Not that long ago, if you were to ask me what my "mantra" was, I would have thought that you were curious about my meditation practice.

More recently, however, I've heard the term "mantra" used much more in a business context, as in a "guiding principle" that inspires you to do whatever special things you do. In the past I might have called it a "motto," or a "creative strategy," but today... it's a mantra.

For example, several weeks ago, I watched "Mr. Art of the Start" Guy Kawasaki tell a roomful of would-be entrepreneurs: "Forget mission statements—they're worthless; instead create a powerful mantra for yourself."

This all got me to thinking, "What's my mantra?" As I reflected on this question, I came to realize that, yes, I do have a mantra... and, yes, I've been acting on it for the past 30 or more years. My mantra is:

"Look for the Second Right Answer."

I find that this strategy informs a lot of what I do:

  • When I'm looking for information, it tells me to go beyond the right answers that have worked in the past and to dig for others.

  • When I'm trying to be creative, it playfully advises me to put my ideas in unusual contexts to give them new meanings.

  • When I'm evaluating concepts, it commands me not to get stuck in the negative and to not fall in love with one particular approach.

  • And, when I'm implementing ideas, it reminds me that if one way doesn't work, a different one just might and to act accordingly.

So, all in all, it seems to be a good working mantra (for me, at least). I think I'll keep it for a while longer (of course, I could always use a "second right mantra").

I've asked a few people to share their mantras—especially ones that they find useful in the creative process. Here are some of their thoughts:

  • "That's funny."—Rebecca Aguilar (Her explanation: "That's funny" as in "that's weird" or "that's unusual," not "that's hilarious." This is a quote attributed to Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny.'" "That's funny" always comes with discomfort. Once your thinking connects the unconnected, after the unorganized parts become a comprehensible whole, after you learn the initial discomfort turns into true bliss and satisfaction. Geniuses are in constant search of "That's funny.")

  • "Kill your darlings."—Ann Handley (Her explanation: My mantra is borrowed directly from the writer William Faulkner. As soon as I start falling a little too much in love with an idea, a process, or a bit of my writing, I immediately aim to choke it. The "darlings" are usually born of a flash of what I think is brilliance, but don't hold up in the light of day. In my mind, the best ideas/processes/writings evolve out of longer-term development and thought; the instant little "darlings" quickly lose their luster.)

  • "May all my leads be inbound."—Christina Kerley (Her explanation: If I call a prospect, we're focused on the "who," as in who the heck are you? But when a client calls me, they've already determined the "who" and we're therefore focused on "what" I can do for them. Think of my mantra like this: When all rivers flow to you, you're producing a constant stream of opportunities. But with selling you're swimming upstream (and at a disadvantage). Instead of focusing on prospects or how many customers you can find, focus on programs that encourage people to find you, or your product. On that note, may all rivers flow to you... and me.)

  • "Question everything, but remember to listen to the answers."—Mark McGuinness (His explanation: It's a sentence that slipped out of me a few years ago, when I was teaching hypnotherapy; it was the first morning of the course, and the other two trainers had stood up and given some wise advice to the students; then it was my turn, and it seemed like the obvious thing to say. To learn hypnosis (or anything else, properly) you have to be willing to (a) question your own and others' preconceptions about just about anything, and (b) be VERY responsive to the feedback you get from others/the world at large.)

  • "Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better."—Simon Darwell-Taylor (His explanation: I believe that the best thing a manager of people can do is create an atmosphere where failure is embraced and encouraged—not the failure brought on by laziness and non-caring, but the failure brought on by a genuine desire to try something new and push beyond the norm.)

  • "What's the Connection?"—Timothy Johnson (His explanation: Life is all about making connections, from connecting with people, to connecting ideas and concepts. I connect individuals and organizations with their destined accomplishments. Connections are all around us; it's up to us to discover and deliver.)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Roger von Oech is president of Creative Think, Menlo Park, California, and the author of A Whack on the Side of the Head. His most recent product is the "Ball of Whacks," a creativity tool for innovators. Reach Roger and his Creative Think blog by going to www.creativethink.com.