JGL Strategy

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JGL Strategy is consulting firm based in Cleveland that helps organizations make better decisions for the future.

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Creativity: Finding Ideation and Innovation in the Strangest Places

Are you in search of New Ideas, Better Solutions, More Profits, or Greater Impact? Chances are tapping into your organization’s creative potential is key to the goals you seek to achieve.

You are creative

But we work in healthcare [for example]; we are not creative you might be saying to yourself right now. Fortunately, as human beings, we all have creative potential. Modern management systems have obscured this truth by labeling some departments/roles “creative,” thereby implicitly denying the creativity of everyone else. But every single one of us is creative and we can put that creativity to great use at work.

General Approach / a strategy underpinning creativity

One approach to unleashing the creative potential within your organization is to examine a problem or evaluate the status quo from another perspective or point of view.

Brian Eno, one of the greatest living music producers, says “The enemy of creative work is boredom, and the friend is alertness.” Nothing makes you more alert than stepping into a new context and adopting a different point of view. Eno has helped creative artists from David Bowie to Talking Heads produce some of their most iconic musical output through his ‘oblique strategies,’ prompts that encourage the musicians to take a fresh perspective on the work at hand. The musicians were sometimes confounded by Eno’s prompts – such as telling them to switch instruments between them, or cryptically stating a single, random word without directions for interpretation – but ultimately achieved creative results that pleased listeners all over the world.

Sometimes this fresh perspective isn’t prompted by a friendly co-conspirator with a common goal but forced upon you by external forces that don’t care what your goal is. January 22nd 1955 the water levels of the rivers Seine and Marne increased substantially and flooded many areas in and around Paris. Later, the French philosopher Roland Barthes wrote in the essay “Paris Not Flooded”

“Any rather ample rupture of the everyday introduces festivity: now the rising waters not only selected and displaced certain objects, they upset the very coenesthesia of the landscape, the ancestral organism of horizons.”

This displacement, Barthes argued, had the unintended but beneficial consequence of forcing a new way to look at the world around you; it invited curiosity and imagination. In other words, the new perspective provided a gateway for creativity.

These are but two examples, from different eras and different contexts, which lend credence to the necessity of breaking away from the mundane in order to stoke the fires of creativity.

How To / tips and sample exercises

Here are a handful of guiding principles and easy exercises I have seen organizations use to successfully break away from the everyday patterns of thought to cultivate creative solutions.

1) Set the stage.

Help your colleagues get into a mindset primed for creativity by i) acknowledging the importance of creativity to your organization’s work, and; ii) reminding people that creativity is an inherently human characteristic—we all are creative. Perhaps prompt them to remember their own creativity by asking “What’s something that you’ve done any time in your life that you consider creative?” Great managers should have work-related examples ready for all their team members.

2) Suspend judgement.

For productive and creative brainstorming sessions it is essential to decouple idea generation from idea evaluation. You want to keep the ideas flowing, and too much analysis or criticism on the spot may make team members fearful to offer other suggestions. Team brainstorming sessions, properly designed and thoughtfully facilitated, are a great real-time example of the link between psychological safety and creativity.

3) Use break time to recharge creative fuel.

If your team is engaged in a brainstorm session long enough to necessitate breaks, be sure to leverage those breaks to maximize creativity. Some examples include:

  • Rotate chairs in a new direction or ask people to switch seats upon returning. Don’t neglect the physical dimensions of perspective.

  • Encourage people to find a random book or magazine, turn to a random page, and read that page to themselves during the break.

  • Move! Physical activity, even gentle stretching or a walk around the block, stimulates your entire body and affects your breathing; oxygen is crucial for brain function, including creativity.

4) Change the frame.

Reframe the brainstorm question by changing/adding one word. This is especially powerful when you add an emotional dimension. For instance, instead of asking “how do we solve Problem X for our customers?” ask “how do we solve Problem X in a way that will delight our customers?”

5) Add a design constraint.

Similar to the adage “necessity is the mother of invention,” adding a constraint to the problem you’re working on can bring about new and different ideas. Why? Because it shifts your perspective on possible solutions. The constraint does not even need to be a realistic one – remove an everyday technology, imagine a vastly different physical environment, even disregard a law of physics – just as long as this constraint spurs new thinking, you may imagine a novel solution you otherwise would not have.

In Closing

So next time someone at work says something like “What do we know about creativity? We’re just program administrators [for example],” you can respond with “What can an mid-century philosopher and a music producer teach us about cultivating creative problem solving within organizations? Quite a lot actually!” And then get into the work of breaking away from known contexts and default perspectives, using these or other exercises, and start tapping into your team’s creativity. Good luck!

Notes and Resources

·      Tom & David Kelley discuss at length how creativity is a trait we all possess in their 2013 book Creative Confidence. The Kelley brothers are also Partners at the world-renowned design firm IDEO, and IDEO U offers an awesome collection of learning resources about creativity, innovation, and design thinking.

·      The Brian Eno quotation is from an interview author Tim Harford conducted February 24th 2015 with Eno. Stories from this interview, along with other revealing research, are published in Harford’s excellent 2016 book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.

·      Mythologies is a 1957 book of essays by Roland Barthes. The essay “Paris Not Flooded” was not included in the 1957 or 1970 editions of the book but it was included in this more recent edition with a new translation.

What are some of your favorite tips and tricks to stimulate creativity in the workplace? Leave a comment to share!

Ego, Ownership, and Learning

What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows. - Epictetus

We all have blind spots. Whether we discover them through introspection or have others enlighten us we need to acknowledge our previous deficiency - to take personal ownership of our gaps in knowledge and understanding - and learn from it. This humility is a prerequisite to personal growth. If we think we have nothing more to learn, then we won’t learn.

For example, last week I had the opportunity to speak with a class of graduate students at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. The topic was organizational culture.

Among the observations on culture I shared with the students was that diversity is key to innovation. Not only is diversity (ethnic diversity, diversity of ideas, diversity of experiences, etc) integral to innovation, it intersects with almost everything we do in our personal and professional lives: who we hang out with; who we hire/promote; who we choose to read or listen to; who we seek counsel from; and so on. If we are not intentionally seeking out different voices and different ideas we are limiting our own learning and the potential for innovation within our organizations. In this day and age you might as well pack up shop if you’re not demonstrably valuing diversity because any competitive advantage your organization may have will quickly stagnate.

A few hours before the class I was struck by a startling realization: all the authors/researchers I cited as topical resources were white. I was embarrassed but glad that I at least had the realization. It would have been far better to have known this earlier - to have been able to diversify my own reading list, which is an essential learning complement to my firsthand experience consulting and advising a variety of organizations - to prevent this uncomfortable experience in the first place. But better before the class than after.


I owned up to this blind spot during the discussion with the class; I admitted the performative contradiction of extolling the importance of diversity within organizations and teams while at the same time citing a slate of excellent yet nonetheless ethnically homogenous authors. The students and the professor were thoughtful interlocutors as I went on this tangent about the need to admit and learn from our own shortcomings. Meaningful dialogue ensued about the implications on an organizational level (particularly with regard to communications and talent management) and I challenged the class to seek out non-white, non-Western authors on organizational culture and to share them with me.

By letting go of my ego and admitting this blind spot I was able to deepen my personal learning journey and leverage this realization as a teachable moment. I urge us all to not fear admitting when we are wrong; when we do not know; when we realize we have been operating under the influence of a blind spot, an unconscious bias, or an echo chamber. To paraphrase some classical but timeless wisdom: if we cannot admit our imperfect knowledge, we cannot learn.

(PS) If there’s are any non-white, non-Western experts on organizational culture or strategy who you think I should look into, please leave those names in the comments section below. Thanks!

3 Podcasts That Cultivate Innovative Thinking

We are big fans of lifelong learning here at JGL Strategy. We are fortunate to live in a time when so much quality information is so accessible. Podcasts are a great vehicle for learning. While there are many we recommend today the focus is on three we think do a great job cultivating innovative thinking; podcasts that will make you pause during a stroll and write a note to yourself or your team.

1) Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders

Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders is a speaker series presented by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, the entrepreneurship center at Stanford's School of Engineering, normally hosted by Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig (@tseelig).

This podcast gives you a front row seat as some of the smartest people on the planet share lessons from real-world experiences across entrepreneurial settings. Speakers include entrepreneurs, leaders from global technology companies, venture capitalists, and best-selling authors.

An open mind is required; knowledge of advanced technology is not. Being able to connect theories embedded in nascent technologies or ideas from entrepreneurs in other fields to your own work is one way of bringing fresh, innovative thinking to problems you are trying to solve.

ETL at Stanford's eCorner

Most Recent Episode (Season 12, Episode 24 The Ethics of Innovation)


2) Seeking Wisdom

Seeking Wisdom is the podcast from Drift, a Boston-based company re-inventing marketing. The podcast features Drift CEO David Cancel (@dcancel) and Director of Marketing Dave Gerhardt (@davegerhardt) talking shop on issues ranging from hiring, learning, growing (companies and people), marketing, start ups and everything in between.

The episodes provide conversations that are super accessible. Accessible with regard to both their short length (10-25 minutes, typically) and the common language dialogue between David and Dave. Whether introducing a concept that is new to me or giving their views on subjects I'm more familiar with, I find value in each episode.

Seeking Wisdom's ability to cultivate innovative thinking stems directly from the podcast's tendency to induce a slight shift in your perspective on familiar business topics: organizational design; strategic planning; talent management, etc. It's akin to seeing the same play more than once sitting in a different seat at the theatre each time: you pick up on subtleties you only notice through your new vantage point.

If you have ever listened to an episode of Seeking Wisdom, you know why this podcast is worthy of a six star review on iTunes. These are smart people who are passionate about learning and are having a blast sharing their knowledge with listeners.

Seeking Wisdom home

A Favorite Episode (#41 A Quick One On Gratitude) 


3) Walter Isaacson's Trailblazers

Trailblazers is a new podcast about innovations that have disrupted industries touching many people such as news, entertainment and hospitality. Trailblazers is hosted by Walter Isaacson (@WalterIsaacson), President and CEO of The Aspen Institute and author the definitive biography of Apple co-Founder Steve Jobs.

Trailblazers is about the technical innovations that spur human progress. If all Trailblazers did was to examine a popular digital disruption, it would still deliver education about innovation. However, Trailblazers goes deeper and takes special care to place these digital disruptions in historical context, examining them as part of a continuum of disruptions to a particular industry.

The historical insights not only deepen your understanding of innovation but also highlight the importance of widening your lens as you and your organization explore how to best accelerate social progress. Zoom-out, learn about & from the past, and you can uncover the mindsets or knowledge to better inform your innovative thinking.

Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson

First Episode (Lights...Camera...Disruption)


What are you listening to? What helps you cultivate innovative thinking? Share your favorite podcasts, reflections and questions in the comments section below.



©  JGL Strategy, LLC

The Value of Civic Pitch Competitions

So you have an idea to change the world. Or maybe just to change your city.

How do you turn your civic vision into an emerging initiative? 

Civic pitch competitions – where organizations or individuals pitch an idea for a new program, project or initiative that innovatively addresses a social or civic problem in front of an audience of their peers and/or a panel of experts – are a valuable tool to move an initiative from idea to action and to gauge the feasibility of such advancement. This model has long been used by business accelerators to vet startups; more recently we have seen this model applied to pitches for civic initiatives and social enterprises. 

Maybe you have a plan to more effectively connect talent, skills-training and workforce needs; perhaps you want to reduce food waste by instituting a city-wide composting program; or possibly you developed a technology that will disrupt the status quo of donating money. These are all ideas that gained momentum through civic pitch competitions.

Civic pitch competitions provide great value. To realize your civic vision you will need appropriate talent, funding and community support at the very least. Civic pitch competitions provide this and so much more. 


Civic pitch competitions are a source of seed funding for emerging initiatives. That is the purpose of the competitions: to give dedicated individuals or teams the opportunity to pitch their ideas to potential funders or investors.

While the pitches are each vying for the prize money at a particular competition, the financial benefits of participating are not limited only to the winning pitch(es). Actually, all ideas pitched at such a competition have access to funding through audience members; there are likely to be numerous funders in the audience in addition to the ones judging the pitch competition. 

You are not just pitching to one potential funder but a roomful of potential funders; what attracts Funder A to your project might not be what attracts Funder B—with this model, you increase fundraising efficiency by pitching to both simultaneously. 

Connection to Talent

Civic pitch competitions are valuable because they facilitate a connection to top talent that can help advance your civic vision. You will need mentors, champions, and partners to succeed. Some civic pitch competitions have a strategic, intentional follow up process whereby they formally convene teams with the requisite expertise and desire to steer the winning pitches from idea to implementation. This was the case with Accelerate, a civic pitch competition I attended in February at the Global Center for Health Innovation. [For the purposes of transparency: this competition was coordinated by an organization I support through volunteer endeavors].

Even if the pitch competition does not have this follow up process officially built in, you will still connect with talent. One aim of making a civic pitch in this forum is for the presenting organizations or social entrepreneurs to start a discussion within the community of those who care about such causes. The competition – and the subsequent discussion – connects your ideas to immediate quality feedback. Your audience includes top experts in your field; if your idea can gain traction with that crowd, you know you are onto something. This feedback might be embedded in the competition’s format, such as the post-pitch Question-and-Answer period featured at Accelerate, or may occur at the conclusion of the formal event, as happened at SEAChange just days ago. At both pitch competitions the rooms were electrified after the pitches—there was no shortage of people willing to lend their expertise, network, and resources to see your civic vision succeed.

Starting Small, Working to Scale

An objection to civic pitch competitions is that the prize money alone is insufficient to yield positive outcomes. That is true but it is certainly not a knock on the competitions. Yes, all these proposals need more than seed money to fully realize their impact. But before emerging initiatives, especially ones coming from community members’ ideas and not an existent organization, are ready to accept major funding, they need to start small with pilot programs. They need to do this to: 1) learn from initial implementation of the idea; 2) observe and measure success of the program; 3) build community support and awareness for how the program is actually working. This intentional growth model is much more likely to see sustainable success than giving a multi-million dollar grant to a brand new initiative and expecting it to simultaneously navigate the early stages of the program and the magnitude of such a budget.

Just as later-stage investing exists in the startup world it similarly exists in the philanthropic world. In fact, there are some foundations that will not fund organizations in their first few years of existence—they want to see initial success and community backing before investing. Nonprofits and social enterprises need funders that fall into all these categories: funders who will invest seed money to get an emerging initiative off the ground; funders who will invest to support the sustained impact of a successful model; and eventually funders who will help them scale up the operation. The fact that civic pitch competitions systematically oblige promising initiatives to smart small before scaling illustrates yet another positive attribute of the model. 


Pitch competitions are relatively new to the nonprofit and philanthropic communities. While a reasonable amount of skepticism can be expected this model has proven successful when thoughtfully applied. Not only are civic pitch competitions exhilarating, dignified and inspirational affairs they also break from the status quo of nonprofit fundraising in a way that signifies progress: they provide a valuable comprehensive platform to pitch emerging initiatives and they spur innovation. Our world needs innovative approaches to complex social problems. Civic pitch competitions are an essential tool to nurture the best new ideas to scale and sustainability. 

Do you have an idea that you would like to present at a pitch competition but you do not know where to start? Feel free to ask in the comments section below or contact me and I can connect you with some resources. Have you attended or presented at a civic pitch competition? Share your experiences with the community below.


© John G. Lynch


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