I see no value in waiting until New Year’s Day to resolve to improve myself. “Now is as good as time as any,” makes more sense to me. Last month I resolved to make two changes which, if I succeed in maintaining the alterations, promise to benefit me. In this article, I share my view on these changes, the immediate effect they have had on me, and their relation to the practice of collaborative innovation.

First, I decided to minimize refined sugars and refined flours from my diet.

I am not by trade a dietician or nutritionist. Food science is beyond my ken. The popular press has of late covered the negative effects of both, however. Armed with my newfound layman’s understanding, I felt compelled me to reduce both as much as possible.

Second, I decided to control mindfully my use of the iPhone. I found myself increasingly, unwittingly, slavishly at its beck and call.

I have a young daughter. Mondays through Fridays, I pick her up from school in the afternoons. I noticed, to my chagrin and to my embarrassment, I was allowing the device to compete for her attention. I have come to understand—or, more precisely, she has taught me—that to be fully present is the one authentic gift you can offer another person. My thoughtless use of the iPhone denied my daughter that gift. As a result, I turn off the device in the evenings, when she is awake.

Of the two changes, refraining from using the iPhone has been the hardest for me to maintain. Its siren call of immediate gratification and mindless exploration is a constant temptation. By comparison, removing refined sugars and flours from my diet requires low-key diligence, only. I cannot eat what I do not buy from the store or order from the restaurant. And, my diligence appears by way of compensation to have reopened for me the pleasures of the sweetness of ripened fruits and the savouriness of beef and seafood. My taste buds have returned.

Every day in every way…

How do I feel, one month into my new way of living?

I feel better: more alert and on a more even keel. I tell myself I feel better. It’s hard to be one’s own control group. I wonder about the placebo effect. Results from an upcoming analysis of my blood chemistry and body mass index will interest me greatly.

I find I sleep better, too. I have read where the blue light from the iPhone display, when viewed before bed, disrupts sleep. I no longer turn to the device, then, having returned to the printed page.

The cold turkey turkey

This past weekend I had a cold turkey episode. I accidently (read: carelessly) got my iPhone wet. In a couple hours, the screen went dark. I tried the “rice as desiccant” technique to no avail. My phone seemed as nonplussed by the rice as it was discouraged by the water.

With that, until I replaced it, I was without my phone for a day.

Disorientation came early. I found that I had been relying on the phone as my watch and as my wayfinder (Google Maps). I missed those services.

My life improved in small, meaningful ways. Not knowing—not being able to know—when, for example, my wife would return home from shopping meant that my mind stopped taxing itself with that inquiry. My daughter and I played. We lost track of time. We both experienced pleasant surprise when we heard the door open, announcing my wife’s return.

I have read that our ancestors lived for eons in this fashion, departing from and returning to one another without the benefit of real-time updates and largely being able to avoid calamity.

Implications for the practice of Collaborative Innovation

I have, for a time, referred to the iPhone as the serendipity killer. Witness New York City, for example. The city was once the home of the serendipitous encounter. Its denizens have retreated in to the digital cocoon of their iPhones, headphones and all.

As practitioners, we seek to foment a culture of innovation. The culture flourishes as serendipitous discoveries and epiphanies, borne of chance encounters, grows. The iPhone and its brethren works relentlessly against that aim. Its users become less mindful—less fully present—with each passing day.

As practitioners, we seek collaboration. The iPhone’s laptop co-conspirator, PowerPoint, intervenes. In our mania to get our facts straight—and to share all the facts, up front—we forget the power that the narrative has on an audience: the memorability of a story well told.

As practitioners, we seek authentic dialogue. The introduction of pastries, colas, and cookies during the course of an engagement wreaks havoc on our blood sugars, causing our minds to reel. Our ability to listen and to refrain from talking goes out the window.

As practitioners, we labor to engage a roomful of people in this environment. Half are looking at their phones. Half are rehearsing what they are going to say during their presentations.

Where does a culture of innovation take root in this landscape? How do we break the spell?
We know that real change—the authentic transformation—requires that we devote all our energies to mindfulness, over time, if the benefits of that change are to be realized.

As practitioners we come to more fully appreciate that we need good answers to these questions. Somehow, the iPhones must take their proper place in daily life. Somehow, the cakes, colas, and pastries must return to the cupboard.

Goodbye, sugar-n-iPhone guy

In closing, I feel as if I have started to lose touch with sugar-n-iPhone guy.

Good riddance.

Sugar-n-iPhone guy, through his inattention and fluctuating blood chemistry, had been disrespectful to his family and himself through his inability to be fully present and alive to the world around him.

I come to find that I improve and refine my practice to the degree that I work on my own behaviors. I have more work to do.

By Doug Collins

About the author

Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He helps organizations such as The Estee Lauder Companies, Fidelity Investments, Johnson & Johnson, Novo Nordisk, and The Procter & Gamble Company navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation.

Doug develops approaches, creates forums, and structures engagements whereby people can convene to explore the critical questions facing the enterprise. He helps people assign economic value to the ideas and to the collaboration that result.

As an author, Doug explores ways in which people can apply the practice of collaborative innovation in his series Innovation Architecture: A New Blueprint for Engaging People through Collaborative Innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management. Doug serves on the board of advisors for Frost & Sullivan’s Global community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL).

Today, Doug consults with a range of clients as senior practice leader at innovation management company Mindjet. He helps clients realize their potential for leadership by applying the practice of collaborative innovation.

Photo: Aerial View of Sugar Cubes by