Chris Lewis, founder of Lewis on how he finds creativity

Illustration of Chris Lewis with fire, lightbulbs and bicycle

What puts leaders into creative overdrive? How do they foster an inspiring workplace? Chris Lewis the PR guru to businesses, including 20th Century Fox and Adobe, shares his innovation philosophy

Einstein said creativity is the residue of time wasted. Busy and productive are not the same thing. I’m not a fan of presenteeism, jackets on the back of chairs, and so on. Tertiary organisations pay people to think as well as to do.

I’ve always been a news junkie. I’ve got 400 RSS feeds from around the world.

The creative process is a subconscious one. Ask anyone – whether it’s a politician, a scientist or a clergyman – where they are and what they’re doing when they get their best ideas. They’ll all say, ‘It’s when I’m not working; I’m out of the office; I’m on my own and not trying.’

Never dismiss a shower idea. Boredom is key to creativity. It allows you to imagine what could be. Forcing the pace, consciously trying to think, means you don’t switch off and let things incubate.

Wordsworth, Darwin, Elgar – all great walkers. While out walking they cleared their minds, so that their subconscious could throw up ideas. Dickens would walk around London or Portsmouth from midnight to 6am, which is how he came up with these frightening characters.

These days mountain biking is my way of relaxing. There are times when you’re working so hard that it makes you really appreciate being alone with your thoughts.

An open fire is also a passion. The heat, light and smell of a real fire is transporting.

It’s become a crime to waste any time. That means there’s no time to daydream. Kids now check their iPhones over 100 times a day. So they’re never bored.

You can’t bring the right-side-of-brain forward. Russell Foster, a neuroscientist at Oxford, says that. All you can do is suspend or preoccupy the left-hand, analytic side. Every interruption – every inbox ‘ding’ – sees the left side kick in again and take over.

Some great ideas sound mad. Someone I know, Caleb Harper, wrote source codes for the perfect optimum growth of plants. He made them open source, and people started exchanging the exact digital codes to grow tomatoes, potatoes, kale and so on. Now he’s opening urban farms all over the world to digitise food growth. He intends to turn agriculture on its head, and make it an urban pursuit.

The 2009 Latvian meteorite hoax was an incredible story. Imagine being round the table when someone says, ‘Why don’t we simulate the arrival of aliens on Earth as a way of launching a mobile-phone network?’ Then someone replies, ‘Yeah, that’s not a bad idea.’

My inspiration comes from seeing ordinary people do extraordinary things. A leader’s job should be to make everyone else feel like the smartest person in the room!

Competence always follows preference. Everyone likes being creative because it’s a natural state. Allow people to have fun, heal themselves and be sustainable. If human beings don’t reach their potential, the planet won’t.

Too Fast to think book cover by Chris Lewis

Too Fast to Think by Chris Lewis is published by Kogan Page, price £14.99 paperback

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Chris Lewis is speaking at the IoD on 8 December. For information and tickets, visit

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About author

Nick Scott

Nick Scott

A former editor-in-chief of The Rake and deputy editor of the Australian edition of GQ, Nick has had features published in titles including Esquire, The Guardian, Observer Sport Monthly and Rolling Stone Australia and is a contributing editor to Director magazine. He has interviewed celebrities including Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig and Elle Macpherson, as well as business people including Sir Richard Branson, Charles Middleton and Nick Giles and Michael Hayman MBE.

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