The discipline of free thought
Discipline. Freedom of thought. Two apparently contradictory concepts that, when it comes to innovation, are more synergistic than separate.
Throughout history, the notion of creativity has been associated with unfettered, rampant bursts of inspiration, held together by the belief that to constrain would somehow dilute the process. Over time, this has led to the kind of scattergun innovation often found in ineffective, sugar-spiked creative meetings characterised by whiteboards and a copious use of post-it notes.
But controlled creativity is oxymoronic only in myth: from Einstein’s eureka moments to Don Draper’s erratic advertising enigma. In practice, discipline is essential for effective innovation. From Picasso to Pixar; artists, creatives, inventors, and innovators have long understood the value of having a structure in place to accelerate and aid the free flow of ideas.
As Pablo Picasso said, “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success”. So, how does this plan, this structure, manifest in modern-day innovation?[clickToTweet tweet=”Self-imposed restrictions, far from restraining, actually free us” quote=”Self-imposed restrictions, far from restraining, actually free us” theme=”style6″]
Discipline for: creative focus
The paradox of creativity shows that self-imposed restrictions, far from restraining, actually free us from the burden of ideas that are ‘vanilla’ and prosaic.
Edward de Bono – who coined the term ‘lateral thinking’ – gives the example of how it is easier to write a book with the brief “aliens who behave like dizzy blondes” (his words, not ours), versus simply, a “book about aliens”. In innovation terms, this means beginning every project – from demographic shifts to brand rebirths and new product launches – with a clear goal.
True innovation is all about disruption; game-changing concepts that challenge the status quo. As the 19th-century novelist, Gustave Flaubert once said, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work”. While certain business departments operate with a “from chaos, comes order” mindset; for brand managers, creative agencies, and anyone involved in the innovation process, the opposite is true.
Disruptive, effective innovation is a kind of productive chaos that emerges from order; achieved not through ‘anything goes’ brainstorming sessions, but through focused, agenda-driven creative meetings.
Discipline for: creative management
In business, technology has enabled the discipline of free thought, making it easier for grand-scale innovation to happen with a much smaller cast. Large teams are no longer necessary to create a global brand identity – once you have the right structures and processes in place, a core team can effectively conceive and launch almost anything.
As Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation has nothing to do with how many dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”
But ‘getting it’, and having an effective process in place, means that no-one can rely on past glories – either as a leverage to, or guarantor of – future success. Each new idea must stand on its own two feet, as Danny Boyle explained during the process of securing funding for Slumdog Millionaire, “Every time you start from scratch. Past performance counts for nothing”.
Even for long-established global brands, it is never too late to establish rules to frame the creative process: Lego’s recent rejuvenation was reportedly thanks to an injection of discipline at the heart of its new product development team. Companies large and small can reap the benefits of controlled creativity, resulting in impactful innovation.
A ‘discipline first’ approach
When we mistakenly buy into the ‘creative myth’, we are in danger of misunderstanding – and shutting-out – true innovation. Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity wasn’t conceived solely on the basis of a falling apple – it was a result of years of mathematical work.
These days, innovation happens in weeks not years, but the concept holds true. To consistently achieve ‘lightbulb moments’ for your brand, remember this key advice from electric innovator Thomas Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”https://openforideas.org/blog/2017/01/26/the-discipline-of-free-thought/https://i2.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/whippy.jpg?fit=1024%2C576&ssl=1https://i2.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/whippy.jpg?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1Personal Creativitycreativity,discipline,ideas,innovation,myth