…but creativity is not only essential for musicians.
It’s been almost 13 years since I entered the German singles charts with my rock band Maradona and our smash hit “Mexico” at the time. Number 88 – after all. Unfortunately, we never made the breakthrough. And at some point, I had to look for a “real” job. And I went into advertising as a lyricist. Here, too, I was able to let off steam creatively. But only since I have dedicated myself to emotional skills and leadership as co-founder of DeepSkill, I feel reminded of my life as a musician back then. An everyday life as a “lead singer” full of rock’n’roll and multi-layered roles and tasks which all require creativity.
Creativity – Must-have No° 1 for founders
Creativity is one of those terms discussed daily and used in an inflationary manner. The problem with this is that we are moving further and further away from the term’s origin, and the true meaning is being lost. That’s why I would like to start by shedding more light on the dark definition of chaos. We will also clarify why creativity is a valuable trait for both musicians and founders. I’ll take you on a little journey into my past to share why my time as a “full-time musician” helps me run a startup today.
What exactly is creativity? Besides painting colorful pictures and writing beautiful texts, what else can it do?
Fashion designer Wolfgang Joop says: “True creativity always comes from a lack.” How true! Where there is an unsolved problem, there needs to be a solution. Only in the rarest of cases is it obvious. That is why we need creativity. The term derives from the Latin word creare, which means to create or invent. It is defined as the ability to perform in an original, productive, and useful way. The performance is new, useful, problem-appropriate, and aesthetic.
The lack that the Berlin designer talks about is expressed in the most diverse areas of our lives. Politically, entrepreneurially and artistically. We are constantly confronted with new kinds of problems. Socio-political problems and gaps in the market can be filled with a unique product. Or the desire to develop new art forms that delight, inspire and help us process our sorrows, joys, and all other emotions on the spectrum of human experience.
Creativity is about creating, showing, or influencing something new to the world.
With Maradona, we wanted to make exactly the kind of music we would have liked to hear from a German rock band. But that didn’t exist at the time. So, we dared to try to close this gap in the market. To create precisely the product that we would have liked to consume ourselves. Unfortunately, the market demand was not big enough. Or the product was not good enough. Or the timing wasn’t right. In the same way as a startup.
But either way, it was worth the effort. Music video shoots in the Nevada desert, thousands of people singing along to “We’re on our way to Mexico” at concerts – and a strong team, a band in which we lived our dream together. If you go down new paths, you also have to consider the possibility that this path will not take you to your dream destination. There is always something to gain, however. As with starting a business, things can turn out differently than anticipated.
Problems? Always here for it!
Now, with my startup DeepSkill, it’s back to serving demand in the market that we’ve identified. And thus to solve a problem that no one has yet solved satisfactorily. The problem is that emotional skills are usually not sufficiently developed in the broad workforce to achieve the high transformation goals set to meet the war for talent successfully, the digital transformation, and the general change in values.
Both problems, as a band founder and company founder, require a fair amount of courage and creativity. Creative people see deficits as opportunities. They want to change the world in one way or another.
In summary, creativity is developing a novel solution to an existing problem. How does the construct of creativity manifest itself in a person? What character traits do they possess?
What characterizes creative people?
A sizeable composite study of personality in scientific and artistic creativity found that creative people are autonomous, ambitious, open to new experiences, and tend to challenge norms. Self-confidence and self-acceptance are also often evident in creative individuals. Among the not-so-flattering traits, a less compatible nature and tendency to impulsiveness can be found. Nevertheless, these traits sometimes enable individuals to assert themselves and seize opportunities. All characteristics could probably also be attributed to Mick Jagger and Co, right? And probably also to one or the other well-known founder personality.
Hits do not just appear out of nowhere. Neither do strong products.
Creative people are characterized by perseverance. Contrary to expectations and depictions in films, creative ideas are not (always) flashes of inspiration that fall from the sky without learned skills and prior knowledge. Even Albert Einstein studied all the given laws of physics for years before he established the theory of relativity, and Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, sang hundreds of songs before she landed her first hit.
We learn from this: Finding the optimal solution requires a lot of energy and strength. Creative people have constructive tenacity. For songwriters, that means writing, writing, writing. Until you have found that one hit. And even as a founder, you go through countless cycles until you achieve a strong product-market fit.
Creativity cannot be forced. It requires passion, fun, and intrinsic motivation.
Creativity cannot be forced by money or more vacation days. Instead, it comes from one’s drive, i.e., intrinsic motivation. People’s creativity increases when they do things out of passion or for fun. Extrinsic incentives, such as money or a medal, tend to have a counterproductive effect. When creative people are asked what motivates them to take on a creative activity, they often cite the opportunity to use their imagination, feel free, or express themselves.
In addition, creative people can better endure and accept contradictory and uncertain situations. Ambivalence, ambiguity, unresolved tensions, and complexity do not scare them. Accordingly, too quick and one-sided solutions are prevented, resulting in not wanting to deal with the problem further because it is unpleasant. Creative people not only endure complexity, they even prefer it. One study showed that creative people perceived complex and asymmetrical figures as lively and dynamic in contrast to simple and symmetrical figures.
Founders need to be able to take different perspectives just as much as songwriters.
A connection has also been found between spontaneity and creativity because creative minds can sometimes step out of long-term plans to react ad hoc to a sudden event. Thus, they exhibit a flexible mindset and can adopt different perspectives, adapt better to new and unexpected events, and adjust their behavior according to the situation. A founder who does not know the needs of his customers will fail, just like a songwriter who cannot empathize with his audience.
No matter which reliable test is used to measure creativity, one thing always emerges: a connection with self-efficacy. In concrete terms, belief in one’s creativity strengthens creativity. This can be explained by the fact that confidence and trust in one’s competence push the frustration threshold higher. Therefore, one gives up less quickly.
If you don’t believe in yourself and your idea unshakably, you won’t get anyone else to do so.
Not everyone will recognize themselves in this personality description. That’s not a problem because we need diversity to be successful. We also need rational analysts and structured planners. In addition, for a long time, it was widely believed that creativity was an innate competence that could not be influenced. Today one is convinced that fixed schemata and facts are essential prerequisites for creativity, which can be acquired through learning.
Therefore, like Einstein, those with much knowledge can draw on their in-depth knowledge to develop creative ideas. The late psychologist Otto Walter Haseloff (1971) vividly illustrated how creative ideas arise in a 6-phase model. This runs in the same way for all “non-creatives” and “creatives.”
Phase 1 – Problematization: One or more problems are discovered, opposites are traced, the status quo is questioned, gaps in knowledge and experience are identified, and previously accepted conditions are rejected.
Phase 2 – Exploration: The problem is examined from all sides. Experiences, information, and knowledge are restructured. All already known and new possible solutions are considered, regardless of their possible contradictions.
Phase 3 – Incubation: In a phase of relaxation, such as during sleep, “lounging” or daydreaming, the problem sinks into the subconscious. During this phase, networks are often active with each other that otherwise tend to act independently or even have opposing tasks. These neuronal connections are related to relaxation and strong control and memory functions. In short, a nonverbal recalibration of experience is underway.
Phase 4 – Heuristic regression: In this state, triggered by the distraction, the possibility arises to be open for subjectively spontaneously emerging solution possibilities – i.e., so-called flashes of inspiration are experienced. These ideas are treated playfully, in contrast to our every day, more analytical thinking. They are mentally changed and supplemented, accepted on a trial basis, and rejected again. The informality makes unexpected and novel solutions possible. This entire process takes place on a subconscious level.
Phase 5 – Elaboration: The most promising solution is then considered in more detail. The found, unfinished solution is systematically elaborated and verbalized. The idea thus fights its way into consciousness and is therefore made communicable.
Phase 6 – Diffusion: In the last step, the idea can be communicated to others, discussed, and implemented. It spreads.
Haseloff’s model applies to crazy ideas, like going skinny-dipping with hats on your head while on vacation in France, or glorious ideas, like Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook. The more often your brain uses network connectivity, the more creative ideas you’ll have. That doesn’t say anything about their goodness. Still, with many ideas, the likelihood increases that one of them will be outstanding.
The song ideas of my band Maradona and the product ideas of DeepSkill came from a creative process. It is now proven that there is more to creativity than mere ingenuity. And I am convinced that music skills, such as creativity, make founders better founders and also executives better executives.
5 quick tips to become more creative
1. Acquire textbook knowledge
To excel in whatever field you’d like to be creative(er) in, acquire as much knowledge as possible. If you want to start a business, figure out what you need and become an expert in the market you want to attack. Producing creative ideas is easier when you have a deep knowledge of a specific subject.
Creative ideas usually do not develop at the push of a button through structured thinking and can hardly be forced. Give yourself and your brain time, and don’t put yourself under pressure. Then creativity will come by itself.
3. Take a break
As Haseloff’s model explains, creative ideas are produced, especially when the brain is at rest. Hence the simple advice when you’re stuck: Take a break, go for a walk or take a power nap.
4. Find something you are passionate about
Creativity can’t be influenced from the outside; extrinsic incentives have the opposite effect. So it’s more likely for you to get creative in areas you prefer.
Believe in yourself! You can do it, and you will succeed. Creativity plays with unlikely and conflicting possible solutions. If you are not convinced that you can make things happen, you may rule out creative ideas early because you think they are too complex or absurd.
In summary, we can take away that creativity encompasses much more than the sporadic flash of inspiration and that creative individuals can be attributed to various qualities in addition to their creativity. In practice, our employers and we can foster our creativity by continuing our education and allowing enough time for breathers. This results in more smart ideas and greater innovative power for our lives and our (working) world.