Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Creativity Demands `Flashlight,' Not Flash of Insight

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Creativity Demands `Flashlight,' Not Flash of Insight

Article excerpt

The other day a friend said to me, "I've been thinking I'd like to write a newspaper column - what subject isn't being covered?" This fellow has no writing background, not even a specialty he wanted to share, just the wish to be a columnist.

I answered truthfully, that I did not know. He scoffed, thinking I was holding out on him. "Come on, you've got lots of ideas," he said impatiently. Apparently he believes that some people are covered with ideas, the way some people are hairy.

It isn't uncommon for people to say to me, "How'd you ever get that idea?" I used to explain it to them, step by step. They were almost always disappointed. They don't want ideas to be step by step; they want a flash of inspiration. So you may not want to hear the truth about business innovations, but it's important for you to know that most of them don't involve a flash, just a flashlight. It's a search party, walking around in the dark, shining the flashlights, looking and looking, asking questions, looking some more. My favorite example of no-flash creativity is the big innovation in modern television programming, the CNN network. The idea was not a blinding insight. There were already 24-hour news stations on radio. And news, was, of course, already on TV. So no lightning bolt - more of a 20-watt refrigerator bulb. The real CNN innovation was in the details, in the courage to be cheap - to get used equipment, hiring not just nonunion employees, but ones right out of college, getting agreements with local stations to share coverage, and so on. CNN is not a monument to imagination but to resourcefulness. And even when there are flashes of genius, resourcefulness is the creativity that allows the creativity to happen. Like the time Walt Disney was trying to get Disneyland open and ran out of money before the landscaping was finished, he had the groundskeepers go around and put tags with Latin names in front of the weeds. …

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