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Scott Berkun on Innovation

June 19, 2012

During the Summit keynote, I had the pleasure of hearing Scott Berkun speak. If you haven’t seen Scott speak, pick up one of his books.

Scott Berkun at the STC Summit Opening Session

Scott’s talk was extremely engaging, focusing on breaking the status quo. The primary idea Scott focused on was the creativity takes work. “A flash of insight must be followed by action before others can benefit from your idea. Creativity feels like work because it is work. But stories focus on flash of insight making it seem as though insight becomes result.”

Did you know it took Newton 10 years to mathematically prove gravity? But often the story is told as though the apple falling was the end of the story.

You must sketch, practice, and try out ideas. His inspiration has led me to do more personal writing and spend my free time on a side project I have been postponing for far too long.

According to Scott, “Willingness to try is the basis of innovation.” If you aren’t willing to try new things, it says more about your arrogance than your curiosity.

We often link innovation with popular and successful companies, like Facebook. But often, these companies have many predecessors, such as MySpace and Friendster.

Idea + Context + Execution = Breakthrough

Ideas are made from other ideas. Scott challenged each of us to try to think of idea that isn’t comprised of other, smaller ideas. If you succeed, please let me know.

The most creative person in the room might not be any smarter than you, but they are courageous enough to share their ideas. They are willing to make others uncomfortable. They are willing to be embarrassed. This is something that I personally struggle with. I often listen to someone speak who shares methods about a tool I use. There are many times that I just think something is obvious and would already be considered and ruled out.

Scott continued his talk by giving suggestions to determine when and how you are most creative. Is it in a coffeeshop with group or alone with sketchpad? Is it walking and talking with a friend? Try keeping a journal to track and write your ideas in it. According to Scott,

“If you are afraid to write down your ideas in a book that only you will see, then you don’t need creativity. You need therapy.”

If there are issues in the creative process, don’t add more people! Get fewer people involved. You need a small group of people that can work together effectively. There’s a reason rock bands only have three or four people. It is a sweet spot for honest collaboration. Larger groups results in fight for power.

Berkun’s Idea Killers

Determine where in your organization ideas are dying? Do they die before they even get pitched? How many ideas survive long enough to have a chance to influence what goes out the door?

If you are trying to suggest an idea that was considered in the past, don’t assume everything in the universe is constant. Determine what has changed and if the differences are enough to implement the idea. What else must change to test idea.

This great keynote challenged our ideas and encouraged each of us to push our comfort zones. This was perhaps the most memorable and best keynote I have attended. I hope next year’s speaker is equally engaging.

If you are struggling with creative thinking, Scott suggested using his Creative Thinking Hacks available at

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