63 ways to be more innovative at work

A new book offers bite-sized chunks of insight into where new ideas come from

If you happened to be watching NBC’s Today show on Tuesday, October 20, 1987 — the day after the biggest stock-market drop in U.S. history — you might remember George Barbee. Today’s producers asked him to come on and “calm the American people,” he recalls. He agreed, but stayed up half the night “in a near panic,” trying to decide what to say.

Then he did some research, and explained to viewers that the Dow had shot up so high in the previous 12 months that, even with its heart-stopping plunge, the market had simply gone back to the status quo ante. Think of it, he advised, as a “Rip Van Winkle Effect…. If you had gone to sleep a year ago and just woke up this morning, the market would be at the same level…. Just take a long-term, multi-year view, and don’t let fluctuations ruin your day.”

It was good advice, and it set Barbee apart from other, more excitable commentators.

The moral of that story, which is Chapter 59 in his new book, 63 Innovation Nuggets, is twofold: First, sometimes being the best, the first, or the only at anything depends on your willingness to do some clear-eyed research that your rivals haven’t bothered with. And second, if the seed of an idea has you tossing and turning at night, write it down so you don’t lose it. “When we sleep, part of our brain keeps working. It may make an unusual connection.”

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