Are your great ideas keeping your from failing?

Can you generate ten, twenty ideas at the drop of a hat in any situation? Do you like ambiguity and the challenge of messy problems? Do you like to riff off of other concepts? In a group, do feel like the only person who really gives a shit? Then you’re probably an ideas person. I should know, I’m one myself.

The image I created is pretty flattering, especially to those who identify with it. However, there’s a overlooked flip side. What happens when being an ideas person goes from being an asset to a liability? Sure, the only thing worse than too many ideas is having none at all. That hardly matters since both lead to the same dead end of atrophy.

The first step is recognizing when it’s time to stop generating ideas. The second isn’t to jump right into implementation. Instead, cherry pick the ideas you like best and start testing them. How you do this is really depends on the idea. I am going to work on future posts for this very topic.

Do a little soul searching too. Ask yourself whether this ability to generate lots of ideas is really just a defense mechanism for protecting your ego from failure, rejection, and criticism?

Being good at generating  a lot of ideas can get in the way of actually doing something. Over time, people will become less and less interested in hearing what you have to say.

It’s one thing to be clever, but the money is really in being resourceful. Resourceful people are good at coming up with ideas too. They just happen to be trying to figure out how to execute not just come up with concepts.

In the end, let implementation and results be the ultimate arbiter of greatness.


I’ve been using Pandora off an on for several years and I guess I’d call myself a fair weather fan of the service. The promise of Pandora is that it’ll find songs to match your tastes, all you have to do is pick an artist or two and start playing.

It doesn’t matter which artist you choose, it could someone obscure like Trenchmouth or Gothic pipe organ music, but sooner or later, you are going to hear the Black Keys, ColdPlay, and that big huge Hawaiian dude that plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the Ukelele.

These acts are like the Kevin Bacon of internet music.

Mr. Mayor, let my people go

As an alum, I think it’s great Mayor Emanuel personally trekked down to Champaign to encourage UIUC grads to consider Chicago over Silicon Valley. As someone who understands firsthand how critical talent is to the long-term success of Chicago I say let them go. In fact, do what I do, encourage them!

Twenty years ago I faced the same choice. While I was emotionally attached to Chicago, I chose the Valley because the work out there was more compelling and interesting. It wasn’t just a job.

Today, Chicago is in a much better place as evident in things like 1871, BuiltInChicago, and Ideas Week. But we’ve got a long way to go before we have anything like the Bay Area’s exciting and thriving opportunity ecosystem.

Silicon Valley is good for the entire country, and Midwesterners are a crucial part of that economic engine. Out there, they love us for our work ethic and down-to-earth sensibility. In return we get exposed to an entirely new way of looking at the world. It’s a mutually beneficial system, and we shouldn’t be trying to deprive anyone from taking part in it.

I went through the whole experience these kids are hoping for. I worked at Apple, I started a company that was bought by Google. I worked ridiculous hours and met some amazing people. I won’t lie and say it was overrated. It was fantastic.

Not withstanding that, even if you’re moderately successful in Silicon Valley it’s not easy to have a “normal” life there. Which may be fine for an inexperienced 22 year old, but ask the myriad of 30-somethings making 6 digits and still living like a college kid what they want out of life. Odds are, they’re more likely to find it here, like I did, in Chicago. Those are the folks we should be trying to woo.

The point is, we don’t have to make Silicon Valley look bad to make Chicago look good. Everyone out there knows this place is awesome despite the weather. They just need to know there are finally some interesting jobs here.


Demonstrating an intense and deep affection for process over results and outcomes.

“Tobias’ is such an asshole. He thinks I don’t understand his ‘process’, but it’s his methodaltry getting in the way of understanding what we’re trying to do!”


The effects of extensive and deliberate retrenching by organizations intended to undermine customer gratification. The act of prioritizing all business needs of an organization over everything else, even when the benefits of doing otherwise are apparent.

“Tobias’  decision to charge a $6 convenience fee tickets ordered online came down to a matter of dikinomics.” 

The Status Quo

A study from last year suggests many of us might not actually like creativity as much as we say we do. That should come as no surprise for anyone who has tried to push for change within their organization.  People talk a good game about creativity in the form of cliches, but their actions demonstrate otherwise.

Most of us like the promise of creativity and it’s potential outcomes, but we’re either worried or suspicious of the process. If you try to think about it from their perspective, it’s not unreasonable.

For those of us who like to push the envelope, upset the apple carts, and turn the world upside down, think about the following. Most of us only find creativity interesting when it’s new, like a puppy. Over time it’s novelty wears off and it’s just a dog. We still love the dog, but we were smitten with the puppy.

Ask yourself whether you’re trying to solve problems with the status quo, or just trying to express yourself. The former is the difference between creativity and innovation. The status quo is innovation’s rival. It’s probably the result of a prior innovation which took a lot of work and requires a lot of work to maintain.

Those who built and benefit from the status quo have a vested interests in it, even if it’s not getting the job done. The really innovative people in an organization are the ones pointing out  problems long before anyone else sees them, or is willing to acknowledge they could exist.

I’m not saying you should give up, even though it is an option, it’s just important to know what you’re up against. 

Pursuing something innovative for the sake of creative expression isn’t worth it. That might be what’s in the back of some people’s mind when they shoot down an idea. Anyone can have an idea, but somebody has to execute. If you don’t have ideas on how that will happen, or the impact on others, then don’t be surprised if they’re not as thrilled about the idea as you are. They might think your baby is ugly too.

Design For America presentation

I had the good fortune today of attending the Summer Celebration for Design For America

Today was the day the teams presented their projects to sponsors, mentors, and peers. It was truly inspiring. Back in August my company, Idea Momentum, ran a prototyping workshop for them. It was one of a series that was part of their Summer Studio program. 

For those of you unfamiliar with DFA, it’s a freaking cool program that was started at Northwestern University by a professor named Liz Gerber. It takes students from various majors like engineering, biology etc. and introduces them to user-centered design methods. The goal is to come up with solutions for pressing social issues. 

Our workshop was towards the end of the process, so we were able to see all the ideas before they had a chance to really gel. So it was especially interesting to see how much the ideas all evolved for the better in such a short period.

For this Summer’s studio program, there were four teams with different assignments:

  • Reduce falls among the aging
  • Reduce obesity among young children through healthier eating habits
  • Reduce water waste at restaurants
  • Reduce unemployment among the disabled

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking they’ve all bit off more than they can chew. Today’s event was a presentation of all four teams ideas for solutions. Not only did each group present great ideas, they presented plausible solutions. 

These kids all came up with solutions that were easy to grasp and totally feasible. To me that’s at the heart of innovation. Otherwise, who cares if you can come up with big ideas to big problems if they’ll never get implemented. That’s just an exercise in futility.

Lastly, I don’t want to leave out Sami and Thea, who are doing an awesome job running the day to day and nitty gritty. Thanks for inviting us.

When A Kickstarter Campaign Fails, Does Anyone Get The Money Back? : All Tech Considered : NPR

When A Kickstarter Campaign Fails, Does Anyone Get The Money Back? : All Tech Considered : NPR.

So I call Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler, and ask: What if Uhrman isn’t able to deliver the consoles? Would Kickstarter get involved?

“You know, that would be new ground,” he says. “I don’t know. I mean, no, I don’t think that we would. But certainly, the kind of thing you’re talking about is not a bridge that has been crossed yet. Someday it will. And you know, I think if something did go awry, it would be — it wouldn’t be my favorite day.”

Whoa, back up. After all the hype I’ve been hearing about Kickstarter, I had no idea they had such an incompetent person at the helm. Even if “crossing that bridge” is official company policy, you shouldn’t say it out loud. Regardless of whether I think the world needs another iPhone case, graphic novel, or farm-to-table Podcast, they are still dealing with intellectual property. 

I find most of the stuff on the site contrived, and pointless, but there are some cool and worthwhile projects (think SparkTruck). However, I wouldn’t invest in any of them.

VCs will tell you, they don’t fund ideas, they invest in people. They also know there’s a chance they could lose their entire investment. If Kickstarter wants to be funding platform, that should be part of their message even if it might put a damper on things. Until then, they’re just a marketplace for ideas and ideas are cheap. Implementation is where the money is at. 

Crowd funding is compelling. I think it’ll come into it’s own like e-commerce. When it does, I just don’t think it’ll look like Kickstarter. 

Prototyping Workshop for DFA

Monday, I led a prototyping workshop for the teams at Design for America. It’s one in a series they hosted for their summer session at Northwestern University.

There were four teams, each at very different stages of their projects. One team was especially interesting. They were addressing in-home safety for seniors, specifically, reducing falls during the night. The understood that most accidents happen in the dark when people get up in the middle of the night.

The other three teams had all coalesced around similar solutions and were just trying to figure out the best way to execute. This one team was different. Each team member had very different ideas of how to best address the problem. The prototyping workshop was especially helpful because it enabled each person to articulate their distinct visions with each other. Once the concepts were out in the open, they all had a clearer picture of what the other had in mind. The ability to say, and show each other something more tangible moved the conversation ahead by leaps and bounds.

Before the workshop, they all had a hard time getting concepts across to each other. They were stuck. Every one of them thought they had the right idea. It wasn’t until they started making tangible things that each one of them understood what the other was thinking.