IDEA Box #11, February 2021, Creativity

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Welcome to our February 2021 IDEA Box blog.

This month we travelled to Mars with Elon Musk, discovered the benefits of The Creative Habit, and learned how to be more Original.

This month’s article suggests The Modern Office is Killing Our Creativity, the podcast tells us How to Be Creative Whilst in Lockdown while the video considers creative leadership lessons from a Topless Dancing Guy at a music festival.

Thanks for reading!

Book
Reviews

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, Ashlee Vance

“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” So said PayPal founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel of the rather depressing fact that the greatest technological minds of our generation are more interested in monetising our data, than advancing the species. The fact that tweets now extend to 280 characters is unlikely to impress Thiel. Elon Musk, on the other hand does. Here are four Muskian takeaways to help you inspire creativity in your team:

  1. Have a meaningful vision: Musk’s stated life goal is to colonise Mars. Let’s face it that seems a bit mad, but it is a clarion call that unifies all his projects and teams. Musk has developed a meaningful world view, which according to the author is something most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs lack. Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to save the human race from annihilation.
  2. Hire great people: His bold and unique vision for SpaceX enabled Musk to attract the best young aerospace talent, many of whom were disillusioned with NASA. He personally interviewed every one of the first thousand or so employees, including the janitors.
  3. Commit to your vision: Musk pocketed approximately $200m from the sale of PayPal to eBay but by 2008 had ploughed half of it into Tesla and SpaceX. Both companies were floundering and the conventional wisdom was to package at least one for sale. Instead he doubled down, worked through the failed rocket launches, transmission issues and constant delays, and ultimately led both companies to success.
  4. Surround yourself with talented peers: Google own a secret apartment in Palo Alto where Larry Paige, Sergei Brin and Musk meet. “It’s kind of our recreation, I guess” said Paige, “it’s fun for the three of us to talk about crazy things and we find stuff that eventually turns out to be real. We go through hundreds or thousands of things before arriving at things that are the most promising.”

In researching this book Ashlee Vance was afforded unique access to one of the greatest innovators of all time. The result is a compelling study that’s packed with learnings and insights.

The Creative Habit: Learn it And Use it For Life, Twyla Tharp

According to the celebrated dancer and choreographer, Twyla Tharp creativity is not a gift from the gods, it is the product of preparation and effort and it’s within reach of everyone who wants to achieve it.

Here are four takeaways:

  1. Have a preparation ritual: Tharp begins every day the same way. She wakes at 5.30am, puts on her workout clothes, walks outside and hails a cab to the gym where she trains for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training she puts her body through at the gym. The ritual is the cab. The moment she tells the driver where to go, she has completed the ritual. She does this without thinking and believes the ritual a vital component of her creativity. One can only assume that the ritual itself is important and that substituting the gym for a Jumbo Breakfast Roll is unlikely to yield the same creative return.
  2. Be willing to learn: According to the author; “The person you will be in five years’ time depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.”
  3. Master the basics: The greatest composers are also accomplished musicians, the greatest authors read incessantly and successful entrepreneurs can do anything in their organisation as well as, or better, than anyone working for them. These people have all mastered the underlying skills of their domain and have built their creativity on the solid foundation of those skills.
  4. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect: Perfect practice makes perfect. According to Tharp, top performers in any field of endeavour work harder and smarter than their mediocre peers. Practice without purpose is just exercise. She suggests concentrating on what you aren’t great at, focussing on it until it’s perfect and then moving on.

The Creative Habit is full of great suggestions to boost creative output and achieve one’s goals. On the topic of goals Tharp states; “How often do my goals feel out of reach? Always at the start but I reach anyway as sometimes I get lucky.”

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant

Wharton professor Adam Grant believes there are two routes to achievement; conformity and originality. He suggests that the hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and questioning whether a better option exists.

Here are four takeaways:

  1. Originals aren’t necessarily risk takers: Like the poet who keeps her day job, successful Originals take extreme risks in one arena and offset them with extreme caution in all other areas of their lives. In other words, Originals have a balanced risk portfolio. We have a romanticised, and apparently unrealistic notion of the risk appetite of successful entrepreneurs which Malcolm Gladwell challenges in this New Yorker article.
  2. Mistakes are inevitable: According to the artist Scott Adams; “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes, art is knowing which ones to keep.” Grant believes that Originals aren’t always adept at knowing which of their ideas will work. They focus on volume and output, having the confidence to accept that most of what they create will end up on the cutting room floor.
  3. Keep pushing the envelope: Our first idea is often the most conventional. It’s only when we’ve ruled out the obvious that we have the freedom to consider more remote possibilities and think outside the box. Rather than asking customers what they think of a revolutionary concept we should build it and then take their feedback. As Henry Ford put it; “If I’d asked consumers what they wanted they’d have said a faster horse.”
  4. The first mover disadvantage: The author cites research that considered the relative success of pioneer companies (first movers) and settlers (challenger brands). According to the research, pioneers are 6X more likely to fail and only captured 10% of the market when they did survive, compared to a capture rate of 28% for settlers. You don’t need to be first to be original, you just need to be better and different.

Grant examines how people can champion new ideas and how leaders can fight groupthink. The book is well researched and accessible. Well worth checking out.

Articles
Worth
Reading

Pilita Clark, How the Modern Office is Killing Our Creativity, The Financial Times, March 2019

In this 2019 Financial Times article, columnist Pilita Clark discusses how Roger Mavity’s work on creativity might be applied to open plan offices, and the negative impact modern work norms have on creativity. Here are two takeaways:

  1. Creativity is an individual rather than collective activity: Mavity uses the example of Isaac Newton to explain how solitude drives creativity; “The great thoughts that helped him go on to formulate the theory of gravity came after the Great Plague closed his university and he spent nearly two years shut away in his home in Lincolnshire.”
  2. It is a myth that creativity comes from teamwork and collective brainstorming: Mavity notes that; “group dynamics mean people trying to figure out a problem together tend to either show off to impress, or politely back each other’s thoughts no matter how rubbish they are. Either way, because responsibility is shared, the pressure to come up with solutions is reduced.”

You can check out the article here.

Give
This A
Listen

How to be Creative Whilst in Lockdown, Daniel Brookes, Creativity Podcast, 2020

Daniel Brookes is a British TV producer who has worked for BBC, ITV and Sony. This podcast is all about ideas – how to have more of them, how to have better ones and how they can inspire creativity.

Here are two takeaways:

  1. Kids inspire creativity: Albert Einstein believed; “To stimulate creativity one must develop the inclination to play.” We should strive to generate a wide range of ideas free of negative critique. Collaboration between generations can lead to the best creative output.
  2. Stay organised: Brookes suggests we organise ourselves and our environment in a tidy manner, offering our minds visual cues to support creativity. I must confess, it seems to me there’s an inherent dichotomy between playing creatively with the kids and keeping the house tidy. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. All suggestions welcome.

Listen to the podcast here.

For Your
Viewing
Pleasure

Creative Leadership Lessons from a Guy Dancing at a Music Festival

Creative leadership comes in many forms. Here’s how to transition from lone nut to creative leader in less than three minutes:

  1. Treat your initial followers as equals: To create a movement you must nurture those who follow you.
  2. Followers emulate followers, not the leader: The happy go lucky festival goer provides the creative spark, but the initial followers are the key to growth.

I wonder what Twyla Tharp would make of this chap’s preparation ritual. Watch the video here.

And Finally…
For Something
Different

Creativity is intelligence having fun

At least according to Albert Einstein. Assuming he’s right this creativity quiz from The Kellogg School of Management should test your creativity while providing some light relief.

Thank you for reading our blog. Next month we will be discussing Gender Equality.

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