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  • How Muhammad Ali exemplified the genius mindsets of creative leaders (Part 2)

    Two weeks ago, we discussed in this column how Muhammad Ali epitomized the genius mindsets of creative leaders that I identified while studying the biographies of geniuses, creative business leaders and top achievers. These genius mindsets help form my creative leadership development method Genius Journey that features 10 destination stops were you learn more about how to reconnect with your inner genius.

    In part 1 we discussed how Ali, “The Greatest of all times”, truly exemplified the four foundational mindsets that we encounter on destination stops 1-4 of the Genius Journey. Today, let’s continue honoring the legend of Muhammad Ali as we learn more about the remaining six genius mindsets of creative leaders.

    Stop 5: Intrinsic Motivation, Passion and Purpose

    The fifth destination stop on the Genius Journey reminds you to stop working only for the money, and to start loving what you do — and knowing why you do it.

    Ali wasn’t fighting for the money only, but because he loved boxing. It was his natural talent, which he jokingly expressed as follows: “Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.” But he became a legend not because he was a world champion. He transcended his passion of boxing by also having a purpose of why he did it: “I wanted to use my fame and this face that everyone knows so well to help uplift and inspire people around the world.”

    In and out of the boxing ring, he fought what he believed was the good fight, the just fight, the right fight. For example, fighting for more civil rights for Afro-American citizens was a good fight, while fighting an unjust war in Vietnam was not.

    Ali was doing what he did because he wanted to help and inspire ordinary people. In a tribute, a reporter recalled how on a joint tour through South America, he saw Ali giving away 100 dollar each to beggars lining up outside his hotel in the morning. “Champ, why are you doing it?” Ali responded: “For me, it’s just a 100 dollar, but for them, it’s worth here as much as ten thousand dollars for me at home.”

    Stop 6: Integrated Whole Mind

    Stop 6 of the Genius Journey invites you to start becoming an integrated whole-brain thinker and stop using only half of your mind.

    Muhammad Ali was an ingenious boxer who employed his creativity not only to come up with witty entertaining sayings and one of the shortest and most impactful poems of all times (“I shook up the world. Me! We!”), but also to devise creative tactics that won fights everyone expected him to lose.

    Before the epic “rumble in the jungle” with George Foreman, Ali announced that to win the fight, “I’m going to dance”. But to the surprise of everyone, he switched in round 2 to a new creative tactic, the “rope-a-dope”, leaning back against the rope for three rounds and absorbing punches while protecting his head. Soon Foreman was tired and Ali went on the offensive, ending the fight in round 8 with a knockout to regain his World Championship title. “The man who has no imagination, has no wings”, he said, and elaborated further: “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”

    Stop 7: Expert & Generalist (T-Shaped Leader)

    Stop 7 of the Genius Journey asks you to stop getting trapped in the expert tunnel and start living, working and learning as a modern renaissance man or woman with many talents and interests.

    Muhammad Ali exemplifies the concept of a T-shaped person who combines expertise in one focus domain (boxing) with a broad repertoire of knowledge, skills and experience. Outside the ring, Ali was a civil rights fighter and political activist, a religious disciple and preacher, an entertainer and joker, a magician and poet, a promoter and businessman. Ali sought to experience life in all it’s dimensions: “Live every day as if it were your last because some day you’re going to right.”

    Stop 8: Movement, Flexibility & Change

    Stop 8 of the Genius Journey reminds you to stop being habitual, rigid and fixated; instead, start to change, move and flex yourself.

    Ali had a very unorthodox boxing style he described as: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. You can’t hit what your eyes don’t see.” In his fights, Ali was constantly moving, dancing through the ring and doing the “Ali shuffle” (a famous series of boxing footwork he created as a taunting mechanism), making it difficult for his opponents to strike and pin him down.

    Stop 9: Mindfulness & Present Moment Awareness

    Stop 9 of the Genius Journey asks you to stop acting mindlessly, and instead start taking focused actions now.

    Clearly, as one of world Champion in boxing, Ali tuned into the moment and pay attention with all of his senses to what’s happening right now.

    In a famous footage showing him training for the “rumble in the jungle”, he boxed against a camera to demonstrate from an unusual perspective what it would mean every moment for George Foreman to fight against Ali: “Now you see me, now you don’t”, Ali joked as he appeared and disappeared out of the camera’s field of sight.

    Stop 10: Focused Doing, Relaxed Being (Balance, Rhythm & Flow)

    At the tenth stop of the Genius Journey, you’re prompted to stop doing, doing, doing something all the time. Instead, start harmoniously balancing focused doing with relaxed being to develop a rhythm that brings you into flow, the state of optimal experience were everything flows easily and you perform at your very peak.

    A box bout follows an inherent rhythm of focused action (the fighting in each round), alternating with breaks for the fighters to recharge and get advice. Interestingly, Ali used the breaks for being with himself and reconnecting to his inner core, his inner self, his beliefs and willpower — and not for strategizing: “My trainer don’t tell me nothing between rounds. I don’t allow him to. I fight the fight. All I want to know is did I win the round. It’s too late for advice,” he said.

    Stop 11: Subconscious Creativity (Preparation- Incubation-Illumination- Verification)

    For some people, the Genius Journey may reveal a secret eleventh stop. When all genius mindsets are in sync, you may experience a moment of breakthrough creativity, where you receive a breakthrough idea in an instant moment of flash illumination, which typically happens in a moment of flow. While there is no account of Ali sharing a Eureka experiences, he probably had moments of sparks in those split seconds when he intuitively unleashed his Championship-winning knockout punches.

    Conclusion: Muhammad Ali was not only an iconic boxer, he was a true genius who exemplified all genius mindsets and action routines of outstanding creative leaders. “I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, but if I have changed even one life for the better, I haven’t lived in vain.” You have touched the lives of millions of people and inspired them to the better. R.I.P. you legendary genius, you were truly The Greatest.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. 

  • Mastering the Art of Ideation

    “How can I get better ideas for a problem that I face?” is a question I am often asked these days. First of all, remember that generating ideas with the help of creativity tools is just one part of the creative process. In order to do proper thinking, you first need to understand and define your challenge. Then generate ideas. Next, develop these into meaningful solutions or value propositions, which you then evaluate in order to find those vital few solutions that really deserve being brought to life. At Thinkergy, our proprietary systematic innovation method X-IDEA captures all these essential steps in the five stages Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation and Action.

    Back to our initial question: Idea generation is an art. And effective ideation depends on the situation you are in. How important is the problem or challenge that you face? Do you have to solve a problem alone, or can you tackle it in a team? And how much time do you have at hand?

    Let’s capture these different contexts in a four-field matrix. On the vertical axis, we distinguish two basic scenarios related to the number of people involved – you’re alone, or you work in a team on the case. On the horizontal axis, we cover the other two aspects. First, decide if whether or not a resolution of your challenge is very important for you or your organization. In the former case, commit sufficient time for the ideation. If the importance is low to medium, than you can cut down your time investment. In result, we end up with four quadrants that suggest you different ideation approaches based on the respective situation.

    Scenario 1: The Notebook.
    Here you work alone and you need some ideas for a challenge that is not highly important – for example, “How to provide meaningful rewards for highly active participants in a training session?” Start to ideate by listing down at least 25 ideas to your challenge in your idea notebook (buy one if you don’t have one yet – and make sure that it is unlined, blank paper). In addition, use some simple creativity tools (such as Free Association, Word Association Chains or Concept Mapping) to generate some associations that may trigger further ideas. Go on until you reach a number of 50 ideas.

    Scenario 2: The Eureka Seeker.
    You have already worked for some time on an important individual challenge that you face – say, you are a scientist or a Ph.D. student and need a great idea to solve a tough conceptual problem. As you continue to explore your challenge, collect ideas that come along in your idea notebook. You also may apply some creativity tools such as Metaphors here. In addition, take some time out to engage in imagination exercises (like envisioning yourself in a perfect world where your challenge is resolved), and take notes of any new ideas and insights that may occur to you in result. For example, Albert Einstein used this technique extensively to collect “jigsaw puzzle pieces” that became part of his theory of relativity, thereby imagining himself surfing on a ray of light through time and space.

    Finally, if by now you still feel that none of the ideas that you have noted down is the right solution, then you might activate the process of incubation (which was subject of the last article in this column two weeks ago). Let go of your challenge, work on something else, take amble time for relaxing activities and incubate on the solution – and with luck, you will experience your personal Eureka-Moment and get the breakthrough solution to your challenge. Sure, all of this takes time — but aren’t you happy to invest time in an important personal endeavor?

    Scenario 3: The Brainstorming Session.
    In the third scenario, you work in a team on a challenge of medium importance, like saving costs in face of a temporary economic downturn. Send out an invitation for a 2-3 hours brainstorming meeting to your team member, wherein you brief them about the challenge and ask each member to bring in at least 10 ideas. At the beginning of the session, remind everybody of the four ground rules of ideation, then Brainstorm and do Pool Brainwriting to add to your initial ideas. Thereby, ideally integrate some other creativity tools (like Metaphors or Random Word) to broaden the scope of your ideas. After you have created a sufficient ground stock of ideas – say at least 300 raw ideas – start to turn them into meaningful idea concepts by combining and improving on your most promising raw ideas.

    Scenario 4: The Idea Circuit.
    In the last scenario, you look for meaningful ideas for a really important challenge that your company faces – like a new product development, customer experience design or strategy innovation project — that is of critical importance for the medium- to long-term success of your firm. Here, your best bet to get some really good ideas is to send your team into a full-fledged idea circuit over the course of one day. Thereby, you expose the ideators to 8-10 creativity tools to great a large pool of raw ideas (here were talking about four digit numbers) that you later develop further into meaningful value propositions. If you have no in-house ideation expert, it really pays to hire an experienced ideation and innovation company such as Thinkergy to facilitate the session and to take care for the process and the selection of effective creativity tools that light up the imaginations of the ideators and stimulate out-of-the-box ideas. It’s like when you have to undergo an important surgical operation — you just want to make sure that the doctor selects the right tools and knows how to handle them to get the job right.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis