The Common Thread
As I think through the process of innovation and about innovators and innovation models, it occurred to me that it might be possible to profile well-known innovators in order to learn the secrets of their success. This thought led me to the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. In Death in Venice, Thomas Mann wrote “Who can unravel the essence, the stamp of the artistic temperament! Who can grasp the deep, instinctual fusion of discipline and dissipation on which it rests!” This is exactly what Currey is looking for as he chronicles the daily rituals of Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, John Updike, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Igor Stravinsky, and many other innovators and artists.
The interesting thing to me, and some would say that this is a rather superficial side of innovation, were the circumstances of creativity in which all of these recognized innovators did their daily work. As I read through the habits and schedules of these game changing individuals, it was clear to me that they lived in a “real world” in which people have to sleep, eat, and earn a living. It was also clear to me that innovation was work, not a burst of inspiration on a mountain top. In fact, I don’t recall reading any circumstances that involved mountain tops, burning bushes, or stars to be followed. Time and time again, the daily rituals I read about were routine, and sometimes rather boring sounding. And, to my delight, I also found a profile that emerged from the varied accounts.
Through the reading of the daily habits of this large number of creative individuals, I found three traits that were consistent throughout the stories. I had hoped at the outset of my investigation that I would discover things like “they all ate large amounts of protein…”, or “they were all born in the month of January”, which could be applied to life, or at least help explain these extraordinary people, but nothing startling came to light. What did come to light in my profile are the following three circumstances:
1. These innovators sat and worked for a measured and routine period of time, usually in the morning, and usually with a defined beginning and ending point;
2. The workplace and the place of innovation for these innovators was a place that allowed the individual to focus, and in several instances, was a place of isolation;
3. These innovators took a serious walk during their daily routine.
That is the profile I was able to establish for a large amount of people who changed the world. And while these revelations are not dramatic, I think they are instructive. These circumstances suggest to me that innovation is dedicated, focused, and is intense work, and that innovation requires reflection. I am encouraged by these traits, as well, as I think about my own innovation mindset. Whether or not my work leads to innovation, I see only good results coming from these three observations of genius
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