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October 5, 2005

Excerpts: The Source of Success - Part IV

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 6:53 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Knocking on the Door

Before you even attempt to walk through the door into this new world of creativity, you have to find your way toit. This requires a few conditions:

  • A rational, comprehensive understanding of the core business problem, need, or opportunity. This is crucial: it’s where, having understood these elements of your situation, you can apply creativity to achieve productive differentiation.
  • An intense, deep engagement with the task at hand. You have to immerse yourself in the issues before the spark of the new appears. You have to wallow in the facts, gain an understanding of conditions now. Understand nowin order to see the new.
  • Practice and refine the skill of finding patterns of unconnected events in the world of human experience. This can be learned. Pattern recognition is one of the consistent elements of successfully creative business problem solvers. Insights can come from any direction if you hone this ability. Once, while reading an article in the Washington Poston the Aztec irrigation system that brought water to dry, barren fields in Mexico, I had a sudden recognition about how to help restructure my agency’s direct marketing organization. Stories abound in business about how enormously successful products, from Post-it notes to Viagra, were discovered by seeing a popular application of something originally developed for a completely different purpose.
  • Let creativity lead you in unexpected directions when it’s strong. Discoveries in mathematics and in other fields offer many examples of the same kind of unexpected quality. If the discoverers hadn’t been prepared to see the originality and use for the creative discovery, these products wouldn’t exist— again, it depends on the ability to connect disparate patterns, see the application, and then be willing to shift direction toward anew purpose and goal.
  • Learn to love the process of arriving at unusual, extraordinary solutions. Be willing to accept risk. A creative solution is almost always simple, but because it is different, it will always seem a bit risky to those around you. Learn to live with that.

It has become a truism that creative insight originates most often in the right hemisphere of the brain, while the left hemisphere governs rational thought. Both are essential in solving dramatically different kinds of problems. Researchers Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers, authors of Creativity in Business, who offer a course of the same name at Stanford School of Business, claim the entire brain comes into play during moments of intense creativity- including the limbic brain and brain stem, structures that reach back through eons of evolution. These findings show that creativity is an innate, biologically governed human activity. The question is how to encourage and integrate this individual biological process into larger organizational patterns.

It’s a tough but critical question. Few of us have been educated to be creative. Sadly, in America and other developed countries today, across most of our educational curriculum, the emphasis is almost exclusively on the logical and rational—skills as consistently repeatable as the sum of two plus two, necessary but hardly sufficient. What we teach our children, what we learn ourselves, is rarely anchored in an understanding of art, music, higher mathematics, or any of the other intuitive, nonlinear, and creative human achievements. This has to change. We must consciously decide to develop the brain’s whole capability and allow it to come into play. Secondary school leadership and higher education must help our next generations be better prepared to use their whole brains, not only for artistic development but also for everyday business. It is tragic to see in our times the first thing to be cut from public schools across the country is almost any form of art, music, and the other studies that nurture the creative process.

Up against the sort of thinking our schools turn out year after year, it’s no wonder business rarely operates to cultivate creativity, but instead reproduces environments inadvertently designed to stifle it. Once you understand how the brain becomes creative and what surroundings nourish that skill, you’ll begin to see why organizations need to operate in new and different ways.

This is an excerpt from The Source of Success: Five Enduring Principles at the Heart of Leadership by Peter Georgescu and David Dorsey

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.