What Jimmy Fallon, Charles Barkley & Ewan McGregor Can Teach Us About Creativity

Have you ever played Charades?

Perhaps you’ve played it at family game night in between trying to remember how to play Boggle and fighting over the thimble in Monopoly. Did you know that the guessing game where one player acts out a word or phrase and his/her teammate tries to guess the word/phrase contains the secret formula for coming up with good ideas. Seriously, it can teach us how to be more creative.

In order to explain what I mean, check out this video from the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Other than the fact that Charles Barkley might not be able to count, did you notice anything about the game?

Perhaps you observed that there is a certain strategy that is very effective, yet quite simple. The best strategy was to just guess anything. It was far better than not saying anything at all.

Ewan McGregor guessed goat and horse before he correctly found the word cat. Barkley on the other spent most of his first turn staring blankly at Jimmy Fallon. He hardly guessed at all and it was no surprise that he got the answer wrong.

It wasn’t until the last round when Barkley got the right idea by yelling out Leonardo DiCaprio before correctly answering Titanic. You could see Barkley’s brain muscles churning as he verbally and mentally worked his way to the answer.

Believe it or not, this same tactic can help us in developing our creativity and our ability to come up with better ideas.

As author Seth Godin says, the best strategy in games like Charades or Pictionary is to just guess. And he equates this to being creative.

It is free to guess, it is free to be wrong. So that is really important if you want to do creative work.”

There is no penalty for a wrong answer in Charades, so you might as well just throw out as many wrong answers as you can think of. Eventually one might lead you to the right answer, just as goat led McGregor to the correct answer, cat.

This is great in board games, but much harder in real life. We are afraid to guess because for some reason we think our answers are permanent. We think that wrong answers will be the end of us.

Here’s an example…From time to time, I come up with ideas for different segments I can use on this site. Most of the time they aren’t great (think Wonder Why Wednesday, only much worse). I start to write them down, but then I quickly erase them. My fear is that one awful segment will scar my writing for life.

Even before I give it a chance, my “wrong idea” feels permanent. I shoot down my creative idea before it sees the light of day because I don’t want to be the guy who made the terrible decision. I have the fear of looking like the man who now regrets the barbed wire tattoo he got on his bicep while in college.

In all actually, one awful segment on a website is more like guessing the movie Frozen in a game of Charades (when the right answer is Ice, Ice, Baby) than it is like getting a bad tattoo. My awful segment might just have pointed me in the right direction to something that would be very successful.

So how do I get over this?

Godin says the only way is to just start yelling out guesses (figuratively and literally). Only by doing that in small situations will we be ready to do the same in breakthrough moments.

Godin is one of the most creative people in the world. He has written numerous best selling books and started million dollar companies. But he says he didn’t gain the ability to overcome the fear of guessing by building massive companies or writing 50,000 books. He did it through two-page articles and 100 word blog posts.

He guessed and guessed until eventually he landed on a few right answers.

So whether you are writing for a website, running a podcast or starting a eBay business, start guessing. Dedicate a chunk of time, 15 minutes, an hour, whatever you have, to coming up with ideas. 99% may feel forced and no good, but inside that 1% you may come up with something useful. Or maybe you won’t.

In the video clip above, Fallon spouted out everything from Frozen to whiskey while failing to identify the song Vanilla Ice, Ice, Ice Baby. He never did get to the right answer. And sometimes this will happen to us.

But at least Fallon was guessing. And we should be too.



Photo credit: Wikipedia