Steve Jobs was undeniably one of the most disruptive people in the last 100 years, maybe ever. What he did and the products, ideas, and approach to creating a company will be felt for generations.
So how exactly did he see the world around us? And how did creativity inform his approach to disruption and influence? Understanding that can help us get in the same mindset and learn more about how to use creativity better.
I think this quote does a good job of showing how he thought of the world and the mindset he created from.
Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
For me, When I heard this quote, it really redefined what I saw creativity could do.
It was a turning point in my creative journey.
You can use creativity for many things, scientist use it for creating new vaccines, painters use it communicate through art , architects use it to design buildings. In fact every human uses it every day.
You can use creativity for more than just creating art or solving problems though.
To utilize it in the way Steve Jobs was talking about you need to use a type of creativity I call – Disruptive Creativity.
The best way to gain creative influence is to change or disrupt what is currently existing. Sticking to the status quo is by definition not the way to be an innovator and create change (which is neither good or bad, just depends on your goals). Disruptive Creativity is all about using the correct amount of disruption to create change. Being disruptive for the sake of being disruptive gains you no influence, but using it selectively is what can make you a creative leader.
The idea surrounding Steve Jobs quote is that everything is effectively arbitrary. Even more so when it comes to art, design or trends of any kind. You can harness this knowledge because everything that exists, people no smarter than you made it.
Which is to say you have just as much ability to change the world as Steve Jobs did. Of course opportunities, luck and privileges are unique to everybody, I’m not saying they aren’t.
What I am saying is that you do have to believe you have the ability to change things in order to believe you can do anything disruptive. Once again you need to adopt a growth mindset.
When you realize you have control and the ability to learn and grow. That’s the first step in utilizing disruptive creativity.
The second one is using disruption selectively to effect change.
The most impactful people use disruption like a scalpel. Methodically combining creativity, narratives and disruption to break from ideas, trends and styles that aren’t working and create a new culture.
Virgil Abloh has a 3% rule. Which is “The exact ratio needed to twist a normative object into something special.” For him, disruption doesn’t need to be a huge shift.
When it comes to how you use Disruptive Creativity practically, one of the most helpful ideas is the saying:
You have to know the rules to break the rules.
This idea has two parts to it.
One: breaking every rule, as cool as it sounds, is usually very counter productive. Some rules don’t need to be broken (at least right now) and doing so only hurts your overall goal. To put this another way, you need to know the industry or culture of the space you’re trying to disrupt.
Two: At the very least it helps to be somewhat accepted in the world you’re trying to innovate. It’s human nature to resist when an outsider comes in and starts criticizing the culture you inhabit. They might (and often are) correct, but humans aren’t logical like that and that usually causes people to dig themselves further in their own world or in the status quo. The degree that this matters is different all over the place, but to be most effective you have to be accepted as part of the group.
Pablo Picaso was as much a disruptor as anybody ever has been. Before him painting looked like one thing, but after him, we have a whole new painting style and a new way to experience the world. For Picaso his process to get there still involved learning the rules at the time. David Galenson University of Chicago professor and creativity researcher described his approach like this “You come to a new discipline, you learn the rules, and you say ‘I don’t like some very basic rule, can I get rid of it?”
That’s the goal. To figure out what which rules can be thrown out / which ones you don’t like, and which ones still serve a purpose. When you hear someone say something along the lines “we do it that way because that’s how it’s always been done”. That’s a huge flag that the rule can be broken or thrown out.
Every act of creation is first an act of destruction
Innovation and disruption are a tricky things though, while it helps to understand and be accepted in the culture you’re trying to change you also need to have a clear view of the larger picture.
There is a quote attributed to Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Which is to say people often don’t know what they don’t know, or in the business world particularly they often know the problem (in this case they want to get somewhere faster) but can’t articulate the solution. People say they want one thing but would really want something different, they just don’t know what they don’t know. It’s easy to get caught up in your own world without seeing that larger picture.
Those who use Disruptive Creativity don’t think about how they can relate to culture. Instead they’re looking to create their own, by breaking from, or more often building off trends and culture. Again to build off them you have to know them.
One last note is the people and works that we consider the most innovative and creative, at the time were often rejected. Only later are these people were considered “creative geniuses”. Which brings up the complicated relationship between ideas too disruptive and too safe. It’s a issue for which there are no hard rules, only a relative balance depending on the situation.
Though not always easy, I hope this sheds some light on Disruptive Creativity and the path towards innovation and creative influence. As Steve Jobs said it’s something within the ability of every person because everybody who has done it in the past is no smarter than you.
Kevin Walker is the Founder of Creative Carbon, who’s mission is to inspire, and empower creativity and disruption in the next generation. He has worked in creative industries for over a decade and believes that creativity, along with disruption, is an essential part of influencing and creating culture, and that everybody is capable of learning and using those skills.