Why right now is the perfect time to create outside the lines.

If you want to develop as a creative thinker you have to color outside the lines. I don’t mean the way a young kid does when they have no sense of how to stop themselves when they get to a delineating line on a piece of paper.

What I mean is that creative thinking can not and should not be contained. To improve your creative thinking don’t simply create when and where you are told to create. Don’t create only when a teacher gives you a creative project. Don’t create only when a boss says they want you to help develop a new idea for the summer picnic (which was a fun event we used to have pre-covid, or what I am now calling PC).

As a creative thinker, you should create all the time, because you can’t help thinking, creating and making stuff. And we should all see ourselves as creative thinkers.

Since the initial covid lockdown back in March, I have written over 80 blog posts. I started an illustrated cartoon series called Kirky. I have written the manuscript for a book, which I am deep into the second draft of right now. I am working on bringing a new brand to life in my spare time with my son Magnus and friend Dan Koel. And I have been using Moleskin notebooks the way most people use mousetraps to catch my ideas and make sure they don’t get away.

I always ask people interviewing for creative jobs what they do creatively in their spare time. This isn’t just a curiosity. It helps me tell if you are a true creative thinker who can’t help but develop ideas and bring them to life. Or if you are someone who wants a fun job. But if they tell me they like to make furniture and lampshades out of human remains I know not to hire them. #SorryNotSorryEdGein

One of the women who freelances for The Weaponry (whom I hope to hire full time) is regularly sharing her extracurricular creative projects on social media. I love that. It shows me that she is really a creative thinker at her core. Those kinds of thinkers don’t have to be spurred into action. They can’t stop the thinking and the valuable actions that follow even if they wanted to. Those are the most valuable thinkers to have on your team. And they can’t be replaced by an app or a monkey, or automated by a machine. #JobSecurity

My great friend Betty Garrot, who lived across the street from me in Atlanta, is a Pediatrician by day. But Mrs. Dr. Garrot as we call her at our house, because her husband Crain is an Oncologist, paints a lot. Her home is full of beautiful paintings she has created of scenes she has witnessed around the world. But she paints so much that I expect she has a secret self-storage space stuffed full of paintings that she doesn’t have wall space for in her home. Betty is an amazing painter. But she rarely paints for money. Because it removes the joy of creating. Which is why she does it.

However, I have recognized that some people simply don’t know that they can think and act creatively when they aren’t asked to. They don’t realize that they can create their own assignments and deliver their own ideas.

So here is your reminder to create. Write, paint, photograph, draw, bake, cook, brew, garden, dance, make music, design, develop a business idea, host, decorate, or whatever you like to do to tap into and express your own ideas. Do it even if no one asks you to. Even if no one is watching. Even if you are not getting paid. Even if you are not great at it at first. Because it is great for your brain and your mental health.

Key Takeaway

When I visited Iceland several years ago I met a man named Sven (of course), who told me that Icelanders embrace the short and dark days of winter to engage in their creative activities. Now that we are to our short days and long nights in the Northern Hemisphere, I encourage you to do as the Icelanders do. And make the darkest days of the year the brightest days for thinking and creating.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

It’s a great time for you to take more showers.

There are a lot of activities you can’t do right now. In fact, most things outside your home that involve anyone other than a cashier, pharmacist, healthcare worker or delivery professional are currently off the table. At the same time, many of the hard working among us have been prohibited from working. Which creates another level of challenges.

Time to Think

When you can’t take action, the most valuable thing you can do is think. I have spent my entire career as a professional creative thinker. I’ve worked through thousands of business challenges of all sizes and shapes (except for a tiny rhombic dodecahedron). And the great solutions always come during times of deep, focused thinking.

And there is no place to think like the shower. It’s a perfect environment to relax, clear your head and do the type of thinking that makes a real difference. The type of thinking that solves problems, sparks valuable new ideas, and helps you rebalance again. All while controlling your dandruff. #multitasking

The Thinking Prescription

  • Find some time each day for a long hot shower.
  • Make sure there is no music or sound from a TV.
  • Shower by yourself. (Otherwise you’ll be thinking other thoughts.)
  • Relax. And think of what you can do right now. For yourself, your community, your clients, your family or friends.
  • Think about what you can do tomorrow.
  • Think of the opportunities.
  • Work through your work challenges
  • Think bigger than you think you should.

You’re sure to come out with a clear head and new ideas. Oh, and you’ll also be clean. And right now that’s more valuable than ever.

Key Takeaway

The 2 most valuable ingredients of success are strong actions and strong thinking. When you can’t act, think. It will help you solve problems and create a plan of action. Thinking  unlocks doors. And it reminds you, in case you forgot, that you are still in control.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

6 things I didn’t do on my trip to India that will surprise you.

My childhood friend, Marcus Chioffi, once made an interesting statement about me. He said,

‘Adam would be the best person I know at solitary confinement. He would just entertain himself.’ -Marcus Chioffi

I was reminded of Marcus’s statement on my recent work trip to Bangalore, India. I had two 24-hour travel days: one going to India and one coming back (you probably could have guessed that, but I didn’t want any confusion). I had back to back 10-hour flights each way. And what I did on those 10-hour flights is not as interesting as what I didn’t do.

6 Things I Didn’t Do On My Travels To India.

  1. I didn’t watch any movies.
  2. I didn’t watch any TV.
  3. I didn’t listen to any music.
  4. I didn’t play any games.
  5. I didn’t do any puzzles.
  6. I didn’t mind the travel at all.

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Solitary And Confined.

The long flights gave me a lot of time to think, which is one of my favorite hobbies. I watched the flight tracker on the screen in front of me, and I looked out the window.  Combined, those two activities provided me with plenty to think about.

I connected dots about global geography. I flew over beautiful places like The Netherlands. I flew over inhospitable places in the Middle East that have been boiling with cranky people. And I realized that I may be cranky too in such a desolate environment.

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Reading

I finished reading the book Thinking Fast and Slow, about behavioral economics. I read Yes, And…, which is about Second City, and what we can all learn about life and business from improv. My friend, and regular Weapon, Tony Sharpe gave me the book. Thanks Tony.

I also read the body laungauge of a couple of seatmates that said, ‘Don’t talk to me you smiley American! It’s the middle of the night!’ So I didn’t talk to them. Their loss.

Work

The Weaponry has several exciting projects going on right now. So I had a lot of enjoyable work to do. I even texted a project estimate to a new client just after takeoff, because sometimes client service and FAA rules are in opposition.

Writing

I also wrote. (In fact, as I write these words I am flying over Thunder Bay, Ontario). I wrote a lot of notes about my trip and my experience. I found almost no time to write when I was in India because my sleep-eat-work* schedule was so dense there was no time for anything else. (*not to be confused with my Eat. Pray. Love. schedule.)

Key Takeaway

I enjoyed my flights to the other side of the world and back a great deal. They never felt painful, prisony, torturey or claustrophobic. I never felt like I needed to be entertained. I loved having so much time to think, read, write and observe. Most importantly, I never felt like I was killing time. I felt as if I was using the time I had. Which is what I hope to do if I ever do end up in solitary confinement.

5 reasons brainstorms are a waste of your time and money.

I have an idea. Let’s not do brainstorms anymore. Most organizations believe brainstorm sessions are a great way to generate a lot of ideas quickly. While you may feel like you see a lot of new thinking in these sessions, you don’t see what you don’t see. As a professional creative thinker, I consider the brainstorm session a highly visible, but highly inefficient way to develop new ideas. I thought about hosting a telethon to raise awareness of this problem. But I didn’t know where to find ten landline telephones. So this post will have to do.

Dissecting the Brainstorm Problem

One of the reasons brainstorms are so popular is that in a one hour session you can generate a visible collection of new ideas. But the pile of ideas you leave the meeting with is misleading. Because brainstorm sessions are like gathering 100 horses and only generating 50 horsepower. You would be better off letting those ponies run alone.

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 5 Problems With Brainstorms

1. Brainstorming is made for extroverts.

Brainstorming is a game where you rapidly blurt out half-baked ideas in front of a small crowd. For extroverts this is good sport. But to the other 50% of the planet this is an uncomfortable and unnatural activity. The quieter half of the population thinks more than they speak. They generate a lot of ideas on their own. Which means that the brainstorm is simply not their natural habitat for idea generation.

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2. The 80/20 Rule

In line with the core tenants of the 80/20 rule, 80% of the good ideas in a typical brainstorm come from 20% of the people. Brainstorms give the false impression that everyone is birthing ideas. But this is not the reality. If you conducted a brainstorm in a petri dish, and observed it under a microscope, you would see a small population of valuable idea generators, a larger collection of evaluators, and a smattering of cheerleaders and spectators. Of course, they would all be wondering why you were staring at them through a giant microscope.

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3. The Brainstorm Bottleneck.  

In a polite and orderly brainstorm session you have one person speak at a time. This is also a necessity when you have one scribe capturing the ideas and mounting them on a giant flip pad. The flip side of that orderliness is that when one person is talking, no one else is contributing ideas. There is simply not enough air time for all the ideas that should be generated by just three productive thinkers over the course of an hour.

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4. Invisible Clay Pigeons:

There are not supposed to be any bad ideas in a brainstorm. Participants are not supposed to evaluate or criticize ideas. But there are a whole flock of less-obvious ideas that never get tossed to the group because the thrower is afraid their idea will get shot down in the minds of the other participants. Even if the group adheres to the rules of brainstorming during the session, participants will still feel judged by the group, in silence.

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5. Great Brains Storm On Their Own

Great ideators generate ideas at a faster pace, with greater range and push more boundaries when working alone. A good thinker will quickly gather the low hanging fruit. Then they get to work on the rest of the tree. Then other trees. Then other orchards.  Then they harvest fruit on other continents. And finally, on other planets. You are far less likely to get a bushel basket full of Uranus Apples in a traditional brainstorm.

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The Solution

To generate the most, best and broadest range of ideas, people should always think alone first. Give your team members a quiet place, a pen and a pad of paper. The ideas will flow and fill the pages. Only after the team has thought on their own should you bring them together to share their sparkly new brain gems. During The Thinkers Reunion, you experience the Reece’s moment, when people can get their chocolate in someone else’s peanut butter. The mash-ups, surprise combinations, epiphanies and amplified ideas at this stage are far more valuable.

Key Takeaway

Stop wasting time and money on brainstorm sessions. They are not the Holy Grail of idea generation they are thought to be. Work in isolation. Then pour all the ideas together. You’ll get more and better ideas every time. If you have other idea-generating ideas  you’ve thought of on your own, please share them in the comments section.

Do you have a Think Well?

The most valuable asset on the planet is a new idea. The surprising new solutions to old problems. The reinventions that change our lives and disrupt the way business is done. Ideas make money. And save money. They create competitive advantages, differentiation and wide motes out of model-thin air.

So why is it that a small handful of organizations seem to have a monopoly on great ideas? Nike, Google, Apple and Facebook all seem to pump out new ideas like Kardashians pump out selfies. While other organizations are simply one-hit-wonders, too busy dancing the Macarena with Rico Suave and Mickey to have another 99 Red ideas.

At The Perfect Agency Project we think the problem is simple. To generate great ideas you need two things.

  1. Time to think.
  2. A place to think.

I won’t get into the time issue here. Time is the most precious and most wasted commodity on Earth. Wait, I just got into the time issue.  Backing out now. Beep. Beep. Beep.

To make sure you are creating the best ideas possible you need to have a great place to think. I call this a Think Well, because:

  1. You think well in that space.
  2. When you find your place, ideas flow like water from a well.
  3. It sounds like Inkwell.
  4. I like a good triple entendre.

Does your office have a space people can escape to, that is quiet and relaxing?  Where people can think uninterrupted for a long stretch? Sure, senior executives usually have offices where they can close the door, put their feet up and imagine things like John Lennon did.  But what about the rest of the team?  Maybe you have a Think Well at home. If so, work there more often.

The downside to the open concept work environment, which eliminate offices, is that you decimate the natural thinking habitat. Which threatens the thinking population. Despite their popularity and low-cost per square foot, cubicle farms are not good at growing ideas.

There is a simple way to discover if your office has Think Wells: ask your employees. ( I thought of that in my Think Well). If they say they have such a place, encourage them to spend more time there.  If they don’t have one, send them on a mission to find one. If they can’t find a Think Well, you need to create one.

I’m a big fan of the quiet section of the library.  I’ve always gotten a lot of work done there. The no-talking mandate simply means I start talking to myself, in my head. Which is exactly what thinking is. That’s why every organization should have a quiet, comfortable space where you can go to let your mind jog. Innovative thinking requires pumping the thoughts and ideas from deep in your mind, into your conscious brain, where you can process them, and translate them into physical form.

As Napoleon Hill wrote in Think and Grow Rich:

“More gold had been mined from the mind of men than the earth itself”

So find your personal Think Well. Create a space for others. Then enjoy the ideas and the value they produce. Oh, if you know anyone from Baha Men, please forward them this post. I’m dying to finally know who let the dogs out, and if they ever came back.