Communication Secrets of the 100 Most Creative People in Business

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After exploring ideas from Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business 2011 for business success, I focused more closely on these role models to unlock their communication secrets. Although these top achievers represent diverse industries, there are commonalities in the high value they place on good communication. What do these leaders know about communication excellence?

1. Begin by listening well
Would you like to travel the world discovering local people who excel in art, music or technology? That’s the enviable job of John Jay, who serves as global executive creative director for ad agency Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, Oregon. His well-honed ability to spot what’s new and trending earned him the No. 41 spot on Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business 2011 list.

Jay identifies good listening skills as essential for success. If you wouldn’t hire an architect to have his or her style imposed on you, why would you hire an agency to have its thinking totally imposed upon you, he asks.

By listening carefully, you understand the client’s “soul” and can make it relevant to a greater number of people. “The greatest thing we can offer is to be great listeners, to have empathy for your culture, to understand what is the truth,” says Jay.

What steps can you take to make yourself a more creative contributor? Jay recommends putting yourself in unusual-for-you cultures. For example, he thinks CEOs, who get much of their information filtered through consultants, might get out of the office and back on the street.

What inspires him? “Inspiration is about feeling the personal vibe of people who live a way you don’t, do things that you can’t and share what you don’t know,” says Jay. “For any creative person, it is our job to be inspired.”

2. There’s magic in storytelling
How does journalist Arianna Huffington engage readers? Her career-long secret is the use of narrative.

President and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, Huffington holds the No. 10 spot on the Fast Company list. Although she says, “I didn’t kill newspapers, darling,” she was an early adopter of online journalism. Her namesake website, founded in 2005, was sold to AOL in February 2011 for $315 million.

As we become hyper-connected technologically, Huffington sees a growing desire for personal connection and meaning. She points to a national media that is becoming more disconnected from people’s lives. As such, news consumers are gravitating to local sources, like AOL’s local news sites called Patch, which inspire them to get things done by engaging with their communities.

Recently, notes Huffington, she “devoured” Peter Guber’s Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story. “He writes about the magic that arises when you take relatively soulless information like poll data, facts, and figures and channel them into a story with a purpose — in the process of putting flesh and blood on the data,” she notes.

3. Know your audience
When you’re communicating, soliciting feedback from your audience helps you check for understanding and correct course, if needed. Sal Kahn, who founded Kahn Academy, and ranks No. 7 on the Fast Company list, has developed an amazing, free learning platform featuring video on demand.

MIT graduate Kahn’s journey from hedge fund analyst to nonprofit educator began with his young cousins’ trip to visit him in Boston in 2004. While touring the city, he kept his cousins engaged with brain teasers. Later, when they returned home to New Orleans, he volunteered to tutor them in math via phone. Eventually, Kahn saw the wisdom of videotaping his 10-minute lessons and uploading them to You Tube.

The feedback from his cousins was eye opening. They liked the video-taped version of their cousin better than their cousin in person. “They appreciate how conversational it is,” says Kahn, who understands the wisdom in their preference. Video allows them to pause, go back over a section and work at their own pace. That leads to mastery.

Kahn, who aspires to build a global one-world classroom, is using technology to foster new learning models. He currently hosts 2,200 videos ranging from basic arithmetic to vector calculus on his site. Recently, the Los Altos, Calif., school system invited him to bring his method into the classroom.

“By removing one-size-fits-all lectures, the teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom,” says Kahn. Teachers can help individual students who may have stalled in their progress or a student’s peers can assist, leading to more interaction.

How have your communication skills contributed to your success?

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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
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