Team Centers, Part 1

Interview with Diane Deacon, co-author with Mike Vance of "Creating MegaResults", "Think Out of the Box", and "Break Out of the Box"
By Vern Burkhardt
Walt Disney knew how to do it. So did Thomas Edison and many other giants of innovation. The highest creativity occurs within structure and organization. In work settings we can set up s. At home we need a "kitchen for the mind."

"Invention, innovation and originality are the lifeblood of any company, organization or government."

Vern Burkhardt (VB): What do you mean by creativity and why is it the "thrust" of life?

photo of Diane DeaconDiane Deacon: To create you have to think, and to think you have to be aware. You have to care about something. You have to have passion about it. It keeps you in the living mode. If you're not thinking, planning, trying to create or at least care about something, chances are you're a walking cadaver and don't even know it. We have a lot of that today. I don't want to go so far, but to some degree, to call them brain dead – and they don't even know it.

Creativity, and we have a definition of it, is often the making of the new and rearranging the old in new ways.

You have to get up in the morning – well you don't have to – but it's nice to be able to put your foot on the floor and do something, create something. I find that when I talk to people it's not so much about having money – it's the fun of creating, of using your brain. There have been studies with the brain that indicate when you push your brain to try to create, it keeps the blood flowing in the brain.

If people who suffer brain injuries try to create or figure something out – a puzzle or whatever – the brain will often re-circuit itself to try to figure it out.

Challenging our brain is good for life; it helps keep you mobile in life. If you look at a lot of older people who have stayed very innovate and creative, such as Dr. Michael DeBakey who was still operating at the age of ninety, it helps keep them alive. Dr. DeBakey was a famous heart surgeon who died at 96. He was still creating and innovating and pushing his brain to make new passages right up to the end.

VB: Is creativity all about embracing change?

Diane Deacon: It definitely involves change. When you create something you often change something else, such as when you create a new product. Often creativity will cause change. Sometimes it's the thrust of innovation. We have different pathways for invention – invention/invention, invention/extension, invention/deinvention, and functional substitutions. (Vern's note: These are the four pathways contained in Diane Deacon and Mike Vance's 'Idea Creation Matrix'. Some ideas require something else to be invented first. Extending the original concept can enhance some inventions. Some inventions reduce the effects of another invention. Finally, some inventions replace a product or idea with a better one.)

Often creativity can embrace change to de-invent something else. Years ago people would wire money or send a telegram. Invention and creativity led to faxes and the Internet. When was the last time you sent a telegram through Western Telegram?

VB: A long time ago, but I did.

Diane Deacon: I've tried to recall, and I can't remember ever doing it!

VB: Your process of creativity would help encourage people to embrace creativity, not cling to the past, and be open to change?

Diane Deacon: Yes. We have studied a lot about why people fight and resist change. So often it's the promise of change that has not been delivered, and people get cynical. Often when change does come it's worse than it was before so people aren't always open to change.

We say, "you want to make good on your promise of change." If you say we're going to change something and identify the results to be accomplished, you need to do it.

VB: What does it mean to Think Out of the Box®, and why should we want to?

Diane Deacon: Our definition of thinking out of the box is getting out of old thought patterns into new and innovative thinking habits. The problem is many things are changing around you so if you're not constantly thinking out of the box, and being part of the change you will likely get left behind.

You might try to send something through Western Telegram and the younger generation may not know what you're talking about! Most things don't stay the same for long. If you're doing things the same way expect the same or less results, because everything else is going to be changing around you.

VB: Otherwise you fit the definition of insanity – doing the same thing and expecting something different.

Cover photo of Think Out of the BoxDiane Deacon: Exactly. I advise my clients they need to be constantly thinking out of the box, looking for new and better ways to do whatever they're doing, because for sure their competitors are thinking about it and probably doing it.

VB: You say "to think out of the box" will become the catch phrase of the twenty-first century. Would you explain?

Diane Deacon: It definitely has become popular, hasn't it?

It's an analogy. it's a way to communicate the concept that we need to think beyond our old thought patterns. We need new and innovative thinking habits.

We were having fun with one of our clients, Taco Bell, while working on a project, and we talked about the content of some of our latest books. They are using "Think Outside the Bun", and have been using that phase for a number of years.

VB: Thinking out of the box is needed for many of our world problems.

Diane Deacon: There's a lot of things that need to be fixed, things that need to be done. The Four Horsemen still ride – war, disease, hunger – you name it. We need to solve some of these problems but sometimes we're creating more problems than we're solving. We're always going to have to be thinking creatively and innovatively to solve some of the problems that people create as well as the problems that are natural disasters.

VB: On a personal level, how can we recognize if we are trapped by in the box thinking, and then consciously change ourselves?

Diane Deacon: You need to challenge, to ask yourself what you're thinking about, and are you often thinking the same thoughts? Are you in a rut? It's not to say that all consistent thought patterns are bad, but with everything changing around you it's important to ask yourself whether your current type of thinking is keeping up with the times. For example, if I keep thinking the same way I'm thinking will I still be effective in my job? Will I be effective in my community? In my relationships?

To be effective you have to ask yourself whether you will keep thinking the way you think today, or are you going to have to change some of your thinking?

VB: Becoming conscious of one's thought processes and patterns opens the door to purposefully changing oneself.

Diane Deacon: Right. One needs to decide to change one's thinking in areas where you are in a rut.

VB: How do sex, passion and desire relate to motivation as a differentiator between those who are creative and those who don't appear to be?

Diane Deacon: Many years ago my co-author Mike Vance had a TV talk show in Los Angeles called "Men At The Top". He had creative people from all walks of life on the show, and he would always ask them the same question, "what do you think are the keys to having high-level creativity and innovation"? One of the guests on his show was the Louis L'Amour, the great Western fiction writer, who wrote many novels and movies. He asked L'Amour the same question, and on the show Louis said, "To have high-level creativity and innovation you have to have sex, passion and desire". Mike's response was, "How do you get that in the budget?" L'Amour explained that to have high-level creativity and innovation, whatever it is you are inventing, creating, or doing, it has to have some form of sex appeal and a passion about it. You have to have a desire to want it. If you could design or factor in those three components, chances are you would have something relatively creative. If you can get one or two of them that is great too.

Cover of Creating MegaResultsL'Amour challenged Mike to go to Paris and look at some of the great works of art in the Louvre Museum – they involve a lot of sex, passion and desire. To this day we challenge our project teams, for whatever it is we're working on, does this have any sex appeal to it? Is there any passion built into this product or service? Is there any desire to get what it is you have or want?

VB: You advise that when we want to improve something one of the most effective ways is to start by thinking what's right about it. How does this positive approach better stimulate creativity than focusing on what is wrong?

Diane Deacon: Most people want to go to what's wrong about something. We say you want to be holistic in your thinking. If you have something then obviously there was something right about it.

Let's start from a positive point of view. We believe positive thinking produces creative energy. If ever you've been bombarded with negative thinking, you know how it saps you of energy and enthusiasm.

That was the stimulus for our book How to Stop Pissing and Moaning. We'd no sooner get started on a project, all enthusiastic to come up with something great, and there would always be one or two people on the project who would say, "Oh god that's a stupid idea," or "That will never fly." You know the type – they constantly drip negative juice on the situation until it zaps you dead. It stops creativity and innovation.

Just for fun, Vern, we created a little button – a "stop pissing and moaning" button. Have you seen it on our website?

VB: Yes I have.

Diane Deacon: People would order thousands of those buttons. So I said, "Mike we've got to write the book." At first he didn't want to do it so I gave him a button.

There are thirty recommendations on how to deal with these people. There's a quiz to see if you are one. A lot of people don't even know they are.

Our goal and mission it is to get people to create rather than complain. Don't complain; offer a solution to the situation.

Going back to your question, we always try to start with the positive, what's great about the subject we are dealing with, and how can we make it even better?

VB: And that gets people focusing in the right direction.

Diane Deacon: Right. That's where we want to go.

VB: Would you talk about the role of "sensanation" in creativity?

Diane Deacon: Sensanation means thinking about the product or service in terms of the senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Many people only think of things in one or two senses.

We need to think outside the box, and think about all the different senses.

My co-author Mike Vance worked closely with the Walt Disney. Disney wanted popcorn in the theme park. Operations people hated the idea because it would create a mess, but Disney knew it's about the senses. The sound of hearing the popcorn pop. The smell of the popcorn. The taste of the popcorn. The eating of it. It was the senses, the sensanation, he wanted in the park – not just the notion of the popcorn itself.

VB: In Think Out of the Box you provide a number of tools for breaking out of the box and thinking creatively, such as a structure for creative note taking, a seven-step format, nine fundamental questions, and four ideation techniques. You indicate they are useful because the highest creativity occurs within structure and organization. Would you explain, as no doubt some readers consider aspects of creativity, such as freewheeling ideation sessions, brainstorming, and free-for-all exchanges of ideas, as being the opposite of a structured process?

Diane Deacon: We believe creativity flourishes in highly organized environments. It frees you to have the time to do creative thinking. We have an organized process, which allows for creative thinking that, at the end of the day, results in ideas in a format, a plan, and you can do something with them.

Our approach came about because of a challenge Walt Disney gave Mike Vance years ago. He said, "Mike, I want you to figure out how to cultivate a culture of continuous innovation and creativity because we are only as good as our next idea. We need to innovate and create faster than people can copy." Then he said. "I want you to look at how we work today. And then look at how can we cultivate our culture through our work habits and environment so we can be more creative, and get our ideas developed and implemented faster." Mike then proceeded to develop a lot of tools and techniques to enable development of ideas, and ways to get them implemented faster.

The object was to have an organized and structured process that would free up time. The result was to give Walt Disney almost 50% of his time back by being organized and structured. He had 50% of his time to devote to creativity and innovation, and getting ideas implemented quickly in an organized, structured environment.

VB: Why don't all companies use an organized and structured process?

Diane Deacon: Many companies do.

Mike Vance became the Dean of Disney University after Walt Disney said, "I want to teach these concepts. A lot of these ideas you can't find in typical colleges. What we want to create and innovate has not been done yet. We can't find that kind of knowledge so we're going to have to create our own university to stimulate this kind of thinking, to do the things that have never been created before."

After they got the Florida project up and running, Mike left the Disney organization, and started his own company. Steve Jobs was one of his early clients, which was in the 1970s. Jobs said, "I want to create a culture at Apple of rapid innovation and creativity" – he was a big fan of Walt Disney. He wanted to be able to think, create, and innovate like Disney.

I had the opportunity to meet Steve Jobs, and Mike has had a long-term friendship with him.

VB: One of the ideation techniques you identify is "mind boggling". Would you describe what it is and how it works?

Diane Deacon: We use the term to describe when you come up with some really wild and crazy ideas. You want to stretch your thinking – go as far out of the box as you can, and then carry the idea back into the box to make it as conservative as you want.

We say, "Let's go for an idea that's totally mind boggling, one that will blow your mind." That's what we push in our workshops when we're at a point in a project where we need radical creativity.

The mind boggler is something that will blow your mind if you come up with it. A lot of people have never been asked to come up with a mind-blowing idea, to think like that. It's amazing.

VB: But they can.

Diane Deacon: They can if you push them, facilitate their thinking process, and say, "Let's do it."

VB: In Think Out of the Box you say blue ink should be used to notate assignments that are due or have a time line, even if we have become accustomed to dealing with red-ink to denote "crisis". Why do you recommend mastering the discipline of "If it's due, write it in blue"?

Diane Deacon: This is Mike Vance's idea. We have four-color pens that we distribute because we say you need to think out of the box and work in color. Much of our projects are color-coded.

The use of color is a personal decision. I say to people use whatever works for you, whatever color will trigger you to say, "these are the things we need we to do." You or the team decide how you want to color code different activities, people, organizations, or actions.

The recommended system is to identify the hot items in red. Green items may mean financial, budget, or resource issues. If you walk into the Team Center™ in our projects the items are color-coded so immediately you will see the hot ideas – the ones in red. Black holes will identify all the missing parts we need to fill. Blue can be the report or the things that need to be done.

VB: And then be consistent in the use of the colors.

Diane Deacon: Absolutely.

VB: You recommend that leaders and all employees in an organization should be encouraged to create a 'Kitchen for the Mind™' in their homes. Would you explain what that means and why it would help them to think out of the box?

Diane Deacon: Sure. In a home a kitchen is designed and structured so that technology can help feed your stomach. We have ovens, radar ranges, microwaves, refrigerators – you name it – to help store and prepare food.

We have magnificent technology to help feed our minds but we haven't created the environment where that occurs. The kitchen is for the stomach. The Kitchen for the Mind™ is for the mind.

Given all the magnificent technology that is available we recommend you take a room – so often you have rooms that you never use – and put all your technology and creativity tools in there to help feed your mind. Then you can have recipes for your mind. There's no right or wrong way to do it.

Rather than having computers, Nintendo, music, and other equipment scattered throughout the house, put them in a living or family room. Can you imagine if we scattered our kitchen appliances and gadgets the same way? You'd have your microwave in the dining room, and your refrigerator in the closet. You can realize the best benefits from your technology and creativity tools if you create an environment that feeds the mind. You can change things, and create recipes for your mind.

Cover of Break out of the BoxWe've had clients e-mail and write letters to us advising they had created this type of environment – the Kitchen for the Mind in their home. They talk about what it did for their family, how it brought it together, and how together the family planned magnificent vacations and experiences. Some of our clients have said if their children were invited to go to Harvard Business School, they would excel because of this type of environment. It's the supportive environment in the family's home, the Kitchen for the Mind that helps people think well.

It's very powerful. I have a Kitchen for the Mind in my loft. It's the room I gravitate towards to do my thinking, planning, read books, play with technology, listen to music, and write – everything is right there. We have an audio program available called 'A Kitchen for the Mind™' or 'A Creative Living Center for the Home'. All architecturally designed homes should have such a kitchen. In a work setting you can call them Team Centers™, or any other name that seems appropriate. Whether in a business setting or in your home, they should be an exciting environment to spark creativity and innovation.

One day we were in New York having dinner at the Plaza Hotel, and we heard a young woman scream across the restaurant, "Mike Vance!" She came running over to us and exclaimed, "I'm here because of what you said on your audio tape program. My Dad heard it. We have a Kitchen for the Mind. We planned this vacation doing what you said, and I'll never be able to thank you enough for this magnificent experience!" It was so funny.

VB: You observe that most students don't benefit from mind-expanding experiences during their education because they cram for examinations. Is this learned behavior one of the main reasons why, later in life, many people have what you called "psychosclerosis—a hardening of the mind."

Diane Deacon: It is sad. It's a learned habit enforced upon many students during their education.

One of my greatest teachers, who had a profound effect on my thinking, was a geometry teacher. His approach was not to grade us on the answers to questions. He would grade us on our thought processes, and how we got to our answer. Even if the answer was wrong we weren't given a failing mark if our thought process was sound.

VB: Similarly, in some business organizations, managers likely promote hardening of the mind among a large number of their employees.

Diane Deacon: Those organizations that have happy environments, and have processes and tools available to help their people think better, get better results. You often see this in organizations where a constant stream of new products or services coming out of the pipeline is the key to their survival. They create the environment where people have the freedom to think and create.

Then there are the old style companies that don't provide such environments – I think they'll eventually die off.

VB: Some are already.

Diane Deacon: You said it!

VB: You say leaders, teachers, and parents should be "living examples of what they believe in and the values they want to promote." Would you talk about that?

Diane Deacon: They need to be living examples of what they are trying to teach.

Last night I had dinner with my parents, and I was reminded of my childhood when at the dinner table my Dad said "you have to read these four pages in a book I'm reading." When I was a child he involved me, teaching me the fun and excitement of learning something new. I am so much of what I am today because of the environment that my father created for me. He invented a number of products. He would come up with an idea, prepare the design, and make it in the garage.

Mike Vance and I designed an environment for one of our clients called "the garage of innovation", because so many great inventions have come out of people's garages. It was a high-tech, really cool garage with many different Team Centers for different components of the business. It had red shiny doors that came down if the team wanted some privacy, and they could be rolled up when the team wanted an open environment.

VB: What is the Creative Thinking Association of America, and what are its core products and services?

Diane Deacon: The parent company is Intellectual Equities, and the outgrowth was the Creative Thinking Association. We do lectures and seminars. We have audio- cassette programs and books that support our consulting project work, which is in the area of creativity and innovation. We promote thinking out of the box, breaking out of the box, raising the bar, and getting the results you desire by helping companies apply our tools and techniques on the development and implementation of projects to achieve mega results. That's been our main focus for the last few years.

VB: Of the five books that you have written, which ones should our readers start with if they haven't read any of them?

Diane Deacon: That depends on where they're at in their lives, and what's important to them. What they are dealing with, and what they want to achieve.

Perhaps applicable right now would be MegaResults. In the beginning of the book we call it "the meatball theory". Being Italian I love meatballs, and I like the analogy. You can spend a great deal of time, money and energy on projects, and often get very small results in the end. It's like taking a herd of cattle, running them through a meat grinder, and only getting one lousy meatball out the other end.

R&D departments spend billions of dollars to come up with new and innovative ideas and products, and often not much happens. We wondered what's wrong with this picture? Why aren't we solving the problems? Why aren't we getting the big results we desire? In MegaResults we dealt with why that is the case, and how we can target an issue or a project to create the results we desire?

Cover shot of Raise the BarIf it were leadership your readers are interested in, I would recommend our audio programs on New Leadership Paradigms and Creative Leadership. If it's how you can take what you do to a level never thought of before, that would be the book Raise the Bar.

To get started perhaps the CD "Adventures in Creative Thinking". If readers are interested in creativity, innovation, and management there's the CD "Management by Values". If interested in people there's "Adventures In Creative Thinking". If it's entrepreneurialism we have two products – "The Entrepreneurial Spirit" and "Entrepreneurial Thinking."

So it would all depend on what readers' needs or desires are in life.

VB: In MegaResults you refer to a proven process for creating record-breaking success – what would you consider record-breaking success?

Diane Deacon: Hitting something out of the ballpark.

I'll give you an example. Taco Bell, as I mentioned earlier, was one of our clients. Some employees were working in a Team Center, and the CEO of the company said, "I want more people in the restaurant." At the time they were only a tier three player in the fast food industry. Competition included McDonald's, Burger King, and a number of others. Typically their business assumptions were new products drive sales, so their focus was on developing new products such as the steak fajita. It was a good product but did little to drive sales up exponentially. Nor did it bring people into the restaurant. They had spent a lot of time, money, and energy, and they had hoped, wished, and prayed but no big results. They were blocked by their old business thinking that new products drive sales. The meatball theory applied.

As consultants we worked with Peter McCally, the project team leader at Taco Bell, and suggested they needed to raise the bar, elevate their thinking, take down all barriers, get creative, and think outside the box. Anything goes. They wanted a record-breaking success. The mind-boggling vision was to have people lined up 24/7, fighting to get into their restaurants. The question was what would it take to achieve that vision? During the process of thinking out of the box and generating all kinds of ideas, they had a breakthrough. The breakthrough idea was the forty-nine cent taco with free drink refills.

So often, Vern, the answers are so simplistic. They had already made the product. They already had the answer right in front of them. All we needed to do was put together a value proposition that was irresistible.

When the forty-nine cent taco was introduced with refillable drinks they had to have police directing traffic at the test restaurants. They quickly decided to not do any more testing, but rather to roll it out nationally. Sales were off the charts because when people went to the restaurants they also bought other things.

It took McDonald's two years to catch up to Taco Bell with their think out of the box value proposition concept.

VB: That definitely fits the definition of a MegaResult.

Diane Deacon: There are many other examples in the book.

The fun is gathering a group of people in a room to address issues and projects – the creative energy is amazing. The answers are generated with great enthusiasm, and "are out there."

When I worked with Buckminster Fuller, who invented the geodesic dome at EPCOT Center, we would have great debates. I'd say to him, "Bucky, how can you be sure about your answers?" He was a mathematician and quite an inventor. His reply to me was, 'Diane, the answers are out there – all you need to do is find them." In reply to the question how he could be so sure he'd advise me to look around. The Universe is creative. It's constantly reinventing itself. All you have to do is tap some of those general principles that are in the Universe, bring them to your projects, and apply them.

He said, "Most people credit me with inventing the geodesic dome. I didn't invent it. I saw it in nature. One day I was working at my desk and I captured a fly that was buzzing around. I put it under the microscope and discovered that the structure of the eye of a fly was really a geodesic structure. I copied the eye of the fly, but most people credit me for coming up with the great geodesic invention." He found the structure in nature – it was out there. (Vern's note: EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Called the Epcot Center until 1994, it is a theme park located at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, United States. It is now called Epcot.)

VB: It must have been a joy to work with such a person.

Diane Deacon: Yes. We worked with Buckminster Fuller when he was in his late eighties. He was a magnificent thinker, and before his time.

He held seminars called "Integrity Day." Can you imagine going to a seminar on integrity? How would we sell that today?

Whenever Mike Vance or I asked Buckminster a question he'd say, "Do you want my short answer or my long version?" His thought about the short version was it'd take about two hours. The long answer could be two or more days.


(Vern' Note: Part 2 of my interview with Diane Deacon will be published in next week's edition of the IdeaConnection newsletter. She will talk about the Team Center™ as the centre for creativity and innovation in a business, some famous inventors in America, the Disney Way, and more.)

Diane Deacon's Bio:
Diane Deacon is President and co-founder of the Creative Thinking Association of America, which was founded to promote creativity and innovation. She is also President of Intellectual Equities, Inc. that provides creative business products, seminars and consulting services to companies worldwide.

Deacon has worked for more than 15 years with Mike Vance, who is the former Dean of Disney University and was in charge of idea and people development for Walt Disney Productions, Disneyland and Walt Disney World. They have co-authored five books – Think Out of the Box, Break Out of the Box, Raise the Bar, Creating MegaResults and How to Stop Pissing and Moaning.

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