How Skillshare’s CEO Cultivates and Applies Creativity (Taking Cues From Bill Gates and Chuck Close)

If you haven’t taken a week off to reflect on your past and your future, it’s something I highly recommend.
February 28, 2014

This article was originally published on Fast Company.

Every year, Bill Gates goes into seclusion for a “Think Week,” or private retreat, from which employees, friends, and even family are strictly banned. Many of Microsoft’s most important innovations grew out of ideas hatched during these carefully scheduled periods of isolation.

Twice a year, I get out of the office, breaking from my normal routine, for much needed “Think Weeks.” By actively disconnecting and looking at everything from 50,000 feet, I am able to effectively reflect, reset, and clearly rethink my goals and aspirations.

If you haven’t taken a week off to reflect on your past and your future, it’s something I highly recommend. If you can’t take a week, I’d encourage you to take a day, or even a few hours. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your own “Think Time”:

  1. Do nothing work-related. For busy entrepreneurs this will be very difficult but it’s worth it. Stepping back from your work allows you to get into a different mindset that makes way for new creative ideas.
  1. Focus on personal development. For each “Think Week,” I create a life to-do list, do a lot of research, and think through big ideas and challenges deeply. Going through this process has been enlightening for me and has allowed me to make clearer decisions.
  1. Seek out new environments. While traveling to an exotic, off-the-grid location would be great, you can also get a lot accomplished in your home city. Visit a new neighborhood, find a quiet spot in the park, or rent a desk at a local co-working space. With a little effort, you can uncover a wealth of new places to inspire creative thinking.

Once you generate great ideas, it’s important to follow through and take action. Artist Chuck Close is known for saying, “inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.” I tend to agree.

Here at Skillshare, we’ve developed many different creative routines to ensure that we are always making progress. Here are a few simple tactics we use to keep the ball moving forward:

  1. Use the morning to focus. In an age where we are always connected, we are also constantly interrupted. At Skillshare, mornings are unofficial “quiet hours.” We don’t schedule meetings and instead use this time to tackle our most challenging projects. This routine helps us move forward every day.
  1. Create 90-minute blocks of time to solve the big problems. Once a week I set aside time to work through big challenges. My goal is to achieve what psychology professor Mihály Csíkszentmihályi defines as the state of flow, or “a feeling of intrinsic motivation where one is fully immersed in what he is doing.” For me this is both fulfilling (Csíkszentmihályi argues that we are happiest when in the state of flow) and productive.
  1. Measure impact. When deciding what to work on at Skillshare, everyone thinks first of a project’s desired outcome and the impact it will have on our business. This allows us to prioritize and focus on the projects that matter most.

The ability to cultivate and apply creativity is crucial to your work and your team’s mission. Being able to execute on your projects in the most efficient and effective manner gives you more time to find inspiration for the next challenge.

Michael Karnjanaprakorn is the CEO and Co-Founder of Skillshare.

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