I have often talked about looking for, and then embracing prudent risks. I truly believe making the right decision when faced with risk separates winning and losing, but my observations have not often enough addressed the need for creativity.
An important difference between good success and great success is found in taking the initiative and creating something novel and exciting. This plays out at every level, from advancing quickly as an employee to starting a new company to creating new art that changes people’s perspective. Just doing the same thing 10% better will help you escape average, but creating a new thing that makes the old thing yesterday’s news will propel you to the top. Guy Kawasaki’s presentation on the history of ice making is well worth noting.
Creativity works like any muscle in your body. If you exercise it, if you look for moments to use it, if you take some risks and try new things, you will become more creative and build a reputation of creativity and initiative. Interesting side benefits exist too: Creativity often is a fountain of youth that helps a person’s enthusiasm for life, which keeps him young, hungry, motivated, and clearly differentiates him from others.
What did you create this month, or what new initiative did you take? If the answer is nothing, what about last month? Or the month before? If the answer is ‘sorry, nothing new,’ this is the moment that you need to recognize the dangerous thin ice upon which you stand. Average people don’t take initiative. Extraordinary people do.
Actions speak louder than words. Too many people talk about what they plan to do, but then don’t follow-through or get talked out of it. Do it first, then tell people what you did. If you decide to be a creative spark at work, doing before talking is best. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you don’t always have to highlight what failed, although I personally believe that you should learn lessons, share, adapt and overcome most of the time.
It is often better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission, because average people and average managers don’t often understand the value of taking prudent risks. Teams need a person who is the creative spark that ignites progress. Become the spark on your team, be the person that helps your entire team succeed, and your stock will rise over time.
Taking initiative matters both in the microcosm of an individual job and the macrocosm of starting a new company or inventing a new product.
Home run success is quite different from top 5% or top 1% success.
Nearly every home run (0.000001%) success in the world is based on taking initiative and creating something that did not exist before. Home runs rarely belong to a person who was hired at the lowest rung of an organization and worked his way up to the top like Doug McMillon has at Walmart. Doug has clearly succeeded and is now worth more than $100M, but that still pales compared to the founder 0.000001% money of Larry Ellison, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Richard Branson.
Capitalism rewards capitalists. Capitalists who own large shares of financially successful enterprises do really well, and people who own large shares of such a company invariably created the company and the products that filled a white space.
It has never been easier to create a new mega-company than it is today. Vast fortunes have been created without the investment of lots of financial capital: the Kardasians, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Jerry Seinfeld, Mark Cuban, Jay Z, and others all became crazy rich with little if any of their own capital invested. Recent history has illustrated that a modern world rewards those who create new stuff, new solutions, new businesses, new songs, new movies, new whatever.
If you want to end up with a home run, or just progress more quickly in your career, the path to get there is to take the initiative, be creative, find the white space, and deliver what the world wants. Your odds are long, but there is no doubt that someone will do it. Why not you?