Everyone would love to harness the creative genius and extreme innovation that Steve Jobs had (I know I probably would’ve hired him).
While he certainly had a lot of worthwhile ideas and habits to spread, there’s one really unlikely one that he attributed to a lot of his success: and it all had to do with taking a calligraphy class.
During his Stanford address, he said:
“I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to [learn calligraphy]. I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture.
None of this had any hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would never have multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”
The key to his success wasn’t just working fervently on the next iPhone; it was also constantly taking on new practices, even if he couldn’t see how they directly contributed to his success.
Or as he put it, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
This isn’t limited to the tech world or Jobs. For instance, a recent study published in the Academy of Management Journal found that the most creative fashion lines in the last decade were produced by fashion designers who took on new experiences abroad. It found that something as simple as “new sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights” sparked different synapses in the brain and boosted innovation.
As any entrepreneur knows, it’s all too easy to get stuck in tunnel vision and focus solely on the business in front of you — especially when there are a million and a half things required to get there. However, new experiences directly correlate with innovation and success, even if it’s not apparent at all how they do so.
So even if you can’t travel to a tropical island (or take a class on calligraphy) you should find similar methods to create new experiences that boost your success.
Here are some easy tips I use on a regular basis that will help you take those blinders off and increase creativity and innovation.
Get out or switch it up
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner regularly hold walking meetings. This is because walking around boosts creativity, and research conducted by Stanford University backs that up.
I find that even a brief walk in the park with my rescue pup Magic accomplishes this innovation. Especially if you’re in one of those 4 o’clock ruts, take a quick stroll around the office, or even go to a local park, and contemplate your work. This doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit either — you can implement a much-needed outdoor brainstorming session with your team.
If you can’t get outside, find something within your daily routine that is easy to switch up. Order a foreign cuisine for lunch, or listen to a completely different kind of music throughout the day. Involve your team by asking them for input and suggestions. Who knows, it could even lead to innovative collaboration opportunities.
Take SMART risks
Risk is a four letter word that many of us try to shy away from. But whether it’s in investing in the stock market or just leaving the house in the morning, risk is always necessary for growth. As Mark Zuckerberg put it, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”
That’s why you should constantly assess if you’re just treading water carefully, or taking the right amount of risk to move forward.
Now this doesn’t mean you should take any risk. Smart risk is compensated risk: a chance you are rewarded for taking.
Let’s put it this way: if someone were to offer you twenty dollars just to walk around the block, there’s a good deal. If they were to offer you twenty dollars to walk through a minefield, no way! The potential harm far outweighs the potential reward.
It’s too tempting to only focus on “surefire” projects and ones where the payoff is incredibly apparent. But it’s beyond important to take those riskier leaps, even if they scare you.
These don’t have to be million-dollar risks either. Something as simple as taking on a new project where the end result isn’t as visible, or looking into a “crazy” idea with the team can help you find the right risks to tackle and bolster your innovation.
Go “back to school”
I’m not asking you to enroll in a graduate program, but instead to look at your work from the perspective of a toddler.
Walk into work tomorrow and act like you’ve never been there before. Ask questions about everything you’re doing. Ask if you’re finding the quickest route from point A to point B. Ask if your approach will produce your best and greatest work.
What worked for your business five years ago may not be the most efficient process now. Listen to new employees who are coming in with a fresh set of eyes, and try to emulate that detached perspective on a regular basis.
You’ll be surprised by the results.
“Force” yourself to take on something new
Every month without fail, I set aside some time to lock myself in my office to do this. I evaluate my progress and think about how I could push myself further. Some of these goals are accomplished in a few minutes, and others simply won’t be reached. That’s okay. The key is that I’m my own teacher, pushing forward progress by trying new ventures.
You should do something similar, even if it’s not monthly. Challenge yourself to find out how you could be doing better by doing something new. And whenever you get stuck, remember the park is always waiting.
And no matter what, dare to be different by doing something differently. Even if you don’t reinvent the computer, the results will surprise you.