Miles ahead creatively

I’ve often looked at Miles Davis as the grand daddy of creative growth.

Not so much because of his creative accomplishment (which were certainly grand), but because of the way he surrounded himself with youth.  And the older he got, the younger were his side men.

I don’t care if you never heard this master trumpet player, if you listen to most any samplings of his work; from his early career to middle years to his swan songs, so to speak, you’d have to be totally tone deaf not to hear his creative growth.

He probably had many secrets to his continuous development.  (Let’s hope it wasn’t the heroine.)  But the one thing that always impressed me was the way he continually recruited youth to assist him in his creative exploration.  His steady stream of pianists alone included some of jazz’ biggest names, usually before they reached their prime.  Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Kieth Jarrett, Chick Corea and others.

Who do you surround yourself with in your creative pursuits?  The same old gang?  Hey, I don’t want to break up your bowling group, but maybe you need to consider tapping into the creative energy of a younger generation.  (That is, unless you are the kids.  In which case you’ve got your own creative issues to deal with.)

I’m not saying hanging with the kids is the only way to maintain a creative vigor.  But if you ever need a shot…

With experience comes the danger to use it too much.  Creative challenges, often by definition, mean the ready answer doesn’t apply.  The youth connection is one way to keep the creative energy high.

Look at Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Edison, and their constant flow of apprentices.  Don’t be so quick to assume who  the teacher was.We  addressing this a lot in this blog.  In a comment on an earlier post about NBA coaching legend, Red Auerbach, Fan of the Green tells of how this creative genius used to elicit his players advice in key game situations.  In the post about Beatles producer George Martin we talked about his youthfulness, but we didn’t stress his collaborators; from the Fab Four to his son, Giles, as Sir George grew older, his “side men” always seemed to be in their 20’s, maybe 30’s.  Hmm.

I spent many years in the advertising business.  Isn’t it funny how the great agencies so often had a creative kingpin at the top surrounded by an ever-changing array of fresh young talent.

In most of the fast track companies I serve as a creative thinking coach the youth movement is so very apparent.  Conversely, about 10 years ago I recall a Polaroid executive telling me how after a wave of layoffs the average age of the company went from 42 to 46.  Ouch.  And where is Polaroid today?

I don’t bring all of this up to suggest the more senior business people need to think about less creatively demanding careers.  I say it to offer encouragement to align yourself with youth, literally or figuratively, to stay vital yourself.

I gave my age-defying wife a birthday card last year.  It said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”  In return I got a kiss reminiscent of old days in the back of the VW bug.

Again, what are you doing to stay fresh?  I also ask, dear blog reader, do you have any examples of other creative giants you want to add to the discussions; people, or companies for that matter, who believed in the youthful energy and benefited from it?