What’s your secret to success at work?
What gives you an edge over the competition?
I ask my coaching clients this question all the time, and most say something like this:
- I work hard and hit my deadlines
- I am great at communicating complex ideas
- I’m a team player and my boss loves me
I hate to break it to you, but these are all terrible answers.
Now, before you shut this page because I’ve offended you, let me explain…
When you’re in a career like consulting or banking, everyone is a top-performer. Everyone is smart. Everyone works insanely hard. Everyone communicates and is a team player.
Those don’t give you an edge.
Those are just the table stakes that get you in the game.
If you want to go from average to truly exceptional, you need something special.
One answer that most people ignore = creativity.
The ability to come up with new, thought-provoking ideas can be a game-changer for your career. Instead of just a number-cruncher, managers fight to work with you because you understand the big picture and attack problems from a new angle. Instead of just being a note-taker in meetings, you become a trusted advisor for your client and do work way above your pay grade.
Instead of being known around the office as “a hard-worker”, people start looking at you as a “rockstar” or “genius” or “oracle”.
Who wouldn’t want that kind of edge??
Today, I’m going to give you a simple technique for sparking creative ideas on demand that I learned it from a performance coach to some of the very best hedge fund managers in the world.
But first, let’s dig into some of the science for how your brain produces these ‘lightbulb moments’ of creativity.
So, have you ever had a brilliant idea randomly pop into your head?
Of course you have — most people have experienced plenty of these ‘lightbulb moments’ in their lives. You’ve been struggling with an impossible problem for weeks, and then out of nowhere the perfect solution just appears in your mind.
The challenge is that most of us have no idea where these creative ideas come from, or how to make them happen more often. We rely on dumb luck and chance (needless to say, this is a terrible strategy).
Luckily, a bunch of smart scientists and researchers can help us out:
Conscious thought is better at making linear, analytic decisions, but unconscious thought is especially effective at solving complex problems,” says Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management. “Unconscious activation may provide inspirational sparks underlying the ‘Aha!’ moment that eventually leads to important discoveries.
So, if we want to spark creative insights, then we need to build in time for BOTH conscious analysis and unconscious processing. It’s not a matter of just reading more information, it’s also about giving your brain time to unconsciously process the input while you’re not thinking about the problem.
That was the ‘theory’. Now, let’s get tactical. Here’s the blueprint for turning yourself into an idea-generating machine.
Imagine if instead of waiting for a great idea to pop into your head, you could deliberately spark creativity multiple times a day. How would that help you break into the career of your dreams? Think about it.
It’s everyones dream, and now there’s a roadmap to make it a reality.
On an early episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, Tim interviews Josh Waitzkin, a former chess prodigy that now consults some of the very best hedge fund and investment managers in the world. He doesn’t name names, but mentions that his clients run 20 to 30 billion dollar financial groups.
During the interview Josh breaks down how he helps clients conquer information overload and structure their day to spark creative insights. Here’s an excerpt of his best advice:
(NOTE: This transcript is long, but if you think about the value of one game-changing creative idea then you can’t afford NOT to read this.)
What I do with these guys is – after I do my initial diagnostic process – I have ways of revamping their daily architecture, the way they live their life. So that they’re, for example, aligning their peak energy period with their peak creativity work. They are building lifestyles that are just relentlessly proactive. As opposed to reacting to inputs, they’re building a daily architecture which is based on maximizing the creative process.
When you think about this relative to most people – a simple case in point – is email checking. Most people when they finish a break, and even top guys in the industry, and they finish a break, whether they wake up first in the morning – what do most people do? They check their emails. When they come back from a workout, they check their emails. When they come back from lunch, they check their emails.
So what you see is whenever they’re coming back from something after a break, they’re soaking in input and they’re living this reactive lifestyle. Their creative process is dominated by external noise as opposed to internal music. And a lot of what I work on with guys is creating rhythms in their life that really are based on feeding the unconscious mind, which is the wellspring of creativity, information and then tapping it.
So for example, ending the work day with high quality focus on a certain area of complexity where you could use an insight and waking up first thing in the morning, pre-input and applying your mind to it. Not so much to do a big brainstorm, but to tap what you’ve been working unconsciously overnight, which of course is a principle that Hemingway talked about, when he spoke about the 2 core principles in his writing process was: one was ending the work day with something left to write and then second principle: release your mind from it, don’t think about it all night. Have a glass of wine and wake up first thing in the morning and reapply your mind to it.
And it’s amazing, because you’re basically feeding the mind complexity and then tapping that complexity, or tapping what you’ve done with it and this rhythm, the large variation of it is overnight, then you can do microburst of it throughout the day: before workout, pose a questions, do a workout and release your mind and after your workout return to it and do a creative burst. Before you go to the bathroom, before you go to lunch, before anything.
And these are ways of systematically training yourself to generate the crystallization experience, the high moment, that can happen once a month or once a year. A lot of what I do is work on system that help it happen once a day or 4 times a day. When you’re talking about guys that run financial groups of 20 to 30 billion dollars for example if they have a huge insight, that can have unbelievable value. So if you can really train people to get systematic about nurturing their creative process, it’s unbelievable what can happen. Most of that work relates to getting out of your own way, at a very high level. It’s unlearning, it’s the constant practice of traction, reducing friction.
# # #
It’s a beautiful, simple, and extremely powerful solution to a problem we all have.
If you want to start churning out more game-changing ideas, just look for a few moments during the day where you can work on a problem before taking a break and plant the seed for some unconscious creativity. It could be lunch, a workout, a coffee break, or even overnight while you sleep.
After you’ve thought this framework, let me ask you this:
- How will you apply this idea to your day-to-day schedule?
- What are the moments that you can turn into creative opportunities?
Let us know in the comments below.