Steps to Creative Processes and Innovation


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“Keith Richards,” I blurted out.  My answer was viewed comically rather than with the seriousness in which I had intended.

“Let me explain,” I continued. “Keith Richards is a lot like Steve Jobs.” Eye-rolling and snickers around the conference table increased.Keith Richards

I proceeded to build my case.  “He is recognized the world over. He is an icon in his field.  He is considered a creative legend and a perfectionist. People are honored to collaborate with him.  He labors for days, months and years, losing sleep, sweating the details, getting it just right. He was raised by hard-working, blue-collar parents. He wasn’t considered a great student; and while he attended college, he didn’t graduate. Like Jobs and Wozniak, his early career was highlighted by collaboration with his creative partner Mick Jagger but success led to strains in that relationship. Despite some public battles and separations, the partnership maintained a working association over the years.”  By now, my team started to realize I was serious.

Think about someone who has created some of the world’s most recognized guitar riffs from a core love of the blues. In his best-selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins emphasizes a key business philosophy in transforming an organization from being good to greatness: “Preserve the Core, Stimulate Progress.”  From a rhythm-and-blues base, the Stones would successfully navigate decades; and incorporate reggae, funk, country and even disco into their music, without compromising their essence.  Clearly Keith Richards is a creative and innovation legend.  “What can a poor boy do, except play in a rock-n-roll band?”

Hard work, teamwork and uniqueness are hallmarks of the Rolling Stones and provide some great lessons for the innovators among us. A couple of reflections on the creative process and innovation on these topics from Life, Keith’s autobiography:

Hard Work 

Keith describes a deep commitment to learning, experimenting and playing.  “Every waking hour of every day was just sitting in front of the speakers, trying to figure out how those blues were made. You collapsed on the floor with a guitar in your hands. That was it. You never stop learning an instrument, but at that time it was still very much searching about.”

We often admire the finished product or outcome, but we fail to see the behind-the-scenes process and sweat that went into the achievement.  The classic “Start Me Up” is a song that took years and plenty of starts and stops for the Stones to get just right.


The Stones style featured a guitar approach which Keith refers to as the “Ancient Art of Weaving.”  It involves the blending of a lead and a rhythm guitar in such a manner that both duties are shared and woven into an intricate tapestry of rock-n-roll. “You realize what you can do playing guitar with another guy, and what the two of you can do is to the power of ten, and then you add other people. There’s something beautifully friendly and elevating about a bunch of guys playing music together. This wonderful little world that is unassailable. It’s really teamwork, one guy supporting the others, and it’s all for one purpose….”

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards began their partnership in 1960 when Richards approached Jagger about some blues albums he was carrying.  Their commitment to what the team can accomplish is stronger than their personal differences of opinion or styles. Perhaps they just recognize that when together they are genius. As individuals, perhaps they can’t get no satisfaction, but as a team they try, try, try.

Be Unique

One cannot innovate by following the pack. “The Beatles are all over the place like a…. bag of fleas, right? And you’ve got another good band. The thing is not to try and regurgitate the Beatles. So we’re going to have to be the anti-Beatles. We’re not going to be the Fab Four….”

By the time The Rolling Stones released their first song, the Beatles were well known and touring in America. Many other “British Invasion” bands of the 60’s modeled their approach and music to follow and capitalize on the Beatles success. The Stones however, took a different approach and uncovered a uniqueness that has lasted a lifetime.

Look up uniqueness in a dictionary and you might just find a picture of Keith Richards – and I mean that with all the respect my creative hero deserves.

So, who are Your Creative Heroes?


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