Songwriter Carole King has it wrong when she sings, “It’s too late baby, now it’s too late”—or at least as it relates to creativity and innovation. “Maybe we’ve just stopped trying,” but it’s never too late.
This being the last Innovations blog for the calendar year, I feel compelled to offer up some optimism to lead into the new year. So, even if you’ve just stopped trying, you can start trying again.
I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, and frankly, I get irritated at all the people that get fitness frenzy because the first two weeks of January are the only time that I have to wait to get on an elliptical machine at the gym. Putting my own resolution prejudices aside, anyone can be creative at any time during their life, and if you want to make a resolution to be more creative in 2011 you’ve got my full support (not that you need mine or anyone else’s).
I was reminded of this when the New York Times Magazine ran a piece on brainstorming this past Sunday, featuring a consultancy that charges $200,000 for a one-day session for 25 people to learn how to brainstorm. While the consultancy has rock-star status in the world of innovation, I think that any company that pays $8,000 a person for a one-day peak experience should use what they learned to figure out how to have more common sense.
I’m not bitter that other people doing what I do are getting, oh, about $195,000 more for a day of their time. No, it’s because with just a little effort and an Internet connection anybody can learn more about their own creativity, including brainstorming.
I usually begin my innovation training sessions by asking people to write down what they would attempt to do if they knew they could not fail. Then I ask how many of them are doing what they wrote down, which is usually very few, and then I ask why. Not enough time, kids’ schedules, not enough money—I’ve heard all the excuses. And that’s when I think of Carole King’s line, “maybe we’ve just stopped trying.” Do you really want to be more creative and innovative, or are you just saying you want to be? Or maybe we’ve just stopped trying. Poor baby.
While financial service companies paint sappy inspirational images of baby boomers grafting grape varieties in their vineyards and making artisan cheeses in their “retirement,” or second careers, the reality is that you can exercise your creativity at any time in your life. The key is to start doing something—anything that moves you beyond intention to action. You want to make cheese? Knock yourself out.
If you’re waiting for New Year’s to start something that develops your creativity, why not take action now? Nike’s most famous slogan—Just Do It—resonated with so many people because it cut through the excuses, got up in your grill, and said if you want to do something, don’t hand us lame excuses.
The author Frank McCort started writing late in life after he retired and wound up winning a Pulitzer Prize for Angela’s Ashes at age 66. Legendary painter Grandma Moses started her art career in her 70s. Culinary icon Julia Child didn’t begin her television career until she was in her 50s, after her classic on French cooking was published. There are many other examples.
It’s not too late, baby. Happy New Year.