Ideas eat the status quo for breakfast

Why you need to make time for ideation.

by JF Bouchard, Chairman & Curator – C2 Montréal / CEO - Sid Lee

Everything that is or ever was made by a human started with an idea.

All things considered, everything in our lives is human-made and can be traced back to someone who dared to ask “What if?” and came up with an idea.

The shoes we wear.

The apps we’re hooked on.

The homes we live in.

The recipes we crave.

The movies we chill with.

The music we dance to.

The drugs that cure us.

The technology that enhances our lives.

The trains, planes, automobiles, and bicycles we take from A to B.

Every company you’ve ever worked for.

Even the man-bun that was hip for way too long last year.

Nothing exists without creativity. Everything originates from an idea or, in most cases, a string of ideas that spark one after another. Centuries of human imagination have created everything manmade, womanmade, but mostly, humanmade, that surrounds us. Including man-buns, whether you like them or not.

Some may say this is more of a truism than a powerful insight. In which case, I have a question for those sardonic minds: WHY THE HELL ARE WE SPENDING SO LITTLE TIME IDEATING?

How many corporations truly have a process to come up with new ideas, beyond their R&D departments? How many management meetings systematically include a segment for ideation? How many performance review processes emphasize the importance of creativity? How often do we carefully study the world around us to spot gaps that new ideas can fill? How much time do our universities spend developing their students’ imagination skills?

Not many, not often, and not much.

You cannot attain an objective you never set.

Creativity is the source of all the knowledge we possess. And yet, most of us sort of wait for it to happen. For it to pop up randomly. Or for enterprising individuals to have a stroke of genius of inscrutable origins.

Please do this little personal exercise with me: look at your calendar right now. Go on, I’ll wait…

Now, identify the time intentionally dedicated to ideation in the past few weeks or months. Or simply moments meant for finding inspiration or to be spent in discovery mode.

If you are like most people, it’s a whopping Z-E-R-O.

In any given year, there is a great likelihood that you spend more time picking your nose or extracting those perplexing furry balls from your navel.

For the majority, ideas appear to be mysterious flukes or don’t seem to come at all. Why? Because you can’t get reliably good at something you do not practice and do not make time for. Would it occur to anybody pursuing competitive athletic performance to address it by doing absolutely no sports at all? Or by simply couch-potato-ing with a cold one in front of ESPN? Wouldn’t you call this aspiring Iron Man a delusional lazy-ass lost in a fool’s paradise?

No pain, no gain, as they say. Why would creativity be any different? It does not boil down to God-given brilliance; it boils down to hard W-O-R-K, which itself derives from making T-I-M-E for ideation in your week.

The status quo is riskier than change

In our modern world, failing to thoughtfully and systematically spend time on ideation is downright suicidal. You might not die quickly, but a thousand cuts will eventually bleed you to your ghastly death. We all know the pace of change has accelerated. But do we truly recognize the risk of standing still by leaving new ideas to pop up randomly and infrequently?

Shockingly, many still resist and fear the changes new ideas may bring. Too afraid to test and try. Dismissing the impending experimentation as wasted time. However, in our day and age, it is clear that the status quo is becoming far riskier than change. It used to be the other way around, in the eyes of many managers. Corporations often made it their mission to defend a favourable position or an antiquated system for decades. There was crappy service in bank branches that were only open 9 to 5 and closed on weekends, because “that’s that way it has always been.” And that was reason enough. Fifty years of the same proven system. The status quo wins. People lose. The customer is dismissed as being too demanding.

Now, we all know this is over. Stand still a minute too long and some startwww.c2montreal.comp armed with new technology or progressive new way of doing things will steal your lunch in a matter of a few years — if you’re lucky.

How to improve your ideation hygiene

So how do you make more room in your life for ideas? I have a few simple suggestions based on my own personal experience and my observations of many colleagues in the two organizations I belong to, which thrive by bringing creativity to the forefront. Although I lead companies in “creative industries” (a misnomer, since I believe all organizations are in the creative business of delighting customers, or else they end up in the less thrilling business of extinction), I should point out that I have seen many executives in finance or HR, for example, put those principles into practice to great success.

Start with your calendar

Do you sometimes look at your calendar and wonder when you’ll have time to get to the loo in between meetings? We’ve all have had those sanity-testing days.

My argument is simple: protect yourself from spending 100% of your days dealing with the daily grind of “doing.” You must lock in some sacrosanct “thinking” timeslots. Firmly and regularly book a brainstorming session with colleagues or time for jotting down notes solo in a coffee shop. (Of the Amsterdam kind, maybe? It works really well in my experience, but don’t loose your notes!)

If you have a personal assistant, give them the responsibility of guarding those timeslots, in the same way that Yeezy protects the divine sanctity of Yeezy.

 Nurture passion projects

A great way to generate new perspectives and ideas is to work on things that are not related directly to your work, but rather, to your heart.

Passion projects in adjacent or totally unrelated fields keep your mind busy and travelling different paths. Moonlighting in different fields forces you to look at problems from inspired perspectives and use different mental frameworks to achieve results.

It may sound a bit mystical, but your mind becomes more apt at showcasing the kind of flexibility required to find new solutions to old problems in your professional life. You will be surprised to have new ideas about banking by nourishing a passion for artistic multimedia installations, for example.

Great minds come up with the great ideas, right? Well, great minds are inquisitive and love to roam through different fields to make unforeseen connections that help generate new ideas.

Change the context

A trick that works very well for me is to spend some of my ideation time in environments that take me far for my daily routine.

It can be as simple as stopping at the weirdest Tiki restaurant to work by yourself for a couple of hours. Or going to a university library for the first time in 20 years. Or organizing a date with your notebook while travelling in exotic locations around the world.

There are more extreme examples. For me, attending Burning Man created a huge well of inspiration that I still tap into all the time. It brings my mind to a place of endless possibility and total freedom. Incidentally, it was a major source of inspiration in creating C2 Montréal, by instilling the following question: how can we create the ultimate context for business and creative professionals to get a powerful surge of inspiration? And here is how we set out to answer that question: we organized a 24-hour, round-the-clock brainstorming session with 25 people in an Old Montreal spa! C2 Montréal was born that night after much bathing and debating (not to mention eating, drinking and very little sleeping).

Making time for ideas in your calendar can be a whole lot of fun if you decide it will be so… “Honey, I have to work. I’m going to Art Basel Miami this week to reimagine my distribution strategy!” Granted, it can be a hard sell. In which case, I would argue C2 Montréal is a good fallback position! Even as the Chairman of C2 Montréal – running around the site, half-paranoid about mundane production details – I always find an hour a day to join in a workshop or to hide somewhere and note down the flow of ideas that surge out of my hyper-stimulated mind. For me, it’s priceless. Come join me if that Miami or Burning Man trip won’t go down too well with the HR exec, the learning program manager, or the expense account police.

See you soon.

Cover photo:
The author, JF, with Caroline Lavergne – Editor-in-Chief C2 Montréal (left) and Genifère Legrand – VP Creation (right), enjoying pancakes swimming in Quebec maple syrup at Beauty’s Luncheonette, a Montreal breakfast institution for the seriously hungry.