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Why you need to notice the little things to be creative

>> 27 February 2011

Some people are lucky:

  • They find the penny (or even a bill) on the street.
  • They bump into the right people at the right moment.
  • Good things just happen to them all the time.
  • They are seated next to Carl Lewis on the plane (yes yes, I know someone).
  • They get to do the coolest things they love to do.
  • They keep coming up with the best ideas.
Why is that you think? Luck?
And then why don't these things happen to me?

Well, let me ask you a question: Do you notice every 'little thing'?

No, of course not. How can you? You only have one brain. You have a job, kids, stuff to handle, groceries to buy, appointments to get to, emails to respond to while walking down the street to catch the bus.
No time to notice EVERY little thing.

No, of course not. But do you notice ANY little thing?

Is your mind open to luck, to simple things, to stuff that has nothing to do with what your mind is on about right now?

I have just spent two days in Rome and I have noticed the following little things:
  • Otto is eight in Italian and also the name of a guy. It can be written in a very creative, designy way.
  • There is art on pavements (not only in Rome)
  • Italian cab drivers have a nice little plaque with their name inside the cab.
  • There was no room service in my hotel (ok, maybe not such a small thing after all)
  • The contents of my minibar were included in my room charge (too bad they forgot to tell me this beforehand...)
  • They have huge, tall, heavy, wooden, decorated doors. I wonder who makes those.
  • Hardly anyone wears heals (too many cobble stoned streets).
  • Most Italian scooters are no longer of Italian brands.
  • etc etc etc
Now, I admit this is nothing that makes me rich or famous.
But all these little ideas will sit in my head and I just know they will meet some other information there that can be useful.
Or the little things are waiting (simmering, incubating) until I notice some other little thing so that they can mate and create a wonderful little idea.

What are the little things you are noticing this week?

And if you're completely out of practice, I suggest you go for a walk with a toddler of 3 or 4. They do notice EVERY little thing.


5 tips to start the day creatively

>> 23 February 2011

People tell me it's difficult to be creative every day.
Of course it is.

But if you set up a few systems to create a creative routine, you can easily be creative every day.

Being creative does not necessarily mean you have to paint a painting or write a song.

Here are a few ideas on how you can start (or end) your day with something creative:

  1. Buy the book "The Art of Looking Sideways" by Alan Fletcher.
    Put it on your desk at work and open it to a new page every day. You will not only learn some interesting things but also have a daily dose of inspiration.

  2. Brush your teeth with your other hand.
    This will confuse your brain, but it will also teach it to create new neural pathways. And that is good for creativity.

  3. Visit Keri Smith's website for 100 ideas for little, funny, crazy actions.
    Do one every day. I suggest you get her books too.

  4. Do something with your hands first.
    We are so used to working with our brains that we don't know how to work with our hands anymore. So start your day with something manual.
    * take some paper, cut it into pieces, glue it together with glue or tape
    * get some paper flowers and fashion them into a bouquet for your office
    * hand write the agenda of your day
  5. Take a picture a day:
    Bring a disposable camera to work and take a different picture of your office. Rearrange things, add new things. When the roll of film is full, develop the picture and make a mosaic to hang on your wall. Or participate in the art project A Million Little Pictures.


    Creative mortification

    >> 20 February 2011

    As a child, everything you create is great.

    Your parents ooh and aah at the slightest scribble when you're two.
    They continue to praise you when you give your bus 10 square wheels or your princess a crown on her feet.

    Then you go to school and the sun has to be yellow, the sky blue and they tell you that you should not use so much black.

    Your pieces of art are compared to your little friends and for the first time you don't get 100% praise. The girls laugh at your princess, because everyone knows the crown goes on the head. The boys chuckle at your bus because square wheels don't exist.

    And it's the first time you experience a bit of creative mortification.
    You feel shame. Your painting sucks. People don't appreciate it.
    And you recoil into your creative house.

    Beghetto, a professor at the University of Oregon, calls this Creative Mortification.

    Basically, all these little (or big) instances of shame and humiliation, slowly kill your creativity.

    Ken Robinson confirms this by saying that schools kill creativity.

    Over time, the judging, negative feedback, laughs and criticism you receive whenever your creativity tries to speak up, your house of creativity becomes smaller.

    Until one day, it's the size of a snail house.

    From now on, whenever you are at dinner parties or professional meetings, you laugh off any attempt to bring out your creativity. 'Oh, I am not creative at all.' you say with a 'get away from me' gesture.

    I can think up a few creative mortification instances myself:

    • Church choir: I was told I couldn't sing.
      Turns out they put me with the other girls in the sopranos group although I clearly am an alto!
      I ended up singing gospel and rock songs in church later and sang in a blues band for a while.
    • Writing my first book at age 14 and sending it to publishers just to get rebuffed. Made me stop writing anything of value for a long time.
      I ended up writing the blog you are reading now :-)
    • Drawing: I liked to fill entire pages with one curling line until I was told this was silly.
      I recently did this again and my son loooves it :-)
    Did you experience this kind of creative killings?
    How can you repair those?


    Everything happens FOR you, not TO you

    >> 16 February 2011

    Sometimes life throws you curve balls.

    One day you are full of energy, enthusiasm and creativity to set up a new project, a business, a new piece of art and the next day you are thrown back by something like:
    • creative block: you can't seem to 'find' the next chapter of your book
    • lack of inspiration: you want to paint but have no idea what
    • negative criticism: people judge your work badly which makes you angry and want to stop
    • a change of plan: what you had in mind is not possible for some reason and it puts you to a halt
    This curve ball makes you disappointed and angry.
    You loose your drive (or your pitch). Your dream is shattered. Well, yes, it's like your idea just died.

    Elisabeth K├╝bler Ross was a Swiss psychiatrist/researcher who did a lot of work on the process of grief for which she identified five stages.

    Although her research was based on dealing with a terminal illness or fatal loss,  there is also a business significance as people seem to go through similar stages when faced with changes in their personal and professional lives.

    1. Denial: "This is not happening!"
    2. Anger: "This is not fair!" "Why me?"
    3. Bargaining: "Just give me more time." "How can I get this to work my way anyway?"
    4. Depression: "What's the point?" "No one likes my idea." "I might as well give up."
    5. Acceptance: "It's not so bad." "I can find a way out of this."
    You can go through all those phases within a short time frame and in simple, everyday situations:
    You have asked your partner to take out the trash last night. The next morning when you get ready to drive to work you notice he/she hasn't.
    1. I can't believe this! This can't be true!
    2. It's always the same. Every time I ask and he doesn't do it. I have to do everything here!
    3. I'm not going to do it either. That will teach him.
    4. There will be garbage piling up if the trash is not taken away today. Why did I ever marry this guy?
    5. Well, it's no big thing really. I can do it now; it won't take long. And I will tell him later that it really bothers me.
     Variations of above scenario happen to us all the time. Small and big curve balls.

    I recently had one thrown at me hard. And I kept alternating between anger, bargaining and depression. I couldn't seem to get beyond that.

    Then I remembered a thing my coach had said to me some years ago:
    "It's happening FOR you . Not TO you."

    I stopped and looked within.
    I had planted a seed and wanted a flower to sprout right away.
    But of course, the first thing that comes up is the dirt. Only then can a little green leaf poke its head above the earth.

    So next time you have a curve ball thrown at you, go within, clear the dirt and grow:
    - write that chapter
    - paint...anything, just paint
    - get some positive feedback to counterbalance but also analyze the negative (there might be something to learn there)
    - change your plan, make it even better, different

    So, what is happening FOR you right now?


    Shaping serendipity

    >> 13 February 2011

    Serendipity is the faculty of finding things we didn't know we were looking for.
    -- Glauco Ortolano

    Serendipity plays quite a big role in creativity, because there is only so much you can actively search for when you are looking for new ideas.

    Creative people tend to increase the probability of serendipitous encounters that may prove both relevant and valuable to them.

    How do they to that?

    You can't really find anything if you don't know what you're looking for.
    But if you know what you're looking for you know where to find it, right?

    Not necessarily.
    Sometimes what you are looking for is just a vague idea. You have a plan about increasing the team spirit at work - but you don't really know how exactly you are going to do that.
    Is it training you need? Or some team building events?

    You need to give the issue some attention. You need to think about it, talk about it with colleagues, do some research. Write the project name on your wall or whiteboard. Have it in front of you even (and especially) when you are not actively thinking about it.

    Your surroundings play a big role in shaping your serendipitous encounters. After all, if you live in a sterile, empty place, you won't bump into anything.

    So look around you. Is your office a standard cubicle? The same furniture as your neighbor?
    Can't decorate because company police does not allow it? Fine, you don't have to turn your feng shui house into a messy, cluttered place.

    All you need is a box really. A magic box full of STUFF: wrapping paper, yarn, buttons, crayons, playdoh, post-it notes, wooden blocks, stones, shells, broken pieces of things etc. Fill your box with very diverse things. And whenever you are looking for an idea, open the box and wait for the magic to jump out.

    When you are working on a specific project, you need to start with an new, empty box.
    Give your attention to the project and everything that is related to it.

    And whatever you come across that even slightly reminds you of your project - even though you have no idea why and can't explain what you're going to do with it - put it in the box. A video you like, a rotten piece of bark that has a great shape and texture, a picture in a magazine that is only slightly related to your idea.

    You are preparing your project.

    Whenever you are working on your project, open the box, spread out the contents. Let yourself be inspired by it.

    Be prepared for luck. People who don't expect to find money on the street, will never even notice the penny on the sidewalk. Expect the penny. Expect luck.

    Practice serendipity by exposing yourself to many surfaces: attend conferences that have nothing to do with your subject, connect with people that are the opposite of those you work with (i.e. if you are a ballet choreographer, go talk to computer programmers or soup kitchen volunteers). You never know what comes out of that.

    Reciprocity and sharing
    Creative people don't hide ideas. They talk about them. All the time. To A LOT of people.
    The don't hoard ideas. They give them away.

    Both reciprocity and sharing are good indicators of shaping your luck environment.

    The people you talk to might give you some advice, or tell you a story that sparks an idea, or connect you with someone who does something similar.

    When you give something (advice, help, your art etc), something you're good at, something that is of value, the receiver is most likely going to reciprocate. This is not the same as 'I give you this and I expect something in return from you'. Creative and lucky people give freely without any strings attached. Try it. It does a world of good.


    There is a time for everything

    >> 9 February 2011

    When you create, when you work on a project, when you organize an event, when you raise your kids, when you write a song, when you start a business, when you do anything in life really, there is a time for everything.

    That everything can be anything: the inspiration, the vision, the next step, the right supplier, the ideal milestone, the perfect school, that amazing riff, that excellent accountant...

    That everything can only come when all elements are ready for it.

    What elements are needed for it to arrive?

    1. Clarity:
      what is is that you want? how do you want it? how should it look? It's the big picture. Paint it. Put it on a vision board. Visualize it often (hang it up on your bathroom mirror). Change it as you go along. Come back to it when things change along the way.
    2. Intention:
      how bad do you want it? why do you want it? how do you want to make it happen? what would you need to do about it? who could you talk to?

    3. Decision:
      it's intention with legs: what ARE you going to do about it? what do you need to do to make it happen? when? how often? for how long? with whom?
      This is often the stage when the Universe throws you a curve ball and puts you right back to the first or second stage: what did you want? really? and HOW BAD do you want it? really? This is usually when 'shit happens' just to see how serious you are (as in: you don't need an accountant...you haven't even set up your business yet)

    4. Concretisation:
      You were clear on it, you intended it the right way and decided how to get there.
      And then the accountant shows up on your doorstep.
      Well, sometimes. But most of the times it takes a little more than that. Often enough we expect things to materialize before the time is actually right for it. Sometimes we might have met him and didn't even notice... We get frustrated and procrastinate on our project or even give up.
      Instead we should ask ourselves why we haven't found the perfect number cruncher yet. Are we still clear on our project? Is the intention a bit off maybe? Or have we take a few wrong decisions that need to be aligned. Are our expectations in line with reality.
      When the time is right, he will show up and you will notice him.
    Just know that YOU are the one who has the dials of the clock in your hands.

    And if you follow above steps you will start noticing a difference. You learn to read the signs, be patient and recognize when the Universe talks to you :-)


    2 free creative ideas for a business

    >> 6 February 2011

    I recently went to see my Tuina therapist.
    She has set up a program to offer her services to businesses.
    She had me look at her proposal and asked for my advice.

    I told her that it was not clear to me who she was pitching to.

    Human Resources, the CEO, employees directly?
    The all speak a different language, have a different interest and different needs to fulfill. What may seem a benefit to one, is probably just a 'nice to have' for the other.

    And what kind of businesses were her customers? Hotels, banks, shops,... What environment do people work in? That largely defines what their health problems might be that she has to address.

    She told me that it is difficult for her to get an insider's view of how companies work, who decides what and what their needs are that she could address.

    So in the lines of A wish is a niche, it made me think about a few business ideas that would cover her need and even take it a step further.

    My Company Insider
    A place where employees sign up to propose their insider knowledge. Not confidential knowledge that could interest a trader, but just simple things like:
    • who in your company do I need to contact for X, Y, Z?
    • what would be the best way to sell my product in your company?
    • how does your company get rid of old computers and is there a way to recuperate them? 
    • who is the decision maker for this?
    It would avoid an overloaded company webmaster.
    It would avoid many unanswered emails.
    It would create interesting connections that could be useful.
    It would connect the company to a community of people that are interested in them (on many different levels).

    Competency market (for startups or non-profits)

    We all have very diversified skills. We might even use all of them at work.
    Most often we only use a select few. Because our job requires a certain set of skills and not another.
    William Bridges says that it is a 19th-century contingency to “package the work that needed doing in the growing factories and bureaucracies of the industrialised nations”.
    Today's job market tries to fit the best people into given jobs.

    What if we explored the option of aligning what people can offer – their competencies – against the demands of companies, the community and other individuals?
    Let's say you are good at building simple websites and want to start your own business. You 'advertise' your service and each time you 'sell' it to someone, you earn a certain number of points (depending on the level of service rendered).
    Some weeks later, you need someone to look at your business plan. You find the person offering this service and pay with the points you earned.

    Such barter sites already exists (although not so much in Europe) but they offer too many things at once.
    It would be nice to have a site that deals with selected partners to offer all services needed for startups or non profits. I found one site that goes into this direction.
    Lately I have encountered many wishes from non profits and startups for certain services, so a barter service geared towards them would surely be a success.


    How to tame your inner critic

    >> 2 February 2011

    I am participating in a group over at Coach Creative Space about taking tiny creative steps boldly.

    We were talking about our Inner Critic and how powerful this little creature in our head can be.

    Some describe it as a physical little being like a goblin or even a witch. Others describe more of a voice that is angry, scared, frustrated, unsure.

    Here are a few tips for banning its destructive methods or just simply putting it to sleep.

    1. Befriend it:
      Don't fight your inner critic. It is not there to harm you. It is part of you.
      It's like having the hiccups: the more you try to get rid of them, the longer they last. Accept it.

    2. Learn from it:
      Listen to it. Get to know it by what it is telling you. The better you know someone, the more you learn how to deal with it.
      Note down what it is telling you. What kind of messages does it give you? Are they spelling fear? Or frustration? Or are they belittling and trying to make you unsure? In what kind of situations does it speak up?
    3. Use it:
      Usually the inner critic goblin shows up when you are approaching the limits of your comfort zone. And that can be very useful. It teaches you about yourself and the boundaries that you have set yourself or that were set by your education.
      Use the stop signs your inner critic provides to think twice about your project or action. Are his questions justified? Why? Why not?
    4. Answer it:
      Now that you know whether your goblin is more of an angry little sucker or just a fearful little soul, you can answer him. Ask him 'what is the worst that can happen?'.
      If he throws the likes of 'people will laugh at you' or 'you will get fired' at you, ask him Why? Why will people laugh at me? Because my idea is stupid or because only part of it is a bit laughable? Why will I get fired? Because I have shown initiative and creativity by introducing a new idea? Really?
      Keep asking why until you really get to the crux of it.
      You'd be surprised how awfully silly the real reason for your inner critic is.
      And if you know how to answer your inner critic, you are prepared to answer the outer critics as well.
    When the above steps don't work, I personally like to take my little goblin with me when I go jogging. We have our discussion about the pros and cons, the fears, the judgment and all that surrounds stepping out of your comfort zone. We ping-pong our way through the subject at hand as I struggle my way uphill through the woods.

    When I get out of the woods and onto the clearing, my goblin has often decided to stay in the woods for a little while longer :-)


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