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Using experiential self-discovery in finding one’s genuine voice

Recently, a boyhood friend sent me a decades-old newspaper article that I had written around the time I was sixteen. While I was a high school pupil, I also jobbed as a freelance journalist for a local German newspaper. My friend told me his Mom had stumbled across the cutout of my article when going through old documents in a cupboard and then given it to him to share with me. I had mixed feelings when I saw the article and began reading it. On the one hand, I felt grateful and happy because the article reminded me of the early beginnings of my writing habit. On the other hand, I also felt uncomfortable, as the article led to one of my early defeats in life. But knowing now that failure can be a source of great learning and inspiration, I began contemplating the underlying reasons why I failed at that time — and how it relates to who I am today.

My very limited days as an environmental activist

So what was this article all about? At that time, there were plans in my hometown to partially flood a valley to make a fishing pond. The meadows scheduled to get flooded were home to some rare endangered species. This we knew, thanks to an admired biology teacher at our high school. Some of my close friends were deeply passionate about protecting the said flora and fauna from getting drowned by the man-made lake. Being a good friend, I thought I could write an article to make a case for the preservation and against the plans for the new lake. And so I did.

The article caused a ruckus, with supporters and opponents using it to make their case. In a public assembly that was called, I got heavily and unfairly attacked by our town’s major for trying to sabotage the project with my article. I got crushed and humiliated in the debate by the proponents of the project, in part due to my youth and inexperience in politics. But as I understand now, there was another, more important reason why I looked terrible, which I will further address below. In the end, the man-made lake wasn’t constructed, but I still harbored feelings of defeat rather than victory. So, I moved on (and away from politics) to look for more success in those areas that I was more passionate about (= school and sports). 

My time as a banker

While realizing the source of my teen defeat described above, I couldn’t help thinking about another situation later in my life where the same pattern played out similarly.

Throughout my university studies, I worked part-time at Deutsche Bank during the semester holidays as one of the ways to finance my studies. I was proud and grateful for this excellent job (and still feel deep gratitude towards Deutsche and my former colleagues today). So, I tried to play the role of a banker as well as possible.

Working for Deutsche Bank means that people always ask you to comment on economic developments and the stock market, as well as on the latest news about this most prominent German bank. So, I read widely about these topics and became a master of retelling the opinions of others (be they economists, stock brokers, or journalists). In other words, I became a pin-striped mouthpiece.

A few years later, I was lucky that Deutsche Bank agreed to send me abroad in their international traineeship program. Working as an expatriate with a fresh Ph.D. for Deutsche Bank in Asia, I was more in demand as a “banking expert.” Again, I was playing playing a convincing role as a buttoned-up mouthpiece. Still, deep down inside, I was somehow afraid that someday someone would notice that I was quoting the opinions of other experts instead of voicing my thoughts, passions, and beliefs.

(Having someone call my bluff had already happened during my days as a banker-student: One of the trainers in my track & fields club, who was an academic and an artist, once commented that I behaved like two different persons: the highly energetic, creative and sportive student Detlef that he thought I was, and Detlef, the banker actor. And by the way, I have since noticed that possibly, most organizations seem to have more than their fair share of actors.) 

My years as a creativity expert

Twenty years ago, I got lucky again. I had an epiphany about who I really am and what I should do with my life (which is what I have done in the past two decades): Becoming a creativity expert and starting and building the foundations of the innovation know-how company Thinkergy. 

With my accumulated creative know-how and experience, I now know why I got defeated as a high school student and why I was a pin-striped ‘talking head’ as a banker. And I can explain it with the help of Genius Journey, the creative leadership development method that I’ve created as a result of having experienced two Eureka moments in my life. 

The source of my debate defeat and acting anxiety is the same, and it relates to what I call the essential core of a person that forms the first stops in the Genius Journey model: Your core beliefs, sense of self, values, passions, and purpose. 

If the things that you talk and write about, argue, and fight for are not in line with your essential personal core, you can easily be defeated like I was a high school student by the town major. I wanted to support my friends, and I repeated their environmental thoughts, beliefs, and passions when writing my article and standing up in the town hall meeting in my hometown. While I care for the environment, I am not a hardcore environmentalist. 

Likewise, I was a well-performing and hardworking employee of Deutsche Bank in my early career (an organization I feel deeply grateful for all the support even today). However, I was not a hyper-passionate hardcore banker who lives, breathes, and emanates banking daily. And as I know today, thanks to TIPS, our talent and innovator profiling system, the essential nature of banking (= systems energy) is more on the opposite end of where the strengths and talents of my true personality reside (= ideas). 

So who am I? I am a creativity expert operating at the forefront of change who believes in the importance of creativity, innovation, and meaningful change. And here, I not only talk the innovation talk but walk it daily like an expert. I passionately live, breathe, and do creativity and innovation “almost to the extent of a fetish,” as one of my colleagues once noted. In my natural home turf, I have naturally developed a couple of proprietary innovation methods by myself. Also, I confidently express my beliefs, opinions, and observations, even if they go against the mainstream.

For example, I boldly and confidently argue that Design Thinking has become hype and is already declining in influence, starting with the US. I also believe that my innovation process method X-IDEA is conceptionally superior and can produce better ideas and results than Design Thinking, and I argued my case in an academic paper. As such, when I am also in harmony with my essential personal core, I don’t shy away from going into a debate with others, knowing that I have done my homework and have good arguments on my side.

Conclusion: Embrace a cause that aligns with what you believe in, who you are, and what you love doing

The Irish dramatist Oscar Wilde observed, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” How about you? Are you also quoting the thoughts and opinions of others? Do you mimic the lives of others or boldly live your own life? Do you express the beliefs and passions of others or confidently express your own?

Let me encourage you to begin living your own life and your passions and expressing your true core and corresponding values and opinions. It might not make you as rich as being an actor or parrot, but it will give you much greater satisfaction and happiness overall. But how can you do this? Follow the first five tenets of Genius Journey: 1) Be a courageous, action-oriented, and persistent believer. 2) Be yourself. 3) Be open and curious. 4) Be a positive, playful optimist. 5) Be passionate about what you do and know why you do it.

  • Genius Journey is Thinkergy’s creative leadership development method that allows you to reconnect to your essential creative core and tap into the higher states of subconscious and superconscious creativity.
  • We offer experiential Genius Journey training courses (of one to three days) for companies. Also, we can compose a tailored, more extensive Genius Journey development program for a group of executives who are eager to rediscover their inner genius. 
  • Contact us if you need support for your innovation projects and creative transformation agenda as we now begin the next innovation growth wave that will carry your organization through the 2020s.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022.