How Old Is Your Brain?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on April 21, 2007

David Armano’s terrific headline here on his Logic + Emotion blog raises a fascinating question about how young or old you think. As David suggests, it doesn’t correlate simply to age.

Let me tell you one innovation story that highlights this. When I launched IN—Inside Innovation, I took over a small conference room to start an “innovation gym” (heck all the companies I was writting about were doing it so I wanted to try). Now this conference room has glass walls and is on one of the busiest corridors at Business Week. And—this is important—it has photos of heroic CEOs all over the walls. Mostly white guys (all the women CEOs and the few non-white guys were there too). It looked so…boring.

So I took down all the photos without asking anyone and put up colorful, provocative images of young faces from around the world, great architecture, abstracts—images that would stir curiosity, new ideas, different ways of thinking.

With glass walls, everyone from the magazine could see what I was doing. A large number of people came in, looked at the walls and said, in a negative tone, “Can you DO that?,” questioning my legitimacy in removing the famous CEOs from the walls and replacing them. A large number of people also came in, looked around and said in a positive tone, “Wow, can you DO that?,” wondering at my audacity in getting rid of famous CEOs.

I must say that there was little correlation between age and acceptance of change. I was stunned at how many people in their early and mid-thirties really hated my antiestablishmentarism—my breaking the rules. Maybe one third. Maybe more. The other two thirds really liked the change. Smiled, sent emails congratulating me.

Ditto for the folks in the fifties (the few who are left). Most of them loved the idea of just replacing the old with the new. In fact, except for one guy who is now gone, the entire “sitting bull” generation got it and liked it.

So how old is your brain?

Oh, the portraits of the CEOs are back on the wall of the conference room. I don’t know who put them up or even when. but after the first issue of IN, the secretaries who are in charge of conference room assignments put so much pressure on me to get rid of the “innovation gym” and return the room to its former status, that I gave in. And up went the heroic CEOs.

If you think building an innovation culture is easy, forget about it.

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Reader Comments

David Armano

April 21, 2007 03:37 PM

Bruce, that's a good story. I have some similar ones where I just started putting stuff up on walls. At one point, I was indirectly scolded for ruining the paint with tape. But now we have cork in place. I guess that's a good thing. :)

PS, it's nice to hear stories like this from a realistic and pragmatic perspective. I've noticed that you have a lot of critics out there. That's fair—strong brands tend to polarize people (think Crocs, Mini Apple etc.) But this is a reminder that you actually work in the business world and try things for yourself.

All we can do is try. It's the alternative that should be criticized.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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