“I always wanted to have some sort of creativity in my life and I’m also good at business. I melded those two things together and here I am.” Lisa Bodell, Founder and CEO, futurethink
Many people have a creative spark but don’t do anything about it. Yet, in today’s competitive world innovation and creativity not only set you apart but also move you ahead of the pack. That’s why corporations hire Lisa Bodell, founder and CEO, futurethink, New York, to explain how to create the “sizzle”.
Lisa wanted to go into social work but realized that social workers were under appreciated and under paid. “I used to rehab homes in Chicago’s Cabrini Green and my dream was to be the head of HUD. I moved to New York City and volunteered in pediatric wards and soup kitchens, and moved homeless women and their families into public housing units. Money wasn’t that important to me but I needed to make a living. I had this creative spark in my life so I went into advertising.” Disillusioned by some aspects of the advertising world, Lisa left the ad world and started her own company that instructs businesses on how to be innovative.
Lisa’s business offers her the perfect front to feed her insatiable curiosity, which in turn feeds her expertise in her niche of teaching future trends and innovation. “Work is about innovation so a lot of it is fun. It’s very casual.” In her business they brainstorm, email “back and forth a ton of jokes” and travel a lot. “Our goal is to seek out what’s next,” she says. “That gives us the license to do cool and off-beat things.”
Lisa says that innovation is really about two things: risk and change. “That’s what innovation is, after all. And embracing risk and change is something most people aren’t comfortable doing.” Lisa is a natural risk taker. She started three businesses and has been on her own for ten years. “There’s an art to taking smart risks vs. stupid ones,” she says. “Life if not about taking one big risk, it’s a series of risks. People tend to look at risk in ways that are too big and extreme. It makes it too intimidating.”
You don’t need to take giant steps to start cultivating your creativity. Here are four baby steps to develop your creativity:
1. Be curious about other people. Make it a goal to meet one new person who’s different from you every week. This pushes you to make an effort to talk to people you may not take the opportunity to converse with otherwise.
2. Study a topic unrelated to anything you do that interests you. Let’s say you’re interested in astronomy and want to learn more about the stars. Make it a point to research one website a week to get an overview of the language and the world of astronomy.
3. Keep puzzled. Keep your mind supple with puzzles and games.
4. Bounce your ideas. Lisa says, “Everyone is creative in different ways but we need each other to come up with something new and different. I can come up with an idea but you can give me a different creative insight that I didn’t see.”
Trying new things cultivates creativity. When my husband and I decided to renovate a house by ourselves, we had to change our thinking about what we could and could not do. It challenged me in a way that I didn’t expect: When we were more than a year into the project I started believing that if someone could do something (plaster a wall or sew drapes), then I could do it too. We started with baby steps though by simply trying to improve on what we knew how to do, experimenting with new or better tools.
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More than anything today we have to have the ability to think and adapt and to think beyond what is already in existence and make real what’s not yet real. This is becoming the Key Element [of business].
Joseph A. Keefe, founder of Second City Communications, CEO, Humor Resources
If thinking beyond what is already in existence and making real what’s not yet real is a key element for success in business, it would be most helpful to know just how to accomplish that. The short answer: curiosity and the willingness to expose yourself to new ideas.
Why am I hesitating? Why can’t I relate to this person/group? Why can’t I combine a healthy lifestyle with my career? Why can’t I incorporate a European definition of success into my American job? Successful people avail themselves to new ways of thinking and of dealing with issues by foraying out of their sphere of reality.
Exposing yourself to new ideas expands your general knowledge, your appreciation, your options. Exposure to new ideas generates understanding and creativity. The more curious you are, the more fun, interesting, and stimulating life becomes. Curiosity also boosts your abilities and your career.
The ability to innovate and generate creative ideas has always been a hallmark of successful businesses and people. Since there’s no such thing as business as usual anymore, no one can afford to rest on his laurels. But that doesn’t mean past experiences aren’t important. In fact, the more experience in different areas of work and life the better.
Exposure to new ideas involves suspending everyday patterns of thought and action and trying something new—improvisation, for instance. Before teaching his students improvisation techniques, instructors typically lead them through a series of games to mentally loosen them up, clear their minds, and redirect their linear thinking of the left brain to the random approach of the creative right brain. Joseph A. Keefe, founder of Second City Communications and head of Humor Resources, a corporate consultancy company in Chicago, says, “We play warm up games because as adults we have to shock our system away from suspicion and concerns. Because we as instructors are approaching this on a fundamental and intuitive level, we have to trick people into doing that, as well. We do this through play, through action. When I start a class I say, ‘Hi, I’m Joe Keefe. Stand up everybody and follow me.’”
Exposure to new ways of approaching things and the discovery it offers via experiences such as improvisation, travel, taking classes, or changing routines, you, too, can increase your awareness, creativity and your ability to think beyond what is already in existence.
Have fun with this,
FYI, a few years ago my husband and I exposed ourselves to something totally new, renovating a house by ourselves, tile by tile. A she-said, he-said account of our adventure will be published this fall. New adventures require you to develop creativity in areas you may never have suspected.
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“If not now, when?” Anonymous
When you’re moving full speed ahead in a career it’s easy to go along with the group mentality by saying to yourself, "Yes, but I’ll only do this for a short time." Or,"yes, but the money is too good to quit." Or "yes, but it doesn’t matter in the long run." It does matter in the long run, and in the short run too. When you feel the guilt, the discomfort, or the frustration of being in a job or a relationship that doesn’t suit you and you try to explain the state of affairs with lame excuses, take a closer look at your role in the situation.
Many well-educated men and women with years of specialized schooling, such as lawyers, CPAs with MBAs, and doctors, discover to their surprise and dismay that once they get out in the workforce they don’t like their chosen career. Yet, they feel they would be disloyal to their degree, the time and money they spent to earn it, and perhaps even to their parents and family, if they changed careers.
Unfortunately, I meet too many people—women in particular--who feel stuck, unfulfilled, and frustrated because they resent their chosen career path. I met one such woman when I conducted a continuing education class in Boston a few years ago. The tall, sophisticated Natalie Wood look-alike in an elegant black suit with red lapels stood up and introduced herself, “My name is ….I’m running from the law.” The entire room gasped, then laughed as the look on this woman’s face revealed her sense of humor. Yet, her angst proved no laughing matter. She felt caged in a career she desperately hated. For most of her life pleasing others gave her direction and validation, but in the last few years, she realized her mistake and her dilemma.
She’s not alone in wanting to find happiness but feeling hogtied by guilt over others’ expectations, over the money spent, or owed on education and, over the years, “wasted.” Often people who feel trapped in a lucrative job suffer from the “hand in the cookie jar” quandary. “What else could I do to make as much money?” they lament all the way to the bank. When the reasons not to change your career pile up, it’s time to take responsibility for your problem. Here’s how:
You’ll never know what will happen without taking personal responsibility and releasing yourself from the mental hold on past accomplishments and identities. They aren’t who you are. They are merely markers, indicating that you can do it again in another field, if you’re willing to make the effort and if you can decide what you want to do. Listen carefully to your own guidance and make the effort get over the “buts” that hold you back.
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