A fashionable phrase in business today is 'steal with pride.' You could say that true benchmarking is stealing, when done well. Similarly, what can we learn – or steal – from different minds to enhance our own creativity and innovation? Here's how to start...
1. Do A John Peel
Arguably, the most influential music fanatic of all time, Peel moved his own career and the tastes of his listeners forward by always choosing to listen to something new rather than what he'd heard before.
So how much newness – the 'nova' in innovation – do you allow into your mind? Or do you say, "I know what I like" and that's the end of it? Closing down on the new in our personal tastes - whether it's music, film, food, or technology - is the thin end of the wedge, the first step in our minds closing to fresh inspiration.
Re-think. This week taste, buy, or discover something you may have ruled out as 'definitely not me' – a CD, an experience, a different kind of restaurant.
2. Do A Flaubert
The novelist's writing pattern was the opposite of prolific: he would craft a perfectly written 39 words a day. Lazy? Maybe, but if so, the quality and enduring success of his work is a paean to considered thought and a healthy re-think in an era where writers type volumes of prose without thought or sentiment.
Those 39 words soon build up, so don't procrastinate and imagine you'll get down to your creative passions when work is less hectic (it won't be) or the kids have left home (today they probably never will)!
Re-think. There's always magic in starting something: begin to work on your creative hobby now, even if it's only for half an hour a day.
3. Do A Bob Dylan
Dylan has been criticized and praised in equal measure for the rawness of much of his early records. He was instinctive in his desire to do 'a first take' and get it down on record. Many musicians will tell you that there's a freshness and simplicity in the first attempt. In Dylan's case his most famous and successful single, Like A Rolling Stone, was recorded without the backing musicians knowing how the second half of the song went, or how it would end. Which is why you'll hear them half-a-bar behind the lead Dylan gave them.
Re-think. Take a project you're working on that needs a creative approach and do it as if it's the first and final take. Or, if it involves others, gather the most stimulating minds around you for an hour or an afternoon and tackle it as if your life depends on it. In a creative sense it does! You'll be surprised at how far you get with the right energy and passion.
4. Do An Einstein
"It's amazing after a formal education that anyone has any curiosity left" is a famous observation of the great scientist. He continued through his life to be obsessively curious about the questions most of us tuck under the carpet of our active lives, big questions such as 'what is space?' and 'what is time?'
For too many, ageing is a process of hardening of the categories, taking people and situations as we find them without questioning deeper assumptions and unveiling new perspectives that lie dormant in our minds. I'm continually surprised at how little people in business really know about matters beyond their immediate world – things they could easily discover by stopping to think and question.
Re-think. Practice being curious about people you think you know - ask them about their deeper beliefs and insights. Or open your eyes to familiar places you sleepwalk through - take a different route home and explore the history or stories that will enrich your perception of your home town.
5. Do A Wayne Gretsky
The most successful ice hockey player of all time once remarked, "I miss 100% of the shots I don't take." You might think this is obvious, but in daily life there are many things we need to take a shot at if we're to stand any chance of success. Whether it's learning Italian, playing tennis, or giving a presentation to 100 people, without trying we'll never know how far we can stretch our talents.
Re-think. Have a shot at something (a) you've never tried before, (b) you believe you can't do, or (c) a skill you've always believed you don't have.
6. Do A Stephen Hawking
A few years ago, Hawking announced to a group of the world's best scientists that 30 years of his thinking about black holes had been completely erroneous. This is an extremely bold re-think, which takes much soul-searching and nerve. It's easy to become so wedded to our opinions and beliefs that they come to own us, and limit our ability to see fresh possibilities.
Re-think. Is there some long-held belief you hold that's due a spring clean and might be holding you back? For most of us this is more difficult to understand on our own, so hold up a mirror to your own beliefs by testing on a close friend or your partner.
7. Do A Henry Ford
Ford once said, "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." People who think they are creative may be deluded, but in most cases this self belief is a necessary condition for success. In short, if you think you are creative you have more chance of being so, simply because you will be less afraid to chance your hand at new and risky projects.
Re-think. Try out the view that you are essentially a creative person. See how it fits, just like trying on a new jacket or dress. And if you're still not convinced, experiment with 'acting as if'. It works!
All businesses talk about 'managing change'. It's a noble aspiration, but only some succeed. Most critical is for us to achieve this as individuals in our personal and professional lives, and it's helpful to remember that change is dis-continuous, a series of fresh starts.
Today, 'act as if' this is going to be a great day and open yourself to learning from the habits and lives of the creativity masters. Innovation will surely follow. You are either a creator or a critic, and you have greater power to choose than you or others would have you believe. Creative re-thinkers favour thinking 'why not?' or 'what if?'; critics prefer 'yes, but'. Which are you today?
Originally published: Tue 23 May 2006