Although I didn’t participate in today’s #assnchat about ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference, it still inspired a blog post. Thank you, KiKi! Here’s why.

conference creativity rooms

I must confess I never went into the creativity rooms at Great Ideas. I peeked into one, but it looked like a dolled-up regular meeting room to me. Maybe I missed something. Maybe I missed it completely. I thought I saw toys on the tables. Or did my eyes deceive me? It’s a shame I didn’t go in and explore, but the timing was never right.

And table toys don’t do much for me. I swear I’m not that serious a person. I’ve attended sessions with group activities centered around toys or other building-block-type things. It’s forced fun for a while. People relax a bit and some get really competitive: “Ours will be bigger!” Perhaps playing with toys shifts our mindset from serious office mode to relaxed engaged conference mode. And, yes, we’re using our creativity, but it seems so forced. And passé, isn’t it? Ok, call me a kill-joy. Then, after a rousing round of construction, the hubbub dies down and we sit passively for the next 30 to 40 minutes listening to the speaker and sneaking glances at the silly-looking fort on our table.

The association professionals in today’s Twitter chat had plenty of great ideas (heh heh) for conference creativity rooms and I even have a few of my own.

Exercise: @AssnMetrics would include “some piece of exercise equipment to put my body in a different state from just sitting.” That reminded me of the Snap Learning Spot sponsored by the Canadian Tourism Commission at Great Ideas where my friend Rob Barnes rode an exercise bike for 35 miles while listening to a micro-learning session. His miles on the bike also raised money for charity. I can imagine a creativity room with a bunch of exercise bikes (or treadmills or ellipticals) for people who want to chat while firing up their mind and body. Maybe some air hockey too. If you rather get outside, the room could be a meeting place for people who want to take scheduled or random walks or hikes.

F&B: The Canadians also served poutine at one point during the conference. I’m sorry I missed it! But, that leads me to my second creativity room feature – food and beverages. @SarahJanetHill and @strattonpub had the same idea. Definitely provide coffee, tea, water and other healthy beverages. Our brains need fuel. Have sign-ups for sommelier- or Cicerone-led wine and beer tastings at the end of the day. The food for the room could be made by people attending mini-cooking classes.

Mini-classes: Why stop at cooking classes? People can sign up in advance to teach people how to knit, play Texas Hold ‘Em or the acoustic guitar, or whatever. 

Arts and crafts: @SarahJanetHill said she likes “playdoh or pipecleaners or something to keep my hands busy. Helps keep my brain engaged.” @ASegar added, “craft paper, scissors, glue.” Who doesn’t like arts and crafts? Let’s make lunch centerpieces, art projects, lanyards or badge decorations – it’s like camp!

Puppy room: @k8doyle suggested this brilliant idea. But where do the puppies (or kitties) come from? Why the Humane Society or SPCA, of course! They can talk to folks about fostering pets, pet care, and other topics.

Music: @ToeKneeRay wants music and I agree. Even at a low (and adjustable) volume, it will energize people. Live music throughout the venue would be even better, if you can afford it. 

Furniture: @strattonpub requests “comfortable seating for solo and group work, lots of natural lighting, warm colors/décor.” I’d add all kinds of plants too – ferns, cacti, succulents, leafy plants, etc. @craigsorrell would like “a room of rocking chairs so you can sit and chat with attendees.” I envision a big room with some private spaces for those who need a bit of solitude. A room with a view would be ideal. Or a few rooms scattered throughout the venue, each with their own character.

Shazam: Wouldn’t it be cool to go somewhere and let your creativity and intellect go crazy in conversation with other attendees? Maybe speakers would pop by and ask questions that encourage wild thinking and wondering. Or whoever is staffing the room would come armed with provocative questions and topics, and not just professional ones.

Tools: @ASegar would stock “flipcharts, postable walls, sticky notes, pens” and @strattonpub would include a “whiteboard or chalkboard.” Make it a good place to let the mind wander and work out issues. Provide magazines and iPads too – tether them if you wish. Who knows, maybe you can get a group visionboard activity going.

Introvert-friendly: @bussolati said “My ideal creativity room would be just me… Introverts unite!” She wasn’t alone in that sentiment. We can create creativity rooms that include quiet space where we can recharge alone.

@ThadLurie shared an article by Susan Cain, The Rise of the New Groupthink. “We need to move beyond the New Groupthink and embrace a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning,” said Cain. “Our offices should encourage casual, cafe-style interactions, but allow people to disappear into personalized, private spaces when they want to be alone.” Replace offices with conferences.

I know we’re at conferences primarily to meet and deepen relationships, oh, yeah, and to get an education too, but I wouldn’t mind a bit more downtime or white space, even if it means extending the conference. I hate having to skip a session just so I can go for a walk while it’s light out.

What do you think? What’s in your ideal creativity room? And how do you recharge when you’re in the midst of a conference?

contents of a conference creativity room

Photo by laffy4k (Flickr)

I’ll get to my favorite reads of the week in just a bit, but first, indulge me for a moment. It will make you feel good, promise.

My tweet of week won’t surprise anyone who saw my tweets last Friday or Saturday:

@FoodBankJenC: Thank you so much to everyone who supported the 24 Hour Telethon $20,500 & 3,300 lbs raised. Huge thanks @gregoryng @mikeadamsnc #FoodBank24

The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina held their first 24-hour fundraising telethon (#foodbank24). They hosted a live video stream on their website and all kinds of fun events at the warehouse. As you can see by their tweet, the telethon was a huge success. How cool is that!

My heroes of the week are Gregory Ng, telethon talent aka frozen food master Freezer Burns, and Mike Adams, telethon producer aka the man behind the curtain with 5-hour energy can in hand. I have huge admiration and respect for these two guys who gave up any semblance of a normal life for well over 24 hours to help out the Food Bank. Deep bow. 

@GregoryNg: #FoodBank24 may be over but the problem of hunger remains. Learn how you can make a difference here http://bit.ly/dyLaSX

@MikeAdamsNC: OMG, finally at home in my bed! What a great couple of days for such a great cause! #FoodBank24

What else have I been digging lately? Will Burns’ Ideasicle podcasts, that’s what. Will explores ideation and creativity in his interviews with a fascinating mix of creative types. I’ve been listening to these on my exercise walks – very inspiring.

And look, a social media case study! Don’t yawn, this one features a small company that, without even intending to use social media, ended up having great success despite themselves. Andre Bourque uncovers the story at VentureBeat: How Pinterest & a Single Blog Post Completely Changed a Company.

Who else is tired of hearing self-righteous political rants 24/7? I see a lot of hands out there. Don’t get me wrong, I find politics fascinating. And I vote in every election, so there, my bona fides. But I’m tired of seeing political tweets and Facebook updates with a “we’re so much better and smarter than the other side” smugness and disdain. I get that you’re passionate, but the world is not black and white, yes, there really are many shades of gray. Your passion is tiresome. Partisan scorn, no matter what side it comes from, is loathsome.

I wonder if Tara Hunt would agree. Last week she shared: 5 Things I’ve Learned By Listening to People Whose Views Differ. Her first lesson: “Just because someone doesn’t agree with you or thinks in a manner that opposes your views doesn’t mean he or she is uneducated or idiotic.” I only wish our politicians felt the same way.

And along those lines, here’s what happens when that mindset goes over the edge into the scary extreme. The New Yorker ran a powerful excerpt from Salman Rushdie’s forthcoming book: The Disappeared: How the Fatwa Changed a Life. I’ve only read one book by Rushdie – Midnight’s Children – and what a book it was, I highly recommend it. Have any of you read Satanic Verses?

This week I also became a huge fan of Emily Dickinson. And by the time the weekend’s over, I expect to be raving about Walt Whitman too. I’m taking a modern and contemporary poetry class from Coursera. I’m curious to see how effective and enjoyable a MOOC is – that’s a massive online open course. Plus I’m eager to give my creative muscle a poetic work out.

Ready to get your learn on? Goodnet shared a list of 7 Free Education Websites You Don’t Want to Miss. As they say, “Home schooling is for grownups too!”

The Food Bank’s Jen Newmeyer and Jen Caslin with Gregory Ng

If I had to pick one blog to take with me to a deserted island, it might be Brain Pickings. Maria Popova is a curator like no other, bringing us fascinating posts about creativity, knowledge, science, art, culture, and more. She describes herself as “an interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large.” That’s what I want to be when I grow up.

Somehow I stumbled upon a post of hers from earlier this year: A 5-Step Technique for Producing Ideas circa 1939. She writes about James Webb Young’s method for “a productive creative process, touching on a number of elements corroborated by modern science and thinking on creativity: its reliance on process over mystical talent, its combinatorial nature, its demand for a pondering period, its dependence on the brain’s unconscious processes, and more.” Popova’s links within this post will take you down an “endless rabbit hole of discovery.”

John Perry would approve of the time I spend procrastinating over at Brain Pickings. He does the same thing all over the web. In his Wall Street Journal article, How to Be a Better Procrastinator, he says, “The truth is that most procrastinators are structured procrastinators. This means that although they may be putting off something deemed important, their way of not doing the important thing is to do something else. Like reading instead of completing their expense report before it’s due.” Exactly!

Steve Buttry may have written this post for journalists, but it shows the potential Twitter has for all kinds of professions and organizations, ahem, associations, I’m talking to you. I’m willing to bet that you’ll find something that resonates with your digital strategy in 10 Ways Twitter is Valuable to Journalists.

Dr. Susan Weinschenk (aka @TheBrainLady) writes about 47 Mind-Blowing Psychological Facts You Should Know About Yourself. I admit, I’ve only read about ten of these facts. I’m slowly savoring them. They’re part of her series of “100 things you should know if you are going to design an effective and persuasive website, web application or software application.” I don’t do any of those things, and maybe you don’t either, but, like me, you might be in the business of persuading. Soak it up!

I have a love/hate relationship with the word “awesome.” I have no problem using it when I see a sight that inspires awe, like the landscape of southern Utah. But too often we – yes, me, you, and everyone else we know – reach to it because we’re too lazy to find another word. It’s become shorthand. “Awesomesauce” used to be really special, but now it’s slathered indiscriminately.

In The Unfortunate Culture of Awesome, Deanna Zandt laments how “awesome” has taken over our social lives. “We are creating wittier, snappier, sometimes angrier, humblebraggier avatars. Everything is awesome.” (Yeah, I had to look up “humblebraggier” too.) I’m reminded of the Louie Herr post I featured last week: That’s Not the Real Me: How Vanity Sabotages Facebook Advertising.

Zandt misses the ordinary, little bits of life that people used to share more regularly. “Maybe it’s not critical to my existence that I know you like Chobani yogurt, but together with lots of other pieces of information, I can see what kind of person you are. And that’s critical for developing relationships with one another, digitally or otherwise.” Just so you know, I had cheesy grits for breakfast, and will probably make a smoothie after publishing this post.

Happy Friday!

Park Avenue, Arches National Park, Moab, UT

Now, that’s awesome. A hike through Park Avenue, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

I usually start off my selection of good reads with something to help you save time or be more productive, but nothing wowed me this week. So I wrote my own: Be Productive While Having a Beer (or Two).

This is such a cool idea from Mike Brown at Brainzooming: assign extreme creativity makeover roles to everyone on your project team. You be the Outrageous Ideameister and I’ll be the Minister of Scare the S#!t Out of Us Possibilities!

I never get tired of sharing this type of post because I know many people are stumped when it comes to blog content. Jackie Roy at TMG Media’s Engage blog (a must read in my book) provides 7 Ways for Your Company to Break the Ice with the Blogosphere.

If you’re going to a conference or educational session and plan to tweet, read this post first. Megan Yarbrough at M+R Research Labs shares tips for thoughtful and effective live-tweeting from an event.

Standard press releases are often misdirected, irrelevant and boring. Here are some creative alternatives to sending a press release from Claire Celsi at Ragan’s PR Daily.

Yes, yes, we’re all professionals, but sometimes you just have to giggle in the middle of the day. One of my favorite sites for that is Funny or Die. If you’re an Arrested Development fan (hey, the rumor is the show’s coming back, woo hoo!), start with this slideshow of AD screen captures.

you've got to read this

I used to silently wish I was creative. I assumed I wasn’t. Creative was for other people, not me. Silly girl. Where was Walt Disney when I needed him?

Gert Garman, Global Creative Development Manager for Disney, visited my local Triangle chapter of the American Marketing Association last week to share Disney’s secrets to innovation. At Disney the prevailing philosophy is “everyone’s creative.” They believe their ability to tap into that creativity is their competitive advantage.

It took me a long time to come to the same conclusion, but I finally wised up. Yes, I’m creative. Heck, I make my living as a writer; I’m at least somewhat creative. But if you had asked me whether I’d be writing for a living five years ago, I’d say, oh no, that’s not practical, I’m not that creative. Here’s the truth: we’re all creative; some people just tap into and leverage their creativity better than others. I’m still working on that.

I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot because it’s ASAE’s Innovation Talks Week in the association management world. I’ve written two blog posts recently for one of my clients, Avectra, about Innovation Week and Disney’s secrets to a creative and innovative culture. Enough with organizations, now it’s time to delve into personal creativity.

Shall we play a game?

Most of us were conditioned by our education, parents or society to tone down our creative bent. Art and music, although recognized as important for our development, weren’t serious subjects. You had to do things “just so” or “according to procedure.” You tried to fit in and, sadly, not fly your freak flag. Maybe that’s why I became a restaurant manager after college. Although I had to comply with budgets, corporate procedures and regulations, I could also express my whole self more than I probably could have in other environments.

Play, games and exercise help get the mind’s juices flowing. Someone recently told me they have a dartboard in their office; when they’re stuck, they start playing and soon their mind is churning. No wonder start-up companies make a big deal about game rooms and exercise facilities – it works! When will the rest of America figure that out?

Creative space

Gert also suggested we create an area to brainstorm and capture our ideas. Many of my friends swear by their whiteboards. Several ASAE staff painted their walls with IdeaPaint.

Did you ever notice that the offices and cubicles of graphic designers are always full of personal, beautiful and interesting items? My offices at work were always spartan. Now I surround myself with things I like to look at that make me feel good, including a dog and cat for playtime.

Don’t forget music. I like listening to a mix of music, familiar but mostly unfamiliar, so I usually tune into the local college station or listen to the jazz or classical stations if the college station isn’t doing it for me.

Disney tips to creativity

Here’s a list of tips from Gert that will help release your inner Creative.

  • Dedicated idea notebook

Capture ideas as they occur. Keep notepads on your desk, in your purse, next to your bed and in your car. Use the recorder on your cell phone. Gert even writes on shower walls with an erasable marker.

  • Thinking that makes sense

Our senses wake up our brain, so go out and literally smell the roses. Listen, really listen to the sounds around you. Look at textures. Touch stuff. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, tells her readers to go on Artist Dates, weekly solo field trips where for a few hours you explore and feed your senses.

  • Take risks

Fail forward so you can learn and grow. Stretch your comfort zone. Don’t listen to nay-sayers. Disney was told many times he’d fail.

  • Reward yourself

Finish the draft, have a beer or a piece of expensive cheese, whatever rocks you. And if you manage others, recognize and reward their creative efforts too.

  • Ha Ha to A-Ha!

Play, laugh, be silly and let go.

  • Ask questions

Gert’s favorite is to ask “why” three times. I can imagine doing this in an office where “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is the knee-jerk answer. The first and second answers to “Why?” are usually the lame party line. By the third you’ll start getting to the real truth.

  • Bend the rules

Ask for forgiveness later. I’ve always liked the stealth approach to innovation. Good luck with that!

  • Network and collaborate

This might be my favorite. Surround yourself with a diverse selection of people who have different perspectives and lives than you. Become more interesting because of the people around you. The more diversity around you, the richer your life will be.

I’d add one more: read widely. Look for random interesting well-written blogs to add to your Reader, or smart people from different professions to add to your Twitter follows. If you want to learn more about “fully owning our innate creative spirit again,” then you must read Patti Digh’s Creative is a Verb: If You’re Alive You’re Creative. It’s a beautifully illustrated book full of thoughtful prose, poems, quotes and exercises.

Now go on out there and dance this mess around!

personal creativity disney innovation

Photo by Pixel Addict (Flickr)

When I first decided to have an at-home retreat week, I had in mind the relaxed yet energizing experience of my stays at Red Mountain Spa. But how would I replicate that experience without morning hikes in southern Utah’s glorious red rock landscape, frequent massages, fitness and wellness classes and a dining room serving delicious and healthy food?

I’d have to dial back my expectations. I decided to focus on my writing business, specifically planning, marketing and learning. Yet I also wanted to include retreat-like activities and lots of reading. On Monday morning, the first day of my retreat, I put together a schedule that would keep me on that productive track. It was ambitious.

  • Morning walks in good weather
  • Daily yoga and meditation
  • Read four excellent books – details below
  • Set goals for the rest of the year
  • Develop a marketing plan
  • Work on a few other business planning, educational and organizational projects
  • Create a visionboard illustrating the life I want to create for myself
  • Read dozens of RSS feeds and other resources about marketing, writing and other freelancer concerns.

Things don’t always go as planned.

After making my schedule I went shopping for the week’s groceries so I could truly retreat from the world. And then, a fantastic massage from Shannon at Spa Neo in Clayton, NC. It was a retreat, after all!

When I got home, feeling very juicy, that’s yoga talk, I enjoyed a delicious dinner with a few glasses of wine. Enlightenment came down upon me. “I haven’t had any lengthy time off this year and I won’t until August. What do I really want this week to be? What do I need for me?”

I started crossing items off the schedule.

Instead of doing what I should do, keeping up with my usual professional reading and all those other habitual activities, I decided to:

Let. It. All. Go.

I unplugged — no emails, no Twitter. I focused on reading my books, writing in my journal — most of it prompted by what I was reading, working on my visionboard — which involved lots of flipping through old cooking and fashion magazines and cutting out pictures, walking, yoga, meditating and just plain thinking.

blogger writer raleigh freelance copywriting writing

photo by Eryn Vorn

On Tuesday I worked on my goals for the year because that’s a whole life activity, not strictly professional. I adapted the method that Sherman Hu shared on Sarah Robinson’s Escaping Mediocrity blog.

But habits are tough to break.

Unfortunately it took me until late Wednesday to break my RSS habit — translation: reading dozens of blog subscriptions in Google Reader. I rationalized it by only reading from my writing and growth folders but I kept clicking on other posts, things I NEEDED TO KNOW.

I made the decision to stop being busy. I sought stillness. I let go my compulsion to keep up and be in the know. I didn’t watch the news and hardly read the paper. Since Jim and his daughter were away for the week, I was alone in my house. I was a bit like a monk on a silent retreat, except this monk talks to herself, the cat and the dog. And you know what? I loved it. I wasn’t lonely at all. I felt very fulfilled by what I was doing.

Here are some considerations if you’re thinking about an at-home retreat.

Do you like to cook? Do you want to? You may not, even if you usually love cooking like me. Plan ahead by having leftovers or easy-to-prepare meals and snacks in the frig or freezer. Don’t forget about snacks; remember, at the spa the dining room is always open.

Music? Silence? I enjoyed both. When my house is quiet, I’m lucky enough to be serenaded by birds, frogs and other woodland creatures. On Thursday I discovered some “spa” stations on Pandora that contributed to my relaxed attitude.

15-20 minute naps are sooo good and rejuvenating, take them whenever your energy lulls a bit. With my work lifestyle I suppose I could nap every afternoon but I’m still brainwashed by decades in the “real world.” I took a nap today; it did wonders for my late afternoon energy level.

writing blogging copywriting freelance writer blogger Raleigh case studies

Red Mountain Spa & Resort

Your reading selection will set the tone for your retreat so choose wisely. My four books echoed each other throughout the week. I found myself gasping at the synchronicities. Maybe it’s not so surprising since they’re all essentially about authenticity, joy, growth and creativity.

My friend Kiki wrote recently about finding “whitespace.” When we live our lives the way most people do, the acceptable way, the normal way, it’s difficult to claim the whitespace we need to reflect, play and grow. Because I have complete control over my life now (wait, haven’t I always?), I can make the time to do something like this.

But to do it, I had to plan well ahead. I had to make sure all my work was done, in its absolutely final state, and delivered to clients ahead of time. I kept my fingers crossed that no last-minute work would come my way that I would be tempted to take. I took the week off from my blogs. I kept my calendar clear. I was ready.

I’m doing it again if I can manage it work-wise, even if it’s only for a few days, hopefully in six months or so, maybe the next time Jim leaves town for a conference. Next time I’ll be able to slip into real retreat mode much more quickly.

Even though I didn’t do any “professional” activities during my week, I came out of it with new approaches to my day and lots of ideas. Plus I feel incredibly refreshed and relaxed. I’m reading books more now than I had before my retreat. I’m practicing yoga and meditating almost daily. It’s like I went to a spa!

This quote from Proust in Meditations from the Mat speaks to me now: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

This week I’m offline for an at-home retreat — lots of reading, thinking, setting goals, making a visionboard, planning, and writing for pleasure. I’m digging into Patti Digh’s Creative is a Verb, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Rolf Gates’ Meditations from the Mat, Baron Baptiste’s 40 Days to Personal Revolution and a few other books, blogs and resources that have been wooing me.

Now you know why my blogs will be dark and my Twitter quiet. I’m pretending I’m in a cabin in the woods, not so hard to do really. I’ll be back next week!

raleigh freelance writer blogger

Photo by James Lee

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