1) Find errors in the world
The tension of “that’s not quite right” is often the first step to creative outbreaks. This is true in people, process, or product.
Every time something strikes me as odd, I write it down. I want to know why. Why are some people evil? Why do we have red lights? Why has the pop-up made a come back when clearly it’s an obnoxious, annoying hack and WILL YOU JUST LET ME READ THE POST?
Especially in corporations, people have often forgotten to ask why. They just keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. It makes sense, you know. The biggest businesses have deeply held convictions about process because those processes are why they are the biggest businesses.
But the only way to create innovative solutions is to find a problem nobody else sees.
2) Don’t give up just because someone else does what you do
Here is one of my favorite stories:
In the early 1990s, John Sylvan wanted to solve a common problem — fix office coffee. He tinkered and tested and learned and eventually created what we now know as Keurig pods (though not without being diagnosed with caffeine poisoning first).
Keurig was the first one in that market. They were the first to put a machine in an office. That’s the reason we all know the name, right?
Though Keurig broke into the office coffee business, other companies were ramping up to change the home coffee business as well by using a similar design to Keurig’s pods. In 2004, culinary giants like Proctor & Gamble and Sara Lee lined up their own single-serve coffee pods for release. They were ready to snatch a share of the market
Keurig destroyed them.
You will never be the only one with an idea. If you Google an idea and find it already exists, that’s amazing news. There is already a market.
There will always be other people trying to do what you do.
Do it better. Do it louder. Do it with flair.
Most importantly, do it in a way only you can do it.
3) Reject administrative work
WARNING: This might be a good way to lose your job.
I’m telling you that up front because even though I have build a career ignoring administrative tasks, doing so was also approached with a massive amount of communication, tact, and in some cases time.
You get more of what you do well at. For the first 6 months of my first full-time job, I was really good at formatting manuals. So I was given more things to format.
“Hey Todd, we have a PDF document but not the source. Can you just change it to a Word doc?”
“Hey Todd, can you put together my PowerPoint deck for me?”
“Hey Todd, will you proofread this 97 page pitch?”
These requests only stopped coming when I intentionally ignored them. Guess what happened? They found somebody else to do it. And I got to do more of what I loved.
Try this: Don’t answer your email for a whole day. Ignore anything that comes in. Let the people who tried to contact you do so in other ways.
I have a friend who spends days at a time dealing with his inbox. I checked yesterday, and he has over 1,200 in his inbox right now. Why? Because you get more of what you pay attention to.
4) Solve everyone else’s problems
I try and split my day into two sections:
- Section 1 — I do all my work
- Section 2 — I do everyone else’s work
By working on other people’s problems, you force yourself to think completely objectively. You are not emotionally attached to what you are doing because, after all, it is someone else’s work.
It doesn’t matter if you know what problem is being solved. As a matter of fact, it’s often better if you don’t. That just means you are free of the baggage that comes with assumptions.
5) Learn about everything
What kind of books should I read?
What kinds of people should I network with?
All of them.
What types of businesses should I study?
It doesn’t matter as much what you learn about, only that you’re learning.
James Dyson (yes, the Dyson you see on all the vacuum cleaners) struggled as an inventor for quite some time. The more his vacuum cleaners were used, the more suction they lost.
So he came up with a brilliant new concept — “cyclonic separation” — which would separate his new vacuum cleaner from the pack and seal his destiny as a household name.
Isn’t that a very nice story?
The problem is, I mislead you just a little.
Cyclonic separation wasn’t a new concept at all. He nicked the idea from a sawmill, adjusted the parameters, and implemented it as he saw fit.
My guess is that he did not walk out the door that morning thinking:
“I’ll just go down to the sawmill. I’m sure that place will be full of secrets for household appliances.”
Yet, like magic, the innovation was waiting on him. It’s almost like everything in the world is connected somehow.
6) Do boring work
Do you see how it works with both sides of the coin?
One of my favorite things to do is mow our yard. I drive the obnoxious little machine around in circles for an hour or so and always come back new ideas. Always. Who needs to pay for a consultant when you have a push-powered Mercury?
Creativity is a rhythm, it’s not a straight line. There is no output without input. No highs without lows. I have never experienced a high after thinking.
“Okay, come up with good ideas. Come on brain, why are you so stupid?”
Instead, this is usually a sign I need to go do something mindless and dull.
Like answer email.