The story of Western Civilization is one where we are raised to value and appreciate the inventors and thinkers.  The creative innovators like Steve Jobs, Orson Welles, and Pablo Picasso, who saw the existing landscape of their respective field, and said “Nope, I’m gonna do something different”.  They’re creative.  They innovate.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone Else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.  I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
“Create your own visual style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  Our modern society, sinking their teeth into innovators to make sure we are constantly on the cutting edge of arts, technology, and politics.  These geniuses are revered, and the fresh new thinkers are encouraged to step outside of what we know.

Except that’s entirely not true.  A lie some people might call it.  I’m one of those people.

Turns out researchers at Cornell have learned that in fact, most people are biased against creative and innovative ideas.  In fact, one researcher at Berkeley, Barry Straw, recently told an interviewer:

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect…As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform.”

Innovators are often only successful, because they fight tooth and nail against those pressures to conform.  And of course, the modern corporate structure doesn’t help at all.

In his book Why No One Really Wants Creativity, Straw went on to say “In terms of decision style, most people fall short of the creative ideal … unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out—either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling the choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.”

So, how can you become an innovator, and not a conformist?  How can you be an Orson Welles, and not a Michael Bay?  Here are some tips to help change your way of thinking, and foster a more creative, innovative environment for you and your employees.

  1. Study your field, and in particular, those who are doing something different.  I know, studying the competition might seem counter-intuitive, but you never know when you see your competitions idea, and could say “Wow, that’s a really good idea, if only they did ___ instead of ___”  Remember, Apple changed the way we experience music, not because they were the first to make a portable MP3 player, but because they were the first to make one that worked well.
  2. Avoid the “Yes Men” mentality.  The last thing you want to do is think that you know it all, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Anyone who doesn’t change how they do their job over the years, isn’t going to survive for long.  Other people will come along who are better, faster, and more productive.  You need to be constantly exploring that edge where technology and business meet.  One of the first real jobs I had (roughly 10 years ago) was working for a company that still used computers from 1996, and an AS400 system.  They shut down the company about 6 years ago.
  3. Cliff Notes are for chumps.  Seriously, reading the article headline, or a brief summary, will not give you the information you need to truly innovate.  If you’re not out studying your field, talking to customers, seeing what people are doing, and understanding human nature, you’re making a huge mistake.  Even studying fields seemingly unrelated to your endeavors.  Without Picasso’s early interest in theoretical physics and extra-dimensional space, we wouldn’t have had Cubism.
  4. Communication is king.  If you have an amazing, brilliant, game changing idea, it won’t matter if you can’t explain to others how brilliant the idea is.  Or even how it works.  Learn to write well, speak well, and be enthusiastic.  Remember, you need everyone else to get behind your idea for it to work.  I know we love the idea of the lone genius, revolutionizing the field, but the reality is much more complex.  Tell your friends and family, practice your pitch, refine the idea.  Above all, COMMUNICATE!

One thought on “Thinking Inside the Box

  1. Rex

    It is pretty obvious that we are a society that rejects innovation. While innovators are celebrated they are more often doubted, berated, and ignored. That is until they prove everyone wrong. Innovation is something only a small minority can spot and take on, it takes the majority a lot longer to recognize greatness. It’s sad in some perspectives but if the world was easy for innovators than they might not be forced to innovate, if someone is hating you are doing something great!

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