Achieving Consistent Creative Excellence

Good morning friends

Cape Town has been buzzing with love. The love of love (Valentine’s Day), the love of art (the Investec Cape Town Art Fair) and love for SA’s favourite son, Trevor Noah who played in last weekend’s Match in Africa (yes, there were some other players on the court).

It’s been exhilarating to watch Cape Town emerge as a centre of contemporary African art. The last few years have seen the birth of two world class museums, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art and the Norval Foundation. Both have gathered international acclaim.

In that context, today’s letter is about creativity and love. Transformative leadership requires both.



It is one of the confounding truths of corporate life that time and again brainstorms are embraced to generate ideas for systemic challenges. This is despite the research saying that is the least productive way to generate meaningful answers.

The Daily Show has little choice. They’re live every day. They have a team of more than 100. They need to be both efficient and generate great creativity. They’ve developed a great blend of free-wheeling brainstorming and the individual and small-team work that allows for deep creativity.

In this TED Worklife podcast Adam Grant explores with Trevor Noah and his team how they achieve consistent creative excellence.

Listen out for: the power of creating psychological safety; building trust; embracing diversity; task bubbles; burstiness (yep, it is a word) and the importance of building teams that know each other ‘remarkably well’ (hint: it takes time).

Pay attention to the brainstorming rhythm – deep preparation in the stories of the day, then burstiness, then small group or individual work, then pull together to assess and select, then dry-run, then rework in a tight group. All based on a team that respects and trusts each other.


To be creative, know yourself.

Many artists, writers and musicians describe their work as an outflowing of an essential force. Although they spend years working on their craft, the wellspring is something slightly mysterious to them, accessed through reflection and silence. It is completely them.

J-Lo and Missy Elliot, Brad Pitt and Vin Diesel, Chimamanda Adichie and Janet Evanovich are all incredibly successful. Each different from the other. Each themselves. Each unique. This is true for all of us.

I love what Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had to say on this subject “…why my productions take from my hand that particular form and style that makes them Mozartish and different from the works of other composers, is probably owing to the same cause which renders my nose so large or so aquiline, or, in short, makes it Mozart’s, and different from those of other people. For I really do not study or aim at any originality”. In other words, a uniqueness emerging from a place other than simply thinking it.

Mozart spoke of how his compositions would emerge fully formed in his mind and that it was silence and happiness that allowed the best flow of his ideas. So, whilst he did not aim for originality, he allowed time and space for himself to emerge into his work and then the ‘Mozartish’ brilliance emerged.

In an always-on culture taking the time to create silence, to deepen your sense of your “you-ness’ is essential if you are to be creative.

Two previous letters – Building a Drum Beat and Do You Force or Lead? – have included exercises that build your ability to know yourself.


Be extraordinary, love.

To close today’s letter, here are some excerpts on love from Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul:

  • Love sparks imagination into extraordinary activity
  • Love releases us into the realm of divine imagination, where the soul is expanded…
  • Love allows a person to see the true angelic nature of another person.
  • Love brings consciousness closer to the dream state.

Please do share this letter with people you love. They can subscribe here.

I hope that you enter this week inspired to live your life as a creative work, one that you love, and which gives expression to extraordinary activity.



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