(An excerpt from my hopefully soon-to-be book....)
What is your “Creative Nucleus” and why is it important to understand? Because I don’t think you can innovate at a high level externally without exploring what makes you tick internally. As a Walt Disney Imagineer, I was extremely fortunate to work with some incredibly creative people. For us, we were all pretty in tune with what I refer to as our creative nucleus—that internal magical mix of “stuff” that allowed us to be highly innovative day in and day out. Of course, it isn’t just Imagineers that perform at this level, just as Navy SEALS aren’t only ones who are physically fit. But there is something internal…a self-awareness, maybe a personality disorder, as several of my friends might attest to, or perhaps zen…that helps to manifest one set of our skills at a higher level over others.
Throughout my career, and indeed my life, this creative nucleus has always helped define who I am. As a college professor teaching courses in entrepreneurism, creativity, and business, I started to formally explore just what made up my and my student’s creative nucleus—just what was the “magical mix of ‘stuff’” after all? Here’s my take on it.
Since I’m using a biological analogy, I’ll begin by looking at the DNA of our creative nucleus. Fortunately, this DNA is much simpler than what you learned about in biology class. Rather than containing thousands of genes, the DNA of your creative nucleus is comprised of 5 traits:
Creative people tend to have deep passion for what they do. This passion then translates into determination. If they set their mind to accomplish something that is important to them they tend to see it through. This can take hours, weeks, days, months or years—but eventually, the task they have been working on will get there.
By “Responsiveness” I am really talking about vision or intuition…in other words, responding to what you may call a gut feeling. Having the ability to respond to this intuitive insight into the world, this “vision,” is one of the hallmarks of all highly creative people. Pick any of history’s great visonaries and you see that they constantly have the ability to act on a hunch...not necessarily knowing why they know they’re on the right path...but trusting in themselves and knowing they are.
Creative people have to have an open-mind. They have to be accepting of many different points of view. Being able to remain non-judgmental throughout the innovation process is critical, because once you start dismissing ideas or shutting down others, new approaches or potential solutions are lost before they even see the light of day. As the former musician Frank Zappa once said, “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open.” Being unbiased and accepting—inclusive—is one of the best ways I know of to power up you creative mindset.
Most Imagineers I know are afflicted with the Peter Pan syndrome—they don’t want to grow up. Having a child-like curiosity, looking at the world from their perspective and asking questions that only a kid would ask when you are deep within the creative process is a good thing. For some, that’s not so hard. As someone who was being asked to create the magic for Disney’s theme parks on a daily basis, it was not only easy, but actually encouraged. For many, though, tapping into your inner-child is a difficult and even awkward process. That’s easy to understand, especially if you’ve become successful at a career that doesn’t traditionally call on child-like skills. How many of you would want your attorney, CPA, corporate CEO or police sergeant acting like a little kid? I would argue, however, that the most successful people, no matter their field, actually do act like kids…though they may not necessarily think about it from that perspective. However, when faced with a challenge that is difficult to solve, creative people are able to find that kid’s perspective, tap into that curiosity and make the effort to go out, learn, explore and find the answers to their questions.
Emotional folks, us creative people are. Sometimes, not the easiest to deal with or be around. On the other hand, sometimes it makes us great fun to be around. Some creative people are driven by darker emotions, and some by pure joy. Most flip back and forth depending on what the situation or given project may call for, but we're not afraid to let emotions play a part in the creative process. As a matter of fact, innovators understand that they must.
These, then are the 5 traits that make up the DNA of your creative nucleus. You can think of it as creative people literally paying a PRICE (Passion, Responsiveness, Inclusiveness, Curiosity, Emotion) for their talents.
I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts!