Lessons from the 100 Most Creative People in Business

Innovation Inspiration

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Fast Company has selected its 100 Most Creative People in Business 2011. What can we learn from these inspirational role models that we can apply to our own businesses?

Begin with a vision
Jim Yong Kim, who is No. 9 on the list, is a physician and president of Dartmouth College. Quoting ice hockey legend Wayne Gretsky, he says, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” 

Perhaps nowhere is it more important to visualize where the puck is going to be than in healthcare delivery. Dr. Kim notes that every country, developing and developed, is trying to figure out their healthcare delivery systems. With employee healthcare costs rising nine percent a year at  U.S. companies, businesses, too, are seeking creative solutions.

Experience inspired Dr. Kim to recognize the need for a new field of medicine: the science of health care delivery. Treating critically ill patients in developing countries while working for the World Health Organization gave him insights about combining a social system with the medical system.

Today, he is leading an effort to take health care to the next level by creating a model that combines quality care with lowered costs. He aspires to build the system first in the U.S. where professional resources are abundant and then share the benefits with people in developing countries.

Don’t fear tough times
Comedian Conan O’Brien, who heads the business Conaco, is No. 8 on the list. After a period of upheaval and soul searching following his departure from The Tonight Show at the beginning of 2010, he reinvented himself through a comedy tour and then landed his current program on cable TV.

Like many creative leaders, he appreciates serendipity. He’s open when things don’t work as planned, comparing his philosophy to surfing. “You don’t know how the wave is going to break,” says Conan. Although he believes in preparation, he will move off the script when the right opportunity presents itself.

Conan works hard to foster creativity and team spirit among his staff. As a writer himself, he understands how difficult comedy writing is. “I try to create an atmosphere where failure is inevitable,” he says. He’s also visible and accessible to the team because he knows they need to channel his voice for the show to succeed — an impossible task when the leader is absent.

“Creativity has two parts,” says Conan. For him, it starts with the left-brained, throwing-ideas-around stage and then moves to the assembling-the-ideas stage where you harvest those that really work. “Rehearsal is key,” says Conan.

Stay true to your brand
Who doesn’t like a screaming bargain? San Francisco entrepreneur Alison Gelb Pincus and her business partner Susan Feldman created online shopping destination One King’s Lane in 2009 to provide amazing deals on well-designed home goods, including accessories, gifts and furnishings.

The brand’s success, both with the merchants who sell on the site and the design junkies who log on at 8 a.m. PT each day to snag high-style home goods before they disappear, earned her spot No. 45 on the Fast Company list. Despite the difficult economy, “people are definitely shopping,” notes Pincus.

Selling top brands at discounts of up to 70 percent, One King’s Lane targets a wide demographic. What they have in common is that they all love their homes. To encourage friend to friend sharing about the brand, the company launched by adding $25 to a member’s account for each friend referred who made a purchase.

Pincus advises entrepreneurs to be very focused on their vision. In tough times, she encourages them to stay motivated. And she, too, looks for inspiring role models, advising that you can get a lot of answers to your questions from experts.

Is there a creative leader who has inspired you?

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About creativeconsiderations

Christine Sullivan is a communications strategist with expertise in communications planning, writing and content development, and executive communications. She can be reached at mycreativeconsiderations@gmail.com.
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