tkelley.jpgLast week I listened to a great podcast titled Young at Heart: How to Be an Innovator for Life from the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series at Stanford. If you haven’t heard about the series, I highly recommend to check it out. They have great speakers on various topics mostly around entrepreneurship, startup experiences and more recently, green energy.
Young at Heart: How to Be an Innovator for Life was delivered by Tom Kelley, general manager at IDEO. He presented 5 core practices that enhance creativity and described how these practices can help each of us be more innovative and successful in every part of our lives. I will try to briefly summarize the 5 points below, but if you are interested, check out the podcast yourself.

1. Think Like a Traveler

When you travel to a foreign country you become more aware of the things that are happening around you. You observe your environment in more detail and you switch off the auto-pilot that takes you through every day life.
Turn up the traveler part of your brain to capture the deep and up to date knowledge of what is happening around you.

2. Treat Life as an Experiment

In order to succeed, you will have to fail. Unfortunately failure is being seen as undesirable in our society. However, people forget that most innovations are preceded by a number of failures. For example the famous WD40 oil formula got it’s name from the number of formulas that didn’t work. 39 different formulas were tried and dismissed before the company arrived at the final product that made the “Water Displacement 40” such a huge success.
Treat life as an experiment. It is ok to fail as long a you learn your lesson and move on.

3. Nurture the Attitude of Wisdom

“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it is what you know for sure that ain’t so.”
Best Buy lost one billion dollars in 2005 when MusicLand, which was acquired by best buy in 2001, went bankrupt. The executives at Best Buy thought they knew the market well enough to make the decision to buy MusicLand without conducting enough research beforehand. Unfortunately they failed to see that CD sales were already slowing down in the beginning of the century, and more and more people downloaded music from the web. They completely ignored what was happening around them.
Distrust what you know just enough to keep searching. Resting on your laurels is never a good idea.

4. Use your Brain and your Tortoise Mind

The tortoise mind is a subconscious mind that works in the backgrounds on problems and thoughts you are having. Researchers found that ingenious ideas that seem to come like a lightning bolt to ones mind are in fact the result of the tortoise mind working away in the background for days, weeks, month or even years, and the “aha” moment is simply the crossing of the finishing line. However for the tortoise mind can only operate if it gets some processing time, time in which you aren’t listing to music, reading a book or solving crossword puzzles. Time to day-dream. Therefore keep your iPod turned of once a while when you are headed home to turn up your own creative powers and engage the tortoise mind.

5. Follow your Passions

It is easy. If you don’t follow your passion you will not be successful in what you are doing. If you are trying to think about what to do next, think about it in three circles:

Circle 1: What are you good at?

It’s important to keep in mind what you are good at. However, just because you are good at something doesn’t mean that this is the only thing you can do in life. For example I would like to think that I am pretty good with computers and a decent programmer. But then you come to a place like Atlassian where you find people in the second circle.

Circle 2: What are you born to do?

Some people are the happiest when they solve equations or dig in the depth of the Java source code and find out how every class is implemented. This is wonderful, but nothing I was born to do.
People have a good idea about what they are good at. But it’s harder to figure out what you are born to do. I would suggest simply start by keeping track of the activities you enjoyed the most during the week. Why not spend 30 minutes on Sunday to reflect about the week and recall what made you happy, what you really enjoyed doing. Just write it up in Confluence
The last question, and therefore the last cirlce is…

Circle 3: What would people pay you to do?

Playing computer games is something I was pretty good at, and something I loved doing… but it is hard to find someone to pay you for it. I know, today you can probably find someone to pay for anything you do… even sleeping. And I am pretty good at that as well.
And of course there is one more thing.


The last question is especially relevant to Atlassian. Who are you going to work with? I believe many people are at Atlassian because of this last question. You can program web-applications in many places. But it is hard to find such a good crowd to work with.

Bottom Line

The supreme achievement in life should be: Blur the line between work and play!

Young at Heart – How to Be an Innovator for Life