Outsmart the Unexpected

Earlier in the summer, Regina Pacelli sent me a message asking if I’d like to read her book, Outsmart the Unexpected: Grow Your Creativity the Edge-of-your-seat-Way.

Because I am always open to reading new books on creativity, I agreed.

From the beginning, I realized this wasn’t your typical creativity book. You know the one I am referring too! The one that promises to hold all the secrets to being more creative. Well, this is not that book.

Regina has no secrets to share, in fact there is no academic research, no stories of uber-creatives and no exercises that guarantee you will be more creative. Instead, she presents you with a couple of dozen ‘cliffhangers.’

These are short, almost impossible to believe stories that you have to figure out the ending to thus expanding your creative thinking skills.

The premise reminded me a of book that was out in the late 90s that my friends and I used to test each other with. It was a ‘what if’ style of book with really wild scenarios.

By the end of the book, I am not sure if I felt more creative, but I enjoyed the ‘cliffhangers’ and the opportunity to come up with my own solutions, because I think we are often always given the correct answer and that stifles our own creative and problem-solving abilities.

While I read the book on my own (each night before bed, which resulted in some crazy dreams!), Regina gives several great ideas to use the book in a more collaborative way. She suggests you use it as a party game, online discussion or chat. I would also add that it would be helpful as a creative writing prompt!

  • How can you ‘Outsmart the Unexpected?’

Seth Godin on Creativity

Earlier this week marketing guru and blogger, Seth Godin made an interesting creativity analogy: creativity as a stretched sweatshirt.

His claim is that creativity is about getting to the edges, much like every time you wear your favorite sweatshirt it stretches and the edges become larger.
So why is this useful to creatively solving problems? Here’s Godin’s take:

1. If you want to be creative, understand that you’ll need to get to the edges, even if the edges have moved. Being creative means immediately going to the place the last person left off.

2. If you are “not creative,” if you are the sort of person that gets uncomfortable being creative or has been persuaded you’re not capable, don’t worry about it. Just stretch the sweatshirt in your spare time, watch the creative things other people have done, keep up with the state of the art. Then, when you do your “not creative” thing, most people will think it’s pretty creative indeed.

  • This week try to find your creative edges.

Image from SethGodin.com

Your Brain on Creativity

A recent article in the Times asks the question, Can Everyone be an Einstein? The article focuses on the relatively new discipline of neuroscience to explore the ways in which we can mold our own brains, focusing on mental exercises to improve everything from intelligence to creativity.

One of the things that intrigues scientists is the ‘aha’ moment in creativity that is often referred to as insight. Such a revelation usually arises from what scientists deem as a pattern of thinking where associations are made between seemingly dissimilar thoughts.

So, with that in mind, answer this question: how many uses can you think of for a brick? Or this: what would happen if people no longer needed to sleep?These were questions asked in psychological tests specifically designed to measure creativity. They have been attacked as far too subjective. But they do point to a crucial way of defining creativity. If you are now idly imagining dozens of uses for a brick or the novelties of a sleepless world, then you are probably a divergent thinker. If, instead, the questions make you impatient — a brick is for building walls, dammit — then you are a convergent thinker.

  • What kind of thinker are you?

Create a Visioning Collage to Inspire You

vision collageMaterials:
Large piece of sturdy white paper / poster board
Magazines to cut up
Colored Markers
A Creative Dream

Begin by going through the magazines and randomly cutting out images and words that appeal to you. Once you have about 10-15 images start imagining your dream and how what you’ve chosen represents this. You may want to choose an image or word that represents the essence of the dream and place this in the center of your paper gluing it securely in place.

Next, working with the other images, begin gluing them down in whatever way makes sense to you and your dream. You can also add color with markers, pens or paints.

After the collage is complete it should represent your achieved dream. Place the collage in a place where you will see it every day and spend some time each day visualizing yourself in your dream collage achieving your goals.

Let Your Creativity Soar

The latest issue of Scientific American Mind features a discussion with several creativity experts, including John Houtz, Julia Cameron and Dr. Robert Epstein. Houtz and Epstein focus on the psychology of creating, while Cameron uses her own experiences that have shaped her creativity to explain how everyone can be creative.

But the one thing they all agree on is that the creative process is systematic and can be taught to anyone, who is willing to consistently use specific techniques. I agree with the consistency part, since that’s really the key to developing any new skill.

Here’s one technique mentioned in the article:

To boost your creative output, think and behave like creative people do: don’t let criticism stop you from expressing your ideas and do not fear failure. Take breaks and learn to use them strategically; use daydreams as sources of new ideas.

  • Read the entire article on how to unleash your creativity here.

Your Ultimate Playbook for Success: Unlock Your Creative Genius

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am a huge fan of the Big Idea on CNBC. Last night just reaffirmed why I think it’s such a great show. The topic was creativity – as you all know something I am quite passionate about.

The show highlighted how to tap into your own creativity plus how creativity is the currency of the future and featured some prominent creativity experts like Robert Epstein and Richard Florida.

One segment even featured the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize encouraging teams to design more fuel efficient cars for a cross country road adventure. The collaborative power of crowds and teams is a new area of creativity that is being explored and something I am extremely interested in too.

Creative Problem Solving

After reading Jack’s Notebook, I’ve become more interested in creative problem solving (CPS). It’s definitely a tool worth checking out for solving problems in both life and work with many applications.

Jack’s Notebook

A friend, who attended a workshop led by Gregg Fraley, lent me a copy of Jack’s Notebook. I admit I was a little skeptical about the concept: a business novel about creative problem solving (CPS). After reading countless books on creativity, most of them boring or redundant, I was ready for something new.

Jack’s Notebook was just the book I’d been looking for. A cross between Way of the Peaceful Warrior and The Da Vinci Code, it tells the story of Jack, an aimless young man, who meets Manny, a mentor, who teaches him creative problem solving (CPS) which he uses to change the direction of his life.

Fraley outlines the steps of CPS in the introduction:

  1.  Identify the challenge
  2.  Facts and feelings exploration
  3. Problem framing and reframing
  4. Idea generation
  5. Solution development
  6. Action planning

Then, he goes on to incorporate them into Jack’s decision making, which ultimately leads to him starting his own business – among other thrilling adventures.

  • What can you achieve using creative problem solving (CPS)?

Why the Arts Rule

As an advocate of art education, not only for children, but for adults too. I think we can all learn something new from the arts. The National Art Education Association agrees with me.

Here is their take on the benefits of studying the arts: Ten Lessons the Arts Teach By Elliot Eisner.

The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.

The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.

The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.

The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor number exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects.

The arts traffic in subtleties.

The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.

The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.

The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.

The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

SOURCE: Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press. Available from NAEA Publications

  • Find art education resources here.

Do Plants Boost Creativity?

According to research conducted at Texas A&M University, adding potted plants and flowers to your office can significantly enhance problem-solving and creative thinking skills.

The study revealed that being surrounded by plants caused men to produce more ideas, while women developed more creative and innovative solutions. Read it here.

  • Bring a plant to work and see if you become more creative.