Do you consider yourself to be highly creative? You should answer with a roaring “Yes!” All of us were born creative and exhibited high levels of creativity as young children. Unfortunately, most people loose their innate creativity while growing up. Parents, schoolteachers, our friends and peers in adolescence, and society at large all do their part during our socialization process to silence our deep curiosity and quash our inner creativity.
In recent years, however, there has been a call in the business world for creative leadership to be able to react to our fast-changing business environment. So how can you realize your genius potential? How can you become an authentic creative leader in times of the innovation economy? In our creative leadership method Genius Journey, we introduce you to ten cognitive strategy and genius mindsets that you need to master on your way to discover your genius.
1. Confront your worries, doubts and fears – be courageous and belief!
“Courage is the first of the human qualities, because it is the one that guarantees all others”, noted Aristotle. Innovation always means a change from the status quo, and human beings don’t like to change. You can expect massive resistance for any innovation project that you might introduce to the world one day. So start your journey to reconnect to your creative self by developing courage as demanded by Aristotle. Regularly fight your doubts, worries and fears, and consider following the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Always do what you fear”. Remember that the sound of fear and the sound of courage are one and the same: your loudly beating heart. The difference is taking action despite your fear.
Belief is your biggest ally to courageously move forward. As Lord Buddha said: “He is able who thinks he is able”. The source of your belief may be a particular religion that you favor or any other forms of spirituality. Or you may simply believe in yourself and that you can realize your dreams following Muhammad Ali’s example: “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself”. Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs expressed the necessity to believe in your path as follows: “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” So believe with your heart before you move on, because as Henry Ford commented: “If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”
2. Silence your ego, and be yourself!
Is there anyone in the world who looks, thinks, and acts exactly like you? Surely you will disagree here. So would you agree with me to say that you were created as an original? Nod your head. You are original. We all are created as original and not as copy of another person. Hence, we’d better follow the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Insist upon yourself. Be original.”
So stop being a copycat by imitating others and playing a role that other people want you to play. Stop wearing that ridiculous mask behind which you hide your true Self. Your biggest enemy is your own Ego. Your Ego is also the highest hurdle to overcome on your way to becoming a highly creative individual. We all have to endure the inner fight between our Ego and our Self. Start taking control of your Self today by stopping taking yourself too seriously.
3. Redevelop a curious beginner’s mind!
Do you know some people who constantly find something to criticize on other persons or other ideas? Such judgments are often an expression of fixation, closed mindedness and intolerance for other ways or different opinions. In most cases, they are the outer expression of the own insecurities of such judgmental persons, who innately suffer under the nagging voice of their strong inner critics.
In contrast, notice how open young children are towards new knowledge, different perspectives and interesting ideas. They are immensely curious, too: They constantly ask questions to satisfy their voracious curiosity. Do the same and re-adopt the curious beginner’s mind that you had as a young child. Cultivate a life-long passion for learning. Become mega-open to entertain new concepts, new knowledge, new skills, new technology and – most important – new people regardless of their background.
4. Think positive!
Please take an empty glass and fill it half with water. Now describe what you see. Some people say the glass is half empty. We call them pessimists who focus on the problem in everything. In contrast, optimists say the glass is half full. They see the opportunity that is hidden within each problem. In life, what you see is what you get, and it’s always what you get. Leonardo da Vinci knew about the importance of positive thinking and recommended: “Avoid grievous moods and keep your mind cheerful.” So follow da Vinci’s advice and watch your attitude: always stay positive and be persistent with your plans and projects. Please recall that Thomas Edison needed more than 10,000 trials before finding the right design for the light bulb.
5. Be passionate!
Creative people usually love what they do. They are not primarily motivated by money but go to work because of the challenges and enjoyment it provides. Research studies have confirmed over and over again that intrinsic motivation breeds creativity, while extrinsic motivational factors such as financial rewards are rather counter-productive to spur truly original ideas.
Do you love what you do? If your answer is yes, congratulations. For those of you who negated my question, you have not yet aligned your work with your passion. What things do you find exciting? What do you want to learn more about all the time? What do you love doing? Find the answers to these questions and try to integrate things that you are passionate about into your work step-by-step. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple and one of the most remarkable comeback stories in business, commented on the darkest hours of his career when he was fired from Apple in 1985: “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”
6. Become a balanced whole-brain thinker!
School and university education strongly emphasizes cognitive processes that are associated with the left hemisphere of our brain, such as rationalization, analysis, logic, planning and calculation. In contrast, our education systems do little to foster right-brain thinking activities such as generating original ideas, engaging our fantasy and imagination, or listening to our intuition. What is the result of our imbalanced mono-brain education? Most business people are superb logical analysts and are rather poor creative thinkers.
Do you know the principle of Yin and Yang? This key philosophical concept of the Chinese culture symbolizes the balance in all of creation: Sun and moon, male and female, day and night, summer and winter, and of course: left-brain thinking and right brain thinking. Make an effort to regain the vital Yin-Yang balance in your brain. Become a whole-brain thinker by training your creative thinking abilities to complement your well-honed analytical thinking skills. Take creativity training with an experienced creativity coach to quickly make up for what you missed in school. Regularly try yourself on Creative Puzzles and Mind-Teasers that you can find in the Internet and in some books and magazines. In addition, exercise your right brain by experimenting with creativity techniques to get ideas for a tough business nut that you have to crack.
7. Turn into a T-Shaped Person!
‘All experts are blind. Expertise means you become blind to everything else. You know more and more about less and less, and then one day you arrive at the ultimate goal of knowing all about nothing’, noted Osho. Over the past two centuries, we have developed into an expert culture that favors specialists over generalists. Don’t get me wrong: You need to have great depth and expertise in at least one domain of specialization. But being an expert in one area is not good enough if you want to become a creative leader. You need to complement your expertise with a breadth of knowledge in many other areas.
Leonardo da Vinci confided: ‘Everything is connected to everything else’. He knew that breakthrough ideas are often found in the intersection between different concepts, ideas or knowledge disciplines. Consequently, da Vinci was not only an artist. He also was an inventor, a military engineer, and a scientist. Let da Vinci’s famous sketch of the Vetruvian Man be a role model of what you should become: a ‘T-shaped person’ with deep expertise in at least one area of specialization and with broad general knowledge and skills in many other areas.
8. Cultivate Multi-sensory Perceptions and Present Moment Awareness!
Leonardo da Vinci also knew about the importance of perceiving your environment with all of your 5 senses. ‘The five senses are the ministers of the soul…Yet, the average human looks without seeing, listens without hearing, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking,’ he observed. Geniuses such as da Vinci, Mozart or Einstein fostered living in a stimulus-rich environment. In consequence, all were synesthetic. They could take in an impression with one sense and then connected the stimulus to an impression relating to another sense (e.g., ‘this sound tastes like lemon’). Synesthesia is built on the principle of combining different sensory impressions and stimuli. And noticing and combining different stimuli may similarly lead you to a novel idea.
So adopt this genius strategy, cultivate present moment awareness and sharpen your five senses: your visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), kinesthetic (feeling or touching), olfactory (smelling) and your gustatory (tasting) sense. A fun way to start is to have a wine-tasting evening with your friends or business partners. But make sure that you and your guests truly savor the wine with all your five senses. One final word: Don’t forget to sharpen your sixth sense, too: a well-developed intuition (or gut-feeling) is priceless when it comes to making tough business decisions.
9. Develop flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty!
Imagine a tall, mighty oak tree that tops all surrounding trees in a forest. Now also envision a tiny bush of bamboo. Which of the two is stronger? The correct answer is: It depends – on whether we face a stable or instable environment. On a sunny day, the solid oak tree is surely stronger than the tiny bamboo. However, in the eye of a heavy thunderstorm, the oak tree might break, while the bamboo flexibly bends with the wind.
Business in the new millennium is rather unstable and turbulent, too. A once mighty business can quickly break apart under the pressures of an increasingly competitive, fast-changing business environment if its leaders and managers insist on their established points of view and rigidly hold on to their habitual ways of doing things. So make an effort to fight your habits. Become more flexible and proactively approach change. Develop a tolerance for ambiguity, uncertainty and paradoxes. Remember the oak tree and the bamboo: the more flexible you are, the more power you have in times of change.
10. Harmonize doing and being!
Breakthrough ideas often come as sudden flashes of insight after a thinker has worked hard on a tough problem for some time and then takes a time-out to relax. Such breaks from constant doing and conscious thinking give your subconscious time to incubate on the problem. Archimedes had his famous “Eureka!” moment while taking a bath. Isaac Newton relaxed under an apple tree when observing a falling apple delivered him the missing pieces for the theory of gravity. Alexander Fleming made the breakthrough discovery of penicillin after returning to his laboratory from a vacation. Personally, I experienced two powerful ‘Eureka!’ moments in critical situations of my life. In both cases, I saw the sudden flash of insight –literally speaking- after I forced myself to take a break although being under severe time pressure. Lesson: Work hard but at the same time make sure that you regularly stop doing and give yourself some time to relax and BE. But: Letting go may require huge courage. And that is why you have to start your ten-step Genius Journey to discover your genius with step number one.
This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on September 27 2007 and October 11 2007 under the title “Rediscover your creative self (Part 1 and 2)”.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2007