October 5, 2015

Four Steps to Get Creative Like Steve Jobs

SMITH BRAIN TRUST -- Steve Jobs the movie will arrive in theaters Friday, despite protests from the widow and other friends of the late Apple co-founder. They say the film unfairly portrays its title character as cruel and inhumane, while director Danny Boyle stands by his adaptation of the biography by Walter Isaacson. One thing not in dispute is Jobs’ legacy as a creative thinker.

Smith School adjunct faculty member Kamran Loghman used Jobs as a model when developing a creative performance course for Apple managers. “I draw a lot of information from Steve Jobs,” says Loghman, Apple’s chief global instructor for Create. Lead. Achieve, the basis for a new open enrollment course at Smith’s Office of Executive Programs.

He says Jobs considered his mind like a wild horse — something separate from himself — which needed to be trained. “You must master your own mind,” Loghman says.

Not everyone can be a creative genius, but Loghman says effective leaders work at it like Jobs. “The greatest leaders of all time have always been creative,” he says.

The first step is to challenge the assumptions that people make about the world around them. “The way we see the problem is the problem,” Loghman says. “To create the future we must think different, and we must work different.” He shares four concrete suggestions for making this happen.

1. Ask Great Questions

To get out of the mental boxes that people make for themselves, they should begin by asking great questions. “Limited questions lead to limited answers,” Loghman says. “And great questions lead to great answers.” He says effective leaders do this routinely, and then they listen to diverse voices. “When you study great leaders, you find that great leaders ask great questions,” Loghman says. An example might be: “Why does it have to be this way?”

2. Shake Up Your Environment

There’s a reason people think big when standing atop a mountain or overlooking the ocean. The mind responds when people expand their horizons and remove the clutter from their environments. “Simplifying your workspace and environment reduces the input of visual data into brain,” Loghman says. “So make it simpler to work smarter.” Going on an outdoor adventure is not always feasible, but he says people can detach from their regular environments in other ways. “The worst place you can go to come up with new ideas is your desk at work,” he says. “So stand up. Get out of your office and go for a walk.”

3. Start Imagining

The next step is to visualize the future. “To create the future we need to think with pictures,” Loghman says. “Imagine what you want to do rather than just talking about it.” He says athletes do this in practice, so new situations seem familiar when they arrive. This reduces stress, which tends to shut down the mind. “You can see things that other people under stress cannot see,” he says.

4. Build an Ecosystem 

Finally, managers and leaders need to develop ecosystems that promote creative thinking across teams, departments and organizations. “You need to make it safe for people to share their ideas and collaborate with others,” Loghman says. When people fall into a rut, he says managers and leaders can go outside the normal boundaries — even outside the entire industry — and recruit people with new perspectives. He says Jobs excelled at this, even drawing lessons from yoga and other diverse pursuits.

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The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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