Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Puppy, The Four-Year Old, and the Maasai

Creativity and inventiveness are all around you. Do you see it when you see it?

When your four-year old daughter grabs a cooking pan and proudly marches around the house with her beautiful ‘new hat’.

When a Labrador puppy finds the leg of a chair to ease the discomfort of his new teeth.

When you see a Maasai in Northern Tanzania cut a piece of bark off a tree, put it in a cup of hot water and add milk to present it as tea.

When … you can fill in the blanks.

We can debate whether this is true creativity (and lets not even start the discussion on innovation and how it differentiates from creativity). Yes, we can debate how creative the toddler, puppy, and Maasai really are in these examples, since you might not perceive them to fit the two measures of creativity: novel and useful/adaptive. Although they are novel (for some of us at least, so that too is debatable), you might not find these concepts or actions equally useful or adaptive.

Whether you call these examples creativity or not, they are illustrate how you can perceive things in an unhabitual way which, I think, is the most crucial ingredient for thinking creatively. Which, in turn, I believe to be the best possible way to use your brain and to see the world.  Which, in turn, I believe to be in service of collaboration, understanding, problem-solving, and healthy living.

To me, the above examples are lessons in something that most of us have a long ways to go in: further developing your ability to seek inspiration and information in unusual places and to absorb that information in a nonjudgmental way, free from preconceived notions of what something is or what it should be, what it should be used for, and how valuable it ‘is’.

My suggestion? Just go hunt. Just absorb and look at people, events, and objects from every possible position and perspective. In the case of an event, look at the situation with the eyes and thinking style of the person least like you. In the event of an object, imagine what ‘crazy’ application it could be used for or what unlikely idea or object you can possible connect it to, in order to create something much different than either one of the separate items could ever be. In other words, regress back to childhood and play drums with a household item in order to get this brilliant idea on how to design a certain medical tool.

No, I am totally not an expert in creativity and don’t aspire to be one. I can hardly believe I’m writing a blog post on creativity. What prompted me is the shocking observation, day after day, of how often you, I, and so many people around me disregard an idea, an old item, a theory, or a person. Because it’s crazy. Because it’s stupid. Because it’s never been this way. How often do you start a sentence with “That is weird…”, “That won’t work…” or the equivalent thereof? Too often.

So it’s not just about leveraging your creative abilities. It’s about finding more ways to collaborate and it’s about exploring different ways to better understand each other’s perspective.  

What’s keeping you from becoming more creative, more collaborative, more understanding? It’s likely one or more of the following.

It’s mistaken beliefs
You are either born creative, like an artist, or you are not.
We don’t have time for the luxury of creativity in these difficult times!

It’s seeing things with the same eyes, over, and over, and over again.
As Marcel Proust pointed out: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” When you are creative you combine information from a variety of sources, often from unlikely sources, to find the solution to a unique problem.

It’s an overactive judgment center in your brain.
That’s not right. This is stupid. Don’t make a fool out of yourself. It’s been tried before and doesn’t work… What I call road blocks and a fear of appearing foolish or being wrong or having to amend your view.

It’s complacency and laziness.
We stop rethinking, reconsidering, or dreaming ‘weird’ and big way too quickly (if we ever embarked on this journey at all.)

It’s a culture of punishing risks and failures, without the learning aspect.  

It’s asking the wrong questions, as Kenichi Ohmae, Peter Block and many others have pointed out repeatedly.

What is blocking you?

I wish to leave you with two challenges - just think ‘unusual’ and ‘regression to childhood’.


  1. Carolien - 'Love your stories and take-aways about your adventures in Tanzania and time with the Masai. An adventure like this is a gift in itself; your ability to extract rich lessons about life, leadership, creativity, candor and cross-cultural communication is a reflection of what you bring to the table. Thanks for sharing; I look forward to hearing more!

  2. These compliments mean a lot to me coming from you, Al. Thanks for your interest in the lessons we are still capturing. The challenge is spreading them in a way that they are relevant and appealing to others, and mostly, taking them to heart and to practice ourselves. It's so easy to let the lessons fade into 'just stories' rather than remaining ever-vigilant of how limiting our values and approaches are and how easily we rush to interpretations and impose our pre-conceived notions without really wondering, questioning, understanding, or merely accepting that we don't understand - but without the judgment and condemnation. Kindly, Carolien