Five Habits of Creative People

Do you envy those seemingly ultra brilliant innovators that pull metaphorical rabbits from their hat? Do you wish someone would invite you to present your latest brain fart at a TED* gathering? Yeah . . . me too. A recent interview from the Harvard Business Review editor’s blog suggested the key to creativity and innovation are subject to five mental habits, discovery skills, common to many successful, innovative business people. Luminaries like Steve Jobs (Apple Computer), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), or Billy Gates (Microsoft).

Work by Jeff Dyer (Brigham Young University) and Hal Gregersen of Insead, the European equivalent of a Wharton MBA, surveyed more than 3,000 business leaders and discovered thinkers shared five mental traits that promoted creativity and innovation:

– Associating – a (cognitive) talent that allows connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.
– Questioning — questions that challenge the status quo by asking “what if”, “why”, and “why not”.
– Observing —to observe details of other people’s behavior.
– Experimenting – the creative and innovative are compelled to try new experiences.
– Networking — creative and innovating people are good at networking with smart people from whom they can learn . . . like TED.

These can further be summed up in a word, “inquisitiveness,” which brought the Jobs’, Bezos’, and Gate’s to their own “eureka” moment. That said, the trait of questioning seems, though not without connection to the other four, to be the key habit that brings about eureka moments.

So what happens to us during our maturation process that throttles inquisitiveness and all but guarantees our question asking days end before they hardly begin? Four year-olds constantly ask questions and want to know how things work. By the time they are 6 ½ they have stopped asking questions all together. Some of it surely has to do with peer pressure, wanting to be liked by our playmates, but not all. Pre-pubescent geniuses quickly learn teachers want right answers, not provocative questions. By the time they reach high school, inquisitiveness is all but dead, their innate curiosity drained from them. Those that are left join the astronomy and chess club.

Most innovative entrepreneurs were lucky to have been raised by people that encouraged inquisitiveness and cared about experimentation and exploration. These mentors were not always parents. Sometimes they were relatives, but sometimes they were neighbors, teachers or other influential adults.

Think about the famous Apple marketing campaign which made the point, innovators not only learned early to think different, they act different, and even talk different. Not to belabor the point, but can these five habits be regenerated in an adult? I don’t know, but I do think it’s worth the effort to try. I also think it’s a shame to mash a child’s creativity and innate inquisitiveness under a boot of repressive mediocrity.

So what has all this got to do with marketing you ask? Here’s what I suggest: Marketing, if it’s anything is a creative process carried out by inquisitive people for the betterment of humanity . . . or not, depending on the product or idea to be marketed. Take each of these habits and so concentrate on making them your own, that you make the transformation, at least to the extent you are capable, back into a child-like world where mental boundaries don’t exist. Make better products and better decisions. Re-evaluate your belief systems, or simply throw them away and get a whole new set. Save, don’t spend, but expect and demand value from your purchases. Start small . . .

*TED – is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design.