Unthink what you thought you already knew


Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly expecting to have my mind completely blown. Cardinal Health RBC 2016 had been a terrific show, but if we’re being completely honest here, the keynote speaker for the closing business session — some long-haired street artist I had never heard of, wearing black Converse and speed-painting to loud music at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning — had me scratching my head a little.

Did I really need to see that?

It turns out, I really did.

There is no way to recreate the experience of watching Erik Wahl present live for an hour on a half-page. It’s kind of like playing Led Zeppelin on a ukulele — you might recognize the tune, but if you’ve never heard it before, you might not understand what the big deal is all about. Either way, it’s a lot less awesome.

That said, here’s the CliffsNotes’ version.

Wahl loved to draw when he was a kid. But his fourth-grade teacher told him he sucked at it. So he gave up on art and focused on school and grades, and eventually business school. Wahl went on to make a lot of money in the tech sector, and at first, life was great. Then the dot.com bubble burst, and he lost his shirt.

Riddled with anxiety, Wahl sought the advice of a professional, who recommended he do something immediately to “press reset” — take a long trip or rediscover some old hobby. Since he was broke, the decision was a little easier. So, remembering that he once liked to draw, he bought a brush and some paints. In the process of splashing color on canvas, he not only found himself, he set himself down a path to help countless others find their inner creative-selves. Forbes called his 2013 bestselling business book, Unthink, “the blueprint to actionable creativity.”

Why does any of that matter?

If you’re like me, you probably hear the word “innovation” thrown around a whole lot more than it should be. We struggle to define what it is. Far too often it plays like some bad pipe dream, always falling just short of the dragon’s tail. And still, we chase it more.

Somewhere in the course of Wahl’s rap and his use of negative space in his art — filling in the colors of what he sees AROUND the thing he’s looking at to create something unique and beautiful in the time it takes to play the average pop song — it occurs to you that in the never-ending search to find that elusive white space that no one else is solving for, there is one critical and frequently missing ingredient. Disruptive creativity.

Pablo Picasso once said, “every child is an artist.” The challenge, according to Wahl, is how to remain an artist, how to retain that child-like passion.

“We secretly believe that creative genius is reserved for the chosen few — for the poets, the painters, the writers,” Wahl said. “The truth is that breakthrough creativity is in all of us. It is us.”

And then, you realize you needed to see that. You really needed to see that.

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