Last night, I had 6 hour drive that got me home pretty late. The only positive thing that came out of it, was that I had the opportunity to listen to a great concert by Chip Taylor on NPR. If you don’t know who Chip Taylor is (I didn’t), he’s the guy who wrote “Wild Thing”. Come to find out he’s a prolific songwriter and he was playing a great concert. With each song came a fun back story. Chip’s a wonderful storyteller.
One of his stories was about how he was fed up with all the crappy ballads that were out there, and decided to write a soulful ballad that very day. What came out was “Angel of the Morning” which became a big hit performed by Juice Newton. Well, during that story, he kind of went through the his creative process and how he noodles around with different things until something finally clicks and starts sounding right.
Chip’s story reminded me of a couple of things. First, it made me think of photographers who take lots of pictures. Yeah 99% of them might be crap, but every once in a while you get a gem. Second, I thought of Thomas Edison and the number of failed inventions he’s had over a lifetime. It made me realize that artists and inventors have a lot in common, and the successful ones, create a lot…knowing that not every thing will be a hit or a grand commercial success.
Left Brain vs Right Brain
I’m very much a left brain kind of person and I’m always in awe of right brain people. I’m even more impressed by people who seem to have a good balance of left vs right brain talents. I have quite a few friends who fit into this category. This is perhaps one of the reasons I write this blog..to give my right brain some exercise.
When I first started my career, I had the pleasure of working with a very creative and talented engineer. Let’s call him the nutty professor. This guy was always brewing up the craziest, most creative solutions to very complex problems. I really was in awe of how his brain operated. I used to joke that he’s not capable of “in the box” thinking because all of his ideas are completely out of the box. In fact, I’d bet he’d say “box? what box?”
One day, I said to him “Wow, I wish I were as creative as you.” He then proceeded to tell me that I absolutely could be creative. He told me that creativity is a skill that can be learned just like anything else. He said that all you have to do is practice coming up with ideas and the more you practice, the better the ideas will become. The other item was experience. The more things you are exposed to, the greater your knowledge pool is to siphon from.
You see, in this particular job, we were the experts in very specialized manufacturing technologies. Usually when none of the other tech service people could figure out a problem, we were called in to help solve it. Well, my default position as a young engineer was to be as efficient as possible and talk to people more experienced than me to get the answers. My manager at the time brilliantly told me that I was not going about learning the right way. At first, I was like, “what, you don’t like me to be fast and efficient?” I was a little offended. He said, “at some point, there will not be a person who has the answer to the problem you’re trying to solve. You will need to figure out how to solve it on your own.” It was really great that he gave me time to figure stuff out on my own.
To make a long story short, over the years, I have incorporated “being creative” into as many aspects of my life as possible. My default saying when trying to solve any problem is “Be patient with me. I’ll come up with 1o bad ideas before I have a really good one.” For a while there, I became known for my problem solving skills and became like “the cleaner” from pulp fiction. For about 5 years, I was put on a number of assignments that were extremely screwed up that needed to be fixed fast. They weren’t all technical either..some were in supply chain, some were in marketing. I ended up doing the best of both worlds. I relied on experienced people to help AND I came up with some original ideas as well. It was a fun time in my life.
Use the Other side of your Brain
So, what do I want people to leave this article with? Well, I’d challenge everyone to do the following:
-If you’re building a team, try to have people on it that are different from you. The most successful teams I’ve been on have had people on it that operate very differently. Mix logical linear thinkers with creative types. Stick a tactical executioner in with a visionary big picture person.
-Make an effort to seek out some people that are different from you. Some of my most fascinating friends see the world totally differently than I do. Usually their slant on a topic is a thing that would not even enter my mind. It is great hearing their perspective as it really broadens my world view.
-Practice using the other side of your brain – If you’re the logical type, find something that’ll stretch your creative side. If you’re the creative visionary type, do something that forces you to be methodical. I know no matter what, I’ll always be a left brain kind of gal, but I feel like it’s served me well to tune my creative side.
-Respect People’s Diversity – Sometimes it’s really easy to see the downsides of a person different from you. “Oh they’re so unorganized”, or “oh, they’re so inflexible” It’s people’s differences that can either make a team stronger or tear them apart. Work with people’s strengths. For example, don’t put the visionary guy to be the one to keep a project on task.
Are you a left brain or right brain kind of person? Have you had similar experiences?