Applied Creativity: How To Infuse Innovation Into Your Work With Natalie Nixon

TTL Natalie Nixon | Applied Creativity

Applied Creativity: How To Infuse Innovation Into Your Work With Natalie Nixon

Discover the power of applied creativity, where intentional curiosity sparks innovation and propels leadership. In this episode, our guest is the one and only creativity strategist Natalie Nixon, the founder of Figure 8 Thinking, and “the creativity whisperer to the C-Suite”. Together with host Diane Hamilton, they explore the intriguing world of creativity, curiosity, and innovation within the realm of leadership and business. Natalie uncovers the four factors that can hinder innovation and shares strategies to overcome them, fostering a culture that encourages out-of-the-box thinking. From embracing lateral thinking to draw insights from diverse industries to discovering the art of applied creativity, Natalie explores the true meaning of creativity and its intersection with leadership. As a bonus, she also teases an upcoming book about “invisible work” and redefining productivity! Listen now and learn how to infuse creativity and curiosity into your workplace journey.

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TTL Natalie Nixon | Applied Creativity


I am here with Dr. Natalie Nixon. She is known as the Creativity Whisperer to the C-Suite. She has been selected as one of the Top 50 Keynote Speakers in the world. She is the author of The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work. It’s so nice to have you here, Natalie.


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Applied Creativity: How To Infuse Innovation Into Your Work With Natalie Nixon

I’m happy to be here. Thank you.

I was looking forward to this because we got to share time on a recent panel that was part of something that Simon Brown, Garrick Jones, and Paul Ashcroft had created called Curiosity in Times of Disruption. It was a great event. I love their work and all the things they do. I was very impressed with everything. We were on the same panel, and I hope that you would show up on this show so we can talk some more about curiosity and creativity. Before we do, I want to get your backstory to learn a little bit more about how you got interested in all this and what led to you becoming this top keynote speaker.

I have a very diverse background. Sometimes I call it a loopy background. It’s grounded in cultural anthropology, fashion, design thinking, and a sixteen-year career in academia. I always say that my background in cultural anthropology equipped me with what I call the worm’s eye view of understanding society and how to frame questions. As qualitative researchers, anthropologists are interested in observational studies. Not so much the big data in the survey, which is the 30,000-foot level view, but what I call the worm’s eye view.

Fashion is something that I got into out of need in my twenties. I was living in New York City and couldn’t afford to buy any of the pretty frocks in all the boutiques. I went back to what I knew and started sewing a lot of my wardrobe. My friend said, “You should sell some of this.” I was like, “I can’t sell this. I’m just making it because I can’t afford anything.” Long story short, I convinced myself maybe I could do this. I started a small entrepreneurial venture called Nat’s Hats, where I designed and sold hats. Later, I worked in global fashion sourcing, which took me to live and work in Sri Lanka and Portugal, working for a division of limited brands.

Fashion was my foray into trends research, as well as understanding the value of beauty and aesthetics and the role of desire in compelling people to buy stuff. That’s a very important consumer insight that tech, food and bev, agriculture, transportation, and all sorts of industries could learn from. I then was a professor for sixteen years.

My company, Figure 8 Thinking, started after I gave a TEDx Philadelphia Talk around year thirteen or so of my professorial career, where I was proclaiming that the future of work is jazz. That catapulted me into getting invited into companies to help them become more improvisational. I started my business as a side hustle. I looked up a year later and realized I was having more fun with my side hustle. I have not looked back. I’m in year six of building out Figure 8 Thinking.

That’s quite a journey. We have a lot in common when you tell me all the stuff that you have done. I still teach a lot, and I have a lot of the same interests. I noticed you got your PhD in London. Is that where you ended up?


How did you end up there?

I was dragging my feet about getting a PhD. I was already an assistant professor in academia. I was an associate professor. I was a founding director of a program. My mentors kept saying, “You should think about earning a PhD.” I had a Master’s degree at the time, which was a terminal degree for my field. I wasn’t seeing any programs Stateside that were interesting enough for me to leave my full-time job and live off of a pretty measly stipend or fellowship for at least five years.

I was on my way over to London in 2006 or maybe 2005. Right before I left, a week before, a friend forwarded me an email about something called design management. He said, “This is totally you.” I thought, “What is this?” I killed it. It turned out it was huge in Europe and the UK among practitioners, but also as a degree that you could earn. I thought, “I wonder if you could get a PhD in this thing?” It turns out you could.

I ended up meeting with several university programs while I was over in London. I decided to earn my PhD in Design Management at the University of Westminster in London. That required me to go back and forth over a period of four years. They have a deadline. I had to finish within 3 to 4 years, or else the clock would start over, and I did it.

It’s interesting because I worked as a doctoral chair for a long time just to see the different types of dissertations. I did more quantitative than qualitative, but I did some mixed methods. I like to quantify things. Some of this stuff is hard to do when you’re talking about creativity, curiosity, and things that you and I talk about. I was anxious to talk to you because I know you give lots of different talks. You talk about creativity innovation in the future of work, for example. It is one of your keynotes.

Mine is curiosity innovation. It’s maybe not necessarily the future of work, but we have very similar types of titles to what we have. It’s interesting because innovation is an important topic right now. I would love to hear what it is that you share with people when you talk about creativity innovation in the future of work. A lot of people could benefit from that right now.

Thank you. I agree with you that innovation is particularly prescient right now, but in every time period, people believe innovation is the thing. We would definitely agree that probably about twenty years ago, innovation became this buzzword, and people started trying to figure out how to build cultures of innovation within their organizations. That intersected around the timing of my 2014 TEDx Talk. As I was getting invited into companies to help them build cultures of innovation, what I experienced is that a lot of people were throwing around the I-word. Sometimes that would result in what we call innovation theater. It became diminished into, “Those are the people who play with the Post-It notes all day,” which is pretty pejorative and not exactly what was happening.

TTL Natalie Nixon | Applied Creativity
Applied Creativity: In every time period, people believe innovation is the thing.


At the same time, I realized we needed more of a common understanding of what innovation is. I also was perceiving that we were starting in the wrong place. That landed me to understand innovation in the following way. I define innovation as an invention converted into scalable value. That value could be financial value, cultural value, or social value. How do you get from this one-off concept, which might be a cool invention to this scalable value, which is innovation? The conversion factor is creativity.

The challenge was that in the hallowed halls of Corporate America if I had started with, “We need to start with creativity,” they would look at me like I had three heads because they didn’t understand creativity in the ways that I was thinking about it. A lot of people think of creativity as only something that artists are great at. You’ll hear people muttering things like, “I’m not a creative type because I can’t sing, dance, act, paint, or draw.”

My perspective was that creativity was much broader than that. Artists are exceptional at wrestling with the ambiguity of the creative process. The best engineers, accountants, attorneys, scientists, coders, farmers, plumbers, and teachers are super creative when they are toggling between wonder and rigor to solve problems, produce novel value, and generate meaning.

This is the definition I land on through my research. That way of thinking about creativity has done a lot of traction because people then understand that we have to build our creative capacity as individuals, as teams, and as organizations in order to consistently innovate. My perspective is that creativity is not this esoteric add-on or this nice to have. It’s actually a must-have. It’s imperative.

Creativity is not an esoteric add-on. It is an imperative. Click To Tweet

I love that. I’ve had a lot of creativity experts on the show. Larry Robertson comes to mind because he interviewed me for one of his books. I asked him, and I asked all of them, “What do you think comes first, curiosity or creativity?” I want to ask you that real quick and see what you think.

I have a different way of thinking. Curiosity is enmeshed in all creative work, but I’m thinking about the fundamental dimensions of creativity being wonder and rigor. Built into wonder, which is about awe, pausing, and audacity, is curiosity. I extend curiosity as part of my three-I model. I realized it wasn’t enough for me to tell people, “Go ahead, toggle between wonder and rigor to solve problems. You’ll be creative. Have fun.”

We get stuck. Life happens. There are shifts in the market. How do you consistently do that? By deploying the three I’s which are Inquiry, Improvisation, and Intuition. Inquiry is one of the drivers to be able to consistently create so that you can purposefully innovate. I look at curiosity embedded in the three I’s to help activate the creative process.

It’s so interesting to discuss the definitions of things. You were talking about how everybody thinks of innovation as this thing or that thing. I taught a class at a tech school here in Arizona. One of the questions I asked them was, “Give me an example of something that’s not technology.” You can’t think of anything. When you think of technology, everybody is thinking big computers or ChatGPT, whatever it is we’re thinking.

We have these ideas of what things mean, and everybody defines these things differently. A lot of times, when they ask me to define curiosity, it’s not just asking questions or giving ideas. To me, it’s mostly getting out of status quo thinking in the workplace. That’s what we’re trying to do by developing all this creativity, innovation, and all these things.

I see them all intertwined to some extent as well. I love that you talked about that because it was so interesting to me when I was studying curiosity to look at the stuff that dealt with creativity, like George Land’s work or Sir Ken Robinson’s. You look at how these kids have these great levels, and then they tank. I saw the same thing with curiosity. My research focused on the things that inhibit curiosity. What do you think inhibits creativity, curiosity, or the whole mesh that you talked about? What did you find?

Unfortunately, one of the things that inhibits creativity is one of the biggest gateways to adulthood and to socialization, which is our formal educational system. Sir Ken Robinson absolutely was connecting the dots between the way we teach and our cultures of learning. It’s the dimming of curiosity and the dimming of building a creative capacity. I experienced this firsthand in the three very different schools I grew up in.

TTL Natalie Nixon | Applied Creativity
Applied Creativity: One of the things that inhibits creativity, unfortunately, is one of the biggest gateways to adulthood and to socialization which is our formal education system. The dots between the way we teach in our cultures of learning, and the dimming of curiosity, the dimming of building a creative capacity.


I’m from Philly. I also live in Philadelphia now. I started out in urban Philly public schools from kindergarten through third grade. I then went to suburban public schools from fourth through sixth grade. I then finished out my high school years in a very elite Quaker prep school. I remember being around eighth grade because my grades plummeted when I got to this prep school. It’s an incredible school, and the culture of learning was so different.

I had gotten good at completing the worksheets and getting the gold stars. Checking the boxes, staying in my lane, and not drawing outside of the lines. I then got into a culture learning environment where it was about “Ask a better question. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.” I was like, “What is this place?” First of all, it was a campus, and you went not just from classroom to classroom but building to building. You call teachers by their first names. It was a lot to get used to.

That’s a lot different.

It was around eighth grade or maybe ninth grade when it occurred to me. I didn’t have the language I’m about to use now because I was fourteen years old. I realized my friends back on the block and my friends in public school, we had been trained, and we were being set up to be the doers, to stay in the lane, and to execute.

To be worker bees.

I was in an environment of people who were being set up to ask the questions, who were being set up to design the lanes, who were being set up and encouraged to figure out a different way. Why does that have to be an elite way to be educated and for learning? Our society would have 10,000X the amount of innovation if our cultures of learning were designed in a way where we were airing on the side of the process rather than solutions. Once we graduate from high school and college, there’s so much gray. The most successful people are figure-outers. That’s not a word. It’s an idea. They’re people who figure it out. They see the negative space and go, “Why can’t we do it that way? Why haven’t we tried this? I wonder what’s over here.” That’s one of the biggest inhibitors.

Also related to that, so many of us have been question-shamed, which dampens the creative process. We’re afraid to raise our hands. At some point in our education or work career, we were laughed at or we were ignored if we asked a question more than anyone else. We dim that part of ourselves down. Those are the two biggest drivers for dampening creative growth.

It crossed over. It’s very similar to what we saw with curiosity. I had the four factors of fear, assumptions or that voice in your head that can lead to fear, technology, which was over and under-utilization of it, and then environment, which is teaching and education on people and everybody with whom you’ve had interaction. It’s very similar to the things that we’ve seen on the two. It’s challenging. You use words like creativity or curiosity, and you go in there to get them to recognize what you’re trying to do, but you want them to draw outside the box. With a lot of companies, they look in their cubicle, silo, or industry, and they don’t look outside to try and reinvent the whole thing. How do you work with people to get them to do that?

I dig into both my background in culture anthropology and my work in the design thinking space. The first book I ever published is a book I edited called Strategic Design Thinking. The goal of that book was it was a collection from practitioners and academics to offer an accessible way for people to think about human-centered innovation, which values prototyping, story, and experimentation.

TTL Natalie Nixon | Applied Creativity
Strategic Design Thinking: Innovation in Products, Services, Experiences and Beyond

How do you go about helping people do that?

One of the big principles in design thinking is the idea of lateral thinking. It’s this notion of what we can learn from near and far adjacencies. The further out we get from sectors, companies, and organizations that play in our space, the more new ideas can be sparked. For example, if you are part of an orthodontics practice and you’re trying to figure out a new way to help people wear braces so that they feel confident and comfortable, you could talk to other orthodontists. You could stay within the dental sector. You could talk to Broadway makeup artists who also have to deal with the role of emotion and appearance and do a lot of facial work around the mouth and the teeth.

Understand what you can learn from that very far tangential space, but still has to deal with similar parts of the face, the body, and the person. That’s a far adjacency. One of the things I recommend that people do, if it’s in the budget and if the culture allows for it, is to not just invite but to incentivize people to go to one conference a year that is totally outside of your sector. If you work in agriculture, go to a conference in secondary education, fashion, or biotech to learn something new.

If you don’t have the budget for that, you can easily incentivize people to attend a webinar once a quarter in a totally different sector. Close the loop by having meetings where people share to show and tell what they learned, what an a-ha moment was, what they figure out that was similar to the way your team approaches things, and what was super different but could be integrated into the way that you work. Those are some accessible hacks to help practice that lateral thinking so that you can learn from people who are outside of your sector and may shine a nice light on problems you’ve been staring at for the past six months.

I was thinking of some of the things Simon Brown at Novartis had shared with me that they do there with some of their training. They incentivize people 100 hours a year and their employees give little mini-TED Talks. There’s no better way to learn something than to teach it.

That’s right.

You find something you’re passionate about. You share it with everybody else, and then you learn more about it. I love that they do that there. We need to see more of that. There are examples that I’ve shared with bicycle companies seeing how other people sell their products and finding out that they aren’t being broken as much as they were when they were shipping them, for example. The only difference between their product and the other product, which was a flatscreen TV, was that they had a flatscreen TV printed on the box. They printed a flatscreen TV on their hybrid bikes and their bikes break a lot less, and it costs them just a couple of pennies.

That’s so interesting. I love that example.

There are so many examples of going outside of your industry to do these things to get some insight. You talk about applying creativity. I’m curious if that’s something different than just being creative. In one of your talks, I noticed you say applied creativity and leadership. How is that different than creativity and leadership?

I use the word “applied” very intentionally so people understand that building a creative capacity has to be an intentional focus. It’s something that we can exercise. It is a competency. It’s not something that some people are just gifted from the skies above like, “I did not get that gene, and other people did.” Absolutely not. To be humanist, to be hardwired, and to be creative is a matter of whether or not you are being intentional about designing time and space to practice that wonder and rigor.

Applied creativity means that you’re redesigning meetings. You’re redesigning the ways that you think about engaging with clients at the onset and interim touchpoints. You’re rethinking who you hire. That could be another intervention point for lateral thinking. Hire an unusual suspect, even on a temporary basis. It could be on a quarterly rotational basis, but something to give you that fresh eyes and perspective to rejuvenate your thinking. These are all important ways to apply creativity. I use that word so people understand that it doesn’t happen through happenstance.

When people understand and accept the effort that it takes to be creative, it’s when they think back to maybe they’ve been athletic. Maybe they have had an artistic practice, learned an instrument when they were younger, and studied dance or actual art. They then understand the rigor that’s required in any creative effort. For me, it’s been dance. I studied dance since I was four years old. Now I take a lot of hip-hop dance classes and ballroom as well.

The Great American choreographer and dancer Twyla Tharp famously wrote in her book, The Creative Habit, “Before you can think out of the box, you must start with the box.” You must know the rules. You must be disciplined to practice incessantly and to have time on task for skill mastery. It’s only then that you can be a LeBron James. It’s only then that you can be a Beyonce, or you can be someone who is like Einstein. He knew the rules of physics that he could be so creative in his experimentation. The rigor is an important part that we can’t forsake.

That ties into my under and over-utilization of technology thing. I use Einstein sometimes as an example when I talk to people. If you just threw him the calculator and then never taught him the box, then he’s only the greatest calculator worker ever. We need to do both sides of that. So much of what you say ties into the same things that I found in all the research I had. When you were talking about getting close, getting far, and looking at it from different perspectives, Dr. Maja Zelihic and I wrote a book about perception. One of the things we talked about in that was how it’s IQ, EQ, CQ for Curiosity Quotient, and CQ for Cultural Quotients combined.

We’re all sitting in different places on this planet. If you’re looking at a piece of artwork, the closer you get, all you see are brush strokes. The farther back you get, you see the bigger picture. Knowing that sweet spot where you’re sitting, everybody is seeing something different. It is very hard at work. A lot of people will ask me, “What if you can’t get somebody or if leaders don’t let you build curiosity or, in your case, creativity at work?” What do you do then if they’re shutting you down?

First of all, I love their point about the need to zoom out. Sometimes that means having that cognitive diversity on a team so everyone brings in different perspectives, experiences, and skillsets. Some of it also means, “Get up and move. Get out of the building.” Literally, circle the issue from a number of different perspectives.

If you’re in a work environment where it feels a bit punitive to raise your hand to extend the typical way you think about things, there are two things that I remind people of. Number one, creativity loves constraints. To say, “We work in a highly regulated environment. We can’t be creative,” I don’t think that that’s an excuse for why you have to dampen your ability or your creative capacity and growth. It’s when we have limitations on budget, on time, and on people’s talent that creativity sparks. That’s not a good reason. The other piece to help us build a creative capacity in a highly regulated environment is to start engaging in more prototyping. Engage in building and on micro levels among 2 or 3 other people in the organization, and a bit of asking forgiveness, not permission.

Creativity loves constraints. Click To Tweet

The reason why prototypes are effective is that they’re cheap. They are not intimidating. You build a shorter runway to fail and to learn. An example of a cheap and easy prototype is a doodle. You literally can doodle a possible interaction, a new type of service delivery, or a new type of technology that you want to try out with stick figures, squares, circles, equal signs, and arrows. You can take a photograph of that scribble scratch and share it with people and ask, “Does this make sense to you? This is what we’re trying to do.”

The whole goal of a prototype is to get clarifying questions. The goal of a prototype is not for people to say, “This is amazing. It’s the best thing since sliced bread.” The goal is for people to poke holes at it. Through their clarifying questions and through the holes that they poke, you’ll be able to understand how to tweak this thing so it gets closer to what people actually need. The goal is not to sell the stuff that we love. The goal is to sell the stuff that people need. It’s going to solve their problems.

Building a culture of prototyping can start in small sections of the organization. It doesn’t have to be a global effort or initiative. It doesn’t have to be a team-based initiative. It can be quite stealthy. Positivity is a contagion. When people begin to say, “This is interesting,” it energizes people and you’ll gradually get buy-in in that way.

You brought up so many good points. I’ve had conversations with Francesca Gino, Amy Edmondson, and people from Forbes that have done a lot of work in this area with teams of collaboration. I know Francesca’s work. A lot of leaders thought they encourage curiosity or probably creativity as well. The perception from employees is a little different than what leaders probably think they’re doing. I know you’ve interviewed 56 people for your book. Did you find that there was a disconnect between what leaders sought and what employees perceived? What was the most interesting thing you found from interviewing all those people?

There definitely is a gap analysis between what leaders think they’re relaying, and then what people actually can do. More of the data is as new as 2023 in terms of understanding the value of creativity from the perspective of managers, the statistic is something like 70% of managers believe that creativity is super important among their employees, but 76% of employees believe that they get minimal time to dive into creative work.

We say one thing but we actually don’t incentivize and allow the space and time for people to build that creative capacity, which is beyond picking up a paintbrush and going to a dance class. Although that’s amazing, I do that myself but as I share in my book, there are a lot of ways to do that. I’ll share two most interesting moments for me. One was when I interviewed Biplab Sarkar who is the CEO of Vectorworks, which is a tech software company. He has a PhD in Electrical Engineering.

In every interview in terms of the qualitative research process, I would always ask the same question so that I can begin to see the pattern that emerges from people’s answers. There was going to be a moment in our conversation when I would ask the following question, “Would you share a story about a time when you used your intuition to make a strategic decision?” As I got closer to knowing I was going to ask that question, I was getting a little nervous because I thought, “This is a tech company. This guy has a PhD in Electrical Engineering.”

My assumption, which happened to be wrong, is he’s very linear thinking and he has no time for intuition. I was so wrong. He waxes poetically about the ways that he listens to his intuition. He uses his intuition in conjunction with big data and Excel sheets. That was an interesting moment that challenged my own assumptions. It showed how people who are perceived to think in one way, at least my perception was they were perceived and trained to think in a very lockstep-only logical way, were very open to sometimes their rationality that presents itself when we have this intuitive nudge.

The other interesting interview was when I interviewed Celine Barel who is a Nose. She’s a perfumer at International Flavors & Fragrances. I was able to visit her on the job at work and spent a day with her. She described her work in the following way. She said, “My superpower is my ability to make real no longer exist. I thought, “That’s an amazing way to think about the role of scent.” If I smell a certain aftershave, I’m forgetting the name of it, but it’s something that my dad always wore. It reminds me of my father, who passed away.

Old Spice.

Thank you. Old Spice reminds me of my father. The other thing she said is, “The work that I do in designing scent for perfumes is I’m balancing chemistry and intuition,” which I thought was an interesting insight. There were so many cool people I was able to talk to in exploring the ways creativity shows up in their work.

That made me think of that movie. Did you see that movie? He was obsessed with her scent, and he created all these scents. I can’t remember it. That was a great movie. I’d have to think of it.

Let me know. I love perfume.

It’s an old movie, and it’s in the old time setting. It was an interesting movie. It’s fascinating to get a lot of different people’s perspectives on anything. That’s one of the reasons I do the show. I’ve had Daniel Goleman and some amazing people that you could find out because I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence. I was fascinated to hear his perspective on curiosity.

As we pursue different aspects of what other people can teach us, we never want to be the smartest person in the room. That’s why we’re here, so I could have somebody around me who’s smarter than I am in different areas. I love that because we all have areas in which we can grow. A lot of leaders and people, in general, are afraid of that. How can we get people to feel more confident about doing that kind of thing with mentorship?

I look at the mentorship happening outside of the job. It’s something I call becoming a clumsy student of anything. It should be something that sparks your interest, makes you smile, and makes something that you want or looking forward to. It could be learning to play chess or back-end, learning auto mechanics, or gardening. In my case, maybe it was the start of the pandemic or right before the pandemic started, I started diving into ballroom dance. One of the many things that I love about being a student of ballroom dance is that I am not the smartest person in the room. I’m constantly learning not only from my instructors but from my peers. We’re all at different levels. For some people, things come to them easily. Other people are struggling in the same way that I am.

One way to view mentorship is something that is happening outside of the job and becoming a clumsy student of anything. Click To Tweet

Maybe if I can be helpful, I’m figuring out a different way. How do I understand? How am I doing this? How can I translate this? The people who have mastered certain aspects of the technique sharpen the three Is for me. It helps me to get a lot braver at asking questions and raising my hand. It helps me to be much more experimental and improvisational. It also requires me to follow my intuition.

I had a private lesson, and my instructor said, “Keep going. You’re thinking too much about it. You have to keep pushing through.” There are so many life lessons that I can apply to my daily work. From my perspective, work is increasingly becoming inside-out. The fact that both of us are in our home offices, we get a peek into the personal domains of our lives while we’re also talking about our profession and our expertise. Increasingly, the companies that are going to be attractive to people will be the ones that allow for that personal dimension of themselves to show up, and for managers and leaders to be curious about that.

Encouraging people to be clumsy students of something outside of the work at hand will tie back into productivity on the job. About a year into studying ballroom dance, I was on a call with a new client and they were throwing around all these acronyms. I thought, “I guess I should know what they’re talking about. I have no idea what they’re talking about.” Finally, I excused myself and said, “I have a clarifying question. What is the X, Y, Z, and the A, B, C?” One of them said, “What does that mean? We forgot what that meant.”

They don’t even know.

We can’t be afraid to ask the question. The world will not come to a screeching halt. Being a clumsy student in our personal lives builds those competencies in our work.

Most of the things we worry will happen won’t happen again. You’ve thrown in a word a few times about improvisation. One of the things I did to make myself a little more uncomfortable was to take an improv class. That was the most fun thing. I take tap dance and I do a lot of the things.

I’m horrible at tap dancing. Maybe I should try to do it.

I’m terrible at it but I love it. I rock climb. I do a lot of different things. I’m very bad at a lot of different things. I’d rather be bad at a lot. It’s like the book range. You get a little bit of range, but maybe learned a lot from this and maybe not so much from that, but it makes everything else better. A lot of people, especially in my generation, the Boomers did something for twenty years and they’re already at the top of their knowledge of what they should know. They don’t want to take that risk of starting over, not knowing everything and not looking like they know it all. That’s the biggest growth you can have. Break it and start all over again. Don’t you think?

Yes. To share about being bad at a lot of different things and the role of aging, I did something this summer that I have never done before in my life, and it stretched me. I learned so much about myself. I learned so much about the thing we were doing. What I tried was open-water swimming. I didn’t grow up competitively swimming, but I’ve always loved the water. I’m a good swimmer. A friend of mine did this program called Swim Trek one summer. When she came back, she told me, “You would love this. You got to try it.” Do you know how people who like to golf or bicycle organized cycling or golf trips? These people like to swim and have organized swimming trips around the world in the ocean, in the sea.

That’s the only problem I have with that. Are sharks involved?

I did not know. I did it in Greece.

I’m everything for that.

They’re going to dump us into the middle of the Mediterranean. I had no idea what to expect. One of my friends from my ballroom community joined me. First of all, it was marvelous. Second of all, on the first day, I was the slowest person when they were timing. I was a wreck because I thought I’m going to slow everybody down. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this. This is going to be hard. It was because I was comparing myself to others. I panicked in the water and I couldn’t catch my breath cadence.

The next day, I’m in the slower group, and I keep getting ahead with the other person. The guide is like, “Natalie, just slow down. This other person is behind you.” By the end of the day, they resorted the groups and they ended up putting me in the fast group. What happened to me on that day of getting acclimated was that it turns out that the way you swim open water is this long and slow extended strokes, so I got used to that. The oldest person in the group was 73 years old with a hearing aid. The youngest person was 28. The average age was 62. Just to bond with people who were interested in experiential tourism and to stretch ourselves in a beautiful environment, I learned so much.

I would love that. I was a competitive swimmer as a kid, and I would love it. I pushed myself with scuba diving because I’m not crazy about the beasts in the water thing and the 60 feet underwater when sharks were going by my face.

There were schools of tiny little fish.

Greece is a little different. I did that in Turks and Caicos. Elvis was the name of the Barracuda that hung there. He went by my face a few times, and we dove at a place called Trace Land. You got to try it to know you don’t like it. That’s how I was with ziplining. I did things that I thought, “This isn’t going to make me super happy, but I’m going to try it.” You have to keep doing it. You see what you like and pick and choose.

We tell ourselves that we’re not going to like things from our childhood that we tried and had bad experiences maybe with, or what our family said weren’t fun things to do or good things to do. We got to try it. I would love ballroom dancing. I would love all the things that you were saying. Rock climbing is one of my favorite things. I don’t love doing it outdoors because it’s a little more dangerous so I do more indoors. You could find the balance of the things that you like. You and I would have a lot of fun. You come here and tap. I’ll go there and swim.

Please try to ballroom. I’ll send you information about Swim Trek. You would love it.

That would be fun. I want to make sure before we go that we touched on everything that you’re working and doing right now that you’d like to share. What do you want everybody to know in our last couple of minutes? Do you have a website or something you’d like to share?

First of all, thank you for inviting me to share ideas with you. I loved our conversation. I would love people to check out my work at What’s new on the horizon for me is over the next year, I’ll be working on my next book. My next book will be around something that’s tentatively titled Invisible Work. I wrote an article for Fast Company about this. It’s not the gendered feminist version of Invisible Work.

What I’m talking about is that in a time of ubiquitous tech, unprecedented burnout, and being able to work in hybrid ways, our most productive selves are not when we’re on the laptop, on Zoom, and the whiteboard. Our most productive selves are when we step away and when we engage in what I call MTR activities that relate to movement, deep thought, and rest.

My overarching what-if question is, “What if it turns out we can be as productive when we’re away from the office as when we’re at the office?” That’s the spark for the book. I’ll be interviewing a lot of different people about this idea, and digging into the neuroscience of things like the vagus nerve, interception, and perception. This is hopefully a provocation for a new metric for productivity, especially in a very changing time. That’s what I’m working on.

That’s fascinating. I was a pharmaceutical rep for a long time, so I love the science behind all that stuff. I can’t wait to read that. That will be terrific.

Thank you.

This was so much fun, Natalie. Thank you so much for joining me on the show. I hope everybody takes some time to check out your work.

Thank you, Diane. Appreciate it.

You’re welcome.


Important Links


About Natalie Nixon

TTL Natalie Nixon | Applied CreativityCreativity strategist Natalie Nixon is “the creativity whisperer to the C-Suite”. She’s been selected as one of the Top 50 Keynote Speakers in the World and is valued for her accessible expertise on creativity, the future of work and innovation. Natalie helps organizations reframe their futures by applying foresight, wonder and rigor to amplify growth and business value. Marketing guru Seth Godin has said that Natalie “helps you get unstuck and unlock the work you were born to do!”; and Jessi Hempel, host of LinkedIn’s “Hello Monday” podcast called Natalie “a personal trainer for your creativity muscle.”


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