Meet the Most Valued Commodity in the Printing World

Posted by Rock LaManna

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What is the most highly valued commodity in the printing world today?  That’s easy.  It’s “an original idea that has value,” a concept espoused by the forward-thinking Sir Ken Robinson.

If you haven’t heard of Sir Ken Robinson, he’s an expert on innovation, human resources and education.  Much of his fame is from a TEDTalk speech he delivered in 2006, which we link to later in this post.  

Sir Robinson believes that our educational system has created “good workers” instead of creative thinkers.  He believes that we’re so focused on standardization that we don’t cultivate our ability to be creative, and formulate those original ideas.


Now for most in the business community, the knee-jerk reaction to “creativity” is that it is something for which you hire a graphic artist or an ad agency to produce.

That mode of thinking is not only wrong, it’s fundamentally dangerous to your business.  

Creativity can be applied to any component of life.  Building a bridge is a creative function.  Solving an issue of too much overtime is a creative function.  Implementing a customized merger and acquisition strategy is a creative function.

Don’t think about it in terms of art, folks.  Think about in the context of Sir Ken Robinson’s definition of creativity:  “The process of having original ideas that have value.”

Yes, an original idea that has value.  Apply that definition in the context of huge, breakthrough technologies over the past decades:

  • The iPhone:  Why is this creative?  The cell phone had been around for a long time before the iPhone arrived on the scene.  But by integrating a touch screen, elegant design, and apps that allowed unlimited new ideas, Apple redefined the cell phone.  Their creative approach was both original and added value in the eyes of the consumer.
  • Electroluminescent signage:  Point of purchase signage has been around forever.  But this new approach combined a process that allowed you to illuminate your signs in an ecologically friendly way.  It was an original idea, and it definitely added value for its clients.
  • 3D printing:  Printers have been around forever, but this unique approach allows you to add a new dimension.  This amazing advancement suddenly offers a world of new opportunity for architects and engineers – an incredible new value.  Unlike standard 3D TV – an original idea but which many consumers today are finding doesn’t hold true value – 3D printing is bold, original and value-laden. 

Without question, it’s the original creative thoughts that win out.  Copycat companies may enjoy a short run at success, but it’s truly the inventive ideas that succeed over time.  

Why Can’t Printing Owners be More Creative

Sir Ken Robinson’s well-formulated argument is that the current educational system does little to encourage creativity.  It educates according to a strict, hierarchal approach, and is based primarily on driving people through the collegiate ranks.

Now make no mistake, I do not condemn learning.  Learning is absolutely viable for the well-being of a business and a person.  Every day should be a learning experience, in which you are seeking out new and better ways to do things.

But in business, just as in education, I think we focus a bit too much on being right instead of allowing room for mistakes.  The owners who are afraid to try new approaches and innovate are developing a culture that thwarts the possibility of the original, creative idea.  As Sir Robinson puts it:

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original…by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.  They have become frightened of being wrong.

And we run our companies like this.  We stigmatize mistakes.

Picasso once said that all children are born artists.  The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.  I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.”

So what can you do to become more creative, and generate that original idea that adds value?

How to Generate Original Ideas With Value

I don’t think anyone is proposing you go out and try something willy-nilly.  But you also don’t want to, as Sir Robinson says, “meet the future by doing what you did in the past.”

So what did you do in the past to solve problems?

  • Did you pull out your old business model?
  • Did you do what you did to build your business in the first place?  
  • Did you take a week and just stare at a wall, hoping to find the answer?

There’s a chance this might work on occasion, but over the long haul, it’s not a smart approach.  I think you’re probably gravitating to what you did in the past, simply because you’re a creature of habit.  

The downfall to taking this approach is you’re not employing divergent thinking, collaborating or allowing interdisciplinary interaction.  Here’s another Sir Ken Robinson video which gets into more detail (and is highly entertaining.)

Let me recap some of the highlights of that video, and apply them to your business:

1. Divergent thinking
Divergent thinking is an essential capacity for creativity.  It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers, lots of ways to interpret a question, and multiple answers instead of one.

As this great post by Lynn Schwebach summarizes:

“…divergent thinking – thinking that demands flexibility, or expanding thoughts to come up with multiple ways to solve problems and develop solutions.  In other words, divergence doesn’t assume there is only “one right answer to a given problem” – the standard bubble sheet type of evaluation.  Instead, divergent thinking connects many ideas and thoughts from disparate areas, even those that seem the most outrageous, and brings them together into a unique, often brilliant solution.”

A typical test for divergent thinking is to ask:  “How many things can you do with a paper clip?”  In an interesting study, Sir Robinson points out a group of people were tested using this approach.

Most people can find 10-15 different things to do with a paper clip.  If you can find 200, you’re at a genius level for divergent thinking.  In this particular study, 98% of the group tested at a genius level.

They were kindergarteners.

The same group, as they grew up, was tested again and again.  Over time, their scores began to decline.  Shouldn’t education make your ability to think increase?

I’d maintain the same thing happens in business, where our fear of being wrong and the notion of “best practices” hampers our ability for divergent thinking.

2. Collaboration
As a business owner, how often do you bring trusted advisors into a room to brainstorm and collaborate?

How often do you reach out to your employees and ask them to problem-solve for you?

Collaboration is where the brilliant ideas occur, not when you’re operating in a vacuum.  Before I publish a post, I run it by several people and get their reactions.  It always improves the post.  Always.

3. Interdisciplinary interaction
In Sir Robinson’s world, interdisciplinary interaction might interweave art with science, mathematics with social studies.

In the business world, I like to interweave quantitative financial metrics with qualitative strategies.  Those qualitative strategies may include business acquisitions, human resources, technology – everything coalesces.

If I try and strategize in a silo, and keep those disciplines separate, my ideas are not only weaker, but they are not as original, and they certainly don’t add value.

The big takeaway from Sir Robinson is that creativity is essential, and much of our current modes of thinking in business and education stifles it.  Using techniques like divergent thinking, collaboration, and interdisciplinary interaction, you can achieve a breakthrough.  You can become more creative.

And more importantly, you can have the courage of a kindergartener – the will to experiment, to make a mistake, to be bold.

Here’s a departing story from Sir Robinson:

“A little girl was in a drawing lesson.  She was 6 and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this little girl hardly paid attention, and in this drawing lesson she did.

The teacher was fascinated and she went over to her and she said, “What are you drawing?” and the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.”

And the girl said, “They will in a minute.”

Photo by: adihrespati


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Topics: Printing Business, Strategy