Posts Tagged ‘Flow’

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

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.





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.

Mind ‘Pops’

You know the experience—when you’re in the shower, perhaps driving, walking, or emerging from sleep in the morning—a great idea pops into your head, or an answer to some problem you’ve been struggling with. This new insight, this Eureka moment, comes seemingly out of nowhere, without effort—it feels like a gift: some sort of grace given to us. Some would therefore discount the validity of the insight. We all have them, all the time, and if you really start paying attention, you will see a pattern; a relationship between  what you are doing when these moments of illumination occur. These ‘pops’ will generally be the best ideas and insights we have about the issues in our lives. Once you really tune in to the framework outlined a couple posts ago you can actually conjure these little helpers. Illustration courtesy of Clive Jacobson.

Tip #1 Avoid the Starting ‘Block’

This, the first in a series of weekly tips in the service of expanding our creative and productive selves.

There’s something about sitting down to a blank page, stepping up to a blank canvas or starting any new project that can be overwhelming….commonly known as the creative block. As a freelancer without a structured work life this can apply to any work we’re doing. We all know the feeling—the fear, resistance and paralysis behind procrastination. One of the best pieces of advice I ever was given was to consciously leave work ‘unfinished’ for the next day—it makes it much easier to start and find your way back in to the flow, picking up where you left off. This seems counter-intuitive in some ways; going against the grain of the discipline of seeing a thing through to completion, yet it sets you up for a stronger start to the next day, avoiding the ‘blank page’ syndrome. If in fact the practice is about showing up each day, and it certainly is, then let each day dovetail off the previous. The new start comes much more readily when already in the flow of the work. Try it to see if it makes a difference….and keep me posted.

Fresh Eyes

Marcel Proust wrote: “The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having fresh eyes.”

It’s a bit like rebooting your computer. What moving to a new place and/or traveling do offer is a different perspective, a shift in our thinking—new possibilities, happiness! Until….we become again habituated to our daily routines and surroundings, losing that refreshed feeling.  What was once new and exciting inevitably fades. This is why some people are addicted to change…and most of us love to travel. Neuroscience supports this. So how can we have ‘fresh eyes’ without a move or travel?

Most of us walk through our days not even paying attention to our surroundings. We are slaves to the chatter in our heads.We can make a conscious decision to see the beauty we miss, daily—faces, geometry, architecture, colors, clothing, kitsch, nature…it’s simply a choice to pay attention, differently. Have you ever thought of how many shades of green there are, or yellow, or white? Pick one color and use your iphone to record as many variations you see over the course of a couple days. See how this wakes you up and enriches the quality of your day…..or choose any visual theme that speaks to you. Try using  your iphone to tune in rather than tune out.


The Wisdom of Subtraction

I don’t know about many of you, but lately I feel like a slave to my to-do list… I’m getting nowhere even though I’m doing so much….. particularly this past year because I’ve been trying to do way too many ‘big’ things at once.  I came across an article the other day, The Art of Adding by Taking Away written by Matthew May. It speaks to the value of looking at what not to do, of having the discipline to discard what does not fit or serve our purpose.  “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day”   from the 2500 year old teachings of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Wow.

I’ve often applied this ‘less is more’ concept in my photography, embracing the Zen aesthetics of  minimalism and empty space in the visual sense. In conversation as well there is richness in silence—it is in the ‘gaps’ where insights occur. How might you apply these principles in your own life?

Busyness does not equal productivity or growth. It often gets in the way in fact, creating the illusion that we’re getting things done. How about creating a not-to-do list to accompany your to-do list? Try it. Think about what you really want to be accomplishing and conserve your resources. It’s about removing just the right things in the right way; this shift in perspective will allow the universe to step in…I call it Grace. Good things are bound to follow.


Seeing Clearly

Vipassana–a Pali word meaning ‘to see clearly’…. Seeing speaks to understanding, illumination, discernment, and wisdom—seeing past stereotypes, cliches and preconceptions. Do you see?  To ’see’ is to look past the obvious, the expected; to take the time, to pay attention. Seeing is more of a right brained (non-verbal, intuitive) activity. Betty Edwards developed a hugely successful approach to teaching ANYONE how to draw based on the premise of drawing what you actually see rather what you think you see. Her book Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain has sold millions of copies worldwide since its’ publication in 1979. I took the class from her son, Brian Bomeisler, who teaches her approach out of his Soho Loft, and I can attest to its merits. Another benefit of ’seeing’ rather than merely looking is an enhanced quality of existence. Our ability to experience our surroundings, no matter how seemingly mundane, keeps us in the present moment.  It takes us out of our turbulent minds. Seeing can be a form of meditation. This has always been a gift photography has given me—the gift of awareness.

To better deal with change we need to see clearly as each moment unfolds, to allow things to be as they are and adjust, to find the joy, to be creative in connecting the dots, seeing patterns, recognizing opportunities. With so much uncertainty and paradigm shift we need new ways of seeing and new ways of thinking. We literally need to change our  minds. To do this it helps to understand how our minds work so we can control what’s in our heads, so we can calm ourselves down, so we can live from what’s really happening, not our judgement-infused perceptions and habitual mindsets. So how do we remain connected to the moment? How do we stop the chatter—internal and external—from taking over? We need to get better at paying attention. Seeing clearly–without the labeling/dismissing. Seeing with fresh eyes. Shifting perception. It’s a muscle we can build.

What is Your ‘Elegant State of Creation’?

We’ve all had the experience of FLOW, or being in ‘the zone’: “When you are truly in an elegant state of creation, you are no body, no time, nothing–you forget about yourself. You become pure consciousness, free from the chains of identity that need the outer reality to remember who it thinks it is.”

My FLOW comes when I’m writing, photographing or swimming to name a just a few.  It’s a delicious feeling during and after; supposedly the more time we spend in FLOW, the better the quality of our life over all. FLOW can be created, and does indeed feel elegant.   Mihalyi Csiksentmihalyi, who has influenced my work hugely,  characterizes FLOW this way, by definition:

1—CLEAR GOALS.  Expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill sets and abilities.

2—CONCENTRATION AND FOCUSING. A high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention. A person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and delve more deeply into it.

3—LOSS OF FEELING OF SELF CONSCIOUSNESS. The merging of action and awareness.

4—DISTORTED SENSE OF TIME. One’s subjective experience of time is altered.

5—DIRECT AND IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK. Successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so behavior can be adjusted as needed.

6—BALANCE BETWEEN ABILITY LEVEL AND CHALLENGE. The activity is neither too difficult or too easy.

7—A SENSE OF PERSONAL CONTROL  Over the situation or activity.

8—THE ACTIVITY IS INTRINSICALLY REWARDING, so there is an effortlessness of action.


…….Where do you find your FLOW?



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