Part 1: Emotion and exploration.
Creative work is often seen as the result of some kind of magical inspiration. Likewise, creatives are seen by many as a special group of people who are somehow able to access a parallel universe full of amazing ideas and concepts, one that others barely know exists. However, what if a creative mindset could actually be achieved through a formal process, one with concrete skills and methods that can be learned by anyone?
While I’ll be presenting some actual examples of these methods later on, firstly, I’d like to explore the concepts of creativity and the creative mindset in more detail, as they form the basis for being able to then optimally apply those methods. So, it might be a good idea to first understand what is meant by the term creativity. According to one dictionary definition, creativity is the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, relationships and patterns, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods and interpretations. In the previous article ‘Creative Magic. Is it really?’, I ended by issuing a challenge to consider a problem that you have struggled with, one that you’d not yet been able to be overcome or solve. I then asked you too think about how someone like Winston Churchill or Robbin Williams, or then some other inspirational person, may have tried to solve it. Now, why did I choose Winston and Robbin as examples? Is there something special about them? Well, yes, but maybe not just because they are (or were) famous, or that they have been able to influence people with their intelligent thoughts and communication skills, but simply because they are not you and so most likely don’t think anything like you. Rather than choose someone who is totally unknown as an inspirational figure, which seems a very obvious point as it would be pretty hard to be inspired by someone we know nothing about, we need to select a person whose is fairly familiar to us, even if it’s only from a book or movie, and that their behaviour, even if only imagined, has the ability to stir emotions and thoughts within us. This is a critical point. Now, of course, different things or behaviours inspire different people. For some, a serious or deep and meaningful philosophical thought process may do the trick, ala Churchill, but for me, humour or comedy is my preferred approach. This is probably because all the things in life, whether happy or sad, can be laughed at. Humour helps us to feel better, even when we have very valid reasons not to. Comedy is also one of the finest examples of lateral thinking at work, where seemingly absurd connections between seemingly very foreign ideas can be made in order to produce often rather unexpected yet quite logical results. Thus, isn’t comedy an example of creativity, where traditional ideas, rules, relationships and patterns are transcended, and meaningful new ideas, forms, methods and interpretations are created? This is the reason why I chose Robin Williams as an example of an inspirational person as he has the ability to make the absurd sound like it may just be possible, or to open people’s minds to viewing the normal, seemingly mundane things in life, ones that we take for granted daily, from completely different, yet equally valid and valuable, viewpoints, while at the same time entertaining us. When we can laugh, we feel good and we become more open to new possibilities. Humour and comedy is a tool that can be effectively used to get us thinking out of the box, which is a vital skill in the creative process.
Anthony Robbins has often quoted, ‘motion creates emotion’, but I think it also works just as well in reverse, that is, emotion can create motion. Stated another way, when we feel, we feel like doing. When we get the necessary fuel to act, we feel moved to make things happen. However, even if emotion is the fuel needed to power our vehicle, we may still end up driving down the wrong road. Therefore, on its own, emotion isn’t enough to get us to where we want to go. In addition to knowing how to observe the markings on a road map, we also need to be ready to create a new map, which requires a willingness to explore our landscape to find better and faster routes. Despite our exploratory efforts, it is certainly possible that we won’t in fact find a new way that is better than that marked out on our trusty old map, but that time searching will not be time wasted. Apart from being otherwise fun and engaging, this process will keep our minds open to the possibility that better ways may exist, and so prevent us from becoming stuck in our old mental and behavioural patterns. At the very least, the ‘failure’ to find a new and better way will only strengthen our confidence that what we already have is good! If we don’t bother to make this effort, we will blindly end up taking the same roads we always have. Sure, we may get still eventually get to our destination, and that does seem to be enough for many people who are satisfied with maintaining a comfortable lifestyle … but, really, isn’t that just so boring! However, what happens if the roads we’ve always taken don’t in fact get us to where we want to go? What does it mean when we still keep trying to take those same familiar roads we’ve always driven down? In other words, what should we think if we behave in the same old same old way and continue to hope that maybe things will change and be different?
One definition of insanity is the expectation that a different result can be achieved by doing the same things, which haven’t worked before, over and over again. If that’s the case, why do many of us behave this way in our lives? Are we in fact nutcases? I just can’t believe that to be the case as the human race obviously has the capacity to create and achieve amazing new things. Rather, I think it is because of a few traits, both good and bad, that we, as the human species, are ‘blessed’ with. One key positive trait is that we are programmed to be economical and efficient in our actions, that is, to expend the least amount of effort to gain the maximum results. Unfortunately, coupled with another key negative trait, which is purely and simply the tendency to be lazy, we don’t maximize what we could achieve, but, instead, settle for a comfortable existence at the point when our basic needs and a few main wants have been met. So, what can we do about preventing this developmental slow down? It would seem obvious that solving the problem of laziness might be a good place to start? Ok then, so what causes laziness? Personally, I think it comes from just not being inspired in our lives, that is, from not having strong enough emotions or caring about something enough so that we feel compelled to jump out of our skin and to act relentlessly until we get the job done, to keep going until we eventually achieve our dreams.
When we don’t have anything to move us emotionally, we become lazy and passive, either mentally or physically, or both. Less emotion leads to less motion, which leads to even less emotion - a truly vicious and debilitating cycle taking us down the spiral slippery slide to become uninspired and bored slugs that simply exist and consume, who do not really advance the human cause to any significant degree. There is no greater destroyer of our ability to think and act creatively than boredom, the state where there is nothing that we want to do or where there is nothing to look forward to. Some may argue that it is not always possible to do the things we want, because of one’s life circumstances, as economical, geographical or some other –ical reasons are preventing them from bothering to make even the smallest of efforts. To that I would respond with the following. People all around the world are faced with all kinds of challenges on a daily basis, some incredibly difficult ones, even as serious as life or death, yet certain individuals are still able to rise above the most horrible of circumstances to achieve their dreams. I believe this happens because they possess truly inspirational visions of what they want to achieve and of what they want their lives to become. They may not even know how to go about achieving their goals in the beginning, but they are absolutely driven to do whatever it takes to make the things they want happen. They persevere and never give up.
However, having all the emotion and drive in the world to achieve your goals is still not enough, at least rarely. The success equation has a second element, which is the task of getting onto the right path, that is, to ensure you’re headed in the right direction. Once you know where you want to go, it seems that getting on the right road can often be more a matter of pure luck or good fortune, even with the best pre-planning and preparation. This is because the ‘maps’ used to design a new route may be out of date, or they may not quite cover, in sufficient detail, the best way to navigate the terrain to your new destination. A map is, by definition, a simplified and incomplete representation of the terrain it covers. Only the terrain itself can reveal its true nature, and that information can only be obtained through further exploration so as to then be able to create a more up to date map, detailed and complete map. Unless we are willing to make the effort to explore our landscape further, all we have at our disposal are our old maps. Certainly, they are very familiar to us and it can be very hard to let go of, or move on from, them easily, especially if they have seemed to have worked well for us in the past; and this is the approach most of us end up taking. It is kind of like travel by trial and error. In the end, we may actually get to our destination, or close to it. However, if the right path is not found fairly soon after departure, there is an ever increasing risk of running into dead ends or insurmountable obstacles, or perhaps even getting lost, all of which will lead to major frustration, even anger, as well as the real likelihood that the journey will be abandoned altogether.
Ok, enough analogies already! So, what’s the take home message here? I believe that there are essentially two key basic components that are required for getting into a creative mindset and optimizing our ability to solve problems; and they are emotion and exploration. Firstly, we need to have a strong emotional connection with an idea or concept, one that we can really feel and be moved by, in order to give us the necessary fuel we need to drive ourselves strongly towards our goals. This also simultaneously serves to eliminate the suffocating effects of boredom on our will power, which is public enemy number one to a satisfying and happy life. We need to be inspired, and that doesn’t only mean to just be momentarily motivated, but to have true motives or reasons for engaging in long-term, persistent action in the quest to reach our goals. Secondly, we need to be willing to spend more time exploring. We need to possess an adventurer’s mindset in which we do not accept that what we have now is all that there is or all that there ever will be. We need to believe that better, more effective and more interesting ways to help us get where we want to go do in fact exist, even if they are temporarily hidden from our view. They are really just waiting to be discovered, if only we would have the courage to look for them!
Now that the basis for creating a creative mindset has been covered in some detail, in part 2, I will present some actual examples of how lateral thinking methods can be used to produce new, better and more effective results. Until then, I’ll leave you with this quote from Robbin Williams - “What’s right is what’s left, if you do everything else wrong.”