CIOITMPI InsightsLeadership/InnovationProject Management

Creative Genius: Tapping the Edison Within

Ever wonder why some people seem so darned creative? The answer is because they, like you, see problems every single day. Something breaks too often. Something seems too difficult when it shouldn’t be. A solution is missing. In the classic television series Star Trek, Captain James Kirk actually sums up the sentiment of many when he says, “Genius doesn’t work on an assembly line basis. You can’t simply say, Today I will be brilliant.” (Episode: “The Ultimate Computer,” TOS)

I would contend the good captain was wrong. You can say it. You can mean it.

Genius can be manufactured, but the challenge is setting up the assembly line! Thomas Edison seemed to have a knack for it. If you include foreign patents, he earned 2,332 patents in his lifetime.  Run the math, assuming he started inventing the day he left the womb, and that’s more than a patent every two weeks of his life.

And yet when management says, “We need a creative solution!” many of us freeze in our tracks.

Setting Up the Assembly Line

In order to set up the assembly line for creativity, we need to start recognizing a host of different perspectives. We need to become other people. I reflect on my life, and I can think of a hundred different roles I’ve taken on through the years. From high school (dishwasher, dreadful clarinet player, swimmer, master sleeper) to college (resident advisor, counselor, journalist) to adulthood (husband, father, dog owner, radio news guy, project manager). Each of these roles has a different perspective. As a dishwasher, my biggest concerns in life related to having time to myself. As a dog owner, my biggest concerns in life are ensuring that Mocha (my labradoodle) doesn’t charge into the street.

So if the customer says, “We need to start rolling out the product at the end of the month—no matter what!” the project manager and the news guy have two different solutions. The project manager’s creative solution may be to alter resource allocation. The news announcer may just suggest a shortened version, with “details at 11.”

The beauty of shifting perspective is that you don’t need to have lived a perspective to imagine what those individuals might see as a solution. For accountants, the solutions are often rooted in the financial. For scholars, the solutions may be rooted in research. For little children, (Are we there yet?) the solution may be rooted in simplicity. The mere shift in perspective can serve to generate a host of ideas that otherwise might have been overlooked.

In reading a brief history on Edison, it’s notable that he generally didn’t wait for someone to tell him that a given problem needed to be solved. He was alert to the problems and watched for them diligently. His creativity was borne out of the needs of others, and his solutions were borne out of understanding their perspective from his own context. Recognizing that we bring something of value to the table with every aspect of our personal histories is a vital step. Stepping away from those histories long enough to shift perspective opens the door for true creative genius.


Carl Pritchard will be presenting a free webinar with ITMPI on September 22! Sign up here: Loving Your Job, and Getting Others to Do Likewise!

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