109: Hone Your Strategic Creativity with Robin Landa Episode Run Time

Robin Landa is an ideation expert, an author of 25 books, and a distinguished professor at Kean University in New York. And she is very prolific. We talk about strategic creativity, the benefits of being curious in life, and the difference between good copy and a sales pitch.

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Hone Your Strategic Creativity with Robin Landa

Our guest is Robin Landa, who is an ideation expert and author of 25 books, a distinguished professor at Kean University in New York. And she is very prolific. She has already come out with one book this year at least one book this year maybe I missed another one and another one is coming out very soon. Robin back up to the show.

Thank you so much, Steve it’s great to meet you and be with you. I’m a fan of yours. Thank you.

Thank you to saying that, So you have a very interesting background. And I was wondering, how does someone become an expert in ideation and creativity. I mean, I didn’t know that it was a thing that someone could become an expert in that.

Well, I teach. Well, first of all, I’m a designer and a writer, so I have to be creative. But I also teach people to be designers and to be on the creative side of advertising, and in those professions, you have to come up with ideas daily, and in advertising, you have to come up with many ideas daily. And there are established processes for ideation, but what I found was that they’re kind of a black box. It doesn’t, the, whether it’s brainstorming or whether it’s the traditional five-step process, doesn’t really explain how that aha moment happens. And so I thought I had to find a way to help my students understand it and come up with ideas. And I have to say that I have taught thousands of people and they’re doing great in design and in advertising and in branding and it works.

That’s fascinating. So many years ago, I read somewhere that there are two types of creativity. There is maybe intuitive creativity, I think I’m paraphrasing it, and there is synthetic creativity. So what do you think about these two types and does that resonate with you at all?

I think a lot of people are intuitive. I don’t think that I don’t think anyone taught me to be creative. I think some people are that way and they’re sort of everything and I but I do think let me just back up I do think there are certain personality traits that lend themselves to creative thinking but I do think you can be taught to be creative because I’ve had a range of students some who come in who are extraordinarily creative already and others who are struggling and so you can teach people to be creative. You can teach them to bolster their curiosity and become better at observation and develop all the kind of habits that creative people have.

You can teach people to be creative. You can teach them to bolster their curiosity and become better at observation and develop all the kind of habits that creative people have. Click To Tweet

So, can you teach an accountant to be creative?

Absolutely. I can teach anybody to be creative. I mean, there are ways to unlock your creativity. I really, I do believe that because I’ve actually mentored and consulted with a lot of people on the business side of advertising and in corporations. And I’ve helped them really understand what it takes to think creatively. You have to think conceptually as well as creatively. You have to think critically as well as creatively. But you can really unlock your creative potentials. Anybody can.

So, as an example, let’s say I have an administrative assistant, and they are very organized, they are very structured, they are process-driven, but I need them to help me maybe in my marketing or graphic design and I want them to be more creative and able to come up with solutions and options for me, how can I get them to embrace that part of their personality that maybe is latent?

Well, I think they can ask, there are certain questions that really help boost creativity. One of them is what if. What if we could, so when you speculate, what if we had digital twins who could retain all of our memories after we’re gone? What if we could vaporize ourselves and reestablish ourselves? What if people could fly? So you ask what if questions and you start to get scenarios that are more creative than pedestrian. And then another question that you can pose is if only.

And if only isn’t really about regrets, but it’s about, again, scenarios that will help you move into the more creative realm. So that’s just two things that can be done. But you really want your assistant to think about your audience and what your audience wants, what your audience desires, and what your audience needs. So you probably have a handle, you both probably have a handle on what your audience needs. Desires are aspirations. And once you pinpoint that, you can start to think about how your brand can fulfill their needs, their desires, and anticipate what they need, and also aim empathetically at them.

But creativity is a kind of whole process of being more curious, being observant, asking unusual questions like, what if, if only, being a mindful listener. So if your assistant really listens to what people are saying about their pain points or their needs, that’s one way to get to people creatively. Being a mindful listener is really important. I facilitated a workshop with John Maeda, who is a great design expert and author and leadership expert at the Future of Storytelling. And he said that any great leader doesn’t start with storytelling, they start with story listening.

Creativity is a kind of whole process of being more curious, being observant, and asking unusual questions. Click To Tweet

There’s so much to unpack there and one of the things that sounds like a great segue to this concept that you talk about the goal, the gap, and the gain. She was talking about the goal and how to get there. So I don’t want to go there yet. What I wanted to ask you is about curiosity. Are you saying that everybody has curiosity in them? They just haven’t discovered it in some cases?

I think when we were kids, we’re very curious, right? I mean, a lot of children constantly ask why, why, why? And then I think as we mature and become adults, curiosity kind of is tapped down by a variety of circumstances. A lot of businesses want you to come up with the expected or the pedestrian solution rather than an unexpected solution. But I think very, very curious people that a lot of things, not just about their own discipline, but about a lot of things, end up with very creative solutions. I’ll give you an example.

I’m sure all of your listeners know who Lin-Manuel Miranda is who wrote Hamilton, the very successful Broadway musical. He had just finished In the Heights. It was off Broadway, and he had worked on that for seven years, and it was about to go to Broadway. And he was tired, so he took a vacation in Mexico on the beach. And rather than choosing a book to read that was about theater or about music or about lyrics, he chose historical biography. He chose the biography of Alexander Hamilton. Now, if he weren’t curious about history, we wouldn’t have that great musical.

That’s a good point. That’s a good point. Yeah, so I think curiosity is a really great skill, and maybe that’s the first step to creativity is to pick someone’s curiosity or to evoke someone’s curiosity. How can I go about that? Is there a way to stimulate curiosity?

I think, yes. I think if you go to museums or you let somebody else take you to a museum. So, for example, even I can be resistant sometimes to being curious about things that I don’t love. My friend Richard and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and he said, “Well, you’re the art expert. You take me around to show me around.” And I said, “Well, you know what? You pick something, because I’m just going to take you to see what I love.” And he chose an exhibit of illuminated manuscripts. And my first thought was, “Oh, illuminated manuscripts, okay.”

But I had just said, I had just posed that way of dealing with the museum, and we went, and it was a fantastic exhibit. So, you have to be open to experiences and try different things, whether it’s let someone else take you to a museum, try something you’ve never tried before, try a different cuisine. Some people are very locked into what they like to do. I had a friend who wanted to go hiking and I preferred a ballroom dance floor and I said, okay, and it was like one of the greatest experiences of my life, of hiking in the mountains. So you just have to be open sometimes to experiences that might not be in your comfort zone.

And it also helps if someone is passionate about that and they can sell you on trying that. And, you know, passion can be contagious and maybe they can infect you with it.

And curiosity is contagious. If you’re around people who are very curious, you’re going to, I think you’re right. I think it’s the passion and the curiosity that stimulates other people. But I think some people just stay in their comfort zones and don’t venture out. And that’s a mistake.

Well, that’s a good topic. But I’d like to also switch gears here and ask you a little bit about your book that came out in June. And it’s called Strategic Creativity. And I love these two words. I mean, strategy is my passion, creativity as well. So when you put the two together, I become really curious about it. So what does it mean, strategic creativity? Is it about intentionality? Is it about goal orientation? What is this strategic piece about here?

Well, you don’t need me. You just, you probably just said it. I think the reason that I modified creativity with strategy, with being strategic, is because most people who think about creativity think about people in La Boheme, people, artists in a garret, painting and writing poetry, and it’s kind of freewheeling creativity. But in most disciplines, you have to be strategic about how you use your creativity. So it’s really the power to conceive something that solves a problem, anticipates issues or anticipates a problem, aims empathetically and appropriately at the target audience, at the people you’re trying to communicate with, and ultimately benefits people. So it’s not just about profit, but it’s about people and the planet and profit.

Creativity is not just about profit; it's about people, the planet, and profit. Click To Tweet

Yeah, so empathetic, appropriate and people-oriented. It’s basically all about people, it sounds like.

It’s very much about people. Coming from design, we really think about empathy quite a bit in solving problems and actually anticipating issues and problem-finding, not just solving problems that are given to us, but looking for ways that we can think about things that people might want or need in the future before they even know they need it or want it. And it is about context. It’s about fitting into people’s lives, and it’s about having an appropriate perspective, right?

So if I’m aiming at Gen Z, I’m not going to deal with them the same way that I would deal with the silent generation or my own generation. And it is humanistic and it’s about observation. It’s about offering great content to people, whether it’s entertainment or information, or embedding information in the entertainment, because we all know that a great story is a great way to get information across to people. They’re more likely to listen to a story and more likely to relate to you and empathize with you when you’re telling the story. So, it’s really about, and it is about being compassionate and that being, I think you’re absolutely right, it is very human-centered.

Is there such a thing as too much creativity? I mean, there is the saying that ideas are dime a dozen and execution is more important than idea sometimes, you know, how much creativity do we need really in our lives? You know, what’s the optimal level?

I think it depends on what you do, right, and how you approach things. And so I’ll give you just a very personal example of how creative thinking can solve a regular problem. My daughter, when she was three years old, was having a couple of nights of nightmares and bad dreams. And I wasn’t sleeping, she wasn’t sleeping, my husband wasn’t sleeping. And I looked, I did some research as an academic, I did some research and I did everything that I read. I left the light on, I cuddled with her, I rubbed her back, I even put some music on, I left the door open, still had the nightmares.

So I thought, okay, I have to solve this. And I had to do it creatively. I took a box, a tea box, and I wrapped it in very pretty paper and I said, Haley, tell your bad dreams to this box. And she did and I closed the box and I said, okay, I’m putting this away and you’re not going to have a bad dream anymore. And she said, but how does it work, mom? And I said, well, it’s magic. It just does. Because at three years old, children still believe in the tooth fairy and they believe in magic, they have magical thinking, I mean even adults have magical thinking, which isn’t good, but children have magical thinking and it worked.

And if I hadn’t been thinking creatively, I don’t know, probably the nightmares would have eventually gone away with whatever was distressing her, but this way it went away pretty quickly and it worked so well for her that I actually turned it into a children’s book and helped other people with children having nightmares.

That’s wonderful. I like this idea of compartmentalizing your bad dreams and putting them away in a box. And it worked.

You know what? You just used the exact word because when I spoke to, before I wrote the book, I wanted to make sure it was okay, what I was doing was okay. And I spoke to two prominent psychologists who used exactly that word, Steve, compartmentalize. And they said that they actually do it with grownups, where they tell you to write it down, throw it out or write it down, put it in the drawer and compartmentalize it and move on.

Of course, we all use that. 15 years ago, my business was going through a rough patch during the financial crisis and I hated to deal with the bills that were coming in and I decided to compartmentalize. I just do it Friday mornings and I’m going to ignore it the rest of the time and focus on growing my business. And it worked pretty good.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I was doing with her. But if I hadn’t been thinking creatively, we would have suffered a little longer, I think.

I love it. Your next book, The New Art of Ideas, Unlock Your Creative Potential, I guess is directly aiming at this problem. How do you do that? How do you, what are the steps in coming up with this unleashing of the creative potential? You talk about a simple framework, which I’d like to use as our management blueprint on the show, and you call it the goal, the gap, and the game. So share with us, with our listeners, about what this means and how do you work with this framework?

Thank you for asking, Steve. Yes, it’s very easy to remember because there are three G’s, and I affectionately call it the three Gs. So your goal is what you want to achieve. And most people think that a goal is an idea, but it’s not. It’s just a goal. The gap is what’s missing. And the gap can be any number of things. It can be an underserved audience, people who are not being addressed or served. It can be a question that remains to be answered in any discipline, in any field. It’s something that’s not yet been made clear or interpreted. It could be solved endemic problems.

How do we solve the problems of homelessness or world hunger or clean water for all? It could be a new product, what’s needed, a new product, a new system, a device. And the gap is really fascinating. And it’s always in marketing you think about it as differentiating what’s going to be different about your brand. But there are gaps in everything. When we, in academia, when we do research, we look for, we do a literature search. And what we’re looking for is what exists, but also some missing, what’s the gap. And then finally, the gain, and this is what makes my process very different from any other that exists, is that I believe it’s not just a great idea, but it’s a worthwhile idea. What’s the gain? What’s the benefit for people. The planet for creatures, and of course, there’s profit involved, but somebody has to gain from it. Otherwise, to me, it’s not a worthwhile idea.

So it’s not just a marginal thing. It has to be a substantial benefit that deserves putting the effort into finding that solution, I guess.

Very well said. Perfect. Yes, absolutely. I mean, you can do things just for profit. So, if there’s already a diet soda, you might do well, and you might make money, and that’s about profit. But my system is really more about who will benefit in worthwhile way. Who or what, because the planet can benefit or creatures can benefit. But you said it perfectly.

It’s interesting because when I teach my clients to set a great vision for their business, then it starts with the why of the business, why they are doing this. And if there is not enough tension between where they are and where you want to go, then it’s not going to pull them because there won’t be enough excitement. It’s not going to get the juices flowing. So there has to be a big enough gap, I guess, between the current state and the future state for people to get excited about it.

Yes, absolutely. And that gap is so critical. And it really can be so many different things. And it isn’t, it’s even about who we’re serving. So, for example, if you think about gaming, senior citizens, there’s a gap in gaming. Senior citizens could really benefit from gaming. It could help observational skills. It could help mental retention. But the industry’s not aiming at that. And they’re not even aiming at tween girls. They’re mostly aiming at tween boys and boys to men and some women. But it’s really interesting that you think that everything’s been done, but there are many, many gaps, especially for endemic problems. Or you think about the COVID vaccines, the new vaccines, the way that they happen so quickly is that two scientists were researching a new medicine, MRNA, and it was that delivery system that was brand new. It actually went against the star chamber that allowed the manufacture of this so quickly.

That’s definitely and we had this big gap between where we were and where we had to be and we couldn’t afford to have another Spanish flu. And it was amazing to think that the whole COVID virus broke in, essentially it broke into the common consciousness in March of 2020 and by April they had the vaccine, it just had to be approved. That is hand boggling. And normally it takes two, three years to get a vaccine. So that was fantastic. Now, our time is coming up.

The end of our show is coming up very fast, but there’s something I read in your book, that one of your books that I really want to ask you, and it’s kind of an unrelated thing, but your background is marketing, design, advertising, and you talk about in, I think it’s the strategic creativity book, you talk about good copy, what good copy looks like, and you compare a good copy with a sales pitch, which is a not good copy. And you give some examples. So can you explain this concept of a good copy versus the sales pitch, and how to avoid making the sales pitch, and how to make sure the good copy really is impactful.

So good copy isn’t a sales pitch, as you said. You’re trying to avoid selling something to somebody, but there’s a very clear takeaway message. Again, you’re empathetic, you lead with empathy, but I like to think about it as three A’s, authentic to the audience, meaning you’re actually, again, recognizing what the audience desires and wants and how your message can fulfill their desires and needs. It’s authentic to you, so if it’s your brand, is your copy, your core message has to be consistent with your brand. It’s your voice, right, whose voice is talking.

Recognize what the audience desires and wants and how your message can fulfill their desires and needs. It's authentic to you, so your core message has to be consistent with your brand. Click To Tweet

Is it a detached voice? Is it a corporate voice? Is it a father’s voice? Who’s talking? And it’s authentic to purpose. It’s true to your brand’s purpose. It ideally acts on the purpose. And then there are all kinds of tips that I can give you, practical tips like avoiding cliches, writing short sentences, using active verbs and active sentences, writing specifically for the target audience, and always allow the reader to think for themselves a little bit. So, it’s not really just a dead here’s your takeaway.

But, you know, there should be a clear takeaway, but you want to engage them. And it shouldn’t be cliché, right? You have to avoid well-worn phrases and words, and it shouldn’t sound like advertising. It should sound like I’m talking to you. It should be conversational. And another tip is, for most writers, is to avoid the thesaurus. Like, really just use conversational language. It should be, if I were talking to you, Steve, about a brand that I like, it wouldn’t sound like a sales pitch. It would be conversational. And that’s what you want to aim for, that moves it out of the realm of sounding like advertising.

I read from a copywriter years ago about his technique, and he said that good copy has to be like sitting on a bar stool with a friend over a beer and just exchanging stories. And people have to feel like they’re part of this kind of conversation in order to be really touched by it.

Well said, yes.

That’s amazing, that’s fantastic. So lots of information and really good books that are already out or coming out, but already on pre-order. So Strategic Creativity came out in June and done really well. And now the new art of ideas coming out is it October?


November, So just before the holidays. So definitely check out those books. Where else would you like to, where should people buy these books? Or where should they reach out to reach you if they’d like to learn more, if they want to attend maybe a program that you’re giving.

Thank you for asking. You can go to my website, robinlanda.com, and the information will be there. I am on a book tour, and thank you for having me as part of the tour. And there’s also free stuff on my website. You can get quick start guides to two or three of my books and there’s other freebies that you can download. And I just want to let your audience know that if they pre-order the New Order of Ideas, I’m giving the money that I get to the International Red Cross.

Ok. So that’s not just a smart thing to do, but it’s also a good thing to do. That’s awesome. So definitely check out robinlanda.com and you can see immediately you go to the website you see that it’s a very creatively designed website so you get a feel for what’s coming through the books. Don’t definitely don’t miss that and read the books. I’m already reading Strategic Creativity and can’t wait for the for for art, the new art of ideas to come out.

So Robin thank you very much for coming on the show really enjoyed talking to you and your information is going to be very valuable for all of us that feel that maybe we are not creative enough. We are, we just have to unlock it and then we just fill that gap and get the game that we’re supposed to be creative for. next week for another exciting entrepreneur, next week for another exciting entrepreneur, leader, author to come to the show. Thank you, Robin.

Thank you Steve.


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