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My Secret Source of Creativity

All those publications that I thought were making me smart? They were actually making me dumber.

Like many new parents, I am often surprised by the lessons my children teach.  Kindness makes friends; anger is way too revealing; and yes, you do look fat in those jeans.  (I think that last one is about tact.)

Every Saturday, I try to read something business-related while keeping an eye on the kids.  My brain happily zips between the MIT Technology Review, my kids’ need for pancakes – stat! -- and My Little Pony.

By Monday, I think I’m quoting Mark Zuckerberg when really, it’s Rainbow Dash.  Surprisingly, they sound quite alike.

This got me thinking. Multiple times in my career, I’ve had colleagues demand that I quote my sources.  As a young CEO, I wanted to be credible so I took this advice seriously. To ensure I didn’t quote Modern Jackass, I limited my reading to Network Computing, Inc. and Harvard Business Review.

My colleagues were just trying to help. They wanted to make sure my reasoning was based on expert insights. It makes sense, right?

Unfortunately, it killed my creativity. While I might have sounded smarter, I was actually getting dumber. I became an echo chamber of other people’s ideas instead of coming up with my own. 

I have since learned that truly original ideas require the intake of a vast amount of unrelated and sometimes downright wacky information.  The soundness of that material is irrelevant.  Great ideas don’t require a well-constituted sub-floor. To execute them, yes, you need a great foundation. But not to generate them.

Recently, my friend Mike Dillon gave a TedTalk on the how to be creative. Thanks to Mike’s insights, I am able to articulate finally why my long-ago strategy was so grievously flawed.

Creativity requires us to dip our buckets into reservoirs of random source material. And thankfully, life and modern media deliver.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Nov 12, 2012


Kelly is a well-known entrepreneur who has built and sold several companies. Currently, she is the co-founder and director of HarQen, a next generation web-telephony company. She is an alumna of Springboard Enterprises, and a contributor to Springboard's Been There, Run That column.

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