Our two courageous summer interns have deep passion for all things creativity. Building on their experiences in and out of the classroom, Lizzie and Turner decided to dig in to learn more. Follow along as Turner interviews David Eyman and Jim Friedman, two creativity professors from Miami University’s Institute for Entrepreneurship.
For the last 10 years, Miami University’s Institute for Entrepreneurship has been ranked among the top 10 public schools in the nation. Leading the creativity track for the institute are professors Friedman and Eyman. They are two very different manifestations of teaching creativity. If you want to talk to Friedman, you’ll likely have to wade through a pack of students huddled in his office discussing their latest breakthroughs and failures. If you walk into Eyman’s office, you’ll be greeted by an ever-changing landscape of toys, creative tools, school projects, and a smiling professor. The reason students line up at their door is both their innovative teaching methods (which got Friedman the ASG Outstanding Professor Award in 2016) and their long history in business, design, and content creation. Their different styles are to achieve the same goal: push students out of their comfort zone to do what they once thought was impossible, becoming creative. We decided to sit down with these two educators to understand how creativity can improve BigCos, the lives of their employees, and understand why some companies are more innovative than others.
Friedman: My definition of creativity is tied to birth. You are bringing something into the world that never existed before. That doesn’t have to be a book, song, or painting; it can be an idea. You birthed an idea or concept. It’s as simple as looking in your refrigerator and saying, “I’m going to cook something that I’ve never made before just to see what happens.” That’s creation…
Eyman: The thing that I’ve been working on is the difference between being creative and doing creative stuff. Anyone can do creativity. If I tell you “Make up 100 ideas for new tennis shoes” it can take you less than 10 minutes. Anyone can do that. Being creative on the other hand is more of a personality style. The confusion between the two keeps people from saying, “Yes I can make up new ideas.” So what we’re teaching students is that they are capable of doing creativity, because if you make up 100 ideas, by default, some of them are going to be highly creative ideas.
Eyman: I had a coaching client back in the day–a kid who thought he was dumb. The truth of the matter is this kid was brilliant. One week I gave him homework to take apart this VCR. He comes back on the next meeting and he starts showing me all these parts of the VCR. This kid was making up what parts do, and how they function together without having any engineering background or knowledge of how a VCR works. When I asked him what kind of person can just figure this out without being an engineer, he said, “Well a smart person… Oh my god you got me! You’re trying to make me see that I’m smart because I told you that I don’t think I’m smart.” In essence that’s exactly what we’re doing with Miami students. We’re showing them by doing. So they do creativity; they do it, they do it, they do it and then at the end of the semester we turn them around and have them look at the path that they left. They look at this wake that they left behind them and we ask, “What kind of people make those new ideas?” And by default they just answer “Yeah, creative people. You got me.”
Friedman: Everybody has a level of fear; we don’t want to be wrong. If you go into a kindergarten, and you tell a kid “draw a car for me,” they will excitedly grab a crayon and just start to draw. If you say to a junior in college “draw a car for me,” they’ll pull out their cell phone, they’ll Google “car”, they’ll choose one, and they’ll copy it, so that they can get it right. It’s fear of being wrong and not valuing the connection and vibrancy that creation brings. A creative is a child who didn’t grow up.
Eyman: You have to provide that venue, and in the corporate world that’s culture. It is an expectation that people will come up with ideas and share knowledge. The hard part is when there is a culture where you have to have the right idea the first time you open your mouth. If that’s the culture, innovation will never happen. Culture always starts with the leader. If the leader is willing to say “I need 5 ideas, or 10 ideas” and knows that not any of them are going to be the answer, that’s an innovation culture. There is certain failure if the leader comes in and thinks they have the one answer.
Friedman: If you punish failure, then you’re only going to get safe, stale ideas. One of the things I do in class, which works in business as well, is reward spectacular failure, and punish mediocre success.
Eyman: Exactly! When someone has a spectacular failure, you should say “That’s great! Let’s talk about it! What can we learn from this? How can we turn this around?” However, recognizing what a failure looks like, what a success looks like, and what a mediocre success looks like is hard to do in real life. It’s easy to talk about on an academic level, but for a person in a company to recognize what that means is a big deal. That’s part of why companies like The Garage Group are so important because we not only teach people through doing stuff and reflecting, but we also give people knowledge through language that sticks around.
Friedman: We need to get people to change their relationship with the word failure. If they can understand that success is made of a million tiny failures, that’s huge. If you never fail you never really tried anything of value because you haven’t pushed yourself. It’s the difference between jumping off the high dive and jumping off the side of the pool.
Eyman: Creative success to me is when people stop doing what they’re told and what’s expected. The minute they stop doing what’s expected and start doing what’s right, and what they’re capable of doing, and thinking about what might be possible, that’s success. Let’s say you go into a company and there’s an issue or a crisis and you say, “Well what should we do?” If the first answer is “Well, let’s look at what everybody else has done,” to me that’s a failure. If they respond “Well, let’s look at all our options, and let’s look at some more options, and then some more options,” then I think we’re on the right track. That’s success.
Friedman: Creativity is the only true, legal, unfair advantage. It is the thing that will take you to the next level quicker than anything else. It will help you make more money. It will help you have more choices. It will improve the quality and the opportunity in your life.
Dennis Furia is an Innovation & Growth Strategist at The Garage Group, and was a marketer at Procter & Gamble from 2011 to 2016
Making the switch from a large company to a startup has been a huge adventure for me. In many cases, the training and experience I got at P&G has been a huge help in the world of small business. This is especially true since The Garage Group spends so much time interacting with and guiding large companies. On the flip side, there are many lessons that I’m learning now at a startup that I wish I had known while in my corporate role. I’ve captured some of the larger ones below.
Lesson 1: Stop searching for the perfect data point.
One of the biggest lessons is around decision making. At a large corporation I was fortunate to have access to all the data in the world. I could slice share by sub-brand by retailer by region by week, all in the blink of an eye. The downside was that all that data could become addicting. There were times where I had enough data to come to a conclusion, but would continue diving through databases because I didn’t yet have the perfect statistical soundbite. I wasn’t looking to inform my thinking anymore, I was looking for a prettier bow to wrap it in. My assumption was that, with enough data, I could make my argument 100% airtight. Of course, the reality is that very few business questions have a perfect numerical answer (that’s why there’s a person in the role and not an algorithm), and more often than not, my additional searching would just open up more questions. These tangential questions weren’t bad in and of themselves, but in a world of finite time and energy, they were a distraction from the initial, more important question without adding anything to the conclusion that I’d already reached.
On the startup side, concrete data is much harder to come by. Out of necessity, I’ve learned to shift my attitude towards data from “gain complete confidence” to “gain enough confidence to take action”. Once I reach that point, I’ve always found more success by taking action than by continuing to research every eventuality.
Lesson 2: Get out of the office.
Another benefit of working at a large corporation was the frequency with which we were able to do consumer research. However, looking back, I let “attending consumer research” be too much of a stand-in for “being in-touch with the consumer”. Most of the research I attended was highly directed (seeking to answer a specific business question) rather than exploratory (broadly searching for insights that might not be uncovered yet). Directed research can be extremely useful, but it’s not enough on its own to give you a holistic understanding of your consumer.
In contrast, the exploratory mindset is pervasive in the startup world, where entrepreneurs are obsessed with understanding unmet needs and pain points, sometimes even without a product in mind! It’s the kind of mindset that allows you to anticipate someone’s needs before they’ve articulated them, and the tools for researching this way look entirely different. It looks like doing a store walk and striking up a conversation with a consumer who’s shopping your aisle, or curiously talking with a friend that uses your competitor’s product. In general, you get this insight by getting out of the office (or out from behind the one-way mirror) and interacting with the consumer on their turf and by their terms. It can be a vulnerable–and even scary–experience, but I think the benefits would have far outweighed the risks in my corporate role.
Lesson 3: Have an entrepreneurial mindset, especially toward budget.
In my first corporate role, I had an amount of money that I could spend without any additional authorization. It was a hugely empowering policy, but I don’t think I used it once.
The amount was a tiny fraction of the total budget for the business, which led me to the false assumption that the “small” amount would never move the needle. When challenges came my way I would look immediately towards larger-scale solutions that required approval. Looking back, there would have been a ton of merit in carrying out the thought exercise of “how would I solve this within my authorization?”.
At a smaller company, my mindset has shifted completely. Sure, I’d now kill for access to that budget I took for granted, but even more important was learning to have an entrepreneurial mindset towards whatever resources I have at my disposal. It doesn’t come from a mindset of scarcity, but from the acknowledgement that constraints can breed creativity, and that an iterative test-and-learn approach will yield better results than going all-in up front. This isn’t about pinching pennies (at a large company, speed and quality are often more important than cost), it’s about never letting purchasing power be a substitute for ingenuity and strategic thinking.
Lesson 4: Be a student, not an expert.
The more experienced I became in my corporate role, the harder it was for me to say those three little words: “I don’t know”. Even if the frequency with which I had to say them was going down, it felt bad when situations came up outside of my expertise. I placed a high value on having all the answers off the top of my head, but this meant my first impulse was to explain everything through existing knowledge and frameworks rather than honestly assessing if I was missing something.
One of the largest things the startup world has taught me is that it’s better to think of yourself as a “student of” your field rather than an “expert on” it. Thinking of yourself as an expert assumes a fixed pool of knowledge that you already have a firm command of. This makes new or conflicting information harder to accept because it challenges your status as an expert. Thinking of yourself as a student focuses less on having all the answers, and more on being good at finding them. Regardless of how much you already know, it assumes that the pool of knowledge is constantly expanding. The sooner you can admit “I don’t know”, the sooner you can get to “but I can find out!”
Lesson 5: Focus on legacy over ladder.
At a large corporation, my career path was clearly defined, and I could easily see the next 4 to 5 promotions strung out in front of me. Unfortunately, this created the temptation to measure my worth by how close I was to that next career step. My yearly rating and “readiness to promote” provided more than enough immediate motivation (especially in a competitive environment), but that made it easier for me to leave the deeper, longer term motivations unexamined.
Joining a small company helped me see just how ridiculous that mindset was. In the absence of a clearly defined ladder to climb, I had to think more deeply about WHY I was doing what I was doing, which led me to put much more stake in the legacy I was building — on the business, but more importantly in the lasting impact I wanted to have on the people around me. It can feel odd to think so expansively about your impact in a larger organization, especially if you’re more junior. Working for a small business has helped me realize that thinking about legacy is time well spent in any organization and at any level.
There’s a thousand other lessons I’ve learned on the startup side that would have helped me immensely at a large corporation. I’m lucky to be able to apply them in my current role at The Garage Group, helping large corporations innovate and grow like a startup, and I hope this post will inspire you to apply them as well!
Alisa Ivory Smith loves stories, understanding what motivates people, learning about different industries and products, and making connections. All of those attributes add up to The Beehive, a podcast in which she interviews women entrepreneurs from all over the world. We sat down with Alisa to understand a bit more about her podcast, and the lessons transferrable to Bigcos.
Why did you decide to start The Beehive Podcast?
The Beehive Podcast is all about women entrepreneurs who’ve started their own businesses. I interview them to talk about their journey, and the process they took to go from the initial idea to actual launch of the idea—what challenges they had and how they got past those challenges; and also what fears they had and how they got past those fears.
I had many reasons for starting the podcast, the first being that I wanted a challenge. I started listening to podcasts when they first came out, but I never thought about being a podcast producer until I listened to a show that talked about being a podcaster, and how I could do it, too! I also wanted to give back; I had just spent the last two years getting my MBA, and I had a little girl, so it had been a while since I had been doing any volunteer work. I missed it. So, I tried to figure out how I could give back to the community, but still be at home.
The third reason—last but definitely not least—I wanted to figure out a way to empower women to help them be stronger both in life and in business.
What are the common threads across the entrepreneurs you’ve interviewed?
A big one is that these entrepreneurs are solving needs that they have in their own life. They’re either thinking of that from a standpoint of solving a business or just solving it for themselves and maybe it accidentally turns into something bigger.
Another big thread is that people don’t have a background in product development, or anything related to how they might execute their idea. They’re completely disconnected, and yet they have the tenacity and the motivation to pursue their idea and get it launched. They may not have those connections in the industry, but they’ll just ask their friends if they know someone who could help them—they’ll stumble their way into how to solve their problem, which is amazing!
Social media engagement is also huge, especially for consumer research. They’ll develop a following, and then ask their followers for opinions on what they should launch next, or how they should develop their current product. They’ve built this level of community with not only the people around them but people online as well. They’re also using it for their launches to get the word out, not only to their consumers but retailers who may want to sell their products. Social media has really sped up the consumer research process for startups—they can make decisions and just do it.
How do you think these lessons learned translate to the corporate world?
When we talk about innovation, are we really willing to do whatever it takes to meet the consumers’ needs? The answer should be yes, but in the corporate world, it’s yes, IF all of these other constraints are met. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, those things don’t always exist. It’s all about solving the problem in a way that’s perhaps not the most elegant solution, but the most viable.
From a corporate standpoint, we have a lot of barriers to innovation. There are gatekeepers whose purpose is to make sure the idea is as good as it could be within the constraints that exist. As companies get bigger, they add more systems and processes to maximize efficiency. However, corporations need to make sure that those efficiencies still allow for innovation to happen. In a way, innovation needs to be coddled and protected. Innovators should have space to really think and figure out what an idea could actually be before bringing it through the gatekeepers.
Knowing failure and adversity come with the territory of entrepreneurship, how have these leaders been able to overcome these challenges?
Someone once told me that if you fail, it just means you need it keep going; it means you’re closer to your target. These leaders don’t let failure get the best of them; they see it as part of the process. It’s inevitable so they figure out what they can do to better their process. They fail, they get up, they reach out for help, and they move on. These entrepreneurs are working to help people, and that’s what keeps them going.
A failure when you own your own business becomes a bit more personal, but they don’t take it personally, and I’ve been trying to figure out how they do that. I think they see it as more of a science experiment. They come up with a hypothesis, test it in the marketplace, it may or may not work, and if it didn’t work then they just do something else.
What is your biggest takeaway from these podcasts so far? And where do you envision your podcast going in the future?
More and more women are starting their own businesses; there’s so much potential out there. I think women are leaning in a different way. They’re leaning into their own self-sufficiency by business ownership.
Another big takeaway is that these companies are extremely agile, which is a huge threat to large corporations. These smaller companies can talk to consumers and quickly pivot.
As for the future, it would be really nice to create a network of women empowering women—a network for women to get help in starting and launching their ideas. I just want to motivate women to do what they think they want to do and bring their ideas to life. I could see the podcast even branching out and talking about the individual parts of product design and commercialization.
Anything else you’d like to share…
People are disrupting the marketplace where they are, but there’s also this level of disruption in the way they’re living their lives. They’re going into something in which they have no knowledge, and yet they’re surviving and thriving. I think that’s a really beautiful thing.
Mark Lacker does everything with purpose, whether it’s to learn from something or to contribute to something. He’s the last person in the world to brag about himself, but his students and colleagues know just how much of an educating powerhouse he is. As the current Miami University Alumni Association Effective Educator of the Year in the #8 entrepreneurship program of public universities, we decided to sit down with Mark to understand what it takes to be so successful in educating young entrepreneurs, and what Bigcos can learn from him.
We’re impressed with your leadership creating opportunities for students to learn and get immersed in entrepreneurship. How did you get started, and what drives your passion?
I was running a small business in Cincinnati and Miami’s entrepreneurship program contacted me to ask if I’d like to have some interns. Those interns turned out to be unbelievably great, and along the way I figured out that these students were really bright and really quick. After that, I did a lot of guest speaking, which led to teaching one class a semester, and found out that I loved it; what I loved most were the students and their possibilities.
As for passion, there are two drivers. The first is how fantastic our team is. I’ve been through enough business experiences and teams to know that being on a great team in which everyone is aligned, collegial, and committed to purpose and each other happens far too rarely–and we have that in the Miami Entrepreneurship program. But when it’s all said and done, you teach because it’s about the students.
About 10 years ago I read a book by Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation, and I did some research around it. The characteristics of The Greatest Generation–which were the WWII Vets going into the workplace in the 1950s–were described with the same terms and phrases that people in the workforce today use with Millennials. At the heart of it, Millennials want to do more, quickly; they want to do things that make meaning now. So, it’s my challenge to figure out how to prepare a student to go make meaning, make a difference, and be successful–whether it’s in a Bigco, a nonprofit, or a funded startup. That’s what drives me.
Some people argue that entrepreneurship can’t be taught. What do you say to that?
Our definition of entrepreneurship at Miami is that it’s a way of thinking and acting, and understanding entrepreneurship means you have to understand the contexts in which entrepreneurial thinking and acting take place. For instance, McKinsey did a world-wide study a couple years ago and found that 80% of Chief Strategy Officers of large companies believed their business model was at risk. So Bigcos need entrepreneurial thinking and acting–more creative minds, more entrepreneurial minds, more innovative minds, people that can see opportunities where others don’t. They need people that not only find those opportunities, but know what to do to test, prove, build, and deploy solutions in a way that improves speed and reduces risk. Those processes and opportunity-recognition skills can absolutely be taught. High-growth companies and startups are looking for people that can tolerate ambiguity, learn things on the fly, and are excellent at collaboration–all things that can be taught.
What is the most challenging part of teaching entrepreneurship?
A student is going to take 5-6 courses, participate in student and social organizations, hang out with friends, and may even have a job. In that entire mix of things, the biggest challenge isn’t the material–it’s getting mindshare. My biggest challenge is to show my students why the things we’re doing will matter to them. If I can’t do that, my students won’t care. But if I can, then the challenge becomes to deliver relevant growing experiences that lead to a better understanding of my students’ sense of self and more doors opened.
What are the key principles you center on while teaching entrepreneurship?
One is embodied by John Altman, the man who started Miami University’s Entrepreneurship program. He told me years ago, “When I walk into the classroom, I consider myself first among equals.” Everybody in the room is equal, and as the first among equals, my job is to curate the course. Once I’m in the room though, we’re on all the same plane. In addition to that, I say the same thing on the first day of every course, “I’m not here to teach you. I’m here to help you learn.” My students have a responsibility in their learning; it’s up to them to come prepared already having read through the material, and it’s my job to help them make better sense of it.
The last thing students want to do is spend time memorizing something only to regurgitate it back out–it’s a waste of time. Teachers are no longer the oracle of information when you can learn everything you need to know at the tips of your fingers. It’s my job to help students put it in context and apply it. This allows for my students to thrive in Bigcos who are desperate for new and entrepreneurial thinking, but also in startups that don’t have a training program. Either way, new employees are thrown right in, so I structure my classes accordingly. While these are some of my principles, they all boil down to my honest belief that this is the greatest generation; they’re going to change the world for all the right reasons.
How has Miami University embraced the entrepreneurial culture?
When asked this question, he turned it over to one of our interns, a current Miami University Entrepreneurship student, who said:
I would rather spend my time in the entrepreneurship department than I would my major’s department. When asked, I also say I’m studying entrepreneurship, and then I say I’m studying marketing because I fit into the culture of our program more than anywhere else. Everyone has the growth mindset, and everyone’s so supportive of each other. I can go to just about anyone in the program for feedback, and they’ll spend as much time as I need with them. You can’t find that anywhere else. It’s also about what we’re learning. I feel that whatever job I have, I can apply what I’m learning. Yes, the entrepreneurship classes I take are much harder than some of my other classes, but I’d rather take them knowing that I’m actually going to use what I learn.
Mark agreed, and built onto it, saying:
The entire team is aligned. We all believe in the students. We’re all current on what we’re teaching. We all push the students to do their work. I don’t know of any other department that acts so in concert and is so fresh with its teachings.
How do you think entrepreneurship is changing the business landscape?
Every discipline has recognized the need to be more entrepreneurial–leaner, quicker, more impactful, shedding the old-school, doing more with less. What we’re doing at Miami matters to any job, any organization, any size, in any sector. The fact that it’s now widely recognized is gratifying, but it’s also a challenge for us to deliver so our students are ready for the challenges, whether it’s in gerontology or primary education. It’s not all about starting a business; it’s about affecting the business.
How does entrepreneurship relate to the corporate world? How should Bigcos be thinking about leveraging it?
“We need to be more ____” Fill in the blank with Lean, Agile or Innovative and you have the mantra of many Bigcos. Underpinning this is a fear of being disrupted and a need to act more swiftly, reduce risk and explore more opportunities. Lean Startup methods provide the playbook to do just that. By emphasizing iterative testing, empirical evidence, and fragmenting large R&D builds into smaller chunks of deliverable progress.
How do you incorporate lean innovation principles and methodologies into your teaching? What about your own work?
We use some of the same materials that highly-regarded companies use in teaching innovation to Bigcos. We also use the same iterative lean process that has been widely distributed and adopted by startups. So, if you think of Lean Startup and Business Model Generation as fundamental processes, we teach them. We teach them in our 200-level classes and then apply them in our 400-level classes and internship programs. Our students are learning the same things–tools, processes, and resources–that a Fortune 500 company teaches its employees. Our curriculum is all externally driven.
At the higher-ed level, you can’t sit in an office and think about what you ought to be teaching to entrepreneurial students; you have to go ask entrepreneurial organizations what they’re teaching and learning. When I go to these CEOs and upper-management personnel at high-growth companies, I ask two questions: 1) “What would make you salivate over one of our students on graduation day?” In other words: How do they need to think? How do they need to act? What skills and experiences do they need? What do they need to be able to do so that you would not just interview them, but that you would actually fight to have them on your team? 2) I also ask how they organize and structure, and especially what pieces of software and training they use; then I go research it. After I gather all this information, I look at what’s most relevant to the 18-22 cohort, and determine the most appropriate structure for the classroom.
Ever since Taylor Burchett joined us over a year ago, she’s been an absolute powerhouse. She’s designed entrepreneurial approaches to research, led Design Sprints, and trained hundreds of clients on Jobs to be Done. We’re excited to announce Taylor’s promotion to Strategist to continue bringing entrepreneurial approaches to a variety innovation challenges across industries. We recently sat down with Taylor to get her take on what’s been happening the last year.
What would you say is the biggest thing you have learned since coming to TGG (professionally and /or personally)?
The whole shift from a “fixed” mindset to “growth” mindset has been the biggest learning for me both personally and on a professional level. Often, it’s important to appear to be smartest or exactly right at all times. I think the growth mindset of having the courage to fail and placing more importance on the need and desire to learn rather than being ‘right’, has been the biggest shift for me.
What do you think our clients should be paying more attention to?
Disruption that comes from all angles and all industries. We have seen Bigcos being disrupted by a 1,000 different small companies, but we’ve also seen big, traditional companies be incredibly disruptive themselves. As companies are paying more attention to things like Jobs to Be Done and “what are we solving for,” they are starting to blur the lines between channels, competitors, and what they might have thought their solution was.
From a how the work gets done POV, we’re starting to see great benefits coming from teams adopting Lean Innovation capability. Essentially workstreams where you teach brand and product leaders to operate like entrepreneurs where they move fast to iteratively learn, and create new sources of value in emerging areas. That is where the change is happening and the visibility to the rest of the company is coming in, and that is where the disruption happens.
What is one of your fav things about working at TGG?
I love how everyone has the ability to think on their feet. Whether you are throwing out a new proposal question, you are looking for trends in a certain area, or need a good response to a client challenge, I feel like everyone jumps in immediately with super creative ideas and thoughts. It makes you always want to be on your toes because that is the level everyone else is at, but it’s done in a fun and noncompetitive way. It makes it an exciting and rapid place to work and feels like everyone is at the top of their game.
The other day someone mentioned, “we are our own best-case study because we’re always learning.” Whether that’s throwing articles up on the Slack channel, discovering new books for us to read, being an active part of the startup community, or leading entrepreneurship classes at local Universities. There is this constant love of learning which helps us stay fresh in our own thinking and fresh in what we bring to our clients. It is great personally and professionally.
Congratulations, Taylor; we’re so happy you’re on our team!