We have Robert Evans Wilson Jr., who is so much fun. He’s an award-winning innovative speaker, direct response copywriter and storyteller. He is fascinating. It’s almost like having Zig Ziglar in the house.
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Getting Into The Innovator Lifestyle with Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.
I am here with Robert Evans Wilson Jr., who is an award-winning writer and speaker who works with companies that want to be more competitive through innovation and with people who want to think more creatively. Rob is the author of the internationally syndicated column on innovation, achievement and leadership, The Main Ingredient, which runs in Psychology Today, and more than 300 other publications. He is also the author of four books, including the inspirational book, Wisdom in the Weirdest Places.
I’ve been focusing a lot on innovation lately. You caught my attention. I don’t know if you saw that I’m writing a book on curiosity. Part of what I’m trying to do with that is to tie into the importance of engagement, creativity, innovation and productivity. With AI becoming such a hot topic, innovation is going to be the buzzword, we’re not going to hear anything but innovation for so long. You are in the right place at the right time talking about this. The innovator’s lifestyle, what is that?
I picked up immediately on the fact that you’re writing a book on curiosity because that is such a big part of innovation. I like to look at it as the innovator’s lifestyle because there’s so much to the innovator’s lifestyle. It’s a collection of skills, traits, and habits. There are different levels that people can seek depending on what they want. Maybe they want to be more comfortable with change or more comfortable with risk. Maybe they want to go full hog and be a total inventor, someone who’s generating new ideas all the time.
There are some people who couldn’t be more innovative and creative and all the things that we talk about, but not have been guided that way. That’s what I was trying to do with my assessment. Because I looked at the four things that keep people from this and it’s fear, assumptions, technology, and environment. A lot of it can be environment if we aren’t helped along the way. You deal with creativity and all these things that tie into innovation. Can you teach that? Is it something that you just have? I’m just curious where you think about that? Is it a skill?When we grow up, we’re constantly taught to conform. Click To Tweet
I do believe it’s a skill. Unfortunately, most people do not. That’s part of the socialization process we all go through when we grow up and go to school. We’re constantly taught to conform. You may have heard this before where people have gone into a kindergarten class and say, “How many artists do we have in the room?” Every kid will raise his hand. Then three years later they’ll go into a third-grade classroom and say, “How many artists do we have in here?” Maybe one or two will raise their hand. It happens just that quickly to us. If you’re going to twelve years of school and then maybe to college and you’re constantly told to conform, by the time we reach adulthood, we’ve suppressed our natural creative tendencies to the point where most people believe it’s a gift that only some people are born with and that the rest of us, we don’t have it.
It’s not true, it’s a skill. It’s a skill that can be reawakened at any age and at any time. It’s a critical skill because in a rapidly changing marketplace, the rapidly changing economy, if we’re not able to adapt to that change, if we’re not able to change with the changes, then we’re going to get left behind. We’re going to be out of business and all this will create destruction. It’s like a steamroller that’s heading right towards every single business. I don’t care what it is, it’s going to hit you. It may not hit you in your primary business. I have been hit by the steamroller on marketing. A number of years ago, I had been marketing and one way that had worked fabulously and suddenly, that wasn’t available to me anymore and I didn’t see it coming. Suddenly, I had to relearn a lot of new skills. It’s a vital skill. That’s what I do believe genuinely. It’s a skill and that anyone can reacquire it.
How do you reawaken it?
There are so many aspects to it. There are lots of little things you can do but to me, it’s beginning to understand what creativity and innovation are all about. When you can do that, then you’re on the right track. I love this quote from Albert Szent-Györgyi, who was the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who discovered vitamin C. He once said, “Discovery consists in looking at the same things as everyone else, but thinking something different.” You go, “That’s cool. I’ve got to look at the same things as everyone else and think something different. That’s easy.” I’ve been looking at the same things all my life and I’ve got this little narrow point of view about those things and I’m not changing.
This is the trick and this is what I love about that movie, Dead Poet Society, that Robin Williams did. Everybody remembers the scene of all the kids standing on their desks, but most people don’t remember where that began. It began when the English teacher, Robin Williams, climbed up on his desk one day. He asked the class, “Why am I standing upon my desk?” The kids are clueless so he goes ahead and tells them he says, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in different ways.” There’s your key to creativity and your creative thinking, is looking at things in different ways. In other words, getting a different perspective. That’s the key right there. It’s getting a different perspective on issues and then that enables you to solve problems better.
That’s what I’d like to see and what I’m trying to do with this is to let people explore areas they hadn’t explored before because they will have a different perspective because they haven’t even explored that area. Sometimes we get in these silos where you only know this and everybody stays in this area and these people only know this and they stayed in that area. I’d like to see a little more crossover where you come in with fresh eyes. Do you think that that can be important?
It’s wonderful when you bring in somebody from a different industry to look at your problem. I think there’s an excellent story of the head physician at the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London. They were having a serious problem with patient transfers. When they were transferring a patient from surgery to the intensive care unit, all sorts of problems were occurring. Orders weren’t getting transferred and as a result of that, treatments weren’t being given. That’s a real life-threatening problem and they couldn’t seem to solve it. Then one day, Dr. Goldman, who was the chief physician, is doing his favorite thing on his days off, which is watching car race thing. He’s watching Formula 1 racing.
As he’s watching the race, he got fascinated by the pit crew because it was amazing to him that a car would pull into a pit and they would change the tires, fill up the gas tank, wash the windshield, and ten other things all in seven seconds. Then the car’s back into the race, they went seven seconds. They did all of that. It was well-organized, it was well-coordinated. There were no mistakes. That was the big thing. There were no mistakes. He goes, “I wonder if I could get those people to come in and look at my problem.” He talked to the Ferrari pit crew and they agreed to come into his hospital and observe the patient transfer process. They did this and then they came back to him with a three-step process that he implemented. It reduced the number of problems by 50%.
I love stories like that because there are so many people who just assume because you’re in this industry and that industry and you can’t cross over. It’s a process. Processes could transfer in the way of thinking in terms of being efficient. That’s what they were.Putting yourself out there makes you a little bolder. Click To Tweet
There’s a process to being creative. In many ways, a lot of it is that you develop techniques that work for you personally. There are dozens of books on creativity, but all of them are showing you how to do one thing, and that’s getting a different perspective. There are these different techniques that you can use to stimulate yourself into seeing things in a different way. I have a simple one I offer most people. When you’re faced with a difficult problem and you’re having a hard time coming up with some ideas, you’re stuck in a groove of this way of thinking you’ve been doing all along. You need to break yourself out of that.
That’s one of the simplest ways to do it. Instead of focusing on the problem, turn it around 180 degrees and ask yourself, “What would I do if the opposite were true?” Instead of, “I’m freaking out because I don’t have enough clients, I’m having trouble finding ways to get new clients.” Ask yourself, “What would you do if you had more clients than you knew what to do with?” This isn’t going to directly answer your question, but what it does is it pulls you out of that lot, it pulls you out of that groove you’ve been stuck in. It gets you thinking and looking at it from a different way. “What would I do if I had more business and I knew what to do with it?” “I might have to do this, I might have to do that.” Then you start thinking in a whole different way and while you’re doing that, that perfect idea might drop that in front of you.
I like that because sometimes it’s almost like getting a song in your head. You’ve got to sing a new song. I’m fascinated that you deal with all these ways that people can become more innovative. I’m trying to develop that as well in people through developing curiosity. You say these are the characteristics of innovators and that there are three primary ones. What are those?
The first one to me is the belief that you are creative. When you set out to solve a problem or invent something or come up with a new idea, you will absolutely do it, you will be successful. This self-belief that innovators have gives them so much persistence. All the people around them will get irritated or panicked. They’ll go, “You failed over and over again. When are you going to realize you’re not going to do this?” The innovator’s like, “I’m going to do it.” Thomas Edison famously said that when somebody told him, “You failed a thousand times already, why don’t you quit?” He goes, “I have not failed a thousand times. I only found a thousand ways that did not work.”
It’s that belief that drives the men and it makes them so persistent because they don’t believe they’re going to fail. That comes out of the two other primary characteristics. It’s the ability to risk and the other one is that they’re open-minded. Those two things combined actually fortify that first one. When you’ve gotten comfortable taking risks, if you’ve been willing to experience a lot of new things because you’re open-minded to new opportunities, then that bolsters that self-belief because you’ve had opportunities where you have succeeded over and over again. You put yourself out there, you’ve been a little bit bolder at times when you may be not wanting to be.
The second characteristic of risk-taking is that the innovator is so willing to abandon the traditional ways of doing things and set off new directions. They’re willing to question authority, question the status quo, ask important questions “Why are we doing things this way? Why don’t we try it another way?” They’re willing to do these things and this is a huge part. If you’re risk-averse that’s something I like to help people get over by taking some baby risks that are low consequence risks, that help them get comfortable with little changes in their life. If they can get comfortable with little ones, they can start advancing to bigger ones to the point where they are so much more comfortable with risks that they’re willing to make a bolder step somewhere down the road.
The open-mindedness ties into the openness to experience, which is part of the big five, which of course I dealt with when I was researching curiosity. The risk-taking and self-belief, a lot of those are impacted by fear and environment and some of the other factors that were problematic in developing curiosity. A lot of people don’t want to take risks because of their fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, and fear of different things. What are the baby steps like? Do you have an example?The open-mindedness ties into the openness to experience. Click To Tweet
To build on what you said, the fear is what it’s all about. People fear change because they’re comfortable where they are and they fear a loss. That’s the thing about risk. It’s not a risk if you don’t have something to lose. It could be losing face or that you’re embarrassed. Maybe you lose some time or it gets a little higher, you’ve lost some money on this innovation you want to do. You can lose your life depending on what the risk is. There are these various levels of risks. I have some little ones that I can get people started with him. It almost sounds like no risk at all, but it’s making a change and that’s going to make you uncomfortable. That’s where the risk lies. In these low consequence risk, you’re going to be uncomfortable by it. For example, I tell people, “If you drink coffee every morning, switch to tea for the next two to three weeks.” If you want the same amount of caffeine, you’re going to have to drink about four or five cups of tea.
Another one is to listen to a different radio format than you ordinarily do. If you always listen to rock and roll, go listen to classical or listen to country or listen to something completely different than you ordinarily listen to. Do it for several weeks because unless you listen long enough, until you start learning some of the music, you’re not taking up the newness of it. It’s strange at first. You may find that you start loving the new type of music. I learned to love opera that way and it’s fun. Those are two real simple ones.
That’s similar to some of the things that I’ve suggested. You get used to reading the newspaper, certain sections, read a different section for a while, read this for a while. It gets you out of that groove. You were talking about being uncomfortable but the opposite is boring. Some people, they don’t realize they’re bored sometimes, they’re in a rut. They need a little nudge and they probably could be more innovative and just don’t realize it. They’re going to need to be. When jobs are replaced by AI in different things, they can’t do more simplistic jobs. They’re going to have to be a little bit higher-end training and things associated with that. What do you think are the drivers that make people more likely to be innovative? I’m trying to direct you towards curiosity maybe and making money and different things like that, necessity. Are those what you consider would make people be more likely to be innovative?
Sometimes people are simply forced into being innovative and that’s where we hear the old phrase by Plato, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” That’s when something breaks and suddenly we’ve got to fix something with spit and a prayer or if you got some duct tape and WD-40. That’s what those were invented for, those occasions when we’re like, “What am I going to do?” There’s the necessity that those occasions were forced into it. There are occasions when we are annoyed and we’re irritated by things that frustrate us. I love this quote from Thomas Stemberg, who’s founded numerous successful businesses, but probably the one most of your audience has heard of is Staples Office Supply stores. Stenberg once said, “I get my best ideas for starting a new business from having been frustrated as a customer.”
I thought, “That’s fascinating. That’s a roadmap for finding opportunity. Where have you been frustrated?” It might be an opportunity right there to start a new business. A lot of times it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. When we’re annoyed into something, it’s something we want to fix. That stimulates creative thinking because we’ve got to resolve it pretty quickly. It’s not something that can be left, so that’s a key way in which we’re innovative.
Curiosity, as you’ve been studying and talking about for a while, is a real keyway. We’re fascinated. I think it’s human nature to always look for a better way of doing things. It’s natural and I like to point out to people who don’t think they’re creative at all. I tell them to think about their normal morning routine. From the moment you step foot out of bed until you get in the car to drive to work, if you had to recreate all the shortcuts that you have created over the years, every single morning, you never get out of the house. We don’t realize how often we create little efficiencies in our lives and it could be extremely nuanced or simple. We have so many of those, but they speed up our routines and help us get through life and we don’t realize those are innovations that we had done, little tiny ones.
Another way I like to point out the people that they’ve been creative is I’ll say, “I’ll bet every one of your listeners has used a paperclip for some other reason than holding papers together,” and everybody has. They have used a paperclip and an innovative way. Curiosity is such a cool thing because it’s just a natural thing for most people. That as well has been repressed by being told to conform. Saying things like, “Curiosity killed the cat.” That’s basically being told to conform. “No, don’t be curious. You just do as you’re told. You do the way we’ve always done things, but great things have come out of curiosity. Like the microwave oven. Percy Spencer, he’s working on the radar and suddenly notices or when he goes to take his chocolate bar out, it had melted. He goes, “That’s never happened before. I wonder if the radar machine did that.” He goes over and he puts another chocolate bar in front of the radar. Then he starts putting food in front of it. He cooks an egg, he put some popcorn and so then he calls up the research and development department, “You’ve got to come up here and see this. Look at what the radar is doing to the food here.” A few months later, they invented the microwave oven because radar uses microwave.
You’ve written so many articles and everything. You’re in The Psychology Today. I’m interested in other stories that you have. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence and I’m looking at its impact on innovation. What’s your thought process of how much emotional intelligence impacts innovation?
Emotional intelligence is mostly about having empathy and trying to understand the other person’s point of view and what they’re feeling and what they’re going through. If you can do that, that’s going to help you create something. If you’re an inventor and you have empathy for what your audience’s needs are, then you’re going to create a better product. Sometimes this happens with customer feedback or complaints, “You made so and so and this is what I don’t like about it,” and then you can go back and fix it. If you can anticipate that through your questioning of things or curiosities, then you might come up with some things or you might need to interview those people or you might need to go ahead and make the product and listen to what they have to say.
There’s a lot involved in emotional intelligence. Some of it is interpersonal skills and some of it is understanding your own emotions as well as those and others. A lot of people maybe don’t know how to read other’s emotions. Sometimes that leads to fear of what if they suggest something that they’re going to be shot down. If you’re not able to really pull in and have empathy for how somebody else feels or be able to read their emotions very well or have good interpersonal skills, that’s all going to tie into what you’re willing to share and what you’re willing to look into. It’s a bunch of pieces to the overall puzzle of the discovery process in general. Don’t you think?A lot of times, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. Click To Tweet
You mentioned the discovery process and that’s something I call when someone has this powerful desire to solve a problem. That’s really what it depends on first. If you have this powerful desire to solve a problem and you put some effort into solving it and to coming up with a new solution and you haven’t solved it yet, there’s a point where your subconscious mind will take over the process. It will continue working on that problem 24/7. You live and work on it in your sleep. I call this initiating the discovery process by a combination of your desire and putting some effort into solving that. What happens is you’ll be in a moment of relaxation. All of a sudden it will come to you. The answer will come right to you.
Probably the classic example is Archimedes sitting in the bathtub. He’d been working on this problem of solving the problem of how to prove to the king that a bar of gold was pure gold and not mixed with lead. He was sitting there in the tub and watching his bodyweight displace water. He realizes the answer. They say he screamed, “Eureka,” and jumped out of the tub and run naked through the streets. It was that moment of relaxation where all of a sudden, all the stresses of the day or gone and you’re daydreaming, essentially. You’re relaxed and calm and there are no demands on you at that moment. My favorite is I have an acre of woods where my house is. I don’t have a lawn, but I have lots of leaves to blow. Stuff always falls out of those trees and I find that a great relaxing, almost meditative thing to do because it’s a mindless activity that doesn’t require me putting any thought into it. I walk around below leaves and I’d get some of my best ideas while I’m doing that.
Mindless activities are good for that. I do similar things, but mine’s more like data entry or something boring. What ideas do you come up with when you’re doing that?
This process, once you’ve initiated it, works 24/7 and even when you’re asleep. Albert Einstein had been working on his theory, E=mc2, for literally years and hadn’t solved it yet. It came to him in a dream. He actually dreamt the answer to the solution. It’s another aspect of how that’s working. Let me explain it this way. This is an analogy that will bring this whole concept home for them so that they’ll get it. Think about the last time you’ve been in the market for a new car. You’ve gone out there, you’ve looked at all the different makes and models and you finally narrow it down to the one car that you want. You make a decision, “That’s the car that I’m going to buy.” Up until that point in time, you have not noticed that model on the road but then as soon as you make that decision, suddenly you see them everywhere. It’s like the road is littered with them, then you go, “How is this possible? I thought I was being unique.” That’s the subconscious mind that works. The subconscious mind understands your powerful desire. It wants to present to you things around you that will help you resolve that. That’s why this works so well and it’s such a cool thing.
There are so many people that could benefit from this. If you think about it, the people who could improve on curiosity or innovation and these things maybe aren’t curious enough to ask for help or to look into it. Do you think that this needs to come from above leadership? Do we need to change our overall culture of the organization? If you talk about the workplace and not just outside of the workplace, how did we get the organizations to see the importance of this?
I believe that innovation is going to work all the way down the line. People are constantly looking for better ways of doing things. They are constantly looking for more efficient things. It may be little, it may be big. They might see a better way of doing something, but if they don’t feel comfortable mentioning that to anyone, then they’re not going to. If they’ve mentioned it before and been shut down, they’re not going to mention it again if they come across some new ways and better ways of doing things. It has to be a top-down culture that’s established, encouraged, rewarded and acknowledged.
A lot of times those things fall apart. Companies want to establish a culture of innovation or a culture of creativity within their companies because they realized in the back of their minds that creative destruction is rolling towards them, and there’s nothing you can do about that except to prepare. Encouraging people to come and offer ideas does take a genuine effort on the management’s part. A lot of times true innovations are going to oftentimes go against what the company’s main business is.
Kodak is a perfect example. They invented the digital camera in 1975. Their R&D people took this wonderful new invention to management and said, “Look what we’ve come up with.” They went, “No, we can’t take that to market. Don’t you realize what a primary business is? We sell film and photographic paper and developing chemicals. Why would we shoot ourselves in the foot with this invention?” They didn’t take it to market. Eight years later, Sony did and the rest is history. It’s crazy to me when I hear that story that they’re the ones that invented it, but yet they shied away from it. That’s a classic example there of how they had people in the company that were allowed to work on innovations. There are some companies that do that, a lot of the big ones you’ve heard of, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Toyota. Toyota expect people to offer as many as 100 suggestions a year to how to improve things. They have people looking at those and they implement then ones that are available. A company has to acknowledge that somebody has made a suggestion. They need to reward that. Then if they actually use it, they need to reward them and publicize.
I see a lot of companies who don’t give enough recognition. They may use it or they may just totally blow it off, but they don’t even acknowledge. They don’t even look at it. I am curious what you think of the Google 20%-time thing. Was that a good idea?
That’s a lot of time. I don’t know that they let all their employees have 20% of the week in which to put to innovative thinking or creative thinking. I think that’s extremely important. To have that as a company policy is astounding because 20% of the workforce is time, that’s a lot.
I wonder what the right amount of time is and whether why they would change it. Some of the factors if it was successful.
Innovation does take time and if you don’t put the time into it, then it just doesn’t happen. Not all innovation just drops in front of you. You can start that discovery process, but that’s only if you’re passionate about it that that’s going work. If you’re at your job and you don’t care, that discovery process is never going to kick in for you because it is wholly dependent on the level of your desire. Your subconscious will work on it 24/7. If you don’t have that desire, then that’s not going to happen that way. Innovation takes time. There was this one writer who said, “A writer’s wife will never understand why he’s staring out the window and that he’s working.”
It’s so true you’ve got this on your mind all the time. I’m thinking about Google giving people time to work on certain things. I was trying to think about that one in my research. Do we suggest that that’s such a good idea or to be innovative that you have more of it as team-based? Everybody gets together and shares ideas. There are so many ways to go about this. I know you’re passionate about this. Why are you so passionate? What made you so interested in this? I know I’m interested in this and we have that in common. What led to your interest in this?
There are several things to it. Whenever I fully immesh in the creative process, that is the most fulfilling time I ever spend. It’s the most joyful, the most satisfying time spent, and I want to share that with people. On top of that, you get more out of life. The more you develop what I call the innovator’s lifestyle, start taking on some of these habits, taking on some of these traits, I feel like people are going to get a whole lot more out of life. They’re going to recognize opportunities that they’ve never recognized before. They’re going to solve problems faster than before. They’re going to adapt the change easier. I see so many benefits in trying to constantly look for patterns and connections.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I put this coffee cup and this ballpoint pen together? How could I do that? You have other people to do this. That’s how some of these silly products would come out at Christmas time. I remember two in particular, the Salad Shooter, it’s like this machine gun. Instead of putting a bullet, you shove a zucchini or cucumber down the slot and you pull the trigger. It would slice it and shoot out the slices and you have to put it in a plate and hit the plate with these slices of cucumber shooting at it. I want to know what they were taking before they sat down for that innovation session.Not all innovation just drops in front of you. Click To Tweet
It does make you wonder. How about the Pet Rock? I wonder if they’re laughing all the way to the bank on some of them. That didn’t take too much innovation to come up with that one. You must see some interesting ideas. When you’re writing for Psychology Today and you’re writing it for all these things, you speak to top companies, AT&T and IBM. The list goes on and on of the companies where you speak.
You’ve written this book, Wisdom in the Weirdest Places. You’re looking at this in so many different directions. You’re a top speaker too and I can see why. I feel the Zig Ziglar vibe coming off of you. You’ve got that enthusiasm and I love that. Have you always been enthusiastic? Have you always been the guy that likes to learn these stories? You’re a great storyteller and I’m just curious where that came from.
I’ve been a storyteller since I was a kid. I realized that I wanted to be a writer as early as third grade. I remember at one point after a particularly good sermon from my minister when I was growing up in the Methodist Church, saying to my mother, “I want to be a minister.” She looks at me so excited. I didn’t realize that you had to do all that Bible study. All I wanted to do was to get up and tell funny stories and jokes because that’s what he’s doing. I was absolutely enthralled with listening to him. All the rest of the part of the church, I didn’t care for. When I realized that I said, “No, that’s not what I want. What I want is to tell stories.” As I went into high school and in college, I found that I would love to tell jokes to groups of people. It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed and there’s nothing to be more fun than sharing a good story with someone.
You said some interesting ones here. I’m curious if you had any others from your Wisdom in the Weirdest Places or in any of your other writing that stood out to you like, “This was a story I couldn’t help but be drawn to about innovation or creativity.” Is there anything else that stands out in your mind that you go, “That was an interesting story?”
I’ll tell you one that I don’t know why this popped into my head, but I’ll share this one. It’s a good example of why you need to be open-minded, try new things, and experience new things. We haven’t talked about that a whole lot. It’s important to experience new things. This is a key and important part of being an innovator because the more you experience new things, you literally lay down new neural connections in your brain. You literally create new electrical connections between the brain cells. In other words, you’re building up more data in your brain. That gives you more to draw on when you’re trying to come up with an idea. Understanding that an idea is when you take two or more existing concepts and then you mill that or combine that into creating something new. That’s why that’s so important.
The other thing about all these new experiences is you’re strengthening your brain and that’s literally what you’re doing by doing this. When you create those new electrical connections in your brain, you are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s and senility as you get older. As you get older and brain cells die, you lose one electrical connection for each of those brain cells, it’s gone. If you have enough electrical connections between the brain cells in your brain, your brain will rewire itself and you won’t lose those memories. Otherwise. If you lose a bunch of brain cells, you’ve lost that memory. If you have enough of those connections, then you don’t lose it. That’s what makes it a very important, healthy thing to do, to go out and experience new things.
It improves your sex life because if you are going out with your partner, your significant other and experiencing new things, it rekindles those romantic feelings because it stimulates your dopamine receptors like it did when you first met that person. You couldn’t wait to hop in the sack and then now if you’re experiencing new things. You’re triggering your dopamine receptors with that person and it rekindles and reminds you of those romantic feelings you have for that person. Many wonderful things are happening in embracing the innovator’s lifestyle.
You’re proclaimed as the second funniest person in Georgia by Toastmasters. Who was the funniest? Were you in a contest? What was that all about?
It was a contest and the funniest person is Jim. He was pretty funny too. It was the statewide contests for the humorous speaking contest. I placed second and I had a video. This was back in 1997 and he was a little more poised on the platform than I was. My nervous energy was spilling over and you could tell it. I was fun but I couldn’t contain it. I was up there on that platform and I was just so full of energy. He got up there and he was so cool, calm and collected. That’s why he won. He absolutely deserved to win.The more you experience new things, the more data gets build up in your brain. Click To Tweet
You’re also known as the graffiti guy. You’re the author of OFF the WALL! The Best Graffiti Off the Walls of America. Is that an illustrated collection of witticisms?
It’s an illustrated collection of bathroom graffiti. It all started back in college and I was coming out of one of my classrooms one day. I noticed down the hall, a good friend of mine was doing something. I walk down the hall to see what he was up to. As I got closer I realized he was working with one of those old-fashioned label makers, those pistol grip label makers. I’m watching him. I said, “Ken, what are you up to?” He goes, “I’m putting the room numbers on the doors in Braille for the Dean. He wants to make it easier for the blind students to find their classrooms.” I went to Georgia State University, which is a downtown urban campus in Atlanta. All the buildings are clustered close together.
There were a lot of blind students that went there when I was in school and I don’t know if the reason was that it was relatively easy to navigate because all the buildings were close together. I’ve gotten to know a couple of the blind students. As I’m watching Ken, all I can say is the devil got into me. I said, “Ken, does that label maker do more than the numbers? Does it also do the alphabet?” He goes, “Yes, it does the whole alphabet in Braille.” I said, “Let’s head over to the students’ men’s room. Let’s put some graffiti up in Braille.” We did and the next day, I made a point of running into one of my blind friends and I remember saying to Jimmy, “Jimmy, have you been keeping up with the graffiti people who are putting up in the students’ men’s room?” He gets this real annoyed look on his face. He goes, “No, why are you asking me that? You know I can’t see it.” I said, “Next time you’re in there, why don’t you just feel above the toilet paper dispenser?” He did and within 48 hours, every blind student on campus at heard about it and they were after us to put up for more.
Ken and I weren’t intending to be the graffiti artists in Georgia State University, but we felt obligated to go put up some more. We needed more material, so we hit the bars for some inspiration. We found this one old bar in Atlanta where there must have been 50 years’ worth of graffiti that had never been painted over. Over a couple of pitchers of beer, we wrote down a page or two worth of graffiti to take back to school. As we looked at all that graffiti written on paper, it just occurred to us, and this was probably the beer talking, but “Why don’t we keep doing this until we have enough for a book?” Little did we know it would take fifteen years to have enough material. It’s a fun book.
Everything you do is fascinating to me. You mentioned you went to that college. What degree did you get?
I majored in philosophy with a minor in psychology. I started out as a double major and that was good enough. I wanted to get out of school.
You’ve done an amazing job with all of your work. It was interesting to me, all your stories. I could see why you would do so well for so long in Psychology Today and all those other 300 or more publications. I think a lot of people will probably want to know more about how they could probably a book you as a speaker because I know you do that. How they can find your books and all that? Can you share how they could find you?
Probably the easiest way to find me is to go to my website, RobWilsonSpeaker.com or Google, Robert Evans Wilson Jr. and you’ll see everything about me there. My column for Psychology Today is called The Main Ingredient. Go to my Amazon page you can find that by putting in my full name. That’s the problem with a common name like Robert Wilson. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. I always encourage people to remember, if you could remember my middle name, Evans, you’ll find me.
What’s The Un-Comfort Zone?
The Un-Comfort Zone is the title it runs under everywhere else. In most of the 300 publications, it is The Un-Comfort Zone and it’s slightly different for Psychology Today and so we gave it a different name and sometimes the articles will be slightly different. I will sometimes tailor it for a particular publication.
I found everything that you said helpful to all the work that I’m doing. A lot of people can benefit from all your research and all your studies that you’ve incorporated. I love all the stories. They’re wonderful. I have included some in my book as we research the similar thing. Those are some of the greatest examples of why innovation is so important and why curiosity is so important. I want to thank you for being my guest. This was fascinating.
Thank you. It’s been a real pleasure.
I want to thank Rob for being my guest. This was a fascinating show and it all ties in so well to what I’m researching for the book I’ve written, Cracking the Curiosity Code: The Key To Improving Human Potential. The book goes along with the Cracking the Curiosity Code assessment, which is called the Curiosity Code Index. CCI is an assessment that will help you to determine the four factors of fear, assumption, technology, and environment, how much those four factors have impacted your level of curiosity. It gives you an action plan and summary of different things you can do to improve in those areas. You can go to CuriosityCode.com to get notified of when the book comes out. You’ll be able to take the assessment there and you can find out more if you’re a consultant or an HR professional. We’re doing training and a certification program to get you all up to date and be a CCI certified dealer.
- Robert Evans Wilson Jr.
- The Main Ingredient
- Wisdom in the Weirdest Places
- OFF the WALL! The Best Graffiti Off the Walls of America
- Robert Evans Wilson Jr. on Amazon
About Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.
Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an award-winning writer and speaker who works with companies that want to be more competitive through innovation, and with people who want to think more creatively. Rob is the author of the internationally syndicated column on innovation, achievement, and leadership: The Un-Comfort Zone which runs in Psychology Today and more than 300 other publications. He is also the author of four books including the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places.