Where is the Next Idea Coming from?

This week, we start a new course here in Tartu. It is designed for business executives and it is about creativity. Not creativity with respect to novelty or style or art. But creativity in developing new solutions to problems.

In the old days, one thought of creativity as a talent. One either had it or not. But we begin to see that it more as a capacity. And that capacity is affected by how we live. The most simple example? How about this, “necessity is the mother of invention”. In other words, when we feel the need, we act on the need. Then we learn faster from what we do. When we don’t feel the need, we get less creative.  This, btw, is at the core of gamification. Games unleash our ability to see certain needs.

So are creative people just better at seeing needs? More “gamified”? That is part of it. They have a certain freedom of thought that one sees in a game context. But experiencing needs is obviously not enough. If it were, poverty would have been eliminated long ago. The world would be a different place. For some reason or reasons, we often fail to respond in creative ways to meet the real needs that we experience.

Why not? I think it is a matter of focus. Creative people choose focus points that enable them to unravel problems more efficiently. In other words, seeing is not the same as focusing. Here is the interesting thing. Notice I used the word “choose”. Our creative capacities are affected by our choice making capacity and our analytical capacity. You guessed it. Being more creativity is a strategic challenge.

In that light, check out this profile of a very creative individual, Elon Musk. As the article points out, he was not always able to get what he wanted. He couldn’t figure out how to get a job at Netscape, even though he needed it. But despite that, he chose certain focus points, invested in them heavily and was able to “leverage” his investments in himself.

When Musk didn’t land a job at Netscape, he kept writing code and generating patents. He had been accepted to a doctorate program at Stanford University, but decided to focus on his software instead. And those patents – for delivering maps, directions and phone directory information on the Internet – formed the basis of a company, Zip2, that he launched with his younger brother Kimbal.

Zip2 made Musk rich when Compaq bought it. He moved on to another start up which turned into PayPal. And he got even more rich. And then he did something that was either insane or wildly creative — he founded 3 start ups at the same time and invested everything he had in them. Even he was not sure if they would work. Indeed, he came very, very close to failure. And now?

“You know ‘The Matrix’? You know where Neo can see the zeros and ones? That’s what it’s like working with Elon,” Rive (Elon’s brother) said. “In a board meeting, he’ll see the speed bumps that lie ahead before we even know they’re there and tell us to fix them. And it’s challenging, because sometimes you can’t see it.”

Musk has built up an awesome capacity to focus. This makes him highly creative.

So we will “unpack” this idea in our new course. Let’s see how it goes!

FOLLOW UP – We know from experience that certain groups are more creative than others. Dave Logan helps explain this with his model of tribal leadership. Dave argues that we tend to join groups that have characteristics that we share. And some of these characteristics relate to the intensity of a given belief. For example, that “life sucks”. Street gangs tend to share this perspective. The more you focus on this, the less you are able to see anything else. And, the less creative you will become — other than in justifying why life sucks. You might get pretty good at that.

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