“I don’t think I create anything. I’m really serious. I discover the ideas.”
—George Lois, art director & creative risk taker
The longer I work in this business, I find I do better work in less time. I’m going to tell you how I do this.
Most of my time is spent reading and teaching myself better ways to solve business problems. Writing is an outcome of that process. But the effort that goes into it is significantly slanted toward the research and thinking side of things.
Creativity is the act of connecting things. It implies an important and different way of working that is as relevant to writing and marketing as it is to pretty much any profession today.
Instead of spending my time recalling and applying factual knowledge—the nuts and bolts of what I know, or am supposed to know—I engage in combinatorial play.
I read from disciplines outside of my wheelhouse, from physics to philosophy. And I find things in there that connect to the work that I am paid to help solve.
In fact, I find more things there to help me than in playing it safe reading marketing textbooks and dull listicles online.
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner in the investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, nailed down this idea decades ago. “Worldly wisdom,” he says, comes from being able to build mental models from multiple disciplines, “because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department.”
Right now, I’m reading about chaos theory and the work of Benoit Mandelbrot. Not for any other reason than that it makes me curious.
Without getting bogged down here into the details of his fascinating work on fractals, one of the key things I’m learning is that when we start by applying a simple rule to things, complex structures emerge.
And each time we do this, the results are different. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot.
With this approach, you can’t predict where the knowledge trail is going to lead you, only that it’s going to land you on a different point on a map each time.
It’s out of that work that interesting ideas and new ways of tackling age-old problems emerge.
A century ago, being good at digesting and recalling facts was a rare enough skill to keep you gainfully employed for life. It’s still valuable today, but it’s not rare anymore. That phone or tablet that you’re probably reading this on right now gives you access to that kind of knowledge better and faster than ever before.
Having the ability to take knowledge and press it together in unusual ways to create that worldly wisdom that Munger talks about—that’s the new scarcity.