Going Against the Tide

The world is rich with examples of originality. Original means independent and creative in thought and action. Nowadays, we call it thinking outside the box, a phrase supposedly derived from a puzzle created by an early 20th-century British mathematician. Whatever you call it, it very often means going against the tide, which may not be the easiest way to go. But sometimes the easiest way is also the mediocre way, and that’s OK if that’s your standard. But it isn’t mine, and it most likely isn’t yours either if you’re taking the time to read this.

When I was starting out in real estate, my father thought I was nuts to want to build in Manhattan. It was going against the tide, and I knew I was up against some pretty big odds, but I wanted to carve my own niche. I had my own ideas and knew I’d have to be independent as well as creative to see them happen. I’m certainly happy I decided to take the chance and to go for it. It would have been easier for me to just stay with the family business and leave it at that.

Fortunately, I had a good education and experience behind me. I always warn people not to jump into anything unprepared. It’s that old fine line between bravery and stupidity. Know the tides before you dive in. There’s always a certain amount of danger, danger meaning the unknown, even in shallow waters. Riptides and sharks exist. Sometimes you don’t see them until it’s too late. Keep that in mind no matter how sensational or fool-proof you think your idea might be.

A big mind requires a variety of thoughts and impulses to keep it well occupied.

Charles de Gaulle is a figure of historic importance, especially as it pertains to World War II, and he came from a family of historians and writers. In fact, his father taught literature and philosophy. But the young Charles de Gaulle had a passionate interest in military matters, and he was determined in every respect to pursue this unexpected passion. He was a force in world history known for his extraordinary stubbornness. He became known as “the man who said no” when he refused to accept the terms of the armistice with Nazi Germany. When he said no, he meant it. There was no equivocating. I don’t know all the details of his early life, but I can imagine a boy from a family of intellectuals might have experienced some scrutiny when he displayed an intense interest in all things military. But he knew what he wanted to do, and he followed his own path.

It’s a good idea to take your own pulse once in a while, instead of just focusing on what the masses are doing. Take a break from expectations, from the media, and plug into yourself. You might find that your electricity is better suited to another socket. You might have to exert yourself, but look at the alternatives that remain. Get out of your so-called comfort zone. I call it complacency, and it’s a good way to get nowhere….

People often talk about something new being “innovative.” Most of the time, it’s simply putting together existing elements to create what appears to be new. I was touted as being innovative when I came up with the mixed-use condominium and hotel tower, which I did with the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City. Since then, the concept has been copied (by myself and others) and it has proven to be tremendously successful, nationally and internationally.

To me, the idea was common sense, and I didn’t think I was being particularly creative. When I look back, maybe I was. But when I read subsequent articles about innovation and certain inventors, it got me thinking about how one might become an innovator, which is something I think is important for students to think about.

I remember reading about a composer named Steve Reich who came up with a new idea called phasing, which is like windshield wipers going in and out of synch. Apparently, he was caught in a traffic jam one rainy day and the rhythm of the windshield wipers caught his attention, and he applied what he heard to his musical compositions. He has had a significant influence on contemporary music, and I think he’s a great example of an innovator. Sometimes new ideas can come from something as mundane and functional as your windshield wipers. The key is to pay attention and keep your brain and senses open to new stimuli.

It also helps to be able to think of two things at once—multilevel focusing is what I call it. Innovation follows the intersection of ideas—thinking in musical terms while listening to your windshield wipers; or thinking of a hotel tower and condominiums at one time; or maybe watching a stone roll and imagining a wheel. Who knows what will result? Sometimes it will be fantastic and other times it won’t, but it gets the mind working in new dimensions that can sometimes prove fruitful.

This can also happen without deliberately attempting to be innovative, so the other technique to employ—consciously and unconsciously— is to keep an open mind. That’s very important in business as well as in the creative arts. Don’t limit yourself to staid thinking because you want to excel in business. My first book was called The Art of the Deal because I view business deals as an art form. Maybe that’s why I’ve been a successful deal-maker. I employ both sides of my brain when I’m thinking and working.

You may be aware of the numeric value phi, which has an astonishing history. It’s been employed by people from Pythagoras to da Vinci, and most likely the builders of the pyramids used it as well. It’s been around for a long time, and the number itself is 1.6180339887. It’s called the golden ratio, and if you want to know more specifics, you can read The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio, who goes into great detail about it. My point is that it appears that some people use the number deliberately, and other people know it subconsciously and it can appear in their work with or without intention. But it can be used intentionally, and very often is. It’s very mysterious, as this ratio appears in unrelated works and natural phenomena, from the chambered nautilus to galaxies to artwork and architecture. It can make your innovative attempts a little easier when you make an effort to understand that there are mysteries in life and to be open to them.

I’m not advising you to dwell on the mysterious—a successful life requires common sense and hard work—but to be aware of things that are sometimes inexplicable because they can be a big step toward innovation. We don’t really create, but we assemble what has been created for us. Be a great assembler—no matter what your interests may be—and you’ll be on your way to inventiveness. A big mind requires a variety of thoughts and impulses to keep it well occupied, so make sure you keep your mind engaged in the best ways possible. It could very well be your calling card for success.

From the book Think Like a Champion by Donald J. Trump. Excerpted by arrangement with Vanguard Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2009.

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