According to Jim Rohn, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
The people you associate with help shape what you think and who you are. We tend to congregate with friends who are like us in background, interests, education, attitudes and opinions. This is comfortable and reassuring but it inhibits creativity or independent thought. Instead it encourages conformity and groupthink. You and your friends probably agree about most things. Normal people have normal ideas. If you want to be abnormal and creative then you need to widen your circle to include disparate ideas and contrarian thinkers.
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales have captivated generations with their strange themes and inspirational characters. His classic stories include “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The Walt Disney blockbuster, Frozen, is based on Andersen’s story “The Snow Queen”. Andersen had an unhappy childhood. His grandfather was committed to a lunatic asylum. The boy would often visit him there and spent time listening to the wild ramblings of the patients – this was a source for many of his stories. He escaped conventional company by visiting a madhouse.
The artist Andy Warhol kept an open house. Anyone could hang out in his studio. Many creative people congregated there. They often made suggestions for new works of art or helped to create them. Warhol soaked up their ideas. The place became a hotbed of inventiveness and imagination. Among his visitors were the musician Lou Reed and the rock band, the Velvet Underground.
This approach has been copied by other artists but also by creative agencies who want the buzz of different indigenous people batting ideas around. Can you go and meet people in a place which is the equivalent of Andersen’s lunatic asylum or Warhol’s studio?
Some creative geniuses work alone but many work in tandem. John Lennon and Paul McCartney often clashed but they contributed great ideas to each other’s songs. When TV producers want a new soap opera or a comedy show they commission a group of different script writers who work, argue and laugh together. They spark off each other.
If you want creative ideas then mix with creative people. Search through your network and see if you know anyone who is a composer, an artist, a writer, an architect, an actor, a producer or an entertainer. Do you know who is a radical thinker? Which person can give you original opinions and stimulating ideas? Go out of your way to cultivate these acquaintances. Discuss things with them. When you are working on some creative project, openly ask for their input. I guarantee they will give you something more valuable than you get from your five best friends.
Paul is a professional keynote conference speaker and expert facilitator on innovation and lateral thinking. He helps companies improve idea generation and creative leadership. His workshops transform innovation leadership skills and generate great ideas for business issues. His recent clients include Airbus, Microsoft, Unilever, Nike, Novartis and Swarovski. He has published 30 books on lateral thinking puzzles, innovation, leadership and problem solving (with over 2 million copies sold). He also acts as link presenter at conferences and facilitator at high level meetings such as a corporate advisory board. He has acted as host or MC at Awards Dinners. Previously, he was CEO of Monactive, VP International of MathSoft and UK MD of Ashton-Tate. He recently launched a series of podcast interviews entitled Insights from Successful People.