Eureka! Surely you have experienced that moment. After hours, maybe days, of seeking an answer to a problem, you had to set it aside. You had other things to do. And then, while driving, shopping, or pouring a cup of coffee, the answer appeared out of the clear blue sky.
The clear blue sky? Not really, says David Burkus. “It came from inside your brain and had been germinating (actually incubating) in your subconscious.” Burkus — an author, educator, and founder/editor of LDRLB, an online publication named for a contraction of “leader lab” and focusing on leadership, innovation, and strategy — has been studying creativity for several years.
The Eureka experience is just one of the myths that Burkus will explore in a talk based on his book, “The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas” on Wednesday, October 16, at 6 p.m. at the D&R Greenway, Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place, Princeton. Tickets can be ordered at eventbrite.com/event/8042540455 for $20 or purchased at the door for $25. Refreshments are included. For questions, E-mail the event sponsor, CAMA, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Burkus’ desire is to “transfer good ideas to leaders and to the public and help spread them to as many people who will listen.”
For a creative idea to be adopted in the business world, it has to be new and useful. And that presents a problem. People find it difficult to reconcile the new and the useful.
Burkus cites several examples: Steve Jobs developed the Apple GUI (graphical user interface) from a design developed by a team from Xerox after it had been rejected by management. The initial design for digital photography was made by a team from Kodak; management rejected it, and the company later went bankrupt. Walt Disney’s application for a bank loan to build DisneyLand was rejected 302 times before being accepted.
Burkus’ publications and presentations provide suggestions on how to present creative ideas and how to respond to them.
If you are the one with the idea, he says, be advised that the world won’t beat a path to your door. It will probably beat your idea down or ignore you. But he urges you to take heart and persist. Most great ideas eventually get adopted. When pitching the idea, he suggests that it will be perceived as more practicable if you connect it to more familiar ideas, such as previous successful projects or similar works.
If you are the person being asked to consider a new idea, Burkus says your challenges are just as great. In a TEDx talk at the University of Oklahoma this past January, he invited the audience to consider several questions: How am I viewing this idea? Am I clinging to a status quo that is not helping our problems anymore? Is this bias coming through? Am I valuing the old at the expense of the new?
Understanding the different myths can help individuals and managers be more creative and can lead to innovations that break through barriers, create new products, and generate profits. His book describes 10 myths and the arguments against them.
1. The Eureka Myth: Creative ideas appear as a flash of insight. But in truth the insights are the result of hard work. The answers are there but need time to incubate in the subconscious.
2. The Breed Myth: Creativity is a limited resource available only to a rare breed or individual. To the contrary, studies show that anyone can be creative.
3. The Originality Myth: Ideas are totally original to their creators. But in fact most new ideas are combinations of older ideas, and sharing them helps generate more innovation.
4. The Expert Myth: Harder problems call for more knowledgeable experts. But experts don’t have all the answers. Tough problems often require an outsider’s perspective. Companies can tap into these outsiders to find more innovative solutions.
5. The Incentive Myth: Money or other rewards increase motivation and hence creative ability. To some extent, yes. Incentives can help, but often do more harm than good.
6. The Lone Creator Myth: A breakthrough invention or striking accomplishment is the result of one person’s efforts. Burkus argues that we tend to rewrite history in a way that credits one person, ignoring the people who influenced him and worked with him as collaborators.
7. The Brainstorming Myth: Brainstorming alone will yield creative breakthroughs. Not so. Just throwing ideas around is not enough to produce breakthroughs on a consistent basis. Brainstorming can generate new ideas but it takes work to implement them successfully.
8. The Cohesive Myth: Everyone needs to get along and work happily together. Not always. Many of the most creative companies have found ways to structure dissent and conflict into their process to insure that they produce the best work possible.
9. The Constraints Myth: Companies that produce the most innovative results are those that give people unlimited resources. However, many companies intentionally apply limits to leverage the creative potential of their people.
10. The Mousetrap Myth: Once you have a creative idea, the work is done. If you build a better mousetrap, the world will recognize the merit of that idea and help bring it to life. If only the myth were true. The world won’t beat a path to your door. It is more likely that you will be ignored or discredited. It is not enough to know how to generate creative ideas, you need to understand how to overcome the obstacles you will face.
Burkus traces his interest in the business world, education, and research back to his childhood in Philadelphia. His mother was a teacher and his father worked for Digital Equipment and later developed his own health care company. Burkus moved to Oklahoma to attend Oral Roberts University where he now works as an assistant professor. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate from Regent University. He lives in Tulsa with his wife and son.
His book is not designed to transform you into a creative person. Rather, it will dismantle the myths learned in school and the business world that have blocked the creativity you already have. “We are all creative,” Burkus says.