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Accelerating change and complexity has resulted in ever greater demands on the individual’s time and energy. To succeed today requires a balance of creative and pragmatic skills, explains creativity expert and author Michael Gelb.

Interview #15 in the Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series is with Michael Gelb, a leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development. Michael is the author of 12 books on creativity and innovation, including the international best seller How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. In 2007 he released Innovate Like Edison: The Five Step System for Breakthrough Business Success, co-authored with Sarah Miller Caldicott, the great grand niece of Thomas Edison.

A pioneer in the fields of creative thinking and innovative leadership, he leads seminars for organizations such as DuPont, Merck, Microsoft, Nike, Raytheon and YPO. He just released his new book, Wine Drinking For Inspired Thinking: Uncork Your Creative Juices.

Q: Your work helps others engage, express and apply their creativity – among other things – in their work, life and business. How does your work express your own creativity?

Gelb: I use my creativity to transform my passions into books and seminars to inspire others. My passion for the art of juggling, (I’m a former professional juggler who once performed with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan) became a program called The 5 Keys to High Performance: Juggling Your Way to Success. My passion for aikido, (I’m a fourth degree black belt), led to the book co-authored with International Grandmaster Raymond Keene, Samurai Chess: Mastering Strategic Thinking Through the Martial Art of the Mind. I trained as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, (the method taught at The Julliard School for cultivating commanding stage presence) which resulted in my book Body Learning: An Introduction to the Alexander Technique; and then Present Yourself! Captivate Your Audience with Great Presentation Skills. My passion for applying genius thinking to personal and organizational development is expressed Discover Your Genius: How To Think Like History’s Ten Most Revolutionary Minds. My love for wine and poetry as a means for bringing teams together is manifest in my latest book, Wine Drinking For Inspired Thinking: Uncork Your Creative Juices.

Q: What do you see as the new paradigm of work?

Gelb: When I first began leading seminars in the late 1970s most of my corporate clients were just beginning their efforts to shift from a hierarchical, top down, “command and control” paradigm to a more flexible, agile and team-oriented approach. Although organizational structures have evolved significantly, many individuals still struggle because they haven’t incorporated the creative thinking and communication skills that are essential to operating effectively in a dynamic, diverse, matrixed, more open-sourced context.

Moreover, accelerating change and complexity has resulted in ever greater demands on the individual’s time and energy. Most of my clients are being asked to work longer hours, to accomplish more with fewer resources. But, as the pressure to perform continues to rise so has the yearning for a clearer sense of meaning and purpose.

More than just a shift in thinking skills, a successful adaptation to the new paradigm requires a leap of consciousness. Specifically, a leap from the win-lose, high-tech/low-touch, left-brained, competitive mind-set to a win-win, high tech-high touch, whole-brained cooperative attitude. The internet has made it easier for people to recognize our essential interconnectedness, and increasing awareness of our ecological and financial interdependence is driving more people to a practical appreciation of the core teaching of the world’s great spiritual traditions.

As Leonardo da Vinci expressed it: “Everything connects to everything else.” This consciousness is alive in the movement for conscious capitalism. Conscious capitalism is based on the idea of organizing businesses around a higher purpose that includes but goes beyond profit. It is focused on fulfilling a higher purpose, which evolves dynamically over time.

New paradigm organizations express this consciousness of interdependence by organizing around a stakeholder orientation. In other words, they focus on delivering value to all stakeholders, with an unswerving commitment to align the interests of customers, employees, vendors, investors, the community, and the environment to the greatest extent possible.

One of the think tanks promoting this new vision is the Conscious Capitalism Institute, where I’m honored to serve as the Director of Creativity and Innovation Leadership.

Q: What do you see as the role of creativity in that paradigm?

Gelb: Thirty years ago most organizations viewed creative thinking as a luxury item. Now, they understand that it is a necessity. Moreover, the notion that creativity is the province of a few creative types and that everyone else can afford to think in just a linear fashion is falling by the wayside, as is the myth that creativity is a function of the right hemisphere exclusively. Real creativity is a function of an integration of logic and imagination, of the left and right hemisphere working in harmony.

Thomas Edison noted, “I don’t want to invent anything that won’t sell.” Edison understood that “sales are proof of utility” and that “utility is success.” In other words, Edison focused his phenomenal creative powers on making things that people wanted and needed like light, recorded sound and the movies!

The new paradigm invites us to find the balance between rationality and intuition, between inspiration and application. This balance has always been a feature of great geniuses like Leonardo and Edison but now it must become the standard for all.

Q: What attitudes or principles do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?

Gelb: The first principle for thinking like Leonardo is “Curiosita'” – An insatiable quest for knowledge and continuous improvement. Curiosity is our birthright and the wellspring of genius. A profound passion to understand, learn and improve is a core attitude for individuals and organizations who wish to thrive with change. It goes hand-in-hand with the first competency for innovating like Edison: a solution-centered mindset. Instead of focusing our attention on obstacles and impediments we orient ourselves around finding creative solutions and new paths forward. (The seven principles for thinking like Leonardo da Vinci and the 5 competencies for innovating like Edison are designed to offer a comprehensive curriculum for navigating the new paradigm.)

Q: What is one technique people can start applying today to bring more creativity into their work or their business organization?

Gelb: Mind mapping! Most of us grew up learning to organize our ideas through outlining. Although valuable as a tool for presenting ideas in a formal, orderly fashion, outlining is useful only after the real thinking has been done. Outlining slows you down, and stifles your freedom of thought. Moreover, outlining is a reflection of the “old paradigm” hierarchical mind-set.

The structure of communication in nature is non-linear, non-hierarchical; it works through networks and systems. The ability to read, align, and work creatively with these systems is ultimately the definition of intelligence.

Our thinking is a function of a vast network of synaptic patterns. A mind map is a graphic expression of these natural patterns. The new paradigm requires us to develop our ability to understand patterns of change, to see the web of connections that underlie complex systems. As you practice mind mapping, you cultivate your systems thinking ability and you develop the coordination of your two hemispheres.

There are seven basic rules for effective mind mapping:

1. Begin your mind pap with a symbol or a picture at the center of your page. Pictures and symbols are easier to remember than words and enhance your ability to visualize, remember, and think creatively.

2. Use key words. Key words are the information-rich “nuggets” of recall and creative association. Key words can be generated faster and are easier to remember than sentences or phrases. Moreover, the discipline of generating key words trains the mind to focus on the most essential elements of a subject.

3. Connect the key words with lines radiating from your central image. By linking words with lines, you’ll show clearly how one key word relates to another. Connect the lines for maximum clarity.

4. Print your key words. Printing is easier to read and remember than writing.

5. Print one key word per line. Printing one key word per line frees you to discover the maximum number of creative associations for each key word and trains you to hone in on the most appropriate key word,
enhancing the precision of your thought and minimizing clutter.

6. Print your key words on the lines and make the length of the word and line equal. This maximizes clarity of association and encourages economy of space.

7. Use colors, pictures, dimension, and codes for vivid association and emphasis. Highlight important points and show relationships between different branches of your map. You might, for instance, prioritize your main points through color-coding. Use pictures and images often as they stimulate visualization and creative association and greatly enhance memory. Codes, such as asterisks, exclamation points, letters, and numbers, show relationship between concepts and further organize your map.

Q: Finally, what is creative leadership to you?

Gelb: Creative Leadership involves serving as a catalyst and steward of an organization’s deeper purpose and as a champion for all its stakeholders.

You can learn more about Michael Gelb and order his latest book, Wine Drinking For Inspired Thinking: Uncork Your Creative Juices, at his website. The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Interview Series is developed and conducted by business creativity catalyst, Michelle James, CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence and Quantum Leap Business Improv.

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