Posts Tagged ‘empowerment’

Routine Creativity

zenstonesblogOne of the most important aspects of Creative productivity is striking a balance between disciplined daily routine and remaining open to new experiences and perspectives—flexible and adaptable—so that we can keep our eyes fresh and energy high. Too much routine can be mind numbing, uninspiring and vortex (tunnel vision) inducing; too little routine reduces the chance of flow and any significant productive creative output. While we can find evidence of creative genius unfettered by routine—the Basquiats and Jimi Hendrixes of the world—there is an unsustainable, crash-and-burn quality to those sagas. Even Toulouse Lautrec showed up everyday for his work in a very routine fashion after his nights of debauchery at the Moulin-Rouge.

I was pleased to come across a recent NY Times op-ed article where David Brooks, celebrating President Obama’s recent UN speech, links routine and hard work to Creativity and…world order. He holds up the habits of writers and artists as inspirational and exemplary, citing Mason Curry’s wonderful book on the daily rituals of artists mentioned previously here.  Brooks writes  “Order and discipline are the prerequisites for creativity and daring. Building and maintaining order—whether artistic, political or global—seems elementary, but it’s surprisingly hard”. Indeed.

Henry Miller declared “I know that to sustain these true moments of insight, one has to be highly disciplined, lead a disciplined life”. How do we find this balance? As Creatives we need to ground ourselves in a daily routine–we need to find what time of day we are most productive and build our schedules around that. We need to show up for a few hours every day, no matter what, and simply put in the time at our chosen craft. It has been my experience time and time again that the rewards come, the muses show up, and everything flows from there. It is in the routine that we find the freedom, the inspiration, and most importantly—the staying power to honor the best we have to give—every day.

 

Gaps as Creative Opportunities

EWatt_gaps_1

We all  experience ‘gaps’ in our lives—those in between times where we are not forging ahead with a strong sense of direction, where we feel a little lost, where we are in limbo. Gaps present as periods of ‘not-knowing’ large and small—the voids and upset we periodically experience as we move through life. These are the uncomfortable in-between spaces—old habits no longer serve, all momentum is gone, all certainty of what to do next evaporates. It’s like the too-long pause in a conversation—uncomfortable. The impulse is to fill the gap—either by pushing hard to move forward or falling back on what was once comfortable. We live in a culture that values certainty over all else, so there are external as well as internal pressures to move out of this space as quickly as possible.

Anyone familiar with the process of creating knows this is where real opportunity lies—in those in between or liminal spaces, the ‘gaps’—the not-knowing. This is where creative energy is found. It is only here where new information can enter, where something that has never existed before—that which is valuable and in alignment with the truth of the moment—can come into being. We are speaking about a form of creative intelligence here—‘Intelligence’–from the Latin inter and legere….which mean ‘to gather between.’ The formula for creativity I so often refer to here supports this–the incubation stage is essentially a Gap—an easing off from the knowledge acquisition stage (effortful) or saturation stage so as to allow the subconscious brain to process and make new connections. Our Eureka! moments come to us in gap spaces–on walks, in the shower, when resting. Artists and creators know how to get comfortable with the discomfort of ‘not knowing’.  

Our brains need to re-calibrate to new realities. If we short circuit this process, we never evolve or connect to our creative selves. We stay stuck. Creativity is about getting beyond what we take for granted, pushing through to new levels of awareness. It’s not easy, but we are infinitely richer for it. The good news is that it is only by slowing down, paying attention and engaging with the chaos and confusion rather than resisting it that we can truly move forward. The answers you’re looking for will emerge when you least expect it; when you think you are ‘slacking off’.

And, speaking of gaps and slacking off; I apologize for the huge space since my last posting here—lots going on. Thanks for tuning back in.

Tip#5: How to have Lots of Ideas

©Maria Ferrari

©Maria Ferrari


The last ‘Tips’ post spoke to the importance of having lots of ideas whenever we’re trying to solve a problem or move our lives forward in some unprecedented way, as our first ideas are most likely perpetuating old ways of thinking. There are numerous tactics floating around out there. Some are more specific than others, and have been popularized by creativity experts such as Michael Michalko, Edward De Bono and Eric Maisel. All are about shifting perception, fostering a spirit of discovery and encouraging free flowing connections. Here is a distillation, with my own take, by way of explanation.

Sharpen the focus. The more specifically you define the problem at hand, the more infinite, original, (and appropriate) the possibilities. Contrary to what many think, creativity flows more freely from constraints and parameters. This is why some artists (Jasper Johns with his flag series) limit their subject matter and concentrate on creative process: how many variations are possible here? It becomes less about the what and the why and more about the how. Begin your brainstorming with questions to laser-tune the focus as much as possible. The likelihood of ‘Flow’ is much greater here as well.

Saturate yourself with inspirationYou need what I refer to as ‘fresh eyes’. Scan the universe for information and ideas related to your issue; fill your head with relevant facts, perspectives, ideas. Be joyful and curious in your approach. Be open to ideas coming from seemingly unexpected sources; seek them out, push beyond your comfort zone (it’s called that for a reason!). It’s all about connecting things in new and different ways. You will surprise yourself.

Set an ‘idea quota’. The popular version of the idea quota, often used in brainstorming sessions in business settings, is the ‘Paperclip’ model: come up with 20 uses for a (paperclip) in 10 minutes—no editing or judging of ideas. The time pressure takes thinking and judging off the table, and can produce some wonderful fresh ideas. The next essential step for this approach to be effective requires an editing phase, or the ‘verification’ as I refer to it in the formula. Which ideas are viable and useful? The best ideas then can be pushed and further developed through mind-mapping, below. This tactic is actually the least interesting to me personally, yet one of the most popular in business settings.

Engage with the Formula.  Another approach integrates the formula for creativity I’ve put forth in previous posts here, allowing right/left brain interplay to occur. Once the problem is defined, saturate (above) then let it go . Set an idea quota, but give it time to allow for the subconscious connections to occur— maybe  5 ideas a day for 5 days in a row. The first 5 might be the hardest, because you’ll be ‘thinking’ too hard, but then ideas will start to flow more freely. Chances are they’ll come in the form of ‘mindpops’ when you’re in a relaxed or distracted mode. I could write a book (hoping to) around this one approach. You could also call this one ‘summoning the muse’.

Work Visually. A much used tool in business brainstorming and strategy sessions is mind-mapping.  Countless software versions have been developed as a result, which I find relatively useless because the real power of mind-mapping comes from the free flowing physical aspect of charting and diagramming thoughts and ideas by hand, with big juicy markers, on a huge piece of paper on a wall, table, or floor . The mind-map breaks us away from a linear way of thinking, which I find often jams my brain because there should be some logic: A precedes B precedes C—too much thinking involved. When you work with ‘idea pods’—continually breaking the thinking down, jumping to other pods, capturing ideas as they pop into consciousness. There is no editing involved, to the contrary, this is hugely stimulating, and sometimes even emotional because it connects us more with what we’re feeling. The mind-map also lets you see all your thoughts and ideas–it’s like a crazy picture of the mish-mosh of your brain. When you can visualize all the seemingly unrelated and undeveloped thoughts, patterns emerge, new connections are made and you have the benefit of this hugely therapeutic mind-dump. I use this approach for my weekly to-do lists as a way of organizing and prioritizing my thinking.

Enough for now. It’s about developing a mindset for more creative thinking and being. Back to the CS mantra: “Change is an art form and creative productivity is a muscle we can build.” Would love to hear any tricks you all may have up your sleeve. I’d be happy to feature them here with credit given 🙂

And for some fun…..A great list of very specific tools for creating ideas can be found at creatingminds.org.

What is Your Ikigai?

cherryblossomsI first came across this term a couple years ago in a TED talk by Dan Buettner on “Blue Zones”—communities (there are 4 in the world) whose elders live with vim and vigor to record setting ages. Okinawa is one of them. Ikigai proved to be one of the core factors contributing to life expectancy. It’s one of those words, often found in other languages, that sum up an idea requiring much explanation in our own. Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an Ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s Ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life—Passion, Purpose, and Fulfillment. It could be as simple as caring for a grandchild. It’s what makes us get out of bed each day.  Here in this country seems everyone’s looking for  their Ikigai. People are in search of themselves—their ‘Mojo’—unlike any previous point in history. Where did it go? Those that know their Ikigai don’t miss a beat when asked what it is—who wouldn’t want that feeling?!  Here’s the good news:  Creativity leads us there by tolerating uncertainty, opening to wonder and joy, becoming fully present, letting go, trusting the process, tuning in to intuition, allowing for the new and unexpected and opening to grace. Have you lost your Ikigai? Do you know where to find it?

Tip #4: More Ideas Create Better Ideas

EW_CJ_dollheadThe difference between Einstein and the rest of us is this: when looking for a needle in a haystack most of us would stop when we find one. Einstein would continue to tear the haystack apart until he found every possible needle. Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents. Both of these creative geniuses knew that the best way to arrive at the one great idea was to have lots of ideas–many of them perhaps mediocre. I remember being blown away by a series of paintings at MOMA several years ago, not by their obvious beauty but from their title and explanation.  The series was entitled the ‘No’ paintings. The explanation was that with each piece, once the artist got to a place where he thought he was done, he would say ‘No’, and keep pushing to make it somehow better. I absorbed this message in a very powerful way; it changed the way I approached my work from then on.

The first idea we have is seldom the best idea, because it’s reproductive (one we, or someone else has already had) and not necessarily the best solution to whatever problem we’re dealing with, whether personal or professional.  It helps to have a spirit of discovery, a willingness to look at things in new ways, and let go of the need for perfection. Coming up with lots of ideas isn’t always easy, but the likelihood of a more elegant solution, and noticeable change will be the result.

 

 

 

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Happy People Embrace Uncertainty

visualsmileThere’s a theory that true creative genius stems from a certain amount of unhappiness. Certainly there is ample evidence in the lives of many tortured artist-souls to support this. Without a doubt some unhappiness fuels the intense self-solving, searching, questioning, and re-interpreting of reality at the root of some of our great art, and certainly some of our greatest art has been produced by those at the extreme end of the spectrum. Two of my favorites, Mark Rothko and Virginia Woolf come to mind.

The link between creativity and happiness doesn’t end there however. With the relatively recent explosion of research into what makes people happy, given that globally it is ranked as the highest personal goal, new studies have shown that happiness boosts creativity, and vice-versa. Creativity as I refer to it here is not necessarily about producing works of art, rather, the ‘art’ of creating our life each day.

In the upcoming August issue of Psychology Today, well-being experts Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener (known as The Indiana Jones of positive psychology), speak to this and turn some conventional thinking on its’ head. In an article entitled ‘What Happy People Do Differently’ the authors state: “Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things that you like. It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone. Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counter-intuitive habits that seem well, downright unhappy. Curious people generally accept the notion that while being uncomfortable and vulnerable is not an easy path, it is the most direct route to becoming stronger and wiser….it’s worth seeking out an experience that is novel, complicated, uncertain or even upsetting, whether that means speaking in front of an audience, starting a blog, or engaging in a new sport. The happiest people opt for both activities that are comfortable and familiar as well as those that push them to evolve in new ways.”

How can you push your comfort zone? It’s about finding that sweet spot—just the right amount of challenge that you can build on to expand your possibilities.

Tip# 3: Power Your Creative Thinking with a Walk

walking“If you can’t think, walk. If you’re thinking too much, walk. If you are thinking bad thoughts, keep walking.”  —Pierre Helaine, founder of Arche shoes.

One of the biggest impediments to creative productivity is the mental block, or rut—sometimes brief, sometimes prolonged.  A great and easily-accessible-to-all way to jump-start your thinking and shift your mindset is to get out and go for a walk.  At the very least it’s a mood booster, at best it’s a creative strategy. I generally get my best ideas while walking…I build it in to my day as a tool to fuel my thinking. I now use the voice memo feature on my iphone to record these thoughts, lest they disappear (very important!). I used to have a pen and an index card in my pocket. I also have a ‘two-loop’ practice: I use the first half of the walk to de-clutter, breathe and relax my mind, and the second to forward-focus my thinking around what I want to manifest that day.

There is science to support this. Repetitive physical movements involving major muscle groups (such as walking, swimming, biking, playing tennis, etc.) influence our overall state of mind. Some claim different forms of physical activity suit different sorts of problem solving: you’ve got your ‘walking problems’ and you’ve got your ‘golf problems’. In addition to the endorphin, serotonin, and oxygenation (happy-makers) boosting effect of these activities, they plug in to the framework of creative thinking I’ve referred to here: the interplay between right and left brain activities.

Darwin constructed a sand-covered path , known as the sandwalk, at Down House, where he wrote Origin of the Species and Descent of Man. He called it his ‘thinking path’. Mozart asserted his best ideas came while walking, Einstein loved to sail regularly, scribbling notes the whole time. Many therapists, recognizing the link between exercise and shifted mindsets, are holding their sessions while walking with their clients, and business innovator Nilofer Merchant recently delivered a TED talk sharing her penchant for holding all her meetings while walking–to the tune of 20 to 30 miles a week!

So the very good news here is that getting away from our cluttered desks, our monkey-minds and being physically active is one of the most productive and creative things we can do.

 

 

 

 

Have you used up your future?

A few years ago, as I was heading into a period of sabbatical, soul searching and reinvention, I found myself feeling very lost and a little unhinged…..and yet a little excited at the same time.  I realized I had left behind so much that had identified and grounded me to that point—my career, home, friends, lifestyle—in order to create some space to explore new directions.  The words ‘lose yourself to find yourself’ resonated daily in my head. The ‘losing yourself’ part isn’t easy; much of it involves dis-identifying with so much comfort and ease….why would we choose that? In need of some guidance I reached out to an advisor of sorts–a spiritual ‘coach’ more or less. As I was grumbling about my career winding down, my empty nest, my dissatisfaction with just about everything in my life at that point—framing it all as some sort of failure on my part, he laughed. He said “Elizabeth, you haven’t failed at anything. That’s the problem…..you succeeded at all of it. You simply used up your future.”

Wow. That simple shift in perspective, that I had fulfilled my vision for my life up until that point and I simply needed a new script to follow…felt so empowering and relieving somehow. By choosing to operate from a place of abundance rather than lack changed my inner dialogue. It’s simply the ebb and flow of life. To choose to bloom again is not always the easiest choice….but it’s far richer and enlivening than staying tight within the bud.

Synergistic Enterprises

As our workspace is being redefined these days it’s very common for many of us to have more than one title—a network of enterprises. More and more we’re having to stretch and expand ourselves to cover more territory professionally; those of us in mid-life who are re-inventing as well as millenials who are cycling through several jobs early on. I see this as a gift–an opportunity to play in a much bigger sandbox. When people ask me what I do, simply responding ‘I’m a photographer’ doesn’t begin to cover it, especially because it doesn’t speak to the distance I’ve traveled and experience I’ve gained since first calling myself that in my twenties. The fact is I have two seemingly completely separate businesses now—photographer/visual asset developer/creative director on the one hand and blogger, coach/consultant/change agent on the other. And yet they feed into and off of one another more seamlessly with each passing day. I’ve stopped trying to make it an either/or proposition. Each path benefits from the nourishing perspective of the other, and both represent my passions, skill sets and life experience. This new paradigm we’re living in, though not without its challenges, does allow for a more holistic approach to our professional lives—no longer either or, rather— both and all. I don’t think I could have gotten away with it ten years ago.

Although a little overwhelming and uncertain at times—with flexibility replacing security and a paycheck—this new model in the workplace is also a gift, an opportunity to grow and engage with people and ideas in multiple ways. It makes room for a fuller expression of our life experience, our creativity—our humanity.

Creativity = Vulnerability

Creating can be scary. Creating involves risk. A true creative act produces something which never existed before. Whether it be a new relationship, a painting, a poem, a freshly baked cake, the launch of a new business or simply a new direction in our lives there is a tremendous amount of vulnerability involved in putting ourselves out into the world in new ways, with no guarantee of acceptance or approval. It is in fact within this uncertainty that the real magic happens. To lean into this calls for a certain sort of wholeheartedness, and a sense that we are enough, regardless of the outcome. If, as I believe we are all artists in the creation of our lives each day, and ART is all just perfectly imperfect….then we must cut ourselves a lot more slack and be willing to fail, miserably if need be. This involves exposure and taking emotional risks. This is the only way to be truly alive. The opposite, staying safely (we think) within our comfort zones, is stagnation and decline.

Brene Brown states: “Vulnerability is the root of all emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.” If you’re one of the few who haven’t seen her viral TED talks, I highly recommend both of them. She really gets to the heart of the matter.

 

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