As things get increasingly commoditized in our world, eventually, all task-based, logic-driven jobs in marketing will be automated. Even now, they’re table stakes. They’re the types of tasks that get you to perfectly average. But to differentiate, we can rely more heavily on something others can’t copy and technology can’t commoditize: the creativity of your people.
Unfortunately, creativity requires a trait that’s often stigmatized or outright ostracized in the business world: sensitivity.
Quick, what comes to mind when I say that a marketer is “sensitive?” Maybe we picture a designer or writer who “can’t handle” the demands of a data-driven job? (Which kind of data do we mean, anyway?) Maybe we assume they’re soft, or perhaps we’re a bit more nuanced and decide to manage the individual through encouragement rather than criticism. Regardless, we tend to begin our thinking about sensitivity the same way our president ends his tweets: “Sad!”
To that I’d say: “Wrong!”
Being sensitive is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of openness.
That’s pretty darn useful when your goal is to break from conventional thinking and do something new, different, and exceptional.
Sensitivity should be an organizational strength, but first, we have to stop confusing it with individual weakness.
It’s no coincidence that some of the best speakers and authors of our time can distill their big ideas down to the same question: “Why?”
Asking, “Why?” is a simple way to start thinking like a sensitive individual. With a single word, you’ve immediately opened yourself up to new possibilities. You break out of the routine — the place wherein you already know why and therefore just keep plodding along. Never stopping. Never wondering. Never feeling things. We need to break out of that.
Asking “Why?” opens a closed mind to the inspiration sitting all around us.
So, let me put that trick into practice right now. I just claimed that being sensitive is a powerful trait to possess to be creative.
Why? Well, until about a week ago, I had no idea. I just stopped there. It was a fact: You have to be sensitive because … creative people are sensitive, and so … you have to achieve that state of mind … somehow … because science … or something.
Recently, however, I found some clarity.
In “Travel,” last week’s episode of Unthinkable, our story took us deep into this idea that travel positively affects creativity. That always bugged me: Why? (there’s that word) What is it about physically moving our bodies to new locations? Why does seeing or doing or eating something new make us feel creatively inspired?
As it turns out, it has nothing to do with travel itself. It’s just that, when we travel, we’re placed into new situations. This in turn makes us more sensitive to the world around us. Ever wonder why things seem to look or smell or taste so much better elsewhere? Travel is like an electric shock to the senses.
We idealize travel as a dream-like state, but in reality, travel snaps us awake.
Maybe this comes from our lizard brains, I don’t know. It makes sense, doesn’t it? That new, unfamiliar forest might contain predators or prey.
Better be on high alert. Something might be here. We must be prepared.
But here’s the thing: The world always contains inspiration. We just don’t notice it. We’re desensitized to it, just like a local you meet on your travels who seems less enthused than you do by the food or history in that place. When we’re stuck in the daily routine of our lives or the usual practices of our work, we overlook things that could be used for inspiration.
So maybe pause to ask, “Why?” Maybe take a trip. Maybe hold an offsite with your team. Cross to the other side of the road as you walk down that same street morning after morning. Go for a bike ride in the opposite direction. Turn left instead of right.
We don’t need to roam far to reap the rewards of travel. But we do need to become more sensitive to the world. Sensitivity has to be embraced and the stigma removed. Just imagine a project, or a career, or a team, or a company that pulls from the world as it really is: infinite inspiration.
Better be on high alert. Something might be here. And we must be prepared.
Listen to this episode to hear the full exploration of how travel affects creativity: