Archive for: October, 2014

How to cultivate the Generalist within

The Creative GeneralistAs a rule of thumb, your business needs more generalists than specialists if it wants to innovate. Don’t get me wrong, specialists are valuable. But Generalists are the innovators, the ones who are most capable of dealing with complexity; the ones that connect that dots. For that very reason, as a generalist, I know it’s hard to get us to pay attention to anything uninteresting; much less get inspired. We need to be challenged; constantly. We also need to be unleashed; not managed.

But for an organization that is willing to change, as your own, you can turn yourself into a generalist, create the conditions for great ideas to emerge and spark the innovation mindset in your business.


Simple: broaden yourself.

Here are a few ways how I do it:

The benefits of thinking and doing BIG

do epic shitBIG ideas get all the attention by the media, bloggers, journalists and the like because Big ideas, like anything that is coming out of Google X, have the possibility to create waves of change for society.

Businesses that want to call their latest and greatest invention the next best thing should be thoughtful about what it is they are promoting. Though we can all tell BIG from SAME, there is no shortage of entrepreneurs calling their latest venture The New Thing; frankly most of the time it isn’t.

So, to determine whether or not something is really The New Thing we can use the following criteria: it’s new, surprising and radically useful.

The more precise one is about what “innovation means and looks to us”, the more focused the efforts will be and thus the more interesting one becomes. From a business relevance standpoint, beyond the media coverage one gets, thinking and doing big has other benefits as well:

Structured serendipity: How Great Ideas Emerge

serendipity for innovationAlmost always great new ideas don’t emerge from within a single person or function, but at the intersection of functions or people that have never met before. As a business leader, you can engineer these connections; serendipity.

Serendipity is the type of word that paralyzes most business leaders because it is a loosey-goosey term that means “let’s see what happens”. Seeing what happens is not what traditional businesses aim to do when developing their strategies. Yet, many of the greatest innovations have sprung from serendipity: Happy accidents that sprung from tinkering, chance encounters that happen because you didn’t plan for something in advance; serendipity happens all the time.

So, what is the easiest way to engineer serendipity?

Two ways: varying what you learn and where you learn it.

Detecting seemingly random concepts is an act of creativity, this doesn’t happen if all you do is talk to the same people you always talk to, read (if at all) the same stuff you always read. It also doesn’t happen if you never visit places you’ve never been to.

A few years back I conceived a mechanism to engineer serendipity for a client: The Lunch Club.

Basically, in almost all organizations most employees always go to lunch with the same people. The Lunch Club aims to change this by setting up colleagues from different departments or with people from outside the organization for lunch; it happens once a week.

The result from these random interactions is new perspectives, new ideas; people who are more aware. When business leaders talk about developing their employees strategic thinking skills, this is one way to do it. There are many other ways to engineer serendipity inside an organization, such as moving from one workspace to another to be with different people, job swapping with colleagues with other departments, etc..

As an individual, I’ve benefited from serendipity more times than I can count; and deliberately try to create serendipity. What do I do to engineer serendipity? I’ve already told you about my practice of talking to someone new every week, learning from their trade and then immediately thinking about how I can use some of those ideas in my craft.

Creativity is about thinking new things, that means making uncommon connections between ideas from other domains. When all you do is talk to the same people, read the same thing over and over again you are moving in a straight line along with everyone else. Parallel lines never cross; serendipity requires diversity.

Bottom line: We should each invest a few hours a week, in reading stuff that has nothing to do with our day jobs, in a setting that has nothing in common with our regular workspaces. That kind of structured serendipity just might help us become more creative, and I doubt that it can hurt.

Interactions, not individuals, drive breakthroughs

A key skill all innovators have is the ability to network with the objective of developing ideas, finding collaborators, bouncing ideas off others and overall just building their ideas. Rather than being individualists, innovators are collaborators. They understand that it takes a diverse community of people working on a single problem to drive breakthroughs; as opposed to a single hardworking individual:

Q&A: Changing Mexico from cheap labor provider to a global engineering powerhouse

alfonso aramburoThe following interview is about Alfonso Arámburo, CEO of Brecher Mfg, a product design company in Tijuana, Mexico that specializes in engineering development and mechatronic prototyping.

Alfonso is an entrepreneur and engineer with 6 years of experience. Alfonso has Bachelors in Mechatronic Engineering, in addition a Masters in Business Administration. Alfonso has worked for companies such as Turbotec, a Caterpillar company, Rockwell Automation, TECO GmbH in the city of Munich, Germany leading projects for companies such as Continental, BMW, Renault, Land Rover and Chrysler.

You can contact Alfonso at or on LinkedIn.