Know your superpower: highlights from the 99% Conference

Keith Yamashita, one of the most influential and eccentric consultants in the industry, announces his firms newest digital product.
Written by Sonya James, Contributor


Listen as Keith Yamashita takes us into the SY Partners studio and reveals how the company is developing interactive digital tools.

NEW YORK CITY – When an international social justice movement occupies your brand, you either embrace it or… embrace it. Jocelyn K. Glei, director of the 99% Conference, started the two-day event off with a nod, “We didn’t know our brand would blow up so fast.”

Of course the “99%” Jocelyn was referring to has nothing to do with Occupy Wall Street. Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.”

This perspiration – the work or insight, ethic or discipline, habit or mysterious outside force that turns ideas into action – is what the 99% Conference and Behance, the design-leaning technology company that organizes the event, is all about.

“What is most dear to us is the missing piece between creative potential and execution,” the founder and CEO of Behance, Scott Belsky, said as he introduced the first round of speakers.

It soon became clear that unearthing how we execute – or more often fail to execute – our best ideas touches on a distinctly 21st century collective anxiety.

As professional life bleeds into personal life and vise versa, and as workplaces increasingly become cafes where professionals set their own timetable, creative industry developers are seizing on a moment of sheer desperation.

Companies use technology to organize, analyze, and track everyday operations. Why not connect digital tools to our emotional lives? And more than that, why not connect our emotional lives to the everyday operations of the company?

Enter Keith Yamashita, one of the most influential consultants you've never heard of and Chairman of SYPartners, a firm that “fuses systems thinking and creativity to help organizations in times of seismic change.”

In other words, Yamashita is in the precarious business of keeping an organization on top after an industry shock or the rise of a new CEO. The firm’s list of clients includes Apple, IBM, General Electric, Johnson and Johnson, eBay, Nike, Starbucks, and Gap.

In 2011, SYPartners launched a sister company called Unstuck. Strategists, writers, psychologists, and sociologists developed an iPad-based app that helps individuals overcome creative ruts.

“It helps dig out of you what you already intuitively know about how you want to get unstuck,” Yamashita said. “It comes out with a very simple, but often searing, telling of why you’re stuck”.

Unstuck has been available for 5 months and has about 150, 000 regular users.

“Great people get stuck all the time,” Yamashita realized after working with industry giants for over 20 years.


Next, SYPartners announced it will be targeting “ensembles”. While Unstuck is geared toward individuals, their new application targets group dynamics.

“Great teams do not come about by chance,” Yamashita said. “Great teams – when they are at their best – start first with the foundation of each person on the team understanding their superpower.”

Yamashita offered three insights to attaining a powerful creative team:

  1. Most of us are good at looking, but not seeing. Do you see possibility when you come to a new situation? Do you see waste? Do you see how things get stuck? What lens you choose to use is directly correlated with how effective you are as an individual and collectively as a team. It’s about the ability to switch lenses.
  2. Know your superpower. Know what you do uniquely, better than anyone else on your team. It is amazing how much people allow and settle for time in teams when they are not using their superpower. Once you know your superpower your job is to stay in that zone. You will be happier and your team will be better off.
  3. Duos are the smallest atomic unit you can have in a team. If we are connected as a duo we must work it out because we can’t blame anyone else. Think about the top ten duos in your life. Write them down and think about how you can build strength in that relationship. It all comes down to how you react in that duo at any moment. You have two choices always: do you respond with a sense of love, or a sense of fear?

The new application is going into private beta soon and will be launched by the end of 2012, SY Partners announced.

To be honest, I have no idea if these digital tools work. According to speaker Teresa Amabile, professor and director of research at Harvard Business School, “The medium you choose is less important.”

Amabile was trying to convince the crowd to keep journals. She suggested the application I Done This as a possibility, but in the end, her message was clear. Just do it.

This is an astute point. “There is no try, only do or do not”, as Yoda once said.

Which leads to one of the great highlights of the conference, existentially-inspired author Jonah Lehrer. Beyond the apps and the aids, there are the basic questions, “How does creativity work, and what does it take to make our good ideas happen?”

Jonah Lehrer revealed how to predict future success.

What does the test look for? Grit. And it is astonishingly accurate.

Check out Jonah Lehrer’s talk at the 99% Conference.

[Images: 99%; Unstuck]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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