Updated: Apr 7
Conversation about creativity, innovation, and leadership at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Anita Brick. Director for Career Advancement Programs at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, hosts Roy Sharples on her CareerCast the about how do you advance your career in a world filled with noise, banality, and people hoping to fit in? Roy Sharples, CEO of Unknown Origins, former Managing Director, Global Industry Product Marketing, at Microsoft, and author of CREATIVITY WITHOUT FRONTIERS: How to Make the Invisible Visible by Lighting the Way into the Future, would tell you to act boldly, bravely, and creatively. Roy shares how to provoke actions that can advance your career with less fear, more fun, and where you will stand out based on what is important to you in your career and life.
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First of all, how would you briefly define creativity without frontiers?
"Creativity Without Frontiers" is a manifesto to save the world from unoriginality by unleashing the power of creativity by drawing upon decades of experience at the forefront of business innovation and synthesizing the creative practices from hundreds of creators across every creative domain and knowledge base to explore what makes the creative mind tick. It examines the conditions that nourish creativity in organizations of all sizes, from artists to corporations to civilizations. Resulting in a set of principles, tools, and techniques that inspires thinking to take action by building connections, understanding perspectives, and broadening capacity to connect the past to the present by putting things together in new ways that light the way into the future.
What creativity without frontiers strategies and practices are you seeing work for career advancement?
Leadership is leading by action to find the future by breaking through the status quo. Leaders create clarity by synthesizing complex concepts. They generate energy by inspiring optimism, creativity, and growth, and they deliver success by driving innovation and tenaciously pursuing the right outcomes.
This means rejecting conventions and originating new ideals. Do-it-yourself refers to the rebellious impetuosity of non-conformity with direct action and not selling out, doing it in your own style and pace. Embrace challenge, accept failure, persist in the face of setbacks, and learn by doing as the path to mastery.
Being passionately dedicated to your craft evokes wonder and discovery. Remaining honest, trustworthy, and responsible by taking pride in everything you do helps you achieve the highest quality craft and professional excellence levels.
It is essential to collaborate when exploring new ideas, finding innovative solutions, and not learning. Collaboration is the cross-pollination and sharing of knowledge across multiple domains by combining individuals' intellectual capital and know-how.
Stand on the shoulders of giants by seeking counsel from people you trust, respect, and admire. Find positive role models who can share their skills, insights, and expertise to help nurture your ideas. Understand and respect history and infuse best practices into finding the future to truly innovate and not reinvent the wheel.
What are some of the potential risks?
The purpose of organizational development is to provide leading-edge thinking, practice, and programs. You cannot curate a culture of creativity by subscribing to it or buying it from a shelf, because it is a social system about values, skills, craftsmanship, and a way of doing that needs to be embraced and practiced throughout an organization to nurture people to create without fear.
Creativity is the most distinguishable quality for every leader in every domain. Creative leaders display distinctly different behaviors, values, and characteristics from traditional management, and they get exponential results, inspire creativity in others, build productive teams, and drive successful businesses. Yet while many organizations claim that they value creative leadership, most of them pay lip service to the idea to rev up the past by promoting leaders who do not espouse creative leadership and instead are perceived as safer, risk-averse, and more likely to maintain the status quo, which is diametrically opposed to the necessary leadership needed to move the world forward.
What are the top three things that you would advise individuals to do to incorporate creativity without frontiers for greater career success and impact beyond themselves?
Creative leaders 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.
Lead Without Frontiers
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.
Provoke Actions That Change Minds
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.
Keep True to the Dreams of Your Youth and Create Outside the Boundaries
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.
Thank you for writing the book and just reading the first few pages make me feel overwhelming. Where does a person even start to be as great as the people and things influencing you - in this case influencing me? (MBA Student)
Define yourself by what you are and what you are not and appreciate the difference, which will free you to excel at your craft. When you are clear about yourself, you can guide your future and attract all the right people to your life and into your creative circle.
It starts with belief. Then make the necessary sacrifices by being committed, focused, and self-disciplined, by making yourself accountable for the decisions you make and the actions you take, being resilient and positive when faced with setbacks and adversity. Be open-minded by redefining these situations as a process for learning to grow.
You talk about being acceptable to yourself OR others. How can I be acceptable to myself and mobilize others to support my vision? (Alum)
This means being authentic. Be in the moment, leading by example by having clarity, ooze energy, and drive for results to make things happen by pushing forward for the greater good with true grit, for the sake of your beliefs, your commitments, and for others which will lead to cultivating lifelong relationships and partnerships grounded in trust, honesty, and transparency.
I agree with the idea of starting with self-belief and intellectually knowing that failure is the path to mastery, but I am struggling to put this into action within the realities of my daily life. How can I begin to break through this pattern that clearly holds me back? (MBA Student)
Treat failure as a step forward, not a step backward or a reason to disengage. However, I do not mean being reckless and doing things in ignorance and repeatedly fail as a result. Acquiring the essential skill and knowledge, which obviously truly comes from doing, rolling up your sleeves, and doing it until you can, honing your craft along the way and never giving up. This will give you the confidence and inner strength to pursue your creative pursuits with the necessary belief and swagger.
I struggle with the enormity of challenges that are all around us. I know I have things where I can have a big and positive impact. Yet truly - what can one person do who is not a billionaire and still feels a strong sense of purpose? (Staff or Faculty)
At the core, having a strong sense of purpose is saying what you mean and doing what you say by delivering on the mission at hand by ensuring that what you do is meaningful to you and how the outcome makes a positive difference to others.
People who are purpose-led stand with conviction and see their work through to the bitter end with resilience, grit, and the solitary intent of making something better no matter how micro that may seem, details matter and it all adds up to the sum of a greater total.
What advice would you have for someone who works in a culture that doesn't create psychological safety and prefers that people are scared. You may wonder why I stay - I believe in that we do, and I feel leadership is hanging around until retirement. How can someone not in senior leadership to take what we have and make this something that can create so much positive value? (MBA Student).
This type of culture can be counter-productive to progress and reverse any good you do, leading to mistrust, dysfunctionality, and toxicity. People organized in teams and corporate structures are rational. They are self-contained economic engines applying their brand of rationality to situations; "What is in it for me?" because people, by nature, tend to make decisions based on the benefit to them.
Therefore, if you truly believe in what you do, and that by achieving that is by remaining in your organization, then apply coping mechanisms that show the benefit to those in power and circumnavigate the status to drive through the change that you want to see and demonstrating the value of this along the way which will help you gather momentum and make what you do stick. As others notice a successful leader’s creative sensibility, they begin their own self-discovery process. Otherwise, your pushing spaghetti up an iceberg with roller skates on and get the next bus out of there and find an organization that aligns to your values and ambitious.
In the book, you talk about how boredom can lead to creativity. I am too busy to be bored. How do other "busy" people find the time? (MBA Student)
Social media, mobility, and the internet consume our lives, making it hard to cut through the noise when we're being saturated with information. When we are in a steady state of predictable monotony, our brain turns to auto-pilot, which oppresses our imagination and ability to think creatively. Boredom doesn’t mean having nothing to do, it means being dissatisfied with what is, and having an inclination to create what is not by providing an alternative that disrupts the status quo.
Creating mental space is liberating for the mind and creates a stimulus because our brain releases dopamine, making us feel good. Effective prioritization and focusing on what truly matters and executing on it. After all, the most used noun in the English language is time, and we want to make the most of it. Say no, and say it often, and don't be afraid to push back. Critically challenge and always provide an alternative. Then make sure you can deliver on it. Dream. Make. Do.
How would you advise someone who wants to be true to themselves - when the influences to be different are SO strong? I feel like I am at a bit of an impasse. Thank you so much? (Alum)
Of course, idiosyncrasies exist, though fundamentally, people are the same everywhere in that we are all born, live, and die. Have loves, hates, and passions. The brain, nerves, organs, and skin are the same biotic structure. We breathe, drink, and eat to stay alive. What makes us unique is how we self-identify by interpreting the world around us, discovering our strengths, and expressing our personalities, talents, and triumphs.
Having the freedom to pursue your independent goals is essential for nourishing your mental health and in the pursuit of living a fulfilled and happiness life, instead of being an order taker for someone else's ideals, which marginalizes your self-esteem and self-worth, and insecurities to ascend.
Manifest what is inside and around you in everyday life, transcending the ordinary and routine into something that has value by putting things together in a way that has never been done before.
You talk about incremental and radical innovation. How would you advise someone to apply to a career in business? (Alum)
Be clear about what you desire based on what motivates you and makes you happy, not what your friends and peers are doing or the external pressures that may be forcing you away from your core. Then once you are clear about that, identify organizations that align to your values, ambitions, and moral compass. If there aren’t any, go start your own company. Be honest. Not everyone is or wants to be on the edge and what works for someone else will not work exactly for you.
I am good at a number of things and can't seem to choose just one. How do you advise others to prioritize options that can each be pretty good? (MBA Student)
Either set your self-goals and seek experiences that build muscle in individual areas, and be ruthlessly focused and disciplined in achieving them, or find work that capitalizes on satisfying your broad interests and talents by taking on more general management, consulting, start-up roles that will help you retain a broad remit where you can exercise your passions and talents. Otherwise, you may feel restless and distracted if you commit to a singular domain and be averse to truly mastering just one craft. However, especially in the early parts of your career, you will find yourself in roles that demand you to be an expert in a specific domain and knowledge base, and so choose wisely and be good at what you do through every step of your journey.
As I share a story about my career transition to my new target audience, how do I find the intersection of the meaning of the story to me and the meaning of the story to the listener? (MBA Student)
Communication is an essential skill, and to do it exceptional well is vital to how far you will go in your career. All the great leaders were exceptional communicators, and the process requires constant honing as the world is ever changing and you need to be adaptive along the way to ensure you message remains relevant, resonant, and maximizes reach.
Be clear about the purpose of the story you want to tell, and the audience you want to tell it to and why it matters to you and them, and if it doesn’t matter then the story is probably not worth telling. What do they care about? What's the call to action that you want your audience to take away? How do you want to make them feel?
A well-told story engages the mind, heart, and soul. A powerful narrative is built from simple principles.
1) Truth is how we connect emotionally with a story and relate it to ourselves.
2) The right style and voice bring clarity and to make what you say memorable.
3) We exist in time. Our lives have beginnings, middles, and endings, filled with ups and downs. Conflict is the engine of narrative; it's what keeps us listening.
4) We tell stories to share and understand human experiences to build connections and pass on wisdom.
You talk about creating a "Utopian" vision for the future to break free of constraints and develop a better future. How could someone apply this to someone in a leadership position, where investors have short-term profit expectations? (Alum)
First and foremost: all commercial businesses exist to make money. Creating business value requires understanding what drives a company to operate and be successful: asset efficiency, operating margin, option value, and revenue growth. As an entrepreneur your aspiration is to envision and bring something new to the world that has never existed.
In the context of what I've defined "Utopian Futures" in my book, it means a future designed to be better, not worse. Starting with a utopian vision is vital because it enables us to break free of today's problems by seeing the potential of what could be. Where do you start with a prospective investor? Start with what matters most by defining and prioritizing a set of core principles that your vision is founded upon, what problem are you solving, how you will achieve the solution, and having a viable business model. No money generated, no business, and therefore, no utopian vision realized.
I have been working in my field for more than two decades, how can someone like me have an outsider perspective? (Friend of CareerCast)
Cross-pollinate and collaborate across multiple and disparate domains and knowledge bases to seek broader insights and ways of doing. Continually analyze and question the status quo and provide an alternative, you can lead creatively and provoke actions that bring about progressive change.
How do you advise individuals to combine learning, experience, and growth with a childlike imagination and minimize the allure of ego? I struggle with this. Help! Thanks? (Alum)
Learning is critical to human existence. As water and food nourish our bodies, so too do information and knowledge fuel our minds. It’s important to keep an open mind and avoid the trap of becoming a know it as opposed to a learn it all.
You never lose the ability to be creative. In fact, I believe that creativity increases with time because we all gain more knowledge and insight as we experience more of life. Life events provide us with more reference points, and the knowledge gained through experiencing them, combined with our imagination, maintains our childlike wonder throughout life. Insight truly knows no bounds.
Ego based decisions are a deadly sin because when people assess their well-being by their own ego, they can become self-fulfilling, critical, judgmental, manipulative of others, rigid, and inflexible. This state of mind can be counter-productive to progress and reverse any good you do, leading to mistrust, dysfunctionality, and toxicity.
In your book, you talk about respect for the audience. I am all for respect and yet, I tend to for from respect to wanting them to like me and get stuck there. Help! Thanks. (MBA Student)
Having respect for your audience means holding yourself accountable for your actions and have a social conscience and empathy by continuously managing innovation that powers the products, services, or experiences you design, make, and sell, and the businesses you run by connecting emotionally to your audience by providing meaning and delivering unforgettable experiences, that's when alchemy happens. Brand love is created by having a purpose, establishing trust, and making people feel good and connected to something greater.
So, fearlessly lead without frontiers 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. Play the long game in good taste and with integrity.
With pressure to produce creative solutions like a machine, how do you see people finding the space to have the innovative perspective you discuss and not miss deadlines?
Creativity is not something that is incidental, it is essential, and it is not a license to miss deadlines that you have committed to.
On your point about automation, machines are programmed to do what is required of them. They don’t have imagination and have zero creativity.
Don't get mesmerized by technology and being fooled into believing that it is the answer. It is not. Former Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lassiter accurately declared: "Computers don't create computer animation any more than pencils create pencil animation. What creates is the artist."
Save the world from unoriginality by unleashing the power of creativity
Learn more about how to create without frontiers by unleashing the power of creativity through three steps—Dream, Make, and Do, supported by true stories and know-how from creators across many domains and knowledge bases about their creative processes, keys to success, and pitfalls to avoid.
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