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Learning to Fly!

Learning to flyA more common look at creativity than the one I presented earlier is what could perhaps be called applied creativity, namely the type of creativity commonly associated with idea-meetings and brainstorming sessions. One of Norway's leading experts on such applied creativity is Stig Hjerkinn Haug of Stig&Stein Idèlaboratorium, which I've had the pleasure of meeting several times. Most recently this was at a meeting in the Norwegian engineers association Tekna, where he held one of his inspirational talks on fostering creativity and learning to fly!

Since the lectures of Stig are truly amazing, there is no substitute to attending one yourself. However I that is not an option for everybody, so while you might not learn to fly without actually being there I'll recap the highlights of his creative methods and some of his amazing stories here to try and give you at least a bit of air under your wings. Also remember that if this leaves you wanting more, then you can always buy Stig's books (in Norwegian) or even hire the man himself for a lecture or workshop. The stories he spin about his life with creativity are just incredible, and if you believe him mostly true as well. They include everything from practical tips on idea-generation to stories about inspired new ways of doing business, and how just being curious and doing things differently can be a powerful force in itself.

Creative companies
Like some other notable lecturers I've heard, Stig's lectures often starts out with the story of his life, focused around some of the businesses he has attempted. His first project was something most people would consider borderline insanity, namely starting a Secret Company. It was to be completely secret, down to doing absolutely no marketing and having its only line of communication through an Israeli P.O. box. Surprisingly this didn't pan out due to a lack of interest from clients, so most people might actually have been right in it being insane. However you couldn't possible have known that unless someone actually tried, now could you?
Again a lot of people would say 'yes you could', but if everyone had listened to those people then such crazy ideas as telephones, disinfectants and aeroplanes would ever have been realized. This is why you always have to try out the ideas you believe in, especially if 'most people' tell you it won't work, because when people say this it isn't usually based on actually considered the idea and deciding that it won't work. Mostly they say this because the idea is so different from everything they already know that they don't have a suitable box in their mind to put it into, and if it doesn't fit in a box then it can't really be possible so their first impulse is to just throw it out without giving it any further thought.

Next after shutting down the secret company, Stig and his buddy Stein decided to go into the business of radio advertising. Neither of them had any clue about radio advertising and also they were going to do it differently than everybody else, so they started out with a few ground rules. Firstly they were not allowed to call any potential customers, and secondly they would only accept calls from the creative directors of the ten largest advertising agencies in Norway. In addition they found that the competition were pretty evenly spread among cheap, medium and expensive companies, so to avoid those groups they decided to be extremely expensive. Also they would routinely fire their creative director and only hire new people that also didn't know anything about radio advertising. Sounds like a recipe for success doesn't it?

So what do you think happened to this company?
Well, after thinking long and hard on how to market themselves they issued a press release with the names of the ten creative directors in the title and got it printed in the major business-newspapers in Norway. Since anyone would stop short by seeing their own name in the heading of a full page newspaper article, they promptly got called by all ten of them and thus became an instant success! And not only did they eclipse the previously non-existent market for extremely expensive radio advertisements by getting deals with all of the big agencies, but due to their turnover-policy they also became a de-facto training ground for advertisement-managers, with their people over time getting hired in key positions by all of their customers! Now that is a real black swan event...!


Luck, or curiosity?
You probably now wonder what the real secret behind the success of such a seemingly outlandish venture was, maybe it was just a lucky break? Well perhaps it was just that, but then how did these two regular guys become so lucky? The British psychologist Richard Wiseman has discovered that luck is really just a way of approaching the world. People who are being curious and staying open to new opportunities, as well as thinking positively, tend to feel better about their lives and stumble upon more lucky chances than those who do not. Norwegian actor/director Aksel Henie is one person who in his own way prescribe to this point of view. He has had a lightening career in the Norwegian movie-business so far, partly caused by getting several lucky breaks when doing things previously unheard of. When asked about how he came to be so lucky, he believed it had to do with always trying to live his life on the yellow blink (of a traffic light), meaning that instead of always playing it safe ("green-light") he has made his own success through making a concious effort to do things and find opportunities nearing on the impossible, those which everyone else believes and says that can't be done.

By now I hope you're warming to the idea that doing things differently can be quite powerful. The reason for this is that most of the stuff we think about as reasonable ideas can be thought of as being within a narrow band between the impossible and the inane, but the problem is that we commonly misjudge the size of that band, so much of what we commonly consider impossible is actually quite possible and potentially even world-changing! Getting in a frame of mind to find those ideas in the near-impossible band is very hard for most of us however, often because we limit our creative energy too soon. Stig's solution to this is to begin brainstorming sessions or idea-meetings by suggesting exactly those truly impossible ideas, because then you'll have to move through the near-impossible band when scrapping the craziest ideas on the way down to what can actually be done. Combine this with having motivated co-workers as I wrote about previously, and this will really get you on the road to doing things differently.

"If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done."   - Ludwig Wittgenstein


The next step to creative success is to get the other people to come along with you in being different, and this can be really hard. People in general (and Norwegian people in particular) dislike taking action on their own, especially risky actions that is breaking with societal tradition, like doing one of these completely different things. However if a task requires several people to help out and you get them on board together, then you'll have a much easier time with it because this way they won't feel like they can be singled out and put to blame, and also they become part of the group that -did- something, two powerful social forces both of them.


No more instructions!
The Life cycle of InnovationOnce you have your group on board with the above, you just need to get them to think creatively, or differently if you will. Often can only happen by throwing away all the instructions first, and this is important, because most adults today are addicted to following instructions. To illustrate what he means by this, Stig tells a great story about this one time he held a birthday-party for his kid. At the end of the party when the other parents came around to pick up their kids he gave everyone a box of Legos and said it was a building contest, father vs. son. Playing to peoples competitiveness, everyone immediately starts ripping up the boxes to get going, and all the kids starts building something at once. The parents on the other hand start looking for the instructions sheet, which Stig secretly had removed from the boxes beforehand. This really throws off the parents, and while a few improvises instructions by reverse-engineering the picture on the box, most are at a complete loss on how to proceed due to the lack of instructions. All the while their kids are happily building something, anything, completely without relation to what the box was supposed to contain in the first place, like kids normally do.

It is this kind of motivation that kids has for just doing something that many of us need to bring back from our childhoods, from the time before we became addicted to having instructions for everything we do. According to Stig this is one of the four main parts of the life cycle of innovation. Going through it step by step it is wise to begin the life cycle with having motivation or it will be very hard to achieve anything at all, as you probably already know. Next by throwing away the instructions that limit the possibilities of our motivation the circle brings us to creativity, where the real gold can be found. Lots of unrestrained creativity rarely gets us anywhere however, so in addition we need to apply some methods to identify and refine the ideas into something that we can actually work with. Many creative sessions and idea-meetings end just after this phase of identifying the ideas, and forgets all about picking one or more ideas for actual implementation. This obviously breaks the circle by not increasing motivation, and thus making idea meetings harder to do every time. This is because the true importance of the implementation doesn't lie in what the idea actually achieves, but in the sense of purpose and motivation that people get by seeing the changes they suggested actually happening. People will remember this and bring this boost in motivation to bear at the next idea meeting for a self-reinforcing positive effect that over time will let them move into the near-impossible zone of great ideas more and more often, and this is where the ideas can start to provide you with a real competitive edge.

It will however take some time with creative training before people reaches this level, so a good way to foster the development of creative solutions right from the start is to expose people to a virtual crisis situation, because through evolution people have become extremely adept at doing even the seemingly impossible if they know that they absolutely have to. This can easily be done for practice by for example making a list of all the components that are absolutely necessary to your business, and then removing them one at a time and doing some brainstorming on how to overcome the issue of that missing item. At Stig&Stein Idealab for instance, they regularly train their employees in creative thinking by putting them in just such situations, for example by making the annual Christmas party into a surprise creative event where everyone receive a small sum of cash each and have to participate in organizing a restaurant, music, food and drinks for the entire party on just a few hours notice, or there won't be one. Another time they gave their employees 24 hours to prepare a stand to present a fictional company at a tourism industry-conference. The employees ended up presenting "Baby Xtreme", an adventure company organizing gun-training, sky-diving and other extreme activities for babies. Despite the stand having been put together at a moments notice, even the press took the bait and ran a series of articles on how horrible and unsafe this would be for the babies, including tv-news interviews with children's psychologists and doctors that condemned such exploitation of children. All of this just goes to show what can be achieved with motivated people by unlocking their creative potential, and such feats can be accomplished by anyone!

Finally to wrap this entry up, lets see some creativity in action:

Enjoy :-)


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