The Two Keys to Creativity

Here’s a sad little fact: 90 percent of the things we think today, we thought yesterday. That’s an appalling amount of retread thoughts.

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about what makes someone creative. It isn’t that he or she works in a creative department or has an art degree. (If you ever see a trial lawyer fight for a client, you’ll see some real creativity.) It isn’t that he or she can draw or write particularly well. The keys to creativity are something that is within all of us: the ability to learn and a healthy curiosity.

The First Key to Creativity: Keep Learning

The minute we stop learning, our brain turns a little more into pudding. Stop the pudding’s progress, and find out how things work or why people do what they do. It will always lead to other things. For example, as the wireless marketing director at Whitlockebs, I’ve had to learn a lot about wireless technology over the past two months. It’s been slow going, but it’s exciting to sit in meetings now and understand what people are talking about.

I’ve found several Web sites that can help all of us learn more, wonder more, and be just a little bit more well-rounded.

Infowave. A new partner of my company, Infowave makes a Wireless Business Engine that does all kinds of terrific work for many different platforms of wireless applications. (Stick with me here.) By spending some time on the site, I figured out almost my entire body of knowledge about wireless technology. And the site is written in plain English. Thank you.

Nua Publish. Another one of my roles here is to be in charge of content management. While browsing through ClickZ.com one day, I came across Gerry McGovern’s articles. He is the CEO of Nua Publish. So, I clicked over to his Web site and spent many rapt hours learning all I could about content management. If you’ve ever been interested in learning about this critical part of the Internet world, download the demo, and see what it can do. It’s truly amazing.

Human Factors International. This site has become one of my absolute favorites. If you design, write, or visit Web sites regularly, you’ll learn everything you need to know right here. With articles on usability, case studies of real company Web sites, and interesting commentary on topics like the Palm Beach County ballot, you should spend some time here, and see how one company does it right.

The Second Key to Creativity: Ask a Lot of Questions

Did you ever listen to a four-year-old child talk? They talk in questions. “Why is the sky blue?” “Did Noah come out of your tummy just like me?” “How did that happen?” (Another day, Molly.) As we get older, we spend more time telling rather than asking. It’s not that we’re less curious, we’re just afraid of looking stupid.

Here’s the way I look at it: If I’m sitting in a meeting and someone says something I don’t understand, I’m betting I’m not the only one befuddled. So I ask, “Huh?” or something equally profound. Usually after the meeting, someone will say to me, “I’m glad you asked. I didn’t understand it, either.” If you’re in a meeting and you don’t understand something in the first five minutes, chances are, you won’t understand the rest of it, either. Look, we’re all going to be dead a long time — what’s the worst thing that can happen?

How to Become Independently Curious

If you want to talk to someone, do it. Every day, I get emails from people who have read my ClickZ articles or have visited stickyideas.com. I love that! People respond to the articles, criticize me, or just ask for advice. That means I have a whole new group of online friends that I share information with. I’ve even set people up on job interviews. Who knows where any of it will lead? The point is, take a chance.

I send between 30 to 50 emails a day to people I don’t know. I ask them about their Web site, their job, or just “how come?” questions. Almost everyone writes back. Even really famous people. These online email relationships have led to some incredibly powerful business opportunities and a whole lot of new friends.

So use the Internet and become more creative. Let’s make sure we share as many learning sites as possible. Send me your suggestions, and I’ll publish them in an upcoming article. Also, to those of you who write to me, thank you.

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