Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The five faces of Genius

Most managers believe that if they manage well they will succeed. But in rapidly changing markets, being a good manager is less important than being an innovator. Those who can come up with new ideas - those who can create - become the leaders of the organisation and the industry.
So, personal creativity is the skill we need the most but are taught the least. Did you have any courses on how to be a creative thinker? Of course not. Most of us live by the assumption that creativity is a gift one has or doesn't have. Our formal education usually trains the creativity out of us. And in business, being an innovator will be the next core competency - the essential capability for success.

So who do we model to help us learn these necessary skills? I've spent my career studying creativity in the arts and the sciences. When you look to some of the creative genius of our world, you find patterns of thinking that can augment our lives and increase our probability of new ideas in business.

Below is a framework of some of the most powerful skills in a creative genius and how the same skills are used in business. I call them the five faces of genius.

The Seer

When painters begin to paint, they have an image in their mind's eye - an internal picture they "see". When musicians write music, they often have a musical score that appears in their mind. The great writer Robertson Davies said, "What appears in my head is a picture that somehow must be considered." The visual stimulates the new idea.

And the same is true in business. Bill Gates said that the original vision for Microsoft was "a PC on every desk and in every home." It was the image that created the future. When executives meet in our workshops, they describe new products they see, new marketing ideas or even new businesses. Ideas come - not when we use our linear side but when we use our visual intuition.

The Observer

Before Ray Kroc was the head of the McDonald's franchise, he was a milkshake mixer salesman. When reviewing a list of clients, he noticed one small detail. One customer was buying enough milkshake mixers to make 40 milkshakes at one time. This made Kroc curious.

He traveled long distances to see the McDonald's restaurant. He was so impressed that he joined the McDonald's family to build the franchise.

Observers pay attention to small things and get big ideas from those details. Former Sony president Akio Morita developed the Walk-Man when he got the idea from a small thing he noticed. During a party for one of his teenagers, he saw that kids were lugging heavy stereo equipment from one room to the next. Morito asked himself, "What if music was portable?" and the Walk-Man was born.

The Alchemist

Do you frequently ask yourself, "Where have I seen this problem before?" The "Alchemist" uses the world around them to come up with new ideas. Physicists, for instance, find breakthrough theoretical ideas by creating analogies of the natural world.

You may use your alchemistic skill everyday and not know it. Marlboro cigarette was a brainstorm of advertising guru, Leo Burnett. Burnett was flipping through a magazine and stumbled on a retrospective of the American cowboy. He connected the need to reposition the cigarette with the love of the cowboy. It was through this connection that the icon of one of the world's biggest brands was born.

The fool

Most managers say, "I don't want to be a fool!" but in fact the "fool" is one of the most powerful creative skills. And once you see it at work in business, you'll see why. The "fool" knows how to invert problems, persevere when the going gets tough and isn't afraid to pursue absurd solutions.

Oprah Winfrey is arguably the most powerful businesswoman in the world. She built her empire with a "fool" strategy. When she began her talk show, other talk show hosts were featuring people's problems and making fun of each other.

Oprah turned the model upside down and started focusing on the strength of the human spirit. She created a book club, a magazine and programes that featured the positive power of humanity.

The Sage

Have you ever worked with someone who could take complicated information, synthesise it quickly and then come up with a great idea? That is the creative style of the "Sage". A seemingly easy notion, but in practice, very challenging. The design greats of the Bauhaus knew this best with the motto, "less is more".

A perfect example of the "Sage" at work would be the business genius of Michael Dell. Prior to Dell computers, you had to buy a computer at a retail store. A low-margin business, fraught with tangled problems, Dell simplified the route to market. His idea in effect went straight to the heart of the problem and revolutionised the way we buy computers.

Perhaps you have seen yourself in the thinking styles above. Our research has shown that highly creative people have the ability to use all five skills. Just like turning a sparkling diamond, the next generation manager will be able to turn a problem in the mind and come up with new solutions from at least five different angles.

Becoming a creative businessperson, not merely a manager, requires a relentless pursuit of innovation. It means you will prioritise ideas and place them at the centre of what you do everyday. It means you will not allow yourself to become distracted by day-to-day concerns and miss the larger reason you are working for - creatively bring value to the firm. It means you will bring your genius to work.

Each person has been granted the gift of creativity - t is our own personal genius. When we dedicate ourselves to using the full spectrum of our minds, we'll be surprised ourselves. Not only see our business grow, but we'll see our careers rise. And we will become the leaders the business world is looking for.

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