Archive for February, 2008|Monthly archive page

Noticing

Notice this puddle, and you’ll discover its hidden treasure!And so we come back around to the weekend.  Once again, in the natural order, we slow all the motion and take a day or two for stillness.  And stillness is a great place from which to observe our next creativity principle: noticing.

When I suggested yesterday to consider the synthesis of any two objects on your desk, many may have experienced a dead end.  Perhaps no ideas or images came to you when you did this.  That is, unfortunately, a symptom of the blindness that’s the result of being an adult in the industrial age.  But since we’re fast leaving behind those old approaches to work and life, I’m here to assure you that your ideas exist intact and in limitless amount, but you have become desensitized to them.  However, this disability is reversible!

If you’re interested to know what your Self has to teach you, spend some time this weekend noticing.  Choose one physical sense: seeing, or hearing, or touching perhaps.  Apply your focus to experiences through this one sense.  Allow full indulgence and notice all the sensations.  Keep your attention on what you are sensing, regardless of intellectual responses.  In stillness, become a playground of visual delight, auditory accuity or tactile experience.  The universe will supply all the raw material; your job is only to notice, and then notice some more!

In theater training, a favorite exercise is to blindfold a student and lead him through space experiencing life without sight.  While you may not go to this trouble in your noticing practice, try focusing on hearing when you lie in the dark before sleeping; or focus on seeing when your environment is particularly noisy; or on feeling when in a busy store or restaurant.  By subtracting other senses from your experience, the one you’re focusing on becomes much easier to notice.

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Synthesis and our new economy

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail has written an exciting and enlightening article about the new *FREE* economy.  Check it out here.  This is mind bending stuff, and vital info for anyone in business today.

The bottom line is that the bottom line has become far more sophisticated.  The new perspectives and possibilities offered by the internet age have resulted in a new interpretation of value.  We still value money, of course, but the intangibles of reputation and attention suddenly have huge worth.  More and more every day, we are becoming aware that money is not to be obtained without these other values also firmly in place.  The three values are becoming so closely aligned that it’s now understood that by building reputation and attention, one simultaneously builds monetary wealth.

The synthesis of unlikely elements is a characteristic of creativity.  Interesting how the macrocosm of the overall economy mirrors the microcosm of personal growth.  As our economy migrates towards a more complex system of values, we’re also increasingly concerned with the well-balanced personal life and the creative approach to work and productivity.

If we follow the above threads, we can take a hint from this organic evolution of our society, to help develop our personal creativity.  Lay one reality on top of another and presto! you have a new expression.  

To practice, pick up any two objects on your desk and examine them as if they were one thing instead of two.  What are all the different ways they could go together?  If you’re well-tuned to your sensations, the simple act of bringing these two objects together causes an instant stream of images and stories in your head.  Though the actual content of these thoughts may be rather silly, without obvious application to your uses, it’s the process and your awareness of it that’s important here. 

After you become comfortable with this way of perceiving, try synthesizing bigger things:  your important meeting today combined with your craving for tacos; your broken washing machine combined with getting a haircut; your business leads list combined with your photography hobby. The fresh combination of any two things is the beginning of anything creative.

Starting Where You Are

Talib KweliIn the course of my usual business yesterday, I was priviledged to watch this video, featuring musician Talib Kweli. As an aging baby boomer with little hip hop in my bones, I had never heard of this artist before, but was completely won over by the video. Gentle and articulate, Kweli talks about how “the music business is like the wild wild west.” There are no rules anymore, and in these digitally interconnected times, it’s possible to “build a buzz around yourself” without necessarily being talented. It’s not about being talented, it’s about working hard and working smart.

Kweli admits to no particular talent, but says he loves the music and works hard to create it masterfully. “If you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance.”

Next time you’re alone driving your car, try singing your thoughts. Next time you’re cleaning the house, try dancing your way through it. Next time you’re at your desk, holding on the phone or waiting for a download, try making a few spontaneous marks on a bit of paper. Your creative self is always at your fingertips, begging to be explored.

Waiting vs. Patience

WaitingTuesday.  Time to get serious.  Over this and the next few posts, I’m going to take a look at simple, everyday ways to sharpen your creative abilities.  Anyone can do these.  These exercises may seem ridiculously elementary, and they are!  But they touch on capacies we so seldom stretch that I believe a small amount of practice will awaken exponential amounts of inspiration.

So here’s today’s practice.  The next time you find yourself waiting for something (a stoplight, a download, the delivery of your lunch order, whatever), take the opportunity to practice patience and all its attendant delights. 

You are waiting, full of impatience and expectation.  You have an agenda, and you’re wrapped up in accomplishing it.  This waiting, this interruption to your forward momentum is a temporary, slightly irritating obstacle.  Over the course of a day, though, these slight irritations can add up to significant stress.

Instead of settling for mounting irritation as an unavoidable occupational hazard, allow your waiting to morph into patience.  Practice tuning your awareness to realities around you right now.  Instead of waiting, teach yourself to enjoy those suspended moments between activities.  With the right amount of dedication to the effort, you’ll instantly double your inspired thoughts!

Cute, but is it really creative?

airdancer
Not only is creativity generally mistrusted and unexplored, it is also often mis-interpreted. 

Here’s an example of what I mean.  It’s tax time, and the race is on amongst professional preparers to attract our business.  One of them, who shall remain unnamed here, sends out a day laborer costumed in a robe and foam headgear to hawk on the street out front.  The costume is meant to catch the eye, and the hiree prances up and down the sidewalk, gawking and waving.

The business thinks this is a creative move that will bring new customers.  The reality is that we only feel pity for the poor sucker forced to gussy up and clown.  The costume unravels, the head gear slips, and the waving becomes half-hearted all too quickly.  Passers-by are only embarrassed for the business – a reaction not likely to increase clientele.

Another street-side marketing idea strikes me as incredibly creative, in contrast to the above example.  This is the balloon people (or animals or whatever) that bend and sway and contort impossibly, mechanically powered and usually larger than life.  I think they’re called airdancers.  It’s endlessly entertaining to watch the play of these lively signs.  This enjoyment easily morphs into an automatic appreciation for the sponsoring business.

See the difference?  The real person in costume is an old idea, one we’ve taken for granted as creative.  But since it does not evidence the liveliness  of authentic creative thought, it sadly misses the mark.  The balloons, on the other hand, take this old idea and invigorate it with the common sense and technical know-how of our time.  Synthesis, in creativity, is key.

Motion and Stillness

Have you ever noticed the rhythmic flow of commerce?  I often worked in retail situations in my time, and that’s where the phenomenon is very apparent.  Customers come in waves.  Usually with no clear rhyme or reason, there’s a tide in public activity that ebbs and swells of its own volition.  The retail worker is suddenly bombarded with a slew of customers, and then the activity subsides until the next swell.  Often, there seems to be no indication why.  As a customer yourself, you may often have noticed this … on a bad day, you’ll decide to go to the Post Office at the exact moment everyone else does, and you stand in line impatiently.

My point is that this reality in retail points to a universal truth: our activity as human beings is rhythmic.  We vacillate continuously between motion and stillness.

And our culture knows all about motion; we discuss and engage in it enthusiastically.  But we’re little informed about stillness.  For the most part, it scares us.  We rush to fill our free time, or the pauses in conversation, or the dull moments whenever they occur. 

Creativity, however, cannot thrive unless equal devotion is given to motion and stillness.  Creativity uses realities at hand, and stillness is a reality whether we respect it or not.  If we don’t cultivate stillness as much as we cultivate motion, our creativity will be stunted.

A yoga teacher recently asked, when we were all balancing in some impossible pose, “Are you waiting, or are you being patient?”  Learning to use stillness in a positive way is a profound and longterm study.  But since it’s essential to the creative life, even a small amount of stillness begins to pay off almost immediately.

The weekend symbolizes stillness for the workaday world – even though we tend to use it for exhausting activity, rather than rest.  This weekend, consider the uses of stillness; try sitting in a relaxed fashion and doing absolutely nothing for 15 minutes (not even talking!).   Notice how you feel at the end of the time!

And check out this website if you feel like you just have no time to do nothing.

Being Remarkable

I attended a webcast the other day with marketing guru Seth Godin (Meatball Sundae) and other experts.  The message there, as well as in so much that I read these days, is that all the tricks of SEO are fast becoming obsolete.  Though some have managed to manipulate the internet to their purposes through technicalities, and achieved high rankings, those days are coming to an end.  Search engines aim to satisfy search results as directly as possible; sites that only peripherally pertain to keywords entered can no longer gain the upper hand.  As ever, Content is King.

The term Godin used quite a bit was “remarkable.”  If you want to succeed, you must be remarkable.  Your website, blogs, articles and other methods you use to attract attention will be of little use unless the content of your offerings is “remarkable,” unless you can manage to stand out from the crowd through your expertise.

Plus ca change …. It has ever been thus, hasn’t it?  The web, after all, does little to make us rich quick.  The onus we bear is as it ever was … we must identify and maximize our true strengths to be successful.  Rather than relieving us of the responsibility to work hard and achieve, the web actually reinforces this basic ethic.

How can we do this?  How can we be “remarkable?”  It’s a lot to ask of any individual. 

So we come round again to creativity.  In practicing creativity, we do not seek to be remarkable – rather the opposite – but the great gift of creativity is that through faithful practice, it reveals the ways in which we are remarkable.  It’s the instrument we’re given for moving beyond mere survival, beyond the mundane, beyond unquestioning servitude to the greatness we each are born to realize.

Practice, practice, practice!

Perhaps the biggest change that’s needed in the general mindset about creativity is that it is something that must be practiced to operate at optimum capacity.  We think of creativity as something that comes in short bursts, a ‘muse’ that travels on its own schedule, over which we have no control.  We regard ‘creative people’ as mysterious demi-gods; we’re convinced they are born with this attribute and simply have been blessed with more gifts than other mere mortals.

But the fact is, if a human can breathe, s/he can create.  It is part of every individual’s basic humanity. 

I consider creativity to be very like physical fitness.  A hundred years ago, Americans didn’t worry terrribly much about physical fitness:  our lifestyle did not require special attention to it; we still retained a general fitness resulting from an active lifestyle.  But in the mid-20th century, physical fitness became the issue it still is today.  We had to learn to practice fitness, to make room for it in our daily lives, or suffer the consequences of ill-health and discomfort.

 Likewise, we’ve evolved as a nation in our creativity.  From our earliest days all the way through the second World War, a pioneering spirit was the main characteristic of Americans.   Since then, however, we have become couch potatoes (to put it succinctly).   It’s ironic how exponential technical improvements in communications and production have led to a paralysis in individual creativity.  We’re overwhelmed by the technology, and feel dimished in its presence.  I believe, however, that this reaction is temporary.  As soon as we completely assimilate the realities of the internet age, our native creativity will once again assert itself.

The ‘creative person,’ the one we revere as uniquely blessed, seems to be so only because s/he is immersed in creative practice.  If we want a flat tummy, we do sit-ups.  If we want to nurture creativity, we have to practice it.  Absolutely anyone can learn to be creative.  And, as with physical fitness, that practice must be regularly maintained.

I appreciate the comment submitted yesterday by Jeff …. When advocating for creativity research and practice, the first obstacle we face is tremendous fear.  To the soul that has buried its creative impulses, change and challenge are terrifying.  We prefer to remain in our winter of discontent than to awaken to raw spring.  This is understandable, though not sustainable in the long run.  Those of us urging a return to creative practice do well to offer approaches that are gentle in the extreme, to ease people out of their fears with  appropriate compassion.

I’ll suggest some of these gentle practices in upcoming posts.

Call to creativity

It’s surprising that the word creativity is not featured in the tag clouds.  I notice the call to creativity everywhere in business these days, and wonder that there is not more discussion or instruction about it.  Perhaps everyone assumes it’s one of those givens, like being good.  People are expected to be good and we don’t spend much time examining the details. 

The fact is that our old ways are inadequate to deal with the issues we now face.  We use the word creativity to summarize the combination of iconoclasm and bright thinking we seek in business today.  Yet one is hard pressed to find training or analysis in what it is to be creative.  Many many books are available on the subject, but the average business person has little access to customized instruction.  We do webinars and courses in technical aspects of commerce.  We attend workshops on leadership, management, employee relations,  organizational development and all those aspects of our working lives that depend so much on our personal creativity.  But how many of us truly understand the power and effectiveness of a creative world view; how many of us exercise the precepts of creativity on a daily basis?

The truth is that we are not educated to do so.  We cannot even adequately define the term.  Education generally focuses on assimilating the world, and does its best to forget that the Self is a major source of knowledge as well.  My hero, Eric Booth, points out that there are three ways to learn:  through information coming from others, through personal experience, and through self-examination. 

Industrialism required the subjugation of the individual.  The information age requires effective personal creativity.  It behooves us to study into the cultivation of creativity: how this basic human ability is accessed, practiced and put to profitable use.

The Start

To share thoughts and conclusions, however temporary, with those who happen by here, I offer the beginning of regular writings.  What right has one such as to me to presume to add my words into the swelling cyber stream? 

So much must be perceived from the opposite side to be understood.  Suppose I did not begin this series of writings … would you have missed me?  Of course not. 

It’s no secret that blogging is a public self disciple, a self-serving activity.  So much like teaching, which is often more like being taught. 

Nonetheless, it is a privilege to journey with witnesses, and to hope my harangues will evolve into dialogue …