Less is More

The creative process has many different expressions.

One form of creativity is the development of a product.

Many very successful products are twists or extensions on what had already existed (please reread yesterday's blog post).

But other products are truly new - like the smart phone, for example (thank you Steve Jobs!). 

Steve Jobs was well known for eschewing focus groups. He believed that there were times when people did not really know what they wanted until you gave it to them.

"It's really hard to design products by focus groups.  A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Today I'm reading a book written by Ben Horowitz, a famous venture capitalist (Andreessen, Horowitz) who echoes Jobs' view and goes one step further - sometimes when developing a product you actually ignore what people may think they want.

"It turns out that is exactly what product strategy is all about - figuring out the right product is the innovator's job - not the customer's job.  The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product."

                                                The Hard Thing about Hard Things

                                                Ben Horowitz (HarperCollins, 2014)

The point is that there are times when an innovator (creator) has to put trust in her/his own vision - notwithstanding what the swell of opinion may be.  Perhaps we need to modify the adage "the customer is always right" to: "the customer is always right until a new product comes along and proves the customer wrong."

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best-selling e-books in China.  One of Randel’s books is The Skinny on Creativity. 

Rarely is some new idea totally NEW.

I would suggest that 99.9% of new and interesting ideas are derivative of something that came before it.  The creator just puts a different spin on something and bam, he/she looks very creative.

When Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727) was asked how he was able to see things that others could not, he responded that he was:

                                     "Standing on the shoulders of giants". 

Newton's reply (derivative!!) refers to a Latin metaphor of dwarfs standing on the shoulder of giants as a way to explain how all discoveries build on the work of prior discoveries.

When you are stuck and in need of a creativity boost, you might start with a review and analysis of what exists today. That might be a lead into what you need to create. 

Last night I was reading a book about the investment banking world.  Investment bankers are always looking for new products to sell.  And the book recounted a poem that was circulating in the investment banking world:

                                    "God gave you two eyes …

                                    Now go out and plagiarize."

Of course, I do not propose that you plagiarize.  Well, at least not in the strict meaning of the word.

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best-selling e-books in China.  One of Randel’s books is The Skinny on Creativity. 

So, you are driving along on the Interstate and suddenly a truck ahead of you loses a large piece of tire … it is only 50 yards ahead of you and if you don’t avoid the tire, you are most likely going to be in some kind of big accident.

In less than one second your mind is racing as you consider your options:  (i) hit the brakes, (ii) swerve into another lane, (iii) try to maneuver around the tire, (iv) run over the tire without losing control of your car, (v) etc.  In other words, when faced with an emergency, our mind explodes with ideas, assessing each and hopefully picking the most viable.

It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention”, and I believe that there are times when, to boost your creative juices, you build yourself some necessity.

I am not advocating for a possible traffic accident of course but rather a self-imposed deadline of some type – a specific time frame (“not later than one week from today”), a certain number of words every day on your novel, five new designs each week.  Whatever.  The point is that sometimes we humans react best and get very creative when we have no choice.

I have made a study of great entrepreneurs going back 100 years.  And one thing I learned is that many (most?) had a chip on their shoulder – in other words, something in their background to prove their value.  In other words, they needed to be creative, to succeed.

If you want to avoid gridlock in your creative endeavors, you might try forcing yourself into some kind of corner -- and then trusting in yourself to find a way out.  Just like our bodies produce adrenaline to help us in times of physical stress, our brain may unleash hidden creative talents when we need them most.

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best-selling e-books in China.  One of Randel’s books is The Skinny on Creativity

Usually I make my "to do" list in the morning.  But, being a real risk-taker, a week ago I decided to experiment a bit and make my "to do" list (of things I needed to resolve the next day) in the evening before bedtime.

And, perhaps it was total coincidence, but the following morning I woke up with a new perspective on one of the problems on my "to do" list.  Could I have dreamed the solution?

Well, in prior blog posts we have talked about how your mind is constantly working - even when you are asleep.  So, to dig deeper I ordered and then read (scanned) a book titled The Interpretation of Dreams, written about 100 years ago by Dr. Sigmund Freud.

Of course, no normal person would do that.  This book is not only long (600+ pages), it is very technical.  But, here are a few things I learned:

1. There may be a connection with thoughts you have just before sleeping and the dreams you experience that night:

"In the first place, dreams carry on waking life.  Our dreams regularly attach themselves to the ideas that have been in our head shortly before.  Accurate observation will almost always find a thread which connects a dream with the experiences of the previous day."

2.  The "Aha" may be in our head but not yet in our consciousness.  Dreams can help unlock what we need:

"No one who occupies himself with dreams can, I believe, fail to discover that it is a very common event for a dream to give evidence of knowledge and memories which the waking subject is unaware of possessing."

3. As we have discussed in prior posts, sometimes the key to finding a new idea or solution is to think like a child might - with no limitations or hesitations.  Dreams may facilitate this process:

"Dreaming … a natural activity, which is not interrupted by self-consciousness … Dreams are a shield against the humdrum monotony of life:  they set imagination free from its chains . . . break into the unceasing gravity of grown men with the joyful play of a child."

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best-selling e-books in China.  One of Randel’s books is The Skinny on Creativity. 

Yesterday we spoke about letting your ideas go public too early, the risk being that the feedback you receive is not what you hoped for.  As a result, you table your idea or creative work far sooner than you should.

Today, we are going to speak to the situation where you do everything right – you have an idea or a product, you build it slowly and with plenty of time for revision, you release it only when you are sure it is finished … and, you are convinced that it is a unique and interesting idea/product.

You wait excitedly for the feedback, sales, customers, reviews.  And, either nothing happens or nothing good happens.

What the heck??

Well, the world is full of great ideas and products and creative works that never got traction in the first iteration and so the developer/creator lost heart.   “Well, I tried,” he or she says to him/her self.

And, then one year later, she is online and she sees someone promoting her invention, design, or book idea.  OUCH!

You want to be a successful creator?   Better be patient and have a good stomach.  Nothing good comes easy, and if you quit on your idea too soon, you risk greatly.

I will never be able to make this point better than Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882).  Please see below:

“In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty … teach us to abide by our own spontaneous impressions with good-humored inflexibility when the whole world of voices is on the other side.  Else, tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our opinion from another.”

                                                                        Emphasis Added.

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best-selling e-books in China.  One of Randel’s books is The Skinny on Creativity. 

OK, so you have an idea … for some new product, or service, or approach to a problem that has been bothering you.  It is not yet entirely formulated in your mind, but you are dying to get some feedback.  So, you call a friend.

Under certain circumstances, that could be a mistake.

Some people (I am a bad offender) get excited about an idea and want to get immediate feedback (of course what they really want is affirmation).  And, so they reach out to others a tad early in the creative process.  Sometimes the feedback is not what they expect or hope for and, as a result, they shelve an idea that might have real “legs.”

It is natural to want feedback of course.  But, if you seek others’ opinions too early in the process, you might derail a great project.

“Creative thinkers – authors, inventors and artists, for example – seldom talk about a work in progress.”

                        The Art of Creative Thinking:  How to be Creative and Develop Great Ideas

                        John Adair (KoganPage, 199)

“Although there are always points where criticism is necessary, generative thinking (creativity) has to be given time to flower.  At the right time and in the right way, critical appraisal is essential.  At the wrong point, it can kill an emerging idea.”            

                                     Out of Our Minds:  Learning to be Creative

                                     Ken Robinson (Wiley, 2011)

There is nothing worse than an idea shelved too quickly!  So, be patient with your work.  Give it time to breathe.  Review it and review it again.  Only when you are sure it is ready for public viewing, let others see, hear, feel or consider it.  Even then, as we are going to go discuss tomorrow, there will be times when you have to ignore the naysayers and push forward.

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best-selling e-books in China.  One of Randel’s books is The Skinny on Creativity. 

Pages