In 2017, I had Ann Bischoff as a guest on the People Helping People Podcast – from the Star House, a day center for youth experiencing homelessness. Something struck me about the situation that these youth face — especially a life circumstances that they never chose. I had such a supportive family growing up, and still do today… and I can’t imagine life without that. Especially at age 16 or 18, I can’t imagine having to make it on my own without any support.
Wandering online through the collective stories we’re telling is like driving an old truck down a bumpy dirt road — you kind of expect your car to fall apart at any moment. Yet somehow, it keeps going.
It’s been rough lately — namely the election and billions of opinions written in the shock following the election. But that’s not all — there is a lot of messy stuff happening around the world — the middle east, Brexit, the Philippines, a massive refugee crisis, a 7.8 earthquake in New Zealand, and then Apple had to go and release a laptop without any normal ports, when we’ve all been waiting for a super upgrade, and all we got was a… touch bar?
Seth Godin explores a new standard for meetings and conferences and how to justify the increasing cost and time commitment of travel. Face-to-face contact is much more effective than internet-related conferencing tools and Seth hits an important point that we need to address this effectively.
One powerful method Seth missed in his analysis is Open Space Technology.
This weekend, I attended a retreat in Open Space format. The format was developed by Harrison Owen after spending a year organizing a conference, and the feedback he received was, “Nice conference. The speakers were okay, but what we really liked were the coffee breaks.” His solution? To hold a conference comprised entirely of coffee breaks.
From this idea, he developed a powerful style of holding conferences where attendees were responsible for devising and convening sessions at the start of the conference. People then are required to go to sessions they feel drawn to with the understanding that they will leave as soon as they are no longer contributing or receiving any value. The results skyrocketed past anyone’s expectations – a magical environment was created where everyone was engaged.
In a day when effective collaboration is a necessity to justify the cost – Open Space is an alternative I suspect we will be seeing much more of in the future.
Diverse experiences and diverse collaboration stimulate creativity. When I did my MBA in London, I thought I was with a diverse group of colleagues. Everyone came from a different country, from a wide range of industries. However, it wasn’t until Prof. Lynda Gratton pointed out that actually, MBA’s are all a pretty homogenous group on an academic and intellectual level, and hence don’t produce very creative output.
Lynda Gratton research is about Hot Spots: Why Some Teams, Workplaces, and Organizations Buzz with Energy – And Others Don’t. She refers to the phenomenon of diversity stimulating creativity as boundary spanning: New ideas are often the product of two previously unassociated thoughts, so crossing boundaries within and beyond organizations can be very fruitful.
I hung out with a local german speaking group this evening, whose only common thread was speaking German (and perhaps being internet-savvy enough to find the group). Many were 10 years younger than me, and from all walks of life – and most of who had never met before.
The results? Totally different ways of seeing life, work and objectives in life. No inhibitions to possibility. And lots of good beer over a barbecue.
Just as simple as it sounds, the freewrite exercise is about writing without inhibitions.
- Write for a pre-determined limit, such as 15 minutes or 2 pages.
- You may use a computer, as it will allow you to write quicker and will cause less strain, but I have found more profound results writing by hand.
- Try to write concretely, sensorial, in images. Do not worry about “making sense”, do not think, pay no attention to grammar, forget spelling, and don’t use any punctuation. Write freely.
- Write as quick as you can.
When the predetermined point on the page is reached or the allotted time is up, stop writing. Put your free-write away. Do not read it. This is important so that you’re not distracted with the expectation of creating contact while you are writing.
Remember: once you begin writing do not stop – no pausing to reflect. The point is to write without thinking about what you will write.
Why to do it
The purpose of the exercise is to tap into unconscious material, calm your mind from swirling thoughts and help you to tap into the creative potential within. It is a great way to reach a calm, creative state before journaling or starting a project.
In addition, you can gather together multiple free-writes, and review them for inspirational material at a later date.
Being creative is more than letting people run wild with their ideas, as uncovered in an insightful interview with Brad Bird on Innovation lessons from Pixar, where the McKinsey Quarterly examined issues around creating a successful creative environment:
The Quarterly: How important is team dynamics to innovation and creativity?
Brad Bird: Making a film, you have all these different departments, and what you’re trying to do is find a way to get them to put forth their creativity in a harmonious way. Otherwise, it’s like you have an orchestra where everybody’s playing their own music. Each individual piece might be beautiful, but together they’re crazy.
Yea. Go big bird.
Check out the insight from Hivelogic into Offices and the Creativity Zone. Dan discusses some reasons why the corporate work environment isn’t the right setting to be creative – through countless distractions and pressures to produce results.
Reminds me of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi… where too many demands coming from too many places, makes it impossible for us to be single-minded-ly focused on one task at a time. Although, central to the Flow concept is finding the right balance between challenge and skill level (if the challenge is to great, it causes stress, and if it is too low, it causes boredom). And I think achieving this balance is essential for accessing our most creative states.
3. Expose yourself. Not after too much vodka. Expose yourself to new art – books, music, paintings – all the time. If you’re a rocker, listen to funk. If you’re a crime writer, read fantasy. If you’re a productivity writer, read something about slacking off.
8. Drink too much coffee sometimes (one of my favorite submissions).
15. Creativity is a muscle. Exercise it daily – if you only need to create once a week, your muscles may have atrophied if you don’t do it just because you don’t have to.
22. Keep a journal. It can get your mind working, and in a month, or a year, when you’ve gained some distance from what you’ve written it can give you new ideas.
28. Trash what you’re working on. Start again.
The world we live in treasures the intellectual mind. From a young age we go to school – a structured environment where we are taught to follow instructions, process information and return expected answers in order to succeed. We are not encouraged to fail, nor are we given the freedom to define our own path.
This is the same in the workplace. We are expected to show up on time and follow the process we need to get the job done.
But the dark secret is that true value, both in our lives and in business, comes from creativity and new ideas. Creativity doesn’t come from intellect but from intuition – a skill few have taken the time to cultivate.
Either you can see possibility in the world, or you can see the threats, problems and dangers. If you’re really talented, you will see possibility where others see a threat. This is called turning a problem into a challenge.
The magic secret is to understand that what you see is your choice. Do you notice yourself feeling defensive or mulling over issues? Then ask yourself:
- What is the opportunity in this situation?
- What is the challenge that lies in this problem?
- How could I transform this into something good?