Will, Skill, Drill: A Conversation with Tim Hurson, author of “Think Better”.



"Stop thinking that there are magic bullets that will make your people more creative. The notion of quick fixes and instant creativity is actually one of the biggest barriers to developing creative capacity".

Tim Hurson is a creativity and innovation consultant who serves major global clients. He has worked and keynoted in 43 countries — helping people develop productive thinking skills and become creative leaders. Tim’s book Think Better, in its fifth printing, is available in eight languages. It is used in B-Schools in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Korea, Mexico, Chile, and Brazil. Tim is a founder of ThinkX, Facilitators Without Borders, and Mindcamp. We asked him a few questions. 
The Creativity Post: What inspired you to become a creativity and innovation consultant?

Tim Hurson: Creativity has been a passion of mine ever since I can remember. Even in high school, I wondered what made some people so curious to discover the new — and others not. My intensive period of research into what makes people creative began with a specific incident. I had founded a small marketing company in the early 1980s and worked as its creative director. I remember a particular meeting with our art director, a couple of designers, an account executive and some clients, in which we were trying to come up with creative approaches for a campaign. All the people in the room were smart, curious, and engaged in the project. But I noticed a distinct difference in their contributions. Some were bubbling with ideas, while others (equally intelligent and engaged) offered substantially less. The difference didn’t seem to relate to introversion or extroversion, as both the art director and one of the designers were very much introverts, but contributed tons of ideas. The other designer and the account exec were extrovertd, but contributed far fewer. What was going on here?

That puzzle set me off on a ten-year quest to discover what the differences were. I read, attended conferences, became a lurker in psychology forums, and gradually discovered the works of JP Guilford, Paul Torrance, Alec Osborn, Sid Parnes, and Graham Wallas, among others. I'm still on the quest, but I've learned a lot — most importantly that creativity is not simply a gift given to a chosen few, but a set of skills that can be learned and developed. While it's true that some people will always be more creative than others, just as some will always be better athletes than others, it’s also true that whatever your starting point, you can learn to think better, more productively, and more creatively. We may all think we think as well as we can. But in truth, we can all get better.

The Creativity Post: Throughout your career, you helped Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 organizations in the US, Canada, and the UK create innovation, marketing, and new product development programs. You are the author of the book Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking. How can we all “think better”, what are the principles of “productive thinking”?

Tim Hurson: My sense is that thinking more creatively and productively is all about will, skill and drill. First, you have to want to. That's the will. You have to have the attitude that there's always a better way. You have to be dissatisfied. One of the things we say in my company is that every itch is an opportunity. You don’t have to look very far to find something ripe for improvement, whether a product or a service. Once the will is there, you have to develop a set of skills. One of my favorite quotes is by Jerry Hirschberg, former CEO of Nissan Design, who said, "Creativity is not an escape from disciplined thinking. It's an escape with disciplined thinking." In other words, you have to learn how. A very few people learn that by themselves, but most of us need help. We start with creative heuristics developed by others — thinkers from Heraclitus to Leonardo to Edison. We discover the tools and approaches that work for us, and then possibly we evolve our own. No matter what route you take to develop them, there's no doubt that skills play a significant part in the creative process. Finally, you have to drill. In other words, you have to practice. No one becomes a champion golfer or tennis player overnight. And no one becomes a creative genius overnight. It takes work and mistakes and corrections and more work again. Eventually you start to make some breakthroughs. Then you build on those. And you keep going until you’ve got something that works, that’s really new, that really makes a difference. One of the most important things we at ThinkX tell our clients is, “Stop thinking that there are magic bullets that will make your people more creative.” The notion of quick fixes and instant creativity is actually one of the biggest barriers to developing creative capacity.

The Creativity Post: Tell us more about the Mindcamp.

Tim Hurson: Mindcamp started 10 years ago. Several of my friends in the world of creativity thought it would be fun to invite our colleagues from all over the world to come together for a weekend to share what they'd been working on — to get together, be together, and learn together.

Pretty soon, people who were not creativity professionals heard about it, and asked if they could join in. That was the birth of Mindcamp — a two-day retreat, consisting of 90-minute sessions and informal gatherings. I think we had about 60 or so people for the first Mindcamp. We hadn't given any thought to making it an annual event. But at the end of the weekend, people came up to us and said, "This was great. Have you scheduled next year yet?"

So we continued putting them on, and extended them to three-and-a half-days. We wanted to keep costs as low as possible. All the presenters donate their services — even paying their own travel and living expenses. They do it because they love sharing and learning from each other. The result is that we can offer this amazing experience for not much more than the cost of room and board. There's no other creativity conference in the world I know of that does this. 

This year we have presenters from 13 countries (US, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Ireland, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Cyprus, South Africa, New Zealand) presenting over 80 programs. We're doing it at a beautiful lakeside resort — with water sports, adventure trails, and if we're lucky an aurora borealis light show. It's amazing. There are even a pre- and post-Mindcamp options for people who want to do more intensive work.

The dates are 23-26 August. We're almost sold out, but there are a few spaces left. You can learn more at mindcamp.org.

Tags: drill, mindcamp, productive thinking, skill, tim hurson, will

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