Jim Henson's most famous creation, Kermit the Frog, took the stage at an independently organized TED event in Jackson, Mississippi on Thursday. The Muppet shared all the "creative insights you could expect from a talking frog," along with the secret behind Jim Henson's success.
A Mississippi native, Henson believed that creativity was all about having an unusual perspective and guiding people to see the world in a radical way. Kermit referred to this collective mindset as a "conspiracy of craziness"--a suspension of disbelief where a puppet can now be both an Academy Award nominee and a TED fellow.
"Whether you are in a Mississippi swamp or midtown Manhattan or Silicon Valley, it can seem easier and safer to avoid risk than to take creative chances," Kermit said. "We're all so worried about making a living and not getting devoured by alligators and competitors that we start believing that there's no time for being creative."
In his remarks, Kermit revealed what his partnership with Henson taught him about harnessing creativity, collaboration, and optimism to achieve success.
Be Ridiculously Optimistic
Kermit encouraged the audience to tap into their creativity juices, even if they don't have a traditionally creative job. Imagination and inspiration, he said, are words that should not only apply to artists or children.
"There are as many ways to be creative as there are Muppets," he said, "and believe me there are a lot of Muppets. I ought to know--I got to meet payroll every week."
Jim Henson, Albert Einstein, and Michelangelo are all good examples of how an optimistic outlook can give you the drive to succeed. "They didn't wait to know where they were going before they started their journey," Kermit said.
Seek the Wisdom in Others
Creativity is like a puzzle, and people contribute different pieces to create a bigger picture, Kermit said. He suggested finding a mentor who is both a "fan and a critic" to help find the right pieces in your puzzle. According to Kermit, this mentor doesn't even have to be someone you work with or even someone you know.
"It can be someone you read about that can inspire and guide you, and make you aware of what's come before," he said. "You don't always have to reinvent the wheel. You can start with someone else's wheel and put your own spin on it."
Find Your Inner Child
"Discipline and focus are important," Kermit said, "but so is controlled and inspired chaos." Having worked with children for decades, Henson was very much in tune with his elusive inner child. According to Kermit, this made his creator think not like an expert, but like a beginner. The notion of a "beginner's mind" suggests that a lack of preconceptions can spark nontraditional thinking. Sure, a beginner is more likely to fail, Kermit said, but failure should not be feared.
"We need to appreciate the things that seem like mistakes today because they could turn out to be tomorrow's innovations," he said.