"You’ve all but forgotten the artistic tools with which you were born. Once you remember – once you learn to unthink how you live and work – everything will change."
Do you sometimes wish you could go back to the carefree days of your childhood and just play, explore and create?
What’s stopping you?
Listen, there’s a reason we think kids have it easy and we long to return to that innocent state. It felt good to learn and explore and be ‘artists’ without caring what other people thought of us or our work. We were at our peak of curiosity, discovery, wonder, and we weren’t inhibited. We just did things because we felt like it and didn’t worry about tomorrow.
We can still choose to live that way.
Erik Wahl, author of Unthink, says that when we do, we are far more equipped as adults to do something meaningful and lasting with our discoveries.
We just have to undo (or unthink) all of the common behaviors, beliefs, protocols, or social pressures that tell us how we’re suppose to behave as adults. And Unthink will help you get back to becoming the artist you were as a child.
He’s not talking about becoming an artist like Picasso (although that’s possible). He’s promoting a more broad definition where an artist is “anyone who challenges conventional wisdom and inspires change that creates new channels of problem solving and innovation.”
That’s the kind of artist every organization and the world in general needs. We can first start by letting go of some standard assumptions. Once you begin, you’ll find creativity to be the meaningful, fulfilling, joyous experience it used to be for you as a child, except now it can have much more impact on the way you live, the people around you, and the organizations in which you participate.
The Big Idea
"Provoking the status quo is the only way anything gets better."
Wahl describes ‘provoking’ as rattling cages around longstanding beliefs and institutions.
Since change is the most constant thing there is, we are constantly attacked by forces outside of our control. Some people wait to change until they are provoked by these forces. But artists, says Wahl, “don’t wait to be rattled only from the outside. They provoke themselves first, and then the people around them, in order to constantly imagine new possibilities. They instigate change even when it doesn’t seem necessary.”
Wahl elaborates on 4 steps to create the disorder that is needed for progress:
1. Step outside your bubble
2. Live with some discomfort
3. Ask forgiveness instead of permission
4. Start small
When you learn to be provocative every day, creativity is always accessible. Breakthroughs are far more common. Isn’t that the goal?
Sometimes it can be scary to go against the grain. “There will always be those who don’t get it and don’t like it,” Wahl reminds us. “Provoke anyway. The world, and your company needs more provokers.”
I do a lot of provoking already, but not nearly enough, because I know it’s what fuels me. So my new daily task will be: what provoking can I do today, in myself or others?
From this book I learned that the secret of being provocative is that not only do I become a change artist in a sea of sameness, I amplify the element of adventure in my own journey.
"Only you can ask: What makes me come alive? And only you can go do that in your work."
If you were placed on trial, in front of a judge and jury, with the evidence being your daily activities, what would you be convicted of? In other words, what are you known for?
Sometimes our actions don’t line up with who we’d like to be or even who we think we are. Being convicted means we are following our convictions. We have determined what we stand for, what truly moves us, and we are acting on that central core vision.
But that requires us to be gut-honest, says Wahl. He’s not necessarily saying that we should quit our jobs and go live in Thailand (unless that is what is truly needed in your situation.) For the most part if we’re not hating work, but not loving it either, we can regain our personal potency by asking ourselves what we would be convicted of, and then noticing the gaps between who we are and who we can be. “The sooner you start working with conviction, the sooner you will recapture your sense of wonder, satisfaction, and creativity on the job.”
On being convicted, Wahl describes two steps:
1. Do the next thing in your heart
2. Be a catalyst
“The big picture doesn’t matter as much as you think,” says Wahl, “and the small picture matters a lot more than you realize.” Meaning, your small daily actions are what will bring the big picture into reality. If you want to live the life you desire, follow your heart today.
Being a catalyst means becoming the spark that ignites action. “The greatest movements occur, not because one person is forcing others to follow his personal convictions, but because others share similar convictions and find courage to act on them when one person stands up first.”
In summarizing conviction Wahl says, “This is the true force of conviction: it unites. And if you can unite others to a cause, an idea, a solution, you are not only a regular catalyst for innovation and growth but a leader no company can do without.”
My new self proclaimed title is: Rex Williams – The Catalyst.
"The most important question you can ask about your work, and one of the most difficult to answer, is: Why do you do what you do?"
Wahl’s concept of being surrendered is similar to Simon Sinek’s main message in Start With Why. Our underlying motivation must be a compelling reason why we are taking specific action.
Once you’ve determined your ‘why’, next is figuring out how to apply it. Wahl explains that every day we surrender something in exchange for an outcome. Just like a painter surrenders each drop of paint on a canvas. Over time a painting emerges. “Your daily work is creating a painting, with or without your permission. The issue is whether it is a distinctive work of art worthy of hanging on the walls of the hearts and minds of family members, friends, and coworkers – or whether it is a cheap print that is reproduced ten thousand times a year and hung in office halls across the nation.”
Every day you surrender yourself to something. Make sure it’s something you deeply believe in.
Your life’s art is what we want to experience. We need you to be bold enough and courageous enough to give yourself away each day.
What provoking will you do as you follow your convictions and surrender your choices to the artist you want to become?