routines, habits, and unrecognized paradigms, and avoid associating with people who aren't interested in new ideas and change?

Stephen Lundin: I don't think it's about avoiding a life full of routines, habits, and paradigms because that's what allows us to survive. It would take us forever to put on a pair of shoes, or select which articles of clothing to wear at the beginning of a day if we didn't have some standard ways of going about things. Routines and habits are crucial in dealing with day-to-day life matters.

Understanding how critical routines and habits are and how thoroughly we have become a product of our routines, also helps us understand why provocation is important for innovation. Unless we develop games for ourselves, we are not going to attack the things we do well or are comfortable with. We are going to continue to do them, we are going to continue to think the way we think, and we are going to act the way we act. It takes provocation to push us outside the standard way of operating so we can see things we wouldn't otherwise see and spot things that might be useful. We can then bring the useful insights back into our process for innovation.

Routines, habits, and paradigms are not bad but they are inhibitors in the process of innovation. We must therefore do things in a certain way in order to escape their unconscious acceptance.

VB: As you said earlier we have to be aware of, and therefore not just accept, normal ways of thinking. We need to "provoke" ourselves into challenging those normal ways.

Stephen Lundin: Yes. You have already asked me what I do. My most common provocation is to go to the opposite. I say to myself, "What is the opposite of that?"

Recently somebody was talking about work–life balance. Work–life balance has become an industry. I started by saying, "Well, what is the opposite of work–life balance?" and it sparked me into a line of thinking that led to something I now put into a lot of my talks. I have realized that work–life balance is not a helpful way to frame the question. It's all life, and the minute you talk about work as something that doesn't contain life, you diminish it. All life is meant to be lived fully. That is the message of Fish!. It is all meant to be lived fully and it's all precious – life at work and life outside of work. That whole line of thinking came out of a provocation.

One day I was thinking about leadership and I asked, "What is the opposite of that?" It's Followership. What would that be like? I ended up writing a couple of articles on followship. Later, in 1992, a fellow by the name of Robert Kelley wrote a book titled The Power of Followership.

VB: What is the "innovation zone?"

cover of CatsStephen Lundin: The innovation zone is the zone of natural energy where innovation is most likely to occur. It's the space created by CATS and Cat Wranglers.

VB: In an interview on YouTube about Cats you indicate that of the nine lives of innovation, your favorite is Provocation. In reference to Physical Provocation you say, "Any business that cares about innovation should have a neat stuff collection." You've seen this work at IDEO. Have other people you have been associated with adopted this recommendation, and, if so, with what results?

Stephen Lundin: I don't have clients – it's been a long time since I did any consulting work. I ran a 'think tank' for about ten years early in my career, and I lost interest in consulting. It just didn't produce the personal rewards I was seeking.

I have readers, and audiences that listen to me speak. Many people have told me stories about how their neat stuff collections help them with innovation.

VB: You estimate that 99 percent of all innovation occurs at the point where two human beings connect. "Every interaction can be viewed as a provocation." Would you talk about this, and how understanding this fact can guide us to increase our innovative capabilities?

Stephen Lundin: Let me start by suggesting that when a customer is uniquely engaged by a clerk this interaction is subject to the same principle of innovation encountered by a Nobel Laureate. There's an arrogance embedded in much of what has been written about innovation and I rail against it. Finding a new way to work with a teenager who has a messy room is every bit as innovative and is subject to exactly the same principles as a break through in economics or physics. Much of the reason people feel they aren't innovative relates to the over-emphasis on the massive innovations that most of us will never encounter. Enough said.

The fourth, fifth and sixth innovation lives are all about provocation. It's provocation that forces you outside your routines and away from what's normal. (Vern's note: Life four is "Cats welcome physical provocation", life five is "Cats enjoy social provocation," and life six is "Cats promote intellectual provocation.")

The best example I have come up with to help conceptualize this idea, and one that seems to resonate with people, is the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. As a result 250,000 people had to find a different way to and from work. It was an unplanned provocation, but nevertheless all those people had to find some other route for their commutes, and in doing so discovered things they hadn't known about before. Some discovered carpooling wasn't as bad as they had thought it was. Some discovered restaurants and retail outlets in neighborhoods they didn't know existed. Some of the things they discovered, as a result of being provoked into leaving what was normal, were useful. That's an example of what happens with provocation in a very practical, real sense.

VB: In your book, Top Performer, you say street performers are great models for us if we wish to become better at using social provocation for innovation. Would you talk about some of the lessons we can learn from street performers?

Stephen Lundin: I can't imagine any better lessons than those one can receive from street performers.

Top Performer led to a contract with Hampton Inns to train a couple of thousand of their managers. The entire day of training was conducted by street performers. The purpose of the training was to help Hampton Inns' employees understand how their engagement with customers could be more effective if it was based on the ways of Street Performers.

For a Street Performer, anything that happens is material. They don't have the perspective that things that happen are either good or bad. Anything that happens is material for their performance, and they try to squeeze the energy out of it. So, if a drunk stumbles into the crowd, a kid starts crying, or somebody throws something at them, it is wonderful – it's all material.

Most people in business look at things that happen outside the "norm" as devastating, frightening, something to run away from, or to resist. Once you adopt the attitude that anything that's happened has already happened, then the choice you have is what to do with it. If you resist it you are creating negative energy. But if you go with it and try to find it useful you are creating a different kind of energy. That's why street performers are so good. They're in uncontrolled situations day in and day out, and if they don't connect well with their audience they don't end up with anything in their hat. And they don't eat at the end of the day. It's an interesting small business scenario.

VB: You talk about having fun and a good sense of humor. That is an integral part of it, isn't it?

Stephen Lundin: Absolutely. No phoniness and a little playfulness. Don't take yourself too seriously. All these things you know intellectually, but when you see a Street Performer you get a more visceral sense of what it is like to live that way.

VB: Would you talk about procrastination and its negative relationship to creativity and innovation?

Stephen Lundin: There are two ways to look at procrastination. One is that it is a natural thing that happens when you are not ready to do whatever it is you think should be done. Some of the procrastination I experience in writing is because I'm not ready to write about something. It hasn't gelled yet.

Procrastination can also cause long delays, and some people never even get to the starting line. A lot of people come to me and say, "I've got a book in mind", and I reply, "I know you do. You have a lot of books inside of you. Are you working on it?" Sometimes they respond, "Well, I haven't gotten started yet. I want something to happen before I start". My response is, "I've got a secret for you", and they look at me as if great wisdom is going to come. I say, "Writers write." There's no guarantee at the beginning, but there is one thing for certain, you have to start writing.

VB: "Failing well is all about success in juggling." How can we ensure we fail well?

Stephen Lundin: Failing early is failing well! That is the biggest part of it. Understand that failure will happen, and failure is where the greatest learning happens. We're not talking about mistakes. We are talking about failure.

That's an important distinction when thinking about experiments. Experiments that fail provide a lot of information. Experiments where you make a mistake, such as using something you shouldn't, putting something under a fire the wrong way, or dropping a vat on the floor, are not necessarily good things. But things that fail in a tightly designed experiment are very informative.

Since failure is going to happen and there is a lot you can learn from it, you want to get it out of the way early. You want to learn as much as you can from the failure.

At IDEO they do rapid prototyping. They have learned that if they wait too long during the innovation process to present something and generate interaction with their clients, they are likely to move in the wrong direction and not know it. So, they prototype their ideas early on; they bring five examples to their client and say, "Let's talk about these." They are putting their failures in design up for early reaction, and this early sharing ensures a greater potential for success.

VB: You invite readers to earn a Cat Belt – and then they can be called "Whiskers". Have a lot of people done so?

Stephen Lundin: Most of the records are kept in Australia, which is where I published the first edition of Cats. The second edition is a much different book.

I receive emails and stories from people who have done the Cat Belt exercises. A group wanted to design their own training program and offer it in Japan. I gave them permission to do so. The same thing happened in Singapore. They went through the Cat Belts and wanted to take it even further.

I am conducting the first "Train the Trainer" in Australia in December.

VB: Who are some of the best Cat Wranglers?

Stephen Lundin: The Kelley brothers at IDEO are world-class examples.

People like Lewis W. Lehr of 3M, who made William L. McKnight's management philosophy live again. It was about giving people space, giving them room and making it possible for unusual interactions to occur. (Vern's note: William McKnight was President of 3M from 1929 to 1949.)

I have done a lot of work with 3M over the years. It's an amazing place. Six Sigma hasn't destroyed it. After the Six Sigma business management strategy was introduced there was a dry period, but they overcame it and now they are even stronger than before. The leaders at 3M are very aware of the important role a manager plays in creating a culture and an atmosphere of innovation. They know that innovation isn't going to result from telling people what to do, or under leaders who take credit for what their employees do.

The President of Getronics Australia, who I was familiar with before the company's acquisition by UXC, encouraged a workplace that reflected the concepts contained in Fish!. They created a playfulness and energy that precipitated incredible amounts of innovation. But it wasn't a desire for innovation that got them to that place. It was a desire for a healthier culture and a workplace that people wanted to be in.

Every time I hear a story like that I realize a climate can be created in a company that encourages innovation. The biggest job is probably to help people see that the space they create is just as crucial as the people they put in that space. That may be why Tom Kelley of IDEO says that space is the last frontier. He's not talking about space ships. He's talking about how you organize people in a work setting.

VB: You said 3M went through a dry period. Do you mean in terms of innovation and a healthy culture?

Stephen Lundin: Yes. It was a shock to 3M employees to get something as structured as Six Sigma overlaid on a culture which was all about creativity and innovation. W. James McNerney, Jr. saw a need for more discipline. They have worked their way through that process, and now have the best of both worlds.

VB: Do you have any tips for leaders who would like to help their employees increase their capacity to innovate?

Stephen Lundin: You are not going to increase their capacity. Their capacity is a given, but you can increase their capability by helping them learn the nine lives of innovation. The nine lives are designed to be a curriculum for people who have an interest in becoming more capable at innovation.

VB: Do you still encounter a lot of personal innovation moments?

Stephen Lundin: Not more than two or three per second!

I do encounter a lot of personal innovation moments, but I have to admit, I look for them. Early in life I found that putting myself in uncomfortable and new situations often led to insights and critical learning. I have done a lot of that kind of thing. I have that type of curiosity. I am not sure where it came from but I am thankful to have it.

For example, I lived in a flophouse for six months just for the heck of it. I knew all the street people in Washington DC by the time I moved out. I learned a tremendous amount about a culture that is invisible during the day, but very visible at night and on weekends.

VB: Your books must be fun to research and write. Was it a lot of fun spending time at the Pike Place Fish Market when you were writing Fish!?

Stephen Lundin: It was an absolute delight to see the space those guys created. There were two film company competitors just down the block from the fish market. They hadn't noticed it because it was in their back yard. It was normal for them.

VB: You say you walked into it by chance. Were you just visiting Seattle?

Stephen Lundin: John Christensen, the president of Charthouse International and I were filming the business poet David Whyte. I went back to the Twin Cities but John had a day to kill. That's how a couple of Minnesota boys discovered the Pike Place Fish Market. Just by chance.

VB: Fish! is a great example of delivering a message through a story. Should authors use this technique more often?

Stephen Lundin: I am too close to that question. I happened onto it. It wasn't my natural way of working.

Before Fish! I was pretty boring as a writer. For example, one of my books was Domain-referenced Curriculum Evaluation: A Technical Handbook and a Case Study From the Minnemast Project. That stuff was pretty dry! In my early 40's I decided I wanted to be more playful in my writing.

I started working on a leader's guide for the film we made about the Pike Place Fish Market, and a story came into my head. I decided to write it in order to get it out of the way, and that's what led to the book.

Being critical sticks in my throat, but I have seen some real abuses of the use of a story to provide a message! The characters can be as stiff and uninteresting as stick people. It gives the genre a bad name.

Use of a story works best if you have a simple message that can best be discovered in story form. John Kotter used it with the penguins in Our Iceberg is Melting. As human beings we love stories, but to take a protocol or set of beliefs and force them into a story is a poor use of the medium.

VB: Was Lonnie a real person working at the Pike Place Fish Market?

Stephen Lundin: Lonnie was two real people. They became one in the book.

VB: Would you talk about "Choose your Attitude"?

Stephen Lundin: I have a background in psychology and that might have played a role. I am not sure.

The fishmongers were filmed putting fish on ice and talking about the attitude they had brought to work. They knew the attitude they showed up with when they arrived for work had an impact on the business atmosphere they were trying to create – a retail setting and workplace that people wanted to experience again and again and share with their friends. A place that would become world famous by being world famous moment to moment. They had a commitment to build something great. They would josh and ask each other about the attitude they were bringing to work. They were very conscious about it.

It wasn't that they didn't have bad attitudes from time to time, because they did. What was amazing was that they understood they had a choice. They had concluded over the years that it was important to make a distinction between attitude and feelings.

We all have feelings. I lost a daughter to a drunk driver. I have moments of grief that pop up – even these many years later – out of the blue. But when I am in front of hundreds or thousands of people, it isn't appropriate to go into grief mode. I put it aside for a later time. I make a choice. I don't have to dwell on those feelings right away. I can deal with them later. I can make a choice about the attitude I am going to show up with, even in the face of those feelings.

VB: Would you talk about play and playfulness?

Stephen Lundin: Play is a word we use because it hits you in the face. Work and play have always been separated.

Levity and playfulness better describe what we are talking about but play catches your attention. Playful environments are healthy environments. They are places where human beings want to be.

VB: Playful environments create positive energy.

Stephen Lundin: Absolutely. There's nothing like it. I've never met a person who wanted to work in an environment that didn't have a certain amount of levity.

VB: A lot of people who deal with customers could learn from the lesson "Make their Day". Would you talk about this? Why isn't it obvious to everyone in business?

Stephen Lundin: It's hard to know, but it's not surprising that for ten years Fish! has been, and still is, the number one book in customer service, according to Amazon. This is because the book is clear, in a simple way, about what it means to connect with people and lift their spirits in a manner that makes their day.

Why is it so hard to communicate? Customer service programs are often taught with power point slides that are devoid of emotions, and have nothing to do with the real feel of the topic. We have worked with people a number of times who's decision, after spending time with us in training sessions, was essentially "we'll teach that customer service stuff and then we'll tell people to forget about it when they go out onto the floor – they just need to show up." When you think about it, it is kind of funny but also sad. Customer service gets in the way of customer service.

VB: "Being present" is something that is profound not only in business, but also in social interactions, isn't it?

Stephen Lundin: Yes. In my early rookie days, I conducted some training on interpersonal communications for a large high tech corporation. It was three grueling days about saying the right things, such as, "I'm not sure I heard what you said, can I repeat it back to you?"

I've come to realize that the attitude of showing up and being present is more powerful than any of the tools we taught back then – you could even teach a psychotic to sound like he was being inter-personal. But the people who make an impact on you are the ones who are really present – and you know who they are.

We, as humans, are amazing at that sort of thing. We can tell when someone is really "there," or if they're thinking about something else, or looking over our shoulder. It's a powerful attribute, and in places where there are vulnerable children or adults, it has even more power.

Anytime somebody in a nursing home asks me to speak, even if they can't pay me a fee, I go. That's because I have experienced first hand, with my Dad and other relatives, the importance of the way people show up in nursing homes for the elderly. The primary variable impacting the quality of life in a place like that is whether the people who work there are present for their patients.

VB: Why should Idea Connection readers read Loops: The Seven Keys to Small Business Success?

Stephen Lundin: Loops is a parable about the seven loops you need to close if you want to be successful in small business. The seven loops we talk about are: manage your experience zones; build a winning culture with vision moments; help execute fundamentals with a loops group; standardize every process; live in the real world; lead by example; and innovate constantly.

VB: You have a webpage devoted to Loops in which you say, "Success in Business is All About Closing the Right Loops."

Stephen Lundin: Yes, this site is devoted to the seven keys we identify in the book. It also contains a number of resources that may be of interest.

I also have a blog called Tuna's Tips.

VB: What is your next book about and when will it be published?

Stephen Lundin: Random House is publishing the next one, I believe, in April 2010. It's titled, Ubuntu, a Zulu word I ran into in Johannesburg. I asked a young Zulu, who was driving me to a black entrepreneur's radio station, what word in Zulu is closest to FISH! and he said, "Ubuntu."

I researched the word and discovered it represents a philosophy about connectedness. To put somebody down is to put yourself down. Because we are all connected, when you disrespect another human being, you are disrespecting yourself.

In Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, you can see the impact of that philosophy in the way they handled the reconciliation in South Africa. There was little bloodshed and little recrimination, because they realized their oppressors were human beings. The way you create a world people want to be in is to respect the humanity of all human beings.

I think there is a need for a lot more civility in the workplace. There's a need for more connectedness and more unity of purpose. I believe the concepts around Ubuntu are going to help with that purpose, and so I created a story.

VB: Is there anything I didn't ask you that we could talk about?

Stephen Lundin: Well, you didn't tell me anything about yourself. I get a sense from your website that you probably spend a lot of time doing what you are doing.

VB: I very much enjoy it. I like learning and talking to people who are interested in creativity and innovation. Our intent is to be THE portal for innovation by enabling businesses to solve their business challenges using our pre-qualified experts who work in a collaborative way. There are many resources available on the website, and other items of interest such as Inventions for Sale.

Stephen Lundin: I love what you have created. I am now a subscriber to your newsletter. It is one of the few things that pop up in my inbox that I immediately click on. I really appreciate the quality of what you are doing.

VB: Thank you very much. I appreciate the time you've taken to talk with me. Perhaps when Ubuntu is published we could talk again so we can do an article about it!

Stephen Lundin: That would be great!

Stephen Lundin starts with the premise that organizations don't innovate, people do. Therefore in order to have a more innovative organization you must recruit and develop more innovative employees.

Anyone wanting to develop their ability to innovate would do well to read Stephen Lundin's advice in Cats. It's not about a process for innovation. It's about attitude, preparedness, and ability to innovate.

The remarkable story of the Pike Place Fish Market in Fish! provides some simple but powerful tips for creating positive, "natural" energy. These are:
  1. Choose your attitude – choose to be positive.

  2. Play – and have fun in order to create an atmosphere that nurtures innovation.

  3. Make your customers' day.

  4. Be present – when dealing with customers and colleagues focus on one person at a time.

Stephen Lundin's bio:
Stephen Lundin, who has a Ph.D. in Psychology, has been a writer and filmmaker, and a student of creativity and innovation for more than 45 years. He is the former director of the Institute for Innovation and Creativity at the University of St. Thomas. He has also been a small business owner and a national sales manager.

Lundin is author of Cats: The Nine Lives of Innovation (2009), and co-author of Top Performer: A Proven Way to Dramatically Boost Your Sales and Yourself (2007), Loops: The Seven Keys to Small Business Success (2009), and the FISH! series of books published in 34 languages with over 7 million copies in print.

Steve Lundin spends his time writing, speaking and filmmaking. He has presented his messages about FISH!, Top Performer, and innovation to audiences in 40 countries. His presentations awaken his audiences to the possibilities that already exist in every workplace, home and life. Steve Lundin lives in Minnesota, U.S.

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