Erik Wahl is an internationally recognized artist who ignites the stage with his incredible paintings, messages and energy. He’s a two-time #1 Bestselling Author with “Unthink – Rediscover Your Creative Genius” – which CEO Reads named Book of The Year, and with his second title, “The Spark and The Grind: Ignite the Power of Disciplined Creativity”.
He installed a 10,000 sq. ft Mona Lisa in a desert near L.A., created a treasure hunt game called “Art Drop” where he would hide paintings somewhere in a city for the lucky finder to keep, and Erik was selected as a TED speaker for TED2012.His art is not for sale, but rather is auctioned off at his events, and his paintings have also raised over $1.5M for charities.
In this conversation, Chris and Erik talk about several areas that Erik is an expert in, including: Creativity, Innovation, Design, Adapting, Problem Solving, Risk, Anxiety, and reigniting our passion for life and our passion for inspiring others.
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
Erik Wahl – Legendary Artist Shares The Secrets To Creativity – Virtually Speaking
Joining me is Erik Wahl. He is certainly one of the hottest speakers in the country and has been for the past decade-plus. He’s an internationally recognized artist who ignites the stage with his incredible paintings, messages, and energy. He’s a best-selling author who wrote the New York Times number one bestseller UNthink – Rediscover Your Creative Genius which was named CEO Reads Book of the Year. He created a 10,000 square foot Mona Lisa in a desert near LA. In 2012, he was selected as a speaker for TED2012. His art is not for sale but rather auctioned off at his events and his paintings have raised over $1.5 million for charities. Erik and I talk about creativity, innovation, design, adapting, problem-solving, risk, anxiety, reigniting our passion for life, and inspiring others. Join me with Erik Wahl.
Erik Wahl, thank you for joining me. How the heck are you doing?
I’m doing well, Chris. Thanks for the opportunity to be here and to share with your valued customers, friends, family and speakers. I’m honored to be here.
Thank you so much. I was excited that you could do it. You’ve always been one of my absolute favorite speakers and thought leaders. When I got into this business years ago, you were already one of the hottest speakers and you still are. You’re speaking more than ever. You’ve had two best-selling books since then. You’re world-famous. It’s amazing what you’ve done. I was having breakfast with my twin boys. They have their own easels and they’re painting like all the time like, “Do you want to go on a bike ride?” “Yes.” “What else do you want to do?” “I want to paint.” They want to paint. They love it. They’re painting trees now. I got a Father’s Day gift from them and they did it.
Masterpieces. Those are brilliant. I love it. I can see their energy right in their hands. That’s fantastic, Chris.
Thanks, man.Desperation is the mother of invention. Click To Tweet
A quick side note before we get into our stuff. With your boys, one of the things that I recommend is to commission them. Tell your boys, “If you guys paint me a picture of what you want to be when you grow up, I’ll take you out for ice cream. If you paint me a picture of how you feel about your mom, we’ll go and take you to Chuck E. Cheese or I’ll take you on that bike ride.” That’s one thing I’ve recommended to parents with their kids. “How do I encourage my kids? They’re so creative and disciplined.” You act as almost their broker. You commissioned them to do artwork for you and then give them dad dates or father-son dates once they complete them. Have fun with those boys. That’ll be a good activity for you guys.
Does that instill a sense of entrepreneurialism or creativity on the spot having to think on your toes?
What it does is reward creativity. As they begin schooling, they’re going to get better grades for doing their spelling or doing their writing right or how they read. They’re going to be affirmed plenty for that but we don’t have a good system for affirming, measuring creativity, or problem-solving. That’s why I do it as a practice for young kids to continue working out those muscles in their mind. For you, as their dad to be there to help draw and facilitate it out. All of the problem-solving portion of their mind is aided through the act of simply drawing, painting, writing and all of those elements. It’s fun to do and you encourage it with your boys and then bring those ideas with you into work. You’re going to come up with some cool ideas when you have those creative muscles flexing. Paint with your boys. There’s a lot of fun things that can be happening, especially when they’re young. What a great age to be exploring.
Thank you. That is incredible advice. I love that. I’m going to do that. They already started learning the value of money and I called it a bribe in my mind because I was telling them to clean something up and I was like, “Do you want to make $0.05?” They’re like, “Yes.” $0.05 still means something. The Art of Vision is your brand and then you’ve had your two books, which are The Spark and The Grind and UNthink. This is amazing that I can ask the man this question. The Art of Vision, what does it mean?
It’s the act of seeing differently. To be able to see what everyone else sees logically with their eyes but to come to a different conclusion or different execution of ideas. In The Art of Vision, I do painting, sculpting, photography, and a lot of writing. That’s where these books have come from, my blogging that I’ve done, and the professional speaking that I do. All of them are vehicles or channels by which to get ideas out to the masses in different forms. Not everyone reads books anymore. That was popular back when we were young. Now, I’m making videos. Not everyone is able to attend a keynote speaking session for a lot of the private corporations or associations.
I’ve figured out other ways to be able to get information out. Social media has been an incredible form of being able to platform or share content distribution without needing to mitigate or barrier it off. These different vehicles and mediums by which to channel ideas and information now to even interact with. On social media, I can post up a piece of art, people can comment on it, or we can talk about who are the great leaders we’ve experienced. Because of technology, all of the arts, I’ve been activated in an entirely new way. Everything has been disruptive for some artists and speakers but it’s been very welcoming to a whole new brand of artists and speakers who are embracing the augmented reality, virtual reality, and virtually speaking. There’s a lot of cool things that we’re on the run the precipice of some cool breakthroughs that are happening or about to happen that are very exciting.
That’s something that you talk about a lot as a speaker is the atrophy of skills that we’ve had as a young kid have gone away and then we get away from being able to believe in ourselves to create or innovate using creativity you say, as a lens, which I love. That’s what you’re talking about. People are in these situations where the world around us is changing and they’re scared to change or they don’t know how to innovate, change or disrupt with the changes.
It is hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it but there’s a lot of uncertainty. Let’s take specifically the global pandemic where we’ve fast-forwarded many years because we had to reinvent ourselves. Desperation is the mother of invention. We had to figure out new ways to operate our businesses. It was forced disruption, created new ideas, or new ways of communicating. The forced disruption created Airbnb, Uber or Instagram. It forces us to see things differently. Once we see things differently, we’re able to operate from a new upgraded system across all platforms so that there is great disruption. That’s why I don’t fault people for being anxious about the chaos that’s going on because it really is chaotic, especially right now.
We’ve got three diseases and I define diseases as dis-ease. We’ve got the global health pandemic, which is a disease, physical and health disease, challenging all of us to operate differently. We’ve got economic dis-ease or disease with trade situations with China and other countries. We’ve got the potential stock market and real estate bubbles and some real uneasiness in the financial markets where we’re uncertain creating a dis-ease in the future of what all of our platforms are going to look like. We’ve got the dis-ease socially and politically where we’ve got some friction that needs to be worked out and it’s not going to be ironed out easily. November 8th of this 2020, half the country is going to be pissed regardless of who wins. We’re going to have tremendous friction that’s going to continue.
It’s not going to all of a sudden dissolve once we have a new leader or the same leader doing the same old patterns. There’s going to be social and political disruption in disease. There’s a perfect storm of dis-eases that we’re working towards that. We’ve got to still operate, run our businesses, and look for ways to not just survive but angle off into thrive even that we know these are complicated issues, challenging issues, or emotional issues for many of us. I respect that everyone is anxious or uncertain at this time. I’m looking for ways that now, this is the backdrop. Now that we acknowledge this, we don’t need to touch on it anymore. We can talk about what the potential in the future can look like going forward and affirm people where were that, where they’re at, and where they can ultimately go.
Getting back to your kids of how we raise our children, how we affirm our children, or our workforce is we’re starting to flex those creative muscles. You used the word atrophy. That’s right because our children migrate towards that which they’re affirmed for. They’re affirmed for Spelling and History. If you can affirm them for being creative, what that does is it gives us adaptation of the mind, mental agility, or flexibility in our problem-solving. Those artistic skills end up showing up when things get uncertain in the future when we face a blank canvas in the future. There’s not coloring by lines.
We’ve got to figure things out for ourselves and that’s the dynamic intelligence that the art skills and creative problem-solving skills. The skills that entrepreneurs and businesses are going to be using is the adaptive vision to be able to adjust to the landscape and to think like people haven’t thought before. It’s an anxious time and it created a tremendous opportunity for those who are able to step into the uncertainty with confidence. It’s game-on for those of us who are ballers who want to be in the industry, and making change happen for the future.
Talk a little bit more about how you do that or how you think about it. I know you said something very interesting. This is something you can learn and you don’t have to be born with. It’s creativity and the ability to be innovative and think disruptively. Is this something you can teach people? It’s a practiced thing that you become better at or something that people can do these steps. All of a sudden, they’ll be doing it the right way to fix these problems and innovate.
Yes, it can be taught and it takes time and practice to develop. It is a mindset and how we view the world. A lot of times, we view the world out of anxiety, uncertainty or even fear. If we’re able to name those things, which cause us dis-ease or anxiety, it takes away some of their power and it moves us over. In this COVID pandemic, we’ve all had a lot of time to ourselves. More time than we’ve ever had to work on our own issues to look at what the future is going to be and we still don’t have a crystal ball for what this is going to look like down the road. The one thing I can almost assure people is it’s going to look remarkably different than you thought it was going to so just being able to be adaptive.Once we see things differently, we can operate from a new, upgraded system across all platforms. Click To Tweet
One of the ways that I pull this all back to a state of consciousness, it’s how we view the world. If we view the world logically, linearly, and algorithmically, then we see a time-lapse as a straight line. It’s difficult to think in a 365-degree view. However, if we understand that these are the rules, this is the gravity or science for how we exist and how we know what we know, but we’re able to get around that and we start to see outside, under, or around the box elements. What we see is a place of abundance. A lot of times, when we’re thinking out of a place of linear thinking, who consumed with our fears, anxieties, uncertainties where our mind shuts down to its most almost lizard brain reptilian reaction to what’s going on around us.
This is in an operating systems of scarcity. Whereas when we step outside of it even only for a moment, we start to experience gratitude which cannot co-exist with fear. We start to experience different ideas and new ways to view some of these old patterns. We start to view the world from abundance. The simple operating system that we can make right now, we can choose to see the world from a consciousness of abundance and expanded mindset or we can continue to, “I’m so worried about what’s going to happen in the markets, who’s going to be the president or if I’m going to get COVID.”
All are valid concerns but when we allow those to be overly consuming, our mental agility tends to shrink to the point where it’s a speck on a board where a robot is doing the things that we cannot do to be able to differentiate from the competition for which to be able to create unique value for our customers or as an employee. As we’re talking about value in technology, the increase in technology across the board leaves us in a place where anything that can be automated will become automated. That’s not a hot take. We all know that everything that can be automated will be automated. What are we doing? What are you doing? What am I doing to make sure that we are indispensable?
The value-add in an increasingly automated world, how are you making your bureau value content through trust and human connection? What am I doing as an artist and as a presenter to create human value that my work or message becomes irreplaceable? What are employees doing where they make themselves irreplaceable? That they can’t be outsourced to automation, machine or to a robot. We need to learn to read, write, or do arithmetic, yet beyond that, make yourself indispensable or make what you do remarkable. Don’t worry about being perfect but be remarkable. For your kids, for my kids, for your employees, my employees, our clients, our customers, your customers, attendees and their audiences that very real connection to differentiate competitively. What is everyone in the room doing to make themselves irreplaceable and indispensable in a world that’s becoming increasingly automated?
Those are some of the complex heady issues that I love but then attacking them with a lot of interaction, humor, or colloquial stories. For me, I use speed painting, music, lights, and sound to wake up senses. More senses than the head. If you can drop an idea from someone’s head, we’re cerebrally thinking about something down into their heart whether they’re emotionally connected to it or it resonates with them. Nostalgia or humor is a very good way to do that. There’s a lot of channels for which you’ll be able to access people’s head and heart at the same time. Use those skills in combination with each other to unlock new thinking to new potential.
The reason why I love performing so much is because you watch light bulbs come on in people’s eyes. It’s not because I said it’s brilliant. It’s because I unlocked something where I’m holding up a mirror and all of a sudden, they see themselves as brilliant. Those a-ha’s internally where they get excited for themselves. What I enjoy is that I’m a messenger as a mirror to showing the audience what they’re capable of when they expand their consciousness. I like it when people read my books, they do the deep dive into the content, material, research and development, but there’s no substitute for live performance.
We’re watching bands on our computer screen or watching concerts and it’s good. We’re also waiting and longing for the day when we can hop back in the pit and be shoulder-to-shoulder with our brethren watching our favorite bands and feeling those emotions. In the meantime, we’re looking for ways to connect and remain relevant virtually. I hope there is a way down the line that we’re able to make our live venues healthy and safe once again. I’m looking forward to it. I know a lot of your meeting planners, audiences are looking forward to it as well. It’s nice to have some placeholders. We’re doing some WebEx, Zoom or Skype conferences. We’re all trying to figure this new chapter out until we get back to live. We’re going to be exploring a lot of cool new venues like this.
The innovation that you were talking about is going to be very necessary and how everybody figures out how it’s going to happen. Everybody shares the same message that you gave, which is we all want to get back to live. Everybody wants to be in-person. Virtual is probably something that they can offer now for anybody who can’t make it, they’ll be better at it, and have better conferences because of it. If there’s a guy they want like the Bill Maher’s show, he brings in people on the screen sometimes. In the old days, he used to do that when he couldn’t get them and it works.
If it’s not the entire conference and you bring in an amazing guy like a celebrity who everybody is going to get excited about being them from Dubai or wherever he or she may be, it’s cool. There’ll be a hybrid version and I definitely think that everybody wants to get back to live. Expanding, contracting, and adapting is what it’s all about. Those are your words. I wrote them down. I remembered them. Expand, contract, and adapt is what everybody has to do in the industry we’re in but in any industry. Expand on those words.
Expand into possibility, contract into execution, and then repeat. What a lot of us have been trained to do is to focus and execute. It causes very lean six companies. There are great operational efficiencies when we focus, execute. If we don’t expand into possibility, contract, focus, and execute, we lose a lot of options. We’re losing the forest for the trees. It’s a very intentional and purposeful technique of expanding into possibility, contracting into executing, figure it, adapt, move, adjust, expand, contract, and execute. It’s a very successful formula that we use with artists, executives, sales, service professionals, and manufacturing. That whole process of igniting your mind like being a catalyst to trigger for your mind to open, expand, contract, and focus next to you.
That’s why I wrote The Spark and The Grind. It’s because not a lot of artists or creative speakers will talk about that expansive vision, the mind-opening wonderment of creativity. It’s fantastic, but that’s not going to pay the bills. You’ve got to figure out how to humanize that brand or idea. You’ve got to be able to build trust, to market, to share, or to scale. All of those things can’t be done when we’re expanding. Those are all done in the contracting portion. In Hemingway, he had a quote that was, “Write drunk, edit sober.” He used artificial substances by which to be able to expand his mind and wandering.
No artists have ever done that.
It was only Hemingway. I bring him up tongue in cheek. For those who like fun analogies, that would be one where it’s right, open and close. You are dividing up those processes to be able to create the best possible outcome on the backend.
Do you do that when you’re painting?If we don't expand into possibility, contract, focus, and execute, we could lose a lot of options. Click To Tweet
I do that when I’m painting or when I’m presenting even while live. One of the reasons why I love live presenting so much is I’m adapting not every 10 to 12 minutes but after everything that I say and how I say it. I’m watching and reading the audience. They’re looking for more content. They want more data. They’re not impressed with that story. They want to do the deep dive into competitively what does that mean for them now? I will adjust the content or I’ll shape the content on the fly. I’ll expand out into possibility and then contract into execution. When I’m writing my books, my blogs, creating a painting in my studio at home, I step back. I take a look at the whole thing once again and then back into, “I need to round off that chin so that it sinks back into the face and looks more photo-realistic.” Expand back out, come back in, and contract. It’s the process that I’m using again and again.
Musicians will do it. They’ll lay down a track, they’ll sit back, and they’ll listen to it. Expand, contract, and back in like, “I need to hit this on the eighth note or pull this one out.” There’s a lot of editing, contracting, and executing. All of those words are synonymous with productivity, but that productivity without creativity is not going to get you as far as when they’re melded together as a homogenous blend in one soup.
How do you decide what guys or girls you’re going to be painting? You mostly paint people when you’re doing the live events.
I do. For some specific reasons, I’m painting as a hook for the audience. The reason that I choose to paint for live performance is based on three core elements. One, the demographic of the audience. I’m wanting to select a person as well as music and video that they all can relate to. This isn’t meant to be a controversial or provocative painting. What I’m looking to do is find the common core. The element that we all have in the connection so this can lift and light them up. The second is the actual content of what I’m speaking about. I’m going to be speaking about leadership. If I’m going to be speaking more on service or adapting to change, that will change the nature of who I’m painting. The final one is the relatability to where in the show.
I would open with something more energetic and fun like The Rolling Stones or U2, or generic to pull everyone in as a hook to give them something that they haven’t seen before. To watch someone paint Bono live in 3 minutes and 13 seconds. It’s a fun experience but then, I need that as a catalyst to jump into the actual content of the presentation and the conclusion of the show. I’ve used this canvas. I’ve made a lot of different painting strokes or sketches on it to reinforce different take-homes that I want the audience to refer to. At the dramatic conclusion of the presentation, the music comes back on and I complete the painting, but I complete it that the audience thinks it’s all going logically in one direction. At the end of the show, I flip the painting upside down to reveal an entirely different portrait than what they were expecting.
I can see that a-ha moment where all of our minds come together. We realized that creativity, the competitive advantage, the opportunity, all lies in the ability to see what everyone else sees logically. To see or anticipate the direction that we thought this image was going to go, but then be able to twist it, flip it upside down, and to think like no one has ever thought before. To reveal a portrait of success that no one has ever achieved before. There’s a lot of heart, health, and environmental issues that I use in the painting. All of that goes into the selection of who I choose to paint. It’s going to ignite content and the audience to a new level of experiences.
I’ve seen that happen. It’s mind-blowing and it’s gorgeous. Who were some of your favorite guys and girls that you’ve painted over the years? You said U2 and The Rolling Stone. How many people do you have? Is it as simple as remembering what somebody looks like? Do you have 100 ready to go at any time that you can pull from?
I’ve got 40 or 50 in my arsenal that I would use for different reasons. If I’m in the Northeast, I may swing towards a Bruce Springsteen. If I’m speaking in the Midwest or the South, I’m going to pull a country figure. It would be music that people would be able to identify or relate to. I do play often customize there but a lot of what I’m doing is rehearsal. It takes me about 3 to 6 months to put an idea or image from a photo into live performance painting completed in three minutes. My first version takes me 3 to 4 hours to paint and then I simplify it, extract it out, I get it down, and I do it again. I get it down to 1 hour, 45 minutes, 14 minutes and then simplify it so I can get it in 3 minutes or 13 seconds like John Lennon’s image. We’re going to put song for 3 minutes and 15 seconds but it’s a meaningful song. To have that music playing, these images and then the picture of John Lennon appear, it’s a magical moment that I love being able to create that takes the whole story to a new level. I enjoy it.
It’s great because I don’t think a lot of speakers enjoy speaking as much as you do because you’re performing. You’ve got that real interaction with the audience. There’s a lot of giving back. There’s a lot of emotion in the air and audience members are connecting with you maybe more so, more deeply or emotionally than they would with somebody who’s speaking and saying amazing things but doesn’t have that extra added element of entertainment that you have which is cool about what you do. I was also thinking to myself, have you got to meet any of the people you’ve ever painted? Any cool stories there where you painted somebody and then you were with them in a room and they’re like, “I heard you paint me.” How did that go?
I’ve performed with Magic Johnson. He did the opening keynote. I did the closing keynote. I did a painting of him, he signed the painting, and we gave it back to the audience as a thank you. I’ve done that with Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Seth Godin, and Dan Pink. I’ve even done it with other speakers where I’ve related it to the audience and then had them sign it. I do bring other people to the painting that I most loved to do and the audience went nuts for was this Tiger Wood painting that I did prior to his poor behavior. Not only did his wife suffered a great loss there, Tiger also suffered a great loss. I suffered and my audiences suffered a great loss because I had to put him away.
I had to put him in the time-out zone because I’m no longer painting him. I painted Michael Phelps for a while. What I need is my celebrities to always behave well. That would be my request. It’s a hard one. A lot of people have some life that they live outside of the celebrity that comes back to bite them. I don’t want anything that I paint to be controversial. I want it to be provocative to lure them in, to think about change or about Einstein and how he was this icon of both imaginative creativity and executable science merged together. There is Einstein. That’s what we’re going to be talking about. Leadership, service as well as confidence, humility as well as progress, Abraham Lincoln. That’s why I like to connect the actual image or the creator to the content that we’re talking about.
You painted the Mona Lisa on a cornfield or something and then it was videotaped and photographed from a plane or a helicopter. Tell me about that project.
That was many years ago in the Santa Maria area. We carved into the desert a 10,000 square foot Mona Lisa. We had tractors, backhoes, cherry pickers, and helicopters that would come up to give us perspective. I moved the earth around. I would pull up rocks. We would pull in some grass or some shading around the jawline. We would push the eyes back using depth with bark. We filmed the process and created a workbook out of it. I couldn’t do that alone. I had 8 to 10 other artists. My family come and help operate the machinery to give different perspectives and views. It was a collaborative effort. A lot of my larger installation was I did a three-story Simone Biles after she captured the Olympic gold several years ago in a gymnastics room for a young gymnast. That was a large-scale painting and a mural installation. I like those bigger pieces because they’re collaborative.
Do you have any new things in the works, new guys or girls that you’re learning, or new big projects that you’re dreaming of in the next years?Productivity without creativity won't get you far. Click To Tweet
I hold them safe in my incubator before I release them because I don’t want anyone permitted not explain them as well as I’d like so they get prejudged early. In my creative incubator, I hold it in a very small black box. Even though books are going away the dinosaur, I’m publishing a book that is completely outside of all of my business work. It’s a book about spirituality and race relations. It’s the things during this pandemic that has come to the forefront for me. I want to get some of those ideas out there in a collective body so that we can improve the dialogue of how we’re addressing some of these very contentious issues so that we can be more tolerant, empathetic, or compassionate. It’s something that I am excited about on a personal level. That’s all I’m going to give you about it because it’s still in my little precious incubator but I’m excited about it.
We have a little bit of an exclusive announcement here. A tidbit of things to come, which I appreciate.
It’s a scoop. You’re the first to know.
I have a request. I’ve got two young kids at home. You had such great advice at the top of this conversation about my kids and I’m reading the most amazing kids’ books now. Jimmy Kimmel made an amazing kids’ book about goose. It’s called The Serious Goose. Have you seen that book?
I have not yet.
He drew it and he wrote it. It starts off with, “This is the most serious goose you’ve ever met in your entire life. You think you can make him laugh. Don’t try and make him laugh. He’s a very serious goose.” In the middle of the book, there’s this crazy mirror made out of some crazy material. I’ve never seen. You can look at it, see yourself, and you can make silly faces. That’s the turning point in the book where he starts to crack a smile. By the end, he’s a silly goose and the kids love it.
Well done, Jimmy Kimmel.
Jimmy Kimmel, if you’d like to be on the show, let me know.
As a leader of your tribe, you’re looking for ways to unlock your kids. How do you get them to be at their fullest potential or be responsible to do what you tell them, but to also be free and open? That’s why kids are such great use of our skills as leaders and parents because you want to draw these out of your kids so you might be able to draw them out of employees or in your community later on. Once you’re a parent, you see the world from a whole new perspective. This is one of my boys get excited about. They don’t get as excited about the things that I did or the Play-Doh but they love the Kranz and they love these other elements. As their leader, you’re learning new ways to interact and that’s why Jimmy Kimmel probably wrote the book because he’s like, “My boys want something different. My kids respond to something different. I want to make that for them.” Wouldn’t it be great if we could make a mirror inside a book where our kids make silly faces themselves and interact? It’s brilliant stuff. It’s great to see the world around us.
I was getting at a point, which is like, are you going to write a kid’s book with your illustrations? A lot of what you talk about is going back to our childhood. Something you also said that I never forgot. I heard this from you years ago. Do you know what it is I’m about to say?
It might be crazy daddy time.
No but I want to hear what that is. The fact that the crayon smell, you can tell the story.
Not just the crayon but Crayola. The brand Crayola is one of the Top 20 most recognizable smells in the human experience. That’s with dill pickles and peanut butter or coffee. It’s one of those things that for whatever reason brings us back to our childhood that we remember. The smell of a crayon can reduce blood pressure in full-grown adults downwards ten points because of what it does to our psyche and our parasympathetic nervous system that we connect to a time when it was less stressful when things were easier. I tell large groups to pull out their box of crayons and take a drag.
It’s one of those things that I do. I use a lot of those kinds of connectors with the audience. The one you’ve asked about crazy daddy time, I haven’t done this in a decade because my boys are grown now. What I used to is when I talked about activating creativity is going back and almost asking why more often. Our kids ask, “Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet?” We have to rethink these things. I introduced audiences to crazy daddy time, which is what I do with my boys where we would eat dinner backwards. We start with the dessert first and then we move towards the main course but it blows their mind because that’s not how it is.Any lack of creativity in adults is simply a lack of curiosity. Click To Tweet
The way we eat is we have our salad, we eat like a big boy. If you eat everything, you can have access to dessert. Once or twice every year, I would call these crazy daddy time moments. We would do the reverse dinner and we’d eat dinner backwards. They would go nuts because they were so excited that they got to have crazy daddy time dinner where we started with a dessert first. Is it entirely healthy. The jury is still out on that but it made an impact on them in that moment and to this day that they remember for the rest of their lives. It’s activities like that.
Looking at things differently. Turning the world upside down. Not doing it the normal way and breaking some rules.
Looking for this a-ha moment or those moments of wow. How do we create moments of wow with our children, spouses and customers? Our kids are a great little vehicle by which we explore some of those wow moments and then translate them out into bigger areas. What can we do that? Maybe it’s not perfect but it’s remarkable and no one’s ever done it like this before.
It takes the hard work out of, “This is hard work to solve this problem or to connect with these people who are difficult. I’ve done the same thing for years, how do I change it?” It’s going to be hard to figure that out, but it makes hard work fun and easy. It opens up this new channel of now, as you said, creativity where you’re doing something fun and it’s creative at the same time. That’s genius.
To pull it back into the mindset that we go into this with. When things are difficult, they cause us anxiety and pressure and I don’t know if I can do that. We’re operating in a mode of scarcity when we get over into gratitude, abundance, empathy, and compassion. What it does is it unlocks curiosity in us as adults where we’re looking to, how can we master complexity? How can I figure out this new social, mobile, and cloud world? How am I going to figure out what these new Zoom meetings are going to look like? We’ve got to be curious. Any lack of creativity in adults is simply a lack of curiosity, exploration and accepting what is now around us and the situation that it is and being excited about it.
With extinct curiosity, we want to figure out how to walk the same curiosity that we want to figure out how to talk that we learned Math. The same curiosity that drove us as kids we can access as adults to try and figure out Snapchat, TikTok, Zoom meetings and interaction where we can have the same feeling of a live venue but that we don’t have to get on a plane and potentially expose ourselves to harmful diseases. We’re all looking for this, but curiosity and abundant mindset is going to be, how are we going to unlock it and not, “I wish things were like the good old days. I wish we could have live meetings again. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that it returns to the way it’s going to be.” It might and then great. We’ve already got that taken care of, but if it doesn’t, we’ve got to operate on that razor’s edge. To be curious about the future, what technology, what artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and autonomous driving are going to look like in the future so that we can interact with it and not become obsolete by it.
With people like you out there spreading these kinds of messages and reminding people about different ways of thinking, looking at things, and reminding people about how easy it is to be innovative, disruptive, and creative, we’re in good hands. During this COVID crisis that we’re in, we need to remember and hopefully, you’ll agree with me because I know you’re the eternal optimist and I am as well. Years from now with our grandkids, we’ll be able to look back and say, “That was a tough time. It was a horrible time for a lot of people. It was out of the left field and it hit us hard. It was awful for a lot of reasons, but because it happened, this never would have happened for me, our society, our country, or our mindset.” In other words, if it wasn’t for COVID. we wouldn’t have innovated, looked at ourselves in the mirror, done something new that started a new company, or done something that we had to do to save our company. Whatever it was that we did as innovators was because we were forced to. A lot of people are going to say that the best thing in their life that they’re now living in 5, 1 or 10 years from started right now in 2020.
The roaring 2020s, we’ll be talking about for the rest of our lives. Our grandkids are going to know about what happened during this global pandemic. We’ll be talking about it when we’re out to dinners in the future or at cocktail receptions. We’ll always have our story of what we did over the time of the COVID crisis during the shelter-in. I realized that very early on with my family and my boys, we hunkered down. Even though it was very difficult when so many of our lifelines were taken away from us, we wanted to make this time one that we were always going to remember. Not because it was easy or it was fun but it would be memorable that we did something of significance for us. We bonded as a family and it was incredibly significant where they’re going to do things with probably their children in the future because of how we bonded as a family.
It was truly remarkable for us maybe because I’m optimistic and I realized that looking back, this is going to be something we’re always going to be talking about with clients, with friends, or family. We need to do everything we can to make this memorable. That’s how we’ve lived our time here and we’re not out of it yet. There are still things that we can be doing to be memorable. That’s my go-to each day. It’s how I can continue lighting up my family and activating ideas in a different incubator than I had in the past. It’s the same hamster running around in mind but different access in how we’re shaping it out.
Any real quick hints or ideas that you guys use to succeed, bond, and have that family moment that you were talking about. Was there anything specifically that you decided you were going to do that was something that you really happy with?
One is we started exercising as a family. My middle son, Julian would lead CrossFit workouts that were tough for an old man like myself to complete. Every day, we would have some workout activity. Every morning, my wife Tasha and I, we will write. What we did during COVID was the two of us were co-writing this book together. We took time until noon each day. We would quietly be with our coffee, both sitting at our writing stations, we would be writing and then riffing ideas off with each other.
A lot of times, people write books and they talk about it’s like giving birth to a child. We’re wanting to give birth to this idea of what marriage has been like for us. What spirituality or what parenting has been. It was a bonding element for us to be able to create something, think, and reflect on how we can make something better and more special that we’ll have for the rest of our lives. That’ll be published this 2021 but we’re excited about being able to do that together.
You are such an inspiration to all. You are so creative, such a master artist and such an inspiration. Looking at a painting, you can see life and you can also almost see the messaging you went through about how you pick the paintings. I look forward to seeing you present again in person because it’s something you never want to miss. Thank you so much for joining me. God bless you and your family down there in San Diego.
Thank you, Chris. To you, your boys, your wife, all of your wonderful customers, and clients, thanks for taking the time. It was an honor to share with you. I look forward to meeting all of you personally at some point later on in the future when we return to live shows.
It’ll be fun. Take care.
Thank you very much, Chris.
- UNthink – Rediscover Your Creative Genius
- The Art of Vision
- Erik Wahl – LinkedIn
- The Spark and The Grind
- The Serious Goose
About Erik Wahl
Erik Wahl’s breakthrough experience as an artist and entrepreneur has translated into making him into one of the most sought-after corporate speakers on the circuit today. He is a globally recognized artist, a bestselling author, a featured TED presenter, and a viral content creator.
On stage, Erik’s keynote experience creates a dynamic multidimensional metaphor for how to systematically embrace innovation and risk. His message: disruption is the new normal and businesses must embrace creativity in a wholesale fashion, or risk being left behind. Erik’s presentation inspires organizations to be increasingly agile and outlines how to use disruption as a competitive advantage. Some companies will be disrupted others will choose to be the disruptor. Choose wisely.
Erik’s most recent #1 bestseller, The Spark and the Grind, activates the essential components of translating ideas into action. His breakthrough thinking has earned praise from the likes of top influencers in both art and business. Erik’s previous book, a #1 bestseller called Unthink was hailed by Forbes Magazine as The blueprint to actionable creativity, and by Fast Company Magazine as “provocative with a purpose.” It was also and a CEO Read of the year and has been hailed as the blueprint for leveraging creativity to achieve superior levels of performance.
The Warhol of Wall Street, the Renoir of ROI, The Picasso of Productivity, the Jobs of … Well, Jobs. Erik discovered an alarming truth early in his career as a partner in a corporate firm: organizations that encouraged the mental discipline of creativity did better than those that did not put innovation as a priority mission. So he set out to challenge companies to change their way of thinking.
In the meantime, inspired by street art, he became an acclaimed graffiti artist—though he has since stopped selling his works for personal gain, and instead uses his art to raise money for charitie – raising over $1.5 Million dollars as of 2020. His keynote is where his passion for business growth and art converge into a fascinating performance.
Erik’s list of clients includes AT&T, Disney, London School of Business, Microsoft, FedEx, Exxon Mobil, Ernst & Young, and XPrize.