9 Things Innovators can learn from Henry Miller

Anthony Topham: 8th September 2016

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9 Things Innovators can learn from Henry Miller

Leaders of innovation or creative teams are always looking for ways to create the right balance of a culture that allows creativity and a structure and process that means that creativity is adding value to the organisation within necessary time lines.

I have long held a fascination with how creative minds work; artists, musicians, writers great thinkers. What is their process, and there always is a process, and how might that fit with the organisations with whom I work?

Innovation and creativity is both an art and a science.

Art is knowing what to do. Science is knowing how to do it.

An innovative team and a creative mind have to have a balance. The greatest creative minds don’t simply wait for inspiration to fill them or mojo to carry them. When your business is in dire need of transformation, your organisation won’t wait for these either.

I was recently struck by a Henry Miller (Author of Tropic of Cancer) quote in a great piece on Brainpickings.org.

When you can’t create you can work.


Miller had a daily writing schedule (the daily programme as he called it), but within that schedule there was also clearly defined time to recharge and exercise. Ahead of it’s time it provides a template for productivity, creativity and wellbeing. Over 80 years later this is still something that we are trying to get execs and leaders to see the value of:

“MORNINGS: If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus. If in fine fettle, write.

AFTERNOONS: Work on section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.

EVENINGS: See friends. Read in cafés. Explore unfamiliar sections — on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry. Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program. Paint if empty or tired. Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.”

So here are Millers commandments for writing. If you are leading innovation or creativity in your organisation, how could these apply to creating the culture and process you need?

  1. Work on one thing at a time.
  2. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  3. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  4. When you can’t create you can work.
  5. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilisers.
  6. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  7. Don’t be a draft horse! Work with pleasure only.
  8. Discard the Program when you feel like it – but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  9. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.





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