Jun 052013

drill sergeant poetry

(This is the first installment of my “Unconventional  Innovation Boot Camp” series)

YOU MAGGOTS! I’m going to make innovators out of you! Grab a pad of paper, a pencil, and start writing POETRY!

Ugh?? Read on…

There’s no denying that to become an innovator one has to think outside the proverbial box, see what others have failed to see or discover the missing link between two unlikely ideas.

Sure, the execution of innovative ideas will certainly rely on a well thought-out process, maybe some engineering, a healthy dose of marketing, a sound infrastructure, a seasoned management team, etc… but before all that you need to come up with THE idea and whether you like it or not, the birth of that idea falls into the realm of creativity.

How does one develop creative aptitudes? Some will contend that you are born with them. Born with the typical skills associated with creativity: musical skills, a talent for painting or the gift of writing.

But studies have shown (including this one) that creativity can in fact be taught.

As 40-something man, trained as a Software Engineer, with zero talent for creating music or painting, I have nevertheless always considered myself creative, but I was never able to express that creativity through traditional means. Even though I would claim that being a Software Engineer and being able to create products or services out of nothingness requires for a fair amount of creativity, it is also restrictive and only appreciated by fellow nerds.

That’s until one day, a friend of mine suggested that I use poetry.

You have no creative skills? Think again. Enter poetry!


If you read these words then I will assume that you have some familiarity with the English language (not my mother tongue, BTW). That’s the good news since the same way that a painter has his palette of paint, various brushes and canvas, all you need to write poetry is a sheet of paper, a pen and the words in your vocabulary, and no prior skills required!

I’m no expert but to me, poetry is playing with words in order to express ideas. You can think of it as brainstorming on your own.

How does poetry cultivate creativity?

The way we typically think imposes (often self-imposed) thematic boundaries and logical frameworks within which ideas are allowed to develop. Poetry frees you of such limitations. You can be as silly and as illogical as you want. It’s all about playing with words and ideas and breaking out of the proverbial box.

By freely juxtaposing or clashing ideas together you invite the mind to generate even more ideas and go down innovative avenues that wouldn’t have been visible otherwise.

How do you get started?

They are many sites that will help you with getting started with writing poetry, including this simple how-to primer.

My only one piece of advice as a beginner is: don’t feel like you have to use rhymes, or specific forms or metre.  Use prose and keep it simple.

After getting the aforementioned paper-and-pencil (some people prefer to use MS Word or their mobile phone or tablet), look around you or within you, reflect on some past memories and start writing what comes to mind.

Force yourself to write for 10 minutes where you are not allowed to stop even if your words on paper might look like a stream of consciousness at first. You can then extract the ideas or sentences that stand out and that you would like to explore further.

If you can’t find the right time to do it, check out this blog post.

Poetry as creative tool for innovation

If you want to use poetry as a tool to develop ideas around a product or service that you have in mind, feel free to do so using these guidelines:

  • Use flowery, over-the-top language to describe your service
  • Write a love poem to your product
  • Explain your service in a poetic way to someone who just stepped out of a time-machine from 2000 years ago.

Do this often enough that you might become your company’s own “artiste in assignment“.

Finally, instead throwing away your art, type it up and save it somewhere. Better yet, share it as part of a blog to reread later and observe your progress. I just created a tumblr account for myself where I marry my pictures and (lame) poetry for that purpose alone.

Practice enough and who knows you might even be able to add “poet” to your business card…. Engineer, innovator and poet.  How cool is that?

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