I've come to admire Bill Gates for many reasons, for his leadership alongside his pal Warren Buffett, for his philanthropy and philosophies shared with his better half, Melinda Gates, for both their pushing-the-envelope thinking on important issues.  

But the coolest thing about Gates isn't his big bank account, big foundation, or big ideas, it's his big, almost insatiable curiosity. It's what led to his brainchild turned behemoth, Microsoft. And it's what led him to pay $30.8 million dollars for one of the rarest, most precious books in the world.

Leonardo da Vinci's notebook.

The book, written between 1506-1510, bears the official name "Codex Leicester" and as CNBC reported, it's one of the most expensive books in the world. It's a 72-page document that's packed with sketches and ideas on topics like astronomy, mechanics, botany, mathematics and architecture. And it's one that Gates is making available for all to view via digitization.

Gates admires da Vinci and even recommended a biography on the artist/inventor/thinker as a 2018 must read book. In his blog, Gates pinpoints, in two words, why the book and the man resonate with him so much. Both were filled with wonder and curiosity. Gates later laments that it's "a bit of a lost art."

He's absolutely right.

In an era filled with instant access and gratification, easily earned knowledge is killing the intrigue fueled journey of true discovery.

I've come to believe that when the answers are all right in front of you, none of the real answers surface.  

So how can you spark curiosity, originality, critical thinking, and the wonderment of innovation once again for your team? As taken from my book Find the Fire (available for a mere $30.2 million), here are five powerful tips:

1. Take experiential breaks.

Break out of your work routine to go experience some out-of-the box, but potentially relevant, stimulus. Advertising agency creatives best inspiration often comes when they "aren't working" and take team outings to catch a Broadway show, see a stand up act, etc.

While finding time for this is hard, it's a must for opening minds. We tend to work in an echo-chamber and need exposure to other voices/stimuli. The key is to not have your approach to innovation hard-wired for sameness.

2. Find a pressing problem/opportunity or an intensely desired goal.

The key here is to sharpen the pressing problem/opportunity so it's clearly understood, which focuses your energy and increases the likelihood of finding a creative solution. I found the best way to unlock my creative partners creativity was to give them the freedom of a tight brief. Meaning, ensure the problem/opportunity is so clearly defined that it gives the freedom of laser-like focus to direct energy and sharpen output. 

Similarly, get crystal clear on your goal. The higher the bar that goal sets (not coincidentally) the better for stimulating creativity. 

3. Uncover real insight from those who buy what you sell.

It's exhilerating to uncover an insight that isn't just true, it's sooo true. 

Researchers I know for Iams Pet Food found their buyers tended to also buy Febreze--to help neutralize pet odors. That's an insight, and true.

But they also discovered that the heaviest Iams buyers actually bought (and wrapped) Christmas gifts for their pets.

That's an insight that's sooo true

Marketers almost have to do something with that knowledge. But uncovering rich insight is hard work. You must spend time watching your buyers and users buy and use your product. The payoff is unlocking creativity.

4. Look for springboards.

Look for small things to make a little better. Make that weekly meeting a bit more fun/efficient (besides by cancelling it). Make the product's website a little more engaging or make the production line run a little faster. 

Challenge the status quo of everything around you, seeing the possibilities and looking beyond constraints. You'll soon be emboldened to move onto bigger, tougher problems in need of serious creativity.

5. Turn off your self-monitoring brain.

As noted in the book inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, by Tina Seelig, brain research shows that creative people block the instinct to judge their output when they're in the middle of creating. 

Johns Hopkins University researchers had jazz musicians and rap artists improvise a piece. They found that while the artists were riffing, the judging, self-monitoring part of their brain was virtually shut down. As the study noted:

For many activities it's important to have high self-monitoring of your behavior so you don't say or do everything you think. But when you're generating new ideas, this function gets in the way.

So let the ideas flow and be cognizant when the judging part of your inner dialogue kicks in. Even if you can't afford da Vinci's notebook, you can buy a spiral bound one--and fill it with ideas.

Published on: Apr 15, 2019
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