Creating The Impossible

"There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

– Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There

Recently, Wolff Olins released a tantalizing report about the current state of the corporation with the headline “Impossible and Now”. It stresses the need for CEOs to create the impossible: an uncorporation – one that is able to successfully function within an increasingly volatile environment and with a new breed of individualist employees.

Indeed there were three specific “impossibilities” that were outlined as a necessity: quickly creating culture, delegating decision-making power and respecting employee individuality. But how, exactly, would this happen? Obviously a survey like this is mostly a way to understand the lay of the land, but luckily the report points squarely at the solution:

“Leadership, more than ever, needs creativity. And achieving the impossible needs the most radical kind of creativity.”

Now that is advice I can stand behind, but how exactly does one achieve radical creativity? I doubt there has rarely, if ever, been a course taught on the subject. So what’s a CEO to do?

Luckily there’s a clue in Through The Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of a world turned on its head. When the White Queen responds incredulously to Alice’s claim that she can’t believe what she’s just been told, it’s with this sage comment, “I daresay you haven't had much practice.”

What’s remarkable is that incredibly well-educated and skilled  people are being asked to completely transform the way they are doing business and to do it immediately, successfully and without any practice. Yet, we know for a fact that successful people get that way because of the time they put into the effort. And while 10,000 hours might not be a literal means of achieving all your goals, it’s undeniable that practice certainly makes for proficiency, if not perfection.

What is radical is applying that notion to creativity and more specifically creative problem solving. If I asked you how to get better at golf, yoga, guitar, piano, etc. you’d most likely say, “practice”. So why don’t we apply this to creativity as well? For too long the world of art was seen as something that had little to no overlap with the world of business. But contained within the practice of artists are the seeds of the most powerful tools a CEO working in the today’s environment could ever plant.

Artists are the most consistent innovators in our culture, but for most businesses they are seen as merely a means to an end: creators of a valuable product. Or to stay in the realm of children’s stories: the geese that laid the golden eggs. You remember that story, right? And who doesn’t want some golden eggs for free (or at least for the cost of chicken feed)? Of course the story ends badly for the goose and the folks looking for more golden eggs because they missed the key to the tale. There’s a process for making golden eggs, but you need to partner with the goose to learn how it’s done.

On the most basic level artists have discovered that the key to consistent innovation is developing a practice around their creativity. And once developed this mental muscle can be employed at a moment’s notice, when the stakes are highest. Sound good? You can do it too. The trick is starting small and starting now.

Setting aside a time and a space for a practice of creativity now will pay off in untold dividends in a surprisingly short amount of time. Alice’s Queen suggests a half-an-hour-a-day, and I’m inclined to agree, though even just an hour a week will do. I’ve interviewed over 600 people who engaged in a daily practice and they wholeheartedly agree with this point. Regardless of the subject of their project or overall time spent on it, the response was nearly unanimous: within two weeks people saw some form of personal transformation. And for people who hit the 100, 200, 300 day marks, massive changes took place and they stuck.

Understanding that creativity is a practice and making a space for it to happen are the first steps, the next part is up to you. So the question is what are you willing to do to achieve the impossible?


Need help starting your own creative practice? Join our free 30-day #CreativeSprint! It starts on April 1st and all you have to do is sign up HERE.