For TEDx speaker, creativity means cracking our cocoons

Mukilteo resident who produced ‘Almost Live!’ to take on rising isolationism
By Nicholas Johnson | Mar 01, 2017
Courtesy of: Bill Stainton This 2015 photo shows Bill Stainton giving a keynote speech during an annual convention of the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates in front of about 500 credit union leaders in Savannah, Georgia. Stainton said the TEDxStanleyPark event will be among the largest audiences he’s addressed. “This is a real feather in the cap for me,” he said.

Bill Stainton says the topic of his upcoming TEDx talk has only become more relevant since it was first hatched in September.

“The few people I’ve run this talk by have said it’s so timely,” the 15-year Mukilteo resident said. “It’s not lost on anybody. I don’t blatantly talk about Donald Trump or Brexit, but it’s hard to listen to my talk and miss that subcontext.”

Having beat out more than 200 applicants, Stainton is set to be the opening speaker at one of the world’s largest TED events, TEDxStanleyPark, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, March 4.

He’ll deliver his 15-minute talk, “Crack Your Cocoon,” at 10:15 a.m. in the 2,659-seat Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and thousands more will watch live as it’s streamed worldwide. To livestream his talk or watch it later, visit

“We are isolating ourselves more and more in this country and in the world,” he said. “The more we do that, the more we’re cutting ourselves off from creative ideas and, ultimately, the solutions to our problems.”

Exploring unfamiliar ideas can spark creative solutions by helping us connect new dots we may have never considered before, Stainton said.

“If you open yourself to more people and ideas, you can have more original ideas and connect more dots,” he said. “We should all be dot collectors and dot connectors, and those dots can be anything. You never know what new idea could mean big success for yourself or your business.”


Creative spark

As executive producer of Seattle’s legendary comedy TV show “Almost Live!,” Stainton lead his team to more than 100 Emmy Awards and 15 years of No. 1 ratings. Since then, he has worked as a keynote speaker and author, sharing his insights on leadership and creative idea generation.

Stainton, 59, said his success is directly tied to allowing new and different ideas to spark creativity, something he said anyone can do.

“People have this idea of creativity as a lightning bolt that only sparks the gifted few, but not the rest of us,” he said. “There is no gifted few. We all have access to that creative spark. By forcing ourselves to relate to new ideas, anyone can unlock the creativity that is within all of us.”

Just as that spark exists within us all, so too does a skepticism that can block new ideas. For example, when Johnny Depp canceled his guest spot on “Almost Live!” at the last minute, Stainton and his team struggled to find a replacement.

“We were in our cocoons, and we had our blinders on as we looked for a good guest,” he said.

As the team sat around brainstorming ideas, Bill Nye, a writer on the show, pitched a new character of his own.

“We were all trying to come up with another guest to interview,” he said. “That’s when Bill Nye said, ‘Maybe I could do something with liquid nitrogen.’

“Bill had always been a science guy, and he’d always looked at the world differently from the rest us. At first, we couldn’t see it, until he explained the character more. And that’s how Bill Nye the Science Guy was born.”


Cracking the cocoon

Stainton said most of us spend our time with a core group of people who reflect our ideology, which drastically limits our exposure to new ideas.

“We tend to hang out with little clones of ourselves,” he said. “In our isolation, we’re becoming more and more polarized.

“We choose to watch only MSNBC or only FOX, only Breitbart News or only The Huffington Post. I think it’s really hurting us, not just as communities, but also as individuals and businesses. There are stories of marriages literally breaking up because one person voted for Trump. I don’t remember that kind of thing happening before.”

The rise in polarization can be seen in the resistance to a mosque project in Mukilteo, he said.

“We’re all being run by fear, and fear makes us retreat. That’s entirely the wrong thing to do.”

It’s easy to shut ourselves off to new ideas, to seek refuge in the familiar, he said, but that limits our ability to understand each other and solve shared problems.

“Instead of looking at other people as different, look at them as pieces to a puzzle,” he said. “If you shut yourself off to those other pieces, you’re never going to get a complete picture.”

His advice: Show others respect, whether or not you agree with what they have to say.

“The world is basically a big mirror,” he said. “It reflects what we put out into it. If we treat others with respect, we are likely to get respect back. That’s got to be the starting point.”

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