Back to the Drawing Board

Encouraging employees to find their inner artist

by Kate Pavao

Ask a group of preschoolers who is an artist, and every child will raise a hand. But, says Unthink author Erik Wahl, ask a group of adults, and you will be lucky to see one volunteer.

This is because right answers are rewarded not original thought, says Wahl. This often begins in school, and continues into the corporate world where he says, “We’re not rewarded for coming up with a new idea, creating a different way to communicate, or way to connect with customers.”

ewahl headshot

But reconnecting with that create instinct is necessary to engage workers and spark innovation. This is something that Wahl knows personally. He started painting in his 30s after his 10-year corporate career came to a sudden end, and now travels around the world — creating artwork on stage and helping corporate audiences blend critical thinking and creativity.

Here, he gives Profit readers ideas for learning to unthink.

Profit: How is “unthinking” different than regular, old thinking?

Wahl: Critical thinking is finite, structured, disciplined and regulated. It will get you from point A to point B but nowhere else. By tapping into our ability to unthink, suddenly the possibilities becomes limitless. We can differentiate ourselves from the competition, and use emotion and creativity to engage our employees and drive future efforts.

Profit: Why should Executives be thinking about creativity right now?

Wahl: Because of economic and political uncertainty — as well as increased competition — unthinking is a core necessity, not a luxury. If you’re not on the cutting edge of creativity and trying new things, you’re dying. I get that people are fearful and nervous with shareholders to answer to and quarterly numbers they need to hit. But that’s why the competitive landscape is so wide open. There is tremendous opportunity for those who have the courage and the freedom to break outside of this prison.

Profit: How can executives foster a more creative culture?

Wahl: What causes employees to hop on to Facebook, Twitter, a blog, or a chat room — or talk to other parents on the PTA about your company? What ideas do you have for offering freedom, showing creativity, or providing an unusual reward? What if you sent a limo to pick up your employee of the month for a week? Soon all the kids, neighbors and other employees are talking about how fun it is that she gets to work your company. It might even become a news story and hit CNN, Fox and MSNBC. And all it took was a simple gesture that your competitor never though of.

Profit: How do you feed your own creative brain?

Wahl: I go to as much live music as possible, because I feel live music is the cutting edge of where true entertainment is. I want to be in the center of how Jay-Z, Linkin Park and even Neil Diamond are capturing audiences attention after all these years They are using site, sound, inspiration, momentum — and social media — to break down the barrier between performance and audience — to instead create a shared experience. That’s where I write my best business stuff because I’ve let go of my critical thinking mind. I’ve let go of what a management strategy is supposed to be or what a customer service is supposed to look like. I see ideas from an entirely different perspective.

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