Dismantle – Conversations with myself

Since I am interviewing myself, I can really take the gloves off – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Dismantle: How to Deconstruct Your Mind and Build a Personal Creativity Machine Shlomo Maital HarperCollins (India) 2018 284 pages; $16.34 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dismantle: How to Deconstruct Your Mind and Build a Personal Creativity Machine Shlomo Maital HarperCollins (India) 2018 284 pages; $16.34
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Since I began writing this column in 2007, I’ve interviewed a great many people. Never, however, have I interviewed myself.
Well, why not? Let’s see what happens, when I argue with myself about my just-published book on effective creativity. Since I am interviewing myself, I can really take the gloves off – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wonder if I can ask myself questions that I cannot answer.
The Jerusalem Report
: Maital, what is the main point of your book? Frankly, I read your book carefully and I just don’t get it. Can you sum it up in 25 words?
Maital: Sure. Every human being is creative. In different ways. Each person needs a structured personal method for generating and implementing ideas. My book has many suggestions. Lots of books, hundreds of them, suggest the one and only way to have ideas. I say here in my book are a lot of proven creativity tools used by others successfully; see if you like any of them and assemble your own personal toolbox, suited to you, your personality, your preferences. Why buy ill-fitting ready-to-wear clothes if you can have a specially tailored creativity outfit?
The Report:
That’s actually 90 words – if words were cars, you’d get a police summons. Frankly, Professor, there are already a vast number of books on creativity and entrepreneurship – hundreds of them. Many of them were written by successful entrepreneurs, who share their wisdom. You are, well, to be honest, just an over-the-hill professor. You’ve been a pensioner for years. Why do we need one more book on creativity, in an already crowded library full of such books? Do you have any idea how many books have been written on creativity? Do you really think the world needs another one? What in the world could you possibly say that has not been said before on this subject?
Maital: Over many years of teaching innovative thinking to managers in many countries, I’ve gathered some useful unique data. Each of my students was asked, at the close of my course, to write an essay describing their own “personal creativity machine” (PCM) – the process they use to have ideas, test them and then implement them. I summarize these data in the last section of my book and encourage readers to build their own unique PCM. In doing so I try to solve a difficult problem – creativity is based on wild ideas, but implementing them demands structure, discipline and organization. This is why you need an orderly process, or machine, for doing so. But it has to suit you – the key word is “personal.”
There are over 7 billion people on this planet. And each one is unique, different. Why should, say, Apple marketing guru Guy Kawasaki’s method be perfectly suited to every single person on earth? (His excellent book is called Art of the Start, and makes a key point that entrepreneurship is not a science but an art.)
Each person alive today has fingerprints. And no two sets of fingerprints are alike. They all differ, in small and big ways. This is a key tool of forensic research.
Creativity is the same. Everybody has ideas. Some have more ideas than others. Some have given up on having ideas – many of the managers whom I taught over the years were well-paid for doing the same thing over and over, and felt that their creativity was gone forever as a result. I had to work hard to persuade them that every human brain is permanently creative, and that once you scrape off the rust, ideas flow.
The point is every single person should have their own personalized system for generating ideas, testing them and implementing them. This is the main point of my book, and it is the reason why I wrote it.
The Report
: I strongly doubt that for something as reality-based as creativity, an academic egghead can really write anything anchored in the real world. Sir Ken Robinson, the famed education expert, once observed that creativity means actually doing something. You’ve never done much, except put words on paper, and I’m guessing, since you’re an economist, most of them are clear as mud. And that’s a compliment to mud. Much better to read books by creative people who have actually done something, like cured cancer or made computers a million times more powerful.
Maital: There is much truth to that. I do recommend reading books by people who can, not just those who teach. Look, I plead guilty to writing almost 100 murky academic articles published in economic journals that almost nobody read. But after retiring, I saw the light. I now get to write a column for The Report every two weeks, using short sentences and zero jargon. And nearly all my recent books, six of them, have been mostly story books, with lots of true stories about real creative people and how they changed the world.    
The Report:
You may have noticed, Professor, that people really don’t read books anymore. Publishers make a living from digital books alone. If I were a tree, I’d sue the pants off book publishers for tree genocide. Bits and bytes will do. There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone. I looked it up on the Internet. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell fewer than 250 copies each. Face it, Professor. Books are ego trips. They are as obsolete as dinosaurs, except dinosaurs know it.
Let’s say, your book is a modest hit, 3,000 copies only are printed. It takes 78 reams of paper to print 3,000 books or 39,000 big sheets; 78 reams of paper use up 6 whole trees. Think of it. Six beautiful pine trees cut down in their prime, because you, vaunted author, have incurable verbal diarrhea. Can you really face those six trees and look them straight in the trunk? Every tree has a mother, right? And brothers and sisters. Can you face them? And what about the unborn generations, all those seedlings who will never sprout, because you thought those indelible words inked onto tree-based paper would change the world?
Maital: The Internet has radically changed the business economics of book publishing. Publishers today make much of their profits from e-books, not hard copies. An e-book can cost, say, $15, but since it is digital the cost of providing it is essentially zero. So young people especially read far fewer books than older people, but when they do read, they mostly read digital books, which are environmentally friendly. I freely admit, none of my books have sold thousands of copies. Maybe the one that sold best was a Chinese translation! But I have heard from individual readers, who told me my books helped them, made a real difference. For me, this is sufficient.
The Report: Let’s be honest. Creativity is like escargots – it’s only for the elite few. Do you really believe everybody can have a personal creativity machine and generate change-the-world ideas? That stretches credulity. You talk about head-in-the-cloud ideas. You know, at 30,000 feet altitude, there is only one-third the oxygen than at sea level. That cannot sustain life for long; ask Everest climbers.
Maital: OK, now you have really made me angry and upset. Get this straight. Every single human being on the face of the earth is creative. Every living human has a prefrontal cortex, frontal temporal lobe, anterior hippocampus, and left amygdala. This is where creative ideas come from. And every five-year-old child is genius-level creative – this has been proven by research, and anyone who ever played with a small child knows it is true. So what happens? We send our kids to school. And they are taught rigid inflexible stuff, the ‘right answers,’ the ‘right way,’ and their creativity plummets.
But it is never destroyed. It simply has a crust of rust. You can scrape off the rust. Your creativity skills are like muscles – use them or lose them. When you exercise your creativity brain, it strengthens – and sometimes it will astonish you. How do you do this? Begin with a key assumption. Hard problems? Challenges? Assume that every hard problem has a solution. You just need to find it. So let’s get our heads in the clouds and try wild ideas. And then – bring them down to earth with hard pragmatic thinking. After you practice this, you get far better at it – just as doing 100 pushups daily will strengthen your biceps immeasurably.
The Report:
What is this orderly structured process that you peddle in your book?
Maital: Simple. Creativity is not mainly about ideas. It is about how you implement them, how you activate them, to create value. Effective creativity is like a three-stage rocket. Stage one: Ideation. Having lots and lots of ideas, an endless stream of them. Stage two: Validation. Is your idea a good one? Does it meet a real unmet need? How do you know? This stage is by far the most under-invested. Stage three: Activation. Organizing the people and the resources to make your idea happen. Here is where many entrepreneurs stumble. Leonardo da Vinci was by far the most “creative” person in history. Why the quotation marks?
Because his drawings of submarines, airplanes, tanks and parachutes in his notebooks were never implemented. Da Vinci’s rocket had only two stages, mostly. This is not truly effective change-the-world creativity. Dismantle has 50 chapters, and each is a “tool” or framework to help entrepreneurs build each stage of their three-stage rocket – including the all-important third stage, implementation.
The Report: I’m really not convinced. Let me give you another 250 words, for one last try.
Every single person needs to create themselves, their own personal creativity machine. It has to suit their goals, passions, personality, history, culture and background. It has to be tailored, like a well-fitting suit of clothes. And each person needs to do this on their own. Nobody can do it for them. But they need tools – ideas for having ideas. So my book, in 50 chapters, provides a buffet of such tools. Use a few, if you wish, or use none, make your own – but design your creativity machine yourself. That’s the message.
Just imagine – there are over 7 billion people on earth. And perhaps 5 billion adults. What if each adult on earth had one idea a month that created value for other people!? Five billion ideas a month. Would we have a different, better world?
Everyone pretty much agrees – the world is not in great shape. What’s the solution? We’re running out of resources. So, we need to use our existing resources better. How? By creative ideas. Something out of nothing.
Dismantle urges everyone – build your own personal creativity machine. Turn it on. And never, never turn it off.
Let us all produce an unending infinite stream of great ideas. Then, test them and make at least some of them happen. You can change the world. And even if you don’t – the process is a whole lot of fun.
The Report:
So let me ask you, Maital, would you rather do the same thing again and again and again – or try different things, fall on your face, try again – and eventually, hopefully, succeed?
The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at the S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com