Tom Kelly explains how to cultivate personal innovation for life

Thanks to my friends on Twitter, I recently came across an excellent series of video clips from a lecture by Tom Kelly of Ideo to a class of college students at Stanford, in which he shares five essential strategies for cultivating and nurturing personal innovation throughout life.

Thanks to my friends on Twitter, I recently came across an excellent series of video clips from a lecture by Tom Kelly of Ideo to a class of college students at Stanford, in which he shares five essential strategies for cultivating and nurturing personal innovation throughout life.

As you would expect, this design innovation guru shares a wealth of timeless truths and principles that will help to enrich your creative life. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Think like a traveler: When you travel, especially internationally, it’s as if part of your brain transforms into a hyper-aware state, causing you to notice everything. You’re able to observe more and learn more. The trick is to cultivate this mindfulness in your daily life, even when you’re not traveling. To do this, Kelly recommends that you capture your ideas. Carry a paper and pen in your pocket everywhere, and don’t let a single idea or observation get away. He also urged the students in the Stanford class to be confident in their ideas and observations: “You’ve got to remember you are the world, undisputed expert of your own experience. So try to capture the lessons from your experiences. You will be able to use those in organizational settings.”

2. Treat life as an experiment: This principle has to do with the risk, with the willingness to fail and to learn from your failures. In this section of his lecture, Kelley shared several stories that help to illuminate the value of constant experimentation, including the popular all-purpose lubricant WD-40 (so-called because it was the 40th formulation of this substance) and the James Dyson, who created over 5,000 prototypes before he came up with the design for what is now the very successful Dyson vacuum cleaner.

3. Nurture an “attitude of wisdom:” This principle has to do with cultivating the fine balance between trusting and distrusting what you know, and to have a constant thirst for new knowledge throughout your life. Even in ancient times, Kelly explained, it was a bad idea to rest on your laurels (and he explains where this expression originated, which is interesting in itself). Considering the accelerating pace of change today, it’s an even worse strategy in our day and age. Keep learning!

4. Use your whole brain: Most Western school systems, including universities, spend many years teaching us how to maximize the analytical skills of our left brain. In this part of his lecture, Kelley refers to Dan Pink’s excellent book, A Whole New Mind, which suggests that success in the years ahead will come from our ability to use our whole mind, our left and right brains working together to take us to new levels of performance and creativity. “Let your right brain make its mark,” Kelley urged his students. He spent several minutes talking about the “tortoise mind” — the powerful subconscious brain, which most of us know little about. He urged students to assign tasks to the tortoise mind, and to give ample time for contemplation. He used the metaphor of a seed to explain that you can’t cultivate ideas overnight; they need time to germinate and grow. He also recommended that students take time to daydream; he explained that you must slow your conscious mind down in order for the tortoise mind to do its job.

5. Do what you love: Kelley told students to search out the intersection between what they’re naturally good at, what they were born to do, and what people will pay them to do. He recommended to the students that they maintain a “lab book,” in which they write down observations about themselves, their ideas and when and where they feel most engaged with life. This is a process that author Jim Collins used to figure out his life calling, which was to teach others and write books.

This is a fascinating set of video clips, which I highly recommend that you check out!

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