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July 1, 2021

Baby Steps to Innovation: My Expert Interview With Josh Linkner

Rachel Salaman


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Inspiration was elusive today. So I decided to use a trick that author Josh Linkner told me about. I watched a short video of an eagle soaring over mountains.

The sun was setting behind the majestic, snow-capped peaks. The eagle's wings spread wide and strong as it rode the currents, focused, alert, and master of all it surveyed.

It took me less than a minute to feel energized and ready to write.

The Creative Type

Linkner's new book, "Big Little Breakthroughs," is packed with research and tips like this to boost creativity. Everyone can get better at generating new ideas, Linkner believes, including those who are not "the creative type."

"I always like to say that creativity is like your weight, not your height," he says in our recent interview. "Try as I may, I probably won't grow 12 inches by next week. But, on the other hand, I can change my weight based on how I behave. And your creativity is the same thing – we all can build and expand our skill set with respect to creativity."

In this clip from our Expert Interview podcast, Linkner gives his definitions of imagination, creativity and innovation, and explains how they relate to one another.

Linkner says it doesn't take much to make a difference. Small changes in behavior can spark creativity, which in turn can drive "micro innovations," which ultimately lead to "over-sized results."

And he should know. Linkner founded, led, and then sold five tech companies (for a combined value of over $200 million), and was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year twice. As a venture capitalist, he has invested in over 100 startups. Two of his three previous books made the New York Times best-seller list. And if that weren't qualification enough, he's delivered over 1,000 keynotes around the globe, and is a professional jazz guitarist.

In our podcast, he shares some of his personal tips.

Change the Input

"If you're focusing on things that help you become more expansive in your thinking, generally speaking, that's a good approach," he advises. Think of my eagle, soaring above the mountains.

He tells me about another creativity routine he practices every day, which doesn't take long but packs a big punch.

"In software engineering, they say, 'If you want to change the output, you have to change the input.' So, I spend literally one minute a day just gobbling up creative inputs," he says. "I might watch a live musician play on YouTube, I might look at a painting, I might read a poem. But essentially, I'm absorbing the creativity of others to get my juices flowing."

Then he gives himself a mental challenge, to flex his creativity muscle.

"The challenge might be something like, if I had to take 10,000 ball bearings and market them as a new type of product, what might that be? And the goal isn't to necessarily create [a] tangible work product. It's more to give yourself creative practice in a low-pressure situation."

Get Scrappy

But even thinking up a challenge like that ball bearing one might be a little too – well, creative – for some of us. And what if we don't have the time for these activities, even five minutes a day?

Just do what you can, Linkner says, adding: "We can be very scrappy in our approach to bring creativity forward."

He advises doing "teeny-tiny acts of creativity on a daily basis," including creatively rearranging your life to carve out thinking time from a busy schedule.

"Maybe you move the printer closer to your desk to save a few steps. Maybe you change the exact time that you leave your home to get to the office, to save time on the commute. It's not that tough of a challenge, if you really work at it, to use creativity to save 30 minutes a week.

"If you did that, now you have this incredible gift of 30 minutes, and that becomes your creativity laboratory time to invent other ideas to drive productivity and growth."

Everyday Creativity

This isn't about inventing "the next big thing" or an award-winning ad campaign. Creativity and innovation can improve all aspects of our lives, Linkner believes, from work and business to health, family and community. It can be an everyday experience for everyone, in any situation.

"You don't have to be a good painter or musician or dancer to be creative. You can be creative in your own craft or profession," Linkner asserts. "It's about, how do we use this resource that all of us have but we don't all use regularly, to unlock and achieve the outcomes that we care about the most?"

Listen to My Interview With Josh Linkner

Discover fascinating insights from some of the world's leading business figures with my series of Mind Tools Expert Interviews.

Mind Tools Club Members and Corporate Licensees can listen to my full 30-minute interview with Josh Linkner, behind the paywall.

If you're not a Mind Tools member, you can join the Mind Tools Club and gain access to our 2,400+ resources, including 200+ Expert Interviews. For corporate licensing, ask for a demo with one of our team.

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