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The ‘Dean of Innovation’ Offers New Ways to Think Outside the Box in ‘Innovation You’

Jeff DeGraff|Author,"Innovation You"

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Creativizing Your Life by Jeff DeGraff, author of "Innovation You Four Steps to Becoming New and Improved."

What if you were a company?

Not a brand or product but a company with lots of moving parts and dots to connect – demanding shareholders, disengaged employees and a to-do list that would make Santa Claus swoon.

That just about sums it up for most of us as we schlep through the rat-a-tat-tat of ubiquitous soccer practice, disappointing airline monitors and the past due reports of our post-modern life. Given the ominous state of the workplace and the pandering pulse of you-topian buzz and blather, you’ve probably thought carefully about what you're good at, what value you produce and who your people are. But there is still that sneaky spot, that quiet and dangerous question that contains both your reason for being and your closet of fears: How will you grow?

Contained in this question are decisions about your future: Your beliefs, relationships, money, health and career. Most importantly it determines your ability to make sense of your life and act accordingly.

The business that is "You" contains so much more than just your Self.

You are a member of an ensemble of key people and forces beneath, within and beyond you: Family, friends, colleagues, economics and outrageous fortune.

To grow you must look up, down and around to harness and enlist these people and communities that move us forward.

Innovation is not about heroic deeds of derring-do.

"Creativizing" your life simply means adding creativity to ordinary things to make them extraordinary.

Practice Prismatic Thinking

There is no data on the future where innovation happens – tensions in the Middle East, the value of the dollar and scary diseases we haven’t named yet. In fact, collecting excessive data on the future is a form of resistance because it stops you from acting. Innovation has a shelf life like milk – over time it goes sour. The fabulous gizmo that you bought last Christmas is this year’s trash. So how do you find the unknowable destination? With a map to foresee (4C) the hot spots where our opportunities will emerge and the look into the blind spots where our challenges hide.

Author, Innovation You
Jeff DeGraff

How you innovate is what you innovate. There are four types of innovation (the 4Cs) that largely determine how you will grow. These types are not harmonious, and although you can recognize them and ride them, you can’t control them. The truth is that innovation requires constructive conflict. No, not the kind of debilitating hate-speak we hear from politicians and late night partisans but rather the kind that occurs when people vigorously disagree but synthesize this positive tension and creative energy into productive hybrids – innovation.

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These two competing types of innovation largely determine your level of ambition and your tolerance of risk: How much?

CREATE: This type of innovation is focused on DOING NEW THINGS and includes:

  • Creativity: Aesthetic vision and artistic expression
  • Discovery: Psychological and spiritual exploration

CONTROL: This type of innovation is focused on DOING THINGS RIGHT and includes:

  • Security: Safety and savings
  • Productivity: Accomplishment and advancement

Consider how your highly efficient daily grind has crowded out your creative soak time for playing the guitar or mediation.

These next two competing types govern your speed of innovation and your sustainability: How fast?

COMPETE: This type of innovation is focused on DOING THINGS NOW and includes:

  • Vitality: Physical and emotional health
  • Prosperity: Financial well being

COLLABORATE: This type of innovation is focused on DOING THINGS THAT LAST and includes:

  • Capability: Learning and intellectual development
  • Community: Connection with family and friends

This is where our work-life struggles occur. Do you go to the gym to keep healthy or go pick up the kids early from daycare to stay happy?

Of course, in the right measure, situation and sequence you must engage all four types of innovation, but not all at once, and certainly not everywhere. You need to practice prismatic thinking – looking for hot spots and blind spots in each of the four types:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not?
  • What should I start?
  • What should I stop?
  • What should I hold?

By routinely rebalancing your life portfolio, you will continue to grow through shrewd choices about where you invest your time, resources and precious energy. Remember that you cannot grow until you first create the capacity for growth.

You can have it all, just not at the same time or way. Innovation requires deviation.

Jeff DeGraff is an innovation professor at the Ross School of Business, the founder of Innovatrium Institute of Innovation, and co-creator of Competing Values Framework. In his new book, “Innovation You: Four Steps to Becoming New and Improved,” you’ll learn to be a Creativizer, to incorporate what’s unique about you in everything you do; to make you new, seize opportunities, and address challenges in your life. You’ll first learn to leave your old habits behind and instill a new innovator's mindset. And you’ll end with a true and tried method of changing your life. In Stores Now! Get more at www.JeffDeGraff.com.

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