What’s Killing our Creativity?

Scene 1:

I was visiting a hospital today to visit someone who is admitted there to get through a minor surgery. He was supposed to check into the hospital at noon on a given date and check out at about 4:00PM the next day. This means that he had to spend about 28 hours in the hospital. Even for these 28 hours when he was in the hospital, when he was officially on medical leave, he was still working. He was checking his email, responding to his calls and even checking his social media feeds (twitter, Facebook, linked and Instagram).

When probed, he asked me the following question –

“What am I supposed to do if I am not checking my emails or my social media feed? Just sit there and do what?”

At that time, I just let that pass but his question kept coming back to me making me think about what would my behaviour be in such a situation? When I thought about it and if I have to be honest, I would have done a few things differently. Maybe I would have scanned my email once in a while to ensure that there is no fire that needs to be put out. I am fortunate that I don’t necessarily have a lot of fire to put out. So, that would not be an issue with me. I would have picked up a book and read it. Alternately, I would have used the time to catch up on a movie.

What would you do if you were in a such a situation? Are you able to completely disconnect from work or from social media?

If you are like most of us, you would have done something similar.

IF we look at this at a slightly deeper level, we can find that we all want to do something so that we feel busy. We want to feel that we are achieving something.

Scene 2:

Now, lets look at a completely different scene.

We are at work and are in a fix over some issue and need to find a solution to fix it. The issue is not something that has a single right way to solve. And the more creative we are, the better the solution could be. We gather our team around in a room and want to do engage in a brainstorming session. The facilitator sets up the context and wants us to come up with creative ideas that could potentially solve the issue at hand.

We try to come up with some regular ideas, that are neither surprising nor creative. Has this ever happen with you?

I can assure you that most people struggle with coming up with creative ideas. I teach design thinking to experienced executives and as part of the workshop, the participants are required to come up with 25 creative ideas to solve a given challenge. It has never happened in over 100 such cohorts that someone has come up with even 20 ideas (forget creative ideas).

While on the outside, these two scenes may seem to disparate and not connected, research indicates that one is the cause for the other. The fact that we almost always opt to staying busy all the time is probably the cause of the difficulty in coming up with creative ideas. 

Among many qualities that suffer, recent research shows creativity takes a hit when we are constantly busy. The ability to switch between a state of focus and daydreaming is an important skill for being creative. Constant busyness has a significant impact on this ability, thereby making it more difficult to be creative.

Stanford’s Emma Seppälä writes

The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work.

We now consume up to five times as much information as 25 years prior; outside of work we process roughly 100,000 words every day. This saps us of not only willpower (of which we have a limited store) but diminishes our ability to think creatively as well.

Creativity engages the brain’s daydreaming mode directly and stimulates the free flow and association of ideas, forging links between concepts and neural modes that might not otherwise be made. Creativity is all about making non-obvious connection between disparate and disconnected ideas. So, we will struggle to be creative if we are unable to access the daydreaming mode as and when we need. 

This is impossible when every free moment—at work, in line, at a traffic light—we’re reaching for our phone. Our brain becomes habitual to constant stimulation; we grow antsy and irritable when we don’t get that stimulation. At this time we can be sure that we’re addicted to busyness. 

And that’s not so good for us, specially when if we are required to be creative at a moment’s notice. As Seppälä points out many of the world’s greatest minds made important discoveries while not doing much at all. Nikola Tesla had an insight about rotating magnetic fields on a leisurely walk in Budapest; Albert Einstein liked to chill out and listen to Mozart on breaks from intense thinking sessions and even play his violin.

If being creative is important for us, we might have to engineer scarcity in our communications, in our interactions, and in the things we consume so that we have time to allow boredom and allow our minds to wander. Otherwise we run the risk of our lives becoming like a Morse code transmission that’s lacking breaks — a swarm of noise blanketing the valuable data beneath. 

So, the question that we need to ponder is the following:

How to disconnect in a time when connection is demanded by bosses, peers, and friends?

  1. Make time for a long walk without our phones. Incorporate this as a daily routine.
  2. Stop taking our phone out at every opportunity. Start with deciding not to take our phone out when you are waiting for the traffic light to turn from red to green or when we are waiting in a que at a shopping mall to pay for our purchases.
  3. Make more time for fun and games. It is well-known that taking time and having fun by playing games resets the focus and activates the part of brain that is responsible for creativity.
  4. Alternate between doing focused work and activities that are less intellectually demanding. Schedule downtime after every session of focused activity. It could be as simple as taking a 15 minute break before engaging in yet another activity that requires us to focus.

If our work requires us to be creative-on-demand, we need to exercise our creative muscles as well. We would be well off if we make it a part of our daily routine to come up with a set of creative ideas (irrespective of whether we need them or not). This is very similar to digging a well, much before we need water to drink.

If we spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and we run the risk of permanently reducing our capacity to perform creative work.

That’s not a good sign for those who wish to perform creatively, which in reality is all of us and more specifically is a bad news for all of us entrepreneurs.

Research shows that the fear of missing out (FOMO) increases anxiety and takes a toll on your health in the long run.

Of all the things to suffer, ability to think creatively is one of our greatest losses. As entrepreneurs, a flexible mindset, open to new ideas and approaches is invaluable. Losing it just to check on the latest tweet or post an irrelevant selfie is an avoidable but sadly sanctioned tragedy.

Finally a Mixed Reality Tool That Has the Potential to Bring MR in Mainstream Use

 

Disney Research recently released a white paper on its experiment with Mixed Reality and Augmented Reality. They address the one challenge that was stopping the widespread adoption of Mixed reality in everyday business scenarios – the requirement that the user wear an expensive device on his self and thereby literally get transported to a different world and it was an isolated experience for this user.

They say:

We create a solution for multi-user interactions in AR/MR, where a group can share the same augmented environment with any computer generated (CG) asset and interact in a shared story sequence through a third-person POV. Our approach is to instrument the environment leaving the user unburdened of any equipment, creating a seamless walk-up-and-play experience. We demonstrate this technology in a series of vignettes featuring humanoid animals. Participants can not only see and hear these characters, they can also feel them on the bench through haptic feedback. Many of the characters also interact with users directly, either through speech or touch. In one vignettŠe an elephant hands a participant a glowing orb. ŒThis demonstrates HCI in its simplest form: a person walks up to a computer, and the computer hands the person an object

You can have a look at the video that was accompanied with the white paper here:.

As you can see, the experience with this “magic bench” is not only simple but also has the possibility for multiple people sharing the same experience.

Once the Disney team is able to build this to scale, I can see many applications of this in the real world.

Some of them could be:

  1. Customer Service: Augmented reality customer service engagement at different retail stores. This experience can give the consumers a reason to visit the store rather than buy everything online.
  2. Movie promotions: This will allow Disney and other movie franchisees to allow their customers to have an interaction with their favourite movie characters.
  3. Book Promotions:  Just like there can be an engagement built with the users favourite movie characters, people can also interact with their favorite book characters and maybe the authors themselves.
  4. Mass personalization of Brand advertisements:  Brands can use these benches to hyper-personalise their by immersing their consumers as part of the advertisement itself, there by creating stronger bonding with the brand.
  5. Stories abound: Add to this an AI bot that can engage with the user and have an improvisational dialogue and co-create a story with the user. This would just be amazing to see. We could have a “Whose Line is it anyway” with a virtual character in play (played by an AI bot).

These are just a very few ideas that I can think of.  I am sure you can think up a lot more uses for these magic benches.

I see enormous potential for this technology if this is developed and opened up to entrepreneurs to play with.

The question is will Disney make it available for developers and entrepreneurs learn and play with their creation?

There Is a Revolution Brewing Inside of Everyone of Us.. Its Time to Own It & Lead It..

 

In this irreverent talk, creator, teacher and artist par excellence – James Victore shares his thoughts on Revolution. He believes that revolution is not something out there – Its Us. Its in us. There is a revolution waiting to happen inside each of us. This is exactly what Nilofer Merchant refers to in her book – Onlyness.

Both of them believe that it is us who keep this “Onlyness” and the “Revolution” oppressed inside of ourselves. It is time to not only accept and embrace it, but time to celebrate this and unleash it in its full creative strength in this world.

The world needs us, our onlyness and the revolution that only we can lead! It doesn’t matter if we are creatives, employees or entrepreneurs.. This applies to all of us!

So, what are we going to do about our “Onlyness” and our very own “Revolution”?

Enjoy the video!

Watch Nilofer talking about Onlyness.

PS: I would really like to host both James and Nilofer on my show, sometime soon.

Importance of Silence and Reflection in the Life of an Entrepreneur

Premise:

We are living in a world where there are just too many demands on our attention as entrepreneurs. There is the internal chatter about our people, products, processes, etc. Then there is the external chatter of marketing, networking, selling and to top it all off, there is social media and NEWS (fake or otherwise). Add to this there is a huge movement about increasing productivity. Every other blog (at times, this one included) tries to gives us hacks that can help us increase our productivity. So, in this environment, it is quite natural for us to try to use all our time and attention to maximise our productivity.

However, it is critical that we don’t get sucked into this seemingly logical thing to do.

Importance of Silence:

One of the most important things for us, as entrepreneurs, is our ability to make connections that others miss, see opportunities that others are blind to and be creative. Generating good ideas and connections requires us to look at things from different perspectives, which can happen when we give ourselves some quiet time, to think and reflect. It is this reflection that gives us the ability to connect seemingly unconnected stuff. It is reflection that enables us to bring our best creative self.

Author JK Rowling, biographer Walter Isaacson, and psychiatrist Carl Jung all have a practices for managing the information flow and cultivating periods of deep silence. Cal Newport talks about how he has stayed away from social media and does what he calls Deep Work (You can listen to my podcast with him here) that allows him to be super-productive at what he does.

Recent studies are showing that taking time for silence restores our nervous system, much like deep sleep. Silence is our pathway that allows us to get into contemplative states. It is during this state that we allow our minds to tap into our sub-conscious, creating the opportunity for connections of apparently random stuff, thereby allowing us to be creative.

Cultivating silence, as Hal Gregersen writes in a recent HBR article,  “increase[s] your chances of encountering novel ideas and information and discerning weak signals.” When we’re constantly fixated on what to say/write/tweet next, it’s tough to make room for truly different perspectives or radically new ideas.

If you are a typical entrepreneur, you will also find embracing silence to be extremely difficult and irritating.  What we need to understand is that cultivating silence isn’t just about getting away from social media or office chatter but it is ow we make time for reflection. When used well, it can also help us become better listener and increase out mindfulness.

We also need to understand the work pressures that we have to deal with and so it is critical that we are intentional in our need to set time for reflections. So, we need to put in place deliberate practices that create opportunities for us to incorporate silence  in our incredibly busy schedules.

Here are four practical ideas that can help us:

1. Two Minutes of silence before every meeting:

We can all do really well if we can have at least 2 mins (ideally 5 mins) of silence before any meeting that we attend. We can use this to meditate or even take some deep breaths. We could use this 2 minutes to reflect on what we are trying to achieve from this meeting. We can even think about what kind of mental state do we want to be during this meeting. Imagining how would someone we really admire run this meeting, puts us in the right frame of mind for the meeting. This also makes every meeting that we attend intentional. If we can’t come up with our objective for the meeting, we can start to re-look if that meeting needs to remain on our calendars. This also helps us defeat attention residue. It is now well-known that when we switch from one task to another, there is a short period of time when we are carrying our attention from the previous task into the current task. By taking the 2 mins silence between every meeting, we force ourselves to get rid of this attention residue thereby being fully available for the current meeting.

2. Movement:

A lot of creative people, when asked about their most creative moments talk about moments when they were in motion. For some it is when they are in a shower, for some it is when they are walking or running, For some it is when they are cooking or gardening. Each one of us needs to find out what it is that we could do that provides us the movement and also allows for self-reflection to happen inside of us. We need to schedule this on our calendar as a daily activity. This creates a habit that allows us to reflect on what is happening in our lives, which allows for creativity to emerge.

3. Nature as a companion:

We need not be an outdoor person to go into the lap of mother nature. Once a month nature retreat, where we are all alone, with no distractions, in nature’s lap, is an experience that one needs to have to know its impact. Being immersed in nature can be the easiest option to improving our creative thinking capabilities. Again, this needs to be scheduled and needs to be an activity that we do by ourself. What we could also do, is to take our leadership team into the woods with a clear instruction that each one is expected to contemplate and reflect upon the current reality, struggles and challenges that each one of them is facing. They are not allowed to talk to each other during this afternoon. We could finish the retreat with a social get-together, if it can be arranged in the woods.

4. Go on a media fast 

Try turning off all devices for a day every month. This can be pre-scheduled with information about this shared with everyone who needs to know. We can also set up an emergency protocol, in case someone really needs us. Once this is done, we need to turn off all devices for the day. This includes our phone, tablet devices, television sets and anything else that has a screen. Use this day to connect with everyone around us fully and try to enjoy listening to our ambient noise, irrespective of where we live. The place I live, I have birds chirping in the morning and the traffic noise throughout the day. This allows us the opportunity to disconnect from our work and focus on something else. It is during such disconnection that our sub-conscious continues to work on the different things that we are working on. It is during this time that connections are made and creative ideas emerge. We just need to make sure that we have some way for us to capture these ideas without compromising the media fast.

Conclusion:

The world is getting louder.  We are getting busier. And the demand for creativity is higher than ever. We can use silence and the ability that it provides us to contemplate/reflect to come up with creative ideas and also help us improve our productivity significantly.

Entrepreneurs Bring Ideas to Life

Premise:

Today, we have machines which can work as assembly line workers, hotel clerks, concierge, nurses, companions for elders, lawyers, doctors, drivers, artists, journalists, gamers, coaches, board members and many more. The value proposition for businesses to employ more and more machines is strong and will get stronger with the increasing capabilities and complexities of these machines and dropping costs. Add to this, the already accelerating trend of organizations looking to hire contract employees rather than full-time employees, both to reduce cost and to leverage the global talent pool rather than limit themselves to the local talent pool.

What this means:

When we look at all of these put together, whether we like it or not, there is a good chance that we might end up either as an entrepreneur, a solopreneur or a contract employee (both are similar).

So, who is an entrepreneur: 

An entrepreneur is someone who sees every challenge, complaint or issue as a potential opportunity to be explore and exploited. He/she then picks up one that is close to him or where (s)he sees the biggest opportunity and goes about to address that challenge.

What makes someone an entrepreneur: 

What makes someone an entrepreneur is their belief system and what follows as action. Some of the most important belief’s that good entrepreneurs operate on are as below:

  1. They believe that there is a seed of opportunity in every situation. One only needs to find it to explore/exploit it.
  2. They are comfortable in making decisions with or without enough data.
  3. They have a bias towards action.
  4. They are comfortable with ambiguity.
  5. They believe that there is no failure or success that is permanent. Failure and success is an event and not a person.
  6. They bring in an outsider’s perspective.
  7. They beget change.
  8. They find & mitigate risks.
  9. They are able to move people.

Seeds of Opportunity:

Good entrepreneurs always find a seed of opportunity in everything that they encounter or experience.

When Richard Branson was mistreated by British Airways, he went on to start Virgin Airlines.

When Elon Musk is frustrated by traffic jams enroute to work, he creates a business “The Boring Company”.

When Ratan Tata sees a couple getting drenched in a motor cycle during monsoon rain, he decides to build an affordable car that doesn’t cost much more than the motorcycle itself.

These are just examples of some of the most successful entrepreneurs finding opportunity where everyone else finds fault and complains.

There are countless examples of such behaviors by entrepreneurs where they find opportunity that is hiding in plain sight which all of us miss. In hindsight, they look the most obvious to all of us, but in the moment, we miss seeing the opportunity all together. This is primarily because we are not looking for it.

Decisive:

Good entrepreneur are comfortable making decisions. They look at all the options that are available to them. They look at the opportunities that are available and are comfortable making their choices. They know that not all of their decisions will turn out to be right. They intuitively know that if you don’t decide and act, you don’t have a shot at anything worthwhile.

Good entrepreneurs also have a clear manifesto (stated or otherwise) which guides them in their decision making. For example, one entrepreneur that I know well is Kumar (name changed). He has a set of rules for people related decisions, process related decisions, resources related decisions. He uses these rules to make his decisions and move ahead. These rules can also be called heuristics. This is how we make decisions intrinsically as well. We have certain heuristics already in our brains whether we know about them or not.

Irrespective of how they make their decisions, entrepreneurs believe in that it is better to decide and move ahead rather than keep exploring all the options.

Bias for action:

What differentiates people who have a lot of ideas and true entrepreneurs is that entrepreneurs take action on the ideas that they feel have the potential. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, this is the single most important thing that you could incorporate to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur. Even if you don’t want to become an entrepreneur, it is important to develop this bias for action in our lives. Action creates a feedback loop that can enable us to learn and move ahead in our lives.

As the old proverb goes – “Water is pure only as long as it moves”. Most things that gets stagnant get worse. This includes people as well. We need to continue to move and that movement comes with action.

Friends with Ambiguity:

Good entrepreneurs realize that there will always be certain amount of ambiguity around us. We can never be certain about anything. So, they offer a hand of friendship towards ambiguity. They learn to live with it. They never crave for full certainty. This enables them to decide quickly and continue to develop their bias for action.

The Impermanent nature of success and failure:

Good entrepreneurs know that neither success nor failure is permanent. They intuitively understand this and act accordingly. They know that by experience – they have seen and experienced success from the brink of failure and vice versa. They know that as entrepreneurs there is only one way to think and act – to continue to work towards a worthy goal and grow. They understand that the only thing that is permanent is the wheel of change.

They also have uncommon belief in their ability to be creative enough to find the seeds of success from every failure and that every success has the seeds of failure within it, which if not addressed correctly, has the potential to kill all the success.

Outsider’s perspective:

Good entrepreneurs usually bring an outsiders perspective to any problem that they are trying to address through their enterprise. It is this outsider’s perspective that gives them the edge over the incumbents. They identify and bring in new ways to solve old problems. They are able to defy conventional wisdom by using contemporary wisdom. They realize that over time, there are new technologies that become available, new processes become standardized, new thinking becomes pervasive and when you combine these together with other qualities that good entrepreneurs possess, we have a potent recipe for disruption.

As good entrepreneurs understand that there are many ways to solve any particular problem, they are not afraid to look at the problem from different perspectives. They use their imagination to look at the problem they are trying to solve and see if any of the new technologies, processes or thinking can help them solve the problem differently, They also look at the existing ways of solving a problem and are not satisfied with that. They are driven to find out if they can themselves solve the problem better, faster or cheaper. This drive is what keeps them on the lookout for potential perspectives to solve the problem.

Change:

Good entrepreneurs know that the wheels of change are always on the move. They also understand that it is way better to be one driving the change than the one that is trying to catch up with the change. So, they are always looking for opportunities to initiate change. They like to mix things up. They know that some of these will work and some of them will not. They are fine with both the results.This keeps them in motion.

Risk Mitigators:

It is common perception that good entrepreneurs are risk takers. My experience tells me that they are not risk takers at all. As a matter of fact, they are risk mitigators. They obsess on finding the risks in their decisions and mitigate them before going ahead with their plans.

They will always find a way to minimize the risk that any of their steps entail. Good entrepreneurs usually ask themselves the question – “What is the worst that can happen if I take a specific course of action?” and follow it up with the question – “what can I do to ensure that it doesn’t happen?” and “is that risk acceptable?”.

They also use the following question to limit the size of risk that they are willing to take – “What is my risk tolerance on this project? How much money/time/fame/name or whatever can I risk on this project? When is it enough and time to pull the plug?”. By knowing the maximum risk that they are willing to expose themselves to right at the start, they know when to stop investing or taking a specific course. They know when it is time to change course or accept failure. Either ways they will reflect on what happened and learn from it.

They move people:

Almost everything worth doing takes a team to do it well. Good entrepreneurs know and understand that. They possess the ability to move people and get them to see and buy into their vision, one way or other. They understand people and what makes people tick. They understand the psychology of people intuitively and use this understanding to use the right persuasive method with the right people.

As they say in India, they are adept at using Sam (logic), Dam (incentives), Dand (deterrents) and bhed (insinuation or emotional appeal) appropriately as needed.

This makes them capable of building good teams and with the right motivations. Like all of us, entrepreneurs are also humans and can make mistakes in judging people and their motivations. What separates good entrepreneurs from all the others is that they recognize their mistakes and act quickly to correct the same. This quality shows up across all the other belief systems and is a character trait of good entrepreneurs.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, true entrepreneurs are those who look at things differently than most of us do. It doesnt matter if they are working for themselves or are working for an enterprise or someone else. It is these entrepreneurs who make the world go around. They keep themselves and everyone around them in motion.

They dont keep thinking of an idea or an opportunity. They take action and bring the idea to life and then let it take its own shape and form from there on.

The following comic illustrates this really well.