Harnessing Creativity with Nir Bashan

September 16, 2020

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Nir Bashan is a world-renowned creativity expert. He has taught thousands of leaders and individuals around the globe how to harness the power of creativity to improve profitability, increase sales, and ultimately create more meaning in their work. Nir has spent the last two decades working on a formula to codify creativity.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian and I’m so honored and excited to have Nir Bashan on with us today. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Nir.

Nir Bashan: Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure being here, a very, very cool show. I did some research, listen to some of the episodes and I’m deeply honored. I hope I live up to your guests’ level.

John: You’re going to kill it today because we’re going to be talking about one of my favorite topics and what you’re an expert on. You are a world-renowned creativity expert and you’ve literally taught thousands of leaders and others around the world on the issue of creativity and you have a new book coming out called, The Creator Mindset. I pre-ordered it on amazon.com. It’s called, 92 Tools to Unlock the Secrets to Innovation, Growth, and Sustainability. I want to get into that. But before we start talking about your great new book that’s coming out in a couple of days, I want you to share the Nir Bashan backstory of leading up to you becoming a creativity expert. I have a feeling that wasn’t what you started off and went to college for.

Nir: No, no. Thanks for having me. Again, it’s really cool.

John: Of course.

Nir: My first job was really going door-to-door washing cars in Los Angeles in the ’80s. I was nine years old and we had some ready supplies. I had a bucket that had a hole in it and we use dish soap. We didn’t have even the right kinds of soap and we go door to door knocking and asking people for five bucks to wash a car and the things that I learned while doing that, are still things that I practice today, right? So I learned that most people will not give their car keys out to a nine-year-old who knocks on their door in their Pontiac 6000 that they love, that they saved up for. Was not going to hand over the keys to some kids at the wash.

So what I learned then and there was that, really, sometimes when you deal with customers and in customer service, you need to be really really creative in terms of what you offer that person because you know, you and I are both– we’ve led companies and you have a very impressive resume, John. You know what it’s like, I mean, you sign a master services agreement and then you go through and you sign a very detailed statement of work and you kind of execute on that and what I learned even at that early age that is we’re not creative in how we deal with customers than we’re basically leaving revenue on the table and walking away. So I learned how to be creative in terms of what I was willing to do and auxiliary services that I was willing to provide to get the sale and to move forward.

So we ended up cleaning trash cans and we ended up sweeping a front porch. We did anything that we could do that wasn’t part of our mission statement of car washing and it set off a lifetime of looking at any business, any product or service, or any career and finding where the creativity lies in that particular vocation and trying to inspire it and trying to grow it.

John: Got it. Got it. So when did you start becoming a world-renowned creativity expert that you would start coaching people and advising people on creativity to what you have learned?

Nir: You know, it was, sort of, I kind of fell into it, right? So, I run a few companies for other people before but I really have been a serial entrepreneur my whole life. Jumping from idea to idea, from company to company, learning the hard way a lot of times, you know, kind of burning things to the ground and going, “Whoops! I shouldn’t have done that.” I’m sure you’re listeners can relate to that.

John: We all can relate to that.

Nir: If you want to go there, I’d be happy to tell you my awful awful story, those lack of success and just running into a wall over and over again. But what ended up happening was, you know, I started helping friends of mine and out of word-of-mouth, it spread and it got to the point where I sort of had a process and a protocol that I would use over and over again and a few editors in New York got kind of a hold of it and they are like, “Listen, here, you got to write this down so that everybody can practice, learn how to practice this Creator Mindset and apply creativity to business.”

John: Got it. And, in your new book, The Creator Mindset, for our listeners out there that would like to buy it, A, you could buy it on amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, other great book stores coming out August 4th. But you could also go to www.thecreatormindset.com. What you have done in this book is you’ve codified creativity. What do you mean by codified creativity?

Nir: Part of the reason why I decided to write this thing and get it out is because at several points in my career, John, I looked for books that would help me become creative, and all I found were books on why you should be created. Why should we be creative? And I would read it and just sitting on the edge of my seat, just like, “Okay. Cool. Yeah. Why? Okay, cool. Now, how? And these books would be very short on the how. And so, literally, I decided to write down the recipe – the 92 Tools and literally, it’s tool after tool of how to be creative. There’s a little bit of why in there, I think, the first ten or fifteen pages are the why but then we get right into the meat of the situation.

I wanted to write a book that helps business owners and professionals be able to execute on creativity today. I didn’t want to write a philosophy book. I’m not an academic, I’ve taught, and that was a wonderful thing. But as a serial entrepreneur, I know what I needed was actual items that I can use today. I wanted to give my highlighter out and circle stuff. You know, I don’t have to tell you that, John, you read what? A book a week. You know what it’s like. You want to absorb this knowledge and you want to execute on it. And so that’s kind of how this book came about and really it is a dive that people can use to execute creativity today.

John: For all our listeners out there, do they all have the ability to tap into their creativity? Is it sitting within all of us or is it like when we’re watching a great concert or seeing a great piece of art and we say, “God, I wish I could play the piano like Billy Joel or I wish I could sing like Barbra Streisand or I could paint like Basquiat, I mean, is it like that, or do we all have some latent superpower within us that your book and it’s codification of creativity can help us unleash?

Nir: I believe that we are all born creative. An amazing scientist helped me in the book and they did studies on babies and found that before even language develops, creativity is there. It’s there solving problems for you before you even know what you’re doing. So it is literally part of our DNA and it’s what made us survive, John, over, 50, 60, 70, 80 thousand years. And so, you know, of modern, modern human.

So what basically I found is that as we get older, we stop listening to that creative voice of telling us what to do. Now, I worked in Hollywood, okay? I worked on music. I work with famous people in both fields, and I promise you, they are not doing anything that you or I could not do. Yes, you know, it does take a gift to have a bit of a voice but you and I both know pop stars right now that don’t really have a good singing voice and they’re making a killing. So, what it really is and what I’ve learned, John, through going through that process and sitting there and working on albums and movies, you know, I had a business even refinishing furniture at one point, which is completely not creative but I cherry-picked from all of these fields and I learned that, as long as you have a process – and the process can be your own. But as long as you have a process, you can instill creativity in anything that you do no matter what business from manufacturing to medicine. And it is incredibly important to rely on that blatant creativity that’s just waiting to bust out. It’s waiting to help you solve problems in your business, it’s waiting to help you solve problems in your particular marketplace or whatnot. Sadly, most of us don’t listen to that voice. We shut it off. So the book is really about real waiting through a process creativity so that you can go use it at your office the very next day.

John: What I love is that you’ve broken it down into 92 tools, but I want to go over some of the ones that really interest me that are in your book that I want you to expand upon a little bit more. Like one of them in your toolkit processes the virtues of listening. Can you share more on that?

Nir: Yeah, so the virtues of listening is an incredibly important creative tool. It is basically the art form of really shutting up and listening because when you listen, you awaken a sort of portion of your brain that is completely different than the portion of your brain that’s in charge of you talking, right? And this is weird for me, John. You know, I’m a consultant and that sort of thing. I generally do not talk this much. Unless I’m delivering a keynote or something like that, this is me, kind of, going more than I usually do. I’m a really really good listener. Why am I good listener? Because there’s so much creative potential from listening to what your staff is saying, listening to what your customers are saying. But I mean really really listening and taking a moment to have a bit of empathy and understand where it is that they are coming from because in that is literally unrealized revenue that you can sort of tweak and adjust whatever business you’re in, to capture in terms of real dollars on the table, that you can capture if you’re only willing to listen in the first place. And I feel like we’re all too busy trying to talk these days instead of really really doing some deep listening and seeing what beauty is there when somebody expresses themselves.

John: You talk about the importance of little victories, Nir, talk a little bit about that. Expand on the importance of little victories.

Nir: So, little victories are a big deal for me. When I started, you know, when I had my first company, I just set goals and they were huge goals. And when I didn’t meet them, I felt like a failure. I felt like I wasn’t succeeding but what I really found was that the small goals along the way are far more important than the big goals. Listen and I talk about this in the book but there was an ice cream machine salesman who sold a bunch of ice cream machines some years ago. His idea was volume. I’m just going to sell a bunch more, right? Volume is an analytical approach, not a creative approach. Volume is literally the epitome of analytics. So he decided, “The way that I’m going to get ahead and sell more and more and more machine.” But then he wasn’t selling a lot of machines and his business began to falter. And so, you know, you got a particular order, went to that place where they were ordering a bunch of these ice cream machine, and found that he ate the best burger in his entire life and it was then and there that he decided to change, right? He decided to use creativity, to change his big victory into now a new and slightly different victory, which was, “Hey, maybe I should be in the hamburger business.” And that was Ray Kroc and his product was McDonald.

So I want your listeners right now to think what are the last two or three little victories that I had, right? And is that pointing me in a slightly different direction than that main goal that I’m trying to get to and if so, why not go down that road?

John: I like it. The importance of making mistakes you talked about in the Creator Mindset, share a little bit more on the importance of making mistakes.

Nir: I think we’re too busy in our day to day lives not just professionally but in our private lives too, we don’t want to make mistakes, we want to pay other people and use apps and technology to just cover up our vulnerability and our human nature, but what ends up happening is we literally cut and kill creativity from even generating because we’re so busy trying not to make a mistake in the first place. I’m sure your listeners would agree with me, out of making those critical mistakes, and sometimes losing companies and having the fire employees out of those mistakes and the seedlings. It’s literally like a forest that burnt every few years, but that burning is necessary in order to germinate new seeds of growth and the human mind and the human condition is exactly the same as that for it. We need to burn into the ground a few times in order to create an environment that is ripe for creativity to take hold and grow.

John: The difference between art and egos and how they interplay, can you share a little bit with our listeners about art and egos?

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Nir: Big time. So a lot of people think creativity is about art, right? That’s how we’re introduced to creativity. But really it is just like one percent, even less. So imagine, you know, you’re listening to this podcast right now, right? The mention of a big sort of pie chart. Just imagine it in the mind’s eye and then take a 1% wedge, okay? Take a 1% wedge out and let’s call that art and music and all of this stuff, right? 99% of that other circle is creative potential. Listen, we’ve totally developed, over develop, triple overdeveloped the analytical thinking of our brain. That’s what MBA schools teach. That’s what colleges and high schools and all the way down to elementary and kindergarten, they teach analytical skills. Skills that can be derived into numbers. If something can be quantified, we think it’s a good thing. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I’m saying that that’s only half of the equation. I mean, you know, how many times, John, have you hired somebody and they look great on paper, right? You’re like, “Woah, what a great resume.” And they get in, they’re a real dud, you know. But the paperwork says they’re going to be great, the analytics says they were going to be great but there’s something a soft factor there, right?

There’s a bit of an unknown there that separates good people from great people and that is the ability to fire up the creative side of the mind. So what I want your listeners to do is to understand that we don’t need another person, you know, helping people get analytical skills. You can pick that up anywhere that is part and parcel to the human experience and it’s been like that since day one. What I want to do is to help your listeners develop the other side of their mind, the one that they’ve been ignoring, that gut that’s been telling them, “Hey, you should really do this. This would be great.” And for me, that’s really where the Creator Mindset lives in the balance between the analytic and the creative.

John: I love it. There is another very important element here that you have in your book on character. Now, when my wife and I went to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual event, it was a few years back, Warren Buffett was asked how he chooses leaders of his portfolio companies and he said he looks for three elements. He looks for brains, energy, and character in all of his leadership members. He said if they have the first two but not the third they will kill the company. It will kill the leadership ability. Please share your version of why character counts, Nir.

John: I agree with him 100%, it’s a pretty good recipe. You know, for me, character is really about understanding that the ship is going to take on some water and really what you do when that happens. I think a lot of us, listen, look around today, right? We have a generation of people who’ve never had hardship. I wrote an article about it. I can’t remember who was CEO world or one of them, one of the publication literally about how there’s been a generation of people that have never seen a hard time and you see people freaking out left and right, hard times will come, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ it’s a matter of ‘when’ you know, when will they come? Soon. And for me, character, when looked at creatively is the ability to take on water and understand how to then sort of dissipated and I go through a few tools in the book the kind of help you strengthen your character and understand when you need to kind of turn it on in order to benefit others.

John: The next issue that I read about in your book is self-doubt and you call it the self-doubt monster. I don’t know anybody that’s great at anything that doesn’t fight self-doubt on a regular basis and always perseveres and pushes through the struggle. Can you share what you mean by the importance of the self-doubt monster and how to overcome it?

Nir: Yeah, so the self-doubt monster for me is the most powerful tool that humanity has ever developed, right? You want to talk about powerful tools, people generally talk about war or I don’t know, an atom bomb or something like that. But far more powerful than that is really the negative and detrimental power that every man, woman, and child has on Earth, which is that ability to spell edit. So while we’re all born with creativity and that that creativity is trying to get out our whole lives, our self-doubt is trying to force it down and trying to turn down the volume on the side of the mind that is trying to get creativity out into the world. And what we end up happening, what we ended up seeing happen, John is that we could have easily have cured cancer by now. We could have easily have landed a woman on Mars but there are different industries, the worst self-doubt happens to be very very big. I would say it’s in all industries. Particularly in medicine with cancer and particularly in aviation and aerospace with getting an astronaut out there into a different planet.

We constantly have those people that engineer that has a brilliant idea, you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to design the capsule this way and we’re going to push a solar wind and it would take us all the way there and then they self doubt it because they said, “You know, what? I’m worried about my reputation. I’m worried about what people might think. I’m worried about, you know, I spent years and people think I’m an authority what if I come out with a bonehead idea?” But for me, I like to look at that question from a different lens and I’d like to ask, “Well, what would happen if you don’t do it?” We all suffer and I’m really on a mission, John, to help people in business, no matter what they do, understand that they need to take these creative leaps so that we all benefit. We’re all going to benefit from that scientist working on a cure for cancer who’s going to go out there and be a little loony and be a little out there and take on an idea that is so damn creative that nobody thought of before and they’re going to go through and follow through with it in order to benefit us all. And that is really what I talk about in the book and I talked about a few tricks and tools about really how to take that self-doubt and to turn it into something useful.

John: I love it. For our listeners who just joined us, we’ve got Nir Bashan. He’s a CEO and founder of the Creator Mindset, but he’s also the new author of The Creator Mindset: 92 Tools to Unlock the Secrets to Innovation, Growth, and Sustainability. You can buy that book on amazon.com and other great book stores near you including at www.thecreatormindset.com. Comfortability – we have a society that is grown used to being really comfortable, Nir, and I’ll tell you what, it’s a little scary and I have a friend named Jesse Itzler who said those who get used to being uncomfortable but being comfortable while they’re uncomfortable are the ones that are going to succeed the most in this journey. Share your version of the interplay, and the importance of understanding comfort and creativity and how to make that work in our favor, that equation.

Nir: Yeah, so I agree completely with your friend. I think it’s spot-on. Basically when you look at it from a Creator Mindset from a creativity-mindset, you’re basically looking at comfort as a very very bad thing. What does comfort do? It leads to companies just kind of arriving and getting complacent. I go through in the book with some case studies of various companies from Toys-R-Us to Pan Am Airways, Kodak, just different companies that literally felt like they were at the top of the year. They were done. They didn’t need to innovate. They need to grow. They didn’t need to change their processes and they literally convince themselves that what was working yesterday would work tomorrow and there was nothing, literally nothing, that is further from the truth than something like that. So for me, comfort is one of the most damaging portions of the human condition when it comes to creativity because what comfort does and technology enables this to a staggering degree. But what comfort does is that it takes that human element of actually needing to tweak change and develop in order to grow, it takes that element out of the equation and we just kind of as companies especially or even in our career, we just kind of arrive somewhere and we sit down and we protect our little molehill and feel like nothing will ever change. And that is a recipe for disaster.

Every business, every product or service, every career only exists in a certain band of time and it is our duty to extend that band of time for long as humanly possible, John. I believe that the work that we do in the enterprise is some of the most important work done in all of history. And that work is done today. Now, why do I say that? I say that because I have seen throughout the world and I have charts in the book that back it up. The level of prosperity around the world being listed, there’s never been a better time on earth for humanity than there is now and I know that that might seem controversial, right? We got a lot of stuff going on and I’m not saying we’re perfect and I’m not saying we’re where we need to go but the free enterprise has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system ever. Yes, it’s not perfect. Yes, it’s not the end-all-be-all but it’s the best we’ve got right now, John, and that system enables so many people to come up that I feel like it’s my duty to go to you, to manufacturing companies and different people in waste management, whatever business you’re in and help you sort of inject creativity into every facet of the enterprise of your business so that we can continue as professionals, as leaders of companies and so on and so forth, to raise the quality of living for everyone on earth.

John: I love it. One of your other points in your book in your toolkit is the center of the universe is not you. Now, I’ve read the bestseller by Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy and I love his book and I love what he writes about stoicism and about egos. Share your version of the center of the universe is not you.

Nir: So I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed when scientists figure out that they’re not the center of the universe. I mean, it’s one of those things. Listen, the ego is a real killer of creativity because it gives us a false sense of knowing anything and I’ll be the first to tell you that there is much that I don’t know. I would say mostly things are in that realm for me. I just don’t know and I think as leaders and even somebody in their career having the ability to admit that it is credibly valuable because you start learning and you never stop learning and we are so adamant that you know, “I’ll fix it. I’ll figure it out.” But sometimes it’s okay to say that you don’t know and I would like more people in business today to say, “You know what? I don’t know and I need some help.” For me, that is really where the ego comes into play when it comes to creativity because why? When you say that you don’t know and you say that you might need help or whatnot, you’re really inviting different viewpoints in and in those different viewpoints the potential of amazing creativity to come out and it might even spark an idea inside you to be able to solve a problem in a way that you never saw possible.

John: And we’re going to end the synopsis of some of your great tools in the Creator Mindset tool chest that’s in your new book, The Creator Mindset. It’s coming out on amazon.com and at a bookstore near you on August 4th with what you call the complacency conundrum and with so much of us working from our homes now, in our sweats, unshowered, it’s easy to get a little complacent during this COVID-19 tragic period of time that we’re all living through and I’d love to hear from you, Nir, and how you propose that all of us break through any complacency or the conundrum of complacency that some of us put ourselves through on a regular basis.

Nir: Yeah, for sure. There’s three flavors of complacency that I see over and over again and it’s one of those things where I’ve seen it so much when I consult that I decided even kind of write it down. Now, are these the only sort of things that make us complacent? No, there’s a bunch of them, but the ones that I see over and over again, right?

John: Okay.

Nir: The first one is what I call the early warning and it is basically a signal coming from somewhere or someone or something that shows us that the product or service that we’re offering is starting to not do well. It can be the latest sort of a quarter three report. It can be some customer survey that can be looking on Yelp and seeing a couple of bad reviews and most people when they see that early warning they just kind of shift in on it’s amazing instead of gearing up to, “Okay, let’s solve this problem.” Most people say, “Oh, they’re idiots.” Literally, I’ve seen it happen. John, I’m sure you have to. “Oh, they’re idiots. They don’t know how to review our business.” “Yeah, you know, quarter four is going to be better. It was better last year.” So on and so forth. And that early warning is something that we need to pay attention to so that we don’t get complacent.

The second thing that I see a lot is the exploitative sale. An exploitative sale is a complacency tool that I never want people to use, right? It was just like the first one that we just talked about the early warning. I want people to recognize early warning, not ignore it. The exploitative sale is basically when a product or service starts to make money off of people’s backs really in a way that makes them kind of resent the brand. A lot of credit card companies are in this case. I talk in the book about the Columbia House. Do you remember them where they take a penny and you stick it to a thing and send it off and they send you DVDs and CDs and all this stuff and then you were in a contract for like ten years?

John: I thought it was a lifetime. I’m still on that contract from when I was a kid.

Nir: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, you know–

John: I remember that well.

Nir: Something like 2015, and you know, there was like this internet, forms that popped up and people just rejoicing because that was the only way they could get out of their contract. They were still under contract for CDs in 2015.

John: Unbelievable.

Nir: So, there’s a lot of products and services out there that still use it. Maybe not to that extreme. But I have seen it many times, you know, people in the software business saying, “Well, we’re the only software that can do this. F the consumer or F the business to business that we’re offering this solution for. Nobody else can do it.” And that is the recipe for complacency. What ends up happening is people, you know, people just stop innovating, they stop growing, they stop creating and things kind of end right there.

The last thing that I see over and over again is a paralysis of choice. This is for a business that had some creativity at some point or a visionary leader or so on and so forth and they have so many idea that they don’t know what to do with them. That’s what I call the paralysis of choice and the complacency conundrum. And that is something that’s really bad too because you have too many damn options that you haven’t done, sort of, some weeding out. And so, you know, you’re overwhelmed by what you have to do instead of following a path of what you really do need to do. So that’s kind of the explanation of a bit of a deeper dive into the complacency conundrum.

John: I love it, Nir. Nir, I wish we had more time today. I would love to keep going through the book, but I want our listeners to buy the book, read the book, use some of your great 92 tools which help you unlock the secrets to innovation, growth, and sustainability. It’s called – The Creator Mindset. You can buy it at www.thecreatormindset.com, amazon.com, or other great book stores near you. Nir Bashan, you’re making a great impact on all of us, you made an impact on me today. You’re very inspiring. Your book is going to be massively successful and helpful. I can’t wait until my copy comes. Thank you for being a guest today on the Impact Podcast.

Nir: John, I sure appreciate it. Brilliant questions, really. I mean, I get so excited when people are into it and they get it and I really really thank you for having me.