Where does the creativity of entrepreneurs come from? It depends which one you ask. Some say they get their best ideas in the shower. Make of that what you will. Others say they get great ideas by spending time in the community. But one thing you rarely hear them say is that they get their ideas by sitting alone and dreaming them up.
The comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, no stranger to creative thinking, would surely agree with the philosophy of generating ideas from the realities of your everyday existence.
On Sunday, January 10, as Gervais hosts the 73rd Golden Globe Awards, viewers will once again get a glimpse of his comedic talent in action. He has previously hosted the show, from 2010 to 2012. For many, he became the sole reason to watch the awards program. As opposed to typical big-tent-event hosts, Gervais is actually funny. In every edgy joke and gesture, he seems to recognize that viewers are tired of hosts who sugarcoat the truth and simply act like glorified emcees.
Given that Gervais is just a few days away from his highly anticipated return appearance, the timing is right to revisit some of his thoughts on creativity. Back in 2013, he spoke to our sister magazine, Fast Company, about it. Here are the three key takeaways of his talk.
1. Start with truth.
Gervais recalls how, when he was 13, one of his teachers told the class: "Write what you know." Initially, Gervais shunned the idea. He thought it was much more exciting to write stories like the ones he saw on television, about maverick cops or cowboys. The teacher said his stories were too melodramatic. So Gervais took the teacher's advice, and wrote about the most boring real-life thing he could think of: How his mother helped out an elderly neighbor by cleaning for her and making her meals. As it turned out, the teacher loved Gervais's essay--and gave him an A. "It was the proudest moment of my life," Gervais says in the Fast Company video.
2. Don't forget the details.
What made Gervais's essay so compelling to the teacher was the detail he included in it. How the neighbor's house smelled like tea, lavender, and mold. How his mother and the neighbor engaged in such simple, functional dialogue: "Have you eaten?" "I haven't eaten today, no." To this day, the lesson of detailing the ordinary remains with Gervais. His message to creators is: "It's your job to make an audience as excited and fascinated about a subject as you are. And real life does that."
3. Be humble.
At the start of the video, Gervais is self-deprecating. Off camera, an interviewer asks him about the biggest influence in his creative process. His first response is: "Who cares?" He then mimics what it might be like for someone in the audience to stumble upon a video about his process, as opposed to the process of an artist with stronger credentials. "Who's this? Is it Spielberg?" he jokes. "No, it's a fat bloke from Redding." He then informs the audience that the desk at which he's sitting is essentially a stage prop--not his real desk--and makes funny faces when he's asked, once more, to explain his process, mocking the sometimes pompous use of the word process in creative contexts.
In the world of entrepreneurship, the equivalent of Gervais's self-deprecating behavior is humility. Many leaders cite humility as a key to their ongoing success and happiness, for several reasons. For one thing, humble leaders know what they don't know. They are not too proud to listen and learn. For another, your employees gain respect for you when they realize you're willing to share the limelight, admit your mistakes, and own up to your shortcomings.
Here's the full video of Gervais's take on his creative process: