Five Questions with James Taylor

1170x370With less than a week to go for the People Matters Tech HR 2019 Conference, I am super excited. I have never been to a People Matters conference and am curious to find out more about it. I had yet another chance to catch up with one of the speakers ahead of the conference.

James Taylor is an award-winning speaker and internationally recognized leader in creativity and innovation. For over 20 years, he has been teaching entrepreneurs, educators, corporate leaders, writers, and rock stars how to build innovative organizations and design the creative life they desire. Being a big fan of all things creativity and ideas (as you can tell from my blog), I asked him a few questions. Here is what he had to say:

Q1: Innovation and creativity have become key differentiating factors between organizations that succeed & those that don’t. How can organizations do more when comes to tapping into employee creativity?

James: It starts by recognizing that everyone in your organization has almost unlimited creative potential, even if they don’t believe that just now. Then at the board and senior management level, it is about getting them to understand that what is valued in a place is cultivated there. If you want to cultivate a culture of creativity and innovation, it has to be valued in the organization.

For example if you want to be a creative organization, is creativity or innovation one of your core values? How is a commitment to creativity demonstrated in your vision, mission, goals and objectives? Meanwhile at the middle management and employee level it is about providing simple but powerful training in creative thinking skills. Creativity is like learning a language. It is a skill you can become better at with training. When I train companies or governments on creativity it’s about providing them with a set of flexible tools which allow them to use their individual and team creativity to solve problems.

Q2: Is there such a thing as a bad idea? How soon in an idea generation cycle should an idea be subjected to judgment?

James: Yes, an idea may be great for one organization but it goes against your organization’s DNA, vision, mission and values then you’ll want to pass on it. Going from initial idea to evaluation to execution of that idea can take 5 minutes or 5 months. Time is a function of complexity. If you are an entrepreneurial startup your cycle will be shorter as there are fewer stakeholders and people involved. On the other hand if you lead an organization the challenge is more around ingesting all the great ideas and breaking down silos.

There is a great quote from Einstein which says: “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”

If I had an hour to generate and execute on an idea I’d spend the first 10 minutes researching, 5 minutes mulling over things, 10 minutes to generate ideas, 5 minutes to decide which idea to pursue, and then the remainder of the time executing, testing, getting feedback and iterating on that idea.

Q3: What is the biggest challenge that creativity faces in today’s world?

The education system is still educating people like it is 1919 and not 2019. Countries like Singapore and my native Scotland have become better about adding creativity training to their school, college and university systems. I also think that is pays to spend time analyzing what type of creative you are. A software engineer and a HR manager can both be creative but they will have their own creative strengths and weaknesses. An engineer will be very good at asking questions whereas an HR manager may be better at thinking through the consequences of implementing a new creative initiative. Both are equally valid which is why creativity is like cooking. Sure you need good ingredients but it is how you combine them that really makes it special.

Q4: Is it possible to design a machine to be creative?

At the moment machines cannot compete with humans at the kind of creativity you see from the most creative designers, entrepreneurs, scientists and chefs. However, this will change over time. I don’t necessarily see this as a threat to humankind but more of an opportunity. How could a machine help you augment your own creativity so you can achieve things that are incredible.

Q5: When should one give up on an idea?

When it fails to solve the problem you are faced and you are getting no indication that you are making real progress. They said that Thomas Edison made over 1,000 attempts to invent the lightbulb. It’s not that the first 999 attempts were failures. They provided him with useful feedback. Can you imagine what the world would be like if Edison had given up on his 500th attempt?

Creativity is circular in that way. It’s about generating an idea or hypothesis, testing it, getting feedback, tweaking and then re-testing until you get the desired result. This mindset requires resilience as well as good ideas!

P.S: If you are at the conference, give me a shout out. I would love to say ‘Hello’.

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