Ideas are easy, implementation is hard, says marketing guru Guy Kawasaki
Guy Kawasaki shines a light
Sometimes he calls himself an “evangelist”, but Guy Kawasaki’s bio cites him as marketing specialist, author and Silicon Valley venture capitalist. At 61 he has spent more than 30 years working in tech, from a job at Apple where he helped market the Macintosh line, to a writing and speaking career, to Google where he advised on Motorola. For the past two years he has been “chief evangelist” for Canva – the Australian graphic design website based in Sydney’s Surry Hills. Kawasaki will be the keynote speaker at The
Australian’s Creative Country forum in July. Here he reflects on the creative process and what companies need to do to reinvent and reimagine their business.
Do you think there is a “creative” gene in the sense that some people are really much more innately creative than others?
Guy: I don’t know if it’s genetics, upbringing, or simply luck and timing, but it sure looks like some people come up with more creative ideas than others. Let’s face, you and I are not another Steve Jobs. But I recoil at my response because it implies that people cannot be creative because of their genetics, upbringing, luck, or timing. This sets in motion a downward spiral, which is wrong too. The best answer is to ignore my answer and what people say. If you want to create something, go for it. Don’t ask permission. Don’t secondguess yourself. Just try. By the way, an outstanding book for anyone who wants to ignore the naysayers, including the internal naysayer, is If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. This book isn’t only for writers. It’s for anyone wanting to do something creative. This book changed my life [see extract on the opposite page]. Can you teach creativity? Another hard question. I don’t think that training is necessary or sufficient. If you don’t have formal training, you can still be creative. And if you had training, you might still not be creative. I suppose training can accelerate or heighten creativity, so it won’t hurt. But if I had to pick between training and inspiration, I would pick inspiration as the more desirable experience. Is there a difference between creativity and innovation? Yes, innovation is creativity that’s been commercialised. I mean this in a positive way. Can you name two or three people you have worked with who are/were very creative? I’ve worked for two very creative people. Martin Gruber at Nova Stylings, a finejewellery manufacturer in Los Angeles, and Steve Jobs of Apple. Martin could see what pellets of gold and loose diamonds could become. Steve could see what chips, plastic, glass, and rubber could become – and what people would come to believe they need. When you think of these people, what do you think were the most important characteristics that made them so creative? If I knew this, I would write a book about it! Creative people like Steve Jobs have a different operating system that mere mortals like me cannot fully comprehend. What should a company do to lift the creativity levels among staff? The most important factor is the realisation that if a company doesn’t innovate, it will die. If you can internalise this belief, then you realise that without innovation, all is lost, and creativity is the source of innovation. Which nations are the most creative? We hear a lot about the drawbacks of education systems in places like Japan and China where there is more emphasis on rote learning than in some countries in the West. Does this have an impact on how they operate in the creative space? I have no idea which nations are the most creative. I don’t know how you can measure this, and I don’t know if it matters if you could measure it. I’m not a big believer in macrolevel statistics. That is, measurements such as gross domestic product, gross national product, unemployment rates, total venturecapital investment. I live at the micro level. I don’t care if the nation you live in has the worst STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] scores, a pathetic reputation for innovation, and no venture capital. All I care about is that two guys or gals in a garage, spare bedroom, or dorm make a prototype out of an idea and take it to market. The big picture is overrated. I just want to see individual efforts. Do creative ideas come out of hard work and determined thinking or do they come from left field? Creative ideas come from left field, right field, centre field, infield, dugout, stands, and parking lots. It doesn’t matter where the idea came from. They all need hard work and determination to succeed. Frankly, ideas are easy. Implementation is hard. Lots of young people in particular have been encouraged to think that unless they come up with left-field ideas they are failures, but are we putting too much emphasis on ideas and not enough on execution? Who is telling young people this? Probably old people who haven’t innovated and implemented for a while. When I was young, I thought that ideas are the key. Now that I’m old, I believe that implementation is the key. You want a great idea that’s implemented well, but even a lousy idea that’s implemented well can succeed. But a great or lousy idea that’s implemented poorly will always fail. Can you share what you think was your most creative business idea? My most creative idea was when I was advising a company, and there was a big succession plan issue for the new leader. Everyone was trying to read the tea leaves about who the directors would pick for the next leader – it was going to be a tricky process no matter who we picked. My idea was to let the executives of the organisation decide. The directors didn’t make the decision. This forced the company executives to work together to come up with their own decision. With power comes responsibility, as the saying goes. It was one of the cleverest things I’ve done.