Start Being Creative: Get in the Right Mindset

16 08 2011

Last week, I talked about how being a creator is more important than being creative. Being process-oriented rather than results-oriented frees the act of creation from stress, judgements and fear and refocuses on what it should be: a fun, expressive and productive activity.

In this blog post, we talk about being creative in the most traditional sense, in terms of artistic expression. The types of hurdles we face during these kinds of projects, however, can be applied to any new life endeavors. Just like a bodybuilder has to gradually train to be able to bench press 250 pounds, we need to gradually build up what it takes to make significant changes in our lives. Learning to overcome anxiety, insecurity and fear when undertaking personal side projects exercises the same qualities required to conquer those bigger goals.

We all have some artistic or creative dream we’ve always wanted to accomplish: be an amateur photographer, finish an oil painting, write a novel, play the mandolin…etc. These hobbies or artistic projects are usually a low priority compared to our careers, family or friends. But if it’s an interest that you’ve kept in the back of your mind for years, it’s worth dusting off and really taking a stab at. Here are some tips to get you in the mindset to start being creative.

Cut the Excuses!

No more saying that you lack the time, the materials or the knowledge to start a new project. Claim you don’t have time? Just chip away at it bit by bit. If you can spare an hour to watch a TV show or mindlessly click through StumbleUpon links, then you have the time.

Oil painting requires paints, brushes, palettes, an easel, canvases, paint thinners and varnish and those can cost a lot. So practice sketching in the meantime. Study up on technique, color mixing, composition and perspective while you start to gather up all the other supplies.

You say you lack the knowledge? Well of course you do, you haven’t started yet. Remember, creating is a process. Van Gogh didn’t conjure up Starry Night with a snap of his fingers. For that matter, Van Gogh didn’t conjure up the talent it took to create Starry Night in an instant either. The knowledge is there for you to take in as soon as you decide to start. The more you create, the more you’ll learn.

Celebrate your imperfection!

If ever you are discouraged from even starting something new (whether it’s being creative or trying a new career move or starting a new relationship) the reason is typically fear. We are afraid of not doing things right or of not doing them well.

I remember in middle school I convinced my dad to buy me an electric bass guitar. I quit after 2 weeks because I still sounded like I did on day one: like crap. Of course, having the short attention span of a 12 year old didn’t help either, but what ultimately made me quit was the self-consciousness of not doing well. I didn’t even give myself the chance to gain a little skill so I could start being creative with it.

So don’t be afraid if your first painting of a horse looks more like an elephant. Don’t be afraid that you’ve been practicing just one guitar chord for weeks. Embrace it! Own the fact that you are the best horse-elephant painter alive. Write a simple song with just one chord and make your friends sit through a concert of it. Being creative is about expression and having fun.

The best motivational quote I’ve heard for being creative is: “A writer is not someone who is published, a writer is someone who writes everyday.” The same goes for being an artist, a musician, a cook… It is important to first focus on the process of creating rather than on the quality of the thing created because being “creative” requires that you’ve made something in the first place.

Creativity Exercise: Make your own box to think outside of

Ok, so now you have the confidence to begin creating….but still feel stuck? Here’s a tip based on science, that’s right, real science to help you out. You see, absolute freedom of choice actually makes us anxious. We are anxious that we will make a poor choice, that there is some better choice or that by choosing one thing, we lose out on all other things. So if this anxiety about choosing the right way to proceed is paralyzing your creativity, then practice imposing restrictions on yourself.

Paint a picture with just one color. Try creating as many new recipes as you can with just 4 ingredients. Take pictures of just one type of object or theme for a week. Try nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) where the objective is to get 50,000 words down on paper in a month, no matter what or how good those words are. The restrictions can steer you when you get stuck. They can also force new perspectives and new approaches which will let your creativity flourish.

What project do you have sitting in your garage or in the back of your closet? What’s keeping you from picking it back up?

We’d love to hear your comments and tips for creativity!

Image from luis.galarza.blogspot.com

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Be Create-ive, not Creative

2 08 2011

We often look to the great artists, musicians and writers as being in an untouchable tier above every one else. Those people are creative and the rest of us are not. Their work belongs in museums or deserves to be published but ours does not.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We all have the capacity to create. Perhaps we just need a shift in our mindsets about what being creative actually means.

What Makes Creative so bad?

When we think of the word creative, we most often take it to mean original. Most people’s concept of creative is of something new, something that no one has ever thought of before. Attaching these connotations to the word can have negative effects and can stop people thinking they can be creative or from even trying to create.

Claiming that for a piece of work to be creative, it has to be an original or new idea, puts a lot of pressure on any people in pursuit of creativity. There’s estimated to have been over 100 billion humans over the entire course of history for tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years, trying to do something completely different from all of them is a tough task, even more so considering that among those people were Da Vince, Picasso, Shakespeare, Monet etc. If we get too caught up in being original, in differentiating ourselves and our work, we might lose focus on what’s most important: the simple act of creation.

Creative is typically a word used most often for achievements in the fine arts such as painting, classical music or literature. But doodles on napkins, a batch of cupcakes or a whistled tune are also acts of creation.

Creativity is also seen as a quality that people either have or they don’t. Even from very early on, if a child paints a particularly good painting or tells an imaginative story, they are labeled as creative while others are not.The problem with viewing creativity as an internal and individual quality is that actually everyone is capable of creating and we all do create things quite often. Believing a creative quality is inherent in some but not others is a misused and potentially harmful fallacy. People who are never called creative can be discouraged from even trying to create.

So What Makes Create-ive better?

Focusing on the verb “create” rather than on the thing created or how it compares to what other people are doing helps us refocus on the actual purpose of creating. The reason people love to create, love to build, love to make art or love to cook is because they experience joy and a sense of accomplishment from the process and from the very act of creating.

It’s time we take away this overemphasis on being original. Even the most creative people are influenced by others. All artists are hacks. They borrow, copy or downright steal from one another. What’s more important than being original and what those creative people really did was put a part of themselves in their work. Let yourself shine through in your final product.

By seeing creativity as a quality that is either turned on or off in someone, we devalue any sort of skill or hard work that people put into their creations. It would mean that every piece of art, every song, every monumental novel is due to that quality. The years that artists and craftsmen put into learning, practicing and training are dismissed. Such a view can also act to discourage people from trying to create. If they don’t immediately pick up a new art form or struggle at first with learning a new skill they might think “Well I just may not be creative.”

Which definition of creative is in your dictionary? Want tips on how to be more create-ive? Check in next week for the second part of our Creativity series.

Image from http://www.americanflagimages.info





The bodily curse of the knowledge worker

23 01 2010

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The turn-of-the-millennium business buzzword ‘knowledge-based economy’ sounds downright archaic  these days.  Except for the fact that we now actually live it, through every tweet and with every blog post.  Each of us has become a de facto knowledge worker, skimming cryptic 140 character updates or 1500-word articles for nuggets of wisdom that can propel ourselves, our work or our businesses to greater heights.

Deepak Chopra mentioned in a recent Youtube video that recent social media phenomena such as Twitter and Youtube are simply channels to exchange universal inter-connected energy and information.

It can’t be denied that we are spending increasing amounts of time and energy than ever before engaged in conversations, information or knowledge exchange and a more networked reality.

Which can get us in our heads.

And disengaged from our bodies.

It is vital that we continually bring our whole selves, and not just our knowledge worker brains, to the table each day.  As someone who spent years as an employed knowledge worker, there were times when I neglected or, worse, forgot that my body required as much TLC as my brain craved stimulation.

In Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk Do schools kill creativity?, he said ‘University professors…look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. It’s a way of getting their head to meetings.’  Taken to the extreme, we as knowledge workers could all end up like the humans in the movie Wall-E, cheerless immobile and atrophied bodies that rely on technology to ambulate.  Such is the potential curse of the knowledge worker.

I exaggerate, I know.  But how can we make more conscious decisions to start living from the neck down too?

This is not an easy thing to remember when you’re caught up in the daily pressures of managing a business, or you’re a recently unemployed person who’s busy worrying where the next paycheck is coming from.  Who has time for food, exercise or realizing that you haven’t left your seat for the last hour?  There’s one more email that must go out, one more job ad to reply to.

Beware the perils of an over-used brain.  Burnout is not a pretty sight and won’t do you, your family, your employees or your customers any favors.

When you lose touch with your body, you start suffering from a chronic pain, your gastric juices give up on you, headaches are a constant in your life…the list goes on.  Before you know it, your immune system is compromised and disease could set in.

What’s more, a lack of self-care could ultimately limit the creativity and flexibility you need to grow or tend to your career.  Conscientiously harnessing the mind-body connection can generate personal breakthroughs at work and play.

So…what we can do about all this?  There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will lift everyone out of their brain-led doldrums, but creative wellness practitioners espouse several ways to reconnect to one’s body.  Some are listed here – try them out for size.

1) Breath.  Meditation and yoga are the most popular breath practices today.  Classes and books are easily available, or you can simply reprise your first act when you left your mother’s womb.  Stop what you’re doing, and breathe. (Crying your lungs out, like when you took your first breath, is optional.)  Feel your ribcage rise and fall.  Make each succeeding breath slower and deeper.  It can take as little as ten breaths to positively alter your mood.

2) Movement.  Get up, take a walk around the office floor or the block.  If going to the gym or pounding the pavement is not your thing, perhaps a dance class could be more enjoyable and sustainable.  And you don’t even have to be rhythmically-inclined – in Nia practice, for instance, each person moves at their own level of intensity and awareness through a dynamic blend of dance arts, martial arts and healing arts.

3) Sound.  This interesting journal article explores vocal improvisation as a means to better understand and connect to oneself.  In an especially relevant quote, it states ‘At the individual level, singing is making music with the body as instrument. As such, it is a form of “body work” that has the potential to do what all therapeutic body work does. It can release tension, loosen blockages of cellular energy, and access emotion, and memories that may be locked in various locations in the body.’

Remember, acknowledge and nurture your body.  Your loved ones, co-workers or business will thank you for it.





Being a startup in 2010

5 01 2010

We’ve welcomed 2010 at home and now at work.  As thoughts of New Year champagne and merrymaking fade into recent memory, projects and deadlines loom large.  Targets, goals, benchmarking…hello job!

According to this WSJ article, Americans are less satisfied with their work than ever.  No kidding.  Between doing more with less for at least a decade, and this style-cramping no-end-in-sight economy, I dare you to find 10 friends who go to work for ‘the man’ with a song in their heart.

All of which gave me additional pause when I read that startups will keep struggling in 2010.  For many of us working in professional chain gangs, we dream of changing our work path, breaking free & finally being our own boss.  The article delivered a somber forecast, but here are some silver-lining thoughts if you want to or have already launched your own gig.  See if these might change your perspective:

  1. Angel investors and venture capitalists are doing more, but smaller deals.  VCs are targeting later-stage companies to minimize their risk.  And the SBA may see a modest stimulus-induced uptick.    So…funding is still out there.  What REALLY counts, more than ever in this climate, is a rock-solid business strategy that can be creatively and successfully implemented on a budget.  In other words, prove you know how to accomplish more with less dinero on as many fronts as possible.  If nothing, you will stand out for your ingenuity and resourcefulness.
  2. Companies are asking friends & family to work for free i.e. exchanging services or trading favors.  If you’re already neck deep in entrepreneur literature, this will not be news to you.  Consider 2010 the year to call in those favors – this is no time to be shy if you truly believe in your idea.  And if you’ve established high credibility with former bosses or colleagues, ask them if they’ll put their money or time where their faith is.
  3. Given the funding situation, a budding restauranteur featured in the article is rethinking his setup.  Instead of going it alone or starting from scratch, he may take on partners or invest in a failed restaurant.  So get creative.  Study that business plan again.  Is there something you can tweak without compromising your vision?  Is there a market entry point you haven’t considered?  Start talking to people abut your startup.  You’ll be surprised by what they reveal or point you to.  In this networked world where information courses at a million miles a minute and ideas just like yours could be a dime a dozen, sharing your idea won’t necessarily diminish your competitive edge.  However, a lack of  follow through and flawless execution will.

The business climate may not be ideal for your startup right now.  But that didn’t stop companies from trying and succeeding in previous downturns.  Give that budding vision a chance to breathe, evolve and eventually become the full-blooded entity you know it can be.

A New Year’s toast to your dream.  Cheers!





Making change fun

15 12 2009

There are probably as many behavioural change theories as there are people who want to change.

What bogs most of us down, I think, is that change is often positioned or perceived as something hard, requires large doses of self-discipline and is longdrawn.

It doesn’t always have to be that way.  In this Volkswagen initiative, site creators believe that fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.

As I reflect on my own recent path through change, I can relate.

I started taking improv lessons a year ago, and to say they’ve been life-changing is a monumental understatement.

The rewards of improvisation extend far beyond its theatrical ability to entertain and captivate.  When done well, the improviser experiences not just a unique sense of ‘flow’ or being ‘in the zone’, but a surreal feel of collaborative storytelling, reminiscent of childhood playground fantasy games.

In a word, good improv is FUN.  For the performers and the audience.

What, then, does all this have to do with change?

One of the first tenets of improv is having the courage to fail and take risks.  If you make a mistake, celebrate, don’t berate.  That barrier is easier said than done to cross, particularly in our structured left-brained dominant world, but reaching the other side is oh-so-sweet.

For when you’re on the other side, things get juicy.  You begin to release your inner child, that openness that makes you want to play and people want to play with you.  You gain more courage to say ‘yes, and’ to offers that come your way (both on- and offstage), instead of the more typical ‘no’ that keeps you in your comfortable risk-free zone.

As you allow this notion of risk-taking to permeate your consciousness, you start making bolder choices in the characters you play and the extremes you go to on stage.  The audience squeals with delight at each choice, fueling you to go further.

Then there are your fellow players.  In a strong and experienced ensemble, this positive risk-taking is multipled manifold.  Each sentence or movement by an improv player is an offer thrown out to the group, bait that the others must repond to so as to advance the story.  And each offer represents the potential to change the scene, a character or the plot.  When the offer is acknowledged and, more importantly, amplified by another player, the audience is thrilled beyond measure.

Change can happen as often as once every 5 seconds in an improvised scene or play.  And, in contrast to most corporate settings or even many personal lives, these changes are accepted with grace and amplified with confidence by one or all on stage.

An improv ensemble is a mystical thing.  To the outsider, it seems as if they’re magicians conjuring up impossibly cogent stories and compelling characters on the fly.  As a recent insider, I’ve come to know that it’s a delightful exercise in creativity and innovation based on making change fun.





NaNoWriMo – get writing!

28 10 2009

Aspiring novelists need a deadline.  If you want to change your notions about finally writing that Great (insert country here) Novel, read on.

Chris Baty started the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) movement in 1999, with the belief that a seemingly insurmountable task of 50,000 words in 30 days is not only possible, but will release budding writers from their dastardly inner critic.

The emphasis is on quantity, not quality.  Whatever the outcome, no matter how ridiculous the eventual plot twists and character development , you’ll have a draft by month’s end.  And you’ll be better off, and more experienced, than when you started.