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Think wrong, make stuff, do good.

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Think wrong, make stuff, do good.

Meet Maria Sykes and Jack Forinash. They are Auburn University architecture graduates, the program made famous by Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio in rural Hale County, Alabama.

After graduating from college, the “right” path would be to move to a big city and get a job with the best architecture firm possible. Time to work off those student loans and design corporate office buildings. Ugh.

Instead, they decided to take the “wrong” path and move to the unlikely town of Green River, Utah, which has a population of 973 people and is located on the banks of the Green River. Definitely not Brooklyn. Once a thriving town and home to an Air Force missile testing base, the town has fallen on hard times like so much of rural America. Most of the buildings in the downtown are empty and boarded up. Some are about to collapse and one is now an accidental “guano farm” and home to hundreds of bats. Nevertheless, Jack and Maria fell in love with the scruffy little town and set up a non-profit called Epicenter in 2009 to help drive positive change.

Once established, Epicenter purchased a historic building, redesigned the space and renovated the structure. And here is where things start to get really interesting and “wrong” 

Not only did Jack and Maria deviate from the expected career path by moving to a dying town, they have executed their projects at a high level of design absent from organizations focused on rural community development. Instead of conforming to the orthodoxies of small-town non-profits, they busted the status quo and have built a fantastic headquarters for their work that helps to attract a growing community of like-minded creative insurgents.

This week we ran a 2-day Think Wrong Blitz with Epicenter to generate ideas for future projects at Epicenter. Stay tuned for updates on the proposed bunkhouse/hostel (see the Kex Hostel in Iceland) to make it easier for more people and groups to fall in love with the town of Green River.

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Have you ever wondered “How long would it take for security to show up if you were to pull into Facebook’s corporate headquarters in Menlo Park with a Cricket Trailer, unhitch it, push it into a parking spot, start popping the roof, and wind down the steadies?”

Well, we have an answer.

It’s a little less than two minutes.

But to give the security guy credit he was on a bike, someone had to see us on CCTV, wonder what the bloody hell we were up to, communicate it to him, and then he had to find us. Two minutes in that context is a pretty rapid response. Kudos to Facebook security!

Once we explained to him that we were there to see Tim Campos the CIO, and yes we were planning on meeting him in the parking lot—in the Cricket, that had transformed into a mobile-blitzing-lab-come-conference-center he was mightily impressed, and as the Cricket is now a giant dry erase board Greg wrote “Approved by FB security” on the front and we were good to go (that apparently is all it takes!).

We then had to convince Tim’s executive assistant that we were not going to kidnap one of the most influential CIO’s in the world, we're pretty sure he was only 22% joking about that.  Upon inspection, he agreed that our conference room was far superior to any on their campus* and he went inside to return with Tim.

*He may not have said that, but it was pretty obvious what he was thinking!

Greg had used his illustrative talents to draw, amongst many things, a picture of Tim on the side of the Cricket along with his quote: 

“Technology matters, but talent matters more”. 

Some people, like John Bielenberg for instance ;), might have thought such a thing creepy, weird and slightly stalker-esq… conversely we thought it mildly sidesplitting and with John being in Maine at the time, what was he going to do about it?

Mercifully, Tim’s team saw the hilarity, and he himself was impressed that he’d said such wise words.

Tim Campos and the Cricket Trailer

To the meeting itself, is there a better environment in which to describe a Blitz than a hacked Cricket, that was born from a Blitz, out in a parking lot, sipping delightfully chilled REBBL tonic (born from another Blitz), from the onboard refrigerator? Let’s examine:

  • Be Bold: We think showing up in a Cricket adorned with the CIO’s face on the side is pretty bold.
  • Get Out: Well yeah—not only did we get out, but we gave the Facebook team the opportunity to get out of their environment too, to be receptive and invite serendipity.
  • Let Go: This was most definitely not the same old same old meeting!
  • Make Stuff: We were sitting in a space that was living testament to making, and the Facebook team engaged having fun with the physical space, playing with the writable surfaces and the Cricket itself.
  • Bet Small: The worse thing that could have happened is thinking it was a little weird and having the meeting in a conference room instead.
  • Move Fast: The Cricket was still a Cricket until a week before, and we had no way of moving it. Plus, it is a conference room that can go about 70mph—that’s a pretty fast conference room.

There was serendipity of doing all this at Facebook whose culture fosters the traits of blitzing and the Think Wrong Practices themselves, and we're thankful the team was more than willing to return serve with us, how’d the meeting turn out? 

You’ll just have to wait and see.

P.S. If we did it again, we would put beer in the cooler!


The $8 Cookie


The $8 Cookie

Get Out Think Wrong about venues

I recently received an enticing email entitled “Are your meetings memorable?”

I’m a person who goes to quite a few meetings, and indeed many of them are not what I’d call memorable.  In fact, too many just suck. So as you can imagine I read on with great anticipation; having more memorable meetings would considerably improve the quality of my life. As I passed the subject line the email got better and better. They were even offering FREE LUNCH. The opportunity to learn how to make meetings more memorable, AND free lunch—wow! What could this be?

By now, I’m imagining what could make a meeting memorable...something totally unexpected, radically different from the humdrum monotony of dungeonesque hotel conference rooms graced with vomit patterned carpets and the remnants of duct tape from meetings past. I’m imagining light years beyond the bulk-ordered brass wall sconces and the beige assortments of chicken-or-eggplant steamed and served from vats. I’ve almost forgotten the indignity of the $8 cookies. Seriously, some hotels charge 8 whole dollars for cookies at events!

I clicked through to the website—the 50 Best Venues for Events—and clicked on Chicago, a cool city filled with museums, parks, quirky neighborhoods, universities, botanic gardens, galleries, restored industrial spaces and oodles of historic buildings. I’m thinking, “This is going to be awesome, some inspiring and memorable places!”

Nope.  Wrong. A list of truly uninspiring f*&k you hotels—Marriott’s, Hyatt’s, Doubletree By Hilton’s, the big Hilton’s themselves, et cetera, et cetera, blah, blah, blah. Here’s one of the images from the website for a “memorable location.”

*Note*     We have not changed the quality of this image!

That, I’m sure you'll agree, would make for an extremely memorable meeting; especially for the person who gets to sit with a 9 degree view of the screen, two feet away from a speaker near the door—the definition of receiving the cold shoulder.

I read further, and discovered these event locations were not the promised miracle solution to making events memorable—that would be technology. More precisely, a “robust SaaS platform [that] can help you lower your venue costs, support integrated marketing campaigns, increase attendance, and enhance attendee communication.”

Talk about ingenious—I had no idea that the lack of one of those SaaS platforms was the culprit responsible for merging all my meetings and events into one giant blob of torturous forgetfulness!  Now that I think about it, of course I can see that support for integrated marketing campaigns was the one thing that would have made them more memorable for me. Forget the human experience.

Here’s an alternate approach if you want to have a memorable meeting—GET OUT.


Pick an unexpected location: a park, a museum, even someone's back yard. Bring a blanket and let people bring their dogs.  When it’s coffee time have a local coffee shop show up with some specialty coffees, get some cupcakes from a nearby bakery and have a taco truck show up for lunchtime, or give people vouchers to local restaurants and let them Get Out from your Get Out.

How will you project your PowerPoint? You won’t. And people will thank you, and remember you for it. It’ll even save you $8 cookies.


The Toxic MBA

Think wrong about toxic MBAs

The problem-solving orthodoxies they teach you in business school kill ingenuity. Greg Galle explains why at TEDxGrandRapids.

When Less is a Whole Lot More

Think Wrong and say less

This post is courtesy of Solve Next collaborator Mike Burn.

Being unnecessarily long is plain disrespectful. 

A marketing document I recently had to rewrite ignited this fire. Bad writing wasn't the obstacle to it being read; everything was grammatically correct, the words carefully chosen, and the arguments well-constructed. But the overall effect was actually mind-numbing. The whole thing was just far too long.  The writer's point would never have been understood—because it would never be reached.

A couple of days of editing later, it became apparent that cutting hundreds of words takes significantly longer than writing them. Which brought to mind the genius of Dr. Seuss:

“It has often been said there’s so much to be read, you never can cram all those words in your head.

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.

That's why my belief is the briefer the brief is, the greater the sigh of the reader's relief is.

And that's why your books have such power and strength. You publish with shorth! (Shorth is better than length.)”

At Solve Next, we call this parakeet storytelling. The idea is to avoid getting bogged down in narrative and words, and instead to capture the pithy tidbits that matter, using sounds, video, or sentences a parakeet could handle (140 characters, in social media world).

So please, keep to the core, make it compact—don't wallow in words, clean up your act. After all, someone might have to read it.

Enough said.

"Alexandrine Parakeet (Psittacula eupatria) - Edward Youde Aviary, Hong Kong Park" © 2013 CC BY-NC-SA Neerav Bhatt

Get Out (of Your Zoo)

Get out of your zoo to think wrong

This post is courtesy of Solve Next collaborator, Adam Butler Choose one—would you rather have a defined and secure territory, safety from predators, and scheduled meals; or would you prefer an evolving and uncertain territory, being a part of a dynamic food chain and always needing to be on the hunt for your own food? If you chose the first scenario you identify more with zoo animals, and if you chose the second you identify more with wild animals. And this obviously speaks to where you end up living – in a zoo or in the wild.

After running my own business for ten years after having worked for others for 7 years, I feel like I went from something quite like a zoo to something much more like the wild. In fact my brother Marty and I, the co-founder of The Butler Bros, really connected deeply with this analogy when we uncovered it.

It made me recall this passage from the “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel:

“One might even argue that if an animal could choose with intelligence, it would opt for living in a zoo, since the major difference between a zoo and the wild is the absence of parasites and enemies and the abundance of food in the first, and their respective abundance and scarcity in the second. Think about it yourself. Would you rather be put up at the Ritz with free room service and unlimited access to a doctor or be homeless without a soul to care for you?”

Comfort is in fact what’s at play here. And when you get overly comfortable, you get a bit numb to yourself. When you expect a carcass to come flying over the fence you lose some of your hunting instincts. When you know your territory is 100% secure you sleep a little deeper but somehow fail to dream. Add all of this up and it translates to a dimming of your senses and a suppression of your wild, instinctual, self. Your ingenious self.

This isn’t a referendum on being an employee versus an employer or entrepreneur. It’s more of a meta-observation about what happens when you never leave your zoo. Or never let your people leave the zoo you’ve built for them, whichever the case may be.

It’s also not an indictment of where you choose to ‘live’. Because getting out of the zoo is literally as simple as walking out the door with the intention of being open to what you see outside.

In Solve Next Blitzes getting out is a practice that comes with tools. Chief among them is 10X10X10. You go to ten places, meet ten new people, and bring back ten stories. This is a recipe for comparatively wild animal behavior. The senses will indeed bristle. And then you’ll step through the threshold of your proverbial cage to discover inspiration in places you never knew existed. You will bring it all back and share this fresh sustenance with others. It will feed them too. They will grow stronger from it. And you might howl together. Seriously. Get out of your zoo and go wild.

"Cubicles" © 2013 CC BY-NC-ND Michael Lokner