Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

Basic Branding

The rules are changing all over the place these days, but probably the biggest change we are challenged to make in the 21st century is the move from victimization to self-responsibility.  Opportunity and possibility have taken on unprecedented largesse through technological advances.  To remain mired in your resentment over being ‘done to’  (at least in America) is an unneccesary choice.

Way back when I used to teach theater, I would tell my acting students not to worry about developing a ‘style,’ because if they just kept working at the techniques, their style would soon surface of its own accord.  But communications today require that we set as first priority the articulation of ‘brand’ if we wish to participate at all in the marketplace.

If you’ve been reading all the directives, discussions, and hype, perhaps you are plenty familiar with the concept of branding, but you may still have a hard time articulating your own.  Especially if you’re just starting out in business, or if job hunting is your current job, or if you’re launching your own business or consultancy – you may wonder what it really takes to create a brand that you can live with, proudly, day in and day out.  There’s a lot of information on disseminating your brand, but what about creating it in the first place?

So I have a few suggestions to offer as a start.  To be honest, the branding process is ongoing, you’re never completely done with it, because your awareness and experience continue to grow.  But these five focus areas will take you a long way towards beginning to communicate your brand effectively. As you consider them, do it in terms of your life, not your business.

1.  Values.  What three things do you value the most in life?   Take a few minutes to call those things to mind, and add details to the images, making pictures that reflect very specifically their value to you.  Write about or draw those pictures.

2.  Energy.  What makes you get up in the morning?  What do you do to get energized?  What keeps you going?  Make marks on paper that mimic (or flow with) how you perceive your own energy.

3.  Mission.  I won’t ask you to get all formal and high minded here.  I’m just suggesting that you consider that we all have capabilities and gifts, and we each can contribute to life in our own way.  What is your contribution as you understand it at this point?  What object or picture or song could symbolize your mission?

4.  Tastes.  Or preferences, or cultural conditioning, or whatever floats your boat.  Those immediate choices your sensibilities make without premeditation.  Colors, shapes, sounds, social mores. Don’t get too involved in this one, just take a quick inventory.  Maybe write a paragraph or two about your idea of what is beautiful.

5.  Dance when no one’s watching.  Find a moment, all alone, when you can move around in space according to the whim of the moment.  Keep moving, don’t let yourself snag on any one instance or thought.  Leave enough time at the end to quietly contemplate the experience. 

I know, that last one’s pretty wierd, and you may have no idea what to think, even if you try it.  Of course, there’s absolutely no right or wrong way to do it, but let me give a suggestion to those who may be stumped.  As you move around in the space, first do it with the awareness that you’re alone.  Then compare that experience to moving around while you imagine others are in the room with you.  What are the differences?  What stays the same?  What do you like best about yourself in the two different situations?  What elements of your subconscious could be helpful to you in the business world?

So now you have a few pictures and words and gestures.  What further ideas do you get when you put them all together?

Let’s talk more.  And please comment!

Web and work

One of the maxims business experts like to throw about these days is that your business must cater to what the people want.  Certainly, in terms of making money this is true.  I tend to doubt that it’s useful advice, though, in terms of being happy.

Often, what you’re doing – especially in an entrepreneurial circumstance – is working on your deepest passions, and often there seems to be no interface with the public at large.  You’re developing a new widget, or offering a new service that you believe in 110%, but few others seem to appreciate your product.  You knew from the start that your focus differed widely from that of the masses, but it is the thing that floats your boat and involvement in some other direction would be simply inauthentic.

I do not approve of diminishing or watering down your offerings for the sake of popularity.  Will the madding crowds care a fig for you in the end?  Isn’t it smarter to stay loyal to your highest dreams, the ones you intuit will save your soul?  There’s no surer road to defeat than compromising your own truth, even if the path that is true to yourself  is rocky and full of potholes.

Thanks to the modern miracle of the internet, staying true to yourself is now more possible than ever.  With patience and commitment, you can find the precious few who appreciate your values, wherever they are in the world, and build a support (and feedback) structure that will enable your continued work.

If  ‘flipping’ or ‘scaling’ is what turns you on, the net can help you amass millions of supporters.  But if creating and developing are more to your taste, you can use the web even more productively, through dialogue, connections, and marketing.  So please don’t fall for the directives of people with base aspirations.  Please choose to find your own truth, and work on developing your gifts to their ultimate expression, and don’t worry if what you produce is not of the instantly popular variety.  As long as it nurtures your being, as long as you stay open to discovering, as long as you generously share, you’ll find not only rewards but sustenance.

The coincidence of massive layoffs currently, and the proliferation of the web seems serendipitous to me.  So many people, many of relatively advanced age, needing to find new means of support, while the web continues to open up all the resources of the world to each of us.  It’s an evolutionary leap:  perhaps instead of selling our souls to the corporation, we can now contemplate the very real possibility of developing our individual awareness and gifts.

Internet and unknowing

Exactly like a kid in a candy store, I’m dizzy with the possibilities of the internet.  I realize that getting beyond this psychedelic whirl is a requirement, before any of your internet activities start to make real sense.  But you can’t just bypass the requisite learning; you have to go straight into the morass of information and manage to come out on the other side with booty that’s actually useful.

I remember, as a kid, travelling with family and when we would come to a city, I would experience a huge thrill accompanied by anxiety.  I wanted to know it all immediately, all the streets and people and places.  I wasn’t comfortable with unknowing.

The same reaction kicks in with regards to the internet: I want to know it all.  Currently, a huge portion of my time is spent wading through all the info.  I expect to emerge soon with many creative possibilities for the raw material.

But I also suspect that the real challenge for me is to accept the ambiguity, because the net changes constantly and no one individual can possibly grasp all its particulars.  This isn’t easy: I’m not a control freak, but I do like to feel that I know what I’m doing at any given moment.  Alas, I must lose this old-fashioned propensity. 

The internet is changing us at core levels.  It involves risk-taking and requires that you be self-assured enough to roll with the unexpected punches, to leap at vague opportunities, and to freely offer up your deepest convictions for the world’s consumption.  On the web, you give first, and let the getting happen when it will.

Obedience and change

“Obedience works fine on the well-organized, standardized factory floor. But what happens when we start using our heads, not our hands, when our collars change from blue to white?”  So questions Seth Godin in his blog this morning.  Such an essential query for all Americans these days. 

I’m reminded of a pertinent quote from Peter Maurin of Catholic Worker fame:  “Industrialism has released the artist from the necessity of making anything useful.  Industrialism has also released the workman from making anything amusing.”  

Though we are hugely indebted to the Industialists for the technological and social advances it provided, we’re also suffering from a serious lack of personal creativity resulting from Industrialism’s ‘obedience.’   On one hand, we’re sorely lacking in self-knowledge; on the other, we lust after a ‘four-hour work week’ and believe we’re entitled to privilege without perspiration.

In my work as a virtual assistant, I’m accutely aware of this phenomenon in the many young people attempting to set up in the business without first gaining skills and experience.  Our current awareness of changing economies and our suspicion that Henry Ford’s ideas are indeed out of date can lead to an unwarranted hubris.  The individual is indeed valuable in his/her uniqueness, and capable of maximizing strengths in a lucrative way.  But the development of personal creativity is an in-depth process, not an instant one.  We have a long way to go before we regain the innovative skills of our pioneering, pre-Industrialist forebears.

When ‘obedience’ goes out of style, chaos is sure to ensue for a time, at least.  Achieving peace and productivity beyond the chaos is possible through serious, dedicated, not-always-pleasant self-investigation and development.


More about doodling

I wrote last week a little about doodling.  I’ve no doubt that most readers will shun such an exercise, claiming they just can’t draw.  The old, ‘I can’t draw a straight line’ is oft repeated. 

Get over it, folks.  No one’s interested in straight lines anyway.  Doodling is not about drawing, it’s about making marks on paper.  It’s about saying yes to yourself. 

Have you seen a child who draws something and then decides he’s made a mistake and, in horror, refuses to continue until the mistake is eradicated?  Most of us discontinue our creative attunement at this juncture, remaining childish in our understanding.  But the growth pattern is to encourage the child to make something out of his mistake, to see it as raw material and to go on from there.  A wonderful children’s art teacher I know says, ‘You don’t make mistakes, you just change your mind.’

Making marks on paper is a way to let expression flow through you, and a serious practice in self-affirmation.  When I started drawing for the first time, a mere few years ago, I was all the time cancelling my urges with self-criticism.  Doodling taught me to say yes to the spontaneous me, no matter how dumb or clumsy the line was on the paper.  By allowing one line to lead to another, by letting the drawing inform me instead of the other way around, I came to appreciate a vastly wider horizon of possibility for me and my world.

Our reliance on things digital means that interaction with pencil and paper is increasingly rare.  What’s the consequence of placing these instruments by your computer and filling waiting moments with your doodles?  Notice your energy flow as you follow this routine through the working day, and send me a comment about it!

Noise vs. Content

The internet and today’s technologies are a fascinating study, especially for one not bred on cyberspace.  I’ve spent the past six months almost continuously online, attempting to get a grip on commerce represented there, studying social networks and forums and internet marketing techniques.  One thing that strikes me in this investigation is how carefully you have to preserve your identity and purpose amidst all the noise.  It’s very easy for the internet to become the dictator.   You originally approached it as a tool for your business and if you don’t keep it in that place, it can quickly become a mere distraction and little real help.

Content is King, you read everywhere.  But there’s little to no instruction about creating great Content; the directives all pertain to SEO, marketing techniques and strategies, or the latest widgets.  A large percent of the material online makes fabulous use of these systems without first ensuring valuable Content.  In this way, the internet is far more sophisticated than its users and often produces the cyber equivalent of kids playing with guns.

The two social media sites, Squidoo and Twitter, exemplify this distinction.   At Squidoo, you share specific information designed to edify your readers.  At Twitter, you fatuously inform the world that you’re on the way to the airport, eating a hot dog, or coping with the sniffles.  Never having been much of a gossip, small talk, or chatter type, I have a horror of people ‘following me’ and have no interest in sharing the twists and turns of my everyday with anyone except my lover.  My point is that Twitter caters to the glitz and sensationalism with hardly a nod to Content; while Squidoo’s Content is an amazing tribute to the learning and creativity of 21st century human beings. 

It takes a while to understand the differences between the popular sites, and it takes inner strength to avoid being sucked in by sites that seem promising but actually offer only shallow solutions for you.  Depending on your purposes, Twitter may be just the thing you need (to keep track of a team’s progress, for instance).  By keeping your focus firmly on your real-world demands, you can separate the noise of internet hype from authentic and useful Content.


Dr. Ken Hudson offers up a nice couple of paragraphs in his blog today about making improvements.  He notes that usually one improves something incrementally, using an additive method of modification.  But the other approach he suggests involves starting not with what you already have, but with an entirely new idea.  You work subtractively to proceed from your ideal new product to what is possible right now.

This brave approach requires skill in visioning.  Our education seldom promotes the development of creative vision, so few people practice it.  How often do you spend more than a second with a crazy new idea?  How often do you allow yourself to daydream in detail?  How open are you to the possibility of perfection, the realization of your dreams?

To envision means to open the door to a bit of chaos and lunacy.  It means to trust the process enough to actually dedicate some time to it.  It means to believe in and work seriously at creating a better world. 

Most of us are so oppressed that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to daydream.  If you want to rectify this situation, if you want to reawaken your dreaming capabilities, one way to start is by doodling.  While on the phone, or waiting for downloads, or at the doctor’s office, let your hand move a pen or pencil around a little piece of paper.  Don’t try to draw anything, just let the instrument make marks.  Follow your impulses with simple curiosity, and keep the pen moving without intellectual involvement. 

What does this exercise have to do with envisioning?  The successful dreamer has learned to allow and track the free flow of impulse.  Doodling can get you started.

Business and THE FEMALE

I grew up with sisters, no brothers, and though my own child is male, I still have many moments of utter disconnection with the male of the species.  My wonderful honey, for example, has no idea where it hurts when he’s sick: he just feels bad, and leaves it at that.  Or if he has a disagreement with his partner, it’s never an option to talk it out, one simply lets time callous over the injury.   I’ve had male bosses who will suffer huge losses rather than get to the root of interpersonal problems.

It’s a sort of Klingon thing, our inherited culture of mastery and dominance making such phenomena as tenderness and sensitivity verbotten in the most highly respected power circles. 

It doesn’t work anymore, of course.  Our world is now so complex that we must admit to all subtleties of the human condition or lose miserably in the business arena.  The female influence at very long last is taking hold and transforming the ways we structure working world relationships and decision-making. 

How do you synthesize efficient production with a dedicated attention to personal health and growth of your staff?  The revived respect for female viewpoints makes the job of management much more complex; but also, ultimately, much more profitable because it creates work scenarios featuring well-adjusted, confident, and energetic employees.

A particularly world-changing aspect of the power of the female in business is the value placed on listening.  I’m going to focus on this capacity over the next few days here, to get a better hold on what is meant by the term.


In the glorious sunshine of a perfect Easter Sunday yesterday, we raked the dirt and scattered grass seed.  Waiting dormant in its big paper bag, the seed is useless until we broadcast it across the soil.  And this morning, I glance out the window and think of the joyful reunion of those little kernals with their native matrix, and the beautiful productivity that’s likely to result.

As we labored over our yard duties yesterday, it occurred to me that I am actually a happy person.  The thought does not come without a certain measure of guilt.  My intensely Christian heritage gives little value to personal happiness.  But, more hippie than Jesus-freak, I have maneuvered my life towards the things I love.  And now at last I am surrounded by the open country and kind people and can appreciate all the small gifts of daily life. 

The moral of this story?  Creativity is in large part a product of the right conditions.  We will grow like grass seed if we locate the proper soil.  If you manage to live in the kind of environment that’s most natural for you, your creative health and happiness will flourish.  Unlike our forebears, who espoused suffering as a noble lifestyle, I believe we are meant to achieve a constant, quiet bliss in life and all our efforts should be in this direction.

Ultimate motivations

Thinking about ultimate motivations this Friday morning.  Traditionally, we’ve relied on faith in the divine when all else fails to rouse our interest in daily living.  For many nowadays, though, religion just never “took.”  We had lost the ability to take things on blind faith.

Human health, though, requires robust motivation.  Depression is lack of motivation, and as one who has experienced it I know the draining of life force when depression sets in.  Motivation is the energy that actually keeps us alive.

So where does it come from?  Your children, your pets, your lover?  Perhaps you point to Mother Nature.  I must humbly suggest that these are all beneficiaries of your motivation, but not causes of it.  Motivation is derived from individual creativity.  And creativity is derived from listening, curiosity, openness, generosity and all those other attributes I’ve been discussing in these posts.  These attributes – very unlike the old hook of, “faith” – can be consciously and scientifically developed.  I can use specific exercises and intentions to boost my creative abilities and thereby boost motivation.

So in case you have been thinking that my obsession with the many aspects of creativity is excessive, I offer this explanation.  In a very real sense, the development of creativity is your lifeline,  your fundamental motivation, the one thing that keeps you getting up every morning.