Oct 11

Creative Problem Solving: Creative Thinking II

This posting is the second in my Creative Thinking Series and follows “Sane People with Insane Ideas: Creative Thinking I”. In the first post, I discussed having the courage to allow yourself to think creatively. Thinking creatively requires you to imagine an alternative path; a third path besides the two Frost wrote about diverging in a yellow wood. Its not about the road less traveled by, its about the road not even conceptualized yet. The road Frost didn’t even think about. Choosing either of Frost’s paths just lead to ordinary ends. To be extraordinary you must create your own path. In this post you will read about the importance of creative problem solving and its implications.

Thinking photo via Flickr by Victor Perez. Creative Commons License

Being creative takes practice. In fact you should practice creativity regularly. Pick something you like to do and do it daily. If you like writing, write daily. If you like painting, paint daily. Play a video game that allows you to create something from scratch. You use it or lose it. One of the most “interesting” blogs I read, Altucher Confidential by James Altucher as recently compiled some advice on this front.  Check out his “Nine Ways To Light Your Creativity ON FIRE.”

Its very important to have this tool ready to innovate or create when needed.  I say “needed” because life doesn’t throw you softballs for you to just stand around and blast out of the park. Life throws curve balls and damn good major-league-type curve balls at that. When you don’t get curve balls, you get 95 mph fastballs. You have to have the ability to develop creative solutions at a moments notice. Your ability to innovate will be the most important tool in your arsenal to solve your life’s problems and business problems.

Creativity is prevalent in successful businesses. Henry Ford developed the assembly line and reinvented the way automobiles were built. Mass production changed the world and is still the standard method of producing anything. Apple Computer, which I have written about the post “Steve Jobs – Evil, Genius or Evil Genius?”, is constantly creating new and exciting products that work together as a system.  More on Apple later. It is well written that most successful products solve a problem that no one else has solved yet.

Outhouse in the Woods photo via Flickr by Anthony van Dyck Creative Commons License

The first and most vital step in creative problem solving is recognizing the problem. Before the invention of the flushing toilet, people thought they had solved this smelly problem by simply moving the throne to a separate building called the outhouse. In winter new problems were encountered as people needed to suit up just to read the newspaper… or anything else they wanted to do in the outhouse. People just accepted this as normal and this uncomfortable element of life continued on. Until one day, one guy said “hey, I am sick and tired of having to go out in the cold and dirty outhouse every time nature called.” and then the most important: “there has to be a better way.” And there was a better way. Now people all over the world can read their newspapers in the warmth of their own homes and they never have to use an out building again (unless they want to, I am not judging).

Every entrepreneur is in the creative problem-solving business first and foremost. Without this tool in their toolbox they would have no product or no product people would need. As a creative problem solver, you identify problems and then they move on to the next step, identifying the need. The need is the solution to the customer’s problem as defined by the companies product or solution. Its the sell. “You need my product because it solves this problem.” A need is vital and much more important than just a solution.  There could be many solutions to a problem but unless a company can “own” the solution, literally and figuratively there is no way to monetize it. Thus, a company must own a own a particular solution before it can sell the need to its customers.

Which brings me back to Apple. In the past I have compared Apple to drug dealers and now I make a new comparison. Apple is great because they do business like the mob. These outfits run a similar operation in that not only do they sell the “need” to the customer, they also have to sell the “problem they they invent” to the customer. This method is like creativity on steroids, here’s how it works.

Two thugs bust in to a convenience store and rough up the proprietor with a few punches and take the cash. Before the cops are called a couple of mob associates show up and tell the owner how bad the neighborhood is.  They tell him that if he paid the mob a small “protection fee” they would make all his troubles go away.  Then the mob pays off the first two thugs they hired and on to the next one. The mob makes their money by selling a solution to a problem that they created! Genius!

Apple operates in the same way. No they don’t hire thugs to rough up PC users when the new MAC is coming out, but what they do is create solutions to problems that they create. For example, Apple sold Ipods as a solution to the problem of a world without the ability to carry every song they own with they at all times. Back in the 90’s everyone was perfectly happy and content with their CD Walkman and the 3 CD’s we could manage to lug around with us. I have to admit it is pretty cool carrying 2000 songs with me as I go for a run though. Sometimes I can’t make up my mind between Dave Matthews or Metallica. Thank you Apple for not making me choose!

Excercise your creative muscle daily. You will need it when you least expect it just in your regular life let alone business. As an entrepreneur you are in the creative problem solving business. Try and develop solutions to problems that no one else labels as “problem” yet. Create a need that you can sell your customers by owning the solutions to those problems through patents or other means.

Always ask yourself if there is a better way!


Jul 11

Steve Jobs – Evil, Genius or Evil Genius?

Don’t ask me how I wound up delving into the investigation, but if you do some searches on the subject, “Steve Jobs Evil Genius” returns some very interesting results. Apparently I am not the only person in the world resistant to Apple and their easy to use products. Though its been a lonely road up until now, pealing back layer after layer of the Apple enigma through Google and Yahoo searches offers some solice (as you are well aware, everything on the internet is the gospel truth).

Apple photo by enricoagostoni via Diviantart Creative Commons

Rumor has it that Steve Jobs is a control freak. I think it was a recent interview on NPR where I listened to an Apple employee describe how Jobs sent a new Ipod back to engineering the night before a big unveiling event because he found that the headphones didn’t make a “click” when they were plugged in. Jobs said something to the effect of the customer expects to hear a click. And so Jobs said “let there be clicks,” and then there were clicks. Those clicks also came back under budget, well before the deadline and in 15 assorted colors.

A buddy of mine swears by his Mac. “No virus protection” he boasts. “Apple has never had a virus so no need;” he continued. I am predisposed to being risk-averse so these statements are contradictary to my fundamental make-up, but I listened… and I wondered.  How could Jobs pull this off? Is a Mac really better than a PC? Has Apple figured out the secret of life too? These questions will remain unanswered as I am not a techie, but rather a finance guy…  and the spreadsheet I was using to calculate the probabilities to answer said questions has locked up.

I am not in the position to answer these rumors so I will do my part to perpetuate them with this post. I am not ready to label Steve Jobs “Darth Vader” and Apple “The Deathstar,” but it is intriquing how a computer geek could actually be a marketing genius and a operations genius. I am thinking he has help executing his diabolical plans – which contradicts the control freak rumors.

I know a few things about Apple. The company is well run. They always impress Wall Street with great numbers. Their products do seem to be superior than their competitors. I would rather be on the side of Jobs than against him. Remember when they found the Iphone prototype in some seedy silicone valley bar and Apple was accused to planting it there for PR? I heard the guy that developed it disappeared that night. Just another Apple rumor I suppose. Its difficult to sift through the rumors to find facts. If I disappear after publishing this post, you know where to go first!

Could Jobs just be successful by being so in tuned with his customers that he knows what they want before they do? Or could it be his marketing? He locks customers in with the exclusive interconnectivity of the Apple products and only adds products that can also work well with the others. Maybe Jobs offers the forbidden fruit that is Apple to unsuspecting consumers and once they get a bite they are hooked, just like crack. The consumer can’t get enough. They rob from their parents just to get the new Iphone upgrade and new Apple interventions are being conducted by desperate families all over the world.

I heard a rumor that Jobs doesn’t use his own products. It makes sense. Everyone knows if you are going to survive peddling your “goods,” you don’t get high on your own supply.

My conclusion is that Steve Jobs must be a “genius.” I was leaning toward “evil genius,” but dropped the “evil” after reading his inspiring 2005 graduation speech at Stanford. Which, I highly recommend you read if you are confused, frustrtated, scared, lost, had a setback, will have a setback, lost perspective or have a general longing for inspiration in life.  Click below to read now.

He is human after all.