Corporate Creativity

I thrive on being creative. I love creating music and words, and I have been known to wonder out loud how awesome it would be to have a job where all I do is focus on being creative. I quickly point out how poor I could be, but I would be happy…I would be creative!

But if I were to be honest, I AM in a job where all I could do is focus on being creative. Am I creating my own music? No. But in a world that is built around reality and responsibility, I think I may have one of the more creative jobs around. While that may surprise you, it certainly surprises me! I desperately want to be creating, writing, educating and helping people, and many days go by that I lose focus and struggle through some very unrewarding periods of my work. I forget that my creative outlet is there if I just turn and focus and decide to push through the distractions that tend to paralyze me…

If I look back on 2013, what did I do? I created very popular user experiences, I wrote articles and traveled the world educating users how to get more out of what we delivered.

Also, I invented.

Inventing at IBM is one of my most creative moments at IBM. This year I was fortunate enough to have 11 patents issued in 2013.

I only mention this to encourage you to be creative in your work…to think of how you, too, can improve the world around you by being creative in whatever you do for a living. Whether we like it or not, our workplace is where we can have the most impact on others because it’s where we spend the most if our time.

If interested, here are my 11 issued patents in 2013 (You can read the details here):

Highlighting related user interface controls

Replicating changes between corresponding objects

Determining a score for a product based on a location of the product

Moving deployment of images between computers

Dynamically resolving fix groups for managing multiple releases of multiple products on multiple systems

Future system that can participate in systems management activities until an actual system is on-line

Management of actions based on priority levels and calendar entries

Content identification and retrieval based on device component proximity

Disc with embedded flash memory and disc drive (not a duplicate)

Disc with embedded flash memory and disc drive

Copying segments of virtual resource definition to create and deploy a virtual resource on a physical resource

How about you? How do you stay creative in your workplace?


Star Trek, AC/DC, And Your Killer User Experience

I compose music (Listen here), and years ago I took a film composing workshop. The teacher was Ron Jones and if you don’t know him, you know is music from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He scored the first few seasons including the awesome season 3 finale “The Best of Both Worlds”. He said the key to being a great composer is to always ask this question:

“What’s The Main Thing?”

Meaning, at any moment in time, any measure, any beat, ask yourself:

“What is the ONE thing you want your listener to pay attention to?”

He explained that while humans think we can hear lots of different things at once, when it comes down to it, we really focus on one thing…and if a composer isn’t thinking about the “main thing”…and crafting the music to make the “main thing” stand out, then the listener might focus on something else and not really hear what the composer thinks is most essential to that moment in the song.

The “main thing” in music may surprise you. You might think it’s the melody or the lead guitar solo, but in a rock song, the “main thing” might be the rhythm guitar. In a dance song, the “main thing” might be the snare or kick drum. The “main thing” could change measure by measure from guitar riff, to snare, to vocal, and so on. For example, take the song “Back in Black” by AC/DC. (Note: for those that now categorize me into a certain genre, again, take a listen to what I write…it might surprise you)

Anyway, AC/DC’s Back in Black. That song has one of the best intros in any song. If you listen, the intro quickly moves from string mutes/high hat, to the guitar riff, then adds bass and off it goes into the vocal. But listen again. The “main thing” is actually the snare. Notice how the guitar riff stops so the snare can breathe…there’s nothing interrupting that glorious “SMACK” as the snare (and guitar) set the tone, beat, intensity of the whole song.

The “Main Thing” in Your UX may also surprise you.

While our instinct as creative designers is to want to show off all the cool graphics, colorful gauges, and awesome capabilities your product has, you need to ask yourself,

“What’s the main thing?”

Or more specifically,

“What is the ONE thing you want your user to pay attention to…to focus on?”

It may force you to dim, remove, or alter the flow of your designs so that the user is delighted with how easy your interface is to use; not because there are so many awesome capabilities to choose from, but because they instantly see what they need to focus on.

For example, in our newest PowerVC product, we have all kinds of cool capability, pretty gauges, data, and graphics giving the user much-needed information on how to manage their virtual machines. However, when users are first starting out, the “main thing” is none of that…it’s simply a “Plus” icon guiding users to add hosts, storage, and network. Nothing else should have the users’  focus.

Focus on Most Essential

I truly think we’re only tapping the surface of what this simple question could do to our user experience. I’m excited to see how much more we all can improve our products by asking this single question.

How about you?

What’s the “Main Thing” in your user experience?

7 Out Of 6,478 = Good Showing!

In 2012, IBM was granted 6,478 patents.

In 2012, I was personally granted 7 patents (totaling 42 US patents)

What a great company to offer such a great program. I can’t think of a better company perk for someone who HAS to create…like me.

You see, in most every development project there is the burst of ideas, quickly followed with “Wow, that is a great idea, but we don’t have time to implement that”. If that were the end, there would be a lot of frustrated creative people.

However, IBM offers a way for the creative to proceed to see just how far that idea can go. Most of these issued patents came from ideas to make our products better that just did not have the funding to get implemented at the time. But since the ideas were unique, and the details of how they could be built were complete, we filed a patent.

So satisfying to be able to use our creative muscles…thanks IBM!

Here are the 7 that were granted to me in 2012:

Moving data between views

Goal based user interface for managing business solutions in an on demand environment

Disk with embedded flash memory and disc drive

Verifying that group membership requirements are met by users

Implementing dynamic authority to perform tasks on a resource 

Dynamic and intelligent hover assistance

Movement-based dynamic filtering of search results in a graphical user interface

Frustrated Inventor, and Loving It!

I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t get ticked off at technology…

…and I love it!

Well at least from my inventor perspective. Let me explain…

I know, we’re supposed to be spinning around this sun pursuing happiness and all things fuzzy, but when it comes to inventing, I love it when I, my kids, or a co-worker gets frustrated with technology, the way things work, the stupid designs we all come across that seem so un-obvious.

Why? Because every little thing that gets us frustrated might the beginnings of a beautiful, patentable idea.

Here’s what I do: When I get frustrated with technology, something clicks in my head to pay attention. And then, (and this is key), I notice WHY I’m frustrated, and then I write it down. I don’t solve the problem right then and there, but I’ve recorded a nugget of inspiration that can later turn into a patentable idea. And it doesn’t even have to be me that’s frustrated. I can point to at least a couple patents that started with my son saying “Dang, I HATE THIS! If only…”.

Maybe spend a day and try it. If not for the fun of inventing, maybe for the fun of discovering a new product or service you can make money at!

Here are two other things you could try to get ideas to surface:

1) Write down problems you needed to solve regarding a project you work on. Think back to meetings where you and your team wrestled with how to solve a technical issue. Then, recall all of the ideas that you crossed off as ‘too lofty’ or ‘too expensive’. Those may be nuggets for great patents.

2) Sit in a cafeteria/public place and listen for:

  • “You’d think they’d…”
  • “If only…”
  • “It would work so much better if…”
  • and my favorite: “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t…”

These are not patents themselves, but they are nuggets of ideas that could turn into patents.

Finally, when you explore new consumer technology, think of how it could be applied to your area of expertise…some of my favorite patentable ideas have come from the strangest of locations (Hard Rock Cafe in Vegas) 🙂

Give it a go! Who knows, you may surprise someone when they say “Aw crap, don’t you hate it when…”, and instead of you feeling bad for them, you respond with a big ‘ol smile, pad and pencil in hand, and say, “Awesome! Tell me more…”

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