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The Creative Thinker

“The instinct of a creative thinker is to create. Where others see rules and boundaries he sees opportunity. Where others see chaos he sees imagination. He is driven by his passion, livened by it, ruled by it, frustrated by it. Creativity, a striving for that which has not been done and remains yet unseen becomes both his gift and his curse. For good is never good enough, and great will never be great enough, but to take a deep breath, let out a smile, and then push forward into the next great unknown. His goal is not just to do it better, but to change the world. And perfection remains his greatest challenge.”

Insert Jobs Here

Steve. Jobs. A man known for his genius, changing the world, seeing what others could not, pushing forward towards perfection, and by those who knew him as an unstable, unorthodox tyrant. Yet for some reason, Steve didn’t see himself that way, instead Steve saw himself as someone who valued the best in humanity, someone who praised and rewarded good work, but also called out unacceptable behaviors and lack of motivation. In fact, I’m not sure he ever saw himself as a tyrant or a jerk, but rather as someone who was changing the world, and someone who became frustrated by the lack of understanding shown by his peers.

I am convinced, that like a select few, Steve was ruled by his passions. Many of us when we get up for work have a “job” to do. We go home, we relax, and most days the lightbulb turns off and we turn to family and friends. But not Steve. Steve looked for new ideas in everything, and his brain never turned off. He encouraged creativity outside of the office, and encouraged the brainstorming of ideas through “hallway meetings,” and in other non-work, social related moments.

The Curse of Being a Creative Thinker

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of a creative thinker is the inability to turn off this passion, this desire. To get away from one’s work… For the second we do, we become lost. Unlike many who put their 8 hours in and go home to family, friends, and other activities, for creative thinkers these other activities are the distraction, while work… creativity becomes our life. Every grueling second becomes an intense opportunity for ideas, a chance to create something that’s never been done, and to do something that no one has ever thought of. To do something not just better, but amazing.

This in itself causes more problems than one might think – as creative thinkers are very quick to switch social dynamics or how they are using their brains. One minute they can be the funniest guy in the room, only to dead-pan into a serious moment the next. Such a mood shift, while normal for the creative thinker causes uneasiness for others as while the actual mood of the creative thinker has not changed it is often perceived as going from being happy to being angry. Or from being serious to nonchalant, when instead they are simply tapping a different part of their brain to evaluate and execute the task before them in a more efficient manner.

And creative thinkers strive for efficiency… in perhaps the most inefficient of ways. Unlike a traditional thinker, creative thinkers see rules and boundaries as obstacles, questioning their very existence, often to the frustration and angst of their peers. But when one thinks about it, in order to change the world and break free of what we know we can do, one has to break the rules, and break convention.

Creative thinkers also appear to be extremely disorganized, as their brain processes things differently. Recently, a UMN study revealed that those with messy desks tend to be more creative and think outside of the box. Of course, they also tend to try new things quickly, push the envelope, and put less focus on things such as personal hygiene, especially during a creatively driven moment as the creativity consumes their very being, and becomes their utmost priority.

But perhaps one of the greatest challenges a creative thinker has is understanding his own condition, and then contrasting it with his peers. Driven by his passion, Steve failed to grasp the lack of motivation and vision by his coworkers, often berating them for their inability to think outside of the box. While his coworkers were stuck in a world of basic, Jobs was screaming about fonts. While his coworkers were thinking enterprise, Steve was steadfast in demanding separate keyboards and one-button mice. You could see the creativity of Jobs in how he talked, the little smirks- the I know something you don’t attitude. Because Steve mastered his creativity, both by failure after failure, and success after success. Steve could see outside the box, see a way to change the world, and had the power to make these visions come to life.

Perhaps this is why Steve was seen as extremely immature and a tyrant by many. While he had his many character flaws, I wonder how much of it was the shift in personality dynamic causing an unintentional disconnect with his employees, verses the buildup of frustration from bureaucratic obstacles that to him made no sense, the lack of vision by his employees, and most damaging – a lack of passion. A frustration that at times would make him feel like the loneliest man in the room, an outcast stuck in a rut of useless tradition.

“To the creative thinker the endeavor becomes his life. When others view what you eat, sleep, dream, think, and breathe to be ‘just a job,’ suddenly your whole life is degraded to that of a paycheck, and you stand alone with your vision, the loneliest man in the world.”

Chasing Perfection, if Only for a Second

Perhaps Steve’s greatest source of frustration was caused by the greatest curse of creative thinking: the desire to create perfection. The desire to create something that doesn’t just work, or change the world, but inspires the world. To create something that fulfills one’s own creativity, causing that little light of happiness and satisfaction to turn on, if only for a second. But like a gas fueled generator, that light could only burn so long before the tank needs to be refilled, before the accomplishment is lost in a pile of others. In an odd psychological twist, a creative thinker is often extremely accomplished, but feels as if they haven’t done anything. Each past accomplishment lost, brushed away, hidden by the brilliant demands of their latest endeavor. I think many creative thinkers are amazed when they look back, because in a very big way they feel small, insufficient as the frustrations and the demands of their latest endeavor- one just out of reach – crush them.

As part of the team

Insights Discovery talks about the creative thinker as one who is an asset to any team, the truth is, I don’t think that is an opinion held by many teammates, at least not initially. I think they view the creative thinker as a loose cannon, unorthodox, uncontrollable, and as a detriment to the mainstream. I would have to say they are right. A creative thinker absorbs the team, filled by his passion. A creative thinker does not work well with boundaries, and will push and push to build an empire. A creative thinker does not work well with others who are complacent or content- as he demands the impossible.

Yet, despite the many, many flaws of Steve Jobs, most who have worked for him feel blessed. While a tyrant, Steve pushed them beyond their own boundaries, while throwing tantrums he made the impossible. His rants about fonts turned to be one of his greatest accomplishments and the concept of the Macintosh- once ridiculed- his greatest legacy.

While inefficiently efficient, Steve, and other creative thinkers change the dynamics of their teams, the way their teams think, they way they act, the way they behave… But they unite the team with a common purpose, a common vision, and a sense that their team is different, that their team is special. That their team will change the world. And in Steve’s case, it did.

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