You are creative (who the %$#@! says you're not?)
June 08, 2006
"Creative power" or "creative imagination" is not only for "The artists of the world," the painters, the sculptors, and so on. Teachers need the power of creativity too. So do programmers, engineers, scientists, etc. You can see the application of creative genius in many professional fields. Remember, for example, that it was a group of brilliant and geeky-to-the-core NASA engineers on the ground who in 1970 were able jury rig a solution to the life-threatening build up of carbon dioxide in the damaged Apollo 13 space craft. Their heroic fix, literally involving duct tape and spare parts, was ingenious improvisation, imaginative...and it was creative.
Back down here on earth, the seemingly mundane business or conference presentation, designed and delivered with the help of slideware, can be a very creative thing. A presentation is an opportunity to differentiate yourself, or your organization, or your cause. It's your chance to tell the story of why your content is important, why it matters. It can be an opportunity to make a difference. So why look, talk (bore?) like everyone else? Why strive to meet expectations? Why not surpass expectations and surprise people? Besides, audiences' expectations are quite low as far as presentations are concerned anyway (unless you're the "Steve Jobs" of your field).
You are original, unique, and creative
Even if you are not "A Creative" (artist, designer, musician etc.), you are a creative person. Probably -- assuredly in fact -- far more creative than you think. All people should work toward tapping into their creative abilities and unleashing their imaginations. Why? I think Brenda Ueland (1891-1985) puts it best:
"First because it is impossible that you have *no* creative gift. Second: the only way to make it live and increase is to use it. Third: you cannot be sure that it is not a *great* gift."
— Brenda Ueland
"If you want to Write" by Brenda Ueland is one of the most inspiring and useful books I have ever read. The book was first published in 1938 and probably should have been titled "If You Want to Be Creative." The simple (yet sage-like) advice will be of interest not only to writers but to anyone who yearns to be more creative in their work or to help others get in touch with their creative souls. While reading the book (for the third time) I couldn't help but think of parents and teachers who have such a huge impact on their kids in terms of creativity (for better or worse). This book should be required reading for all knowledge workers or anyone aspiring to teach anyone about anything.
12 things to remember about being creative from Brenda Ueland (Part 1)
I could barely read the book the third time through due to all the underlining and scribblings I did in my copy of the book the first two times I read it last summer. There is so much in Ueland's little book (only 179 pages) I'd like to share. Below I list six quotes from Brenda Ueland. The quotation is in bold. I comment briefly after each quotation. Here are the other six tips from Ueland.
(1) "...the creative power is in all of you if you give it a little time, if you do not always keep it out by hurrying and feeling guilty in times when you should be lazy and happy. Or if you do not keep the creative power away by telling yourself the worst of lies -- that you haven't any."
Ah, the big lie we tell ourselves: "I am not creative." Sure, you might not be the next Picasso in your field (then again, who knows?). But it does not really matter. What matters is to not close yourself down too early in the process of exploration. Failing is fine, necessary in fact. But avoiding experimentation or risk -- especially out of fear of what others may think -- is something that will gnaw at your gut more than any ephemeral failure. A failure is in the past. It's done, over. But worrying about "what might be if..." or "what might have been if I had..." are pieces of baggage we carry around daily. They're heavy and they'll kill our creative spirit. Take chances and stretch yourself. We're only here on this planet once, and for a very short time at that. Why not just see how gifted you are. You may surprise someone. Most importantly, you may surprise yourself.
(2) On why the creative power inside of us should be kept alive. "Why? Because it is life itself. It is the spirit. In fact, it is the only important thing about us. The rest of us is legs and stomach, materialistic cravings and fears."
Children are naturally creative, playful, and experimental. If you ask me, we were the "most human" when we were young kids. We didn't force it, but we loved it. We "worked" at it, sometimes for hours at a time without a break, because it was in us, though we didn't intellectualize it. As we got older the fear crept in, the doubts, the self-censoring, the over-thinking. The creative spirit is in us now; it's who we are. We just need to look at the kids around us to be reminded of that. And if you are 58 or 88 today? It's never too late, the child is still in you.
(3) "The imagination needs moodling -- long inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering. People who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas...But they have no slow, big ideas."
Idling or "doing nothingness" is important. Most of us, myself included, are obsessed with "getting things done." We're afraid to be "unproductive." And yet, the big ideas often come to us during our periods of "laziness," during those episodes of "wasting time." We need more time away from the direct challenges of work. Long walks on the beach, a jog through the forest, a bike ride, spending 4-5 hours in a coffee shop with the Sunday paper. It is during these times that your creative spirit is energized.
(4) "What you write today is the result of some span of idling yesterday, some fairly long period of protection from talking and busyness."
By "writing" Ueland means any creative endeavor. Busyness kills creativity. Busyness, for example, leads to the creation and display of a lot of "PowerPoint decks" that substitute for engaging, informative or provocative meetings or seminars where actual conversations could and should be taking place. But people are busy, rushed, even frantic. So they slap together some slides from past presentations and head to their meeting. Communication suffers...the audience suffers. Yes, we're all insanely busy, but this is just all the more reason why we owe it to ourselves and to our audience not to waste their time with perfunctory "slide-shows from hell." To do something better takes time, time away from "busyness."
(5) "...daily life, so much of which is nervous cacophonous, where one's attention is unhappily jerked from this to that, so that the imagination inside cannot accumulate its strength and light."
Creative power, says Ueland, is not something "nervous or effortful; in fact it can be scared away by nervous straining." But we need time, much of it alone. Sometimes we need solitude and a break for slowing down so that we may see. Managers who understand this and give their staff the time they need (which they can only do by genuinely trusting them) are the secure managers, the best managers.
(6) "Do not forget to keep recharging yourself as children do, with a new thinking called 'inspiration.'"
Inspiration. Where can you find it? A million places and in a million ways, but probably not by doing the same old routine, or by gossiping with staff in the break room about things that don't really matter. Sometimes we can find inspiration in teaching. When we teach someone something important to us, we are reminded why it matters, and the enthusiasm of the student -- child or adult -- is infectious and can energize us. On helping others see their creative spirit Ueland says "I helped them by trying to make them feel freer, bolder. Let her go! Be careless, reckless! Be a lion. Be a pirate!" We know it's important to be free, free like children are. We just need reminding occasionally.
Part II here.
How to be creative by Hugh Macleod, Gaping void.
Thirty wonderful bits of advice for tapping into your creative side.