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Michael Ray

Main Event: “Creativity in Business”

Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Michael Ray has taught some of the best-known innovators in Silicon Valley how to be more creative. On Monday, May 8, he directed a poignant and probing lesson to roughly 600 Fast Company readers at RealTime Orlando. Introduced by founding editor Alan Webber as a “man who you can call a teacher,” Ray spoke about generative leadership, the voice of judgement, and the three illusions of life. Then he took ten minutes to speak with Fast Company one-on-one about imagination, encouragement, and the future of business:

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Where do great ideas come from?

Great ideas come from people who are in touch with their own source of creativity. One of my teachers says that the individual human heart contains enough love to fill the universe. In the same way, we each have this enormous creativity. It comes from inside, but it also comes through situations that present themselves to us — problems, challenges, and change in industry and in life. When we step up to those challenges and bring our creative resources to them, great ideas pour forth.

People must pay attention to their own creativity. They must recognize and learn to deal with a part of them called the voice of judgement, which is an internal competitor that brings forth blame and criticism. The best way to tame this is to live by little heuristics or rules of thumb such as “Ask dumb questions” or “Pay attention.” Live by those and take notice of your own moments of creativity. If you are conscious of your own creativity, there is an increased probability that you will be creative in future situations. You begin to develop faith in your own creativity and you begin to be yourself in the larger sense.

How can organizations and companies foster and encourage those creative processes?

Companies need to take creativity seriously. They can no longer just call off-sites or brainstorming sessions. They need to realize that the real purpose of an enterprise is the enlightenment of every person in that organization. There was a Japanese professor who said the overriding purpose of an organization is the self-transcending processes within that organization. We really work at our jobs to be more ourselves and to bring our unique contributions to the world. On a larger level, nearly every company has a mission and vision that it presents to the outside world. Now, companies need to develop initiatives that specifically foster and develop individual creativity that will benefit the people and the community on a personal level.

How has business changed in the new economy to accommodate personal growth?

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Businesses have to make profit in order to be sustainable. But today we are creating organizations that, because they pay attention to deeper issues like the environment, social responsibility, and the development of their people, are actually stronger competitors. They are going to last longer and be stronger, and profit comes from that sustainability. There may be a few glitches along the way – something we’ve seen with the Freeplay Group in South Africa. Those things will happen, but if you follow this path you will be successful from a profit perspective and also in regard to larger societal contributions.

Where do you stand on the Built to Flip/Built to Last issue?

The Built to Last idea was a very strong one, and then we began to get infatuated with Internet startups and the possibility of making millions and billions of dollars by Building to Flip. Flipping will wear itself out and good things will come out of that. People will come to realize that the true purpose of an enterprise is the development of the people within the enterprise, and the corresponding service to the community. Success is based on wholeness. It gets very old to make a lot of money and have a lot of money. What holds true are your feelings of self-worth. Ultimately, that’s the only thing that can make you happy.

Why are you here at RealTime?

I’m here because of the people and the idea of championing and supporting people who are trying to do business in a way that is really human, and means something to people individually and to society as a whole. The people who come to an event like this are in the process of doing wonderful things. I want to experience their energy and provide them some structure for their endeavors.

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