My empty bucket

A blog by Adam Morris

Observation exercise


Painting is a unique opportunity watch a picture unfold on the page. Visually, we experience color and tone everywhere, but our mind quickly translates these images into words and concepts to understand and interact with them. Soon as we label an object, “the tree”, “a bus”, “Mr. Anderson”… the unique experience is gone.

One exercise I enjoy is to sit and look at a common object, like a jacket – and try to see it, not as a jacket, but as I actually see it. To look at the color and tone, patterns and textures… without labeling it. Even colors are a deceptive label. A shiny black jacket is rarely black, but an intricate subtle reflection of various colors in the environment. The objective is to look until you no longer see the object, but see what you are seeing.

  • Usability tip #3: If you have trouble dropping labels, then try this: describe the object. Then, question your descriptions and look for the opposite For example, when you see black, ask yourself “how is it not black?”
  • Side-benefit #4: Observing without labeling has the effect of bring me into the present moment, heightening my sensations and sharpening my awareness. This is useful for creativity.

Ideas Workshop: brainstorming

The ideas workshops kicked off last night, with an excellent session on improving brainstorm by utilizing visualization. For each idea we came up with, we had to draw a quick sketch to represent it.

To generate ideas we took an every-day item and tried three different approaches:

  • brainstorming alternate uses
  • designing improvements
  • building swiss-army knife adaptations

Take-aways from the workshop:

  • Usability tip #2: You don’t need to be a great artist to sketch an idea. Simple scribbles can convey a lot more than just a word.
  • Side benefits #2: Sketching ideas spurred my imagination and made the idea much easier to communicate.
  • Side benefits #3: Turning brainstorming into a visual activity got everyone laughing about the silly drawings, which fueled even crazier ideas and sketches. Having fun makes brainstorming more productive.

Creativity and meditation


Wikipedia’s defines creativity as a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts. (Which, by the way, is much better than Merriam-Webster’s attempt, defining creativity as “the quality of being creative”. In Britain that is called sarcasm.)

But where does creativity come from? I am most creative when my mind is calm and not overwhelmed with thoughts, anxiety or other excessive mind-chatter… usually when I am meditating or engaged in another mindful activity, such as jogging or taking a shower. The creative inspiration appears to flow out of this stillness.

Creativity literature

Staples of creativity literature:

  • Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius by Michael Michalko
  • Creativity in Business by Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers
  • Lateral Thinking by Edward De Bono
  • Hot Spots by Lynda Gratton

Do you have any recommendations for the list?

Do something different

The number one way to stimulate creativity is to do something different.Being a rainy morning in London, I thought, why not walk to work in the rain instead of taking the crowded bus – and see if I could notice something new. I never really paid attention to the patterns of the rain hitting puddles before… it is a bit like those random flashes of lights you see on the new years ball dropping in times square. Fascinating.

And just fascinating enough to get me in to trouble when a big red bus drove by and soaked me with a tidal wave splash. Not quite what I had in mind when I sought after a new experience.

What I learned from the incident:

  • Usability tip #1: When confronted with the possibility of large busses intersecting with large puddles in close proximity, watch the road, not the neat patterns of rain-drops in the puddles.
  • Follow-up idea #1: When being splashed by big red bus, reposition your umbrella to face downwards at a 45 degree angle to minimize the damage.
  • Shortcut #1: When about to be splashed by a big red bus, move quickly in the opposite direction from the street.
  • Side benefits #1: The rain-water-bus-splash wakes you up better than coffee.
  • Time saver #1: The rain-water-bus-splash provides a free natural all-in-one method for laundry and a shower. Note – temperature control leaves something to be desired and drying method needs to be reworked.

Mindfulness and observing thoughts

open head

The first step to working with unproductive thoughts is to become aware of what thoughts you are having. Just as when you are speaking, if you wish to eliminate filler words such as uh, um, or and – the first step is to catch it happening.

Here is exercise to observe your thoughts from the insight meditation center:

During the next week, spend a two-hour period tracking the kinds of things you think about. Find some way to remind yourself every few minutes to notice what you are thinking. Are the thoughts primarily self-referential or primarily about others? Do they tend to be critical or judgmental? What is the frequency of thoughts of “should” or “ought”? Are the thoughts mostly directed to the future, to the past, or toward fantasy? Do you tend more toward optimistic thoughts or pessimistic ones? Do your thoughts tend to be apprehensive or peaceful? Contented or dissatisfied? This is not an exercise in judging what you notice, but in simply noticing.

I think the last sentence is key: don’t be discouraged by your thoughts, just notice what comes out. If you get discouraged, realize you are creating negative thoughts… about having negative thoughts. And then e-mail me. I think it’s really funny, and it will brighten my day.

Daydreaming guide

man sitting

Daydreaming is usually considered lazy, unproductive and childish. As adults, we ought to maximize our productivity and the use of our time. Even worse, the multi-tasker is the modern-day business hero – we are encouraged to multi-task, jumping back and forth between multiple tasks and stimuli at an alarming rate.

Stepping back from this insane drive and getting in touch with our dreams can help us to understand what gets us excited. Daydreaming is free, easy, and relaxing… and opens up a new creative realm where we can free our imagination from the daily rules and expectations.

Idiot’s guide to daydreaming:

  • Find a quiet space.
  • Eliminate all possible distractions. (People, phones, computers, deadlines, etc.)
  • Make a commitment to yourself to refrain from thinking about work and what needs to get done.
  • Take a moment to breathe deeply into your abdomen. Watch your breath for a minute.
  • Watch your thoughts for minute to become even more present. If you have trouble with this, ask yourself, “what is the next thought that is entering my mind?” and observe what comes.
  • Let go. Let your mind wander freely.

Any questions? Shoot me an e-mail. I am an expert.

Become the change you desire

“Become the change you desire.” triggered the thought for the day – thanks to Zen Chill on instant manifestation referring to a Steve Pavlina podcast.


What was the last thing you tried to change in your life? How well did it work? Did it have a lasting effect?

Did you say, “I want to lose ten pounds. I must go on a diet.”
Or, “I want to be productive. I better start working hard.”
Or, “I want to be rich. I need to a better job and to start saving.”

These three have something in common: they require you to force yourself to change behaviors to achieve your goal. They reinforce that you are not what you desire:

  • you are overweight (or why would you need a diet?)
  • you are unproductive (or why demand the extra effort?)
  • you are lacking money (or why would you need more?)

Attempts to change behaviors usually fail. Why? Because they aren’t in line with your belief systems about who you are.

Instead, become the change you desire. Imagine it. Start acting like it. Your behaviors will naturally reflect yourself and bring you goal to you effortlessly.

Effortlessly does not mean without work or action. It means you stop forcing yourself to be something you are not.

Perception overload


Wikipedia describes perception as the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. Organizing is important, especially considering the overload of messages coming to us through advertising and these hyper-communication networks (e-mail, IM, SMSes, blogs, myspace, and now twitter). We have built up a culture of distractions – but what does it achieve?


An interesting article from 1999, discussing the negative effects of Change and Information Overload concluded:

It seems that the biggest problem facing present-day society is not that there is too little progress, but rather too much of it. Our mind, physiology nor social structures seem fit to cope with such a rate of change and such an amount of new information. Unfortunately, change, complexity and information overload are abstract phenomena, which are difficult to grasp. Therefore, few people have as yet understood that they contribute to the anxiety they feel. When trying to explain their vague feelings of dissatisfaction, they will rather look for more easily recognizable causes, such as unemployment, pollution, crime, corruption or immigration. These phenomena, which have become much more visible because of the attention they get from the media, play the role of scapegoats: they are blamed for the lack of quality of life which people experience, while being only tangentially related to it. This reinforces an atmosphere of gloom and doom.

Changing change

man on car

I went to university in Baltimore, Maryland, and used to speak with the local homeless. I remember once, I was riding home on the bus, and got into a conversation with a beggar. He had an interesting request… he wasn’t asking for money, but for an exchange. He wanted to change his quarters for dollar bills.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because, once I get back to the shelter, and the others hear the change jiggling around in my pocket, I will have to share it with them. I am saving up to buy a new pair of boots to help me make it through the winter, and if I can hide away the dollar bills.”

This man had no job to worry about, no demands from society… other than the expectation to share his earnings from the street. All he wanted was that pair of boots, something I could have easily gone out and purchased for myself without thinking. But that didn’t seem to bother him. In fact, he seemed quite at peace with the world. He was working towards a goal, and seemed quite content to work for it one step at a time.

It’s amazing how many big issues I have in my life – problems which seem insurmountable, that keep me stuck and trapped in my day to day life. How many of these problems are necessary? Compared to this man, are they really that threatening?