If you need just a little boost to your creative thinking, academic research on how to generate more ideas might do the trick. But when you're looking for truly radical innovations, your best bet is to look to a truly radical innovator.

Like who? How about Pablo Picasso? The Spanish painter is famous for his ground-breaking weirdness, deconstructing animals and people into recognizable but totally altered forms, with noses evocatively relocated and entire bodies boiled down to a few lines.

That sort of fine art experimentation may sound far removed from the concerns of a business owner trying to come up with a new product idea or better packaging, but as writer Shane Snow pointed out on the Contently blog recently, one of the world's most innovative companies, Apple, firmly believes that the outrageous artist has something to teach the average entrepreneur.

"It's the Spanish painter and inventor of Cubism to which new Apple employees today pay design homage," Snow notes, referencing the computer giant's internal training program. So what can the master painter teach you about creativity? Snow lays out several lessons, including:

1. Think inside the box

We've all been taught at some point that to boost creativity you need to think outside the box, but Picasso's work actually offers a different lesson. Giving yourself tight constraints--in essence a small box to work within--actually often pays huge dividends.

"Picasso pioneered new art forms by denying himself of luxuries, thus forcing more creative rethinking of fundamentals," Snow points out, quoting the artist on one such self-imposed experiment that limited him to working with a single color as an example. Could an analogous artificial but thought-spurring restriction get your creative juices flowing?

2. Edit brutally

It's natural to think of innovation as bringing more new stuff or ideas into the world, but as Snow points out, "innovation is often an exercise in reducing complexity." That's true whether you're a genius painter or the CEO of Apple computers--Steve Jobs, like Picasso, was a devotee of what Snow terms "ruthless reduction."

"There are numerous inside tales of things like product designers showing Jobs something that they'd reduced from 10 to four buttons, and Jobs telling them to get rid of more buttons," Snow relates. No buttons on your products? No problem. You can do this with whatever you're trying to improve. "Want to be a better writer? Cut your sentences in half. Want to be a more interesting conversationalist? Ask concise questions. Want to build a better business? Simplify something," he suggests.

3. Iterate, don't ruminate

Snow unearths this classic Picasso quote: "Action is the foundational key to all success." Have truer words ever been spoken? If you want to be more creative, don't sit around thinking about how to be more creative. Try stuff. And then try more stuff. Continuous iteration, experimentation, and hard work are the basic building blocks of breakthrough ideas. Armchair pondering? Not so much.

"Great creators like Picasso," Snow declares, "produce millions of variations of their ideas until they get it right."

Published on: Dec 8, 2014
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