Mark Earls is an absolute legend. I knew of him long before I actually knew him. His book, Herd, is a fantastic handbook on behavioural science and what it means to business.

I caught up with him at Silicon Beach in Bournemouth in September of this year to ask him about his latest book Copy, Copy, Copy: How to do smarter marketing by using other people’s ideas.

The best way to solve a problem is to use other people’s ideas

The book is based on the understanding that the best way to solve a problem is to use other people’s ideas. Because the problem you’re facing is almost certainly one that someone else has faced – and almost certainly – has solved better than you could on your own.

Admittedly, as someone working in the field of creativity, I initially baulked at this approach. But within a few pages of reading his book, I realised that we were on entirely the same page and he was absolutely right.

The problem you’re facing is almost certainly one that someone else has facedClick To Tweet

In this interview, we talked about the western myth of creativity and how damaging it can be. As he points out, we have a romantic idea of creativity in the west. We love the stories of the individual getting the amazing idea or a muse waking them in the middle of the night or of their heroic overcoming of difficulties through caffeine to get to the jaw-dropping answer.

We see creativity as a solo thing. But that’s nonsense.

We see creativity as a solo thing. But that’s nonsense.

Mark tells the story of James Watt, the man credited as the inventor of the steam engine. In short, he didn’t. The steam engine had been used in mines for about 50 years before he improved it by adding a condenser.

Likewise, Steve Jobs wasn’t the great inventor people give him credit for. Apple has always done stuff other people were already doing – they just did it better.

Our notion of creativity and innovation simply doesn’t reflect reality.

The famous economist, Schumpeter, said that having an idea is not where the value gets created, it’s about taking the idea and creating something of value from it in the market.

But in the West, we’ve placed all the value in the idea part rather than the other stuff.

Our misunderstandings about the definition and role of creativity causes us to ask the wrong questions

As anyone who’s worked in start-ups or had their own business knows, the hard part is making stuff happen. That’s the difference between success and failure.

And our misunderstandings about the definition and role of creativity causes us to ask the wrong questions of the idea-generation process.

So Mark whittles his approach down to asking three questions:

  • What kind of problem is this?
  • How have other people solved this kind of problem?
    One of the great gifts we have as humans is the ability to outsource the cognitive load. The internet – and our personal connections – contain so much practical knowledge that we can tap into.
  • What would that look like?
    A lot of organisations are good at being conceptual and a bit flakey. We need to create tangible things for people to hold and play with for them to take it seriously.

Defining the problem is often the difficult bit. Mark tells the story of how cardiac surgeons improved their process with techniques use by Formula 1 pit stop teams.

And, in summary, he leaves us with a top tip for anyone told to come up with ideas as part of their job:

Acknowledge that you don’t need to come up with an idea that no one has ever seen before. Why make it harder for yourself? It’s easier to take a solution from another field.

You don’t need to come up with an idea that no one has ever seen beforeClick To Tweet

You can find Mark’s latest book on Amazon right here. We highly recommend it!

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https://youtu.be/MYMAEWkIChg Mark Earls is an absolute legend. I knew of him long before I actually knew him. His book, Herd, is a fantastic handbook on behavioural science and what it means to business. I caught up with him at Silicon Beach in Bournemouth in September of this year to ask him...
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Dave Birss
Founder and Editor at OpenForIdeas.org
Dave is obsessed with creativity. He's been a musician, illustrator, stand-up comedian, poet, radio DJ, television presenter and advertising creative director. He also wrote A User Guide to the Creative Mind.
Now he runs Open for Ideas and helps individuals and companies become more creative.
You can find him speaking at conferences all over the world. And sharing his thinking in boardrooms, universities and dimly-lit pubs.