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Show How You Are Different

Being Different

There is a lot of interest in being creative or innovative. Companies are looking for ways to gain an edge.  Standardization and the manufacturing method no longer works (most manufacturing are done overseas anyway). It's no longer about getting a marketing edge - there is too much noise. Cost cutting ends up being a race to the bottom. Growing bigger doesn't do it. And buying companies usually leads to trouble due to bad fit. We've also had continuous improvement, kaizen and best practices. Unfortunately, best practices are now just table stakes; if you just do best practices, then you are still going to be mediocre.

Lately, two kinds of business topics keep cropping up as the new latest and greatest in the long line of business practices. One is employee engagement and the other is creativity. The employee engagement topic is an outgrowth of the terrible practice employed during the Great Recession: the self-defensive action of laying off people, even if the company was still making a profit, and then not hiring people for a long time, supposedly due to "lack of skills" in the job hunters. The creativity topic is the outgrowth of upper management looking desperately for new ideas to grow the business and to be disruptive in this era of "great disruption" that originated in Silicon Valley. They are looking to employees, as they should, to come up with new ideas, to stretch the boundaries, to experiment and maybe even to fail.

Last month, I attended a conference where we had Erik Wahl, an artist and speaker, talk about getting out of our comfort zone to generate innovative ideas. I'm reading a book by him now, Unthink, on how to get creative or "to rediscover our creative genius". (I wish.) We had another speaker who said, "Don't say you are different. Show how you are different." While he wasn't talking about creativity, being distinctive or different is a form of creativity because no one else is doing what you are doing. I'm also reading a book from Rhode Island School of Design, The Art of Critical Making, which is geared more towards artists but might be applicable to business. I'm also reading yet a third book, No Fears, No Excuses, which talks more about how to find your passion rather than being creative. It's a job hunting book but there is one section that struck me and that was not only do you have to be passionate and skilled at what you do, there has to be something very distinctive about what you do in order to stand out in the market. The author is not providing you tips on how to be creative but he is telling you that you have to be creative or at least be distinctive.

Then there are the books that tells you how to deploy the artists' method of being creative. We have Big Magic, Art Thinking and Let Me Out. And there is probably so many other books and articles about being creative/innovative that I haven't seen yet.

But one thing I will tell  you, being creative takes time. You do research and explore. You try out various ideas and possible solutions. You search for ways of doing things. You spend hours practicing or doing to make your idea work. My artwork, which I do after I come home from work, takes me a couple of hours so the artwork is done over a span of days. I try to cut it off to a week so I do at least one artwork at week. I'm hoping that after this election cycle I can edge back up to 3 artworks a week. I could probably do something in an hour but it isn't my type of work, although, the art is still pretty good.

But the bottom line is that doing art takes time. There is just no way around it. And sometimes businesses are inimical to time. Instead, everything is about speed.

And then there is the failure aspect. Even though businesses recognize that you can't reach big success without failure, failure is really hard for them to accept. Especially businesses with shareholders. Shareholders just don't like failure.

Anyway, I'll keep trying and practicing to be creative, even though the odds against it are high. Maybe, maybe, something will come out of the practice.

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