Thursday, 29 May 2014


In the beginning, God created a man’s head and included a brain. He divided the brain into different rooms. Each room was built and designed to accommodate a different cognitive function. But the Creator, in all His wisdom, then deliberately set apart an empty room somewhere in the corridors of the man’s brain and ordained that room for the function of imagination. That for whatsoever man can imagine - man can bring into reality.   

I have, for long stretches, had an impossible fetish for renting a room in a person’s brain. Everyone knows at least one captivating person. The kind of person whom you catch a flu whenever he or she sneezes. They don’t often sneeze in public. But wherever they sneeze – and wherever you are – at that moment, you catch a generous amount of the stuff their  nasals have let out.
Each one of us has mentally created, thought or even tried to solve a nagging problem but gave up somewhere between thinking about it and bringing it to life simply because the thought process was synonymous to that true story of the truck that jammed underneath the bridge. But then, the economic demand for creativity is appalling. In fact; a 2010 poll of 1500 CE0s by IBM identified creativity as a number one “Leadership Competency” of the future.


Creativity often seems like magic. We google through the lives of mortals like the great-grandfather of the light bulb, Thomas Edison – or the ancestor of Technology, Steve Jobs of Apple - or the mother of empathy, Mother Theresa – and without questioning the nuts and bolts of their cognitive abilities, we jump into the bandwagon of assuming that these people must be from the “Chosen Few” section of the crowd – and they were elected by the so-called god of creativity and innovation. That’s very true, right? Not really. I would not be telling you this if I was not one of the people who have never experienced the stress of dreaming up an idea that a decision-making faculty of the brain immediately concluded as brilliant but when it was time to travel through the rocky road of reality – all of a sudden, thinking jammed underneath your cognitive bridge. What do you do when you wake up one morning and out from the bright, blue sky, you get an idea that eventually loses its way halfway through the corridors of your mind? We have all done that. My sister, one rainy morning when we were young, complained about how she wished she could invent a raincoat for the shoe, one that would take the shape and colour of your shoe without compromising its structural beauty. Have you ever dreamed up a technological idea that never even took off because you did not have a techno-mind? Some of us have imagined ourselves creating a “thingy” where people can purchase books online and store them in their computers. But because our knowledge and skills were not at all parallel with what we wanted to create, the idea went out through the windows of our brains. But along came a gentleman by the name of Jeff Bezos who had the same idea coupled with a better knowledge-set, better skill-set, and technical know-how – and voila … called that same little “thingy” AMAZON.COM.


‘Amazon dot com’ is the name of Jeff’s idea that he managed to turn into a profitable career. But then, there is at play what we call “joining the dots” – it’s the stuff real problem solving dreams are made of.
Everything, from human beings to species, exists within the context of a wider environment. All too often when we talk about solving problems creatively; what we are really talking about is joining the dots. In the Queen’s candor, to join the dots is to put together different bits of information, observations and experiences with the hope to come up with an interesting piece of result. I know I just said it in the Queen of England’s candor. Linguistics call it “joining the dots” – Psychologists call it divergent thinking. For example; if I gave you a brick and a page – and asked you to come up with as many uses as possible for the two when applied together; you would think of all the things one can possibly do with a brick and page. The more connections you find, the better you are at divergent thinking. In a nutshell; you are better at joining the dots – and would be more likely better at solving real-life work-related problems by breaking apart the problem and including other bits and pieces of information and observations from the outside.

If you had the privilege of walking through, up and down the isles of a creative person’s brain while in problem-solving mode, you would probably witness something to the effect of a large, busy factory; with thoughts moving up and down - being refined – pruned - combined and packaged. You would witness quite a number of seemingly unrelated bits of information. It’s not schizophrenia, it’s the brain trying to connect the dots. Whether you’re faced with a boardroom situation or are involved in an ideation process for an upcoming product, the law of familiarization will be of utmost importance. Familiarizing yourself with the environment within which you operate will be advantageous in your pursuit of creativity. That’s perhaps one of the chief reasons why the so-called “creative types” are well-informed individuals. They are always at the forefront of knowledge and as a by-product, it is not a coincidence when at the face of a boardroom crisis, they’re the ones whose hands are the first to shoot up with something close to a solution. You catch my drift?
Joining the dots may happen in a flash we can’t explain. But by definition, we can only join the dots we have collected. Dr Michael Kirton, in his theory; “Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory,” stated that innovators are more likely to be found where they are not expected to be found. If you must ask them, they will politely tell you that they are collecting the dots. In short, joining the dots has everything to do with the kind of dots available around your awareness.


Mike is one of the few gentlemen in this world who have seen the world’s greatest nerd, Bill Gates, sneeze in private. What the larger majority at Microsoft catches - they catch because someone in the grownups’ table, the executive board, sneezed. And all too often, Gates was responsible. Mike, a person who worked with Bill Gates at Microsoft, described Bill in a meeting; “My mind is like an ordinary spread-sheet: a couple of columns over the right – and  a couple of columns going down. But then Bill Gates’ mind is like a huge spread-sheet with a thousand columns wide and a thousand more deep. There would be an issue in the meeting and Bill would see it all at once and say, “I got it, here is the solution.” He would connect up all the dots in the most amazing way. He would just almost see things we couldn’t see. His brain was just a cube with powerful information.
Do not be fooled. Gates may have been a college dropout. But you don’t get to be interesting a human being as him without some form of “dot-collection” strategy between your two ears. The thing is; Gates eats books. His ability to creatively join all the dots stems from the wealth of dots he has given himself time to collect.

If I had to sum it all up, I would move away from all those things that suggest that for you to exercise creativity, you need to be born with it. Let me make it very clear; for imagination – you need to be alive – and you need to be human - for creativity and innovation to be found in you. Two quick points: It’s about JOINING THE DOTS. But all too often; man only has the ability to JOIN what he or she has COLLECTED.

My name is Simphiwe Makapela. I am a South African-based Professional Speaker and I write for the U.S based Under30CEO Media site. I would be delighted to speak at your next conference about an expanded view of the aforementioned article.   

1 comment:

  1. Great article... Very interesting. I think I'm catching the flu from your sneeze