Want to prompt creativity? Make someone unhappy. If people are happy, there’s no need to change. But if people are faced with others’ or their own distress, they will work to find creative ways to bridge the gap from bad to good and unhappiness to happiness.

Happiness is good – three goods: good for others, good at it, good for me. This means there are three opportunities to create distress: others’ distress, strengths mismatch or personal distress.

Others’ Distress

Many of society’s advances were born out of someone’s finding new, creative ways to solve others’ problems.

Fire was born out of the need for a better way to keep warm.

Vaccinations were born out of the need to protect people from diseases.

Pet Rocks were born out of the existential need for more meaningful holiday gifts.

The list goes on and on.

Einstein told us that we couldn’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them. When some people’s level of distress with others’ unhappiness reaches a breaking point, they move to new levels of thinking and create new ways to solve the underlying problems.

Prompt creativity by helping people see others’ needs.


Distress From Strengths Mismatch

The world needs different types of leaders: artistic, scientific and interpersonal. Those leaders have different strengths and different ways of thinking. Some of the most creative ideas have come when those leaders are forced to think in different ways.

Doug Hall has been forcing people to do this for decades. Doug was trained as a chemical engineer and as a circus clown. He was a brand manager at Procter & Gamble, eventually becoming “Master Marketing Inventor” there before starting his company, Eureka Ranch. In its early days, Eureka Ranch drove “creativity, stimulus and fun” and helped all sorts of business executives play outside of their comfort zone by deploying things like Nerf guns, water cannons and whoopee cushions.

Howard Gardner suggests there are nine different types of intelligence:

1. Naturalist Intelligence (Nature Smart)

2. Musical Intelligence

3. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (Number/Reasoning Smart)

4. Existential Intelligence (Getting at the meaning of life)

5. Interpersonal Intelligence (People Smart)

6. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

7. Linguistic Intelligence (Word Smart)

8. Intra-personal Intelligence (Self Smart)

9. Spatial Intelligence (Visual/picture Smart)

Thus, stimulate different leaders’ creativity by getting them to access different types of intelligence than they normally do.

• Stimulate artistic leaders outside of their visual, kinesthetic, musical, linguistic comfort zones.

• Stimulate scientific leaders outside of their naturalistic, logical-mathematical, existential comfort zones. (Though I’m not sure anyone is ever really comfortable pondering the meaning of life.)

• Stimulate interpersonal outside of their intra-personal and interpersonal comfort zones, getting them to think like artistic or scientific leaders.

This all comes down to prompting creativity by making people think or act in new ways.

Personal Distress

Photo by Will Travis

Brand Communication agency Sid Lee’s Will Travis will tell you that if the road to creativity runs through distress, the road to extreme creativity runs through extreme distress. Will has climbed several of the world’s highest summits including Vinson Massif in Antarctica in the most brutal 45 degrees below zero Centigrade conditions imaginable, motor biked with The Paris Dakar and traversed the 18,000 Khardung La pass in the Himalayas and generally put himself in extremely stressful situations.

These experiences have helped Will both see things in different ways and keep things in perspective. As he put it,

Facing situations of life and death implications elevates ones vision way above the severity of the business landscape, resulting in both centered and humanistic decision making, that business school nor mentors can never teach.

Will uses this perspective to help the people he leads face and manage their own fears. It’s painful when a client cold heartedly rejects a creative team’s heart invested work. But we have to keep it in perspective that its’ not a life threatening situation. Will suggests

You have to fail…Failure puts you in a friction zone, puts you in a zone where you have to make a decision, you have to change and do something different to survive and move on.