There is the known, the unknown and what is unknowable. The 10% we actually know can seem like all there is to know. Bathtub learning—when we fill our brain with every fact for an exam, and then drain it directly afterward—doesn’t work. There’s a gap of knowledge: we can’t remember what it was like to not know something. When we write an article, we want to evoke responses like, “I’ve never thought of it that way before.” Have you read Made to Stick? What about Big Magic?
Steve Jobs believed that creativity is the ability to make connections. Meeting Catherine Read is like watching Steve Jobs’ definition of creativity come to life. Catherine, a strategist, activist, speaker, and talk show host, is transforming the way people think about social media marketing and branding, specifically through the way she connects ideas and concepts. I had the opportunity to meet with her recently as part of my Individual Development Plan (IDP). Catherine communicates the connections between ideas and concepts in a way that carries the listener along with her, leaping effortlessly from one connection to the next in an intricate network. It’s like riding in a Jeep with the doors off at 100 miles per hour—only a seatbelt to hold you in place. If you don’t pay attention, you might find yourself transplanted from the desert of Mexico to the rainforest of the Amazon with no idea how you got there.
Steve Jobs believed that creativity is the ability to make connections.
I imagine that’s exactly what Steve Jobs meant when he defined creativity as the ability to make connections. It takes a creative, thoughtful mind, teeming with ideas to connect one concept to the next until we end up in a completely new place. What if creativity—the ability to make profound and insightful connections—is really the heart of social media marketing and branding?
Applying Creative Action
If creativity is at the heart of successful social media marketing and branding, I was curious about what advice Catherine has for the rest of us to think more like she does. Here are three practices that she generously shared:
1. Connect with Others—and Ignore the Scarcity Mindset
Creativity isn’t confined to connections between ideas. It’s also a unique art to make connections between people. Catherine, a natural connector, suggests that if we want to connect with others, we ask ourselves questions like:
- “What can I give to others?”
- “How can I make a connection for someone in my network, offer an idea, or share an interesting article?”
- “What do I have to offer and what can I do about it today?”
- “What events can I be attending to meet more people, and therefore increase my capacity to help others?”
The scarcity mindset tells us that we can’t give to others, that resources are limited and there are not enough to go around. Many of us confront the scarcity mindset at one point or another, but it’s simply not true. Catherine clearly lives her life by giving (example: she spent two and a half hours with me at the coffee shop, generously giving her time and insight). If she says the scarcity mindset is wrong, as someone who consistently gives to others, then I’m inclined to believe her.
2. Always Be Reading
To make connections, we need to have material to connect. What relevant information, ideas, and theories do I know that could become potential connection points or trigger an idea for someone else?
“There’s no excuse not to read,” Catherine said. “With audiobooks and podcasts, learning is easier than ever before. We can learn while on the treadmill, driving to work, or making dinner.” For recommendations, check out Catherine’s book reviews here on her website.
3. Help Others See What You See
Creativity requires action, so gathering the information and keeping it locked away in our minds isn’t actually creativity. It’s just building a storehouse. Sharing our ideas and connections is the final (and maybe the most difficult?) part of creativity because it requires vulnerability.
Catherine referenced Brene Brown, a researcher and storyteller who has written about vulnerability and creativity. Brown says that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” I’m thankful for the people who have chosen vulnerability and the risk of creative action, in order to help others see what they see.
Build Your Castle
Catherine’s insight has broadened and transformed my perspective of social media marketing and branding. It’s not just a set of tasks, a goal to be achieved, or bullet points in a job description—it’s an opportunity for creativity by making connections, learning, and giving to others.
Catherine’s “combinatorial creativity” is evident in how she makes connections. Writer and speaker, Maria Popova, describes combinatorial creativity as “taking existing pieces of inspiration, knowledge, skill and insight that we gather over the course of our lives and recombining them into incredible new creations. . . We have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new castles…the more of these building blocks we have, the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles will become.”
As we find connections by bringing ideas, concepts, and people together in Catherine’s unique way, we “combine and recombine these pieces and build new castles.” The pieces are out there, waiting. What castles will you build?