We don't know about you, but life sure would be easier if we were creative geniuses, able to turn on a creative mind whenever we needed answers, inspiration and so on. But you're either born with such creativity or you're not.
Or so it seems to those without an insider's perspective of what "genius" actually is. Marty Neumeier is one of those insiders. Fortunately, in his book The 46 Rules of Genius: An Innovator's Guide to Creativity, he gives you the tools you need to turn on your creative spark. You can readily dip into the book's succinct 46 rules any time you have a moment to spare, so finding that switch is within your grasp.
We interviewed Neumeier recently, hoping a bit of creative genius would rub off on us.
eBay is a great example of a tool that enables creativity. But it's just a tool. You have to add your own creativity to make your business valuable
Creativity is vital
Schepp: Why is this book important?
Neumeier: Technology is changing a lot of things today. One of the things it's changing is our relationship to work. It used to be that if you mastered a skill—say, portrait photography or telephone sales, or driving a cab—you could work that skill for decades, or even a lifetime.
But today, technology is rapidly taking over every skill that can be turned into a program, an algorithm, or a machine, which is great for the technologists who create and profit from these cost-saving innovations. But it's not so good for the people whose skills are being replaced.
What we need now are more flexible skills—higher-level skills that cannot easily be replaced by the next wave of technology. What these higher-level skills have in common is creativity. Creativity is incredibly valuable in a time of change, and machines have trouble being creative on their own.
Schepp: You say we should learn to innovate in a time of increasing human-machine collaboration. Can you explain?
Neumeier: We're not in a race against machines. We're in a race using machines. We're racing together to keep up with the needs of society.
Machines are the tools we need to do creative work. eBay is a great example of a tool that enables creativity. It democratizes buying and selling so that everyone can develop their own businesses, and even live wherever they want. But it's just a tool. You have to add your own creativity to make your business valuable.
'Genius' can be learned
There are very few born geniuses. Most creative people had to learn their skills through practice
Schepp: What keeps people from realizing their creative potential?
Neumeier: In most cases, they lack one of two things: the will or the skill. You have to want to be creative. It sounds obvious, but there are a lot of people who've given up on their creativity, either because they've had it beaten out of them by their education or because they equate creativity with "starving artists."
I can assure you that the people who created eBay are not starving!
We also need the skill. Since most of us weren't trained to be creative, we have to add that ability ourselves. That's the reason for the book. It's the first guidebook for creativity. In the same way that a guide to English grammar will help you write, The 46 Rules of Genius will help you create.
There are very few born geniuses. Most creative people had to learn their skills through practice.
Schepp: How do stress and distraction affect creativity
Neumeier: You can't be creative when you're stressed out. Creativity depends on having some little period of time—even just an hour or two—when you can shut out the world. You need to close the door, turn off the phone, let the emails wait while you play around with a problem.
Play is the operative word.
Even stressful problems can lead to creative solutions if you look at them as opportunities for play. Get out a sketchbook, grab some sticky notes, start writing or drawing, or building as many ideas as you can. The book gives you a lot of ways to approach this activity. The main thing is to keep your mind and hands engaged while you work.
Zag when others zip
It takes a creative mind to see what's missing in the marketplace. If you want to innovate, you can't simply do the same thing everyone else is doing
Schepp: It sounds like realizing your creative potential will take time. Is that true?
Neumeier: There's a notion floating around that to master a skill you need to commit 10,000 hours of practice. That may be true, depending on the skill, but it's not a very helpful way of looking at it. It's like saying, "What's the total cost to become creative?" as if you're choosing a college or picking out a car.
A better way to look at it is this: Every hour you put into creative work is another step toward developing a more innovative mind. Every success, every failure, every confusing moment you grapple with makes you a more imaginative, confident and flexible thinker.
There's no downside. The only failure is not putting in the effort.
Schepp: You mention the ability to "see what's not there," advising readers to find "crevices that harbor opportunity."
Neumeier: Everyone can see what's already there. It takes a creative mind to see what's missing in the marketplace.
If you want to innovate, you can't simply do the same thing everyone else is doing. You need to zag when everyone else zigs. The difficulty here is that we've all been encouraged—by society, by our teachers, by our own fear of failure—to follow the leader. But you can't be a leader by following a leader. You have to strike out in a new direction. You have to develop an eye for what's not there, for what no one else is doing.
Find the problem first
Schepp: You also mention the importance of framing problems tightly. What do you mean?
Sometimes, by defining the problem well, the solution will appear right in front of you
Neumeier: I mean this: If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.
In the beginning of a project, your time is better spent defining the problem then jumping straight into solutions. Sometimes, by defining the problem well, the solution will appear right in front of you.
By framing a problem tightly, you'll generate creative energy. If you leave it wide open, you'll drain creative energy. The greatest gift you can give a genius is limitation, not license.
Schepp: What else should Auctiva EDU readers know about your book?
Neumeier: The 46 Rules of Genius is not for geniuses. It's for everyday people, like me and you who want to be more innovative in their work, in their businesses and in their lives. It's for people who want to be creative in the face of increasing automation, working with technology instead of against it. It's for getting the most out of being human.
Schepp: Thank you, Marty. We feel smarter and more creative already.