Chances are you have asked yourself this question at least once. If you blog, I would venture that it has happened more often than that. Why is it so hard to come up with good ideas? It’s not; we just make it so by discounting the simple stuff. We don’t do it on purpose, yet we are our own worst adversaries when it comes to accepting the ideas that pop into our heads and come our way.
Look at what happens in the corporate world: we constantly use ideas we’ve scratched for with no worry that they’ve been used before. If we look at the reverse of that coin, we notice that we also feel no need to transform them into something new. After all, there are jobs at stake and if something has worked before, say at a competitor’s, why not bank on it?
So we all get around a table, brainstorm for a little while, the boss becomes impatient for a quick solution and someone throws out what “x” company has done successfully. Case closed and we move on to the serious matter of making money. It may be legitimate thinking in business yet I am often left with a sense of unfinished scratching: have we gone far enough?
Have we really trusted our unconscious to come up with the simplest yet most effective idea? The answer is probably not. What we have done is go with the path of least resistance: what has worked before, without wondering if all the conditions for that to work again are still there. We’ve also censored ourselves from blurting out ideas that smacked of the obvious. The reasoning there is that if they’re so obvious then everyone should be thinking them and someone else will take the chance to say it.
See if you recognize this situation. You are in a meeting with a group of people discussing next year’s business plan. Say Greg there is sitting across from you and going over his numbers with the boss who is evaluating which ideas to keep. When you look at your numbers you base your recommendations upon simple and concrete actionables that you know will support growth while Greg is repeating everything you’re saying. Why not build on what you’re saying? [You did notice that the boss is evaluating a business plan on the basis on numbers vs. strategy, didn't you?]
Is it safer to be in agreement than to stretch in a new direction? What is a new direction anyway? Discovering new ideas also means being willing to look at old ideas from a different angle, combining two ideas in a surprising way, and letting accidents happen. In Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath write a great case for the knowledge curse. We think we know so we stop looking. This last is a direct quote from a fiction book by British author Alan Judd.
Creativity *is* an act of defiance, I agree with what Tharp says about it in The Creative Habit. It challenges the status quo, even and especially that of your own thinking. It requires that you abandon the safety of your assumptions and trust the chaos of arriving at something new. “Even if the evidence is staring you in the face, you don’t always read it correctly –- or even bother to think about it.”
The difficulty is that the solution may be simple while counterintuitive. Trust yourself that you have the ability to see what will work. In Mind Over Matter, a collection of her articles from The Los Angeles Times science column, C.K. Cole writes: “Outsides are where the action is. Think walls, borders, ceilings, membranes, crusts, skins, and doors. Surfaces are where the rubber meets the road. Edges are a lot more than frills. Surfaces are where things make contact, including land, sea and sky. Surfaces also tell stories. Horizons are the surfaces of what we see.”
The point of contact between the world and us is where the action is. To go back to Tharp, in many ways the creative act is editing through your filters. What happens when you are successful is that your tolerance for failure decreases in ways that are directly proportional to your success. You are trying to find the right answer again -- there isn't *one* right answer and the conditions have changed.
I recently had lunch with a leadership consultant who rebranded her company to build on the story of what she does. Colleen is a gifted creator of experiences for leaders who manage direct reports and teams. Her new identity incorporates three considerations she weaves into her work: courage, contribution, and conversation. I see courage as a characteristic of making choices -- sometimes not the most popular or the easiest; contribution as both a philosophy and value, and an output; conversation as the space where leaders can breathe life into these dynamics -- flexible, adaptable, and safe.
Nobody will tell you what is safe to do; there are no certainties in the flow of life. Stay attuned when you enter the conversation around ideas, especially the ones that go on in your head and through your surfaces, the senses. Use your filters and especially your instinct to support the information you receive from anywhere. And develop a thick skin for skepticism -- you can transform an idea into a sustainable product and service. You did think of that and got passed your internal critic. Tomorrow we will talk about how you experiment with ideas to vet the most viable and how you execute the most actionable and plan for the long-term.