My Chat With Seth
“take a look at Steve’s book… and perhaps my blog. hope it helps”
That was Seth’s reply to me. To his credit, he replied within minutes of my sending him my question. There followed a few seconds of me thinking, “and that’s all I get for my intelligent question, carefully couched so that I didn’t look like some fawning, groupee kneeling at the feet of The Great Baldy Blogger?” Then my brain kicked back in and I got on with my life.
I’d just had a brain fart. The pillars of my existence seemed to have re-configured themselves into an unfathomable origami and I’d been hoping to find someone who could unfold it, flatten out the sheet again so I could see the extent of it, the edges and the shape, laid out before me, nice and neat. But that’s not how life works. And, ironically, that’s what I tell people. I’m a creative consultant, damn it, and I know better.
It’s all part of the creative process – the not knowing. Otherwise, by definition, it wouldn’t be creative. People like Seth (and his friend Steve) can only put up signposts along the way. He does it very well, and I often take note when he jabs his finger in one direction or another. But he can’t ‘do it’ for anyone, as he, himself says. It’s a personal experience and it only happens when an individual goes through their own process. Ironically, we’re all doing it, one way or another, all the time, so we might as well learn to enjoy the process rather than living in fear of it. Routine can only keep us where we are, at best. Inspiration provides the key to moving us forward.
There’s a common theme that I see among successful business people who maintain great integrity and authenticity. I particularly see it whenever a conversation about their business processes and tactics gets down to the nitty-gritty of specific situations they encounter. If I ask them what, exactly, their approach will be in a particular situation, they say – often with a twinkle in their eye – that they have no idea. Of course they don’t. That’s why they’re successful. They have mastered the creative process and they can think on their feet. That’s why they command substantial fees.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any easier for them than it is for anyone else. But it does mean that they are willing to go there – to take the risk of not knowing, and have the courage to work with the situation, in the moment.
Someone once said that if the pace of change inside your organization is greater than outside, you will survive. If it isn’t, you won’t. You could also say that if you love change, you have a better chance of surviving and thriving, and if you don’t, you will live in fear and will probably find surviving tough. In this world of accelerating change, such thoughts can send you into a tailspin of anxiety if you don’t engage the power of creativity and have it working for you personally, rather than trying to keep up with those who truly do.
You can see that desperate process everywhere in business, perhaps nowhere more graphically and publicly than in the world of technology. While Apple, for instance, gave us the iPad – a breakthrough product, the appeal of which many of us couldn’t even identify until we held it in our hands – Microsoft continues to lumber on, behind the curve, with clumsy products and doubtful direction, trying to appease the market for past disasters such as Vista. In the meantime, we see a plethora of ‘me-too’ iPad-type products starting to flood the market from other companies who don’t have their own understanding of the future and the courage to introduce something truly innovative.
But maybe it’s better to observe and learn, rather than being too quick to judge. I was on Broadway in Vancouver yesterday. There was a man in a suit, talking on his iPhone as he sat in his shiny, brand-new Aston Martin, parked outside a restaurant. Next to him was a man wheeling a bicycle. He had weathered features, a long beard, and he was wrapped in layers of protective clothing. His bike was piled high with his belongings. Hitched to the bike was not one, but three trailers – each heaped high with stuff, strapped down and covered in plastic sheeting. He was fully kitted out for life on the street. Which one did I admire most? Who was the most creative? Who had the better chance of survival? Given the financial events of the past few years, these were open questions.
While success is nothing to do with money, survival is everything to do with creativity. It’s an innate part of us and a measure of our ability to evolve as a species. However, we all too often shift responsibility from ourselves to others, and now there are vast industries that feed on that dependency. Everywhere you look, there are people offering you answers so you don’t have to find them for yourself. Politicians, religions, educators, snake oil salesmen… But as Seth has acknowledged, and as I was reminded, they are only signposts, and it’s so, so much better to go through the scary, rocky, uncertain and ultimately satisfying process myself. That’s true power, and when you do it, you own it.