One risk one day

One risk one day

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
-Ken Robinson, TED Conference
Ever since I saw the video of Ken Robinson speaking at TED (I’ve embedded the video at the end of this blog article), I wondered myself “How I can be original?”, “How can I be more creative.”
Over the months I read over a dozen books anything related to creativity. I found the following three books particularly interesting:
What separated the three books from others were that others were “how-to” books. What I find mostly distracting about “how-tos” is that it literally gives you a formula. A formula to be creative? This certainly doesn’t sound creative!

So what is creativity? Is creativity only reserved for the gifted ones? I have a Japanese friend here in Tokyo who once said that “I am not creative so I (am suited to) work for a large Japanese corporation,” which I found both interesting and distracting. Picasso once said that “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist after growing up.”

In his book Orbiting the giant hairball, Gordon MacKenzie tells a story of going into an elementary school classroom and asks “(I saw) beautiful pictures and designs you have hanging in your classrooms and up and down the halls. I couldn’t help but notice them when I first go here this morning. How many artists are out there in the room? Would you please raise your hands?
First grade:
En mass the children leapt from their chairs, arms waving wildly, eager hands trying to reach the ceiling. Every child was an artist.

Second grade:
About half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The raised hands were still.
Third grade:
At best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand. Tentatively. Self-consciously.
By six grade, no more than one or two hands go up-guardedly-their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a “closet artist.”
I believe that we all have creative talents but during our school years, it starts to fade away. We don’t want to be teased or laughed at by saying something wacky by our peers. Being associated to a group is everything and to do in a school life (we don’t want to be left out feeling lonely) that, we avoid the risk anything being disliked.
Our education system doesn’t help too. As Robinson points out in his TED speech, every education system in the world puts Math and English at the top of the hierarchy and dance and art on the bottom. He states that we don’t educate students into creativity but educate out of it.
What I found common in these three books are that “creativity” is a mindset, a mindset that requires an element of risk taking. And risk taking most of time leads to failure. But since our (by our I refer to both Japanese and US though much more in Japan) education system punishes failures, people stop taking risks. Eventually, the creativity inside of us slowly fades away.
In his book, A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger Von Oech states the extreme mindset of creativity: “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not trying anything very innovative.” Now this is a powerful statement. He says that though we always talk about “trial and error,” all we want is “trail and success.” He says: “To fight a bull when you’re not scared is nothing and not to fight a bull when you are scared is nothing. But to fight a bull when you are scared is really quite something.” This reminds me of what I learned during MBA: to find ways to reduce risks and say “nah” when the stakes are too high. That explains why not many MBAs are successful entrepreneurs (myself included).
People I find particularly inspiring all have this risk-taking mentality. They simply aren’t afraid of failing. I, having been an entrepreneur for 8 years now don’t have this mentality strong enough. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to make mistakes. I don’t want to feel embarrassed.
So to overcome this, I decided to act on a motto:  “One risk one day.” Risks can be either large or small. It can be asking a question in a 1,000 people conference full of smart people or just simply wearing socks I feel uncomfortable with. The important thing is to take one risk each day so I can embed this into my unconscious mind.
Each time I fail or felt embarrassed, I would like to praise myself “nice try!” The road to creativity may be far and scary but I’m sure it’ll come closer taking one risk at a time.

Posted by Masafumi Otsuka

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