The truth about creativity?

David Burkus wrote a great book last year called The Myths of Creativity. This topic is ever fascinating to me. What we assume to be the core traits of creative people — the loner/genius, driven by tidal waves of inspiration, mysteriously working outside the norm — tend to be totally wrong. Being a “creative genius” takes good ideas, yes — but even beyond that it takes guts and hard work.

Lately I’ve been really interested in how creative geniuses (a sorely lacking term, but stay with me) remain on the path. One of my shortcomings (or strengths?) is that I constantly get excited about new and shiny ideas and then slowly my interest fades and I’m on to the next.   How do others do it? It takes discipline and consistency to build something of substance, not to mention a body of work or a legacy.

I recently read an interview with Walter De Maria, an artist I admire. He’s probably most well-known for his “land art” — huge installations in nature, like Lightning Field, a series of tall metal poles set up in a grid out in the desert of New Mexico. When a thunder storm passes through, well, you know what happens.

Walter De Maria is a key figure in 20th century art, but he could have been a key figure in 20th century music. He was an original member of The Velvet Underground. He played with Lou Reed and John Cale in 1966. My question is: how exactly does one quit the Velvet Underground?!? De Maria knew what he was doing:

[The conflict] was really going on because I was playing with this good band, with these great musicians, and records were coming, contracts, great hi fi sound, tape, everything you could do. Music was in a great renaissance, but I went back to the art.

[Music] wasn’t enough. And also the logistics of touring with a band means that your life is part of that band and, like most artists, I just was too much of an individualist.

This recognition, to me, is such a personal moment. That moment where you make the decision that supports your dreams and ambitions and in the process reject a different kind of life. De Maria knew himself and knew his purpose as a fine artist. He had that vision and that conviction so the decision made itself. I think this is a great way to frame the process of decision-making – in service to a purpose. 

Are you making decisions in service to a purpose?

What do you think?

(BTW, I wrote more about Walter De Maria and The Velvet Underground here.)

Anyway, speaking of David Burkus and his book, David organized a FREE virtual conference from June 2-6called The Truth About Creativity and he kindly asked me to be a part of it. It features some great writers/thinkers on creativity like Daniel Pink, Scott Belsky, Todd Henry, Jocelyn Glei, etc. etc. Just go check out the experts involved, kind of an amazing line-up! And by all means, please sign up and spread the word!

P.S. – Did I mention it’s free?

The First 90 Days: Your Road Map For Success at a New Job

Transitioning to a new job is not easy; it can be overwhelming to learn your role, create new relationships, assimilate into the culture, and impress your boss all at once. Onboarding programs are tasked with making sure you do one thing: quickly create value for the company.

In the definitive book on the topic The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins outlines a specific plan to ease transitions for leaders at all levels. It’s good reading for anyone beginning a new job (and anyone who leads teams).

Think of it as your battle against misunderstanding. According to a study conducted by the International Data Corporation: “U.S. and U.K. employees cost businesses an estimated $37 billion every year because they do not fully understand their jobs.” By assimilating into a culture and gaining an initial sense of purpose, you’re actively minimizing your own frustrations and showing your worth right off the bat.

But what, specifically in creative professions, is important to look out for when starting a new role? What should you pay attention to?

  1. Assess the business case for your hire. You were hired for a reason. Is it to generate ideas? To train others? To add design or technical skills that were lacking? To deftly oversee client projects? Learning where you fit within the overall business strategy is something that may seem obvious but is often overlooked. Figure this out early.
  2. Show your work. After a rigorous interview process, it can feel like you described your skills and experiences ad nauseum, so now that you’re hired you can get work. The thing is, most people in the company don’t know who you are, why you were hired, or what specifically you bring to the table. Make sure your team knows your resume and has viewed your portfolio. It gives people around you context, a view into your style, and an idea of how you complement or challenge them.


Click here to read the rest of this post at

How to Scale a Service Business

Moving Back a Bit over Legaspi

There are still only four ways to make more money, as explained by the Ansoff Matrix, which was published in Harvard Business Review in 1957. (Things haven’t changed much.) From least- to most-risky:

      1. Sell existing products to existing customers.
      2. Sell new products to existing customers.
      3. Sell existing products to new markets.
      4. Sell new products to new markets.

If you’re thinking about scaling, or the problems associated with scaling, then you’re probably concerned with one of those four things. To accomplish even the least risky on that list involves extending your capacity in some way. The lifecycle of any service business at some point rubs up against your personal capacity to get things done: your time and energy.

There are two ways increase capacity and, hence, two ways to scale a service business.

      1. Save time and energy
      2. Create more time and energy

Ways to save time and energy:

      • Increase your personal productivity
      • Automate your processes
      • Reduce the number or complexity of services
      • Package your services into products
      • Create systems

Ways to create more time and energy:

      • Hire people
      • Engage in strategic partnerships

Time and energy are usually viewed as finite, unyielding problems. “I don’t have enough time.” “I’m too busy.” “I’m exhausted.”

With a little creativity, strategy and elbow grease, you can create a scalable business and make your life better.

Photo courtesy Storm Crypt via Compfight

5 Ways to Handle Workplace Conflicts

One of the hardest parts of being a leader is having difficult conversations: firing someone, getting into it with a client, apologizing for a mistake, or delivering bad news. Many of us choose avoidance as often as possible. That uncomfortable feeling (in your gut, your hands, in the back of the throat) is a warning sign: tough conversation ahead.

In the book Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen, the authors write, “Our anxiety results not just from having to face the other person, but from having to face ourselves.”

Whether the source of the conflict stems from circumstance, a challenge to your identity as a leader, or protecting one’s turf, stemming the tide of personal emotions and dealing in a direct, measured way can let the air out and diffuse conflict effectively.

Here are some methods to use with your team or anyone else in the face of everyday conflict. (…continued)

Click through to read the rest of this piece over at OPENforum.

Give Good Interview: Shotgun Tips (re-post)

Interviewing someone for a job is a curious skill. It’s like cleaning a loaded gun.  You want to be meticulous about each part or you might accidentally blow your head off.

OK, it’s not actually lethal.

But it is a multifaceted skill. It’s intuitive in some ways but it’s also about preparation.  It’s about listening and simultaneously about evaluating what you’re hearing.  First, some useful axioms that I learned early on.

Axiom #1: An interview is a conversation with a purpose. So relax. Thinking of interviewing this way will go a long way towards making you feel and appear more comfortable and take a bit of pressure off the candidate . Be open to giving your impressions, respond to or reflect on what you’re hearing, and repeat things to be sure you understand.  You know, the kinds of things you might do in an actual conversation with someone.

Axiom #2: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. While I’m biased to reject this notion (who says a person can’t flower?), over time it has proven to be pretty accurate.  Try to put what you’re hearing in this context.  What about a candidate’s behavior, the way he makes decisions or treats other people or comes up with solutions, can you glean from a particular answer?  Look for passions and initiative around those passions (whether in a professional context or not). These are clues for leadership and self-motivation.

To give a successful interview, do these things

Prepare. This may be stating the obvious but be sure you know what you’re looking for. Do a lot of work in advance defining your ideal candidate and the scope of responsibilities and the rest will go smoothly.

Have the position profile in mind but don’t be anal about it. You don’t learn much about a person if you’re just checking off skill boxes.  And you know that ideal candidate you envisioned?  He doesn’t actually exist. So leave breathing room.

Think about the business goals and strategy. Why are you hiring this person the first place?  What gap will the successful candidate fill?  What is the big picture business reasoning for the hire?  Does this person jibe with that?

Think about culture and fit. Always consider a person in the context of your workplace and staff. By the way, this does not mean you should hire someone just like you or your co-workers, but a complementary fit goes a long way towards success.

Your goal is to accomplish two things at once:

  1. Find out what the person has accomplished, how they describe themselves and who they are as people.
  2. Make some judgment about all that. Does it ring true? Are there inconsistencies in what they say and what you observe?  Is the person really aware of who they are, how they impact others, what they have learned?

Frame questions in an open-ended manner. Avoid yes/no questions at all costs.

If you’re interviewing over lunch or dinner, definitely give the dude a chance to eat. It’s polite.

Use “critical incident interviewing.” This is jargon for taking specific things a person has done and gradually peeling back the layers to get to a person’s true contributions by asking subsequent questions.  The aim is to learn how the candidate approaches or manages a situation, problem or challenge, and how he thinks about developing solutions for himself and those around him.

Ask at least one question about a specific incident in which a person used his or her influence to accomplish something. Most organizations work in teams these days and lines of authority often change. The ability to influence is important.

Spend time on values. What matters to the candidate?  What has he accomplished that holds particular meaning for him?

Get a sense of emotional intelligence. How does a candidate manage himself in a given context?  How does he manage others?  What skill does he have in understanding the viewpoint and perspective of others and conveying that effectively in action?

Ask for a brief review of work history with particular emphasis on the transitions from position to position. It’s very interesting to see where someone starts with this question and what details they choose to illuminate about why they made a move.  Ask how your position contributes to the trajectory of their career.

Focus on qualities of leadership. Look for independent thinking, vision, the ability to articulate it so others can understand, emotional maturity, courage and commitment, resilience, integrity, intellect.  Leadership is about stewardship: a sense of responsibility about others and the organization.  It’s about supporting the growth of others.

In the end, interviewing is a pretty harrowing experience.  You’re spending a relatively short time with someone to then hand over the keys to the kingdom.  “Here, watch my kid.”  If the basic skills are evident, spend most of your time on issues of integrity and propensity for leadership, the things you can’t easily teach.

CC licensed drawing via DailyPic’s flickr page.