Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

If we define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance, we can also understand its antonym, anticipation. 

When you work with anticipation, you will highlight the highs. You’ll double down on the things that will delight and push yourself even harder to be bold and to create your version of art. If this is going to work, might as well build something that’s going to be truly worth building.

If you work with anxiety, on the other hand, you’ll be covering the possible lost bets, you’ll be insuring against disaster and most of all, building deniability into everything you do. When you work under the cloud of anxiety, the best strategy is to play it safe, because if (when!) it fails, you’ll be blameless.

Not only is it more fun to work with anticipation, it’s often a self-fulfilling point of view.


Seth Godin.


Success sells. Everybody loves a winner. These clichés are reaffirmed every day in our business and media culture, especially if the winners are young or “emerging.” Fast Company recently released their list of the year’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. Every city has its roundup of the local heavy hitters (hello “30 under 30” and “40 under 40”). And don’t forget the World Economic Forum’s posse of Young Global Leaders. What, you didn’t make the cut? (Actually, me neither.) In this kind of environment, it’s all too easy to feel like a failure — but just because the world doesn’t yet recognize your genius doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I talked recently with David Galenson, an economist at the University of Chicago who began studying prices at art auctions — an exploration that drove him to understand the nature of creativity over the course of one’s career. He realized there were two very distinct types of creativity — “conceptual” (in which a young person has a clear vision and executes it early, a la Picasso or Zuckerberg) and “experimental” (think Cezanne or Virginia Woolf, practicing and refining their craft over time and winning late-in-life success).

I saw this kind of fast, “conceptual” creativity and success exemplified not too long ago at my Smith College reunion, where I heard a talk by one of our notable alumnae, Thelma Golden, now the Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Golden has been on my radar for a long time — the year I graduated, she was honored by the college with a special prize. Though it typically goes to older alumnae, she won it only 10 years after graduation for her achievements as a Whitney Museum curator. She’d known she wanted to enter the field since high school, she told us. Her focus was singular, and she attained professional success almost immediately. It’s enough to make anyone feel like a loser in comparison.

“In our society,” Galenson told me, “once you’re famous, you’re always famous.” If you’re a conceptualist who makes a big splash, your reputation is secure. Mark Zuckerberg could quit Facebook tomorrow to become a hermit, and people would still seek him out 50 years later. It’s much harder if — unlike Thelma Golden — you haven’t had a clear vision of your future since you were 15, or you’ve taken a more circuitous route to get to your current professional destination. “The fundamental problem,” says Galenson, “is not simply how society looks at Cezanne at age 45 [before his success]. It’s that Cezanne looks at himself and has a deep, dark insecurity. Cezanne would say, I’m not sure I accomplished anything. There’s no external reinforcement at all, and that’s a real problem. Because you don’t produce dramatic results, people assume you’re a failure and a lot of these people have to give up their profession.”

The devaluation of experimental creativity isn’t just a problem in the arts. Tech journalist Farhad Manjoo recently bemoaned the rise of “blockbuster-itis” in the online world. The rapid rise of Instagram and its billion-dollar brethren can lead investors (and even entrepreneurs themselves) to conclude something is a failure if it doesn’t win millions of users right away. That mentality, Manjoo warns, can easily lead to powerful new breakthroughs being killed prematurely.

But the most poignant part of Galenson’s research is the self-doubt he alludes to. In a world where early achievers are so lavishly rewarded, it’s hard to maintain confidence if your process is a slower and more deliberate one — especially if others lose faith in you. But late bloomers can take comfort in his finding that creativity isn’t one-size-fits-all. If you haven’t been invited to the White House or launched an IPO or made the cover of a national newsmagazine before age 35, there’s absolutely no reason to believe you can’t still accomplish those goals later in life. And as managers and leaders, it behooves us to be open-minded and show similar faith in our employees. “I don’t go out and measure the cost of the errors people make on the basis of this belief [that creativity is only for young people],” he told me, “but it could be significant.”

Are you a conceptual innovator or an experimentalist? How has that shaped your career?


Culled from HBR Blogs

Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. She is the author of the forthcoming Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press 2013). You can follow her on Twitter at @dorieclark.


So you’re not a nano-technologist. You don’t know how to sequence the human genome. You confuse artificial intelligence with posing. Does this mean that you’re useless — that you have no place in the 21st-century economy?

Cheer up. You don’t have to be Einstein to disrupt paradigms. Well, actually, you do — Einstein himself said that his greatest asset was his imagination, not his knowledge. The point is, if you can think, you can innovate. If you can ask “why?” you can change the world. Let other people do the hard work of figuring out how to make an airplane fly and a TV screen thinner. You can be the one who figures out that putting the TV in everyone’s airplane seatback could make for a great new airline. Here are a few examples where a simple twist on an existing paradigm changed everything — often in complicated technological businesses.

Better Planet

The trouble with electric cars is that their range is limited, right? You can’t drive cross-country without stopping every 200 miles to recharge the battery — which takes a lot longer than filling a car with gas. Shai Agassi, the Israeli entrepreneur who founded Better Place (profiled by Dan Senor and Saul Singer in their great book, Start-Up Nation), asked, “Why recharge the battery? Why not replace it at a swapping station?” The facility looks like a gas station. But instead of pulling in and filling up, you pull in and a robot swaps out your drained battery for a fully charged one. You don’t own a battery, you just rent one every 200 miles. Brilliant. And I predict that the innovation will make the electric car the car of the future. But it would never stand a chance without Shai Agassi’s idea.

Menchie’s Yogurt

Cold Stone Creamery understood that people like custom-made treats. So their business model is give you exactly what you want. An employee asks you what ice cream flavor and toppings you want, painstakingly measures and scoops everything out, mixes it all together, and then tallies up the cost of everything you selected. It takes five minutes. That means long, discouraging lines. And at $10 an hour for labor, the process adds $1.25 to the cost of the treat. Menchie’s Yogurt, now the world’s largest self-serve frozen yogurt retailer, asked, “Why not let the customer do all the work?” So when you walk in, you see eight yogurt machines, each with two different flavors. You fill your own cup with as much or as little as you want of as few or as many as 16 flavors of yogurt. You then add your own toppings. The cashier simply puts your cup on a scale, and you’re charged by the weight. It’s fast. Swipe your credit card, and you’re out of there, enjoying your own custom-made dessert. Bye-bye, traditional yogurt retail.


You know Zipcar, right? They asked, Why should people who need a car have to travel to huge lots miles away to rent one? Why not let people become members and pop cars all over town? Members simply locate a Zipcar nearby, activate the door opening with a smartphone app, and go. No agent involved. Now several enterprising start-ups, like Hubway in Boston, have done the same thing with bicycles. And it’s not exactly like bicycles were a new technology. With a $70 annual membership, you get a key. Just swipe it at one of the bike stations around town, grab a bike, and you’re off. You can even rent a helmet. You return the bike to any station you choose. No on-site employees involved.


When Steve Jobs saw multi-touch technology, his first reaction was, “My God, this could be a phone.” He didn’t design the technology. He just recognized that a multi-touch screen could create an infinite number of user interfaces for an infinite number of applications, instead of the one user interface to which traditional phones were limited. So long, plastic buttons.

The Feature-Length Cartoon

Walt Disney didn’t invent the cartoon. But he did ask, “Why are cartoons always only three minutes long?” He realized that with the right story, you could engage an audience with animation for just as long as you could with live actors. The feature animation business was born.

The Upside-Down Ketchup Bottle.

Heinz didn’t invent upside down. Upside-down had been around for a while. But someone there finally asked, “Why do we let the ketchup rest in the bottle at the farthest point from the opening? Why not flip the design, so people don’t have to break a blood vessel getting the damned stuff out.” Voilà. Upside-down packaging everywhere.

So, welcome back to the 21st-century economy. If you can ask “Why?” in an industry where everyone else is too busy or distracted to bother, you can build a great business, no matter how complex the underlying technology — and maybe change the world in the process.

You can be the one who asks “Why?” You can hire people to figure out the how.

What are some of the unasked “Why?” questions that you’ve noticed in the world today?

By Dan Pallotta

Dan Pallotta is an expert in nonprofit sector innovation and a pioneering social entrepreneur. He is the founder of Pallotta TeamWorks, which invented the multiday AIDSRides and Breast Cancer 3-Days. He is the president of Advertising for Humanity and the author of Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential.

Culled from Harvard Business Blogs