John Kao learned a lot about creativity and innovation during his years teaching at the Harvard Business School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, but also as a serial entrepreneur, psychiatrist, movie producer, and jazz pianist. He wrote about the topic in Jamming—The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, a BusinessWeek best seller that has been published in more than a dozen languages. Now, he's distilling what he knows into a series of brief, practical guides. The topic of this one is how to clear the mind to make way for creativity and the great ideas that follow.
"Come with me to Harvard," he says. "My classroom is like many others at the business school. The setting is casual and comfortable, yet conducive to drama. I lower the lights and ask my students to shut their eyes. 'Picture yourself in five years,' I tell them. 'Are you alone or with another person? Where do you live? Where do you work? What are you doing right now? What do you smell? What do you taste? Touch the object nearest you. What do you feel?' My students smile. I know what they are experiencing. They are playing parts in a mental performance. Initially, they are surprised by what they are imagining, but soon they are engrossed. One is walking through Washington's corridors of power. Another is climbing an Alpine rock face. Another is standing in the Shanghai Stock Exchange. After five minutes or so, I turn up the lights and ask how they feel. They are energized, emotional, inspired."