Marty Neumeier’s professional goal is to bridge the distance between business and design. As an advocate for creative thinking and innovation, Marty has published a must-read collection of quick read “white-board” books on branding, creativity and innovation, starting in 2003 with The Brand Gap, followed by Zag, and then The Designful Company.
In 2013, Marty published Metaskills: Five Talents for the Robotic Age, which departed from the quick-read format, diving deeply into the future of workplace creativity.
Marty’s latest book, 46 Rules of Genius was written as a “quick start guide” to Metaskills. I caught up with Marty to ask him a few questions about his newest book.
Q: What led you to write The 46 Rules of Genius?
Marty: I recently published a big book on creativity called Metaskills: Five Talent for the Robotic Age. It’s aimed at serious innovators, educators, and policymakers. I’m very proud of the book, which draws on a lifetime of creative experience and a ton of research. But it’s not for everyone. What many people need—especially busy people with deadlines—is a concise book that imparts the essential lessons without all the background material. They want a quick reference book. The 46 Rules is exactly that. It’s a Strunk & White for business creativity.
Q: How is this book different from the other books you’ve written?
Marty: It’s even more condensed than my “whiteboard” books [The Brand Gap, Zag, and The Designful Company]. It’s only 144 pages. And I’ve taken the liberty doing my own illustrations. Normally my books are designed with a mélange of photos, illustrations, charts, and so on. But I felt this one could stand a more personal touch, so I got out the India ink and drawing paper.
Q: In your opinion, does the corporate world of today allow for the rules of genius to be put into practice?
Marty: To the extent that today’s corporate climate is a holdover from the Industrial Age, it doesn’t. At the same time it rewards people and teams who stretch the norms to create new value. So corporations today are a bit schizophrenic. Yet the evidence shows that innovation, creativity, and specialized genius are on the rise. I expect in five or ten years the workplace will have a completely different complexion. People of genius—those with exceptional skills in specialized areas—will be in strong demand, while those with routine skills will be steadily replaced by automated solutions.
Q: Which of the rules do you think people struggle with the most?
Marty: The hardest skills for most people are the ones not taught in school. A few examples of where these are needed are: Rule 1: Break the rules (instead we’re taught to be obedient) Rule 3: Feel before you think (instead we’re taught to distrust intuition) Rule 7: Think whole thoughts (instead we’re taught to think in fragments) Rule 11: Use beauty as a yardstick (instead we’re taught to separate beauty from utility) Rule 22: Embrace messiness (instead we’re taught to be tidy) Rule 24: Simplify (instead we’re taught that more is better) It’s time for schools to stop treating genius as something reserved for the precious few. Genius is available to anyone who is willing and able to put in the work.
Q: If you had to choose just one of the rules to share in this book, which would you have selected?
Marty: Maybe Rule 18: Don’t be boring. If your goal is to innovate, Rule 18 is almost a commandment. There’s no innovation without surprise. No surprise, nothing new. Nothing new, no value. You have to have surprise. The only question is, what sort of surprise and where should it go? Therefore I would add Rule 19 to that: Put the surprise where you want the attention. If you sprinkle surprise around randomly, you’ll unfocus your work. Save your biggest surprise for your defining feature. When Google made its bid to dominate the search engine category, it designed a home page with just a rainbow logo and an empty box. It didn’t throw in distracting features like breaking news, trending search terms, or fun facts. It stuck to the point: This box will get you whatever you need.
Q: In the book, you organize the rules into four different sections: Part 1, How can I innovate? Part 2, How should I work? Part 3, How can I learn? and Part 4, How can I matter? Is there a progression or order that should be used when putting the rules of genius into practice?
Marty: In a reference book like this, you want readers to be free to dip in wherever they like. There’s no prescribed order, like in a recipe or instruction manual. I’ve just organized the rules to make them easier to find. The first two sections include short-term advice for when you’re working on a project, and the second two sections include long-term advice for learning the habits of genius.
Q: As someone who makes a living selling ideas to some of the world’s top brands, I often find myself in a position where I know will make the most impact also goes against the current belief system. “We’ve never done it that way,” Is a phrase I hear quite often. How can rule 42, “Build Support Methodically” help in leading people from “what is” to “what could be?”
Marty: What you have to remember is that you probably know more about your subject than those you’re trying to influence. Maybe you’ve been working on the project longer; maybe you’ve already done a lot of thinking about it; maybe you’re drawing from years of experience. Naturally, others will need a time to catch up. You can accelerate this process by telling a simple story about what life was like before your idea, and what life could be after it. You may need to show prototypes, key bits of research, or evidence of customer reactions to your idea. If your idea is truly innovative, it will probably run counter to their beliefs. It’s unrealistic for people to accept your expertise on faith alone. You’ll have to seduce them with a little evidence and a good story.