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"Creativity Without Frontiers" at the Royal College of Art

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

Talk about creativity, innovation, and leadership

Roy Sharples delivers talk to the students and faculty of the Royal College of Art on "Creativity Without Frontiers" about what makes the creative mind tick and the manifesto for creativity to unleash the creative power we all have inside. Facilitated by the College's Head of Service Design, Clive Grinyer.

Listen to the recording from the YouTube Live session produced by the Service Design programme at the Royal College of Art,

Talk track summary:

1. Creativity is the ability to make the invisible visible by taking what is not to create what is.

It manifests what is inside you and around you by transcending the obvious, ordinary, and routine. It connects the past to the present by putting things together in new ways. Creativity is the belief in yourself and your ideas, always moving forward and never giving up!

2. True creatives are the outsiders looking in, the rebels with a cause.

To be one, you must be comfortable taking a stand against oppressive forces and articulating your opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation. Creativity entails providing something new to the world, overturning the status quo by positively impacting people's lives, and helping society advance by making life more purposeful, engaging, and fulfilling. It also means embracing originality and making unique connections between disparate universes past and present to light the way into the future.

Many innovators are classic outsiders who disrupted, invented, and changed the faces of their industries forever. Andrew Carnegie, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Nikola Tesla, and the Wright Brothers rose from obscurity to radically transform industry and how people lived. But it this mantra is the same in other fields such as what Elvis the Beatles did to revolutionizing how people listened to and made music, Banksy did in art, Muhammad Ali and George Best did in sport. None of these were created in the manufactured karaoke culture Pop Idol or American Idol.

Creative leaders break the mold by making their own path to achieve mastery. They have confidence in their ideas, and never give up on bringing them to fruition. It means leading without frontiers by seeing around the corners and fearlessly navigating into the future,.

They are people of action who are always future-oriented, who start things, move the world forward, and inspire others to do it by driving transformation in society, business, and the arts.

Often, by accident, disruption can have a domino effect outside the intentional target and area of expertise. For example, Apple’s iTunes became a multimedia content and hardware synchronization management system and e-commerce platform; it was originally envisioned as a music player. It ended up disrupting the music industry by providing consumers with the ability to legally buy only the songs they wanted to hear at a significantly lower cost than on other platforms. Another example is Coca-Cola, which was first invented by pharmacist John Stith Pemberton to cure headaches before becoming a household name.

Sometimes, the farther you are from a problem, the more likely you will find a solution because you can see the situation from a fresh perspective and often apply novel solutions to a disparate field.

This transformation infuses imagination, taste, style, and inherent messiness with an inner desperation and persistence, along with a desire to succeed those results in having the skill and practical know-how. To be creative, you must swim courageously against the tide in search of the authentic and new, while staving off false promises of easy gratification and immediate success in a world saturated with consumer-led celebrity culture, where everyone looks the same, and everything is for sale. This is the reality in which we live, and it is counter-intuitive to nurturing creativity.

However, curiously, it is hardship, melancholy, and adversity that often inspire creativity. People who survive alienation, oppression, poverty, and other life challenges realize that it fuels their genius when they are able to focus it. This primal desire to survive the odds with extraordinary intellectual ability, mental toughness, grit, and creative productivity is what fuels an insatiable drive for self-actualization. This, in turn, inspires creativity.

When you know how to channel your passion and energy into creativity and create meaningful outcomes, your outputs will be the next generation's inputs by lighting the way to the future and passing on the baton, leaving the world a better place. If you aspire to be as influential as the things that influence you—not to imitate them but to influence others in your own creative way— you can recreate the world.

3. Few movements survive long-term without embracing both radical and incremental innovation. Every successful artist, entrepreneur, and business needs to innovate continuously or risk being surpassed by competition in the longer term.

Radical innovation introduces a new business model and way of doing, where its invention dismantles and surpasses an existing business model and the status quo that surrounds it. In the business continuum, it typically equates to higher risks, but can offer higher returns. It requires the ability to envision and treat failure as a step forward, not a step backward or a reason to disengage. Startups are typically biased toward radical innovation by having significantly fewer constraints than larger organizations. They can afford to take greater risks, focus on the bigger picture, have more inspirational objectives, and be willing to experiment, reimagine, and design for the new with fewer inhibitors.

Apple experimented with the music application iTunes. It realized there was no quality MP3 player on the market, so it created its own, the iPod. Eventually, it dematerialized its own technology by pivoting into another adjacent market, smartphones, with the iPhone! This led to Apple revolutionizing both the music and telecommunications industries, ultimately leading to reinventing itself from being a personal computing company to an all-encompassing consumer electronics, computer software, and online services global leader.

Incremental innovation is small improvements made to an existing business model, product, service, or experience to achieve the desired business goal and differentiate from the competition by building on current value propositions and offerings to an existing and known market. Mature businesses tend to be biased toward innovating incrementally to maintain their existing customers' needs and grow their customer base in a risk-mitigated and tangible way. Typically characterized by narrower objectives and quantitative goals, they also take advantage of market research, focus groups, and prototyping. These large organizations focus on continuous improvement. They work toward defined milestones and rely upon internal sources of information to fill knowledge gaps.

Companies like Disney and Coca-Cola have mastered the art and science of relevance and customer retention by incrementally innovating extensions to their product offerings through product enhancements, acquisition, and experiential branding. This has enabled them to stay relevant, tap into emerging trends, and continually bring something new to customers while remaining the market leaders.

4. We all exist in time, a progression from the past into the future, moving in one direction -> forward!

Design influences society by communicating through visual, word, and sonic, changing opinions, instilling values, and translating experiences to people across space and time. It is an expression of the soul that experiences ideas and provides us with purpose and meaning. Design is a vehicle for time and social change that interconnects society, entertainment, politics, fashion, and technology, which translates into popular culture—practices, beliefs, and rituals prevalent in society at any given point in time.

Take the 1970s as an example: A decade that saw rapid pace of societal change, egalitarian society, diversity, broad-ranging styles, and tastes. Political and economic freedom for women, and gay rights. The rise of environmental movements, women's rights, and gay rights. Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister for the UK, as did Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo for Portugal. Diverse and stylized music genres were also the norm: disco, funk, glam rock, heavy metal, krautrock, new wave, progressive rock, punk rock, soul, and synth-pop. Numerous subcultures emerged, such as Punk. Which emerged in New York and London in the 1970s with antiestablishment and left-wing political views, promoting individual freedom and do-it-yourself ethics, centered on loud, aggressive rock music. Who fashioned bondage trousers, chains, leather, metal spikes and studs, military-style boots, and torn clothing. Haircuts included spiked hair, native American-inspired Mohican and Mohawk styles.

5 Creativity is a way of living and setting the right conditions, atmosphere, and environment encourages creativity, art, and beauty that people adapt and react to and reflect in their life and work.

Metropolises inspire creativity as a space for social integration, dreaming, making, and doing, where citizens can realize their full potential to live more enriched, fulfilled, and happy lives. Combined with the chemistry of individual human ingenuity, creative breakthroughs are a human process that happens when a diverse community of like-minded come together.

Societies are a catalyst for creating influential art and sociocultural movements. This can be seen from the Ancient Egyptian Memphis, Classical Athens and Renaissance Florence to the French Revolution and Romanticism in Paris, to postwar New York and London. Historically, industrial cities like Detroit, Glasgow, and Manchester have an engrained maker and doer ethos, and port towns such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, and Liverpool have a constant exchange, diversity of people, and international trade. The modern-day digital revolution was born in Silicon Valley within the San Francisco Bay Area of California, with its burgeoning start-up and global technology innovation scene and its culture of openness and free exchange of ideas.

6. Architecture and design influence how people feel and connect them emotionally that triggers the imagination.

They speak a global language that everyone can understand regardless of their native language and cultural identity. They can affect how art is made and experienced, and they act as a catalyst for social integration and collaboration, empowering people with a sense of escapism, freedom, and hope to become self-actualized and live a fulfilled life.

7. Time. Place. Occasion.

Music venues like the Cavern Club in Liverpool became an epicenter for Merseybeat in the 1960s. The Troubadour in Los Angeles for folk music in the 1960s and 1970s. CBGB in New York City and the 100 Club in London for punk in the 1970s. The Wigan Casino for northern soul in the 1970s. In Manchester, the Haçienda nightclub for acid house, rave music, and the “Madchester” scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These venues became synonymous with the music they hosted. A sanctuary where music, fashion, and culture came together where like-minded people could self-identify and feel liberated.

8. Cultures are defined by the people who live and function within them.

When people come together in the service of something greater, they retain their own unique personalities, passions, hopes, and dreams. The shared experiences and constant interactions between people make up a culture. Culture is the engine that drives our momentum. It is the sum of what you feel, believe, and do those shapes and defines your work's input and output.

9. Magic Takes Planning: The Creative Process

Every single creative will tell you that there is no on and off button for creativity. It is a constant that happens naturally, by design, or by accident in our everyday lives. Though the creative process may seem magical, especially where ideas can come from and how they are brought to form and life, there are proven techniques, tools, methods, frameworks, and approaches to the art and science of applied creativity that make it happen.

What it does not mean is being fooled into believing that it is simply about following a process and expecting creative results as an outcome. It is all about people and the execution, because people with a vision combined with passion and drive make things happen. To pursue your idea with conviction and resilience, be skilled in your craft and expedite quality precision to bring your idea to life. Have true grit to slay the naysayers, push through adversity and ambiguity with leadership, make sacrifices, and execute your ideas in a disciplined way.

The creative process is about making new connections between past and present ideas, and infusing economic, political, sociocultural, and technological perspectives in parallel to produce new business models, products, services, or experiences. The steps in the process involve discovering and developing insights, applying divergent thinking to analyze a problem, generating and evaluating ideas that can become concepts, experimenting, prototyping, constructing, and making a plan of action, then bringing it to form, to life!

DREAM MAKE DO Creative Process

How do we find creativity? Do we simply dream up ideas from within ourselves, what we manifest from what we observe and the world we live in, or do ideas fall from the sky, and gravitate toward us?

My approach blends the art and science of the creative process: DREAM MAKE DO.

The process is iterative and constant, and the alchemy is in the execution of the process. It is customizable per craft, situation, and opportunity.

  1. DREAM Apply divergent thinking to dream without frontiers to find the breakthrough ideas by envisioning the desired outcome

  2. MAKE Adopt a do-it-yourself sensibility using convergent thinking to review and select the best ideas and then rapidly prototype and construct the plan to bring it to life

  3. DO Review the solution to identify improvements, make eliminations, fine-tune, remove obstacles, mitigate risks, and bring it to life with the audience and markets, whether the solution is a new business, brand campaign, a physical product, an industrial design, song, film, story or painting.

I engaged many creative innovators from multiple fields and knowledge basis as part my research. For example, Graphic Designer Malcolm Garrett's approach to creativity in the context of graphic design:

"The bottom line is empathy," Malcolm continued. "I've come to understand that what I do is actually never really my work. If you are designing, you are by default trying to convey something for somebody else, to somebody else, by conveying the information that belongs to that environment, to the people that need to experience it. Communication just has to work without thought. For example, what do you see when you think about Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon? Light refracting from a triangular prism across a black background. That visual icon and the record The Dark Side of the Moon are inextricably linked and have thus become synonymous, and that's what a good designer does. They don't just draw a triangle with light rays that go through it—they create a sense of comprehension that transcends the imagery.”

10. Expertise is not enough to change the world in any field and discipline. Innovation and artistry require the ability to transcend time and create a culture and movement manifested through your own unique identity, aesthetics, and the world around you.

I established a Creative Excellence Model that details the collection of skills and competencies. These comprise five principles that define what creative leaders must know and practice, and that holistically address leadership at the individual, team, and organizational levels.

There are five learning stages of creative leadership: Fledgling, Journeyman, Expert, Innovator, and Artist; there are also four distinct behaviors, knowledge, and skill clusters: leadership, aesthetics and identity, industry and cultural insights, and craftsmanship. These make use of three proficiencies: discovery, invention, and innovation.

The five stages are:

1. FLEDGLING: Acquiring knowledge and know-how.

2. JOURNEYMAN: Applying insight and contributing independently.

3. EXPERT: Guiding through domain expertise.

4. INNOVATOR: Innovating through breakthrough execution.

5. ARTIST: Leading through artistry and personal mastery.

Many influential artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers, actors, writers, poets, entrepreneurs, industrialists, and technologists started as imitators of their craft's current greats. Still, once they found their voice and sound, they became unstoppable in their own right. They are innovators who broke the bonds of their era to create high art, and their own original experience cultivated a movement for change.

11. Manifesto for Creating Without Frontiers


If your efforts are met with ridicule, all you have to do is find your inner conviction that you are doing the right thing, navigating toward invisible horizons by anticipating future trends inspired by culture and aesthetics to drive sustained discovery, invention, and innovation. It's a sure sign that what you do is bold and innovative if you're dancing to your own drumbeat. Pay no mind to ridicule.


Dream, make, and do. Be in the moment. Push forward for the greater good with true grit. Conformity never leads to progress. If you have something authentically different to offer, you'll excite and inspire others and ultimately thrive by lighting the way to the future.


Fearlessly lead by example and win the crowd by navigating territory where no one else has ventured. Avoid the mainstream and work to develop a deeper relationship between yourself and your audience. Be authentic, live in the moment with conviction and confidence, and always stay true to yourself.


Reject conventions, constantly analyze, and question and challenge the status quo in your everyday life. Provide an alternative and bring it to life. People who achieve greatness do not fit a formula or follow a structure. They break the mold by following their own path.


Pablo Picasso believed all children are artists, but they lose their creativity when they grow up. Grow into, not out of, creativity. Don't give up the dreams of your childhood and your approach to the world through a child's eyes. Learn, innovate, and never waste a second on anything that seems to restrict you.

12. Don't let the future leave you behind

Follow your heart and do what you love by falling in love with your craft, pursue it with intensity, and be exceptional at it. Everything you need is already inside of you. Free yourself from others' expectations and walk away from the games and boundaries they impose upon you. Only you know your true worth!

Realizing your full potential to live a fulfilled life means unlocking and applying your creative potential to do and excel at what you love.

Remember, our outputs are the next generation's inputs! That comes with accountability and responsibility to pass the baton to the next generation by leaving the world in better shape than you found it. Make it count!


Learn more about how to create without frontiers by unleashing the creative power within us.

"Creativity Without Frontiers"

Buy the book at Amazon

About the Author

Roy Sharples

Founder and CEO of Unknown Origins, a creative studio on a mission to save the world from unoriginality by unleashing the power of creativity. Author of "Creativity Without Frontiers: How to make the invisible visible by lighting the way into the future."

About the Facilitator

Clive Grinyer

Design pioneer Clive Grinyer is an acknowledged expert in service design, design thinking, digital and technology innovation, and customer experience. He has led award-winning design teams for companies worldwide, including IDEO, and founded the consultancy Tangerine with Apple design chief Sir Jony Ive. He is a trustee of the Royal Society of Arts, a visiting professor at the Glasgow School of Art, and head of the pioneering service design program at the Royal College of Art in London.

Attitude. Imagination. Execution.

Unknown Origins. All rights reserved © copyright 2021

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