Dave Gray is the Founder and Chairman of XPLANE, the visual thinking company. Founded in 1993, XPLANE has grown to be the world’s leading consulting and design firm focused on information-driven communications. Dave’s time is spent researching and writing on visual business, as well as speaking, coaching and delivering workshops to educators, corporate clients and the public.
I interviewed Dave online, Monday 14 Sept, 2009 via a live Google doc.
MICHAEL DILA: Dave, tell me about the new book you are writing. I know you are collaborating with two colleagues, Sunni Brown & James Macanufo. Last time we talked you called it a “playbook”. Can you tell me what you meant by that and what it is a playbook for?
DAVE GRAY: Dan Pink has pointed out that creative work needs a different approach than industrial work. Rewards and incentives work well for manual work, but for creative work they have the opposite effect — creative work is motivated from within; it’s intrinsically motivated. In this book we want to lay out a theory and set of principles for creative work, but at the same time offer practical methods that teams can use to inject more innovation and creativity into their work, in the same way that a team uses a playbook to approach the playing field in a cohesive way.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I know Dan is found of using right-brain, left-brain language, which I personally don’t find that illuminating as a way of thinking about these things, That said, I have more recently become interested in the neuroscience around things like the phenomena of insight and other perceptual and reasoning frameworks that are relevant to creativity and innovation. I know that you, too, have an interest in the brain. Does that figure at all in the thinking of this new book?
MICHAEL: OK, well I’m glad that you brought up the word goal. It’s a favorite of our friend Paul Pangaro, who likes to remind us that all intelligent systems have goals. I know it’s difficult to always think of creative work as having a goal or at least a clear goal.
MICHAEL: I want to come back to a point you made earlier about the motivation behind creative work. I am absolutely with you on the importance of intrinsic motivation. In fact, I just recently wrote a note to myself: “successful innovation lies squarely between intrinsic and instrumental motivations.” Innovation happens where those things are in balance, in other words. That said, what can you say about how people find or fail to find that balance, because there seems a need for a parallel caution to the one you indicated in reference to PARCs failure to capitalize on innovation. There’s always the danger that creativity gets lots in the woods and can’t find its way back to relevance. Maybe someone should write a playbook for creativity & innovation? But, of course, you are writing just such a book. So, please say something about what’s in a playbook. Rules, recipes, puppy dog tails?
MICHAEL: You’ve been involved in some interesting experiments with writing, your own “unbook” Marks & Meaning which you self-published, along with contributions from others, updates and versions. I know that you and I have also both been interested in our friend Alex Osterwalder’s work on his forthcoming book about business model innovation. Tell me something about your collaboration with James and Sunny on this project. What’s the division of labor? What’s the experience like and does the design of how you are writing the book connect in any way with its content?
MICHAEL: What would you say the hardest part about writing and thinking through these things with others has been for you. I know that you are an ace collaborator. I’ve always admired you for the way you work with others. But there must be challenges when you have a string vision or point of view. Have you had disagreements? What kind and how do work them out?