Once or twice in a generation, a uniquely creative talent comes along in a discipline. Steve Jobs was such a person in consumer technology. He was able to conceive, develop, and sell products that people did not even know they needed.
Although there were personality traits in Jobs that we might not admire, we can learn a great deal about developing a creative mindset from him. In an article in Fast Company, writer Derek Doepker identifies three prompts for us from the practices of Steve Jobs.
First, pursue diverse interests. Jobs quit college to pursue things that interested him more, such as calligraphy. What does this have to do with computers? According to Jobs, one of the reasons behind the development of the Apple computer was to create more beautiful typography.
Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
Exposing ourselves to new things provides the opportunity for cross-pollination and seeing how things connect. If you usually read biographies and history, try science fiction or poetry. Learn some new games or enroll in a course in painting or pottery. Associate with people who are not in your field. In these settings, we discover ideas that are new to us and may make a difference in our careers.
Second, walk more. When we are stuck, a walk or short break can provide the impetus to new insights. Whether this is done alone or with someone else, walking can stimulate our thinking. Jobs often took brainstorming walks with others to come up with new insights.
When I was involved in collegiate ministry and visited a campus, I often asked my host if we could take a walk around campus. As we did so, my guide often pointed out interesting things about the campus or shared ideas about plans to connect with certain people. It was a great opportunity to “get outside the walls” and just consider possibilities.
Third, meditate. Jobs had a different approach to meditation than most Christians do. After he left college, he spent considerable time studying Zen Buddhist meditation techniques and continued to use them throughout his life.
As Christians, we can practice meditation techniques such as the Breath Prayer or Centering Prayer. Although these practices are designed to bring us closer to God, they can also calm us, encourage divergent thinking, and provide unexpected inspiration.
The challenges we face today in the church and in not-for-profit organizations call for creativity and innovative thinking. As we practice prompts such as these, we open ourselves up to new understandings and fresh perspectives.