Insights for Leaders

The Secret of Creativity

“Creativity is just connecting things.” — Steve Jobs

King Solomon, recognized as the wisest and wealthiest man of the ancient world, observed: There is nothing new under the sun.” Although we think of inventors as dreaming up breakthroughs out of thin air, even the most far-fetched concepts are usually new combinations of what already exists. For example, Apple did not invent the MP3 or tablet computers — the company just made them better, adding design features that were new to the product category.

The history of innovation bears out this theory.  The Wright Brothers transferred their background as bicycle manufacturers to the invention of the airplane; their first plane was, in many respects, a bicycle with wings.  Johannes Gutenberg transformed his knowledge of wine presses into a printing machine capable of mass-producing words. Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with their famous search algorithm by applying the ranking method used for academic articles to the the Internet.

The Bottom Line: Leaders understand the secret of creativity — innovate by connecting ideas that already exist.

Start Dreaming

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” — Walt Disney

George Lucas, CEO of Lucasfilm and creator of ”Star Wars” and ”Indiana Jones” series observed: “Dreams are extremely important.  You can’t do it unless you can imagine it.”  American swimmer Michael Phelps, who holds the record for the most gold medals won in a single Olympics believes, “You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.

Author Napoleon Hill wrote: “Cherish your visions and your dreams, as they are the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.”  Bubba Watson, recent champion of the 2012 Masters commented on his victory, saying: “I never got this far in my dreams.”  Bubba showed us the key is to start dreaming – you can achieve beyond your dreams.

The Bottom Line: Leaders dream, take action to reach their dreams, and know they can achieve beyond their dreams. 


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by.  And that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton was a trailblazer observing, “I have always been driven to buck the system, to innovate, to take things beyond where they’ve been.”

According to Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz, “Whatever you do, don’t play it safe.   Don’t do things the way they’ve always been done.  Don’t try to fit the system.  If you do what’s expected of you, you’ll never accomplish more than others expect.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders are wary of the well-beaten path, preferring to step out courageously and blaze new trails.

Creativity and Leadership

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” — Albert Einstein

IBM’s “2010 Global CEO Study” finds 60% of the 1,500+ CEOs interviewed believe creativity will be the most important leadership quality for the next five years (integrity mentioned second by 52%).  IBM observes, “Facing a world becoming dramatically more complex, it is interesting that CEOs selected creativity as the most important leadership attribute.  Creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks.

The Bottom Line: Leaders highly value creativity — they consistently pursue innovative ideas and approaches to navigate today’s increasing complexities.

Constructive Conflict

“The whole business starts with ideas, and we’re convinced ideas come out of an environment of supportive conflict, which is synonymous with appropriate friction.” — Michael Eisner, former CEO, Walt Disney Co.

Research suggests 30-40% of a manager’s daily activities are devoted to dealing with some form of conflict; and, in more than half of instances in which conflict appears, it is glossed over and avoided. According to Richard Pascale of Oxford University, “Only one time in five (20%) is conflict surfaced, debated and authentically resolved.”

Conflict itself is neither inherently good nor bad; the outcome is determined by how you manage it — if managed appropriately, conflict can have a positive and even transforming effect.

The Bottom Line: Leaders engage in constructive conflict, knowing it can be the doorway to creativity and consensus.

Think and Rethink

“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” — Jerry Seinfeld

Henry Ford believed, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” Martin Luther King agreed saying, “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

This resistance to thinking is a major reason why many organizations go out of effectiveness. Bill Gates understands this writing, “The complacent company is a dead company. Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders do the hard work of thinking, realizing the constant need to rethink and reinvent to survive and stay out front.

The Conflict Engine

“Conflict lies at the core of innovation.” — Emanuel R. Piore

Harvard leadership guru Ronald Heifetz writes, “Successful leaders manage conflict; they don’t shy away from it or suppress it but see it as an engine of creativity and innovation. Some of the most creative ideas come out of people in conflict remaining in conversation with one another rather than flying into their own corners or staking out entrenched positions.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders do not avoid conflict — they embrace it as a potential catalyst for new ideas and innovation.

Unleashing Creativity

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” — Stephen Jobs

According to the innovative founder of Sony, Akio Morita, “The key factor in industry is creativity.”

To access greater creativity, consider the counsel of the most renowned artists. Michelangelo, on the creation of ‘David’ said, “The idea is locked up inside. All you have to do is remove the excess stone.” Vincent Van Gogh observed, “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” Pablo Picasso declared, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders unleash creativity by searching out new ideas, facing fears and attempting the impossible.

Innovate or Decline

“An established company which, in an age demanding innovation, is not able to innovate, is doomed to decline and extinction.” — Peter Drucker

Creative genius Walt Disney agreed with Mr. Drucker saying, “I’ve always maintained that you just can’t coast.  If you do, you go backwards.  It’s just a slow way of liquidating.”

The human tendency is to coast and get comfortable – a position from which we feel more safe and in control.  Even the most brilliant can resist innovation.  In 1981, Bill Gates declared, “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”  If Mr. Gates had held to this conviction, Microsoft would be long gone. 

The Bottom LineLeaders understand they must be engaged in a never ending process of constant innovation and improvement.

The Marketing Edge

“In real estate it’s ‘location, location, location’.  In marketing it’s ‘differentiate, differentiate, differentiate’.” — Roberto Goizeuta

The key to marketing is differentiation.  Your customer must perceive your product/service as different, better and more special

Effective differentiation is achieved by understanding your customer.  Astute customer insights establish the foundation of an excellent marketing strategy and are best discovered “in the trenches” where your customer works and lives.  Positioning expert Al Ries explains, “Strategy should evolve out of the mud of the marketplace, not in the antiseptic environment of an ivory tower.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders understand the world of their customer and use that knowledge to strategically differentiate their product/service.