Issue 3: Relearning creativity

A little over three years ago, I’d come to the refreshing conclusion that I was going to start a new career. I’d work for myself and build a business that would inspired me – something I could pour my heart into. But doing what exactly?!

You’re led to believe that divine inspiration will fall into your lap – that light bulb ‘Eureka!’ moment. But when you’re up to your eyeballs with the pressures of work and a bulging inbox of to-dos, when do you have the head space to explore ideas and inspiration? You don’t.

You need to dedicate the time to think beyond your day-to-day and re-teach yourself how to be creative and innovative. But those skills may be more buried than you think…

The common theme running through the world’s most successful people and companies is their unrelenting creativity: their ability to unearth an idea that has value and bring it to reality. These companies look at problems from a new perspective. They innovate, evolve and create opportunities that allow them to take advantage and stay ahead of the competition. I wanted to know exactly how they did it!

I started out by reading books written by successful entrepreneurs. I drowned myself in TED talks on any subject that sparked intrigue. I read about creativity and innovation and how to discover that bright idea. Everywhere I looked, I found two essential ingredients for effective creativity:

One: Embracing failure is part of the course of creativity and innovation

Two: You’re most creative when pursuing the things that excite and inspire you

The problem is, we’re not necessarily brought up to embrace and pursue either of these essential concepts.

When we’re children, the idea of failure is completely alien. It doesn’t exist. If we had a sudden urge to draw a tiger, we sprawled an orange crayon across the page and paraded it across the room, head held high to the praise and applaud of all surrounding adults. The potential for criticism and judgement is completely removed – who’s going interrupt that victory lap?!

When we’re little, whether we’re any good at something bares no influence on whether or not we give it a bloody good go (and have a load of fun in the process!)

Parent: ‘What are you up to?’

Child: ‘I’m drawing a picture of God’

Parent: ‘But no-one knows what God looks like’

Child: ‘Well they will in a minute’

-Sir Ken Robinson

Kids will take a chance, and if they don’t know how to do something, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of getting it wrong. This is the ultimate creative freedom; the ideas pour in and there are no obstacles to making them a reality.

When that same kid goes through school, that tiger is assessed for likeness, judged for the use of colour and tone and suddenly that voice in their head appears: ‘maybe I can’t draw tigers?’ We start to doubt our own abilities, we fear other people’s judgment and we adjust our behaviour accordingly. In short, creativity is quashed.

Not only does the school system and the pressure from our peers install a fear of failure and therefore curb creativity, we’re also too often dissuaded away from the very things we enjoy and inspire us the most. We can all recall the words, ‘well you won’t get a decent job doing that’. And all because it doesn’t fit within the subject areas valued as important within a curriculum, or indeed a parent’s idea of a ‘good, solid job’.

With curriculums focussed on academic achievement and schools held to ransom over exam results, teachers are not given the rope to indulge in a child’s creativity. Instead, talents are long buried and at best left only to be indulged in as a hobby.

The case for a more rounded creativity and innovation-led approach to our upbringing is even stronger when you think that the kids sitting in school today will have careers that will come to retirement in 2065. This world, 50 odd years from now, is impossible for anyone to comprehend. The same way it was impossible for my careers advisor to have foreseen my ability to run a small business from my smartphone, reaching thousands of people around the world at the touch of a button.

The reality is that with the technology available to us today, the concept of a career has completely changed way beyond our parents’ nine to five career we all grew up preparing ourselves for.

There’s never been an easier time to run your own business, or to simply make money doing something you enjoy. And it will be your ability to think creatively, adapt and innovate within a field you love that will bring you the most success and, most importantly, the greatest happiness.

That’s the Spirit ®

Issue 2: Living your work

Either you’re here again because my first blog entry was bearable enough to spark enough intrigue for you to take a second look, or you are as yet undecided – humour me…

So what is this Conker Blog all about then? Well, I can assure you that you’ll not be subjected to an endless rant on the wonders and versatilities of Conker Gin (that goes without saying). What I really want to talk about is the journey of going from working for a living, to living your work. Now that sounds like a negative, right? Just hear me out…

You see, what gets me really excited is the process I went through to change my mindset to go from a well-paid and safe career, to putting it on the line to make an ambitious idea a reality. Because that is all it is: a change in the way of thinking that allows yourself to behave in a way that you hadn’t before.

At 28 I’d got myself educated and qualified to ride out a safe and reliable career that would make me the ultimate provider. School would’ve been proud. I hadn’t been looking for riches; I just wanted a safety net in place so that no matter what, we wouldn’t be counting the pennies at the end of the month. So inevitably I chose a job that I thought I might be interested in, but which I knew would provide.

I chose to sacrifice the now for a reward in the future. Financial security over following a passion; or to put it simply: fun. This has been the work model for generations: 9 to 5 working for the weekend and the eventual retirement package that will allow you to follow your dreams. But what if that future you’re working for never materialises?!

I’ve always had a vivid comprehension of my own mortality. This has kept me off a skateboard and away from cigarettes from day one. I wasn’t the cool kid. But now I’m thankful for this, as it brought me to an early midlife crisis moment at 29 where I thought to myself, “I’ll be bitterly disappointed if I retire or die doing what I currently do for a living.” It really was that simple.

The enlightening truth is that there is no payday, there’s just life. You are living it, right now. And yet five days a week is spent working all hours to afford the cars we sit in traffic jams to get to work, to pay for the house we only see at the weekends. If we really are being observed by a third kind, they must think we’re all completely bonkers.

For our grandparents, work wasn’t meant to be fun – that was for the weekends. But the reality is you’ll be most successful and therefore reap the most rewards from doing the things that make you happy: fun builds your business.

This doesn’t mean that every working day will be filled with laughter and excitement, it’s more that there’s no separation between work and life. This may sound like a negative, but in fact for me it’s a blessing. Instead of spending the day making decisions and working myself miserable and ill for something that means nothing to me other than the payday, every single decision I make during the day is about the life I am building for myself and my family. As a result, nothing is meaningless or mundane – it’s my lifeblood.

For example, today I spent hours on the internet buying stationary. Rock and roll. But as it happens I’m now completely stoked that we’re going to start doing things more efficiently and with quality gear. A sad stationary fetish? Your call, but it all boils down to whether what you’re doing has meaning for you.

This month the world has mourned the loss of some Greats: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey and Sir Wogan. These guys excelled in their day jobs. Now, my instinct was to write ‘their crafts’ – but that’s just it, you wouldn’t consider what they did to pay the mortgage was a day job. They chose the dangerous road of pursuing a passion and they excelled because they were all doing what they loved and the riches followed.

The greatest lesson I take from these guys is that when they left us, they weren’t remembered and celebrated for their bank balance. It’s what you do each and every day that matters and I wouldn’t count on waiting till retirement age to do it…

That’s the Spirit ®