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Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

A Happy and Creative New Year

My first ever sonnet

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My random act of art.

Okay, this may not be the freshest concept, but it’s fresh to me and an important challenge for all.

Let me start with a story. Earlier this week a friend of mine sent an email out announcing Sunday, May 20th as Random Act of Art Day at a local beach. He said anyone who wanted to come should show up at 7 am (an inspiring time indeed at the beach, but not necessarily for getting up on a Sunday morning). My friend had no plan other than to create something. He went on to write that he didn’t know who would show up or how long he’d be there.

While it sounded like a romantic idea, I wasn’t quite prepared to commit. To my credit, I did set my alarm early enough to get there at 7:15 or so. But then my iPad was waiting at bedside to check my email, and perhaps I failed to mention that May 20th is my birthday—this year marking the beginning of a new decade. So I had to check Facebook to see which of my high school friends wake up early to send their birthday wishes (maybe actually condolences because they are as old as me.)

Finally, around 8:45, I decided to ride my bike to the beach, just to see how they were doing with the art. I was ready to rock. After meandering around looking for the right road that led to the beach, I finally arrived at around 9:15 am. No one was there. I saw no art. But I did notice the beach was still an inspiring spot even at that slightly later time in the morning. I was determined to create something, myself.

I soon settled on writing a message in the sand, ala the old “Kilroy was here.” But as I looked for the rocks with which to spell out my message, it evolved from “I was here” to “I am here.” At 60 years old, nowhere near finished with my life, my learning, my contributions, I found myself on a beach proclaiming my existence. I had created art in the form of a spiritual moment. A moment for me to remember. A story to share.

I think within all great art are moments both for the creator and for those who appreciate the art.

A group of five or six people from the neighborhood walked down to the beach while I was spelling out my moment. They asked me what I was doing and I started my explanation of Random Acts of Art Day rather sheepishly. But I gained steam as I went on with my story. I did so because it was my moment, and they were now part of it. They seemed sufficiently satisfied with my explanation. My fantasy is that, once I left, they walked over to look at my message and found meaning for themselves.

So the challenge is to create moments. I don’t know exactly what that means, much like I can’t explain all art. But if we could create for ourselves at least one moment a day, our lives would be richer, they might not zoom by so fast and we would have a world full of random acts of beautiful art.

The very act of creating a moment, says, “I am here.”

So if you’re here, show me the moment you’ve created.

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I’m about to purchase a pair of basketball shoes. At my age, basketball is a combination of exercise and mental health therapy, with no hope of ever dunking the ball or even developing a nasty crossover dribble (note to those who guard me: I rarely go to my left).

So why should I care what basketball shoes I buy? Perhaps I’ll buy the most comfortable shoe I can find. Or the most durable. Or the cheapest. Or even the coolest looking ones. But no. The first thing I look for is the Nike Swoosh. Why? Because, like all of us, when I shop I take with me the part of my brain that processes emotion. It’s not that I don’t have the rational part of the brain with me, too. It’s just that the emotional part makes the decision, often unconsciously, and the rational part justifies the decision I make.

Ergo, I look for the Nike Swoosh, and then rationally choose the coolest, most comfortable Nike basketball shoe at my price point.

Where did my emotional connection with Nike come from? Certainly design plays a big part of it, though some of the Nike basketball shoes I’ve purchased have been pretty garish. It’s because Nike has connected with me on an emotional level higher than a maker of basketball shoes.

Three levels of needs: A strategy for earning brand loyalty

In my last post, about deepening employee engagement, I offered three levels of needs: articulated, un-articulated and unknown, un-articulated needs.

Let’s apply those need levels to my shoe purchase:

  1. Articulated Need: It would be great if I had a comfortable, durable and stylish basketball shoe at the price I want to pay.
  2. Un-articulated Need: Why would that be great? Because I would look and feel good when I’m on the basketball court.
  3. Unknown Un-articulated Need: Why would that be great? Because I would feel more confident, which would help me maximize my athletic potential.

My un-articulated need, then, is for a coach to help me maximize my basketball abilities. Enter the Nike theme line: “Just do it.” Sounds like a coach to me. Enter all the iconic Nike commercials designed to inspire us to higher performance. Looks like a coach to me. Enter the iPod+ shoe—a shoe with a training tape built right in. Acts like a coach to me.

This is obviously not a rational connection I have with Nike. It’s an emotional one—the kind that can withstand a rational sales message from a different label claiming a more comfortable, durable, fashionable basketball shoe. That label won’t be my coach.

What brands do you love?

Try the same laddering exercise with a brand you love. Ask yourself when you buy this product, what are you hoping for? It would be great if what? Why would that be great? And why would that be great?

Apple doesn’t just sell me an elegant, easy to use computer. It doesn’t just make me more productive. It’s my creative co-conspirator, always innovating ways in which I can express my creativity. Therefore, I am an emotionally connected Apple evangelist.

Next time you go shopping, note brands to which you’re most loyal. How have they connected to the emotional part of your brain? I’d love to hear your answers.

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Willie Mays

Truth be known, I didn’t want this dog. We had just lost our 15-year-old golden retriever, Ozzie (named after then Nebraska football coach, Tom Osborn), and I consoled myself with the promise that without a dog, we could come and go as we please.

That was not the decision of the more influential members of my family, who offered to name our new puppy after arguably the greatest baseball player of all time. That was nearly 2 years ago, and I am happy to report that Willie Mays has established himself as arguably the most popular member of our family.

In those brief two years, Willie has reminded me of several valuable lessons for leading a creative life:

#1 Sniff everything: Willie reminds me to be curious. Ask questions. Who marked this tree and that fire hydrant? What are you cooking tonight? Who’s shoe smells like this? What dog was recently hanging around your pant leg? All questions asked innocently and without judgment. I find that emulating Willie’s eager curiosity feeds my creativity. It helps me to open pathways to learning, dispel false assumptions and generate new ideas.

#2 Wag your tail a lot: When someone walks in the house, it goes something like this: the tail starts up like a propeller, Willie leaps skyward, hoping to kiss the person—on the lips if at all possible—and then upon landing, he pees in excitement. By all accounts, he goes overboard in his greeting; yet it does remind me to be enthusiastic, keep a positive outlook and let people know that I care about them. People pay attention to that sort of thing. They’re more apt to listen to ideas. And offer their own. It might even earn me a pat on the head.

#3 Be playful/be daring: Everyday, Willie reminds me of the value of being playful and daring. He, himself, is an insatiable game player who takes incalculable risks. He’ll diverge on all the things he can steal that will get someone to chase him—shoes, napkins, pillows, underwear. If he knows you’ll chase him for it, he’ll go after it. And just when we think we have everything beyond his reach, he finds something new to take. Willie sets an example: He uses his playfulness and daring to overcome barriers and lead to the next big idea (of what to steal).

#4 Persistence pays: Willie can wear you out. He’ll tease you till you chase him. He’ll bark until you get the ball out from under the chair. He’ll whimper until you take him for a walk. He’ll stare you down until you give him a bite. The guy is persistent! And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to solve a problem, make a creative breakthrough or convince someone that your idea is worthy.

#5 Let sleeping dogs lie: After all the curiosity, tail wagging, playfulness, daring and persistence, even Willie has to take a break. He is a great napper. And it reminds me of the importance of taking a break from work to refresh and re-energize. Then, when Willie wakes up, he takes a speed lap around the back yard, announcing to the squirrels that he’s back and ready to resume the chase.

In the end, I suppose the real takeaway is this: look for life lessons where you find life’s joy.

Now I’m off to play a little catch with Willie Mays.

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How does curiosity get piqued? What is the value of being curious? And, most importantly, what can you do to become more curious?

Wondering why I ask these questions? It’s because I’ve noticed a paradox in my work facilitating innovation and change leadership: Professionals who are considered experts, are naturally evaluated by what they already know. The prevailing thought is, “Experts get paid a lot of money to know, so it might look bad for them to question their own knowledge.” Perhaps they consider questions the sign of a novice; or worse yet, something over which children obsess. Expertise and knowledge, then, can be a barrier to curiosity; yet, curiosity is what built the knowledge and expertise in the first place.

Here is what I mean by curiosity being at the root of knowledge and expertise, as well as the driver of innovation and change leadership:

1. Curiosity drives active learning.

As a way to illustrate the potential power of curiosity on our proclivity to learn, I can imagine this difference between a naturally curious person—or active learner—and myself in my usual reactive learner mode:

ME: I touch a hot stove and I learn to never do that again. It hurts!

NATURALLY CURIOUS PERSON: Learns the same thing I did when touching a hot stove, but then asks, what makes the stove hot? How do people feel pain from heat? How does the skin heal itself? What are the common factors that make people touch hot stoves? And on and on! These questions could lead to learning about physics, medicine, psychology, risk management—curiosity naturally opens up new avenues to knowledge. Because of curiosity, maybe someone will invent a stove top that cooks food without being hot to the touch. Maybe we’ll get an instant burn-healing ointment—or some sort of smart-alarm that senses when a cook gets too close to the burner.

Active learning drives innovation.

The point is, innovation, itself, is a learning exercise. In other words, innovation doesn’t come from knowing, it comes from asking. There’s a risk to this when you have to ask, “Have I been defining the right goal? Have I been solving the right problem? Do I understand the nuance of context? Are there motivations I haven’t yet considered? All of these are hard questions for an expert to ask. Still, you must be curious and open to exploring all the uncharted paths on which your questions take you—even if (and here’s your second risk) you have no assurance it will lead you to the promise land of innovation. Albert Einstein is a great endorsement for following curiosity’s many paths. When asked about his work process, he said, “How do I work? I grope.”

Curiosity drives engagement (which drives change).

Here’s something else I’ve noticed: When I’m naturally curious, I  become naturally more engaged. Sometimes it’s a desire to fill gaps in my knowledge. Other times, my curiosity is piqued by a problem to be solved…something to figure out. So now, if I’m not feeling engaged in something that I know I should be, I try to become curious. What is the one question I can ask that will invest me in a meeting, in a task, in a conversation? How can I use my curiosity to engage in and lead change?

This all leads me back to one of my initial questions: What can you do to become more curious? I know I could do better, so I’m just asking…

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Nation…Recently, I finished Stephen Colbert’s book, I am America (And So Can You!) Like Mr. Colbert, I’m no fan of reading books, but this one has a lot of pictures, so I made the exception. It has a lot of opinions, too. And I am a big fan of opinions, because if there is one thing I’m absolutely certain of, it’s my opinions. (My opinions, death and taxes.)

It’s my opinion that we can learn about brand building by watching Mr. Colbert. Here is a man who has been able to match his not-so-hidden agenda—Mission, Vision, Values and Purpose—so purely to his powerfully cohesive Look, Message and Actions. What is his agenda, you ask? (I’ll ask for you.) My opinion tells me that his agenda clearly is to realize a world driven by the free market so that he can use his self-promotion talents to build his power-base and monetize his fame. (Who wouldn’t want this?)

Let’s start with the Look. He is consistent: Dark suit, white shirt, power tie, wire-rim glasses, and well-coiffed mane (nice job of hiding the gray, sir)—the uniform of a free-market zealot. The Look is reinforced on his website, over and over again in his book and at his public appearances. He only varies it to prove a point, which makes that point all the more noticeable and powerful. For example, when he went to Iraq, he wore camouflage and got his head shaved. This proved the point regarding his unequivocal support of the troops. (Also made the point that he looks better with longer hair.) Then every night thereafter, when we saw him with short hair, we were powerfully reminded of the point he made when he had it shaved. (Short hair takes awhile to grow back.)

Next, let’s examine his Message. Again, he’s consistent both in content and in tone (and by content and tone I mean so close to the edge of satire that you might even think he leans to the left). Free market… support of the Republican agenda…doesn’t see race…doesn’t read books…afraid of bears…believes in a Christian nation…a mistrust of science are all familiar themes (and by familiar I mean excrutiatingly monotonous.) We know where Stephan Colbert stands. (In high regard with his banker.)

And his Actions match his Look and Message. He walks the talk (pays illegal immigrant to walk; he just talks). He puts people on notice, points out threats, give a tip of his hat or wag of his finger, challenges all his interview guests with his right-wing perspective (pistols at dawn might be easier) and otherwise offers his opinions unabashedly. (To his guests it may seem to be more bashedly).

How do you measure the success of the Colbert brand? His Facebook page has nearly 2,000,000 fans. His show is immensely popular, he spoke at the White House Correspondent Dinner, His book was on top of the New York Times Bestseller’s List, and by his own admission, Stephan is incredibly wealthy.

I choose to measure it by the impressive (in its odd range) list of other “brands” that wanted to affiliate with Stephan to receive his famous bump. From his website:

Colbert has literally made a name for himself with “The Colbert Report.” The following have all been named in honor of the host: Steagle Cobeagle the Eagle, the mascot for the minor league hockey team Saginaw Spirit; Stephen Jr., a bald eagle at the San Francisco Zoo; Stephanie Colbertle the Turtle, a leatherback turtle in the first Great Turtle Race; Aptostichus Stephencolberti, a trapdoor spider; Air Colbert, a Virgin America jet; American Dream, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor; Esteban Colbert, a very virile falcon in San Jose; Stelephant Colbert, an elephant seal tagged as part of a study by University of California Santa Cruz; Agaporomorphus Colberti, a diving beetle from Venezuela; and a NASA treadmill called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistant Treadmill (C.O.L.B.E.R.T.).

Stephan Colbert is an authentic brand. He has translated his agenda into a compelling Look and Message. He remains consistent in his Actions. This has earned him brand zealots—something to which all brands aspire.

Finally, to Mr. Colbert: You’re welcome, sir. You’ve just received the GPS Creative bump.

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As one who has spent a career in the business of being creative, I’ve always been both puzzled and amused by the challenge of estimating fees based on the hours I will spend developing breakthrough, innovative ideas for clients. The question is essentially, How long does it take to be creative? Well, I could get an inspiration in a moment, or it could take a month! That’s the way it is with creativity—you never know when the ah-ha moment will hit.

No less of a creative authority than Albert Einstein, said, How do I work? I grope.

I can’t pretend to be able to unlock the secret to knowing how long it takes to be creative; however, it’s worth a discussion to explore what we can do to grease the skids for that creative moment.

Louis Pasteur once famously remarked, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Here are some ways I prepare to be creative:

  1. I start by erasing my assumptions. Or at least I question them. In fact, I might even pretend I’m from a foreign land and I’m viewing the issue or opportunity for the first time without any preconceived opinions or ideas.
  2. I’m deliberately curious. I force myself to think of at least 5 questions, whose answers might affect my new thinking on the particular issue/opportunity I’m addressing. I continue to ask why, like a five-year-old might, until I get to the root of my answer.
  3. I pay attention to my emotions. Inspiration may be fueled by knowledge, but it’s lit by emotion. As I gather information, I’m checking my feelings. If a piece of information or an idea makes me laugh, anxious, impassioned or confused, I look for the creative power within it.
  4. I sleep on it. I like to fall sleep thinking about a specific issue or opportunity with the hopes that my subconscious mind will bubble up some creative ideas that will come to me the next day.
  5. I work it out when I’m working out. I also use physical exercise as a prime time to prime my mind for creativity.
  6. I observe. If there is a place to go that is relevant to the issue or opportunity I’m exploring—say a retail space where a customer shops for a particular product, or the environment where a customer might use that product—I’ll observe what’s happening. What’s easy or hard? Where is the joy or frustration? What’s happening and why?

As I write this post, I understand that preparing to be creative is a deeply personal ritual. We all have our own styles. We also have tools we use to get us started—I’ve shared some of mine.

How do you prepare your mind to be favored by the chance of uncovering a transformational idea? How long does it take you to be creative?

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