Creative Troublemaking With Josh Linkner
It is tempting to look at innovation as the province of big minds, big corporations and their ilk, but each of us has the capacity to tap into our creative powers and do little breakthroughs every day. There is no better time than now to look inside, to see what we can bring forth to evolve our world into a better place. Joining Katherine Twells on the show to awaken this tremendous creative capacity within us is the creative troublemaker himself, Josh Linkner. Josh is a keynote speaker and bestselling author of a number of books on creativity and innovation. Right now, he is working on his latest creation: Big Little Breakthroughs – an opus that democratizes the concept of innovation and empowers ordinary people like you and I to achieve dramatic results through simple, creative tweaks. Listen in and learn how our little light bulb moments can actually save the world and how we can build that creative muscle inside of us to become more intentional in coming up with those moments.
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Creative Troublemaking With Josh Linkner
How Tapping Into Your Creative Powers Could Save The World
I am joined by the incredible Josh Linkner. He is a creative troublemaker, and that is a perfect label. As you’ll read our conversation, he passionately believes that every single one of us have incredible creative capacity, and he’s on a mission to unlock inventive thinking and creative problem solving to help both leaders and individual soar. Josh has been the Founder and CEO of five different tech companies which sold for a combined value of over $200 million. He is the author of four books including the New York Times bestsellers, Disciplined Dreaming and The Road to Reinvention. He’s about to release his latest book called Big Little Breakthroughs. He is invested in or mentored over 100 startups and is the Founding Partner of Detroit Venture Partners. Josh serves as Chairman and Cofounder of Platypus Labs, an innovation research training and consulting firm.
He has twice been named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and as the recipient of the United States Presidential Champion of Change Award. If that’s not enough, he’s a passionate leader in the community of Detroit. He is a father of four and a professional-level jazz guitarist where he’s learned the power of improvisation through music. He’s a longtime friend and contributor to the Summit community. We’re going to talk about the creativity in all of us and how there is no better time than now to look inside, to see what we can bring forth to evolve our world into a better place. Without any further ado, let’s get to the conversation with the innovative Josh Linkner.
Josh, welcome. I am pleased to have you. Thank you for taking the time.
It is truly a pleasure to be with you.
We go back many years. I’m trying to remember how many years ago it was that we met, but it was quite a while ago. One of the things that have always impressed me about you is you are probably one of the most generous people I know. I remember in the early days of The Summit, you’re always offering guidance, help and perspective. More than being a speaker, you wanted to engage in the creative process. I wanted to publicly thank you for being that level of generosity to me over time.
That’s kind of you to say and it’s truly my pleasure. I am such a huge fan of yours and your work. About generosity, I had this belief. Many people think that ideas and everything are scarce and fixed. I live my life giving generously because I like to and I don’t keep score. I’m not like, “If I give this person some favor, I’ll redeem it later on.” I feel if you are an open heart and open mind and share what you have, the counterintuitive thing is I believe the world rewards you, even more, when you do so versus trying to be withholding and greedy. I love generosity. It makes me happy.If you are breathing, you are creative. We are hardwired to be so. Click To Tweet
It resonates deeply because it’s the mindset of abundance. It’s not scarcity. The more that we give and we share, the more everybody, the collective, rises that come back to us. I couldn’t agree more and you lived that philosophy. Thank you for that. As we dig into the conversation, at the beginning I always provide the bio so people will have a little bit about who you are from a bio standpoint but it’s always interesting to get into the context underneath your bio and a bit about what made you who you are. If you would ground everyone on your origin story, what made Josh who Josh is now?
I was born in the City of Detroit, not the suburbs, in the city. I’m passionate about our hometown here. I’ve had the chance to leave many times, I always wanted to stay and try to be part of the solution, but I didn’t grow up in a family of great privilege. We weren’t impoverished either but at an early age, I realized that I was a misfit. It wasn’t a boastful thing at all. If I was in a room with twenty kids, I felt there were 19 of them and 1 of me. It wasn’t because I felt better, probably I felt worse, but I always felt different. As I started to develop as a young kid, all I could do well was creativity. I wasn’t the best athlete and there are many things that I lack, but I always loved creating stuff. I got into playing music early. I had been playing music for many years. I became passionate about jazz music. I was into theater. I was the kid that the jocks would pick on probably, but I was an artsy kid. As things progressed, I tried to hone those creative skills and to a degree, I have been doing that ever since.
I know that one year at the Summit, you played jazz for us, and we talked about the idea that the improvisational nature of jazz connects to how we can learn to improvise in our life, which has been amazing. I wonder, Josh, if there were twenty kids in the room and you felt you were the misfit, don’t you wonder how many kids in their internal dialogue feel they are? We also want to belong to the group, but yet we are originals. Sometimes we feel we’re the only ones that feel like the outcast, but I think a lot of people do. Would you agree with that?
It’s such a great observation. I feel that there are way more people that feel a misfit than a fit in especially when you have social media and doctored images and all this stuff. It’s okay to be a little weird. It’s okay to be a troublemaker. That’s the beauty of life, what makes us different and original, not what makes us the same. It’s not only gender diversity and other types of diversity, it’s also the diversity of thought and feeling. That’s the beauty of relationships in the world and people. I always have a distaste when people try to sand off the rough edges as opposed to highlight and celebrate them.
Awakening The Inner Creative
I know we both have twins and my twins started high school. It’s interesting. I know in another conversation you highlighted, I think it was a Harvard study about asking kindergarteners if they’re creative, and it was 98% of them and then by the time they started high school, it’s 2%. I talked to my sons all the time about, “Don’t feel you have to fit this mold and yes, you’re learning things.” You see how we get this programming from the way society wants us to be culture and teachers and it’s vital for us to maintain that unique internal spark that we all have, but sometimes it’s tough to do that with the pressure.
I’ve heard the saying that we enter kindergarten with a full set of colorful crayons and we graduate high school with a single blue ballpoint pen. It’s a shame especially in a world of rapid change, technology advancement, increased competition and speed that we can no longer rely on what worked in the past and expect the same results. Through technology and automation, what’s the one thing that can’t be automated or outsourced? It’s human creativity. The irony is that this is a gift that every one of us has, and I’ve done almost 30 years of research that all human beings are creative. If you’re breathing, you’re creative. That is our natural state. We are hard-wired to be creative. We can be creative in our own way. I can play jazz guitar well, I can’t draw a stick figure if I tried and you do not want to see me on your dance floor.
I think you’re underestimating yourself.
Each of us can express creativity in our own ways, but all of us can truly use this gift. When we harness and deploy it, it becomes this powerful asset at our disposal. You’re talking about my favorite subject, I feel I’m on a bit of a mission, I want to reflect on how do I want to be remembered? Finally, I have been able to boil it down that I want to help everyday people become every day innovators. The notion is that it’s something that all of us can embrace. We don’t have to be wearing a lab coat or a hoodie and it’s something that we can do every day. It can be part of our daily occurrence. You don’t have to do it once a decade. I’m passionate about it. People have all this dormant creative capacity, shows like yours can help unlock it. What a gift.
I love that intention and if you are living that, you always have. You may have put words to it, but that is what you do. I went to Florida State and I studied advertising. This was back in the ‘80s and I remember one of the books they had us get was A Kick in the Seat of the Pants. Part of the premise was we’re all creative and you do. You get into these conversations with people, maybe their skills are more analytical and they’re like, “I’m not a creative person.” In our company, we’ve got our marketers, salespeople and finance people. The finance team might say, “I’m not creative. It’s the marketers that are creative.” People underestimate their creativity. How do you tap into that or bring that forth?
Job title or training has nothing to do with one’s level of creativity. If you’re looking at a company and they’re like, “Where do the creatives sit?” “They’re up on the third floor.” The creative is in every chair and every role. If you have a 10,000-person company, there shouldn’t be three people that are creative. There should be all 10,000 being creative in their own ways. The cool part is that because it’s our natural state, we may have to dust off the cobwebs. We may have to break through some barriers. We may have to develop some skills but it comes easy for most people, even the grumpy, arms folded curmudgeons, it comes easy. In my forthcoming book, Big Little Breakthroughs, I talk a lot about how do you build habits? How do you do daily rituals? Like an athlete goes to the gym to build their muscle mass. How do we build our creative muscles? It turns out to be easy and within not that much time. You don’t need seventeen years of academic study. People could start injecting creativity quickly into their lives and their professions.
Josh, you tweeted something and I’m going to quote it out for everyone, “Impossible is a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in a world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact, it’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is nothing.” You’ve talked about yourself being a creative troublemaker. Transformation and creativity is a psychological journey. There’s this whole idea of a growth mindset and believing in the possible. How would you guide people to shift a mindset into opening their mind to these possibilities before us?
The quote that I shared was a quote from Muhammad Ali. I wasn’t as eloquent as say such beautiful words myself, but it’s a quote that I believe in. There are two different ways to live. One way you live as if the world happens to you and you are responding and you might hope for something, but you end up being frustrated a lot and you feel like your capacity is fixed and you’re the subject to the will of others and the world around you. The other way to live is the feeling that you create the world around you and that you have the ability and the responsibility to shape things. It does feel a little risky at times. I feel that’s why we’re here is to positively affect change and to take responsibility for our lives, to own our own outcomes instead of being subject to the whims of others.
Every technology that we celebrate, every great breakthrough, every drug therapy was impossible at some point. Some creative person said, “We could fix this. How about penicillin?” or, “We could fix this. How about wireless communications or the automobile?” Eventually, in retrospect, we look at innovations as self-evident but earlier on, the people who thought of them were thought to be rather crazy and back to the impossible quote, if we take it upon ourselves to let our minds imagine the possibilities instead of what already is and then have the courage to at least take steps toward making that reality. What more noble pursuit in life could there be?We are all capable of innovation. There's nothing wrong with a billion dollar idea, but there's also nothing wrong with a small one. Click To Tweet
After The Fire
I can’t think of one more noble than that. It’s a good segue into talking about the year 2020 that we’re living in. We’re having this conversation a few months into the COVID pandemic. We’ve all gone through a lot of change. We’ve had to come to terms with, for some people, businesses not being able to continue or we are having to pivot to a different focus. We’ve had to come to terms with ourselves and our relationships and not being able to move as fast as we’re used to moving. It’s been a strange year. Without minimizing for a moment the challenge and the suffering, this is a situation where something on the outside appears to have happened to us but yet we can choose what we do with that. You’re a speaker and you travel everywhere, so this has been a huge change for you. How have you found the silver linings in 2020 and cultivated this to be something new?
I don’t, in any way, want to minimize the suffering that people have endured. I wish everybody health and safety. To anyone reading, look out for yourself and your fellow humans around you. This is a trying time for us all and no way I want to minimize that. At the same time, things in life that appeared to be tragic can create opportunities. It reminds me of forest fires. When there’s a forest fire, it’s a violent thing. Plants and trees are burned down, but they’re part of nature because it clears the way for rebirth and something new. Time and time again whether it’s individuals or companies have endured what felt in the moment like a real tragedy and in no way do I want to minimize that, but it also opens up an opportunity.
It opens up a blank piece of paper for us to reimagine, reinvent and explore. The real shame would be if we look back a year from now and say, “We squandered this opportunity.” In my case, I’m usually on the road over 100 days a year. I’ve had a wonderful connection with my four-year-old twins. That’s been a wonderful blessing. I’ve spent 1,000 hours working on my latest book, so that’s been a real blessing. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that in a non-pandemic environment. There’s been a lot of time to reflect. The situation is what it is, none of us chose it, but what we do choose is how we respond to it and how do we either embrace and try to extract value for us and others? Do we throw up our arms and be angry about it? Hopefully, most people choose the former.
It is a choice. Even though sometimes you have to go through stages of accepting, adapting and starting to shift the way you look at it, “What do I do with this? How do I build from here?” What if you’re a leader? You’re in the business domain and you’re leading a team and you have to show up in this environment. How would you guide leaders to model the right behavior, to help inspire people to be resilient through times like this?
There are a few things. One is we’ve got the risk to over-correct. In times of trouble, people tend to swing the pendulum far the other direction and then they have to clean it up later. The steady hand approach is saying, “I believe that science will ultimately prevail and there will be a post-COVID time.” Let’s not be so reactive that we create problems once the sky’s clear. Another thing I would suggest is to go away from the all or nothing approach. COVID strikes and we’re all scrambling because the world’s different, not just health-wise, businesses and relationships.
There are real things we have to deal with like, “How do I make payroll for some people are? How do I physically connect with technology to my customers?” We have to do those things. We can’t ignore them at all, but it doesn’t have to be all of one thing or all of something else. My suggestion would be, and the same way, if you invest even a little bit in the stock market, you probably have a portfolio of different types of investments. Maybe 75% is safe and 25% is a little less safe. In the same way as a leader, what I would suggest we do is compartmentalize. Think about that pie chart and say, “I’m going to pick a number, 70% of the time dealing with now.” Those are important things.
I’ve got to make sure my customers are taken care of. I’ve got to make sure that trucks are running on time. I’ve got to do real-world stuff, but maybe I can carve out that 30% or maybe it’s only 10%, whatever it is right for the readers. Carve it out and compartmentalize it and use that instead of being heads down, it’s the time to be heads up and think about, how can I learn from this? How can we reemerge stronger? What does our future look like? I’m not suggesting to ignore the present, but I’m saying compartmentalize some of the effort and energy and resources to dealing with now but still carve out a little bit of that time to focus on what tomorrow might bring, to focus on the possibility.
I love that guidance, Josh, and some of the terminologies we’ve used internally at Coke is now, new, next as we’ve thought about initiatives. It’s like, “What’s right before us? How do we make sure we’re showing up in the best possible way in the now? What’s emerging? What’s new? What’s going to be next?” Being able to divide that thinking into, “How do I dress the now? How do I be thinking about what’s coming?” It can be challenging because being present is important. To have the discipline when you are choosing to be in the moment to be in that moment but still carve out that time to do blue-sky thinking and create about what might emerge. It’s beautiful guidance.
I would also add one other thing. In tough situations, it’s easy to focus on all the things that you can’t do, “I can’t do this. I can’t do that.” No one’s going to be racking up the airline miles this 2020. Presumably, most of us won’t make diamond on Delta Airlines this 2020. We can bemoan all the things that we can’t do or we could say, “There are certain things that I can’t do now but what can I do?” Talking about developing one’s creative abilities, it’s a wonderful time to do that. Think about all that last 2019, many of us, me included were like, “If I only had the time. If things would only slow down for five minutes. There are all these things I wish I could do.” There are a lot of things that we can’t do, but what about the things that we can? What opportunities does this temporary normal open up for us to seize and pursue?
It’s been such a time of personal development. I know I’ve read more books and I’ve taken in a lot more content, but it’s a wonderful time to fortify your knowledge and to think through that. I even created this book list of some of these amazing books that I’ve read. Are there any that you’ve read this year that you’re like, “This has been an amazing one?”
I’ve got a whole list. I’m like you, a bit of a voracious reader. I’m a nerd. I’m going to pull up my latest reading lesson and share some of my favorites. I’ve read Maria Konnikova. She wrote a book called, The Biggest Bluff, where she taught herself to become a poker player. She never played before and then she became a world champion, but it wasn’t much about how to play poker. It was more about decision-making and how do you navigate risks and luck. Her writing is fantastic. She’s incredible. That was a good one. I read a book called The Innovation Stack by Jim McKelvey. He is one of the founders of Square along with the founder of Twitter, which was great.
Talking to Strangers from Malcolm Gladwell was terrific. I’m a huge Gladwell fan, he delivered. The wonderful book called Upstream by Dan Heath, Dan and Chip Heath are great authors. He talked about how you navigate challenges ahead of time instead of you don’t have to respond to them. Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall, which was wonderful on storytelling and presenting, which was terrific. You Are Awesome by my buddy, Neil Pasricha, a wonderful author from Toronto. Those are some. Anytime you want to trade books, I’m game.
Big Little Breakthroughs
I love the title, You Are Awesome. Everyone needs to read a book that says, “You are awesome.” Speaking of books, let’s talk about your book and you’ve written a ton of amazing books on re-invention and creativity, Disciplined Dreaming, and all these things that we’ve talked about over the years. I know that this latest book is called Big Little Breakthroughs. I love the whole premise, we often think we’ve got to invent this giant thing. It’s like, “We have to be disruptive and create this big thing.” Often, it’s incremental small things that create these ripple effects. Will you talk a little bit about the premise of that book?Fear and creativity cannot coexist. Click To Tweet
I’m excited about this book. I feel it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and I say it with great humility, but I’m proud of the book. Tons and tons of research and effort and wonderful stories with surprising twists and turns. It’s Big Little Breakthroughs: How Small, Every Day Innovations Drive Oversized Results. The idea is taking my passion for human creativity and innovation and flipping it upside down saying that you don’t need to be a super genius. You don’t need to have attended Harvard followed by Yale and Princeton. You don’t need to work at Google to be innovative. Innovation is something that’s for all of us and it’s democratizing creativity. Most people think of innovation like it only counts if it’s a billion-dollar idea.
There’s nothing wrong with a billion-dollar idea, but there’s also nothing wrong with a small idea. What we’ve learned is that if you want the biggest ideas, instead of stepping up for your first time and shooting for some crazy breakthrough, first we have to learn how to be creative. We have to build the habit of it. When people focus on micro innovations or I call them big little breakthroughs, those little, teeny acts that may not make history, but they add up to big things. If you’re creating 15 ideas a day and even if 10 of them stink but 5 of them work, each week you have a massive win. There’s a disproportionately large result from little ideas. The second thing that’s cool is that if you do want the big ones, there’s no better way to get a big one than train for it. If you want to run a marathon, you don’t just go run a marathon, you train for it.
Building daily habits around small creative acts deliver real value in and of themselves plus you’re training for the bigger stuff along the way. Da Vinci’s first painting wasn’t the Mona Lisa. He first had to learn to paint and he had to learn to paint bad stuff and fall in love with painting and paint every day. Over time, his Magnum Opus came to life, but it wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been practicing every day. This is a book that people can get their arms around whether they’re in business or they’re running a family or trying to help their church or their community. It’s about tapping into this superpower that may be lying dormant on most of us. What we’ve learned is that even a small percentage increase in creative output is a high leverage activity. It can uncover huge results. If all of us start to do this on a daily basis, the world gets better.
I love the analogy of even muscles and exercise. From reading your other books, you’re an exquisite storyteller. What I love about your books is you give all these examples. You may talk about the theoretical approach, but then you show how people have done this through incremental innovation. I think about with exercise, you think, “I don’t have an hour to work out.” It’s like, “No, take fifteen minutes and do anything.” What stops us is we have these ideas about what it has to be versus stepping forth.
With Coke, we’re going through a transformation process and we’re trying to innovate for the future, not just the products we offer, but how we work. We’re moving to a far more networked organization and less about hierarchy, less about, “Let’s see what the manager and the leader decides.” There is a lot of personal empowerment when you realize you’re a part of an ecosystem and you can make a difference. What would you say? You’ve touched on this but let’s talk deeper about this. You’re listening to this conversation and you say, “I’m not a leader. I don’t have the power in my organization.” Let’s talk about how much power one person can have through this ripple effect if you are making these incremental innovations.
First of all, it’s important to note that one’s creativity is much more like your weight than your height. I’m 5’5” on a good day and there’s no way I’m going to be in the NBA. I can try hard and that’s not going to happen because my height is fixed. My weight, however, is not. We all know if we eat 30 pizzas, we gain weight and if we eat wheatgrass juice, we lose weight. That’s something that’s within our control. Your level of creativity is like that. It can expand. I don’t want to bore anyone with the neuroscience behind it, but in the same way, there’s something called neuroplasticity where people’s brain physical brain chemistry can expand. It’s not fixed. I’ve coined a new phrase called inner plasticity but it’s the same principle for creativity that our creativity can expand with a bit of practice.
The first thing is recognizing that it’s not 1 out of 1,000 of us can do this. It’s 1,000 of 1,000 of us can do this. We can each do that in our own ways. It’s not an all or nothing thing. Let’s say you became 2% more creative in the way that you interacted with your colleague, Jim, from down the hall or the way you conduct a job interview or the way you send an email. These are not big things that are out of reach. They don’t require 30 PhDs. All of us could innovate like that. The way to do it is these little bite-sized innovations start to build up and then you gain more confidence and it becomes part of your daily life. In the same way, the phrase, “1,000 miles start with a single step.” It’s the same exact thing here. Start with a teeny tiny, minuscule, little step and feel good about it and celebrate it, all of a sudden there’s another one and there’s another one. Soon it becomes part of who you are.
Hurdling The Biggest Obstacle
Josh, we’ve talked already about mindset and how important this is. You have this anatomy of an idea where you break down these things from inputs to sparks and all the way through to slingshot. Let’s talk a bit about fear. Fear is interesting. Fear has been front and center in 2020 as people have learned how to live in a more ungrounded fashion and not being certain about how things are going to go. The slingshot effect is we have an idea. It never makes it out of our brain or off the paper into reality. How would you guide people to overcome that fear and limitation and spill a bit more on the mindset conversation?
If we agree that there are ideas inside of us that can be extracted, we need to say what’s the most effective extraction technique? It is an oil well, there are mechanics that go into the ground and pull oil out of this, you need the surface and the same thing with our ideas. Fear is the single biggest blocker of creative output. It robs us of our best thinking. What we’ve learned is that fear and creativity cannot coexist. If you were as a leader creating an environment that’s fear-based, your creativity is going to go away. Flipping that, as a leader, the best thing we can do is create a safe environment where all ideas are celebrated big and small. When it comes to the technique for extraction, a simple little technique can obliterate fear.
I’ll give you a couple. Here’s a fun one, it’s called role storming. Role storming is simply brainstorming in character. You’re brainstorming as if there’s somebody else. The problem is a normal brainstorm exercise perfectly designed to yield mediocre ideas. In other words, we share our safe ones. We hold our crazy ones back because we don’t want to look foolish. We don’t want the boss to get mad. When you role storm, you no longer are responsible for the ideas you’re putting forward. Let’s say you and I was doing a normal brainstorm. We’re trying to tackle a tough problem, but instead of you being Kathy, you’re playing the role of Steve Jobs. Nobody is going to laugh at Steve for coming up with a big idea. They might laugh at Steve for coming up with a small one.
You AKA Steve are totally liberated. You can say anything you want, with no fear of retribution. The way it works is simple. Everybody in the room chooses any character they want to be. You could be Oprah. You could be a sports hero. You could be a villain. You could be a movie star. You could be a supermodel. You’re pretending you are that person solving an actual real-world problem. What happens is it completely gets rid of fear. Fear goes out for a coffee while your creativity starts to jam.
I did this with a group of executives in Japan. It was this guy I met. He was the stiffest human being I’ve ever met. We got him role storming as Yoda. I’ve never seen a personal transformation like this, his jacket is off, his tie is undone, he’s leaping around the room. The whiteboards were filled with ideas. I didn’t teach him to be creative. He had that inside him all along. What happened was that the role he was historically in forbidding it so when we put him in a new role and he was able to unleash his incredible creative powers.
What I love about that is it does create a frame of safety because even if the leader says there are no bad ideas and they mean it, our natural inclination is to, “I don’t want to put out a bad idea.” That’s normal human insecurity sometimes. To be able to be in that role, does give you that creative permission.We can solve anything we care to solve, one big little breakthrough at a time. Click To Tweet
It gives you permission. Since you mentioned a bad idea, there’s another technique that I’ve been playing with the last few years that it’s effective. It’s called the bad idea brainstorm. In brainstorm, we’re there to come up with presumably good ideas. Here’s the way it works. You do a two-part brainstorm session, first parts at a time, ten minutes. That’s a sprint only to come up with bad ideas. What a terrible way to solve a problem. That’s the worst idea you could think of. That’s a completely unethical, immoral or illegal idea. You come up with terrible ideas.
First of all, everybody in the room is cracking up. The energy goes through the roof, creative juices are flowing. After you do that, part two and you examine all the bad ideas and say, “Is there a little nugget? Is there something in here that we could do a legit flip and turn into a rational, productive, appropriate idea?” What you’re doing is you’re pushing your creative boundaries far beyond normal and afterwards you have to ratchet them back. In this case, you’re not subject to the natural gravitational force that holds down our normal creative thinking. It’s fun, try it, the bad idea brainstorming, you’ll get a kick out of it.
I bet there were a lot of interesting comments that come up in those brainstorms. While we’re on the tangible, usable part, we’re talking about what you can do. We talked about group brainstorming and the bad idea piece. What about an individual thing that you could do to help your creative juices flow? Let’s say you’re by yourself and you want to work on a project. What could someone do to expand their creative muscle individually?
One thing I recommend people do is a bit of a training routine. If you think about an athlete, they have their workout routine or you to the gym. You think about creativity in the same way as a muscle mass that we can build and expand our creative capacity, you might want to consider doing a little daily process. I’ll share mine. This is a five-minute creativity workout that I do every morning, five minutes, that’s it. I know most people are like, “I don’t have the time to be creative.” Most people can find five minutes. Here’s what I do, number one, I do fifteen-second breathing. I breathe in, deep breath for six seconds, hold it for two seconds, release for seven seconds. That’s it, fifteen seconds. Next thing I do, 30 seconds. I call it daily three. I learned this from Neil Pasricha. You ask yourself three questions and every day, the answers have to be different, “What are you going to focus on now? What will you let go of now? What are you grateful for now? What you want to do instead of having generalities like, “I’m grateful for my health,” make them specific for that day like, “I’m drinking a delicious Coca-Cola, sugar-free, Zero Coke.” That’s one thing that I’m grateful for. Three things: What are you grateful for? What are you going to focus on? What are you going to let go of?
Number three, I take 60 seconds and guzzle inputs. I absorb the creative work of others. That can be anything anyone wants. For me, I go on YouTube and listen to a jazz performance. Someone else could start a Banksy painting. Someone else could read poetry. You can stare at nature, but essentially suck in, let yourself absorb the creative work of others. Number four, I do calisthenics, think about it like creative jumping jacks. I give myself 60 seconds. That’s it. A creative challenge like, “If I had to make fifteen new uses for a ballpoint pen, what could they be?” It’s not designed to have an actual output of some desired work product, it’s to get your juices flowing.
If the United States were to win 90% of the medals at the next Olympics, what might they have to do? You asked a big hypothetical question that let you give yourself creative jumping jacks. I have a 30-second highlight reel. The same as you imagine a sports highlight reel. I have a 30-second reel where I think about myself in my absolute best form. Any of us can do that. Think about when you were performing at your best, exhibiting your ultimate creative potential. You were completely in the zone. You were grooving. You’re flowing with creativity. That sears into your mind that you have the capacity to do this. Number six is I do a 30-second battle cry, which is like a manifesto and anyone can write their own. The warriors of the past before taking the battlefield would chant something up. Mine was this short little thing, “Now’s my day, I’m going to show up fully. I’m going to make the right choices instead of the easy ones. I’m going to learn and grow. I’m going to hold myself to the highest standards.” It gets me pumped up for battle. Finally, another breathing, fifteen seconds, six seconds in, two-second hold, seven seconds out. That’s it, five minutes. If anyone wants to try this for 30 days, try it for five minutes only, you will be blown away by how different you feel and act 30 days ago. Five minutes. That’s it.
Thank you for sharing that. That is incredible. I’ve had conversations with people in this show. We’ve talked about meditation practices, exercising practices, gratitude, these rituals, habits that if we put them into place and to your point, five minutes, they’re incremental. We’ve been talking about this with your book. They’re not these huge, giant things but every single day, it starts to add up to real change and it’s powerful to do that. Thank you for sharing that.
If you want to try that, please shoot me an email or text or social media. Let me know how it goes. I’ve asked people to do some of the things over the years and it’s cool because people first respond like, “It felt frivolous at first. I was uncomfortable and was awkward but by day fifteen, I was on fire and by the end of it, I can’t believe that I got so much value out of a simple five-minute exercise.”
Obsessions Of The Best Kind
Thank you. Hopefully, people will reach out to you and give that a shot. In having these conversations, we create content because we want to share best practices and ways for all of us as a collective to be better. It’s my hope that in having these conversations, people take some of this away and do some things that will help them be better and produce more. One or two other questions about the book before we wrap up the conversation. In the book, you talk about eight obsessions of every day innovators. You don’t need to go through all eight, but do you have 1 or 2 that are your favorite that you’d like to highlight these everyday innovators and their obsessions?
It’s hard because it’s like choosing your favorite kid. They’re all cool. They’re all fun. They’re punchy but I’ll share a couple of them. One of them is called to use every drop of toothpaste. The notion here is around being resourceful and sometimes that resource-constrained environments can yield the most creative outlets. It’s around being scrappy and using your ingenuity rather than relying on external resources. The first thing that comes up often when people think about innovation is, “I don’t have enough money or I don’t have enough time, talent, bandwidth or equipment.” Here, it’s the opposite. It’s looking for that internal set of resources. If the number of external resources you had equal your level of creativity, the most creative organization on the planet would be the federal government and the least creative organization would be a startup. It’s the opposite.
This is like MacGyvering things, figuring stuff out with limited resources. Another one is don’t forget the dinner mint. I know a lot of people reading are in hospitality and restaurants, involved in a nice meal, and all of a sudden at the end of the meal, you’re presented with a piece of chocolate, compliments of the chef. If you ordered it off the menu, it’d be one thing but because it was the surprise and delight moment, it’s transcendent. That’s the thing you remember. The principle as it applies to creativity is when you finish a work of any kind, whether it’s an internal memo or a project for a customer, you say to yourself, “What could I do to add a dinner mint to it?”
A dinner mint is a little extra creative flourish, under 5% effort at max. It usually is maybe 1%. Is there a little teeny extra something that you can add that’s unexpected, that elevates the overall result? It could be an extra idea. It doesn’t have to be a physical thing. It could be beating a deadline by a certain percentage, but that little extra value that people weren’t expecting has a disproportionate impact in terms of how things are perceived. Finally, we’re talking a lot about COVID. One of the principles of the obsessions is around resilience. The principle, I named it after a Zen proverb, but it’s called, “Fall seven times, stand eight.” The notion here is dogged persistence. It’s not doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. It’s rather knowing that adversity is part of life and then bouncing back but letting our creativity guide the way. It’s using a new angle, a new approach, trying something slightly different. Learning and changing and tweaking as opposed to blinders on going forward. That often is the way that people could take a tough situation like COVID and judo flip it into something that’s much more productive.Somebody has to be the number one person in the room. It might as well be you. Click To Tweet
There’s no question. What I love about the way you write and you speak too, Josh, the dinner mint, the toothpaste, you created in a way that you can remember and understand the concept. As I think about our conversation, there’s so much about what we’re discussing that is about this internal resilience and ability to take whatever is happening on the outside and bring forth this human spirit, fundamental creativity that we all have inside of us to create something new. You said in your exercise that you can do a highlight reel of the times that you were at your best and showing this creative spirit, but if you look at humanity in general, you see that all through history. When we did the CMO Summit in Silicon Valley, we did a reel about predictions of the future, and how many of those have come to pass. It’s a lesson that we are incredible in what we can do. We need to know that and embrace that, and everyone takes that incremental action. What could happen? Amazing things could happen from this.
Little Tweaks That Save The World
One of the things I challenged folks in the book to do, we upgrade our technology, we might upgrade our wardrobe. Why can’t we upgrade our creativity? If people were open-minded to say, “I’m going to give myself an upgrade.” It doesn’t have to be 100% or 1,000% upgrade. I challenge people to say, “What would a 5% creativity upgrade look like?” That feels within the grasp of each of us. It feels accessible. It’s not crazy but think about this. What if the world had a 5% creativity upgrade? Since results are often binary, you win or you don’t, you solve a problem or you miss it, think about what would happen? What would happen to racial divisiveness with a 5% creative upgrade, the environment, crime in urban areas, education or healthcare? We can solve in one big little breakthrough at a time. The thing that I’m driven by is that I believe this is an asset that we all have. It’s not we have to go acquire some asset. You don’t have to buy it. It’s renewable. It doesn’t hurt the environment. We have it and if we could tap into it and give ourselves collective, we have a 5% creativity upgrade, the world is a different place.
It would be a different place. I would love to build on that with a mindset challenge for the people reading to say, “What would you do to upgrade yourself?” What you would do for you, you’re doing for all of us because as everyone does that upgrade, it creates that ripple effect and that difference in the world. While some might consider it’s a selfish act, it’s selfish altruism. It’s being able to upgrade yourself and in doing that process, give back more into the world, going back to where we started with an abundance mindset. The more you can give, the more you can expand, the more all of that is amplification for all of us in the collective.
People can do that for different reasons. It’s wonderful when people do it for altruistic reasons. I know you, for example, you’re deeply about helping others and being of service. Let’s say everybody isn’t always as altruistic and giving as you. There’s a selfish component to it ironically. It’s like, “Give what the greedy man won’t, and you’ll get what the greedy man wants.” When you help others win, when you give positive stuff out into the world, it does come back to you. I’ve learned over the years that money, for example, is a byproduct, not an objective. When I aimed for some economic thing, I almost never hit, but when aim for making a difference in people’s lives or aim for artistic integrity, then the money follows. It doesn’t lead. It comes as a byproduct. I would argue that what we’re talking about not only is great for others and all of us should have a feel of civic responsibility to make the world better, but it also is good for ourselves personally. The more individual goals that we may have can be achieved not by focusing on your own goals but by being of service to others around you.
If there’s one thing, and there are many things that this COVID moment has taught us, is that we are connected and that we’re not operating in isolation. Even though sometimes we may feel isolated certainly with quarantine but there is a level of connectedness across organizations and across the globe that being aware of that is important. Before I ask you one last question, Josh, what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you or access your material? How would you guide them if they want to know more from you?
I would encourage people to check out BigLittleBreakthroughs.com. There are a bunch of free downloads. There’s a creativity assessment. It’s online, it’s free. You can see where things are for you and points out scenarios that could use a bit of help. I would check out the website if you’re curious about the subject matter. If you like to learn more about me, I’ve been running a blog for several years every week. It’s at JoshLinkner.com and all my social handles are @JoshLinkner.
Thank you, Josh. I’ve been getting your blog ever since we met and look forward to it. It’s fabulous. One last question to close out this episode. Creativity and innovation aside, in your life experience and you’ve had many amazing experiences, what has been some of the most valuable wisdom that you’ve gained that you would want to pass along?
We’ve talked a lot about being of service to others and being generous. That’s one. Walking with humility is important. I’m an avid learner. When we prioritize learning, the results are transformative because it pushes us in new directions and allows us to discover our potential. The other one, ironically, is from my grandmother who’s long passed. She passed in 1986. She would always tell me, “At any situation you’re in, whether you’re in a classroom or a business meeting, somebody has to be the number one person in that room, it might as well be you.” It wasn’t meant to be arrogant like you’re going to be the best of the best.
That was exactly the opposite of that. It was something that there’s no barrier to achievement other than ourselves. There’s always a way to figure it out. Whether it’s hard work and effort or ingenuity, why settle for something that is shy of your full potential? Her message wasn’t some snotty, arrogant thing. It is the opposite of that. It was walking with humility but pushing yourself to achieve as much as you possibly can. When you think about like, “We’re not on this world for that long. Why are we here?” To me, it’s to achieve one’s full potential and to make as big of an impact on others as possible. Her words always stuck with me because they felt like instead of saying, “That’s someone else’s job or I could never do that.” It’s more like, “Why not? I might have different challenges or obstacles than somebody else, but why not forge ahead nonetheless?
That’s wonderful advice, Josh. It makes me think of that whole concept of be the change. There’s been this pattern in everything we’ve talked about of personal empowerment and how your actions make a difference. They can be incremental and small, you can create habits and rituals. If we all do this, it has such a collective impact. I would like to thank you, Josh, for living your words, the generosity, the abundance and creativity. You do all of that. You always have. You’re a model for us in this arena and truly are living a legacy through all the work that you do. I want to thank you for taking the time to share this with everyone, and I appreciate you so much.
It’s my pleasure. Right back at you, you’re this ball of light that’s making the world better. Thanks for doing this. It’s helping people. I’m grateful to participate with you here.
Thank you, Josh.
- Disciplined Dreaming
- The Road to Reinvention
- Big Little Breakthroughs
- Detroit Venture Partners
- Platypus Labs
- A Kick in the Seat of the Pants
- The Biggest Bluff
- The Innovation Stack
- Talking to Strangers
- Stories That Stick
- You Are Awesome
- @JoshLinkner – Twitter
About Josh Linkner
JOSH LINKNER is a Creative Troublemaker. He passionately believes that all human beings have incredible creative capacity, and he’s on a mission to unlock inventive thinking and creative problem solving to help leaders, individuals, and communities soar.
He has been the founder and CEO of five tech companies, which sold for a combined value of over $200 million and is the author of four books including the New York Times Bestsellers, Disciplined Dreaming and The Road to Reinvention. He has invested in and/or mentored over 100 startups and is the Founding Partner of Detroit Venture Partners.
Today, Josh serves as Chairman and co-founder of Platypus Labs, an innovation research, training, and consulting firm. He has twice been named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and is the recipient of the United States Presidential Champion of Change Award.
Josh is also a passionate Detroiter, the father of four, is a professional-level jazz guitarist, and has a slightly odd obsession for greasy pizza.
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