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Innovation Blog

Poetry & Innovation: Mommy, Daddy, Tell Me a Story!

By Shlomo Maital

Nov. 4/2009

  Do you want to build a powerful business innovation? I ask my students.

  If you do — tell me a story.  Build a powerful narrative that has real people in it, a plot, conflict, a story line, and above all, a happy end.   These are all elements of  every great children’s book, stories we all grew up on,   Good Night, Moon,    Where the Wild Things Are,  and so on.  Children make meaning out of the world through stories.  So do we adults, it seems.   War and Peace, Anna Karenina — great novels are all great stories.   

     So — I ask my students to write a great narrative, rather than a dull-as-dust business plan with a huge spreadsheet.  Tell me a story.  Tell me how you will build a prototype, sell to one customer, scale up — and change the world.   And make sure there is a vivid photographic happy end.

    Who is the main client for such a story?  Investors?  VC’s?  No.  The main is client  is YOU yourself!    Does your story excite you, does it reflect your deepest passions? If so, you have a business idea with potential to succeed. If not — you’re wasting your time.  If you cannot energize yourself, you will not energize others that you will need on your team, in order to succeed. 

    Great stories create meaning.  They are memorable.  They inspire.  No-one ever joined a business venture because of an inspiring spreadsheet.  They do join because of a powerful change-the-world visionary narrative.

    To tell the absolute truth — many of my students do not ‘get it’.  They have been polluted by follow-the-rules here-is-how-to-do-it MBA course formulas for writing conventional business plans.  Do it this way, students learn in their MBA studies.  Is it not ironic that we teach entrepreneurship and innovation, by instructing our students to avoid innovation (in business plans) like the plague?

    I find badly-needed moral support in last week’s New York Times column by Thomas Friedman, titled “More Poetry Please”.   Here is what Friedman says:

      “President Obama has not tied all his programs into a single narrative that shows the links [among all his ideas and initiatives].  …such a narrative would…evoke the kind of popular excitement that got him elected.   Without it, the President’s eloquence is lost in a thicket of technocratic details.  OBAMA NEEDS TO ENERGIZE THE PROSE  of his Presidency by recapturing the poetry of his campaign!”

     [Yesterday’s (Tuesday) elections in the US prove the point.  The Democrats lost two key races for Governor (New Jersey and Virginia), despite Obama’s intervention there.]

     Precisely!  Every innovator, including Mr. “Yes, we can”,  must energize the prose of his or her idea (the feet-on-the-ground business details)  with head-in-the-clouds narrative poetry, to excite himself or herself and to energize the team, the investors, and even the clients.

    But innovators, beware!  Building such a narrative is extraordinarily difficult.   Entrepreneurs are not supposed to be poets!   Many innovators are engineers;  engineers are trained to understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics, not the First Law of Rhetoric and Narrative. 

     Here is a suggestion.  Do you have a business idea?   Tell it to a six-year-old.  Make it into a story.  If you can hold their interest, and elicit questions,  maybe you have a good business idea.  If you cannot,  if you cannot respond to “Mommy, Daddy, tell me a story”,  with a good one —  go back to the drawing board.  




Innovation Blog

How to Say “I Love You”  Without Saying “I Love You”!

By Shlomo Maital

Nov. 4/2009

      A BBC World Service program on the songs of Irving Berlin and  George and Ira Gershwin, American Jewish songwriters and musicians who lived in the 1930’s,  reveals a key innovation principle:

     Often, thinking IN the box [i.e. within difficult binding constraints or limitations] spurs enormous creativity.

     In the 1930’s composer George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris] and his brother Ira, who wrote the words (lyrics), wrote wonderful love songs.  They did so, however, without using the words “I love you”, because those words were overused and tired.

     How do you say I love You without saying I Love You?  Wow, here are two great examples:  Gershwin’s Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, and Irving Berlin’s  How Deep is the Ocean?

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

This song was written for the 1937 movie musical Shall We Dance?  By Ira and George Gershwin.  It was sung by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who did an innovative dance while singing it,  on …. roller skates!   It is pure magic!   Compare these lyrics with today’s rap!

Things have come to a pretty pass
Our romance is growing flat,
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that,
Goodness knows what the end will be
Oh I don’t know where I’m at
It looks as if we two will never be one
Something must be done:
You say either and I say either,
You say neither and I say neither
Either, either
Neither, neither
Let’s call the whole thing off.

You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto,
Tomato, tomahto.
Let’s call the whole thing of
But oh, if we call the whole thing off
Then we must part
and oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart

So if you like pyjamas
and I like pyjahmas,
I’ll wear pyjamas
and give up pyjahmas
for we know we need each other so
we better call the whole thing off
let’s call the whole thing off.

You say laughter and I say larfter
You say after and I say arfter
Laughter, larfter
after arfter
Let’s call the whole thing off,
You like vanilla and I say vanella
you saspiralla, and I saspirella
vanilla vanella
chocolate strawberry
let’s call the whole thing of
but oh if we call the whole thing off
then we must part
and oh, if we ever part,
then that might break my heart

So if you go for oysters
and I go for ersters
I’ll order oysters
and cancel the ersters
for we know we need each other
we better call the calling off off,
let’s call the whole thing off.

I say father, and you say pater,
I saw mother and you say mater
Pater, mater
Uncle, auntie
let’s call the whole thing off.

I like bananas and you like banahnahs
I say Havana and I get Havahnah
Bananas, banahnahs
Havana, Havahnah
Go your way, I’ll go mine

So if I go for scallops
and you go for lobsters,
So all right no contest
we’ll order lobseter
For we know we need each other
we better call the calling off off,
let’s call the whole thing off.


How Deep is the Ocean?

  Irving Berlin’s 1936 song, to which he wrote both words and music, conveys the deepest feelings of love , using I love you only twice, but as a question….


How can I tell you what is in my heart?
How can I measure each and every part?
How can I tell you how much I love you?
How can I measure just how much I do?

How much do I love you?
I’ll tell you no lie
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

How many times a day do I think of you?
How many roses are sprinkled with dew?

How far would I travel
To be where you are?
How far is the journey
From here to a star?

And if I ever lost you
How much would I cry?
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?



 Global Crisis Blog

Three Global Scenarios: Take Your Pick, Share Your Wisdom

By Shlomo Maital

Nov. 3/2009

      In The Economist’s Oct. 1 issue,  a special report on The World Economy has an excellent and insightful lead article.   The question addressed: 

     *** Will the world economy recoup its huge losses from the 2007-9 global crisis, catch up to the pre-crisis trajectory, and return to the original baseline growth (a large but one-time loss)?  This is Scenario 1. (See Chart).    (Prof. Milton Friedman believes this has been the case in every American recession, for instance).

     ***   Will the world incur a permanent loss in output, returning to the original global growth rate but NOT recouping fully the losses in wealth and output. This is Scenario 2.

    ***   Will the world incur a permanent and growing loss in output, with global output growth emerging SLOWER than pre-crisis and never regaining its original rate.  This is Scenario 3.

      It makes a huge difference for every single manager, business, family, government — everyone! — which of these scenarios will actually occur.  If forewarned is forearmed, we all need to be forewarned. But as usual, our economists disagree and are of little help.

   If you have insights into which of these scenarios you believe is most likely, and why, please share them with us and submit a comment.



Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
November 2009