Embrace the Messy Part!

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Messy is good.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal talks about leadership and creativity (one of my favorite topics, and the focus of my keynote program The Emmy Effect: How to Develop and Lead Award Winning Talent and Teams). In the article, author Justin Brady says:

[quote]Most leaders talk about creativity (or its cousin, innovation) without understanding what it is and how it happens. The process of real creativity is messy, chaotic, sometimes even disgusting, and it reeks of failure, experimentation and disorganization. Because of this, most leaders don’t actually want creativity, they just want the results of it. [emphasis mine][/quote]

In an earlier post, I talked about how my UPS guy lied to me when he said “I always wanted to learn how to play the piano.” Why is that a lie? Because he doesn’t really want to learn how to play the piano (there are plenty of teachers out there); he just wants to be able to play the piano. Learning is the messy part, and he doesn’t want that. He just wants the results.

Motivational Speaker Bill Stainton
Virtually any achievement has a messy part. The trials, the failed attempts, the ideas that didn’t pan out, the money lost, the sleepless nights, the revisions, the renewed commitment, and then, eventually, the achievement. The problem is, the rest of us never see the messy part. We just see the achievement and say (with thanks to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon), “I want to go to there!”

Leaders, if you really want your team to create innovative solutions, if you want them to invent high-profit products and services, if you want them to produce unreasonable results, you have to embrace the messy part! And I don’t mean “acknowledge,” or “tolerate,” or even “accept.” I mean embrace! The messy part is an indication of progress. It’s a necessary part of the process!

Have you ever seen a baby being born? Pretty amazing achievement, isn’t it? Now, if you were asked to describe the process in just one word, you might think of words like “miraculous” or “momentous.” But you and I both know that “messy” is going to be in the Top 5!

Look, I get it. It’s natural to “just want the results.” It’s natural to want to wake up and magically be able to play the piano. It’s naturally to want to go to work and see that your team has magically invented the next iPad. It’s natural to want to walk out your front door and see that a brand new Mercedes CL600 Coupe has magically appeared in your driveway overnight. It’s natural. It’s just not realistic.

Right now you’re at Point A. Eventually you want to be at Point B. To get there, you have to learn to love the part in the middle. You have to learn to embrace the messy part!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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  • Touche’! I keep waiting for “Three Simple Steps to…” to come without the fine print that reminds you that achievement also requires eight skinned knees, one fight with the wife, and a pinch of bat guano. It never does.


  • Bill Stainton says:

    Isn’t that the truth, Roger! Especially the bat guano!

  • Justin Brady says:

    Hi Bill, thanks for riffing off my quote, I love the UPS Guy story. Great follow up post!

    ~Justin Brady

  • Bill Stainton says:

    Hi Justin – I just had to quote you, because I couldn’t improve on what you said. You put into words so clearly and succinctly what I’ve observed from studying and working with hundreds of organizations. Thanks for your nice comment, and for providing the inspiration!

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