Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's Play Catch

Exploring Creativity Series - Part Three

If you are just joining the fun - here's a recap.

Part One - Creativity is within every one's reach -posted here.

Part Two - Busting myths and beliefs that can hold us back -found here

Now that we are past the introductions - let's get to the exciting part.
Do you want to improve, boost or enjoy more benefits from your creativity? There are skills proven to help you do so. Do you remember playing catch as a child? Did you ever go fishing? Did you ever try to catch a frog, lizard, snake - or any animal? What did you use to help your 'catching' ability? A mitt, a hook, your bare hands? Did you need to be fast, patient or both?

Before we can act on any of our creative ideas, we have to capture them first. Why? If we don't record or capture an idea, we'll forget it. Even if we think we have a great memory. Even if the idea is big, or so totally awesome we think it's impossible to forget - it is possible to forget. The better the idea, the more important to record it. This is what Dr. Peek (BYU Humanities Professor) had to say about creativity and memory:

“In Greek mythology, Mnemosyne*, was the personification of memory. She was the mother of the nine muses. The muses in turn, were the goddesses who inspired literature and the arts. They were considered the sources of the knowledge that was contained in poetry, myth, and history. And that was, for many centuries, celebrated and disseminated orally. The types of work inspired by the muses were the artistic, the creative. Memory, is therefore, the grandmother, so to speak, of almost all creative endeavors and a critical component in the relationship between the creator and the created. In part, this was so because of the profound orality of the ancient world, where even when anything was preserved in writing, the average person did not have access to copies of that writing. The memorization of long passages of poetry, drama, and oratory was the presumed activity of educated artists and citizens. All literature, indeed arguably, all language, knowledge and skills were preserved and transmitted orally. For the created work to have any value it must be remembered. If it is not remembered, it cannot exist.
"Yea, They May Forget, Yet Will I Not Forget Thee", Peek, Cecilia M.**, November 09, 2010 italics added for emphasis! & a really great devotional message, too.
We have to find some way- whatever way works best for us- to record and preserve the idea so we don't forget it. 
"New ideas are like rabbits streaking through consciousness; they're fleeting. If you don't grab them quickly, they're usually gone forever.
The main thing that distinguishes "creative" people from the rest of us is that the creative ones have learned ways to pay attention to and then to preserve some of the new ideas that occur to them. They have capturing skills."   
"Capturing is easier in certain settings and at certain times, so we improve our catch by identifying the settings and times that work best for us. For some people, the Three Bs of Creativity--the Bed, the Bath, and the Bus--are particularly fertile, especially if you keep writing materials handy in those locations. . . Others need to sit by a pool or on a cruise ship or in a lonely cabin in the woods."
"People who are serious about exploring their creative side develop and practice various methods of capturing new ideas. Artists carry sketchpads. Writers and advertisers carry notepads or pocket computers. Inventors make notes on napkins and candy-bar wrappers--especially inventors of new foods!" ~By Robert Epstein, Capturing Creativity,  July 01, 1996 
So take a minute and think about what you do when you have a 'new' idea. 
Do you dismiss it? Do you write it down? Do you pick up the phone and tell your best friend who then patents it and makes millions? 
Do you want to discover how creative you really are?
Try the Capture Challenge.
For the next forty-eight hours (that's only two days, right?) decide to take every new idea seriously. Each new idea gets the right to be captured or recorded in some way. Not dismissed. Not judged as crazy, worthless, or useless. If it is new - it gets to be captured. There will be time for evaluating later. And what counts as a new idea? If it is new to you, record it. If it's a new idea for your book, record it. If it is a new idea for a gift, a talk, how to fix your garbage disposal, write it down! 

Be prepared for a couple of things to happen when you take this challenge. As you back off critiquing your ideas before you write them down - you will begin to have more ideas. Also, new ideas may come when you are not in a very good position to capture them. It turns into a game, 'catch me if you can'. So, yes, I'm about to utter (okay, write) the phrase I've never really liked, but happens to apply here, 'expect the unexpected'. Here is a little example. (I don't think Otto new about my creativity challenge, but it fits!)
The scientist Otto Loewi had struggled for years with a problem in cell biology. One night, a new approach to the problem occurred to him in his sleep. In the dark, he grabbed a pen and pad, recorded his new ideas, and went back to sleep. Come morning, he couldn't read his writing! Had he imagined this great solution, or was it real? The next night he was blessed by the same flash of insight. This time, he took no chances; he pulled on his clothes and went straight to his lab. He won the Nobel Prize for the work he began that night.~By Robert Epstein, Capturing Creativity, July 01, 1996
I think Otto was blessed to have the same flash of insight two nights in a row. Most of us do not get that opportunity. However, if we practice the skill of capturing, we can be ready for the ideas the first time they 'streak' through our minds. Good luck. Tell me what you already do to capture your ideas & let me know if you take the challenge. Of course, I cannot be held responsible if you have a flood of new ideas - although if you have any dreams that lead you win a Nobel Prize . . . I wouldn't mind a little shout out!

Up next: How to accelerate the flow of your new ideas.
*(nem-o-soon-ay) Greek goddess of memory, in Greek mythology, the goddess of memory and mother of the Muses ] 
**Cecilia Peek is an associate professor of humanities, classics and comparative literature at BYU. Her research interests include Hellenistic and Roman history, Greek and Latin prose literature and classical historiography. She received a bachelor’s degree in classical literature, from BYU; a master’s degree in ancient history and Mediterranean archaeology from the University of California–Berkeley; and a doctorate in ancient history and Mediterranean archaeology from University of California–Berkeley.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Creative Myth Busting 101

Myth n. a widely held but mistaken or false belief

Welcome to the second post in my series Exploring Creativity. (In case you missed the first one, you can read it here.) I'm excited by research that sheds light on what creativity is and isn't, how the process works and how to improve your creative abilities. Before I get to the specific skills that Epstein suggested to boost 'novel behavior', I'm devoting this post to myth-busting. Why? It occurred to me that many of us may not take the time to be creative, or work on creativity-enhancing skills if we are held back by certain myths. Myths can be like powerful illusions, like the sidewalk-chalk art picture above. Doesn't it look like a real puddle?  It's important every now and then to check our beliefs about our creative abilities to make sure we are seeing things as they really are.
“Myths about creativity are deeply entrenched in our culture. Myths have enormous power to shape everyday behavior, often to people's detriment. When people believe the world is flat, for example, they're unlikely to venture out to sea very far and "lands away" remain undiscovered. When it comes to creativity, myths keep most people firmly shore bound”.  Epstein, Capturing Creativity, Psychology Today, July 1994
What "creations" are waiting for you to create them? Are you 'shore bound' thinking that only artists are creative, or you are not a 'right brain thinker' so why try? It's time to replace those myths with the truth about creativity.

Myth # 1- Only Right Brain Thinkers are Creative  
 I was surprised to read what Epstein had to say about right-brain research. It is certainly different from what I've 'heard' and even read in other places. I'm not trying to stir up controversy here, but I think having accurate information about ourselves and our brains helps us to make the best use of them.
"The brain hemisphere distinction is based largely on clinical studies of about 40 "split-brain" patients--people whose brains were severed surgically in order to treat seizures or other neurological problems. The initial studies of such patients, conducted in the 1960s, seemed to show significant functional differences between the left and right cerebral hemispheres. In the 1980s, however, scientists began to reinterpret the data. The problem is split-brain patients all have abnormal brains to begin with."

"As a practical matter, the right-hemisphere myth is nonsense because virtually no one has a split brain. The two halves of our brain are connected by an immense structure called the corpus callosum, and the hemispheres also communicate through the sense organs. Creativity has no precise location in the human brain, and people who promise to reactivate your "neural creativity zones" are just yanking your chain." Epstein, Capturing Creativity, Psychology Today, July 1994

Myth # 2 - Creativity Comes From Creative Types
     This myth is a close cousin to the right-brain/left-brain thinking. The following research is about creativity in the workplace but I think you will notice it has applications to other settings.

"Teresa Amabile . . . heads the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School and is the only tenured professor at a top B-school to devote her entire research program to the study of creativity. Eight years ago, Amabile took her research to a daring new level. Working with a team of PhDs, graduate students, and managers from various companies, she collected nearly 12,000 daily journal entries from 238 people working on creative projects in seven companies in the consumer products, high-tech, and chemical industries. She didn't tell the study participants that she was focusing on creativity. She simply asked them, in a daily email, about their work and their work environment as they experienced it that day. She then coded the emails for creativity by looking for moments when people struggled with a problem or came up with a new idea."
"When I give talks to managers, I often start by asking, Where in your organization do you most want creativity? Typically, they'll say R&D, marketing, and advertising. When I ask, Where do you not want creativity? someone will inevitably answer, "accounting." That always gets a laugh because of the negative connotations of creative accounting. But there's this common perception among managers that some people are creative, and most aren't. That's just not true. As a leader, you don't want to ghettoize creativity; you want everyone in your organization producing novel and useful ideas, including your financial people. Over the past couple of decades, there have been innovations in financial accounting that are extremely profound and entirely ethical, such as activity-based costing."
"The fact is, almost all of the research in this field shows that anyone with normal intelligence is capable of doing some degree of creative work. Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells. Intrinsic motivation -- people who are turned on by their work often work creatively -- is especially critical."  The 6 Myths Of Creativity, by Bill Breen, December 1, 2004 (italics added for emphasis)
Myth # 3 - Time Pressure Fuels Creativity
    The research on this myth might be more controversial to writers than any other myth. I can already envision lots of comments from writers pointing out that without a deadline from an editor or critique group they would not get words on the page. I think the important distinction here is that time pressure may fuel productivity but not always creativity.

"In our diary study, people often thought they were most creative when they were working under severe deadline pressure. But the 12,000 aggregate days that we studied showed just the opposite: People were the least creative when they were fighting the clock. In fact, we found a kind of time-pressure hangover -- when people were working under great pressure, their creativity went down not only on that day but the next two days as well. Time pressure stifles creativity because people can't deeply engage with the problem. Creativity requires an incubation period; people need time to soak in a problem and let the ideas bubble up."

". . . it's not so much the deadline that's the problem; it's the distractions that rob people of the time to make that creative breakthrough. People can certainly be creative when they're under the gun, but only when they're able to focus on the work. They must be protected from distractions." The 6 Myths Of Creativity, by Bill Breen, December 1, 2004 (italics added for emphasis)
Myth # 4 - Fear Forces Breakthroughs
Do you have to be the moody, brooding, starving-actor-type person to be creative? The answer is a resounding, NO!
"There's this widespread notion that fear and sadness somehow spur creativity. There's even some psychological literature suggesting that the incidence of depression is higher in creative writers and artists -- the depressed geniuses who are incredibly original in their thinking. But we don't see it in the population that we studied. We coded all 12,000 journal entries for the degree of fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, joy, and love that people were experiencing on a given day. And we found that creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear, and anxiety. The entries show that people are happiest when they come up with a creative idea, but they're more likely to have a breakthrough if they were happy the day before. There's a kind of virtuous cycle. When people are excited about their work, there's a better chance that they'll make a cognitive association that incubates overnight and shows up as a creative idea the next day. One day's happiness often predicts the next day's creativity." The 6 Myths Of Creativity, by Bill Breen, December 1, 2004 (italics added for emphasis)

There you have it. Exposed myths to free your creative energy and allow you to 'set sail' and explore your creative potential. As always, I love to hear what you think. And I know there are more myths out there that need busting - so comment away!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's About Time

Well, not really - this post is about Creativity. I've been thinking about it and talking about it and it's about time I sat down and started it. Started what? My series on creativity. I am fascinated by creative people and the creative process. I'm convinced all of us have an inner artist and so many of the myths surrounding creativity -are just that- myths. I came across this article a while ago and loved the research. Here is a little of what Epstein had to say:

The very good news is that, with the right skills, you can boost your own creative output by a factor of 10 or more. Significant creativity is within everyone's reach--no exceptions. What's more, greater creativity breeds greater happiness. The creative process is itself a source of joy for most people. And with new creative powers we're also better able to solve the little problems that beset us daily. 
~"Capturing creativity" By Robert Epstein, published on July 01, 1996

Did you catch that? 'Creativity is within every one's reach - no exceptions' In the words of my four-year-old, that totally rocks! And who couldn't use another source of joy in their life or extra help solving problems? I'm so excited about it that I decided I wanted to do a series. Mark your calendar (I usually post on Tuesdays), become a follower and stop by for upcoming blog posts. I'll be exploring each of the suggestions Epstein has to boost creativity, sharing interviews of some of the really cool, creative people I know. And I might even have a contest before I'm done.

And just for fun - let's get creative. Leave a comment with at least one sentence about the two pictures in this post.


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