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Innovation You: Four Steps to Becoming New and Improved Hardcover – July 26, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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A Letter from Author Jeff DeGraff
Rebalancing Your Portfolio Life

Have you ever fantasized about your great escape? You know, getting away from the stressful job, the daily grind, the loveless marriage? What if you made a break for it and actually got all the way to the land of plenty only to find that it wasn’t what you really wanted? That’s exactly what I did (more than once) before I learned that the same mindset that drives a person to try to have it all eventually stops them from having what they really want.

I made my first great escape at twenty nine. I was exhausted. I had been running full-out for a decade. A marginal student from a blue collar neighborhood in Michigan, I made my way through three degrees in six years working as a Teamster. I got married at twenty three and put my wife through college, as well as the tornado that was my life. At twenty five, I turned my back on a professorship at a top university to go to work as an executive at a regional pizza company. Four years and three billion dollars later (for the company, not me alas), it was time to leave Domino’s Pizza, and my marriage, though not our daughter, who had arrived a year earlier. A single daddy, I retired at twenty nine in search of simplicity, solitude and solace. I found them all, but found them all wanting.

My daughter and I moved into a small but fairytale house. We sang songs, read rhyming books and went on magical adventures. Sure the meals were mediocre, the laundry a failed chemistry experiment and our personal appearance merely adequate, but we managed. During these four years I read every self-help book ever written, played my guitars incessantly and even learned to meditate. My social life was a patchwork of yoga instructors, performance artists and earth mothers. I smelled like patchouli and sandalwood. This was a life I wanted?

Time with my daughter aside, my soothing daily routines began to bore and annoy me. How much mindfulness and navel gazing could I really stand? How could I have fooled myself into believing that I could go from doing deals around the world to doing tea around the corner without getting altitude sickness? It wasn’t that I failed at making my dreams come true; rather it was that I succeeded only to find that they weren’t my real dreams at all.

It’s not just me. My guess is that it’s you too. You might be flirting with an old entrepreneurial idea and are considering chucking your present career to chase that long-held dream. Or maybe you’re a recently retired doctor boomerang back into a medical practice because fishing and golf just aren’t enough for you. Or maybe it’s your twenty five year old kid who is trying to reinvent herself after her hitch with the Peace Corps and is now back in school getting her MBA. We all seem to be chasing something we haven’t got or moving the bar once we get “there.” In my case, I’d gone from brashly pursuing goals to quietly searching for harmony, like a windshield wiper. And then, quite by coincidence, the next stage of my life began when I was able to make a shift in my perspective. Going over my portfolio of investments with a financial advisor, he metaphorically referred to them as though they were parts of my life. And just like that, I started to see new possibilities: High risk, high reward investments in startup biotech firms made me think about a new business I had long considered starting. Blue chips stocks with consistent returns suggested to me that I too needed to commit to daily discipline in areas of my life like exercise. Giving money to my alma mater reminded me how much I missed being part of a teaching community. The detailed research required to manage treasuries and bonds brought to mind the need to stay current by reading journals in my field of expertise.

We talked about how my investments were a work in progress just like me. Over time what I needed would change as my daughter grew up and went to college. In essence, I started to look at my investments as a series of cycles that closely resemble the seasons of my life. I began to see that maybe I could have it all, but just not all at once. More importantly, I came to see that having it all would require me to constantly balance my portfolio life instead of moving wholesale from one extreme to the other.

But achieving some semblance of balance is not a matter of slavishly recalibrating every detail of my life. I’ve come to see that paying attention to my need for what I call the “Four C’s” is the key: to Create, to Compete, to Collaborate, and to Control. When I am nurturing these areas of interest, I am nurturing the portfolio that is my life. My work with corporations and individuals today (I eventually did come out of that early retirement!) proves to me that these four categories are universal.

In my own life, paying attention to my need and desire to Create means that I keep a notebook for my creative ideas and that I maintain my lifelong interest in spirituality; I try to visit holy places of all religions when I am traveling.

In terms of nourishing my hunger for Competition, I try to keep a daily appointment with myself to work out (I also aim to meditate every day). My Competitive side also stokes my financial well-being; I actively manage my investments.

Paying attention to my instinct to Collaborate, I try to honor my need to feel and be capable: I want to keep learning and growing so I occasionally enroll in a continuing education course. I also recognize that staying connected to family, friends, and my community keeps my collaborative capabilities sharp and in focus. Last year I went on a camping trip with my family which is perhaps the greatest test of one’s ability to collaborate!

My need to maintain some Control over my life has led me to institute small rituals in my life: I keep a cash jar for family emergencies and as a way to satisfy my desire for productivity, I also occasionally volunteer for projects that will enhance me professionally, even if they don’t pay.

Like any high-performance portfolio, taking the long view requires that what I do and the changes I might make must reflect what I believe I really want at any given time. This means that I may pursue very different types of outcomes in various areas of my life. For example, I may seek to CREATE by traveling to Bhutan, one of the few places I’ve never been to, while also seeking to CONTROL by moving some of my investments out of the volatile market and into a savings account. Over time, you will recognize a rhythm to these patterns in your life; compartmentalizing demands and desires into the Four C’s may actually free you up to pursue the wildest of options!

I sometime feel like I’m Forrest Gump. But being in the right place at the right time is a matter of both luck and readiness. My story goes on but this time with a diversified portfolio. Six years after my daughter and I struck out on our own, I married again and my wife and I have two children together. I became a professor and built a successful business. I even found time to write a few books. We are now a portfolio family. Some weeks it’s about the kids: Karate, violin, catechism and the like. Some weeks it’s about the career: Travel to clients, lectures, academic papers and so on. Every Sunday my wife and I talk about our portfolio life. We shift things around, create hybrid solutions and connect a lot of dots. With a little luck, most of the time our portfolio is reasonably balanced and for that we are grateful.

Imagine if your dreams came true the day you graduated from high school: The bright lights of Broadway, a fast car, married to the beautiful homecoming queen, or whatever. Would you still be happy today? While some are, many of us have outgrown our early dreams and have new ones to pull us forward. So while you’re planning for your way to the future, why not leave a little room for the things you don’t now? Diversify your portfolio life to hedge against unforeseen challenges and give yourself the freedom to pursue emerging opportunities. That way you can have it all…when you really want to have it.


Advance praise for Innovation You
“A useful guide to thinking about career changes, entrepreneurial leaps, or general self-improvement, DeGraff’s newest work is a must-read for those contemplating change and wanting to make more creative decision.”—Publishers Weekly

“Whether you’re looking to stay competitive professionally, make a career change, or just be inspired to greater personal creativity, this is the book to light the proverbial fire underneath you. It is a pragmatic, step-by-step framework for unlocking the unique capacity for growth in each of us.”—Tom Glocer, CEO, Thomson-Reuters Group, PLC
“This is not just another book on innovation. Jeff DeGraff takes a lifetime of learning and teaching and turns it into a conversation about what it takes to change, grow, and create. And he does it with honesty and wit. You’ll discover ‘we grow when our life sucks’ and other DeGraffisms that put into perspective the hard work and motivation that goes into innovating at work and in life.”—Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer, GE
“DeGraff translates the innovation strategies and practices used in top-shelf firms into an easy-to-follow road map for making our own lives new and improved. This book will show you how to really make innovation happen.”—Vijay Govindarajan, professor, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (July 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780345530691
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345530691
  • ASIN: 0345530691
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,183,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I checked this book out from the library for a test spin. I found the guidance and exercises included to be so helpful that I wanted to have it available when dilemmas present themselves to me in the future. I've been trained on many different personality based methodologies, i.e. HBDI, Behavioral Styles, etc. This book nicely compliments them as it offers a way to think outside of your usual box and assists you in finding ways to overcome obstacles and self-inflicted barriers.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Innovation is explained in color terms, in story, and with repetition that gets deeper into the whys along with questions to ask yourself and tips for stretching beyond your usual plays. The innovation steps includes collaborate, control, create, and compete. Examples and questions make each of the steps understandable and action oriented.
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Jeff DeGraff thinks of himself as a football coach. He wants to help you understand the game of life so you can call the right play at the right time.

As a student in his class at the University of Michigan, I learned how to use the Competing Values Framework to develop innovative solutions to business problems. In Innovation You, Jeff takes those same frameworks and makes them personal. The book really helped me think more holistically and more clearly about my life.

For instance, I now understand why I went to business school. I may not have been aware of it or able to articulate it at the time, but what I was doing was innovating in the "Collaborate" quadrant. Going to business school helped me increase my capabilities and develop a community (read: the Ross School of Business network and the U of M network more generally) that will be an important part of my life from now on.

During grad school I spent a lot of time working in the "Create" quadrant. I did a lot of self-discovery. Through my classes, group projects, and career-related self-assessment exercises, I learned about my strengths and my weaknesses. (It wasn't always pretty or easy, but like most things that don't kill you, it made me stronger.) I also worked on creating a positive vision of the future -- a kind of north star to help me way-find.

Now that I've graduated, I need to focus more on the "Compete" and "Control" quadrants. I need to develop a plan for creating prosperity in my life while maintaining my physical health and mental focus. And I need to develop consistent systems that will enable me to sustain my career success. If I do those things right, I should find the financial security I need.

There are no guarantees. As Jeff says, nothing is certain.
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Format: Hardcover
Jeff DeGraff's Innovation You is an uncommonly useful book; rather than presenting a "prescription for success" based on a universal process or system, Innovation You teaches you how to innovate.

It encourages you to focus on the process of innovation, rather than blindly following a particular approach to health, wealth, and happiness.

Innovation You teaches you how to identify your underlying behaviors and habits, so you are more sensitive to the "hard wired" approaches to change and threats. It encourages you to recognize your default reactions, and explore different approaches.

I particularly liked the way Innovation You encourages you to explore individuals, situations, and behaviors that you might find uncomfortable: often, "where the sparks fly," is where your great opportunities for change are to be found.

A small point, but--unlike many other change-based books--there are just a handful of characters, (i.e., illustrative stories), yet they reappear throughout the book, illustrating different stages of the "learning how to innovate" process. An excellent value.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have always been intrigued by the subject of innovation and creativity. I have purchased numerous books. Innovation You is the first book that I've read on this subject that immediately inspired me to look at innovation in a totally different way, and also inspired me to order a dozen more. Our organization wants to build a truly innovative culture that wows our customers. After reading Professor DeGraff's excellent book, I now realize that transformational innovation starts with the individual. As Margaret Mead stated so well: "A small group of concerned citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has." My entire staff is now reading Innovation You. We have never been so excited about our future!
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Format: Hardcover
Disregard the 1 star review, I just purchased the audiobook, it's fantastic. It's full of real stories from many different situations. It's accessible. This, by the way, is not a fake review. It makes innovation accessible and enjoyable.
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Format: Hardcover
Jeff DeGraff (a.k.a. The Dean of Innovation) demonstrates his communications brilliance with his book as he introduces readers to sophisticated ideas in easy to read language so that everyone can easily absorb his invaluable message.

The Dean of Innovation's method is based on the belief that life moves in cycles and experimentation is necessary to find the correct blend to move to the desired stage. As such, his book does not provide a one-size-fit all prescribed course of action or a one-time fix. Instead, Jeff gives readers the foundation for life skills to identify how to approach innovation as needed, as well as to identify what makes us fall back into reaction mode. He does this by using a balanced blend of many relevant, relatable, and inspiring examples gained from both his professional and personal life. The Dean's approach makes this book very easy to read.

The `portfolio of life' exercise and `capacity review' included in the book are great ways to implement the newly acquired knowledge and develop it into a life skills set that can be applied each time a reinvention plan is needed. Whether it is time for you to make a minor improvement that has significant impact or a multi-faceted, or it is time for you to create a long-range plan that is executed in phases to reach your desired goal, "Innovation You" is a must read .
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