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IT’S ONE OF THE most famous stories in science: A young Isaac Newton is sitting beneath an apple tree on a warm summer evening contemplating the mystery of the universe when — thwack! — an apple lands on his head. Instantly, he understands that the very same force that pulled the apple toward his cranium also keeps the moon in Earth’s orbit and the Earth looping around the sun.

Doubt has since been cast on whether Newton was actually struck by an apple — the Englishman, it seems, knew the power of an engaging story to sell a bold new theory — but we do know from the account he gave his first biographer that he had been mulling what kept the planets in place as he wandered through the orchard. Why does it matter? Because it highlights something you probably already understand: That good ideas typically do not arrive when you’re sitting at your desk or in the weekly staff meeting.

While the actual mechanism that sparks creative thoughts remains something of a mystery (a little like gravity), the path to a Eureka moment follows a pattern most of us can recognize — saturation, incubation, and illumination. It starts with a problem you dwell on (maybe, “What holds the planets in place?” Or more likely, “How can I get Sally to show up to work on time?” Or “What marketing campaign will excite my customers this year?”), often followed by being stumped or frustrated, and then when we finally shift focus as we go for a walk, catch the train home, lather up in the shower — inspiration strikes!

It’s a weird alchemy involving the subconscious that sometimes delivers brilliance. In their book Tomorrowmind, psychologists Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin Seligman argue that in a business setting, there are typically four types of creativity at work:

Integration, or showing that two things that appear different are the same (like the iPhone, which brought together a phone, music player and camera by recognizing they were essentially powered by the same digital technology).

Splitting, or seeing how things that look the same are actually different or more usefully divided into parts (at one time, eyewear was made by single craftsmen — then the idea of breaking manufacturing into components to reduce cost and accelerate production times was revolutionary).

Figure-ground reversal, or seeing that what is crucial is not in the foreground but in the background (e.g., Amazon’s realization that its web infrastructure service could make it more money than just selling books).

Distal thinking, which involves imagining things that are very different from the here and now (3D heads up virtual reality overlays, everyday applications of retinal scan biometrics … basically, all the technology from the 2002 film, MINORITY REPORT).

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What all these acts of creativity involve is seeing something in a way that it hadn’t been seen before.

Hence the common advice for boosting creativity: Defamiliarize yourself with the world. Notice the space between objects, the silence between sounds, the abstract instead of the person. “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” wrote George Orwell.

This is important not just because it suggests the solution to your problem might be at hand, but because it also suggests everyone can be creative with the right mindset.

It starts with the understanding that inspiration does not come from “outside.” Every idea is a combination of others, a new connection made.

The implications of this are manifold. The inputs — the people, books, movies, environments, social media content — you expose yourself to are important. Second, everyone on your staff has ideas to contribute. There is no such thing as a non-creative person. After all, what is Sally doing when she seems to get lost in her own world as she polishes showcases? To be creative, to imagine the future and possibilities, is to be human. As the owner of a business or manager of workers, you just need to find a way to harness this often-latent potential. The good news is it doesn’t require much more than time, space and the right nudge.

Jeremy Utly, an adjunct professor at Stanford and co-author of Ideaflow: Why Creative Businesses Win, calls the ideas you come up with “the only metric that matters.” That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s based on an appreciation that as more and more rote jobs are automated, you have a choice: Innovate or fall behind. Tomorrow’s profits are based on your creative thoughts.

If the idea of creativity is daunting, keep in mind the rule of sh*tty first drafts: Your initial ideas don’t even have to be good — in fact, bad ideas are often the seeds of great ones. (According to studies, 50% of patent owners weren’t even trying to invent the product they eventually took to market.)

While there is still magic in the process, it is possible to be a little more systematic and intentional about how you extract good ideas, to create the conditions to make creativity a more predictable occurrence. In the following pages, we share ideas on how to come up with more creative ideas. Read on. An exciting new world awaits.

How to Build a Better Habit of Creativity in Your Business

When we’re in a carefree state, a part of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC, becomes more sensitive to unusual thoughts and strange hunches. “When we’re in a good mood, we feel safe and secure. We’re able to give the ACC more time to pay attention to weak signals; we’re also more willing to take risks,” writes Steven Kotler in The Art Of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer. Conversely, a bad mood amplifies analytical thought. The brain limits our options to the tried and true — the logical, the obvious, the sure thing we know will work, he says. Similarly, too much focus on “extrinsic” motivators such as money or recognition can damage creativity for many of the same reasons. (And caffeine too can inhibit creative thinking and alcohol unlock it … but clearly there are limits to that path). What’s it all mean? Keep brainstorming meetings fun and relaxed. Gratitude, mindfulness, exercise and sleep are non-negotiables for sustained peak creative thinking.

How to Build a Better Habit of Creativity in Your Business

IT’S A NUMBERS GAME

Creativity is one of the few areas in business where quantity trumps quality — at least initially. The reason is threefold: 1) Your first idea is rarely the best, and yet because of the cognitive load required by fresh thinking, your brain likes to call it quits when it thinks it’s found a solution, however mediocre (it’s known as the Einstellung effect.); 2) Creativity is not math — there is no one right answer. You want to explore all the options; and 3) Bad ideas are often the seed of good ideas. Some ideas that sound entirely feasible fall flat in the real world. Others that appear wildly impractical, even silly, work wonderfully with a few tweaks. “In most cases, you can’t really judge the merit of an idea until you’ve tested it in the real world,” Utley and his co-author, Perry Klebahn, write in IDEAFLOW. “At the start, you just need lots and lots of ideas. When it comes to creativity, quantity drives quality.”

SET AN IDEA RATIO

Just how many ideas do you need to get from crappy to potentially great? Industrial-level product designers will often cite a widely held “idea ratio” that says it will typically take 2,000 iterations (every combination, variation and refinement) to get a great end product, be that a new cosmetic, a Pixar movie or a handheld consumer product. James Dyson did 5,000 remakes of his vacuum cleaner before he was satisfied he’d developed a hit product. Utley recommends a daily idea quota whereby you articulate a problem you’re facing and then try to come up with 10 or 20 solutions. “10 is somewhat arbitrary in the sense that it could be 100 or it could be 20, but it’s more than one. It’s enough that people kind of run out of steam,” he told Stanford business school’s Think Fast, Talk Fast podcast. “Because then they’ve got to force themselves to think beyond their current consideration set, and that’s where the interesting stuff happens.”

GET EVERYONE TO CONTRIBUTE

Just about everyone in your company should be invited to contribute ideas — after all, what is creativity but seeing a problem with fresh eyes. (As Zen teaching puts it: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.) “To fight conformity thinking, leaders need to nurture original thinkers in every corner of their business. This starts with giving everyone opportunities and incentives to continually generate new ideas so they get better and better at pushing past the obvious,” says Wharton business professor Adam Grant.

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Contests with prizes and suggestion boxes can be an effective way of harvesting fresh approaches (when the workers feel their ideas are appreciated and followed up on). Senior executives at some HP units organize an annual round of “speed dates” to give all workers who feel they have something new to contribute a few minutes with the boss. Another idea is the “entry interview.” Talk to employees shortly after they start at your company and ask them what they like about it, what they hope to learn, what appears broken and how to make it better. “They haven’t drunk the organizational Kool-Aid yet,” Grant says. Utley and Klebahn concur: “Truly innovative leaders never utter the phrase, ‘Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions,’” they write in Ideaflow. “Innovation leaders know that problems are the necessary precondition to novel solutions, and they cultivate an awareness of problems across their teams.”

ASSEMBLE THE RIGHT MIX

Caveat: While being open to new ideas from anyone in your company, some caution is required. Novice viewpoints have their place, but the best ideas come from the connections forged when different fields of expertise collide. Three or four people with insight into a problem are often enough to reap the benefits of brainstorming. Adds Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University and author of Deep Work: “I call this the Whiteboard Effect because it’s the proverbial scene at the whiteboard where you have other people working on the same problem — they’re going to know a technique you don’t, they’re going to have an idea that you didn’t have; you’re extending the amount of neuronal real estate that is dedicated to whatever thinking is happening that gives you more grist for that particular metaphorical mill.”

How to Build a Better Habit of Creativity in Your Business

PROVOKE FIGHTS

In a paper for the Harvard Business Review titled “The Weird Rules of Creativity,” Stanford business professor Bob Sutton recommends taking this to the next step. When you have people who care deeply about finding a solution to a problem, don’t be afraid to goad them to fight. “Mind you, I’m not talking about provoking personality conflicts or relationship issues; battles between people who despise one another squelch innovation. The fights you need to cause are all about idea,” he writes, citing the case of the scientists at the legendary Xerox PARC lab, where no-holds barred arguments about technical approaches were encouraged at daily meetings. When the sparks fly, creative solutions are often the result.

REFRAME

Much of the success of a creative exercise will come down to how the challenge is initially framed. In 2011, Disney decided it needed to overhaul its customer experience. “Instead of asking the question most corporations ask themselves every single day, ‘How can we make more money?’ which would have resulted in shortsighted profit-boosting measures like ticket price hikes, we took a lesson from Walt Disney himself. The team reframed the challenge from the consumer point of view by asking: ‘How might we eliminate a major pain point for guests?’” recalls Duncan Wardle, Disney’s former head of innovation and creativity, in an article in Ascend. That led to focusing on the issue of lines, a solution in the form of the RFID-based “MagicBand,” and record-setting guest satisfaction and revenue (and a new source of data on customer traffic that was used to design future parks). “By simply re-expressing or renaming your challenge, you give yourself permission to think differently,” he says.

ASK, WHERE ELSE?

Evaluate if past ideas were worth your time and effort, then improve on the ideas that worked. When clients can’t stop talking about something we did to make their visit with us fun and memorable, we try to implement that idea to share with ALL of our clients. Most creative breakthroughs arise through analogy, when you look beyond your usual boundaries to find inspiration. Alexander Graham Bell modeled the telephone on the human ear. A hitch with the Hubble space telescope was fixed when a NASA engineer taking a shower in a German hotel saw how he might borrow the design of the shower head. It thus helps to make “Where else?” one of the first questions you ask. Brendan Boyle, who heads up IDEO’s Play Lab, cites the case of an ER unit at a hospital that was seeking to speed up its response times. While looking at how other healthcare institutions handle this issue may have been the obvious first choice, they found their answers by investigating how a Formula 1 pit crew shaves seconds off a tire-change. “If you start thinking about the deeper characteristics of the problem to be solved, this is about fast turns. This is about getting somebody in and out as quickly as possible. Well, let’s not go to the DMV. So, thinking about the characteristics of your problem often yields the best ideas … And the research suggests when analogies were imposed that are farther afield than folks expect, the ideas were much more creative,” says Utley.

How to Build a Better Habit of Creativity in Your Business

The philosopher and mathematician René Descartes famously loved to lounge in bed and think. It was on one such morning — so the story goes — while watching a fly flitting around on the ceiling, that he came up with the XY plane of Cartesian coordinates. In the pursuit of creative solutions, there’s evidence to suggest that we need to daydream. In short, it’s a good reason to take your foot off the pedal regularly — embrace those moments of afternoon lassitude and aimless conversations in the backroom. You’ll be in good company if you do. Leonardo da Vinci would often sit in front of a painting and simply think, sometimes for as long as a half day. Einstein had a wooden boat he called the “Tinef” (Yiddish for “piece of junk”) on which he liked to aimlessly drift wherever he could find a body of water. Tony Schwartz, in A Better Way Of Working, urges you to be proactive and mark off time in your day planner for some “purposeful daydreaming.” Schedule at least one hour a week to brainstorm or strategize around an issue at work. You can help access your right hemisphere by doodling, daydreaming or going for a long walk — anything that lets your mind wander. That’s when breakthroughs and spontaneous connections are most likely to occur. The neuroscientist Dr. Nancy Andreasen, who was among the first to do brain imaging of such periods, says “We were not [seeing] a passive silent brain during the ‘resting state,’ but rather a brain that was actively connecting thoughts and experiences.” Essentially, Dr. Andreasen found that the unoccupied brain defaults to creativity.

How to Build a Better Habit of Creativity in Your Business

Humans’ more developed prefrontal cortex — which is responsible for planning and emotion control — is one of the key features that sets humans apart from other species. But when it comes to creative thinking, it’s the deeper parts of our brain — the subconscious — that may be the real supercomputer. However, to bring the subconscious into action usually requires taking a break from worrying about your problem — to move the problem to the back burner, to let the unwatched pot boil. In short, it means you can’t rush creativity. Creative work depends on a kind of inefficiency. Breakthroughs also depend on being stumped and feeling frustrated. Make the path to them too smooth, and you get lower-quality breakthroughs. In Creativity Rules: Get Ideas Out Of Your Head And Into The World, Stanford business professor Tina Selig urges you to bask in your problem for a while. If you go straight to the solution, you will likely end up thinking too narrowly, whereas if you frame wider, you can often come up with a creative answer. “Living in that problem space and falling in love with your problems is one of the most powerful ways to unlock really innovative solutions,” she says.

How to Build a Better Habit of Creativity in Your Business

DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL

In addition to time, ideas need space to bloom. Sutton says his research has found companies where managers provide vague encouragement for employees to work on what they want and don’t demand to know the details come up with more innovations. This “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is made explicit at Corning’s Sullivan Park R&D lab, which churns out hundreds of kinds of experimental glass each year. Scientists there are required to spend 10% of their time on “Friday afternoon experiments” to develop “slightly crazy ideas.” FedEx does something similar, periodically giving employees a 24-hour period to work on anything they choose — a better internal process, a service innovation, or a new way to treat and interact with customers. Creativity, it seems, does best when it’s sheltered from the harsh light of scrutiny of critics and bosses. Recent German research even revealed that people do significantly better at creative tasks in dimly lit rooms.

DO THE GRUNT WORK

While origin stories generally highlight the eureka moments, the breakthroughs typically follow toil — often fairly mundane work requiring thousands of hours. “You can’t really blame the storytellers. It’s not so exciting to read ‘and then she studied some more,’” writes the theoretical mathematician Dan Rockmore in a NEW YORKER piece about where his peers get their ideas. But this arduous, mundane work is a key part of the process; without it, “the story is just a myth,’ he says. “There’s no way to skip the worrying phase. You work, and you work, and you work, and then you get a glimmer of understanding … Chance really does favor the prepared mind; when the moments of discovery came, often unexpectedly, my hours of hard work felt newly valuable.”

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Most business owners don’t get their best ideas in the same place where they handle the paperwork for re-orders or respond to business emails — meaning their desk. For some, like Einstein and his boat or Darwin and his garden path, it’s a regular place that reliably unlocks new thoughts. But most people seem to do better when their senses are triggered by a new setting. “Being in environments that have new or novel stimulation in terms of sight, smells and sounds can fire up new circuits of your brain. Your brain becomes open to this new experience, it’s taking in more input and considering problems in new ways,” says Newport. “We don’t know exactly how this neuroscience works, but it seems to be when you’re in that state, you’re also open to new abstract ideas.”

How to Build a Better Habit of Creativity in Your Business

GO FOR A WALK

Walking seems a particularly powerful way of stimulating such original thought. “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,” observed Nietzsche. Henry Thoreau concurred. “Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Utley and Klebahn recommend a structured approach they call “wonder wandering.” Go for a walk and use the things and people you come across serendipitously to prod fresh thinking. For example, if you see a stoplight, you might think about whether you could use a sort of yellow light to signal to customers that a product is about to run out. If you see an Adidas store, you might say: “How would Adidas deal with this?” Or you see a UPS truck drive by and think, how would UPS do this? “You almost impute or project a sense of divine inspiration on everything you see,” Utley and Klebahn write. “An idea is a connection. That’s it. Assume the presence of connections and let the brain do the work of finding them.”

MEET AND GREET (NEW THOUGHTS)

In addition to new physical surroundings, new people can greatly boost cognitive diversity. On a weekly basis for 30 years, Ben Franklin brought acquaintances with various backgrounds together to debate and discuss ideas in gatherings he called “learnings circles.” These weren’t just scientists, thinkers and academics but often leather-aproned individuals who met and discussed what new people, technologies or business innovations had arrived in Philadelphia. “And you wonder: How did Franklin come up with the lightning rod and map the Gulf Stream, and the Continental Congress and fire departments? It’s because his portfolio of collaborators was so broad,” says Utley. It’s an approach some modern businesspeople implement through “breakfast clubs” with members of their local community. Advisory boards of customers who share feedback on your organization’s offerings and collaborate in developing ideas can also help. And these events don’t even have to be focused on work. BLACK SWAN author Nassim Nicholas Taleb famously urged his readers to “Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.”

BE OPEN TO NEW EXPERIENCES

According to cognitive scientist Scott Barry Kaufman, “openness to experience” is the No. 1 thing to cultivate for both personal meaningful creativity and world-changing creativity. “What that means is constantly challenging yourself beyond your comfort zone, constantly questioning assumptions, being intellectually curious, and appreciating beauty,” he writes in his book Transcend. “Openness to experience” sounds fancy, but it basically just means try new stuff — in every sphere. “Any exposure to things that take you out of your normal way of viewing the world really increases cognitive flexibility, and is a core part of creativity,” he says. According to technology writer Kevin Kelly, the optimal balance for exploring new things versus exploiting them once found is 1:3. Spend one-third of your time on exploring foods, products and tools, and two thirds on deepening. “It is harder to devote time to exploring as you age because it seems unproductive, but aim for 1:3,” he says.

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

There’s an old joke about designers that goes: How many designers does it take to change a lightbulb? Punchline: “Why does it have to be a lightbulb?” Like the corporate team-building exercise known as 100 Uses For A Brick, the only mildly humorous point of the joke is that at the heart of creativity is the need for fresh thinking by looking beyond a brick or lightbulb’s conventional uses, thereby overcoming one of the biggest barriers to creativity: “functional fixedness,” or the way our brains become locked into defining an object by the purpose to which it’s usually put. But seeing beyond the conventional is fiendishly difficult because our brains love worn grooves, and it is why, over and over again, established firms fail to spot opportunities for innovation: They simply don’t perceive them. Reconsidering a problem in a different physical context seems to help, as does picking some specific type of person — a doctor, an astronaut — and imagining what they’d do. The key is to shift perspective as randomly as possible, which explains the appeal of Edward de Bono’s “lateral thinking,” or of Oblique Strategies, the deck of cards that offers jolting phrases to trigger new outlooks.

THINK INSIDE SOMEONE ELSE’S BOX

Lee Iacocca was chosen as one of Ford Motor Company’s 10 “Whiz Kids” in 1946. But every time young Lee would go to his manager with a suggestion, his boss would say, “Show me where it has worked.” Far from being a mere functionary, a conformist lacking both courage and imagination, Iacocca credits his boss as being the man responsible for all his later successes. Iacocca learned from him a pivotal lesson: If an idea is truly brilliant, you’ll find examples of its successful implementation scattered throughout history. The secret of guaranteed success is to import a tested and reliable methodology into a business category where it has never been used, writes Roy H. Williams in his weekly Monday Memo. “They’ll call you a brilliant creative innovator. You might even be able to patent your breakthrough. But you and I know the truth. You’re merely an insightful historian.” Such an approach is a version of the aphorism “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” While overquoted, there is wisdom in it — in a world that fetishizes originality, where a hundred self-help books urge you to have the guts to be “different,” it’s often smarter to hew closer to what’s been shown to actually work.

How to Build a Better Habit of Creativity in Your Business

BUILD A CAPTURE HABIT

The late comedian George Carlin credited much of his success to a boss he had when he was 18 who told him to “write down every idea I get even if I can’t use it at the time … A lot of creativity is discovery. A lot of things are lying around waiting to be discovered, and our job is to just notice them and bring them to life,” he said of his lifelong “capture habit.” Oliver Burkeman, the author of last year’s New York Times bestseller Four Thousand Weeks, says he keeps an ever-expanding list of random thoughts, quotes and ideas on paper and digitally, adding to it indiscriminately, never holding back because an idea seems mediocre, stupid, or derivative. “When I need an idea, I peruse the list, and sure enough, most of the entries still seem mediocre, stupid, or derivative. But for mysterious reasons, one or two entries — entries that might have sat there looking lifeless for months or years — would suddenly feel ripe, full of life, ready to be used,” he explains in his newsletter, The Imperfectionist. Note, however, that you don’t want to impose too much order on your notes, or you may eliminate the serendipitous connections that are how ideas arise. “For reasons I still can’t fully explain, keeping my notes messy seems to keep them more alive, too: It makes them more fertile, as a source of ideas, than if I were to lock them down into any more rigid structure,” Burkeman says. As always, it helps to be prepared. Keep a notebook by your bedstand for those ideas that keep you awake, or a waterproof pad in the shower.

How to Build a Better Habit of Creativity in Your Business

BETTER BRAINSTORMING

When crisis strikes … or you just need ideas for a new season’s marketing campaign … management’s reflexive action is usually to call a brainstorming meeting. Get everyone together and watch the ideas fly. But in practice, the results are often mediocre, as certain individuals dominate the discourse and the rest of the team quickly falls in line with the first or second idea. Then there are the turf wars, the Negative Nancys/Neds, pet ideas that people refuse to drop, and so on. According to numerous studies, a better approach is to assign your people to come up with ideas on their own first with a reminder that there are “no dumb ideas” and “dare to be obvious not creative” (what feels “obvious” to one person will strike others as novel, even inspiring). And then meet and go over the suggestions in a group. Not only will you get more ideas (a Yale study found that the number of ideas produced by individuals and then aggregated was twice that of ideas generated by the group working together), but they will be better. To keep the discussion positive, you may want to institute a version of Steve Jobs’ “plussing” rule — where one could only offer a criticism if it included a potential solution. It apparently worked wonders at the hypercritical creativity sessions at Pixar. And to keep the dialog positive and the ideas flowing, consider prompts such as:

The improv comedian’s mantra, “Yes, and . . . ”

“What else are we trying?” According to Utley and Klebahn, this question keeps people searching for options in a supportive way.

Having whittled down the ideas to the best, it’s time to capture, marinate, and reassemble. Again, the point of this first round of “ideation” is to get the deep creative juices flowing and to avoid latching on to the first solution proposed.

SET CONSTRAINTS ON THE BLUE SKY

In the public imagination, creativity is often portrayed as something unrestrained and wild — that great ideas will burst forth once the reins are eased. (There are no fewer than three books available on Amazon called Unleash Your Creativity.) But there is also a counterargument that creativity thrives on constraint. Consider a good haiku or sonnet, and the answer is obviously yes: It’s precisely the limits of the form that inspire new ways of working inside them. Google sometimes puts fewer engineers on a problem than it needs to inspire ingenuity. In his book The Art Of Impossible, Kotler quotes jazz great Charles Mingus: “You can’t improvise on nothing, man; you’ve gotta improvise on something.” The point, says Kotler, “is that sometimes the blank page is too blank to be useful. Constraints drive creativity — that’s why one of my cardinal rules in work is: Always know your starts and your endings. If I have these twin cornerstones in place, whatever goes in between is simply about connecting the dots.” If the problem is complex, it can help by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts and then using constraints to frame the immediate problem and focus attention.

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GOOD MULTITASKING

Multitasking is nearly always a bad idea. But when done slowly enough, it actually seems to help the creative process, judging by the long list of original thinkers who seemed to thrive by routinely switching from one project to another and back again, including Charles Darwin and the chemist Linus Pauling as well as more modern creatives like David Bowie and Michael Crichton. The journalists David Epstein and Malcolm Gladwell dub this the “Temin Effect,” after the brilliant biologist Howard Temin, a Nobel Laureate with interests ranging from social activism to philosophy and literature. The theory is that the variety feeds creativity, and it has found some backing in scientific research. A few years ago, a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania arranged for 18 randomly chosen first-year medical students to take a short course in art appreciation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Over the next three months, the students were dragged from their hectic schedules to learn to study, describe and criticize works of visual art. They were later tested on ophthalmologic tasks against a control group of 18 fellow students and significantly outscored them. To be sure, it was a small trial, but the results suggest the Temin Effect is real — the medical trainees became better eye doctors by spending time studying a totally unrelated field.

INPUTS MATTER

When it comes to creativity, inputs matter. Expose yourself to the same inputs, and you shouldn’t be surprised to get the same outputs. Sometimes, these inputs can be in the form of interactions with people (and it’s the relationships with people outside of your circle of closest friends and family that introduce you to the freshest ideas); other times it can be podcasts, movies, books, art or just about anything long form that exposes you to new perspectives and supports cognitive diversity. “I really believe in the idea of quiet creativity,” says Newport, one of the leaders of the Slow Work movement that advocates cutting the cord with social media. “Gathering inputs is the easy part. It’s the long thinking, and rethinking, then thinking again that’s really needed if you want to produce industrial-strength insights,” he says.

TEST, TEST, TEST

Invocations to be creative, to be bold and unorthodox are fine. But what’s not often addressed is the specter of risk: Failure is costly, possibly embarrassing, and even if not implemented, a creative initiative can be a significant distraction. As such, any attempt to promote new ideas in a business setting also needs an efficient way to test them or to yield data that will support further exploration or tweaking. Forget the expensive and bureaucratic “pilot programs,” say Utley and Klebahn. Instead, think rapid, scrappy tests straight out of high school science class. Hypothesis to results in an hour and then off to lunch. “Surveys are useless,” they write. “Judge desire by people’s actions, not their words.” In IDEAFLOW, they cite the case of a shopping center that offered free drinks to passersby to see whether there would be demand for a full-scale beer garden. (There wasn’t, even when the drinks were free.) Prehype, a venture development firm, advertises nonexistent products on social media to see how many people click through. “Often, it’s a matter of making ‘little bets’ and seeing where they lead,” says Peter Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries.

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