Moving From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary
Act as if it were impossible to fail. – Dorothea Brande (1893-1948), American writer.
Do you know any "beyonders?" Perhaps you have one on your team, or in your organization, but are unfamiliar with the term itself.
Beyonders are the people who have the courage and the vision to break through barriers, such as fear of failure or the unknown, to create something extraordinary – something beyond the ability of their competitors. Movie maker Steven Spielberg could be regarded as a beyonder, for example.
In this article, we explore what is meant by "beyonder creativity," and we look at how you can encourage "beyonder" thinking in your organization.
What Is Beyonder Creativity?
The term "beyonder" was coined in 1992 by psychologist Ellis Paul Torrance. He said that it means "going beyond where you've been before, and going beyond where others have gone." Beyonders are the people who creatively outdistance others – the ultra-achievers and superhuman problem-solvers.
As an example, think of Elon Musk, CEO of American automaker Tesla®. He has a track record of successfully challenging his people to achieve the improbable. Not only does Tesla produce electrically powered cars that go faster and further than other electric vehicles, but it has also broken new ground in business model innovation. From revolutionary sales models to industry-redefining self-driving vehicles, Tesla pushes itself to break boundaries.
Quantifying such levels of creative achievement, Torrance said, "In creative achievement distribution, those of the very high end are called 'Beyonders.' As a group they write inordinate numbers of books or articles, they invent scores of innovative devices, paint hundreds of masterpieces, or produce hundreds of films. Such people do not belong on the same scale as their colleagues."
Torrance's colleague, creative behavior expert Dr Kobus Neethling, explained beyonder thinking with "creativity zones."
Figure 1. The Neethling Beyonder Creativity Model
Neethling says that we all have some "ordinary" creativity. Our creative efforts in this zone are safe, logical and risk-free. They follow known rules and stay within set boundaries.
Sometimes, though, ordinary isn't enough. A problem may arise that demands a new, uncharted solution. But the unfamiliar can be scary, and fears of failure and of the unknown can hold you back. This is called the "fear zone." But if you have the courage and determination to overcome it, you reach a higher level of creativity called "stretch creativity."
Our article, Practical Innovation, has tips and strategies for encouraging innovation, curiosity and discovery. For example, be a voice for positive change on your team or in your organization. You can also introduce innovation training, and set up self-managed problem solving teams.
You can go further than stretch creativity, through another fear zone, into the "beyonder creativity" zone. This is the zone in which you exceed your own expectations. Your creativity at this level is dynamic, radical and courageous.
You can encourage your team members to adopt some of these characteristics, to help them to think like beyonders and to achieve beyonder creativity. We explore how to do that, below.
How to Encourage Beyonder Thinking
Becoming a beyonder isn't easy but, by following these six principles, you can stimulate a high-performance beyonder environment.
1. Encourage Deep Thinking
Deep thinking can be uncomfortable and demanding, but people go further when they are immersed in something that challenges them and pushes them to the limit.
- Schedule dedicated time. Uninterrupted periods of being In Flow – where you're in a state of absolute absorption and intense concentration – can help you to focus wholly on the task at hand.
- Know when you're at your best. Some people are early birds, others are night owls. Schedule the most demanding, brain-intensive tasks for the time of day when you function at your best. Our article, Is This a "Morning" Task?, can help you to identify your most productive time of day.
Our Book Insight, Deep Work by Cal Newport, explores more strategies for achieving a state of distraction-free concentration.
2. Take Risks, and Learn From Mistakes
Innovation is hard to achieve without the freedom to take informed risks, even though taking risks can lead to unintentional mistakes. Authors Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes call it "productive mistake-making," where setbacks are necessary steps on the path to success. They suggest that lessons learned from failure can spur further innovation and uncover new ideas and solutions.
Pushing through the fear of making mistakes is a vital piece of the beyonder jigsaw. The key is to understand why a mistake was made, and to learn from it. Our article, After Action Reviews, has more on this.
But be careful. Think about your organization's attitude to risk and mistakes. Some organizations punish mistakes, and beyonder thinking requires people to be confident that they won't be punished for taking calculated risks. Also, beyonder thinking does not mean being reckless about risk or its potential consequences, and no organization will likely tolerate mistakes that come from sloppy work.
3. Enjoy Your Work, and Do It Well
Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple Inc™, once said, "The only way to do great work is to love what you do." Some people have jobs that perfectly match their experience, values and interests, and they pour effort and creativity into them. They have an advantage over those who are less emotionally engaged in their work.
The good news is that there are strategies you can use to find work that you love, and to help others to boost their job satisfaction. For example, our articles, Job Crafting and The MPS Process, explore ways to shape your role to give you meaning and pleasure, and use your strengths.
4. Be Comfortable as a Minority of One
Being comfortable as a minority of one is another trait shared by beyonders. It means being comfortable as the only person in a group with a particular opinion or idea. But, since being a beyonder means going where other people haven't been or daren't go, it's a position that they're used to being in.
For people striving to be a beyonder, though, being a lone voice can be daunting, as there is often "safety in numbers."
Encouraging your people to speak up, even if their views go against the group's way of thinking, can give them the confidence to challenge the consensus. You can learn more about this in our articles, Minority Influence Strategy, Powers of Persuasion, and Opening Closed Minds.
Another characteristic of a beyonder is not being "well-rounded." That means they tend to specialize, and they avoid wasting energy trying to be versatile or spreading themselves across a number of skill areas.
That might contradict most career advice that you've heard, but think about it: to count as well-rounded, you have to invest time and energy in a wide variety of endeavors, such as learning different skills or developing a range of interests. Beyonders may not shine in all their tasks but what they do well, they do exceptionally well.
6. Have a Sense of Mission
A sense of mission gives people purpose, focus, motivation, and the courage to commit to a cause or goal. Their creative energy can dissipate and their enthusiasm can wane without one, so it's a must-have item for beyonders.
Now you've done the groundwork, give your team lots of opportunities to be creative, and make a real difference. You can explore more resources on creative processes, here.
Beyonders are profoundly creative thinkers who go further than they or other people have done before, and achieve more as a result. Beyonder creativity is open to anyone, but to achieve it you have to leave behind "ordinary" levels of creativity and beat fears of the unknown.
Follow these six guidelines to enable beyonder thinking and foster a culture of beyonder creativity in your team:
- Encourage deep thinking.
- Take risks, and learn from mistakes.
- Enjoy your work, and do it well.
- Be comfortable as a "minority of one."
- Have a sense of mission.