The Assignment (Episode 108)

The Assignment (Episode 108)

Interview with Stiven Kerestegian, Head of Disruptive Innovation at IKEA Group.

Have you ever been completely overtaken by a creative project? Have you experienced the feeling when there is this one creative thing that you just have to finish, that pushes virtually everything else in your life out of the way? Like if you are on a mission.

Then you have received The Assignment. The Assignment – with a capital A – is the description of when creativity takes over a person.

The Assignment is larger than the person. Bigger than life.

Or, in the words of Stiven Kerestegian: “It’s an Assignment from the Universe.”

Of all the creative people I have ever interviewed Stiven has one of the most impressive creative CV’s I have ever seen. He has led the Open Innovation practice at LEGO Future Lab, was one of the first contributors to the X-box for Microsoft as well as lead designer of several iconic mouse & keyboard products and today he is Head of Disruptive Innovation at IKEA Group. (He even proposed an Ipad-like device for Kodak before Steve Jobs created the actual Ipad, but Kodak was not brave enough to pursue it then, so Stiven left.) Oh, and he founded and still runs, an ethical shoe brand, Chilote Shoes (, on the side. He is a creative powerhouse.

And many times during his career he has been given The Assignment.

Stiven described the feeling you feel when an Assignment takes over: “You do not know why you need to do something, but you are 100% sure you have to do it.”

Stiven has put up the four rules of The Assignment. They are:

– Thou shall not compromise

– Thou shall be comfortable with the uncomfortable

– Thou shall be a servant to the assignment

and finally:

– Love. And do not fight it.

Let’s break these four rules down:

– Thou shall not compromise

When you are on an Assignment you are on a mission, but the mission is not yours. It’s given to you and you need to make it happen. No matter what.

– Thou shall be comfortable with the uncomfortable

When on an Assignment you need to trust the process. Think of a person being pushed by a strong current. There is no meaning in fighting it. Just let it drag you with it. A powerful idea that has gotten a hold of you will pull you with it. Let it.

– Thou shall be a servant to the Assignment

Understand that when an Assignment has decided to bring you in then this is not just “your idea” or “your creative project”. The creative project has a life of its own, you are just the human vessel chosen to push for and manifest it. It has a purpose and energy of its own and your job is to help that idea become a reality. So do not take the role of “the creator”, or think of yourself as “the master of the idea”. Instead, think of yourself as the servant of the Assignment. The one that helps the idea reach its full potential by using your experience and resourcefulness to make it so.

and finally:

– Love. Do not fight it.

Just like true, unconditional love lets you surrender, in this same way, you need to surrender to the Assignment. Surrender, not in the meaning of “giving up” but in the meaning of “not resisting”. Let the Assignment guide you, and trust that it will, simply because the universe has converged you with this Assignment. One has little choice but to surrender to it just like true love.

Stiven explained to me that it’s equally important to learn to identify an Assignment when it invites itself to you, as well as learning to know when the energy of the Assignment has left you and when it’s time to move on to another creative project. Just like how a surfer needs to learn both how to see a wave before it comes to her as well as needing to know when to jump off the wave to go out for the next one.

Let me give you an example of the Assignment. A couple of years ago I suddenly got an urge to build a geometric dome on the island I live on. I do not know where that idea came from, but suddenly I got obsessed with the idea. I started researching dome builders, applied for a permit from the government but it was rejected. I then researched ways to have the decisions overruled. Got another no, but I kept pushing. People told me to just give up, but I kept arguing with the local government. Finally they – for some magical reason – changed their mind and gave me approval. When the dome arrived I literally pushed away every other thing on my todo-list and spent two days – non stop – building the dome. I just stopped to sleep. It’s a small, almost silly, example but it illustrates the energy that the Assignment gives a person to get an idea done.

The Assignment is different from Flow. Flow is a state where ideas and results just seem to flow naturally. Assignment is a state where you feel overtaken by one creative project and it feels like that project is directing and pushing you. Flow is enjoyable. Fulfilling the Assignment can be, but doesn’t have to be. But while flow is a state of mind, the Assignment is a state of being. Of giving yourself up to the task of making a specific idea happen.

The next time you feel you have been given the Assignment, embrace it.

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