Business owners, marketers and entrepreneurs often spend their careers trying to come up with the elusive big idea that will deliver breakout success. We read about the Facebook creation story, study Dollar Shave Club’s viral video techniques or emulate Nike’s use of a motto to capture overnight success. This puts a high degree of emphasis on a single ad we create, product we build or business model we design.
The reality is that very few people become successful using a moonshot approach to creativity or problem solving. This belief often produces anxiety and disrupts the creative process, sending cortisol (our fight or flight hormone) through our veins. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can routinely come up with great ideas under this kind of pressure. I must confess that I have suffered from this illusion myself and have been working on just the right LinkedIn post to explore the link between creativity and consistency. So rather than a perfect post, I write this with the promise to write more.
The Power of Consistency: Enter Kansas City
I attended Marques Ogden’s Speaking Academy in Kansas City this past week and realized that I am getting in my own way in pursuing creativity. My time with Marques taught me that I need to be much more concerned with consistency than being creative. For those that do not know Marques, he is a former NFL lineman that is an author, speaker and business owner. His story models the power of translating skills learned as an athlete to the world of business. In just a two year span, Marques has assembled a supportive community of hundreds of former professional athletes, entrepreneurs and speakers who embrace consistency as a philosophy for success. While some people may believe that his platform as a professional athlete gives him an edge, his achievements have primarily come from taking consistent, daily steps to achieve his goals. Professional athletes have a unique skill that is often overlooked – the ability to be relentlessly focused on achieving a goal through daily practice and training. We should all learn how to develop and apply this discipline in pursuit of our own business growth and success. In my quiet moments of reflection after dining on Kansas City barbecue and recalling some of my recent reading, here are some thoughts on why consistency is as an important partner to creativity.
Reason #1: Relationships and routines are better predictors of success than creativity alone
Researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands studied routines of designers in the high fashion industry. Successful fashion designers obviously need basic skills like creativity and a flair for haute couture to break into the industry. The study found that the key difference that determined career success or failure was a designer’s routines. This could be anything from learning how to get Italian fabric from select wholesalers before they run out or shipping a dress to a store in 10 days instead of 3 weeks. If fashion designers cannot rely solely on creativity for success, chances are that we cannot either.
Reason #2: Iterations and revisions are necessary to make a great story
Disney/Pixar (makers of The Incredibles, Toy Story and Finding Nemo) has two main mantras that drive the company. The first is “Story is King.” The second equally important one is “Trust the Process.” The Pixar storytelling process is built on creating new versions of films least once every 3 to 6 months during production. When released, roughly 120,000 storyboard drawings are created to tell the right story. In the book Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull, Pixar CEO plainly states that all Pixar movies suck when first conceived. This seems like an odd admission from the leader of the world’s foremost animation studio. His admission highlights the fact that Pixar believes that process is as important as storytelling genius. Pixar relies on a group of directors and gifted storytellers called the Braintrust to guide improvements to stories. The Braintrust and daily film review process help the teams at Pixar become comfortable with sharing work that is incomplete. They believe that ideas and films only become great when they are tested. We should view all of our ideas in this light and assemble our own Braintrust to test them. We can only become great when we open ourselves to scrutiny and critique. This requires putting our fear of embarrassment aside so that delivering the best result is more important than protecting our ego.
Reason #3: Persistence and consistency is required to influence the majority when you are in the minority
Dr. Martin Luther King once said that “almost always, the dedicated creative minority has made the world better.” When we try to influence someone that does not hold the same belief system that we do, we are squarely in the minority position. When in the minority, specialized techniques are required to gain influence. In the book The Rules of Influence: Winning When You are In The Minority, William Crano describes a set of rules for those who are outnumbered to advance their arguments against the majority. He lists techniques like flexibility and finding common ground with those who hold the majority position. Of his 7 tactics, perhaps the most powerful are consistency in message and persistence in approach. Consistency and persistence signal to those who are undecided or opposed that you are “all-in” on what you believe. This perceived confidence has a powerful effect on people’s judgments of you and your cause. Your conviction when observed may lead to unexpected persuasion. The key in Dr. King’s quote above is that the creative minority must be dedicated. Those in the majority do not easily change their opinion. There are no guarantees even with consistency and persistence that your point of view will be adopted. Nevertheless, the successful among us believe there is always a chance.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.