Listen to the news these days. Most of what you hear about is conflict — skirmishes between opposing political parties, saber-rattling and military hostilities between states with different political worldviews, and even outright war between countries. While constructive conflict of ideas has a proper place in this world to move us forward, destructive clashes of egos constrain many of us in living up to our full human potential — and might even destroy us all one day.
Interestingly, the dogmatic rulers who seem to instigate many of these brawls tend to have mindsets representing the opposite of a creative leader. Why? One reason is that the former type of leader tends to emphasize differences that separate people, while the latter type of leader tends to approach situations with an enquiring mindset to openly search for similarities. Creative leaders know that looking for commonalities counterintuitively helps them develop uncommon, original ideas. Let me explain.
Creativity is grounded in differences
One way to define creativity is from an output perspective, stating that an idea must be novel, meaningful, and original to be creative. And an original idea is one that is different, uncommon, dissimilar, unique, or extraordinary.
Little wonder that outstanding creative leaders strive to be different, too. They insist on coming up with value propositions that are not only novel and meaningful but also different from those of other market players. Why? Because those unique, dissimilar products, services, solutions, and experiences set them apart from everyone else in a crowded marketplace and allow their company to lead their industry or category niche.
Yet, at the same time, most standout creative leaders learn at some point in their work-life that to think differently and come up with uncommon ideas, they need to openly and curiously explore commonalities of the human experience.
Exploring commonalities empowers creative leaders
Imagine you are eager to develop into a creative leader with the help of Genius Journey, the creative leadership development method I created for Thinkergy. The program allows you to understand and acquire the uncommon success mindsets and routines of outstanding creative leaders.
While “traveling the Genius Journey,” candidates learn at each destination stop of the voyage about one mindset that stops them, limits them, keeps them small, and keeps them thinking inside the tiny box of conventional thinking. And at each stop, they also learn about a corresponding mindset that sets them free, unboxes their thinking, and reconnects them to their inner genius potential. So, stop by stop, the candidates expand their consciousness and open their minds to get ready to tap into the higher levels of creativity.
At stop 3 of the Genius Journey, you learn that being curious and open-minded reconnects you to your full creative potential. Conversely, having a judgmental, closed mind disconnects you from your inner genius. Why?
Judgment is a serial killer of creativity. It comes in two forms — outer judgment of others and inner judgment of yourself. People who are highly critical of others also tend to give free rein to their inner critic. This inner voice of judgment is nothing but the verbalization of thoughts of their worst enemy – their ego. It represents their false self, the role they are playing, and the mask they’re wearing to please and live up to the expectations of others.
So, to reconnect to your inner creativity, it is pivotal that you live up to the second and third tenets of the Genius Journey:
- GJ Stop 2: Stop your ego. Start being yourself.
- GJ Stop 3: Stop being judgmental and closed. Start being curious and open.
How to gain control over your judgmental mind?
When we work with aspiring creative leaders on how to reconnect to their inner genius, we invite them to do eight transformative “genius exercises” at each destination stop. One of these exercises we use at Stop 3 of the Genius Journey to re-cultivate a curious, open beginner’s mind is called “Finding Common Ground.”
The exercise aims to make you discover as many things as possible that you have in common with other delegates. To explore common ground, we pair you with another participant and then have you enter into a Q&A exchange to identify and write down commonalities in your notebook. After 4 minutes, we move you to a new date, and you interview each other to find common ground. We repeat this pairing and Q&A process ca. 6-8 times. Finally, we ask you and the other delegates to share some striking commonalities, determine the winners with the most identified commonalities, and, most importantly, take stock of novel insights you’ve gained from the exercise.
While exploring areas of common ground, you can freely scale up and down between global similarities on one end of the spectrum and specific ones on the other. For example, in a highly global sense, we are all human beings, and together with other species, we inhabit a blue planet that is part of a broader solar system in a vast universe. If you put on a narrow, specific lens, however, you might share the passion for a particular sport, club, movie, book, or food with another delegate. Or you might notice that you studied the same knowledge domain or come from the same town or region of a country, or share the same Zodiac, among others. Naturally, more specific commonalities create a deeper feeling of mutual connection between two people.
Why do we ask you to look for and find common ground at the third destination stop of Genius Journey? It is an effective way to help you gain control over your judgmental mind.
What happens if you focus on your common ground?
Looking for similarities with others and finding common ground opens your mind to acknowledge another person as a human being equally worthy and deserving as you. You stop seeing the world in terms of “me” and “them” and start becoming aware of “us.” You stop thinking in “win-lose” dichotomies and start exploring “win-win-win”-solutions. You stop talking about yourself and begin curiously asking questions, then listening and learning about another person’s viewpoints, wants, needs, and desires. You become open to the other point of view and see that there is more than one absolute truth for most things in life. You “first seek to understand, then to be understood.” (Stephen Covey)
As such, exploring common ground shifts your mindset from contempt to appreciation, separation to connection, indifference to compassion, competition to collaboration, and argumentation (of who’s right) to co-creation (and doing what is right). You elevate your mind to a level that allows you to move from destructive critiquing toward meaningful creating. You notice that in one way or another, we are all connected, which is a stepping stone to realizing that “Everything is connected with everything else.” (Leonardo da Vinci)
“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” —Thomas Merton
So as a creative leader, if you desire to come up with uncommon and dissimilar ideas, look for similarities and find common ground with others. It will cultivate curiosity and open your mind to discover new viewpoints and opportunities you can seize with novel, meaningful, original ideas. And most importantly, appreciating others and their views will also make it easier for you to silence your inner voice of judgment, acknowledge your self-worth, and accept your original ideas.
Conclusion: Find common ground with others to get uncommon ideas
“We can find common ground only by moving to higher ground.” —Jim Wallis
Wouldn’t it be great if the leaders involved in political conflicts also looked for commonalities instead of differences to end hostility? Unfortunately, most of these fights get started by authoritarians with overinflated egos who crave to be right and win at all costs to keep or forcefully increase their power.
And that’s why in the Genius Journey, creative leader candidates must first visit destination stop 2 to meet and stop their worst enemy — their ego — and relearn being themselves. Because only once we’ve become aware of the destructive nature of our false selves and learn how to tame our egos are we ready to re-cultivate an open, curious beginner’s mind allowing us to curiously and openly look for common ground at stop 3 of the journey. So, if you want to reconnect to your inner genius, you must begin the Genius Journey at Stop 1, move forward stop-by-stop and master its tenets, and travel it all the way.
- Would you like to learn more about the Genius Journey creative leadership development method? Or are you interested in traveling the Genius Journey yourself together with other executives of your company in one of our training courses or development programs?
- Contact us if you look for professional support with your creative projects and creative transformation agenda in the face of the profoundly changing business environment in the 2020s.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022.