Business of Creativity
Fredrik Härén, renowned writer and speaker of creativity shares his quest to inspire innovative thinking
Issue: Jun 2011
Creativity guru, Fredrik Härén, has given more than 1,500 talks to corporations including American Express, Microsoft, IKEA, Sony and CapitaLand
Swede Fredrik Härén is a successful entrepreneur, renowned writer and a much sought after international speaker. He is the founder of The Interesting Organisation, a creativity company and was nominated Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003. He has written seven books. His bestseller, The Idea Book, is part motivational book with 150 ideas and part notebook. It has sold more than 200,000 copies in 40 countries and has been translated into 14 different languages. Recently, it was included in the "100 best business books of all time". He has given more than 1,500 speeches, key note addresses and training sessions in over 30 countries in all kinds of industries. In 2007, he was named Speaker of the Year in his home country and "100 most inspiring people in Sweden" because his talks have inspired hundreds and thousands of people to dare to think differently.
But in all these, he has only one message – to share the importance and value of new ideas, creative thinking and innovation. He has made business creativity his business.
INSIDE: Business creativity is your area of expertise. How would you define "business creativity"?
HÄRÉN: "Business creativity" has to do with an organisation's ability to question how it does business and its effectiveness when it comes to handling changing environments and opportunities. "Business creativity" does not have to bear financial fruit. But, in the long run, hopefully good ideas for non-financial benefit will benefit the company anyway. For example, a profit organisation can use creativity in order to improve its environmental footprint, its CSR projects, etc.
INSIDE: How did you get into the business of business creativity?
HÄRÉN: I wrote my first two books about the Internet in 1995 and 1998. The more I talked about the Internet, the more I realised that I was actually talking about being able to figure out how to use new technologies and trends in order to improve your business. So I started speaking and writing about how to use any new technology or trend to change business.
INSIDE: You have applied creativity to several areas of business such as HR, sales, customer service, and leadership. Is there anywhere that creativity has little place, such as in an area where the tried and tested is favoured?
HÄRÉN: There is no industry where all things have been tried and tested so, therefore, creativity is needed everywhere. I have never met someone who is in an industry where creativity is not important. Even a priest will tell me about the value of creativity in his job. The most traditional of business will tell you that when the world changes so do traditions but, perhaps, slower than other industries.
But it is important to understand that "business creativity" does not mean "change for the sake of change". In business creativity you should only implement an idea if that idea is a better way of doing something than what has been tried and tested before.
INSIDE: How is business creativity – its success and failure – measured?
HÄRÉN: Creativity is not, in itself, "good" or "bad". It is all in the eye of the beholder. 9/11 was a creative deed. But most people will say it was not a good thing.
As I look at creativity, it is the ability to be able to find alternative ways of doing business that is better than what we have today. The trick, of course, is that we have to have the guts to try the new idea.
Fredrik Härén stores his ideas into hundreds of notebooks, a practice he encourages in his book, The Idea Book. The Idea Book was created to inspire the user to start thinking more, thus it has 150 pages of ideas and 150 pages of blank pages which serve as a notebook
INSIDE: What is your definition of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship?
HÄRÉN: I see it like this:
Idea = combining at least two previously known things
An idea is when a person takes at least two previously known ideas and combines them in a (for him/her) new way. This implies that all ideas, in a way, are inspired by previous ideas. I like that definition because it shows that all human creativity is connected and it also shows that creativity is not something magical.
Innovation is about making an idea happen. Entrepreneurship is the ability to make ideas happen, being able to be an innovator preferably in order to create change. Creativity is the whole process, i.e. the process of identifying problems, solving them, having ideas and implementing them (innovation).
INSIDE: Can creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship really be taught at all?
HÄRÉN: They can absolutely be taught. But I do not believe in teaching one creativity technique to everyone. I believe in making everyone figure out which creativity technique works for them.
INSIDE: Could you please share with us your creative process?
HÄRÉN: I read a lot. Travel very much. My inspiration comes from travelling the world and interviewing CEOs and other creative business people about how they work with creativity. This gives me a lot of different viewpoints and opinions. Then I set aside long periods of time when I go to a beach somewhere and just sit and think about what I have learnt. I get my really good ideas during those periods of extreme relaxation - but if I did not have the other periods of extreme information input I would not get any ideas.
INSIDE: Do you think that as a generation we should be more creative given the resources available to us, being in the Age of Technology and Innovation?
HÄRÉN: Yes. But I think it is even more important that we understand that we need to be much more creative and innovative because of the huge challenges ahead of us. When billions of people quickly want a better way of life we need to understand that the way we do things today will not be a sustainable solution. So if we want these people - and ourselves - to have a better life, we need to find better ways of doing almost everything we do. And we need much better ideas and we need them quickly. The fact that we are not getting and implementing new and better ideas fast enough can keep me up at night.
INSIDE: Would you say that there are no new ideas left, only new applications?
HÄRÉN: There has never been a "new idea". All ideas are combinations of old ideas (the light bulb was a combination of electricity, glass, metal, etc). Some people say that you cannot "reinvent the wheel". But you can! You can reinvent NEW ways of using the wheel. For example, mobile phone companies have put a small scroll wheel on the side of the phone or computer mouse producers have put a small scroll wheel on a mouse. The more new ideas there are, the more new ideas can be created by combining those.
INSIDE: Was there anything in either in your education or upbringing that nurtured your creativity?
HÄRÉN: Yes many things. Both my parents were very creative teachers. I am also a twin. So I have had someone who was just like me (my identical twin brother) whom I could always test my ideas on and who understood what I meant. Most people do not have someone like that.
INSIDE: What, in your opinion, is a good idea? What are the markers of one? How do you recognise a good idea?
HÄRÉN: A good idea is something that makes you say: "That was a good idea." But a GREAT idea is something that makes you say: "Why did I not think of that!"