Anyone who has ever started or is currently running their own business knows how easily you can fall into a routine and lose the creativity that initially fueled innovation for your startup. If you find yourself feeling a bit uninspired, don’t worry, it’s nothing that a little creative thinking can’t fix. Joining us today on the Atlanta Small Business Show to discuss this very topic is creative thinking and innovation expert, Robert Evans Wilson JR.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Thank you so much for joining us, Rob, on today’s show.
Rob Wilson: Well, thank you Jim, it’s a pleasure being here.
Jim Fitzpatrick: An innovation expert, that’s exactly what I need for my business. So tell me, what should we be looking for when we want to really become an innovator.
Rob Wilson: Now, there’s three ways people are most likely to be an innovator, or a creative thinker. And probably the one you’re most knowledgeable with is the fact that sometimes, well, things go wrong. And suddenly you’ve got to fix something with spit and a prayer. When we’re forced into it, that’s when we’re most likely …
Jim Fitzpatrick: We all become MacGyver’s, right?
Rob Wilson: Right, that’s when we’re most likely to become that creative thinker, that innovator, when we’ve got to get ourselves out of a jam.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure, sure. So, that’s number one, you said there were three. What are the other two?
Rob Wilson: Well, the other two are when you’re curious.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.
Rob Wilson: Okay, so you’re wondering if … huh, I wonder what would happen if I put this with that. Let me give you a good example of curiosity. Back in 1946, a guy named Percy Spencer, he was a researcher for Raytheon Radar company, and he’s doing some experiments with radar. And he notices that the Hershey bar that he would keep in his breast pocket had gotten all soft. And he says it’s not warm enough in here for this to melt, did the radar do that?
Rob Wilson: So, curious, he got another Hershey bar and stuck it in front of the radar, and it just melted right away.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I think I see where this is going.
Rob Wilson: So he started sticking some more food in front of it. He put an egg in front of it, it boiled the egg. He put popcorn in front of it, it popped the popcorn. And he goes wow, you know, the microwaves of this radar are cooking food. So, he called up the R&D department and said you guys need to come up here and see this. So, he showed them the little experiments he’d been doing, because he was curious what it would do. And they went wow, and so they took that back, and they created the world’s first microwave oven.
Rob Wilson: And can you guess what they named it?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Was it the Radar Range?
Rob Wilson: Yes indeed.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Because I think we had one growing up and when you said Radar, I’m like I think that was the name of our first microwave.
Rob Wilson: And that was it. They named it the Radar Range because of the Radar. This was a Radar company.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s phenomenal. So, talk to us about number three.
Rob Wilson: Okay, the third way is to make money. That’s probably one of the …
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, monetize your idea, right?
Rob Wilson: Right. So, most people, they’re going to be motivated by money to go out and try to come up with a new idea. Now, the other times, like I said, curiosity, another story I like, because I enjoy watching surfing. I’ve never had an opportunity to really try it. Well, no, that’s not true, I did try it once. But back in 1935, there was a guy named Tom Blake, who was one of the top surfers in the world.
Rob Wilson: Now, everybody surfed on Hawaiian surfboards back then, the traditional Hawaiian surfboard that had been around for maybe hundreds or thousands of years. And there was not a whole lot you could do on that. You could get on a wave, and you could ride into shore. You couldn’t turn. If you turned, it flipped.
Rob Wilson: And so one he’s walking down the beach, and he sees this derelict motorboat that was wrecked and washed up on the shore. It’s upside down, and he sees the little metal keel on the bottom of this wooden motorboat. He goes, well keels are put on boats to keep them from flipping over. I wonder what would happen if I put that on my surfboard? So he went over and pried that little keel off the bottom of the boat, bolted it on to his surfboard, and the very next day he’s out there, he’s able to turn without flipping over on his surfboard. He’s able to maneuver more with it.
Rob Wilson: All the other surfers are like man, what are you doing? It looks like magic. And that day, in 1935, he invented, out of curiosity, the surfboard fin, and revolutionized the sport of surfing.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure.
Rob Wilson: So, curiosity.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Just curiosity, which isn’t a terrible thing, right?
Rob Wilson: I just hope it made him some money too.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Let’s hope, let’s hope. Maybe he died a famous guy in the surfing world, right, but maybe penniless who knows. But surfing everyday, right?
Rob Wilson: Yeah, how bad is that? That’s his life, yeah.
Jim Fitzpatrick: So, talk to us about … we think innovation comes from being creative, and obviously it does. Are people born with the gift of being creative?
Rob Wilson: Well, a lot of people believe that, and the reason they believe that is because as we go through school, and socialization process of school, we are taught repeatedly to confirm, confirm, confirm. To establish norms, to standardize rules. And over time, we suppress whatever natural creative tendencies we have.
Rob Wilson: And so by the time we reach adulthood, most people believe that creativity is a gift that some people get, and others don’t. But the good news, it’s not a gift, it’s a skill. Now, it’s a critical skill in today’s economy, because the economy’s constantly changing. And if we can’t keep up with the changes, if we don’t change with the changes, you’ll get left behind.
Rob Wilson: And I think Andrew Grove, I think he’s chairman of Intel, probably said it best. He once said adapt or die. Now, a great example of this is Kodak. Kodak’s a company that, most people don’t know this, in 1975 their R&D department invented the digital camera. And so these guys with R&D go to the executive, “Look what we invented.” And they went, “You invented what? Do you not know where we make our money? We make our money selling film. We make our money selling photographic paper. We make our money selling developing chemicals. We’re not going to take that to market.”
Rob Wilson: And they didn’t. And I think in 1981, then Sony went to market with the digital camera, and of course Kodak, even though they invented it, they didn’t even adapt to the change that they were the forerunners of. And today, of course, Kodak is a dying company, because they didn’t. And that’s just shocking.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Another company I think invented the Mouse, as we know as today’s Mouse. And it wasn’t an Apple product, and lo and behold they said yeah, we don’t know what we’re going to do with this Mouse. And it ends up on Steve Jobs desk and he says well I can use that idea. And that’s today’s Mouse. But it wasn’t invented by the people that we would think it would be invented by.
Rob Wilson: That’s interesting.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Jim Fitzpatrick: So, what you do is you work with companies, and I know that you travel the globe speaking on this very topic. But you’ll go into a company and help them, their management team, their leadership team, learn how to become innovators and be more creative in their businesses. Correct?
Rob Wilson: Exactly. I like to teach people how to become more innovative, to learn how to think more creatively than they currently are. And a lot of people don’t realize that they are already thinking creatively. They don’t realize that because they have suppressed this idea, that it’s not a skill, that it’s a gift, they don’t think that they are. And what I like to ask a lot of people I say, okay, have you ever used a standard paper clip for anything other than holding papers together?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Of course.
Rob Wilson: Everybody says yes to that. And I say, well right there, you did something creative.
Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.
Rob Wilson: And then another way I like to show people that they are creative and don’t realize it is if you think of all the things you do from the moment you set foot out of bed to the moment you get in the car to go to work. All the things you do to get ready in the morning. Well, all those things are comprised of dozens of little shortcuts that you have figured out over the years, that make you more efficient. And if you had to reinvent all of those one morning, you’d never get out of the house.
Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.
Rob Wilson: So, people don’t realize that they’re very incrementally innovative, because it’s just natural. It’s human nature to look for better ways of doing things. And people just don’t even give themselves credit when they need to.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in where somebody will have a brainstorming session, and people will say oh, no, no I’m going to have my coffee here and I’m going to listen. I’m not very creative. I’m not a creative type. Ask Tom, he’s very, very creative. And now the pressure goes to Tom, and everybody looks at Tom and goes okay, you’re the creative guy in the bunch. When in reality there’s 12 or 13 people sitting around the conference table, and to your point, and I agree with you, they’re all creative people. They just don’t realize it, and they don’t give themselves enough credit for it.
Jim Fitzpatrick: But if they all had a problem to solve, they’d probably solve it 13 different ways. Maybe a couple of them would solve it the same way. But do you see that in organizations that you go into, that the first sell of the idea to be creative is with those individuals of a company?
Rob Wilson: Oh, and there’s a lot of resistance too, because a lot of people have some negative ideas about innovation and creativity. Because if you truly allow the people in your company to be innovative, and there are some companies that actually allow people to have a certain amount of time each day to spend in creative thought, in innovative thinking. But a lot of times, that whole concept of being creative might lead them to do what happened to Kodak, where they come up with an idea that actually goes against what initially made the company successful.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Good point.
Rob Wilson: And so there’s resistance to that. But there’s some rules to brainstorming, and the first rule is you can never criticize anyone’s idea.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.
Rob Wilson: And everyone in the room is equal. It doesn’t matter if the president’s there, or the janitor’s there, everybody has to be considered an equal. And so all ideas are encouraged regardless of how absurd they may sound, because they might actually stimulate a thought from somebody else.
Jim Fitzpatrick: You see it all the time in meetings, when it’s an open … if it’s an open dialog among everyone in the meeting, and you’re boarding them up, as we all do in meetings now. And each should discuss each one of the ideas as a group, and then sometimes the best ideas will flow from that, right?
Rob Wilson: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And so that’s it, that’s why those rules are really critical. And let me recap those for some of your viewers. One, everybody’s equal. Two, all ideas are valid and cannot be criticized. Three, you want to go for quantity at first over quality. And so throw all the ideas out there, regardless of how ridiculous they may sound. And then there’s one fourth rule, one final rule, and that is try to build on the ideas that have been tossed out there. Try to see if you can manipulate those, change those. Play with them. Don’t just throw it out there and okay.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Exactly right.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Robert Evans Wilson Jr. Thank you so much for joining us on the Atlanta Small Business Show. We got so much out of it. I know our viewers will as well. We’ve got to have you back again to talk about [crosstalk 00:11:42].
Rob Wilson: It’s been a pleasure, yeah.
Jim Fitzpatrick: There’s so much we could talk about.
Rob Wilson: We just barely scratched the surface here.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I know, I know. Well thanks to time, right? But we’d love to have you back and talk more about this.
Rob Wilson: Okay, we’ll do that.
Jim Fitzpatrick: So I really appreciate it.
Rob Wilson: Thanks.