Adam Steele was preparing for what could possibly be his last blue highways journey. His age and health made these journeys just too much to bear, even though they had become one of the joys of his life. In contrast to past years, he had a specific purpose in mind for this journey. The near disaster of a new product launch in the recent past had him concerned about his business’ capacity for innovation. He was looking for lessons on how to stimulate the creativity of his employees.
As he thought about the part of the country to visit, the name Baxter Black came to mind. He had trained as a veterinarian but was better known as a poet and novelist. His commentaries on National Public Radio were something that Adam greatly admired. Adam decided to travel blue highways in the western cattle country hoping to discover the secrets of as many Baxter Blacks as he could talk to.
As he began his journey, he found it difficult to identify those who were the creative types. The secret was to locate the local restaurant where people tended to gather. It didn’t take long for him to find the people he wanted to talk to.
The first person he talked to was an artist, Jake Givens, who worked with found objects. “Basically I recycle junk into things that others think are artistic. I don’t think of them as art, but what do I know?”
When Adam asked how the ideas came to him, Jake responded: “I get asked that a lot and I don’t know how to answer. I look at my junk pile a lot and finally an idea just appears.” While Adam valued Jake’s honesty, he wasn’t sure how helpful the interview was.
Over the next several weeks, Adam had an opportunity to talk with other creators. Their work was truly amazing and Adam began to reflect on the experiences. He was able to identify some common personal traits:
- All of them had fulltime jobs and their creative work was a sideline.
- All of them would rate high on anyone’s awareness score. They saw things that others rarely did. They made connections which others would miss.
- All of them sensed the moment when inspiration takes over their bodies.
- None of them were the undisciplined people we often envision as traits of creative types.
- All of them had their own sense of when they had done something good.
What Adam didn’t find was an answer about how the idea came to them. What was the spark that led to the inspiration? It wasn’t until he was listening to tapes of the interviews on the way home that he got some sense of the catalyst for the creative inspiration. Every person he talked to used the word patience often in their interview responses. “If I’m patient, and idea will come to me,” was a typical response.
What Adam began to realize was that the creative idea didn’t suddenly appear. Rather they resulted from an unconscious development process. The germ of the idea was in their unconscious thoughts as they went through their day, kind of like when a song you’ve heard remains in your mind. Eventually that germ will take shape and begin to appear more fully in your conscious mind. That’s when they began what Adam had originally thought was the creative work. Actually the real creative work began a lot earlier.
One other thing that Adam discovered from the tapes was that the final creative product may not resemble what was really envisioned. Often the final product is shaped as the creative work is being developed.
As Adam reflected on his company’s own experience with innovation and the creativity that spurs innovation, he returned to the word patience. We try to innovate as if it were a process with a development schedule and budget. We need to allow time for unconscious awareness to open up innovative ideas. We have to be patient.
Schedules, budgets, goals and other business practices are often the virtues that kill the creative process. We need to provide time for ideas to germinate, and that rarely occurs in a team meeting.
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“Genius is eternal patience.”