I decided this week to do a short profile one of my favorite platforms for learning and experiencing new topics, Skillshare. There are a number of fantastic courses on Skillshare with new courses launching all the time. Skillshare has also recently launched a number of online “schools” focused on specific areas such as Design, Fashion or Business. I have now attended a number of great courses including Minimum Viable Product: Launch Your Startup Idea for Less than 1k(highly recommended) from SkillShare’s founder, Speak UP: Be a Thought Leader + Electrify Your Reach, Create Powerful Portraits w/ Hip Hop’s Premier Photographer and Web Design and Copywriting: Build Insanely Effective Landing Pages With Old School Secrets. In each course you conduct a project and hear from experts in the field who always have nuggets of gold to share throughout the course. While a lot of these topics are quite varied it is interesting to be able to apply them to the work you do in unique ways and learn key innovation skills such as communication, presentation skills and intrapreneurship.
As part of my pursuit of innovation I have learned the importance of dabbling and finding ever ending sources of inspiration. I currently subscribe to a number of art and design blogs and portfolio sites but recently stumbled across the Google Cultural Institute which is an amazing find.
This site features a number of museums from around the world and showcases some of their select pieces and exhibits. I greatly appreciate the ability to see museums globally, some of which are ones I have visited and loved (Ateneum in Helsinki and the British Museum) and ones I have not (Museo Galileo and the Islamic Museum in Qatar). There are other special exhibits such as the world wonders project which gives you a “street view” of the sites as well as the LIFE photo collection.
You can spend hours getting lost in the site and it is well worth the free visit.
I am a huge fan of MOOCs and have been dabbling in a number of courses across the different platforms. One of my favorite courses so far was Stanford’s Crash Course on Creativity. The course is part of their Venture Lab which is a collection of classes focused on entrepreneurship and innovation.
The course walked through a number of unique creative challenges from re-purposing chewing gum into something useful to a practice in observing your surroundings. This course stands out from many of the others due to not only the quality of the instruction but the thoughtfulness in making it something manageable to do while working. I committed about 2hours per week to completing the activities which were always fun and engaging, it was manageable but I still learned and practiced the skills being taught. Each week there was also a collection of readings from Tina’s book as well as lecture notes and supporting videos. Tina is a great professor and between her TED talks and recordings made specifically for the class I was able to glean some great insights into creativity.
This course was a great precursor to innovation and something I would recommend everyone to take to challenge your creative thinking. You can learn more about the course at Stanford Venture Lab as well as see my Accredible Slate for the course.
One of the things I am sure of when it comes to being more innovative and fostering a unique perspective is travel. I have had the pleasure to work, study, and visit a number of countries around the world and each time I learn something new. However, the experiences I cherished most were my work and study trips where I learned about more than just the local architecture and landmarks. Having the opportunity to observe, discuss and apply the local culture and business climate to my work back home has proven extremely valuable. My recent exploration was around seeing if there is a way to continue getting those global business experiences after we have graduated or if we are working locally while only a few weeks in duration.
So instead of “Adventure Travel” I started looking for “Educational Travel” and I found a few resources. A lot of these trips are great for broadening your horizons and learning new areas (read being “T-Shaped”) but there was overwhelmingly a lack of business or design focused trips and experiences.
Professional volunteering is a great way to give back but also get a real inside look into how companies operate in other countries. Most of these experiences tend to push my original time limit and can last from 2weeks-6months:
- VSO(USA)/CUSO(Canada) – This organization is very well developed and has great opportunities. There is a formal application process, training and support on the ground as well as some support on living costs. The work that volunteers do is very impactful and ranges from SMB support to market assessments to web development.
- Kaya – These are a bit shorter and require payment to participate but the trips are shorter in length.
- UN Volunteers – Projects ranging in complexity and length for qualified professionals.
- More Opportunities – Check out a larger list
Local University Travel
The local university in my city offers a number of short-term group travel opportunities for both continuing education and registered students. One thing I discovered is if you already have a degree it may be possible to register as an “open student” or in a general degree program and gain access to some of these courses.
This was the hardest category to find any potential providers in. Here are a few I found:
- ExploraInternational Innovation Tour – An organized tour to three innovation hubs (Silicon Valley, Signapore and Israel)
- The A Factor – Focused on driving connections in 5 day exploration journeys. The first event is planned for Nairobi with many other cities planned for the future.
- eBike Berlin Design Tour – A one off event linked to a conference, but a unique model
Executive Education Abroad
There are a number of executive education programs offered from schools such as Harvard, HKU, and Insead among others that can offer a short-term international experience if you have the budget (programs can range from $5,000-$20,000 USD).
Have you found anything else?
IDEO is regarded as one of the top Innovation firms globally and one of their core practices is to find and develop “T-Shaped” individuals. T-Shaped individuals will hold deep expertise in a certain field but will have broad experiences and interests that allow them to easily work in and understand cross-functional teams as well as develop unique insights specific to their experiences.
This mindset seems to be a necessary pre-requisite to innovation and collaboration. Another analogy for a T-Shaped individual is that of a “Renaissance” man or woman, again a practice which focuses on development of something niche but also practice is many different and often unrelated fields to drive unique solutions and inventions.
However, this concept goes against much of what is developed in traditional corporations and schooling where we are rewarded for deep niche expertise. Certain graduate rotation programs aim to create this cross-functional expertise, but the value is in having individuals who are truly interested in, and practicing, different disciplines as opposed to “doing their time”. New programs are popping up such as Parson’s Strategic Design Management Program and Stanford’s d.school which mix business and design or the USC Iovine Young Academy which mixes art, business and tech.
It is important to focus on developing this skillset and there are ways outside of formulated programs to work on your “T”, though everyone’s “T” will be made up of different sets of experiences. Determining your vertical I or mastery area is quite simple, and you need to actively develop and hone your skills. For your horizontal T there are many great ways to explore other fields:
It can be easy to fall into the trap of reading what you traditionally like, I tend to collect non-fiction business books and read traditional business magazines. I have challenged myself to explore new areas by reading new magazines ranging from topics on travel, architecture, poetry collections, science journals etc. I also have incorporated into my daily RSS readings a whole set of feeds meant to take me out of my current field.
The best way to practice and actively develop skills is to take courses in new areas. I have been taking advantage of MOOCs and the wide array of courses they offer. I have taken a number of courses on innovation but also on art history, game theory and I am starting a course soon on “Stunt Writing”.
Everyone knows travel is a great way to broaden thinking and observe new ways of being. I like to challenge myself to travel somewhere new and unexpected every year with my recent extended stays occurring in Guangzhou China, Medellin Colombia, and Marrakech Morocco.
Create a Credible Practice
I have a colleague who works in sustainability and his part-time hobby is ocean photography. It’s a great complement to his work but very unique and inspiring. Whether its creating a photo portfolio, a blog, writing a book on a topic, participating in competitions or otherwise it can be helpful to have a dedicated practice that proves your cross-disciplinary interests.
I have been reading a lot about creating an innovative culture recently as part of my Innovation exploration. This particular idea was highlighted on the new LinkedIn Influencers feature (check out my review of this awesome tool) where I stumbled upon an interesting approach that a start-up has taken to try and improve their company’s culture by leveraging the hackathon approach.
A hackathon is typically an event where a large number of people gather usually for about 24 hours and work to develop quick projects or ideas. The goal is to create something concrete enough to be presented at the end of the hackathon but not necessarily a full fledged project. The benefits include collective brainstorming, urgency and excitement about creating new ideas and improving team building in the process.
This company took the typical hackathon approach but applied it to their culture, a novel approach. They generated a number of very unique ideas, straight from the employees, that could improve their workplace and with enough tangible ideas to give the HR team something to run with. Some of the ideas included:
- One team spent 16 hours interviewing colleagues about the culture, and distilled the results into overarching themes. They committed to producing a “living manual” in one month.
- Two producers tackled the expense-reporting process to make it easier to use.
- To help employees connect beyond their immediate team, they created an app called “Floc,” to set up simple events, like grabbing a coffee or lunch, for people who haven’t spent much time with each other before.
- The company always has music playing in the office, and they built an app — called “Panishhh!” — so that anybody can quickly turn the music down if a client is coming in for a meeting
I think this is a really unique approach to developing ideas for creating or improving a culture but also something that could be applied to a number of functions. It is a great way to get HR, IT and employees together to come up with ideas that solve real employee pains but that could also be feasibly implemented. It leverages a number of key Innovation principles around idea generation and networking. Read more about the event here.