Many of us go through our lives largely on autopilot, relying mainly on our long held tried-and-true methods of behavior and beliefs. While this may be comfortable to us, what do we do when a new situation arises? What about when we have a problem we’ve never encountered before? In these situations we have to seek out new information and discomfort and the more often we do this on our own, the more comfortable and creative we will become.
Fortunately, (as we have discussed many times on the show) we are not as rigid as some might believe. The power to change is always in our hands. If we’re willing to surrender our obsession with certainty and face risk and new challenges with courage and intention, then an infinite number of possibilities lies ahead of us, forging a path through lands previously thought impassable.
So how can we intentionally step out of our comfort zone and approach new challenges and issues with a creative mind? This week’s guest is here to explain how…
The Imagination Gap and Five Key Elements
“Risk is the will to act on imagination. If you can’t risk something – to try something for a better way – how are you ever going to get out of situations.” – Beth Comstock
Beth Comstock is a business executive with a deep history of leading large companies to success through innovation and new opportunities. Beth is currently a director at Nike, and author of the best-selling book Imagine it Forward - Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change. In her career, she has mastered creativity, including how to cultivate and apply it.
Beth discusses how our quest for certainty becomes a dead-end. Complete certainty is unattainable and chasing it prevents us from discovering possibilities that exists on paths of risk and creativity. She discusses what she calls “The Imagination Gap”, which is a place where possibility and options for the future go to die when we’re looking for certainty.
Beth advocates taking and seeking necessary risk, the situations which require us to do new things to move forward. She suggests five key elements for generating creativity…
Give yourself permission to try new things in new ways. - The only way to achieve new results is to try new things. If you struggle with this, try an exercise in fear setting to see things more clearly and assess the risks of the action you may be considering.
Everyone must make room for discovery. - If you’re a leader, finding new roads and discovering and experimenting with new ways to do something is not a task you delegate. This is something that leads to tremendous growth and new information. Beth argues this exercise is worth your time no matter where you are in a corporate hierarchy.
Invite conflict and respectful debate from outside perspectives. - Many of us see conflict as something to be avoided. Sure, don’t seek out a scenario where you plan to end up screaming at a co-worker or partner but invite outside views on issues, problems, and welcome spirited debate.
Harness the power of your story, mission, and strategy. - As we’ve discussed before it’s important to create your own personal philosophy and story. Use these as guiding lights when generating creativity but don’t let them handcuff you.
Create a space for experimentation. - Create a space where you can do a lot of experimentation, test and learn from new kinds of partners, new initiatives, seed small projects, and that's a lot of what I ended up speaking to them about, about ways to create accountability, focus on the experiments, be able to take risk and fail in things.
Re-Invention: Get Good at Change and Become Adaptable
“If you’re really rigid, you cannot keep up with the pace and disruptive nature of change.” – Beth Comstock
At the heart of Beth’s philosophy of re-invention is a practice of adaptation. However, more successful people are less likely to change their ways, while those who have nothing to lose are more willing to take huge risks. Which is unfortunate because in the face of technology’s progress towards AI and automation, some of the most important skills one can posses are creativity, strategic thinking, and creative problem-solving.
Her practice of adaptation requires delegating your mind and time to adapting, with a focus on altering your mindset from being fixed to open. Beth’s primary suggestion is to make room for discovery and get out into the world, which provides many benefits:
See new and weird things.
Go to places that challenge and contradict your beliefs.
Learn, ask, connect, and discover patterns.
Going on Threes: She shares her technique of “Going on Threes”, which involves jotting down notes each time she sees something interesting. She simply marks it down the first time she sees it; the second time she asks if it is a coincidence; and the third time she declares it a trend and finds out how to learn more about it.
10% of Your Time for New Things: She urges people to allocate a small amount of their time for trying new things. This can be a simple as driving a new route to work or picking up a magazine you have never read before. Doing something you would never do is a great way to discover a new perspective about the world.
“Open yourself up, go to where things are different or weird, and understand what you can start to learn.” – Beth Comstock
Social Courage and the Power of Small Challenges
“Courage you have to have to connect with others, to open yourself up, to make genuine connections, and to put yourself out there.” – Beth Comstock
Beth shares the story of her personal challenge being an introvert in the word of business, where making connections is oftentimes a critical component for success. She challenged herself with a series of progressively more difficult tasks which would make her more comfortable and familiar connecting to other people, despite how awkward it was.
Her story relates to a common theme in our podcasts: The Power of Small Challenges (such as Rejection Therapy). This is a technique which serves to build up our immunity to discomfort, embarrassment, and rejection all by forcing us to face things which are unfamiliar to us. This is the essence of becoming adaptable.
‘No’ is Often ‘Not Yet’: Beth brings up the notion of “Gatekeepers” in our lives (and our own heads), which are those who prevent us from progressing. They embody the fearful notion of “I don’t want a better way. I feel threatened by a better way or imaginative thinking.” The ‘No’ delivered by the Gatekeeps forces us to either abandon the idea or adapt our approach, try something new, and improve where necessary, which makes it a ‘Not Yet’.
Viewing ‘No’ as ‘Not Yet’ allows for a creative solution to emerge, but there are a few things you must do:
You can’t wait for someone else’s permission to act on your imagination.
Find people who see your vision.
Get feedback, find fallacies, and improve your pitch.
Wait for the right time, if it isn’t now.
Go Boldly into the Unknown: Beth opens her book by discussing a tough time in her life, her divorce. She talks about how she needed to take hold of her own story and create her path. Many of us wait for the perfect time or the perfect situation, but it isn’t going to happen, so she advocates for turning off auto-pilot and just going for it.
She proceeds to discuss the benefits of constraints for creative thinking, where the constraints create a framework within which we have freedom. First, we must ask ourselves, “How can I solve this creatively?” Then, all we must do is start. Wherever you are—just start!
Build Bridges, Not Walls
Many people view themselves as being against others, not personally, but as one team versus another. This mindset creates walls between you and them, which weakens you. The alternative is to bridge the gap between these differences, which allows for a sharing of resources and the creation of a team superior to any individual.
Beth suggests forming a bridge between the New and the Traditional, facilitating communication to ensure everyone is on the same page, maintaining a shared sense of humanity between everyone, and bringing in outsiders with authority and expertise. All of these bring the team together, unified against a shared problem.
Invite in your Critics: Beth then advocates inviting in your critics to help show you where you’re wrong. The best ideas are shared, so don’t attempt to hoard ideas because you want the credit and you’re afraid someone might steal it. By saying, “I need help”, you invite feedback and criticism which will help you address issues you are overlooking and provide new perspectives you wouldn’t uncover yourself.
This harsh advice might help you keep up with competitors or prevent you from pursuing a bad idea. By inviting feedback from your team, you can ensure you’re talking about the same problem; you can reframe the problem and refresh your perspective.
“Tell me something I don’t want to hear, because usually I need to hear it and I probably know it’s true but I’m just avoiding it.” – Beth Comstock
Acknowledge Reality: Many people and teams fall into the trap of viewing things as the way they wish they were instead of how they are. This can prevent them from making changes necessary for their success. Beth illustrates this idea by bringing up people who wear lucky clothes for fear of failure, then blame their superstitions instead of their inadequacies when they don’t succeed.
A lack of honesty will hold you back, while competitors charge forward. Fortunately, inviting feedback and criticism will help illuminate a lot of these fantasies before they have time to cause any damage. They can prevent us from deluding ourselves into thinking that things are the way that we want them to be or the way that they “should” be instead of the way that they really are.
“Am I seeing things that are opportunities that I can actually shape or am I hanging on to something that’s a superstition or just a comfortable way of viewing it and it’s preventing me from going forward.” – Beth Comstock
Small Steps to Become More Creative
In closing, Beth provides a few small steps for us to improve our creativity and urges us to “Just start!” because that’s all it takes.
1. Ask yourself, “What’s one thing I want to move forward on?”
2. Ask yourself, “What’s holding me back?”
3. Then write yourself a permission slip to do it.