The teacher stood on stage in early 1973 and explained a liberating model. This led to me leaving university and setting up my own business.
“There are creative thinkers and conventional thinkers,” said the teacher. “Creative thinkers spend a lot of time clarifying the ‘what’. They then find imaginative ways to reach the goals. Conventional thinkers quickly jump to the ‘how’. They spend a lot of time analysing obstacles, become dispirited and say things are impossible to solve. Creative thinkers often follow the shape of a heart. They keep their eyes on the prize and go around obstacles to reach the goal.”
The setting for this insight was conventional: the lecture hall at Keele University. The teacher explained that some people were suited to academia, whilst others were not. The first group established credibility by following the system and gaining qualifications. The second group went around the system to reach their goals. They published a book, invented a product, made a film, built a successful prototype or whatever. They used their qualities to build credibility.
The teacher’s words made sense. I was a ‘mature’ first year student, having gained late entry to university after running therapeutic communities. Academic life was not for me, however, and I yearned to return to working with people. The teacher’s model provided a way forward. So I left university to start my own business.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Can you think of a time when you employed this approach and went around obstacles to reach the goal? You may have used it to find a job, solve a problem or produce an imaginative solution. Describe the specific things you did to follow this approach and reach the goal. Try completing the following exercise.
There are many models for finding creative solutions to challenges. One of the most common is to focus on Clarity, Creativity and Concrete Results. This involves going through the following stages to achieve success.
Let’s explore how you can follow this approach to tackles a specific challenge.
1) You can focus on clarity – the ‘what’.
The inventor of the Walkman said: “I want to be able to walk around whilst also listening to my favourite music.”
The pioneers of telephone banking said: “We want to enable our customers to receive excellent service over the phone, rather than stand in line at a crowded bank.”
Nowadays their solutions seem obvious. At the time, however, they provided models for others who wanted to follow the creative road. Instead of dismissing imaginative ideas out of hand, they kept going until they found ways to deliver the goals.
Creative thinkers are stimulated into action by tackling a specific challenge. They then do three things.
* They frame the challenge in positive terms.
So they say, for example: “How can I stay healthy?” rather than “Why can’t I stop smoking?” They do this because it is hard to achieve a negative goal.
* They clarify the real results to achieve.
They keep asking: “What are the real results to achieve?” They spend a lot of time establishing the real ‘what’. Many people skip this part and rush onto the ‘how’. Good decision makers make sure they are climbing the right mountain before setting out on the expedition. They clarify the results to achieve and list these in order of priority.
* They clarify the things they can control.
They control the controllables. They build on what they can control and manage what they can’t.
Creative thinkers sometimes use the following framework at this stage.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme.
First, describe a specific challenge you would like to tackle. For example: “How to get paid for doing work I love; how to work with more positive people; how to encourage my child to get through school; how to help somebody to achieve a sense of success,” or whatever.
Second, describe the ‘what’ – the real results you want to achieve. Brainstorm all these aims and then list these in order of priority.
Try completing the following sentences.
2) You can focus on creativity – the ‘how’.
Creative thinkers keep asking: “How can I (or we) achieve the desired results?” They continue asking this question until the answer emerges. This calls for imagination and patience. Such people often take three steps towards achieving this goal.
* They clarify the choices – the routes they can follow – towards achieving the goal.
* They clarify the consequences – the pluses and minuses – of each option. They also clarify the attractiveness of each option.
* They then move onto the possible creative solutions.
They sometimes use the following framework at this stage.
The Creative Part
Let’s imagine you have considered many of the ‘conventional’ options. It is then time to focus on the possible creative solutions. You may ask some of the following questions.
Looking at the options I have already considered, what are the best parts of each option? Is it possible to combine these together into a new option?
Let’s consider my strengths. Where do I deliver As, rather than Bs or Cs? What are my personal and professional assets? How can I use these strengths and assets to reach the goal?
Let’s explore my positive history. Have I ever managed a similar challenge successfully in the past? If so, what did I do right then? How can I follow these principles to tackle the present challenge?
Let’s explore other people’s positive history. What can I learn from these positive models? Has anybody else tackled a similar challenge successfully? What did they do right then? How can I follow these principles in my own way to tackle the present challenge?
Let’s look at other creative solutions. If I had a blank piece of paper and could start again from scratch, what would I do to achieve the goals? Are there any other ‘way out’ ideas I could try? There are virtually always solutions. It is just a question of how much they cost. Bearing this in mind, are there any other things I can do to reach the goal?
Success is crucial. People buy success, rather than the theory of success. So how can I build a successful prototype? How can I show what works? How can I set this up to succeed? How can I then share the success stories? How can I keep my eyes on the prize and go around obstacles to reach the goal?
Let’s go back to the beginning. What are the real results I want to achieve? What are the key strategies I can follow to give myself the greatest chance of success? How can I build on the pluses and manage any potential minuses? Bearing these answers in mind, let me complete the following statements.
The three key strategies I can follow to give
myself the greatest chance of success are:
The specific things I can do to build on the
pluses and manage the potential minuses are:
Over the past 40 years I have spent time with many entrepreneurs. Interestingly, such creative people do not follow the cliché of ‘thinking outside the box’. They do not even recognise a box exists.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind the results you want to achieve, brainstorm lots of ‘hows’. Keep going until you find possible ways to reach your goal. Don’t worry if you don’t find the answer straight away. Get lots of ideas into the open, give yourself time for reflection and then begin to settle on the route – or routes – you want to follow. Try completing the following sentence.
3) You can focus on concrete results – the ‘when’.
Creative thinkers often go through the process of imagination, implementation and impact. They take three steps towards translating their ideas into concrete results.
* They clarify their conclusions and settle on the route – or routes – they want to follow towards achieving the goal.
* They clarify the contracts that must be made – both with themselves and with other people – regarding the work that must be done to reach the goal.
* They clarify the specific action plan for achieving the concrete results.
They sometimes use the following framework at this stage.
Delivering The Goods
Creative people settle on their strategy. They then demonstrate the desire and discipline required to reach their goals.
JK Rowling, for example, followed her daily routine for writing the Harry Potter books. But success does not always come overnight. Speaking to 15,000 people at a 2008 Harvard Ceremony, she talked about the benefits of failure.
Looking back at her own university days, she chose to study literature. The subject seemed unlikely to lead to reasonably paid work, however, especially as she then studied Classics. Her graduation was soon followed by setbacks, but these ultimately proved vital. JK Rowling explained:
“Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself and what those closest to me expected of me. I was convinced the only thing I wanted to do was write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view my over-active imagination was an amusing quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension."
“What I feared most was not poverty, but failure. I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had for me, and that I had for myself, had come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew."
“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”
“I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter I adored, an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life …"
“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and has been worth more to me than any qualification.”
You can find JK Rowling’s Harvard address at:
Pioneers demonstrate persistence. Let’s assume you are happy with your ‘what’ and ‘how. It is now on to the ‘when’. Describe the specific things you can do to translate your plan into action. Try completing the following exercise.
So how to achieve results? One approach is to follow the institutional route; another is to be innovative. The creative art is sometimes to follow the shape of a heart. You can do this in your own way and use your imagination to achieve your goal.