“So grow from within. Define that closed world very tightly. Very narrowly. And you’re going to give yourself the gift of ‘inside the box thinking.’” Drew Boyd, Innovation Storytelling Inside the Box
We speak with Drew Boyd, global leader in creativity and innovation, guiding teams, businesses and governments to deliver breakthrough results. He is the author of So You Want to be a Professor: How to Land Your Dream Job in Academia; Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results; and the Innovation in Practice blog. He is also the host of Innovation Inside the Box podcast. His forthcoming book is Adding Prestige to Your Portfolio: How to Use the Creative Luxury Process to Develop Products Everyone Wants. He talks not only about how to scale a successful innovation idea, but how to even come up with an idea. Listen in on how Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) allows for frameworks and patterns to work from to create a promising innovation idea while simultaneously providing the means to fast track that idea successfully. When in doubt, don’t think outside the box – think inside the box. To learn how and why, join us as we talk through SIT with Drew Boyd.
Interested? Check out Drew Boyd’s Innovation Videos:
- Drew Boyd, Inside the Box Innovation
- Drew Boyd | Innovation is a Skill Your Employees Can Learn
- Drew Boyd | A Flowing Pipeline of Innovative Ideas
- Drew Boyd | Developing an Innovative and Creative Culture.
You can follow Drew on LinkedIn and Twitter: @DrewBoyd.There is also an app based on the book Inside the Box by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg, which explains each of the five techniques (Subtraction, Division, Task Unification, Multiplication, and Attribute Dependency) and enables users to generate creative ideas and innovations: https://www.innovationinpractice.com/innovation_in_practice/2013/10/how-to-use-the-app.html
Mentioned in the podcast episode: Understanding Writing Blocks by Keith Hjortshoj, Untold Content’s Innovation Storytelling Training, University of Cincinati: Drew Boyd
Drew Boyd is a global leader in creativity and innovation who guides teams, businesses and governments to deliver breakthrough results. He is also a C-suite advisor on creativity and innovation, international public speaker, award-winning author and innovation blogger, and associate professor of marketing and innovation at the University of Cincinnati. He is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts, trainers and thought leaders in corporate innovation methods.
Drew is the author of So You Want to be a Professor: How to Land Your Dream Job in Academia; Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results; and the Innovation in Practice blog. His work has been featured in numerous business publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Industry Week, Psychology Today, and Strategy+Business. He is host of Innovation Inside the Box podcast. His forthcoming book is Adding Prestige to Your Portfolio: How to Use the Creative Luxury Process to Develop Products Everyone Wants.
Drew teaches, consults, and speaks extensively in the fields of innovation, persuasion, and strategy. He teaches business and government teams how to solve tough problems to create a culture of innovation and a flowing pipeline by reframing the innovation process in a way that makes people more—not less—creative.
Listen to the Podcast
This episode is powered by Untold Content’s Innovation Storytelling Training. Increase buy in for your best ideas in this immersive and interactive, story-driven experience. Where your teams refine storytelling techniques for their latest projects, prototypes and pitches—and get inspired by 25 epic examples of impactful innovation stories.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:00:04] Welcome to Untold Stories of Innovation, where we amplify untold stories of insight, impact and innovation. Powered by Untold Content. I’m your host, Katie Trauth Taylor.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:00:19] Our guest today is Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation, he guides teams, businesses and governments to deliver breakthrough results. He is the author of the book Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results. He’s also the host of the Innovation Inside the Box podcast, which is a really insightful podcast I love following. And his forthcoming book is Adding Prestige to Your Portfolio: How to Use the Creative Luxury Process to Develop Products Everyone Wants. Drew, thank you so much for making time to be on the podcast.
Drew Boyd: [00:00:54] Thanks, Katie. It’s great to be here.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:00:56] Something I didn’t mention in your bio is you are also the author of a book that I read when I was an emerging graduate student looking for a job as a professor, which is the book, So You Want to Be a Professor. And we actually invited you to be on this podcast to talk about innovation and storytelling. But I actually did not know when I sent that invitation that you were the author of this beloved book that I really appreciated when I was a PhD student. So thank you for writing that book as well.
Drew Boyd: [00:01:25] Yeah, that was a fun book. I actually had started it and put it aside for a while and resurrected it and just realized I had so many nice ideas. And they’re really good ideas about teaching and about finding a job in academia. And I went ahead and finished it. I like that book. It’s kind of my story: how I got into academia.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:01:46] Yes, exactly. It demystified the process for me, I think. And it really helps. And I think we’re both sort of one foot in academia, one foot in industry throughout our careers.
Drew Boyd: [00:01:57] Right.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:01:57] But I, I started as a professor actually, and then my business and innovation storytelling kept growing. And so I made the tough decision to leave. And that was – that was a hard decision. But I like to think I carry it with me and I’ll probably go back at some point in my career.
Drew Boyd: [00:02:12] It’s great. It’s so much fun, so much… So much joy out of being around young people and students and stuff like that. It’s very, very fulfilling. No doubt.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:02:21] Yes. Well, and I think there’s so much that universities and talent can lend to the innovation community and in the cities that are really doing a good job of synching up their big co innovators with their startup innovators and their university talent. I think that there are some really impactful results coming from that kind of system level approach to creating an innovation ecosystem. And when those kinds of players are more isolated, it seems to be much harder to get momentum to go in those cities.
Drew Boyd: [00:02:54] Yes, I would agree, no doubt. And you see cities getting very organized now about how they galvanize innovation by getting the entrepreneurs, the investors. You see Cincinnati doing, I think, a great job. But other cities like Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh is pretty advanced. Columbus does a great job. Of course, the big tech hubs like Boston have done this for, you know, for many years. Minneapolis is also good. And it does. It gives people that support system, the, you know, the underpinning infrastructure, the way to connect all the dots.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:03:31] Yes.
Drew Boyd: [00:03:32] Do, it’s a great… Cincinnati is a great place for the talent that I’m developing at the university to feed into that system.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:03:40] Yes, definitely. So tell us more about your journey and sort of your personal journey of innovation.
Drew Boyd: [00:03:46] Well, yeah, it’s – I’m not sure where to start. I mean, as a kid, I was a geek and took things apart, little old appliances and things like that, because I was just curious to know how they worked and drove my parents crazy and my sisters crazy as a kid. So I’ve always been curious that way. But the real innovation bug, I think happened to me in my corporate career when I was in the medical device industry with Johnson and Johnson. And it’s such a fascinating business to be in health care and with high tech medical equipment, but the pressure is always on to come up with new things. And that’s where I got even more curious about innovation. How do you actually invent a new product? And so I studied and I read and I interviewed and experimented in so many ways. And the quick story is, you know, I would get …. I’d buy books that would say “innovation” or “new product development” or something in the title. And I was so excited and I would go to the book and I would get it right away and I would open up to the first few pages. And invariably there was some process map there. And the process map was supposed to be the, you know, what whole book was going to be about and the very first box in most of these processes pretty much all said the same thing. It said: invent idea here.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:05:29] So simple. So easy.
Drew Boyd: [00:05:31] Yeah, right? Like boop, you’re just – idea here. It was the first box in these process maps and then I would look in the book and try to find where the, you know, the secret was, where’s the secret to how you actually innovate? And there was nothing in the book! There’s a book out there, a famous book by a very respected researcher. I don’t want to mention his name, but it’s like a 400 page book on new product development. It has maybe one page about how you actually generate the idea.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:06:06] Mmhm. That’s a major problem.
Drew Boyd: [00:06:07] And so I’ve always… Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just the answers weren’t there. And that eventually led to my stumbling upon and discovering how patterns can be used to invent new things. And that changed everything for me. And when I learned about that, my life on innovation just took a whole different turn. And it’s never been the same since.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:06:34] Yes, you know, something that my team and I love so much about Inside the Box, which is really this incredible book that you authored, is you apply a method called Systematic, Inventive Thinking, and you say, how can we spark creativity and idea generation and do that in a way that’s reliable and consistent and sort of that, at least, can can break it down, break creativity down into something that anyone and everyone should be empowered to do. And I’d love for you to talk a little bit more in your own words about SIT: systematic, inventive thinking and how… You know, how that idea… Why it… Why that idea is so important and how innovators can use it to ideate.
Drew Boyd: [00:07:25] So it’s a fascinating story that goes like this. For thousands of years, everyday innovators, inventors have used patterns in their inventions, usually without even realizing it. Those patterns are now embedded into the products and services you see around you every day. Think of these patterns as the DNA of a product or service. Well, imagine if you had a way to extract that DNA and reapply it to any product to be processed, to any service, to a podcast, to an organization, a business model. And this is the foundation of what SIT is all about. And the story goes that… It was my coauthor who did a very interesting thing for his PhD research. He studied highly innovative products initially to find out what made them different from one another. And what he found instead is that they have more in common. That they, in fact, follow an underlying structure. And the beauty of this is that patterns, contrary to what we all thought all of our life, patterns are not a detractor to creativity. Structure doesn’t take creativity away. In fact, just the opposite. It’s patterns, a structure that boosts your creative output – no matter where you’re starting from, by the way, you can be a person who thinks they are zero creative. And I have had many people come up to me and say, I’ve been told I’m not creative all my life by my coworkers, my boss, even my mother told me I’m not creative. Imagine that. And now when they learn about S.I.T., they find that, in fact, they can be more creative. And so I think that’s a tremendously optimistic and motivating notion: that you can be creative any time you want. For me, it was really finding the epiphany, finding what I’ve been searching for all my life. And I like it so much because of the research behind it, the research that has been published in the two most prestigious journals in the world: Nature and Science. It is a base of work now that has been put in practice for the last 20 plus years. And so I go back to what I, you know, I think sometimes could be considered one of my favorite quotes about innovation. And it’s, and sadly, I can’t take credit for it. But the quote on innovation is, “could the greatest invention of all be a method of invention?”
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:10:20] I love that. Yes, yes.
Drew Boyd: [00:10:21] Right? Yeah. And I just… I think that is so profound.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:10:25] Yes. Yes, absolutely. So let’s break down. And by the way, will you share with us those two articles that were published in Nature and – what was the other journal?
Drew Boyd: [00:10:37] And Science.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:10:37] And Science. Yeah.
Drew Boyd: [00:10:39] Same article.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:10:40] Oh, yeah. Well, we will link them in the show notes for people who want to read more about the evidence behind SIT. But let’s break it down into it’s sort of, I guess you’d call them, functional areas or sort of like the drivers behind this methodology, the patterns that can emerge.
Drew Boyd: [00:10:56] Sure.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:10:57] And it’s something that I love about your book, Inside the Box, is those patterns are very straightforward and it’s a very relatable book, a very… A book that’s very empowering to any individual, whether you’re creating on your own or you’re leading an entire enterprise to innovate. So let’s break them down. There are five functional techniques inside of the SIT model.
Drew Boyd: [00:11:23] Sure.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:11:24] Subtraction, right?
Drew Boyd: [00:11:24] Yeah. Yeah. So let me describe them. So…
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:11:26] OK, thanks.
Drew Boyd: [00:11:27] Think of SIT as a collection of five techniques, pattern-based techniques and a set of principles. The five pattern-based techniques are as follows: the first is subtraction. Many inventions were created by removing a core element rather than adding something new to it. Task unification. Many inventions were created by taking a component and forcing it to do an additional job, something it was originally designed to do. Division, many inventions were created by taking the product or service, you cut it physically or functionally and then you rearrange it back into the system somehow. Multiplication. Many inventions are created by taking a component of the product or service. You copy it, but change it some counterintuitive, qualitative way. And then finally is attribute dependency. Many inventions, in fact, probably the majority of inventions, were created by forcing a dependency, a correlation between two attributes. So one attribute of the product or service and one attribute of its environment are connected now. As one thing changes, another thing changes. So think of the product called transition sunglasses. These glasses change their darkness as the light outside gets bright, the lens gets darker. Or windshield wipers in your car that speed up or slow down, depending on the amount of rain that’s falling, attribute dependency is all around us. And so the point of the method now is to use these patterns to guide your thinking, to channel your ideation for you. They do the hard part, which is why I like these so much. They lift you up no matter where you think you’re creative or not. You can apply one of these patterns and get more creative.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:13:25] Yes, something I really respect about this model is, as I was studying, my Ph.D.s in rhetoric and composition, and the composition side of that, we really study the build up and breakdown of patterns to create things. Composition in music means to create a score, to put elements together to create a piece of music. And in writing, of course, it means assembling words or pieces of information in a way that builds an argument or builds a storyline. And so we study and talk a lot about patterns of composition. And one of my favorite books actually from my field is called Understanding Writing Blocks. And essentially the author did significant research into why people get writer’s block, what makes them get stuck. And it’s usually the myth of believing that writing should come from a place of like sort of spiritual awakening or motivation. You have to sort of wake up and have this epiphany and then sit down and write it. And really the research showed it’s the people who show up every day and they write for a certain number of hours, a certain sort of time in the seat, if you will. And they repeat, you know, they utilize certain patterns in order to activate and spur on their creativity for writing. Anyway, this all reminds me so much of this practice. It’s really about having tools and patterns that you can attempt to follow and to provide structure and then to continue to commit to that time and structure for, in this case, ideating innovation. But also it could be applied to the way that stories are crafted as well.
Drew Boyd: [00:15:12] No doubt about it. So, two quick stories that sort of jump on what you’re talking about, Katie, is the idea of Agatha Christie. So Agatha Christie, right? Here’s a woman who wrote 63 murder mystery novels. Every one of them has the exact same structure inside, the exact same pattern! You read her novels, you know it’s going to happen, right? It’s the same pattern. Here’s what happens: Somebody walks in, there’s a dead body, they scream, they call the detective. The detective starts to interview all the people around them. All of them have a motive and an opportunity to kill this person. They try to put all the clues together. And in the final scene, the detective announces who the killer is and it’s the person you least suspect.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:16:07] Yes!
Drew Boyd: [00:16:08] Every one of them! What’s amazing about Agatha Christie, she has sold more books than anyone on the planet. But you look at other successful authors, Danielle Steel, my mother reads every Danielle Steel novel she can get her hands on. And those books, too, have a familiar structure. Every one of them is basically the same structure. And Daniel Steele, I think, maybe is the fifth best-selling novelist of all time. So structures matter. Tools of the brain, cognitive tools. I like to think of them as prosthetic devices for the mind.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:16:49] I love that.
Drew Boyd: [00:16:50] Just like you’d have a prosthetic arm or prosthetic leg, why not a prosthetic for your brain as well? And that’s what these tools do. They lift you up.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:16:58] I love that, so, yeah, I’m even thinking, too, of William Shakespeare, right? None of his sort of plot lines were new to the audiences that they were performing for. They were all drawing on well-known ancient Roman or Greek mythologies and tales. And yet he would subtract a character, add in an element that would be of surprise or relevance to his time. And so, yeah, this is something that even the most renowned authors of all time have followed. Could you share this concept of “Inside the Box?” And why is that a powerful metaphor for the way that we should be thinking about innovation?
Drew Boyd: [00:17:41] Sure. So inside the box is a play on words from the much more familiar term “thinking outside the box.” And maybe before I explain “inside the box,” let me tell you about that phrase first, “thinking outside the box,” because it’s so popular, it’s..
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:17:57] Yes.
Drew Boyd: [00:17:58] You know, it is the ubiquitous universal catchphrase for all creativity. What the story is, where this phrase comes from, is a famous study that was done in the 1970s by a researcher named J.P. Guilford. And what Guilford did… He took a very well-known puzzle called the “Nine Dot Puzzle.” And so for your listeners that are not familiar with this puzzle, let me explain it. Imagine nine dots arranged in three rows of three. And your task then is to take a pencil and with just four straight lines, connect all nine dots without lifting your pencil. And it’s tricky. It’s a hard, hard puzzle to do. If you don’t believe me, sit down and draw nine dots and see if you can do this. Now, there’s a secret to this puzzle that makes it a lot easier. And that secret is: you take your pencil and on one of the lines, you extend your line well outside the imaginary box containing those nine dots, you draw outside that box and that gives you an angle then to come down and pick up a couple more dots again outside the box and then you complete the puzzle. And anybody that’s done this puzzle knows this little trick. It’s clever to just amaze little kids if you want to pull a prank on kids. But seriously, what Guilford then concluded from that research was profound. He said, you know, if we could just get people to think like this, think outside the box, they could be more creative because only 20 percent of people could solve that puzzle. And what people don’t know is this: right after Guilford did his study, two other researchers replicated his study, added a second group, though. The first group of participants got the same instructions that Guilford gave his people. The second group got the same instructions as the first group, plus the added instructions that to solve the puzzle, you had to draw your lines outside the box created by the nine dots. They essentially got the answer. And in the first group, just like Guilford, 20 percent could solve the puzzle. But Katie, what do you think was the success rate in the second group?
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:20:13] Oh, much higher.
Drew Boyd: [00:20:14] You would think it was much higher, right?
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:20:16] Right.
Drew Boyd: [00:20:17] 20 percent.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:20:18] Really?
Drew Boyd: [00:20:19] No change! Thinking outside the box is a complete myth, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but techniques like brainstorming have been shown through 60 years of research not to work. Here’s why: when you think outside the box, here’s what’s happening. You’re sending your mind out into this vast, unconstrained area and the mind can’t handle it. It suffers what we call “idea anarchy” or “idea chaos.” This space is too big. This imaginary outside the box is too big. We have shown that better thinking happens when you constrain the mind in a well defined area, which I’ll describe in a minute. By doing that, you force the mind to work harder and smarter. You’ll hear the principle of constraints where constraints, in fact, are a bonus to you, they’re a driver of innovation. So “think inside the box” was my coauthor and I, Jacob Goldenberg. He’s the one that coined the phrase, he said, “let’s call it inside the box.” And it was funny. He had just asked me if we… if I wanted to write a book with him. And it was like proposing marriage, right? Let’s write a book. And I said, “sure!” And I was getting myself into. And he said, “let’s call it inside the box.” And I said, “alright, that sounds great.” And now it is becoming a much more popular phrase. People are starting to realize the value of it and, to complete the story, we actually capture that as one of the important principles in the method, systematic, inventive thinking [SIT]. It’s called the principle of the closed world. And if you’d like, I could describe it a little bit more. Yeah?
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:22:13] Yeah. Yeah. That’d be great.
Drew Boyd: [00:22:16] Well, the closed world principle, and this is a little trippy, so let me warn people to get ready for this, because this… The story goes like this: the closed world principle says the following: that the further away you have to get a go to get a solution to your problem, the less creative it’s going to be. The closer you have to go to get a solution to your problem, the more creative it’s going to be. In other words, there’s an inverse relationship between the proximity of the problem to the solution and its level of creativity. What the closed world is, is the box, it’s this imaginary boundary that you draw around your situation and you force yourself to say, I’m only going to find an answer inside here somewhere. My answer has to come from here and by sort of artificially restricting yourself to this zone, this imaginary zone. You’ll end up with a more creative solution as opposed to having to go outside to get it. So let me give you an example. If you look at the – your car in the rear window of your car, you’re likely to see small wires running through it, very faint, distinct wires running through the rear window. And most people, especially in cold climates, know what that’s for. They know it’s for defrosting that rear window. But what most people don’t know is those wires also serve as the antenna. For your car radio in many cars. And so it’s a very clever solution of how something right in the vicinity, instead of creating a new antenna, the designers harnessed something that was already there into what would be considered a very clever solution. And so the closed world principle is very profound and, oh, let me punctuate it with one more story here. I have a very good client that is in the pharmaceutical industry. They came to me one day and they said, “Drew, you know, we really need your help.” And I said, “what’s the problem?” And they said, “well, we make a drug for diabetes and we’re trying to get more people, more of a business in China.” And I said, “well, what’s the problem?” They said, “well, China is so big, you know, there’s almost two billion people. Where do we start?” And I said, “well, OK, let’s – and I knew right away they had a closed-world problem – that this was so apparent. Any time a team starts to tell me they’re struggling, I immediately think “closed-world.” Have they really defined where they are? So I said to the team, “look, let’s just pick one city, one city in China.” And they said, “Shanghai.” I said, “well, that’s twenty six million people. Let’s – why don’t we find a city a little smaller in the interior, maybe something the size of Cincinnati, where I live. Something around, you know, two million or less.” And they’re scratching their head. They’re looking at me like, “Drew, what? Why would we do that?” “Just stick with me,” I said, “I want to go even further. Let’s go out into the suburbs of this city. Let’s imagine we’re in a small community like where I live in a town called Mason, Ohio. 20,000 or so [people],” and so now they’re really confused. And I said, “guys, I want to take it even further, let’s imagine we’re going to one neighborhood. And just this one neighbor, in fact, let’s imagine we’re going to one street in this neighborhood. Well, let’s go all the way. Let’s imagine we’re looking for one house, just one home on the street with one man aged 50 with type two diabetes.” They’re looking at me like I’ve gone crazy. And I said, “guys, now and I want you to do the following. I want you and your team to sit down right now and figure out how to get your diabetes drug into his body every day at the right dose. Just for him.” And they look to me, and they said, “why?!” I said, “if you can’t figure it out for this one man, how to get your drug in his body every day for him, what makes you think you’re going to be able to do the rest of China? But if you can figure it out, all the supply chain logistics, shipping, all the pharmacy relationships, needle disposal, drug delivery, everything, you know, just for him, then allow yourself to go to another house and get it set. Go to another street and get it all figured out and go to another neighborhood and another town, and you get the story.” So grow from within. Define that closed world very tightly. Very narrowly. And you’re going to give yourself the gift of “inside the box thinking.”
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:27:38] Yes, yeah, that is incredibly powerful. Did… So what were their next steps? Were they able to start identifying supply chains in that region…?
Drew Boyd: [00:27:46] Immediately.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:27:47] Yeah, of course.
Drew Boyd: [00:27:48] I mean, it was just one person. They could see it. They said, “well, OK, here’s what we have to do.” And then, right, the proverbial light bulb started to come on. Right? They started to realize that all they had to do was build one. And I’ve done this exercise many times at the University of Cincinnati, where I teach, for example, I’ll be dealing with, for example, our very fine college of music, the College of Conservatory Music, CCM. I’m willing to bet you’ve heard of [it].
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:28:23] Yes.
Drew Boyd: [00:28:23] It’s a great school, wonderful Dean, Dean Stanley Romanstein and his executive committee. They’re great. They’re fabulous. I just love them. And they call on me a lot. And I helped them… I helped them recently with the admissions process. They have a very complicated admissions process because of the spots…
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:28:41] Very competitive.
Drew Boyd: [00:28:42] Yeah. Very competitive. And the spots are very few. And their process was just enormously big and bulky and awkward. And I said, “let’s, you know, let’s get it down. So, you know, it’s like, find your one man with diabetes on that one street. Let’s get it down to one student, figure it out for one student.” Or, for example, a local high school here – a school called Moeller High School. The team there, the principal and the executive staff there were struggling with what to do in COVID. How do we give the incoming freshmen these eighth grade boys… It’s a private Catholic school… and how do we give the boys the same experience? And I said, “let’s figure it out for one, let’s get it down to one. Figure out the freshman experience for that one incoming freshman and then grow from there, as opposed to thinking about the whole incoming class, [which] becomes a little overwhelming.”
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:29:45] Mmhm.
Drew Boyd: [00:29:45] So it’s a powerful way for anybody just to narrow your choices, don’t expand your choices, narrow yourself down to a constrained area. You’re going to get better, clearer thinking when you figure out the lowest common denominator and then expand from there.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:30:02] I think this is an interesting practice to try around innovation storytelling. So if you are at the point where you are needing to communicate either an innovation idea or the impact or results of an end stage gate innovation outcome, no matter what part of the stage gate or innovation process you’re in, having an experimentive and iterative approach to how you storytell and get buy-in and communicate that innovative work. I’m curious about how we can apply this kind of inside the box thinking to storytelling. And so one of the things we do in our innovation storytelling trainings with corporate teams is we ask them to distill it, just like you said, distill it down. What… How is this going to impact someone at the individual level, your key audience at the individual level? Now, think about it, not just externally, but internally. How is this going to impact your operations team and specifically the person on the front line or specifically the manager or the leadership? And so having this really intimate understanding of the audience I think is really, really critical, not just to the actual art of innovation, but then the art of storytelling and communicating that innovation.
Drew Boyd: [00:31:25] It’s an extremely powerful part of an innovator’s toolset, and I’m running across this all the time with my clients who once they learn to innovate, it creates another problem for them. How do they get acceptance within the organization? And I teach the psychology of persuasion as part of that: how to overcome resistance. But within those persuasion principles is the idea of stories. They are the engine. They are the carrier, so to speak, the bottle with the story inside. And I have to use metaphors here. I’m getting carried away. Just stop me any time, Katie.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:32:10] I love metaphors.
Drew Boyd: [00:32:13] So it’s… And here’s what’s true, is that innovators face resistance right away. In fact, resistance is a natural part of innovation. Innovation and resistance essentially define each other.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:32:31] Yes, oh, it’s so scary. The fear of failure can be so overwhelming.
Drew Boyd: [00:32:36] There are many fears, many, many fears for failure, fear of success.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:32:41] Yeah, that’s true, too.
Drew Boyd: [00:32:43] Yeah. No, fear of success is probably even worse. Oh, my God. If we…
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:32:47] What are we going to do? Yeah.
Drew Boyd: [00:32:48] What are we going to do. Yeah. Oh I see it all the time. And I see organizations, and people in organizations, see something becoming successful and realize it’s a threat to what they were doing. To the old guard, you know, the status quo and they actively go out of their way to stop it. So stories help innovators bring clarity, some ideas, great ideas are resisted simply because people don’t understand them.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:33:21] Yes.
Drew Boyd: [00:33:21] It can be a – here’s what’s interesting. It can be a very simple idea, but very complex to communicate.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:33:29] Yeah.
Drew Boyd: [00:33:30] It can be a very complex idea that’s extremely simple to communicate. So, for example, if I said to my 90 year old mother, God love her, I said, “hey, mom, Amazon’s going to deliver packages with drones.” She would go, “cool, that’s great.” I’m going to, you mean I’m going to start seeing these things flying at me? She immediately gets it. Yet drone delivery of packages is an extremely complex, many moving parts, infrastructure regulations. There is so much complexity to it, but the notion itself is instantly understandable by anybody. Drone package of deliveries. You can have a very simple idea that is extremely complex to communicate. So… and many diseases, for example, you explain how a drug works.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:34:22] Yeah.
Drew Boyd: [00:34:23] “Take this drug and it’s going to clear up this disease, this condition,” or… And you try to explain the workings of something like, a lot of technology can be extremely complex or very simple, but still very complex to explain all the moving parts. For many years cloud storage, you know, it was a very confusing element to it and it was a lot of it in the terminology: cloud.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:34:54] Right, right. Right.
Drew Boyd: [00:34:55] Where are the clouds? You know, “send in the clowns.” And… I’m getting carried away here, Katie. But the….
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:35:04] Well, I… yeah. Yeah, go ahead.
Drew Boyd: [00:35:06] Yeah, no. So stories help innovators bring clarity to simple or complex scenarios.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:35:16] I love what you’re touching on here, because if you were to go on a thought experiment with me for a moment and we were to just brainstorm how the five techniques of systematic, inventive thinking [SIT] might be used not just to help an innovator create new ideas and bring creativity to their innovation process, but actually help guide them in the way they storytell and communicate around the innovation, too. That’s kind of the thought experiment I want to riff on with you. And I know I’m putting you on the spot. We didn’t prepare for this part of the conversation. But if you notice, for instance, one thing that’s coming to my mind is: you’ve tried to pitch the idea to the stakeholder internally that needs to buy in and you didn’t have traction. Is there a way you can go back to the drawing board and take that story or that narrative that you tried to pitch and use the technique of subtraction? Break it down into parts and experiment and attempt to get additional feedback and change your strategy.
Drew Boyd: [00:36:21] You know, subtraction works as a technique when you remove a core element that is essential. And so storytelling, you would imagine taking out the plot or taking out the main character.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:36:35] Yes, switching the character.
Drew Boyd: [00:36:37] Yeah. It could all of a sudden you remove that element and bring maybe some simplicity to it. Maybe you let people see a new value, a new benefit that wasn’t there before, which is what subtraction mostly does. It’s not about taking cost out. Subtraction, that technique is about removing something so you can see new benefits you wouldn’t have seen before.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:36:59] Yes.
Drew Boyd: [00:37:00] Another technique here for being more creative with your storytelling would be the vision, cutting the story up into parts and rearranging it.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:37:11] Yes.
Drew Boyd: [00:37:12] You tell the end of the story first or you tell the middle of the story last or something. And by rearranging a story, it could land differently, land potentially better, with a better outcome. And this is where the patterns we go back to this idea of patterns, how they can be used to see things in a more creative light. There’s no question in my mind that stories can be developed this way. When we wrote our book, Inside the Box, we were very fortunate to have an editor to work with that’s named Alice LaPlante. Alice is a creative writing instructor at Stanford, a very talented lady.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:37:57] I bet. Yes.
Drew Boyd: [00:37:57] It’s great to work with her. She wrote a book about – a textbook – about creative writing, and she said to us during the project, she says, “You know, I’m learning so much from you guys. I’m going to embed some of these tools in my next edition of this book because she could see how they could be applied to writing: chapter writing, storytelling. I know, for example, if you were writing a poem…. Can I – I got to tell you a story.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:38:30] Yeah! Absolutely. I was a creative writing major, so…
Drew Boyd: [00:38:31] I haven’t told this story for years, but many years ago when my son… I want to say he was in seventh grade and he came home one day on a Monday and he had this long face and I said, “buddy, what’s wrong?” And he looks down and he says, “Oh, I have to write a poem.”
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:38:51] I knew you were going to say that.
Drew Boyd: [00:38:53] Yeah, yeah.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:38:54] I have a I have my own story. I remember walking into my mom’s bedroom with the same long face and the same assignment. And I think I was probably nine years old.
Drew Boyd: [00:39:04] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:39:05] So, terrifying.
Drew Boyd: [00:39:06] Nine…. yeah, I forget, something, but he had this long face and it was “Poetry Week.” And I remember how dreaded “Poetry Week” [was] when I was a kid. I wrote this poem about birds and I’m still stigmatized by it. So I said to him, I said, “Look, son, if I can give you any advice, it’s: start now. Because if you, you know, if you wait till the end of the week, you’re going to be in bad shape and you have to write it yourself. You can’t, you know, no, you can’t go out on the Internet.” Well, Thursday night, we’re all sitting at dinner and he still had this long face and I looked and I said, “Well, son, how’s your poem going?” “Oh, Dad.” And he just… You could tell right away from the body language he was stuck. And I said, “Are you serious? You haven’t written it?” And he goes, “no, I don’t know what to write.” And he’s… You have to understand, this kid is a… he was an athlete. He played hockey. And just for boys, you know, writing a poem just seems so not cool. Right? It was not… just not a cool thing to do. I said to him, “look, I’m going to help you, but I’m going to help you in this sense. I’m going to give you a tool to help you be creative.” And what we did is we took the… I said pick a subject. Closed world. And he said, “well, hockey.” I said, “OK, a little too big, let’s pick one part of hockey, just some event or something.” And so he says, “getting a penalty.” And for those non-hockey fans or knowledgeable, if a player pushes a player down or does something bad, they get a two minute penalty and they have to sit off the ice for two minutes in what’s called the penalty box, or its nickname is called the “Sin Bin,” the Sin Bin. So he’s picked a penalty. And I said, “all right, now list out the steps of getting a penalty.” And he did. He listed the steps: the infraction, the ref blows the whistle, the arm goes up to indicate a penalty. The player skates to the penalty box. The coach of the player glares at him with a mean face. And he’s a kid, right? And he’s internalizing the steps of getting a penalty from a kid’s point of view. It was hilarious. Then we took the tools of poetry: onomatopoeia, personification, alliteration, and we laid one tool by each step. And then I said, now take that tool and take that step and create a sentence. And he did, and he created a poem called “The Sin Bin.” Now here’s the funny part of the story. I love the poem so much. He turned it in. He was so happy. But I wanted to turn the poem in, I wanted to submit it to a magazine here in the US called “American Hockey.” It’s a magazine for kids that are in the sport, kids and parents. And I told him I was going to submit it and he went, “oh, no, don’t submit it, please!” He was worried that his buddies would find out. He wrote a poem and he was so embarrassed. And I said, “no, no, I’ll change your name. I’ll submit it.” So I did. I submitted it and we used this phantom name that we use around our house, just this imaginary person named “Hector Gazinsky.” So I sent this poem in. It was published like six months later, “The Sin Bin,” by Hector Gazinsky or no, I’m sorry, not Ryan Boyd, Hector Gazinsky age – or grade seven, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:43:04] Wow.
Drew Boyd: [00:43:05] And… but then people in Cincinnati, in the hockey community were like, who’s the Gazinsky family?
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:43:14] I love that.
Drew Boyd: [00:43:15] Yeah.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:43:15] How incredible. But I love – the story is so powerful because it’s true that giving constraints actually enables more creativity. At the end of the day, that’s – I love that story. It portrays that so beautifully, whether that’s for the writing process or the communication process or the art of inventing the idea itself, this is… It’s just a truth. And so, what is one piece of advice or an activity or an exercise that you would say listeners of this conversation can do after listening to this podcast? What should all of us try to do? Some kind of like exercise that’s going to promote or reinforce these ideas?
Drew Boyd: [00:43:55] I’m going to give more than one, but…
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:43:57] OK.
Drew Boyd: [00:43:57] But, I would tell you… I would tell people to take note of the things around you that just catch your attention from a creativity point of view. You see something in a magazine or you see something online or you see something in your kitchen or in a… At a store. If it’s creative, take time to look at it and ask yourself, “why do I think this is creative? What’s the secret inside that makes me think this is creative?” No one’s going to judge you. You don’t have to get anybody’s approval. Just kind of take a minute and look to see if you can see an underlying structure to it. Then start to do this more often. I’m willing to bet what’s going to happen: you’re going to see a commonality. You’re going to see some common themes. And when you get to that point, you’re well on your way to getting this idea of systematic creativity, that there is an underlying structure to the things that are created around us. That simple act alone will help people realize that the creative world is really about structure and that they can leverage it, too. Once you see that pattern, ask yourself, “hey, there’s any reason why I couldn’t use that pattern as well?” Next time you’re doing something, next time you’re fixing something or working on a work project or a school project, then you use that same pattern. And of course, the answer is, “yes.” Pattern spotting is one of the one of the skills that I teach my students and my corporate clients: pattern-spotting. Notice the patterns around you as a way to then leverage them and use them yourself.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:45:34] Yes, I love that exercise. It’s giving me all kinds of ideas. I think even noticing the design on a product for one application and thinking of how to repurpose it for a completely different application. So what was it that caught our eye about that design? That’s a – that’s great advice. You said you had some others as well.
Drew Boyd: [00:45:55] OK, so…
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:45:58] If you’re willing to share, I’m going to… I want to listen.
Drew Boyd: [00:46:00] Sure, you know. I think pattern spotting, for sure. I think the other thing too, is: start thinking closed-world. When you get ready to tackle something – remember that story about, you know, the one man with type two diabetes on one street find that one house– so when I tell the story, I tell my clients, find your one man with diabetes and – as sort of a metaphor for their problem – and so whether you’re in a work situation or a home situation or just out and about, narrow your options, you’re going to actually find more creative solutions, not less. And the third piece of advice, this will come as a big bummer to people. But, you know, I mentioned brainstorming, brainstorming as a term really will never go away. But the underlying idea of brainstorming is this idea of thinking outside the box: unconstrained. Don’t do that. Constrain yourself, don’t use formal brainstorming as an ideation technique. It’s been shown to actually do more to damage your ideation than help you. So think inside the box, unless you’re… One of my favorite cartoons is a New Yorker cartoon where they show a cat about to get into his litter box and the owners like, “don’t think… Do not think outside the box.” Telling his cat, make sure he stays in the litter box.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:47:32] I love that. I love that. A couple of thoughts that came to mind as you’re sharing that advice: at Untold [Content], when we are collaborating and generating ideas together, we refuse to call it a brainstorm. We call it a “creation storm.” And it typically looks like actually building a program or a document together inside of Google Docs or some other kind of collaborative system where we’re literally building it together on video chat at the same time. And…
Drew Boyd: [00:48:00] Sure.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:48:00] So create together. Don’t necessarily just ideate.
Drew Boyd: [00:48:04] Yeah, look, creativity and innovation, it’s a team sport. And one of the old ideas of “build on the ideas of others,” it’s a powerful notion. It applies to… Whether you’re applying SIT or any method. So I’m a big fan of that. We’re better together, more brains are better together. They end up with a better solution than one brain.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:48:25] Yes. Yes. And the other thing that came to mind as I was listening when you said, “be a pattern spotter,” is: our team last year looked at about a thousand different innovation stories and broke them down into some key patterns. So innovation story patterns. And we share this in our training, which I can link to in the description box as well. So I think starting to notice what types of patterns emerge. For instance, “the garage guru.” And the failure narrative, there are many different variations of that and also the sort of “surprise discovery.” There are just patterns that have already existed and really work to gain traction. And so if you can turn to those first, if you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to communicate around your innovation, that might be helpful.
Drew Boyd: [00:49:17] Well, I tell you what I love – any time I do something like an interview or video or teach a class, I like to learn something, too. I’m really there to learn something. And, Katie, you just told me something I didn’t realize. And now I’m going to be very curious to learn about. So thank you for sharing that.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:49:34] Yeah, I’ll share it with you. I’m so grateful for this conversation, Drew. Truly, I learned so much even beyond what your book taught me, which I also loved. And I highly recommend Inside the Box. And I’m really excited for your forthcoming book, Adding Prestige to Your Portfolio: How to Use the Creative Luxury Process to Develop Products Everyone Wants. What an awesome title. Thank you so much, Drew, for making time. Where can our listeners find you?
Drew Boyd: [00:49:59] Easiest way to find me is at DrewBoyd.com. And that will link to all my other things, my video courses on LinkedIn Learning, podcasts, books. You can always find me at the University of Cincinnati. Very easy or pretty easy to find out there actually. So… And I’d love to hear from your listeners, if they have questions or ideas, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:50:26] Wonderful. Thanks so much. I hope you have a wonderful week.
Drew Boyd: [00:50:30] You as well, Katie.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:50:31] Talk to you soon, Drew.
Drew Boyd: [00:50:31] Bye bye.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:50:34] Bye.
Katie Trauth Taylor: [00:50:34] Thanks for listening to this week’s episode. Be sure to follow us on social media and add your voice to the conversation. You can find us @UntoldContent.
You can listen to more episodes of Untold Stories of Innovation Podcast.
*Interviews are not endorsements of individuals or businesses.