Roy Sharples(Intro): There’s never any shortage of naysayers or people that tell you it can’t be done. And it’s really key if you believe in something passionately and you really are doing something that’s solving a problem for humanity, and you’re pushing society forward in a positive way, you got to really believe in yourself and go for it.
Jeff Standridge(Intro): This is Jeff Standridge, and this is the Innovation Junkies podcast. If you want to drastically improve your business, learn proven growth strategies, and generate sustained results for your organization, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to the Innovation Junkies podcast.
Hey guys, Jeff Standridge here, and welcome to another episode of the Innovation Junkies podcast. How we doing, Jeff?
Jeff Amerine: Hey, I’m glad to be here. Since we do this in video, I’m looking at this nice Polo cardigan sweater I have on, thinking how much it looks like a bathrobe on video.
Jeff Standridge: Well, I thought that when I saw it. I thought, “Jeff-“
Jeff Amerine: This is really not a bathrobe, I promise you. I’m sitting here fully clothed. I’m not in a bathrobe. But no, I’m glad to be here, and I know we’ve got a great guest today.
Jeff Standridge: Yeah, when you came in, I thought, “Amerine came in his jammies.”
Jeff Amerine: Now you see that every now and then, but that’s not the case.
Jeff Standridge: Well, tell us about our guest today, Jeff.
Jeff Amerine: I actually thought you were going to.
Jeff Standridge: Well, I will do that. I will talk about Roy.
Jeff Amerine: Please do.
Jeff Standridge: Yes, absolutely. Roy Sharples is the founder and CEO of Unknown Origins, committed to making its mission to save the world from unoriginality by unleashing the power of creativity. I’m excited to have him with us today. We’re going to talk about creativity, innovation, product development, those kinds of things—Roy, great to have you with us today.
Roy Sharples: Hey, it’s a pleasure, gentlemen. Thanks for having me.
Jeff Standridge: Absolutely.
Jeff Amerine: We’re glad to have you here. Give us a little bit more of the Origin story. This is the part where everybody gets to tell their Wolverine equivalent of where they came from and how they came to be the superhero they are today.
Jeff Standridge: Hey, before we do that, let’s hop into our random musing. How about that?
Jeff Amerine: Oh, good idea, good idea. Well, I think it was going to be favorite participatory sport.
Jeff Standridge: That’s right. We did favorite spectator sport a few episodes ago. Roy, how about you? What’s your favorite participatory sport?
Roy Sharples: Well, in Europe, they would call it football, but here in America, it’s soccer.
Jeff Standridge: Very good, very good. What do you like most about it?
Roy Sharples: I like the art of it. I mean, it’s often compared to the arts, and I can totally see why. But it obviously is an athleticism as well, but I think it’s a beautiful game when it’s played properly.
Jeff Standridge: Got you. How about you, Jeff?
Jeff Amerine: Yeah, unfortunately, I’ve aged out of it, but my favorite sport of all time was rugby. I played that in college, and I played it a little bit after I graduated. I think that what they say about rugby is that it’s a rogue sport played by gentlemen. I don’t want to espouse being a gentleman, but the same thing. I really enjoyed the flow of the game and the fact that it never really stopped. There were no timeouts; it was it’s pretty intensive. If you were good at it, which I never was, it was a beautiful thing to watch, for sure.
Jeff Standridge: Yeah, I heard a comparison of rugby and football, or rugby and soccer, that rugby is a game of barbarians, spectated by gentlemen, and soccer is a game of gentlemen, spectated by barbarians.
Roy Sharples: That’s probably accurate.
Jeff Amerine: Well said.
Roy Sharples: It’s entirely accurate.
Jeff Amerine: Probably true.
Jeff Standridge: Yeah. Well, American football is my favorite sport. It’s the only one that I have halfway excelled at, maybe track. But now it’s sitting in a blind in the woods and stalking animals, which doesn’t require a lot of exertion until you kill something.
Roy, tell us about you and your organization and bring us up to how you came to be the CEO and founder of your company, Unknown Origins.
Roy Sharples: Yeah, I founded Unknown Origins just over a year ago. And the driver behind that is a commitment to making its mission to save the world from unoriginality by unleashing the power of creativity and making that real. I truly believe in that mission. I believe that creativity exists within everyone. And when you know how to unleash it by channeling your passion and energy, transcending the ordinary and routine into something new, you can move the world forward.
But before I came to that, I have been involved in startups, in large organizations, and I’ve built beloved brands; I’ve envisioned and brought innovative products and services to market, reimagined business models, created and developed startups. I led and scaled large businesses across international regions for some of the world’s most influential brands, including Microsoft, where I spent a number of years there before I decided to leave and start up my own venture.
Also, in a previous life as well, I worked at Ford back in Europe. Also, within the last year, I’ve also authored my inaugural book, Creativity Without Frontiers: How To Make The Invisible Visible By Lighting The Way Into The Future. I also curate the community-driven storytelling platform, providing access to insights and content from creators worldwide. That’s really serving the creative industry community.
But at Microsoft, just before I started my own venture, I led the industry product marketing team after doing a number of consulting, business development, and marketing leadership positions. My final role there was leading their industry product marketing team. That team was responsible for creating and implementing the industry product marketing strategy, influencing new product development, and promoting the company’s products and offerings from across all of their target industries. Part of this included rewriting the company’s industry brand story to broaden relevance with audiences, partners, and influencers and scaling that to new heights that contributed to becoming the world’s most valued company.
That’s a little bit of context in terms of my Unknown Origin to where I’ve been and where I came to at the moment.
Jeff Standridge: Tell us about a day in the life of your company and you as well. How do you guys make your vision or your mission a reality? How do you do that on a daily basis?
Roy Sharples: Yeah. Great, great point. Primarily what we do is provide solutions in four key areas. One is creative strategy, brand creation, storytelling, and envisioning. We work with entrepreneurs, artists, businesses, and educators, to help them develop innovative products, services, or experiences. Whatever the area of expertise or challenge that they’re in, we provide those four services to help enable them to do that. That’s the core of the business in terms of what we do. But it’s ultimately a creative design studio in terms of the operating model that we practice.
But in addition to that, there is a significant community aspect where, as I mentioned earlier, we curate a storytelling platform that’s really focused on helping provide insights across all of the different domains within the creative industry. From filmmakers, entrepreneurs, producers, artists, musicians, designers, and architects, it’s really providing a platform that provides insights around the creative process, the tools, techniques, and insights that can be shared openly and freely.
How we manifest that is one area similar to what you guys do here is through a podcast series. Then the other part is through a thought leadership series that comes through like a blog that’s amplified through social media and the internet. But it’s been such a rewarding journey doing that and bringing a community of like-minded people together. There’ve been multiple light bulb moments throughout that journey, but it’s so invigorating when you hear people say, “Hey, I’m an artist, and I just listened to that story that was told from the filmmaker and her creative process. I didn’t realize you could do X, Y, and Z. So by cross-pollinating, I’m able to reapply that to how I make art,” or similarly, how a designer interprets how a fashion designer goes about her creative process.
Having those outside-in perspectives and cross-pollination across multiple different fields and discovering new ideas where you least expect them to happen, that’s been a really fascinating part of the journey and just observing that happening.
Jeff Amerine: Have you been able to get creatives who, at times, I think, would tend to believe that a lot of it is artistry and it’s not something that lends itself to the process? Have you been able to get them through that behavior change to realize even creativity can be run through a process, and it doesn’t stifle your ability to create? Just talk a little bit about that, how you get them through that understanding.
Roy Sharples: Yeah, that’s a great point. I mentioned earlier at the beginning that creativity exists within everyone, and it does. But that doesn’t mean to say that everyone is a creative pioneer by any means. It’s a little bit like saying, “Well, everybody’s gifted, all things being equal, with common sense with blood, with eyes, with ears,” or whatever. It’s what you make of that. But blending the art with the science, and there is a science to it. Let me speak through, to answer your question very poignantly is there is a process to creativity. And the creative process that I’ve pulled together came from years of working in not just creative roles but also scientific roles because I come from a mix of an arts and science background. I apply both creative and critical thinking to how I go about doing my work.
But in addition to that, what I did as well is, I interviewed hundreds of people within a creative profession across all of those fields I mentioned earlier. But also spoke to people in what would be perceived as nontraditional, creative fields, including engineering and science and so forth, and tried to really dissect and synthesize their approach to creativity.
Anyway, the creative process is about making new connections between past and present ideas, infusing economic, political, sociocultural, and technological perspectives in parallel to produce new business models, products, services, and experiences. The steps in the process involve discovering and developing insights, applying divergent thinking to analyze a problem, generating and evaluating ideas that can become concepts, experimenting, prototyping, constructing, and making a plan of action, and then bringing that plan to form, to life, to fruition.
How do we find creativity? Do we simply dream up ideas from within ourselves, what we manifest from what we observe and the world we live in? Or do ideas just fall from the sky and gravitate towards us? It’s about blending the art and science of the creative process. And how I do that is in three steps: dream, make, and do. The process is iterative and constant, and the alchemy is in the execution of the process. The alchemy happens when you’re doing it. It’s customizable by craft, situation, and opportunity.
Let me explain a little bit more about what I mean by those three steps. Dream: that’s about applying. That’s the first part of the creative process. So dream is about where you’re applying divergent thinking to dream up innovative new ideas. Do that without any frontiers or barriers to find the breakthrough ideas by envisioning the desired outcome.
The second part of the process is to make. That’s where you’re adopting do-it-yourself sensibility and using convergent thinking to review and select the best ideas and then rapidly prototype and construct the plan to bring them to life.
Then finally, the third part of the process— do. This is where you’re reviewing the solution to identify improvements, make eliminations, fine-tune, remove obstacles, mitigate risks, and bring it to life with the audience and the market you’re targeting. Whether the solution is a new business, a brand campaign, a physical product, an industrial design, a song, film, story, or painting, it’s all related.
But as I mentioned earlier, as part of the process that I put together for writing my book, I interviewed lots of different creatives. I mean, there were really fascinating insights that came from that. But one in particular I’ll share with you. It comes from the designer, Malcolm Garrett, who did a lot of the iconic record sleeves back in the 1980s and 1990s for bands like Simple Minds, Culture Club, Peter Gabriel, the Buzzcocks, numerous. I mean, his designs are very iconic, and they totally represent the time and the culture. It’s fascinating when you actually look at his portfolio work in terms of it just really holds a mirror up to you to show that design really is part of time, and it really reflects time. Whether that is made up of politics, economics, socio-culture, fashion, entertainment, or whatever it is at that moment in time. Anyway, he gave a very great perspective, and rather than try and paraphrase it, because I’ll get it wrong, I made a little mental note here around his quote, which was around the bottom line is empathy. Malcolm said he’s keen to understand that what he does is actually never really his work. What he’s saying is, if you are designing, you are by default trying to convey something for somebody else to somebody else by conveying the information that belongs to that environment, to the people that need to experience it.
So communication just has to work without thought. For example, what do you see when you think about Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon? Light refracting from a triangular prism across a black background. That visual icon and the record, The Dark Side Of The Moon, are inextricably linked and have thus become synonymous. That’s what a good designer does. They don’t just draw a triangle with light rays that go through it. They create a sense of comprehension that transcends the imagery.
That was a really good example. I thought that really explained design, and you can totally translate that to business environments and corporations. What he’s saying is that if you translate that to organizations, it’s about people. It’s about really doing things for people and putting people and your audience at the center and then working back from that to then define and design the experience that then enables them to do things differently, to do things in new ways, to do things more productively or more innovatively or whatever the outcome is that they’re striving to drive.
Jeff Amerine: Hey folks, we’ll be right back with the episode, but first, we want to tell you about a limited opportunity to take advantage of our strategic growth diagnostic. For a short time only, we’re offering a free strategy call to see whether or not our unique diagnostic tool is right for you. Go to innovationjunkie.com/diagnostic to learn more.
Jeff Standridge: Tell us maybe an example of how one of your clients has leveraged you and your organization and maybe the value that they’ve gotten out of that. Give us a concrete example, if you will.
Roy Sharples: Absolutely. There is a startup company back in the United Kingdom called Style Crate, and that’s led by a young entrepreneur called Jonathan Burns. He had this big idea. He’s a very passionate and socially conscious entrepreneur who is very passionate about sustainability and the climate and the environment. That’s a really revealing thing about the new generation that’s coming through. They are sincerely empathetic and sensitive to the climate and the environment, and they genuinely care. So what he’s done is he’s set up a company that delivers recyclable clothing packaged and a service where he delivers that to your doorstep every month, where you get a new set of recycled clothes. By doing that, it’s helping address the climate issues, the sustainability issues, and lowering the carbon footprint in the UK.
Anyway, the point being is, he took a lot of the ideologies, the practice, and really took the creative process that I spoke about there and applied that to helping him come up with the breakthrough ideas, to help him then work through his own creative process to come up with an innovative business model that could work effectively and profitably. Then from a service design perspective, what were the key services that he needed to expedite on that and operate the model and bring it to life? Underpinning that was the toolset, the approach, the creative mindset that I shared earlier. But I think the key thing is that I’m not trying to evangelize a process. I mean, a process is important, but it’s not just about a process because there are multiple things that make up a business, as you know and what makes up a disruptive change or an innovation. And the process is only a part of that.
At the end of the day, it really is about people, their passion, and how they apply their passion to that energy sphere they create. But it’s really their ability to execute and persist and make the sacrifices to make things happen. Having processes and tools, methods, and so forth help along that way to help structure and apply experience and insights along the way. It helps you, if you use it properly, to almost stand on the shoulder of giants and the way that you’re looking back on history and learning from the masters within your domain previously, in terms of what they’ve done. But also to use it in a way that you’re not reinventing the wheel. And what you’re creating is something authentic, and new, and innovative.
That’s one example, but there have been multiple examples. I mean, another one was, and it’s a completely different field, but I did an innovation hack at one of the top design schools in the UK a few weeks ago, Leeds University. The design challenge there was that they would take the dream, make, and do process, and then use that as an enabler to help them come up with a graphic design, whether that was an image or typography, around addressing the question of imagine if the world was rebooted and you had no constraints, what would you do differently?
It was symptomatic of coming out of a pandemic, which we’re in the process of doing, but also envisioning a utopian future and then working back from that to define what that outcome could be. What they did was they applied that process in terms of a rapid innovation hack. And within 30 minutes, they came up with really quite fantastic designs. That was a really interesting way of applying the approach to a very different type of audience and sensibility.
Jeff Standridge: I was going to ask a moment ago, you have a manifesto that’s on your website, and a couple of components of it seem to be somewhat related. Talk to us about the one, knowing that ridicule is nothing to be scared of and provoking actions that change minds. Talk a little bit about those, if you would.
Roy Sharples: Yeah, 100% right. I’ll start with ridicule is nothing to be scared of. That means creative leaders, creative innovators, believe in their ideas and are passionate about that. It’s not just about having the passion and the flare, and the enthusiasm. It’s about having the gusto to really take a stand against sometimes oppressive forces and to express yourself creatively in a way where you really don’t care about the knockbacks or the naysayers. It’s about slaying that. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, by any means, I do that in a way where it’s having a vision by being able to see around the corners and then to fearlessly lead without frontiers to make that vision happen.
I mean, I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself, as many of us have, where when you come up with something that’s quite disruptive, and it’s pushing back against the status quo and the norm, there’s never any shortage of naysayers or people that tell you it can’t be done. And it’s really key if you believe in something passionately, and you really are doing something that’s solving a problem for humanity, and you’re pushing society forward in a positive way, you’ve got to really believe in yourself and go for it. That’s what that first part is really saying.
Provoking actions that change minds. I got inspired by the punk movement in terms of what they stood for around anti-establishment views, about taking a stand against, again, oppressive forces—but really looking at ways where you can constantly analyze the status quo of everyday life and observing those issues, situations, and then providing an alternative. I think one of the best ways, one of the most effective ways to affect positive change, is to provoke action that changes minds. By doing that, it’s doing something that can involve provocation. It could involve making radical statements or doing things in a radical way. But not just for the sake of it. It’s a way that it’s meaningful, and it’s providing an alternative to the ordinary, the mundane, and the everyday banality of things.
But underpinning all of this, one of the key things that is really important is that you cannot curate a culture of creativity by subscribing to it or buying it off the shelf because it’s a social system about values, skills, craftsmanship, and a way of doing that needs to be embraced and practiced throughout an organization to nurture people to create without fear. It’s something that really has to be nurtured, imparted, and practiced throughout a team or organization. And it takes skill, practice, and persistence, but the results pay off.
Now, the principles that I’ve put together reflect my experience of working in organizations and startups. But I’ve also synthesized from many other creative industry experts and people who have curated cultures within education, business, entrepreneurship, and the arts. There are five key principles for curating creative cultures. They all underpin the manifesto I started to speak about earlier, that’s on the website. So thank you for looking at that and doing the research in advance.
But those five principles are, let me start with number one: leadership. Leading by action to find the future by breaking through the status quo is leadership. Leaders create clarity by synthesizing complex concepts. They generate energy by inspiring optimism, creativity, and growth in others. And they deliver success by driving innovation and tenaciously pursuing the right outcomes. So that’s one, that’s leadership.
The second one is Do-it-yourself. This, again, is another one that’s inspired by punk ideals. Do it yourself means rejecting conventions and originating new ideals. Do-it-yourself refers to the rebellious impetuosity of nonconformity by taking direct action and not selling out, doing it in your own style and pace, embracing challenge, accepting failure, persisting in the face of setbacks, and learning by doing as the path to mastery.
Number three is craftsmanship. Being passionately dedicated to your craft evokes wonder and discovery. Remaining honest, trustworthy, and responsible by taking pride in everything you do helps you achieve the highest quality craft and professional excellence levels.
Fourthly, collaboration. It’s important to collaborate when exploring new ideas, finding innovative solutions, and not being afraid to learn. Collaboration is the cross-pollination and sharing of knowledge across multiple domains by combining individuals as intellectual capital and know-how.
And finally, mentorship. I mentioned this point a little bit earlier around the importance of standing on the shoulders of giants by seeking counsel from people you trust, respect and admire. But finding positive role models who can share their skills, insights, and expertise to help nurture your ideas and understand and respect history and infuse best practices into finding the future to truly innovate and not reinvent the wheel.
Translating this into high-performing innovative teams, high-performing teams are self-organizing, and the performance emerges from the experts’ joint actions within a project or within an organization because they share a vision and commitment to the mission at hand. Similarly, the most innovative teams mobilize themselves in response to unexpected changes. They don’t need a leader necessarily to tell them what to do. People who have the expertise and passion will step up at the right time in the creative process to lead and drive the completion of their respective input and add value to the team and solution.
So the creative atmosphere cultivated provides autonomy and space and is liberal, inclusive, and meritocratic, yet is entirely focused and motivated to expedite the mission. Creating this culture of creativity starts to minimize hierarchy, politics, and prejudice; hangers-on are not really tolerated because you have to be really expert and good at what you’re going to do. It’s all about the execution and bringing the big idea and shared vision to life.
Think of organizations like the Navy Seals, the British Special Air Service, high-performance sports teams, like the great Real Madrids and the Manchester United’s, the Kiwis like you’re into rugby. The All Blacks were just phenomenal, high-performing, innovative teams. They’re forged by adversity, endurance, and sacrifice, which are the key in carrying out some of the most challenging, or in the case of the Navy Seals and the SAS, dangerous combat and reconnaissance missions. They operate with agility in a decentralized command model where everyone is expected to lead and be led. But they really shun old stifled hierarchies, which are ultimately the bad habits and lazy complacency, and replace them with modern agility, the importance of networks and ecosystems of truly empowered teams, which improve engagement and retention and can achieve extraordinary results in the pursuit of making the impossible possible.
Jeff Amerine: Roy, one of the ways that we like to land the plane, and thank you for those insights. It’s clear that you’ve been catalytic as a disrupter and innovator, and leader. If you had the ability to take what you know now and go back earlier in your career, what kind of advice would you give your younger self? I think that’s instructive to the innovative leaders that maybe are early in the journey when they can hear from someone that’s been there and done it. What advice would you give your younger self?
Roy Sharples: Yeah, that’s brilliant. That’s a really great question, and to answer that, truly, is when I look back on my youth, my values and beliefs are still the same as what they are now. All of the jobs that I ended up doing didn’t exist when I was younger. They really didn’t. What I imagined I would end up doing in life and career has not been what’s become. I haven’t followed a linear career path at all. When I look back on people that I went to school with, or at college, or an earlier profession, the ones that really made it to top jobs in the industry, typically were ones that followed a linear process. Ones that, I’ll just make this up, but they’re a media expert, so they focused on that. And then, every couple of years, they would get promoted, and they’d elevate to senior roles within an organization, within a domain.
I didn’t do that at all. Instead, I gravitated towards interesting challenges and rushed towards the danger of adventure and stepping into domains that, quite often, I didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t have the expertise to do it, but I just loved the challenge of being able to roll up the sleeves and problem solve. Then once I solved that problem, either individually or in most cases, it was as a team, I’d then move on to the next challenge. Sometimes though, when it didn’t go well, and you failed really miserably, I wish I’d identified mentors who could really help coach and mentor me along the way and really accelerate my pursuit, especially on creative pursuits, and to help mitigate the probability of failure.
I think the point around mentorship that I went into detail about earlier, that’s really important. I think as well is, truly believe in what you believe in, what you’re passionate about, and to really capitalize. If you’re really passionate and believe in something, that’s something that you will be very good at in terms of being a craftsperson, and you’ll really excel at. I think just being fabulous at your craft, whatever that is, and pursuing it with excellence. The importance of mentorship at a very young age and identifying who those people are that you can trust, admire, and respect, and seeking wise counsel for them to help you accelerate you on your path. Because when I look back, there were so many instances that I did fail, like I mentioned, miserably, and they could have been eradicated if I’d had good mentorship or good support structure along with that. I think those are the two key things that I would wish I’d had more of when younger.
Jeff Standridge: Fantastic. Yeah, that’s great. Roy, thank you so much. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re talking with Roy Sharples. He is the founder and CEO of Unknown Origins and is the author of Creativity Without Frontiers. Roy, tell our listeners where they can find you.
Roy Sharples: Yes, absolutely. Roy@unknownorigins.com, if you want to get in touch and just share ideas and discuss perspectives. I respond to every single email. My website is unknownorigins.com. We are available on all the typical social channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. But also the book, as you mentioned, that’s available on all of the obvious book retail platforms, such as Amazon— and on Amazon, it’s available in print, digital, and audiobook as well.
Jeff Standridge: Fantastic. Well, it’s been a pleasure having you with us. We appreciate you giving us some insight into your world and the world of Unknown Origins and helping us think about the role of creativity in the business world. Thank you so much.
Roy Sharples: My pleasure. I enjoyed the energy and the conversation. Thank you.
Jeff Standridge: Very good.
Jeff Amerine: Yeah, thanks for coming on.
Jeff Standridge: This has been another episode of the Innovation Junkies podcast. See you next time.
Jeff Amerine: Hey folks, this is Jeff Amerine. We want to thank you for tuning in. We sincerely appreciate your time. If you’re enjoying the Innovation Junkies podcast, please do us a huge favor, click the subscribe button right now. Please leave us a review. It would mean the world to both of us and don’t forget to share us on social media.