Life


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)

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Today is my birthday. Permit me a little self-indulgence here. I’m taking a few days off to reflect, relax and celebrate because it’s a BIG birthday. I’m not unplugging completely, oh no. Twitter and Facebook are fun intellectual and conversational playgrounds for me so I’ll hang out there, maybe more than I usually do. I’ll read, cook, eat, drink, do a little yoga, celebrate with friends and prepare for hurricane Irene’s visit.

And I’ll think about the past, present and future. I usually try to live in the moment but it’s impossible for me to not plan and imagine and wonder. Agatha Christie said, upon reaching my age, “suddenly you find….that a whole new life has opened before you.” She’s right, and it’s very exciting.

I’m sorry if this next sentiment seems cliché to you, but it’s from my heart: I feel more alive, stimulated, brave, grateful, inspired, wise and powerful than I have ever felt in my life. Maybe that’s age, maybe that’s my particular life experience. I hope when you get here, you feel the same way.

Yesterday a friend (thank you, Jeffrey) shared a link on Twitter to a video that made my day, Wisdom. It’s a trailer for a book now residing on my wish list. I came here to my blog today only because I want to share this video with you.

Now I’m off to be queen for the day, or the long weekend if I can get away with it. Enjoy Wisdom. Share Wisdom.

raleigh freelance writer

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.

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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.

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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 post includes Amazon affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you click on a link and purchase the product.)

Have you noticed a lot of talk lately about the fear of missing out or the fear of missing, well, everything?

Linda Holmes at NPR’s Monkeysee blog wrote about “the sad, beautiful fact that we’re all going to miss almost everything.” We won’t be as well-read as we wish. We won’t read every blog post in our Reader. We won’t see all the major critics’ top ten films of the year. We won’t get to every art museum or art-filled church on our bucket list. It just won’t happen. Can we cope?

I once had that acquisitive consuming desire to read all the classics. It was an ever expanding list fueled by books about reading that each had their own list. Even though I had a great education, I thought I had too many gaping holes in the classical period, so I embarked on my own education program. Yes, if it’s a Greek or Roman classic, I’ve likely read it. But I petered out on that plan after extending it into the medieval age. Looking back I’m glad I did it but it might explain why I was single for so long.

And then there was my presidential biography period. Inspired by C-SPAN2’s Book TV series (oh be quiet, I hear your snickering), I started with George and made it all the way to Millard before losing interest. Honestly, I’d do that one again, but in a more leisurely random manner. And, since I know you’re dying to ask me, George (#1) is my favorite president.

I’m sure I had other reading binges, but I’ve blocked them from my short-term memory, thankfully. I no longer have manias like these, even though I still have that itch to learn, I’m just not as obsessive about it.

Another aspect of this syndrome was described last month by Caterina Fake. She wrote about the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) she saw in the tweets of those at SXSW: what if I’m in the wrong place and missing a good party, session or cool person? “Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on.” How true that is! Yes, we can read the hashtag archive, but that only makes us hungrier to go next year, and what if we can’t? Oh, cursed fates.

Caterina added this fascinating bit, fascinating to me because I practice yoga and we think about these kind of woowoo things: “To be always filled with craving and desire (also called defilement, affliction) is one of the Three Poisons of Buddhism, called kilesa, and it makes you a slave.” Ouch. I read this and thought about Julie of the Julie/Julia project who cooked her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When I read Julie’s book, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, (how freaking obsessive is that?) I kept thinking, is that really (still) enjoyable?

People who are new to Twitter are often overwhelmed and turned off by its fire hose of information. I say, dip into the stream for a bit, float around, chat, share some stories and get out. Come back later in the day if you want another dip. Yeah, treasures and trash floated down the river while you were elsewhere. Relax, or as we say in yoga, chillax, there’s plenty more of it upstream. Enjoy your float.

Think about the people you sit with at lunch, meet for a beer, or see at smaller meet-ups. Are they like you? Do you feel more comfortable around people who think like you? Or do you welcome the opportunity to be around those who think differently?

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read a Newsweek article about Washington wives of yore. It’s both interesting and sad.

Do you remember the video of Sen. Orrin Hatch (Rep.) speaking at the funeral of his “Irish friend” Ted Kennedy (Dem.)? After you dry your eyes, think about those on the Hill today. What are the chances now that a Republican and a Democrat will have a friendship like this?

Back when their relationship started, Senators and Representatives lived in DC with their families. They spent time hanging out with guys from both sides of the aisle.

“If you live across the street from your political opponent, if you know his kids, if you’ve been to dinner at his house, it’s impossible to go up on the floor of the Senate or in the media and blast him the next day.”

I’m not calling for a return to the “good old days” because they weren’t all good. Permanent residence in DC can lead to a syndrome I detest — the Beltway bubble that insulates some of our politicians from what it’s like to sign or earn a paycheck. I do think it’s important for them to come home and get a sense for what their constituents need, but something was lost along the way.

“Real legislating—the compromises and dealmaking that distinguish politics from posturing—happens only among people who know and respect each other.”

That’s what we lost. Camaraderie and collaboration were lost. People become symbols of their party platform. Static ideology takes precedence over reason and relationships.

Nowadays as soon as they’re elected, the fundraising cycle begins again for the next campaign. Wouldn’t it be better if our policy-makers focused on leading, thinking, collaborating, innovating and legislating while in office, not raising funds and running for the next election? Ah, what a dreamer I am.

It’s easy to demonize the other when you don’t choose to know or understand them. This is the root of racism, religious hatred, homophobia and a host of other evils. That’s the extreme version.

What’s the light version? Think about yourself, or think about the leadership of your company or organization. Do you (or your leadership) surround yourself with those who think like you? Who have the same beliefs or philosophies? Who are the same age, gender, religion, ethnicity or race? Who have the same economic, educational or professional background? Who do or see things the way you do?

What’s missing? Exposure to other perspectives and stories. Serendipity. Don’t knock serendipity. It’s the root of much creativity and innovation in the world.

It’s easy for any of us to get trapped in a bubble. Fortunately, because of social media, it’s also easier now to tap into voices and perspectives outside our bubble. I’m not sure how we’ll change Washington but we can pop our own bubbles.

leadership diversity perspective association organizational

flickr photo by missbossy

Merry Christmas to all, see you in January!

photo source: New York Public Library Digital Gallery

Earlier this month I read a post in the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan’s blog at The Atlantic, about a megachurch pastor in Georgia, Jim Swilley, who decided to publicly come out of the closet. He felt compelled to do so after hearing too many stories about gay teens committing suicide after harassment by bullies.

“As a father, thinking about your 16-, 17-year-old killing themselves, I thought somebody needed to say something,” he told WSB TV in Atlanta. “I know all the hateful stuff that’s being written about me online, whatever. To think about saving a teenager, yeah, I’ll risk my reputation for that.”

risk reputation organization brand failure

click to view video on YouTube

This man is a hero. I can’t imagine the courage it must take for anyone to come out when those around them don’t approve of their lifestyle. A lifestyle, Swilley reminds us, that is not a choice. But imagine doing that when you’re the pastor of a conservative church and your career and livelihood is on the line.

It made me think about what I would risk to do the right thing. Would I be brave enough to risk my reputation and career? I won’t know until I’m in that position. I can only hope that I’m as strong as he is. I’m not assuming I will be although I think I have a strong metaphorical spine. I think about whistleblowers who don’t even know Sarbanes-Oxley protection exists, yet put their jobs on the line to do the right thing, as Jim Swilley did by blowing the whistle on irrational hatred.

How much would your organization put on the line to do the right thing? How many people (members or even board members) are you willing to piss off? How many opportunities do you miss to be a hero because you worry about the risk to your brand or about the risk of failure?

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