Living the Creative Life

In this episode I will discuss how you can make your company, or your life more creative.

People often think that creativity is something that you are born with. They think you are either creative, or you are not. I don’t believe that is true. We can learn to become creative.

A lot of the pursuits that occupy our lives involve changing the way we think. When we are playing a musical instrument, we start to think musically. As we become more comfortable with the instrument we play, we begin to transform our thoughts. We can translate aspects of the world around us into music. If we encounter a waterfall, we can translate the sounds, smells and feelings into notes.

We can use a similar idea with poetry. Instead of thinking about what we see in simple prose, we can translate the images into lyrics. We add rhythm and rhyme to the words we might normally use. Over time, we learn to think in terms of meter and patterns.

We can produce that kind of transformation in our thinking through training. Changing our thinking reminds me of the story about a group of people on a vacation. The tour bus stops at a view overlooking a canyon. Among the tourists are a geologist, a painter, an ornithologist, a carpenter and a photographer. Each sees the canyon in an entirely different way.

The geologist may visualize how the canyon formed, through volcanic eruptions, erosion, sediment and the action of a river. The painter may see the brilliant hues exposed in the rock and imagine sketching the river below and the towering canyon walls. The ornithologist may watch an eagle soaring above and spot the nest hidden in a crevice in the rock. The photographer may walk from spot to spot to catch the light, or think about returning early in the morning for a particular view.

Each of them is seeing the view in a different way, based on the manner in which they were trained. Each is entirely unique in his or her perspective. Yet it is possible for the geologist to see the canyon from a painter’s perspective, or from an environmentalists.

How can this help us become creative? If we can begin to approach problems from the perspective of our customers, or our audience, or employees, we can change what we are doing to suit them. Instead of a designer looking at a home from the point of view of an architect, perhaps they might look at it from the home-owners perspective.

How can we achieve this kind of innovative edge? It is tempting when we have a problem to solve, just to sit and look at the problem and expect answers to leap into view. That is unlikely to happen. We need to coax our minds into taking concrete action, and that means giving the mind something to aim for.

When I want to create something, let’s say this podcast episode, a blank piece of paper is unlikely to spark any thoughts. I need some kindling, an idea to start me off. This is where a search engine works well. I might type in the words, “innovative thinking” and see what pops up. There might be millions of search results, but sometimes just looking at the titles of blog posts, articles or other information may create enough of a spark. My mind can run with sufficient momentum to make something happen.

For instance, I was sitting at lunch absent-mindedly reading my favorite magazine, the Scientific American. I started to think about how you can manipulate your mind. I thought about shoes. I know almost nothing about shoes, except that I generally need to wear them. It is quite astonishing the range of items that we put on our feet.

Imagine that you need to create a new style of shoe for your store. Where would you start? Think about the average shoe. What do you need? A sole of some sort. Something to hold it on your feet. Something to stop your feet slipping through the fastening. This is where you can let your mind loose to imagine. How about sole-less shoes – a covering for the top of your feet, but not the bottom? Bend the sole one way and the other, put in an instep support, and mould the entire sole around the foot. Straight front, rounded, pointed, upturned. Polished, rough, plastic or leather. How about the no-shoe.

The Zulu leader, Shaka, forced his troops to go without shoes. He trained them by forcing them to run across fields of thorns to toughen their feet. That allowed them to move faster, farther. We think of athletes with designer sneakers, yet the South African track star, Zola Budd went without shoes for most of her career, allowing her to move more quickly. Maybe the no-shoe is the new shoe. How about, the Emperor’s New Shoes?

You can allow your mind to wander and flip through alternatives, bending, shaping, twisting, and using strange materials or open styles. This encourages your mind to invent randomly. What helps even more is to have a goal. Why are you creating this shoe? For work or play, for a worksite or a hike? Re-imagine the shape, the color, and the texture, even the smells. When you allow your mind to work in this way, you can come up with unique concepts that will assist in producing a better shoe.

The same idea can be used to set off a chain of association in your mind. Take any object and change its shape, color, size, texture, and smell. Apply it to something that has never been done before. How about shoes for cattle, table legs, or buildings?

This podcast is about learning to live more creatively, to see solutions where before there were none. One way to set off that process is to steal someone else’s idea. Find something that works in one industry and apply it to another. Think about assembly lines and apply them to fast food. Imagine if you could enter your menu item on a screen and have it pop out the other end of an assembly line. The restaurant/gas station chain Wawa has tried this successfully. A further step is to replace the workers with automation. I don’t like this idea because it might replace millions of workers.

If not fast food, then why not our environment? Can we automate the process of replanting devastated forests or farmlands with a variety of crops? We might build vertical farms instead of horizontal ones. Build towers with open, movable fins containing crops. The fins could be rotated and tilted to face the sun. That would be one way of saving soil, and not wasting water. Then we could return the farmland to nature.

Stealing ideas from others is the one sure-fire way to create new products. That does not necessarily mean copying the idea, rather using parts of the idea to create something entirely new. Throughout history, imitation was the wellspring of innovation. When a society comes up with something new, others copy it, change it, and sometimes improve it. Many societies have done this successfully. The Japanese became a world power in no small part by imitating what the United States did, and improving it. That enabled them to seize the lion’s share of the motor industry.

It is often said that there is nothing new under the sun, and this is mostly true. We can, however, take parts of others ideas and merge them to create something better. We sometimes worry about plagiarism or violating patents. Yet, that is where new ideas come from – the thoughts of the people around us. Sometimes patents can stifle that innovation rather than protect intellectual property. Out patent laws ought to be couched in those terms. Allow innovation without allowing theft. Real innovation dies when our creative spirit is stifled.

I encourage you to continue to enhance your life with the Power of Three and search for a more innovative way to live.

Until next time, go well my friends.