7 lessons why Dolly Parton can improve your innovation & creativity

Dolly - just the ticket to improve your creativity

If you want to develop your flexible thinking and your innovation and creativity skills – you need to draw lessons from any experience.

Whether you like/dislike or indifferent to country singer Dolly Parton – there are great lessons to learn for your innovative, creative, and flexible thinking skills.  

I must admit I am not a great country and western music fan, being the first to break out of step at any line dance, while my checked shirt collection owes more to being grunge-inspired than hillbilly, yet I practice what I preach, keep an open mind and can recognise quality when I see it.

So, last weekend saw me going to see country-great Dolly Parton on herUKtour, (as well as partly to keep my mother-in-law happy) but I came away in awe of a great talent – and also some valuable lessons for your creativity. 

1.      Make the most of your talents

Dolly proclaims her talent as a ‘God-given talent’, but there is also no mistaking the woman has worked damned hard to develop her craft skills, and is seemingly always extending her range and capabilities.

She had many years singing at church and later inNashvilleto develop her core talent. Yet, witnessing her show, she turned her hand to at least eight different musical instruments: even Dolly Parton wasn’t content to just sing like Dolly Parton!

The lesson for each of us is to work at our core craft skills – and keep adding to them. What’s the equivalent of another musical instrument in your work? 

2.      Be flexible – and borrow bits of other people!

Dolly’s flexible thinking is also demonstrated by her choice of material. Despite being a consummate songwriter (yes, I’d forgotten that she had written Whitney Houston’s mega hit ‘I will always love you’) her set also included material from Led Zeppelin.

Which bit of other people can you borrow to become even better? 

3.      Share your vulnerabilities

This might seem an odd choice to highlight your weaknesses or shortcomings, but it is a valuable lesson for anyone in motivational speaking, or indeed, in selling anything.

Dolly makes great virtue of sharing about many of the problems she has encountered. The song ‘Jolene’ for example, tells the story of making a plea to someone to ‘not take my man, even though you can’.

By sharing your weakness, or moments of vulnerability, you are building a bridge of rapport with those you seek to engage with: you are not just a clever so-and-so who has all the answers, but come across as someone with a shared experience: you are, or have been in their shoes.

If you want to persuade anyone, or get them to join you on your march, you need to share your shoes with him or her. 

4.      Bounce back 

A theme running through Dolly’s many homilies and anecdotes is a message of overcoming adversity, bouncing back, and coming back stronger and even more determined.

No matter how good your ideas are, there will always be someone saying ‘No’, can’t be done, or worst of all, even just ignoring you. (I hope the marketing people at Krispy Kreme doughnuts are reading this.)

If Dolly can overcome a dirt-poor up bringing, or even people like Whitney Houston taking the prime spot on one of her best songs, can you similarly overcome the things you perceive as currently holding you back? 

5.      Develop your brand icons

If I mentioned to you the name ‘Dolly Parton’ – what is the picture in your head?

I won’t enquire about the precise details of what you are picturing: I will guarantee however, that you will have some picture in your mind. (Try this exercise with other great country singers like Tammy Wynette or Billie Jo Spears – do any pictures come to mind?)

Dolly has an outrageously distinct blond wig. You would also probably recognise her voice being interviewed on the radio, and so on.

In brand terms, Dolly is iconic-rich: she has a vast wardrobe not just of clothes (which could be one of the images you thought of) but also of attendant memory-triggers. She has made it hard for her brand to be forgettable or overlooked.

Now, I am not suggesting you pose in a blond wig, or develop a Southern drawl, but what ways do you make it easy for people to remember you? And are your memorable qualities supportive of your brand aspirations? 

6.      Nurture your constituency

The previous evening to seeing Dolly I went to another gig – of reggae-legend Jimmy Cliff. There was a big contrast in their audiences: the only black face I saw at Dolly’s gig was of a backing singer, while pink cowboy hats were conspicuously absent at the show featuring the star of ‘The Harder They Come’.

Both acts had their respective constituencies. And the question you need to ask is: “Who is your constituency, who is it you appeal to, and equally do not attract?”

Most people make the mistake of trying to appeal to everyone – ending up being bland not brand.

To make things happen, every talent needs a constituency to buy from you, and be nurtured by you, and in turn, support you. 

7.      ‘Dollywood’ – what would yours be like?

After the concert I shared my experience with my daughter. She said that she would one day like to go to ‘Dollywood’, the theme park inspired by the singer.

I too would like to go: I wonder what you would find there?

What would you find a theme park inspired by you?

Using the theme park as a metaphor helps you to identify your strengths, problems, opportunities and threats. It can show you can make your qualities more engaging, momentous and memorable. Try it – it’s quite a thrill! 

I would like to thank Dolly Parton for being both a great talent and for inspiring these seven tips to hopefully be an inspiration for your own innovative, creative, and flexible thinking skills.

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