The creative power of an alter ego - Kathy Varol

The creative power of an alter ego


There’s a certain alchemy that happens behind the bar. As a bartender, I found myself donning an alter ego . Usually content to listen and observe in social settings, as a bartender the bar became my stage, dispensing not just drinks but conversation and camaraderie.

This role gave me permission to explore a more extroverted version of myself. It taught me a powerful lesson: stepping into a new role can be liberating and lead to profound self-discovery. It was less about changing who I was and more about discovering the breadth of my personality. The bar was my sandbox, and every shift provided an opportunity to sculpt new facets of my identity.

Transformation through role-playing isn’t just personal; it resonates on a larger creative scale too. When Paul McCartney embarked on a driving holiday through Europe, he wore a disguise to avoid Beatles fans. The liberation of that anonymity planted a seed in McCartney’s mind that would lead to the groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—by stepping into an alternate persona, the band could defy expectations and stretch their musical creativity.

KISS and Lady Gaga have walked similar paths, their larger-than-life personas becoming vessels for unparalleled artistic expression. These artists understood something fundamental: embracing an alter ego can catalyze a new source of confidence and creativity, pushing past rational fears and springing open the gates to a playground of imaginative freedom.

On the stage of business , this principle holds transformative potential. I encourage leaders to invite their teams to step out of their well-worn roles and entrenched patterns of thought. Consider Kenneth Frazier, Merck’s CEO, who challenged his executives to “kill the company” from the perspective of a competitor, only to then devise strategies to counteract those very destructive plans. It was a dance of mental agility, seeing through the eyes of another to better protect one’s own business.

This is where the magic happens. By stepping outside our usual roles, we gain a fresh perspective on old problems. We liberate ourselves from the “autopilot” of daily tasks and habitual thinking. We challenge the status quo not just in thought but in action.

Here’s why this works: We’re often too close to our problems to see them clearly. Role-playing detaches us, allowing us to psychoanalyze our business with a fresh pair of eyes. By acting out our competitors, we can better understand our vulnerabilities and strengths, revealing urgent paths to innovation that might have otherwise remained obscured.

Such exercises aren’t merely strategic; they’re an invitation to play. And play is the bedrock of creativity and innovation. It’s a collaborative dreaming session where the goal is to simultaneously attack and defend, to disrupt and to build. It taps into the collective imagination, weaving together the insights and ingenuity of diverse minds.

So, let’s raise a glass to the roles we play, for they are more than mere characters; they are conduits to our most creative selves. By allowing ourselves and our teams the freedom to explore these identities, we do more than foster innovation—we celebrate the multifaceted human spirit and all the potential it holds.

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