Aug. 19, 2021

The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation and Intuition at Work with Dr. Natalie Nixon | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation and Intuition at Work with Dr. Natalie Nixon | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Dr. Natalie Nixon, creativity strategist, global keynote speaker, and author of the award-winning book The Creativity Leap, shares why it is essential to unleash creativity for ourselves and in leading our teams and organizations. 

Some highlights:

-Dr. Natalie Nixon’s childhood and how her family inspired her to explore her creativity

-Dr. Natalie Nixon on pursuing what you love

-The role observation plays in creativity 

-The case of curiosity: why it is essential and how it is being drummed out by the school system

-How to create a more creative work environment

-Dr. Natalie Nixon breaks down the 2 elements of creativity: Wonder and Rigor

-Why intuition is essential for decision-making

-Why Dr. Natalie Nixon believes Jazz is the future of work

Mentioned in this episode:

-Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question and The Book of Beautiful Questions

-Michael Forman, Chairman & CEO of FS Investments

-Biplab Sarkar, CEO of Vectorworks

-Frank Barrett, professor and jazz musician

-Miles Davis, influential figure in the history of Jazz

-Art Blakey, Jazz drummer

-Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism

-Twyla Tharp, author of The Creative Habit

-Kursat Ozenc, author of Rituals for Work

-Erica Keswin, author of Rituals Roadmap

-The Decision Book by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler

Connect with Dr. Natalie Nixon:

Download Chapter 1 of The Creativity Leap

The Creativity Leap on Amazon

Download The WonderRigor™️ Tip Sheet

Figure 8 Thinking Website

Dr. Natalie Nixon on LinkedIn

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:


Mahan Tavakoli: Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Dr. Natalie Nixon. She's a creativity strategist, global keynote speaker and author of the award-winning book The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work. It's been recognized as a game changing innovation book by Fast Company, Porchlight, and Soundview. 

And I absolutely loved the book, we spent most of our time in this conversation focused on Dr. Nixon's book. In addition to that, she also has a wonderful creative personality and that comes across, which is why I know you will truly both enjoy listening to the conversation and learn a lot from her. 

I also love hearing from you. Keep your comments coming, There's also a microphone icon on, love getting those voice messages. Don't forget to follow the podcast on your platform of choice and when you get a chance, those of you that listen to it on Apple, go ahead and leave a rating and review that will help more people find these conversations and benefit from them.

Now here is my conversation with Dr. Natalie Nixon

Mahan Tavakoli: Natalie Nixon, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you on this conversation with me. 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here. 

Mahan Tavakoli: I absolutely love The Creativity Leap, and I think it's essential for us to understand how to become more creative, most especially in times where we're going to go through repeated disruption. But before we get to your book and your brilliant insights on creativity, would love to know more about whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of leader that you became? 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: I grew up in Philadelphia, born and raised, which is actually where I now live. And I always jokingly say that Philly people will either never leave or if we leave, we don't come back, and then there's a critical mass of us who leave and come back. And I'm part of that critical mass. 

So a part of a lot of what shaped me has been the gift of travel and all the lived experiences I've had of working and living abroad. And I grew up in a very close knit family. I'm African-American, I grew up in a pretty solidly blue collar, lower middle class community, mainly African-American in Philadelphia. And I went to three different types of schools by the time I graduated from high school which I always say, gave me a real sense of America's educational system. 

My mom is really an artist at heart, she was a weaver, she learned to play cello at age 50, she's 81 now and she still plays. My dad worked in pharmaceutical sales, but to get me and my sister through private school through our high school years, there were times where he worked three different jobs. He was incredibly entrepreneurial. So I got a lot of my entrepreneurial spirit from my father. 

A lot of my artistic capacity, not just creative capacity, but artistic capacity from both parents. My father was a big jazz head. And as you know, Mahan, 'cause you read The Creativity Leap, I think about creativity as expanding far beyond what we only see artists exhibit. 

So I grew up with a really happy childhood. I was a city kid. I studied dance since age four, which meant by my teenage years, I was going all over Philly, finding dance classes on public transportation. And I was also always a bit of a nerd. I was a tomboy and very absent-minded, and a daydreamer but books were always my way of escaping. So I grew up in a family that really encouraged my dreams. 

Mahan Tavakoli: And your family encouraged your dreams to the point of supporting you studying Africana studies. 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Yes. Well, actually I had a double major in anthropology and Africana studies. So that came about because at first, my freshman year I was trying to pick classes and courses that would sound impressive and I would come home over breaks and share with family members what I was learning. And I quickly realized I was either bored by the more practical, impressive sounding subjects, or I wasn't doing very well in them. 

And I started to dabble in Africana studies, which is really looking at the experience of people in the African diaspora, throughout the world, through the lens of history and Poli Sci and sociology and economics. And I on a whim, took an anthropology course which I ended up loving. 

And so I share an anecdote in the book about confessing, and it really felt like a confessional to my parents that as I was drawing near to the point of having to declare a major, I didn't know what to study and as they prodded more and really asked me, "What are you enjoying?" When I finally answered that question, "Well, I'm actually enjoying and really love anthropology and Africana studies." Almost at the same time they said, "That's what you should study." 

And it was this load that lifted off my shoulders because they gave me the permission to follow my heart. And my father said, if you study what you love, you're going to have to turn away opportunities and he was right about that. 

Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah, so you studied what you love and I think that shows throughout your book and the content that you share. In addition to that, your international experience, I think gives you a unique perspective on creativity. You had a chance to work in a lot of different countries.

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Yes. My first foray of living abroad was as a college student living in Brazil, I lived in Bahia, Brazil. I was really interested in understanding Afro-Brazilian culture and all of those who have been privileged to be able to travel, know that whatever your ethnic or national identity is, when you get outside of your cultural norm, you never feel so rooted in where you came from. 

So I never felt more American in my life than when I lived in Brazil. And at the same time, it was the first time in my life, I was 19, 20 years old, it was the first time in my life where I wasn't an ethnic minority. I looked like everybody around me and I had never experienced that feeling. It was a real visceral feeling that you don't realize when you are a minority, how much compensation you do to constantly straddle multiple worlds, and to fit in, and to translate, and to observe deeply. 

You're constantly having multiple conversations in your mind and there's this comfort that comes over you when you feel like you can just relax. So until I would open my mouth and it was apparent that I wasn't a native Portuguese speaker yet, people thought I was Brazilian and at the same time, I felt very clearly Black American and American at the same time. 

And then years later I ended up, part of my master's program took me to study in Tel Aviv, Israel, Reutlingen, Germany, and Bavaria on the Southern part of Germany. I then worked in the fashion industry and lived and worked in Sri Lanka, and lived in Colombo in Sri Lanka, and also in Porto, Portugal in the north of Portugal, making bras and panties for the Victoria's Secret brand. 

Then some years after that, I ended up earning a PhD while working full time. And I did my PhD at the University of Westminster in London. Now, unfortunately, I didn't live in London, but I would go back and forth to London several times a year.

Mahan Tavakoli: Now, with all of that rich experience, Natalie, you also highlighted the fact that there is a cognitive load put on us when we try to fit in. And I wonder how that impacts creativity wherein many of our organizations, we lack diversity. So there is an additional cognitive load put on people as they're trying to fit in.

Dr. Natalie Nixon: I love your question. I've never thought about creativity from that perspective. So just off the top of my head, when I think about, so just to clarify for people who are listening, the way I define creativity is that it's about toggling between wonder and rigor to solve problems. 

Now, for anyone who's ever been on the margins, whatever your perspective is, might be from an ethnicity perspective, a gender perspective, a class perspective, you experience toggling, right?  You experience what I call boundary spanning. So to that extent, the cognitive load that comes from being you know, talk specifically about meta inter-thesis of gender and ethnic minority representation. There is a ton of toggling, the creativity in the way that I think about it can be exercised by what I call the three I's, and that's inquiry, improvisation, and intuition. 

So now that I've set the table in terms of how I think about creativity, in answer to your question, I think that the cognitive load of boundary spanning when you are an ethnic minority or the only woman in the room or what are class differences, whatever it is, it requires deeper curiosity and you're required to improvise a lot more on the fly, and you intuit an incredible amount.

I don't write about this in the book, but I've started including this in some of my talks and some of the next bit of work that I'm writing about how up through my early thirties, up through my late twenties, I had my hands on my hips, so to speak because I was so tired of being the only one in the room, one of a few. 

And I grew up my father always saying that he was a very proud African-American man. He would be what some people will call a "race man", meaning he had incredible pride and knowledge about who he was and his heritage. But I used to hear him say all the time, you can't get tired. You can't get tired. 

And I didn't understand what he meant by that until of course, as I get older because of the state of things and the reality of things, I don't have the luxury to just sit back. So up through my late twenties and early thirties, I had my hands on my hips. I was like, "Gosh, why does it always have to be this way?" 

I wind up living in Columbus, Sri Lanka, I'm exposed to be able to sit in and witness so many meetings led by some pretty bad ass Asian women, Southeast Asian women, on my trips to Hong Kong, Hong Kong women. And I would observe in business negotiation meetings, typically White Americans who were looking to place orders in these factories. 

And I would see these women, incredibly feminine, often adorned in their indigenous dress in the case of Sri Lanka, the Sari. And I would see these women in a subversive way take what was assumed about them and reverse it to their benefits. By the end of the meeting, everything that I knew, where we want it to land in the negotiation had happened. 

And that was incredible learning for me because as a woman of color, observing these other women, incredibly smart, incredibly skilled in their business roles, there was something about the way that they worked the room that was very familiar to me, but there was also a learning curve that I was experiencing. 

And what I took from that was, hang on, the fact that when I walk into a room, I am typically the only one, one of a few, what it really means is that I have incredible political savvy. I must read a room within the first 90 seconds. I have clear understanding of power dynamics because I have to. I am deeply observant. I'm an active listener. I'm excellent at making others feel comfortable with me. These are assets.

And so, it was this experience, again, of having the privilege to live and work abroad, learn from these other women who to their knowledge, I don't think they realized they were teaching me incredible life lessons, but I was just absorbing it all. And at the time, wasn't quite sure I understood what I was seeing, but I sensed at my sense-making was that there's something really potent here and there's something that I can incorporate back into my own life.

And from that, whatever our perceived pains or deficits are, I taught a course. I developed a creativity course in the winter of 2020, which I'm turning into an online course, it's called The Wonder Rigor Lab. And one of the things in the principles of the courses is that your pains plus your gains are assets.

It's not just your gains which are assets. It's all about how you rebound from a situation, how you incorporate the lessons of a loss. So all those things were huge learnings from this. I love, I love your question about the cognitive load and I actually think the cognitive load of being on the margins and minority requires even greater creativity.

Mahan Tavakoli: And you are such an astute observer, Natalie, of the cultures that you visited. And when I hear you tell that example to me, it's like judo where you are taking the assumptions and what those women in Sri Lanka and others did, taking the assumptions that people come into that interaction with and using the weight of those assumptions to win to your way of thinking. So it's astute observation because part of what you also talk about is the need for curiosity as a part of creativity. 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Yes. Curiosity is fundamental. It's part of the three I's that I refer to as Inquiry, and I've learned a ton by reading the work of Warren Berger, who wrote a really awesome book called A More Beautiful Question and that was followed up by a book called The Book of Beautiful Questions

And Warren Berger reminds us that asking questions is a way of thinking. And too often, curiosity gets drummed out of us because of our educational systems. I referenced, I went to three very different types of schools by the time I graduated from high school and I really learned that lesson firsthand. 

So I started out in urban Philly public schools from kindergarten through third grade, where public school taught me to get really good at getting gold sticker stars and finishing the worksheet and filling in the dots and staying in my lane.  But I was at a school that was majority black. 

Public schools to this day are incredibly segregated environments. And unfortunately, my mom was having to teach me my multiplication tables and how to tell time and fundamentals, and my parents were getting really frustrated with that. And my father figured out that if we went to a school in a neighboring suburb, he would have to pay the taxes to that suburb so we were doubly taxed. 

Paid Philadelphia taxes and the taxes of the neighboring county, Montgomery county. We could go to that school, but that school was majority White American. My sister and I doubled the ethic minority representation overnight. I was the only black kid in the entire fourth grade when I started. 

Actually the whole three years I was there, I was called the N word every other day for the first couple of weeks of school. So while the fundamentals of education were more rigorous and we're much more up to my parents' standards socially, it was incredibly challenging. 

And then I went to prep school. I went to a really phenomenal, elite Quaker prep school in Philadelphia, Germantown friend school, where the culture of learning, it probably took me a good two years to really  feel like I had my footing - two years. Because like I said, I got really good, I was an A student, I knew how to give the teacher what the teacher wanted.

And all of a sudden, I was in a school environment that was all about ask a better frigging question, challenge the teacher.  It's okay to be loud and wrong, the world won't come to a halting screeching stop. And call your teachers by their first name. I mean, there was just so much. 

I was thinking in addition to field hockey, I'm like, what the heck? I got to take the public bus to school, and how am I going to walk home with this wooden field hockey stick? But I did it. And I learned that my friends back on the block and back in public school, we were being educated to be the "fill in the dotters."

And then my friends and I in the prep school environments, we were being educated to be the creators, and the stirrer uppers, and the disruptors, which was fundamentally grounded in curiosity and learning how to learn, which learning how to learn is based in inquiry, is based in asking new and different and varied questions.

And yes, asking a question means you're ignorant about it, you don't know the answer, but instead of it only landing in kind of a punitive space, we also have to remember that asking questions leads to discovery, exploration and experimentation. We actually all know that as little children. I mean, you have young daughters, right? You surely see that constantly in your children, if we think back to our own childhoods. So yeah, curiosity is really, really critical. 

Mahan Tavakoli: And you gave great examples, Natalie, of the school system. I also know that most of your work, both your writing and the consulting work you do is with organizations. A lot of organizations also operate more like the school system where the answers are preset and people are trying to get the right answers to make it through the day, through the week, through the year. 

So for leaders to create an environment that is more creative, which is necessary as we are going through disruption, what do you see as best practices? How can leaders make it more like the environment you experienced in the last school rather than the first school? 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: I love this phrase that Michael Forman, the founder and president of FS investments in Philadelphia, told me when I interviewed him for The Creativity Leap. He said, “In organizations, we have to really get away from the tyranny of no.” Instead of the answer being no, what if the answer is "yes...and"? Which is one of the fundamentals of improvisation. 

What if it's about leaders leading with questions themselves and not just, it's not enough for a leader to say, "Hey guys, I want you to ask any question that comes to you." You have to model inquiry as a leader, and one of the ways to model inquiry as a leader is to share your own self-reflective questions. 

The ways that you are questioning your own choices, the ways you're questioning the trajectory of the business, your what if's, your "I wonder how", "I wonder what would happen if", because that modeling begins to temper the environment and let the teams know that this is the way you think about things and you're not going to come down with the gauntlet if people fail fast. 

I mean, failing fast is like this trendy thing that we hear from Silicon Valley all the time, but let's face it - mostly were like, yeah, I don't think so. You fail fast first and then I have my try. So leaders really have to model inquiry not landing in this tyranny of no and starting to take a real hard examination of culture and not continually mining talent from the same well. 

And again, this is linked to inquiry. Why do we only hire people from those sorts of schools? Why is everyone who we hire under age 40? What if we start looking at community colleges or hire people with a wealth of life experience and no formal degrees? So it's also understanding that the more diverse the inputs, the more innovative the output - and that starts with people. 

Mahan Tavakoli: And you also keep mentioning the fact that asking big questions, asking audacious questions is a big part of that wonder. You balance the wonder though, with rigor. A lot of times when people talk about creativity, they only stick to the wonder part of it. So where does rigor come into the process of that creative leap? 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Well, it's funny. My landing on this way of thinking about creativity was not a straight line. It first started out by, it was part of my doctoral studies. I was very interested in improvisational organizations, so improv and thinking about transposing the lessons from improvisation jazz improv to org design was the first place I started. 

Then I got really interested in intuitive leadership because I was hearing from startup leaders and their origin stories. Something told me not to do the deal or something told me to work with her versus him. And I thought, jeepers, I think they're talking about intuition, but we don't touch intuition in business school, law school, medical school. How might I study intuition when it comes to leadership? 

So I'm a nerd. And I said, oh, what if I could do a miniature ethnography of intuitive leadership? And so I said, I'm going to look at chefs, DJs, first responders, and choreographers, because my assumption, my hypothesis was I think that people who are DJs, chefs, choreographers, first responders have to intuit a lot and I think of intuition as pattern recognition. 

It was when I was really observing different dance troupes in the rehearsal processes and the way choreographers work, the rigor was actually what came before the wonder, because I was seeing the rigorous process, the dance. Obviously, there's rigor in dances, you see it literally in their bodies. The muscle tone, the incredible scale and span of the way they use their bodies as instruments, the rehearsal process, the improvisational intuitive process of choreography, I think of choreographers assistants, designers.

So I was like, okay, so these are creative people. These are people who we think of as "the creatives" and there's a ton of rigor here, but we've all been to performances of any artists' genre, artistic genre, musical performance, dance performance - whatever, where it's technically proficient. They are on point. The rigor is there, but it may not touch you in your heart. 

I thought that well, then there's something else that has to be present. And I tinkered with this, I tinkered with it, tinkered with it, and after a few months, I landed on this idea of wonder. I said, I think that's the other je ne sais quoi that has to be part of the creative process. There's the rigor, yes, but there's this wonder, there's this ability to dream, to be audacious, to have to incorporate all, and curiosity, and as a big blue sky "what if questions" but the rigor is also essential. 

And I think we mystify creativity. As you said, we only go first to the wonder, which actually I didn't go to at first just 'cause I was kind of myopic based on what I was trying to understand with my little ethnography experiment. But rigor is about discipline and time on task and deep focus and repetition and it's often solitary and it's not too sexy, and it is essential for any creative endeavor.

And let me just say that part of my big push is to democratize the way we think about creativity, because if we only think about creativity in terms of art and artists, that's not fair to artists and it's not beneficial to our society at large. Artists happened to be incredibly excellent at exhibiting and manifesting the ambiguous process of creativity and they wrestle with the discomfort of ambiguity. They bore through it. 

Some of them might need to walk away and then revisit it, but they don't drop it. They aren't solutions oriented, they are process oriented. And the best engineers, the best scientists, the best techies, the best teachers, the best farmers, best parents are creative. So the rigor part is something we cannot disavow ourselves of. We're letting ourselves off the hook if we think, oh, creativity is doing what you feel like - not quite. It actually requires you to bore down. 

And the last thing I'll just say to put a bow on this point about rigor, sometimes we conflate rigidity with rigor and I see that all the time in organizations and they're not the same. So rigidity is, this is our plan, this is what we said we're going to do, we can't stop now, we can't turn around that, we said this is the way we're going to do things. And you bore straight ahead, even though there's red flags and the external environment is shifting. 

Rigor is like I'm from Pennsylvania, I'm from Philly. So in Pennsylvania we have the groundhog, which lets us know how many more days of winter. And it's kind of like rigor requires the behavior of a Groundhog where the groundhog, this little creature that peeps his head up out from the ground, and it scans a landscape, and then it adapts. It decides what it's going to do next.

And that's what rigor requires. Rigor still moves forward the discipline and focus and time on task, but it also incorporates, its sense makes, it reincorporates signals on the landscape, and it adapts to it. Rigidity doesn't do that. 

Mahan Tavakoli: And for me, Natalie, in reading your book, that's one of the areas that impacted me the most. I think it comes from your design thinking, systems thinking background, where I hadn't seen the role that rigor plays in the process of creativity. So really appreciated perspectives on that. 

Now you've mentioned intuition and you mentioned it also in the book. I wonder with intuition, are there elements of intuition where our bias can play a role into it? Where there is a positive to intuition, there are potential negatives to intuition, even judgments that we make about people. So where would you see intuition coming in where it can be of value to the creativity process rather than reinforcing previously held and false beliefs? 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Wow. That's another really good question. Not sure I know, but I love the question. I'm not an expert on bias, but I do understand that in terms of the way humans have evolved over time, in some ways, bias is a survival mechanism and helps us to make quicker decisions. 

And I wrote this down somewhere, but someone said, bias or unconscious bias is when that quick decision-making goes horribly left. They didn't say it that way, I'm botching up the way they said it, they said it much more elegantly. But basically, when all of a sudden to make a quick judgment call, it goes horribly left because you haven't taken the time to truly inquire is problematic. 

So just to play on this idea for a moment, what's interesting to me is that if you think of a spectrum, you might have rationality on one end of the spectrum and intuition on the other. Sometimes I think of intuition as pattern recognition. Sometimes people talk about intuition as knowing without knowing. Sometimes I think about intuition as bring feelings. 

It's this interesting kind of intersection of like you know something, like you just know it, but there's no material evidence that you should go left, not right, that you should work with that person and not this other person, that you should study XYZ or you should quit your job and move abroad, whatever the thing is. 

So, I don't know, but I think it's a really interesting question and I think that for some reason, I'm not quite lumping bias in with intuition because sometimes each intuition seems to...what's the word for...not transposing or it jumps over bias, right? Like I may see a man lying on a bench in a public park with a jacket with holes in it, and barefooted and soles of the feet are dirty, and my bias would be, oh my gosh, I can't get near that person, they're a bummer, they're dangerous. But maybe my intuition tells me, see if I can help that person or that person looks like someone I need to make contact with - not rational at all. So I'm just using that example to try to explain how I'm not lumping bias in with intuition. 

But bottom line, my research and my experience teaches me that we really need to lean into our intuition on a much more regular basis for decision-making. I remember when writing The Creativity Leap, I interviewed Biplab Sarkar, who is the CEO of Vectorworks in Maryland, he's a PhD in electrical engineering, heads up a tech software firm.

And when it got to the point of the interview where I was going to ask him about intuition, I thought, oh gosh, he's going to laugh me out the room. This guy, he's like super rational, he's an engineer, PhD, tech software firm. So I gently tiptoed into that trend and he started just like wax poetic about intuition, how much he uses it for his decision-making process. 

Now, he also said he likes to combine it with data and understand what his nudges, how they align with data, but he listens to his intuition. And I think intuition, there's a reason why we have it. In fact, physiologically, each of us has in our bodies, the vagus nerve, V-A-G-U-S. And it's a nerve that goes from the cranium down through the heart, into the gut. So we literally have this internal antenna that is connecting mind, heart and gut. 

So when we mutter things like "My gut is telling me...", it actually is.  Einstein's called the intellectual mind the faithful servant and the intuitive heart the master. And he talked about how we have forsaken the master and only listen to the faithful servant. So someone as brilliant as Einstein was also a huge proponent and devotee of intuition. 

Mahan Tavakoli: And that intuition is absolutely necessary, which is why as valuable as artificial intelligence has become in some aspects of organizational decision making and data driven decision-making, still, creativity and the most valuable decisions come when there is intuition applied to it, beyond just the data and beyond that information. 

Now I know you are, partly because of your dad, partly because of what jazz represents, are a big fan of jazz and improvisation, and see the future of work being more like that. Therefore, for leaders to be able to lead these jazz ensembles in their organizations, what do they need to do to bring out the creativity in leading their teams and organizations? 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Yes. I absolutely believe that the future of work is like jazz and one thing to do is to stop expecting our organizations to work like symphonies and much more like jam sessions. And there'll be times, I mean, there are jazz orchestra, so there are times when there is a convergence and a harmony and a nice melodic structure that is conform to tighter structure. 

But I was really influenced by the work of Frank Barrett who is a academic and a jazz musician, and he has these seven principles of jazz improvisation that we can transfer to the way we lead organizations. So for example, one of the principles is solo and support. And so you'll see in jazz performance where the leader will often be subsumed to the background and will not have any problem with other instrumentalists, musicians being frightened- younger musicians. 

Miles Davis did this all the time. He always was working with younger musicians, Art Blakey, a jazz drummer, was literally physically in the back, but it was always Art Blakey's trio, his quartet, his quintet. So that's one principle to be able to follow,  to let other solo sometimes and be supportive of them, to carve out space for hanging out moments. Frank Barrett talks about how so much brilliance happens in the hallway moments, on the tour bus, and the in-betwixt times. 

And so in our organizations, pre COVID, quarantine, that looked like the water cooler moments. And I always referenced the example of when Pixar was first designing their building, which is now not new anymore, they intentionally made the bathrooms and the water fountains in areas where you had to walk down a certain amount of flights of stairs. It wasn't just out your door, around the corner. You would have those happy accidents and surprising conversations, serendipitous conversations with people.

And then of course, another big principle of jazz improvisation that Frank Barrett talks about is embracing mistakes. In jazz, there is no such thing as a mistake. It's all about the build. And even if it is a mistake, it's an offering to now, what you gonna do with that? I just botched that up a bit or I played it in the wrong key or the chord progression wasn't quite right. But what do we get from that?  

I watched a recent Miles Davis documentary and why he would never want to have to be in a interpersonal relationship with men. He really was brilliant as a musician. One of the things I admire about him was his ability to produce magnificent art and then move on to the next. Apparently, I believe they said this in a documentary. 

He wouldn't listen to an album again after- like, I can't even imagine not listening to Kind of Blue again, or the famous French film, I don't speak French,  but it's like the elevator that scaffolded, The Elevator to the Scaffold, Ascenseur Pour L'Échafaud or something, I messed it up. 

Anyway, he was watching the unedited, uncut film in the screening room and just watching the screen, and just playing his trumpet. And so you literally see on the album notes, it's take one, take two. And just out the gate, it was just phenomenal. So that ability to embrace mistakes, to keep it moving, to clean slate it is something I have not mastered, but it's something that makes us better leaders, makes us easier to work with. It makes us more forgiving of ourselves. 

Mahan Tavakoli: It's something, Natalie, none of us have mastered and the best leaders keep that in mind themselves as they listen to your great advice, read the book, The Creativity Leap, as they try to lead their organizations. That's a great mindset for all leaders to have. 

Now, before we wrap up, are there any books in addition to Warren Berger's which are fantastic books on questions, that you find yourself often recommending for leaders as they want to lead their organizations? 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Yes. I love Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I love Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. I'm a big advocate of rituals so there's a couple of ritual books I recommend. There's a book called Rituals for Work, it's coauthored by Ozenc and Hogan. And then also, Erica Keswin has a new book on ritual, it's called Rituals Roadmap

And there's also this little tiny book, which I go to back over and over again, it's called The Decision Book. It's small and it's full of diagrams and frameworks. I love frameworks and I'm a big advocate of being able to visually diagram and doodle your ideas. I think that that principle is show me, don't tell me. 

And when we draw, we draw people in is a fundamental skill for all leaders to master because it begins to democratize leadership. Number one, you are less intimidating. If you can draw a square, a circle, a stick figure, and arrow, you're golden, and it invites others to add in on the conversation. So I would start there. 

Mahan Tavakoli: Yes and obviously with all those books, you embrace a growth mindset yourself, which is wonderful. Now, how would the audience, in addition to the links we put in the show notes, find out more about you, Natalie? Your organization and your book? 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Well, thanks for asking and also, thank you so much for reading The Creativity Leap, I really appreciate that. If listeners just go to, that's the word figure, the number eight, They can learn all about the projects I'm working on. They can download a free sample chapter of The Creativity Leap, and also maybe in your podcast notes, if you would leave the link for them to download a Wonder Rigor Tip Sheet, and the link is, it's a Bitly link, it's And definitely for people to just to stay in touch, and let me know what you thought of the book, and stay tuned for the launch of The Wonder Rigor Lab online course. 

Mahan Tavakoli: Well, I absolutely will link to those. I love The Creativity Leap, Natalie, the different insights in there, including marrying rigor with wonder. And because of you, I now am trying to be a clumsy student of something... 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Awesome!

Mahan Tavakoli: and tell other people to be clumsy students of something too.

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Wha-What are you being a clumsy student of?   

Mahan Tavakoli: So I'm actually being a clumsy student of volleyball. My girls play volleyball, and one of their teams didn't have a coach. So they were about to disband it. But I decided to volunteer, which means now I have to do a lot of studying on Youtube. 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Oh, that's  wonderful.  

Mahan Tavakoli: and other things, but it came part as a result of having read your book and you saying it's okay for us to be clumsy students of things. 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Oh, that’s awesome.

Mahan Tavakoli: And while I never played formal volleyball, I'm going to be a clumsy student of volleyball to be able to coach. 

Dr. Natalie Nixon: I love that example, and the best teachers love to learn, so there you go. They will be in great hands. That's awesome. 

Mahan Tavakoli: Thank you so much for joining me in this conversation, Natalie Nixon.

Dr. Natalie Nixon: Thank you for having me. It was great to meet you.

You've been listening to Partnering Leadership with your host Mahan Tavakoli. For additional leadership insights and bonus content, visit us at