The road to creativity: the who and what

Who am I and how can I possibly be creative? An exploration of myself, and the tools I used to not find the answer, but find a path.

In the first of an soon to be continuing series, I explore my past state of mind by taking a look at what I was thinking back in graduate school.  I find it interesting and eye opening, and sometimes you have to look back before moving forward.  This paper was written for the class Creativity and Innovation and was titled “The Who and the What”.  The course went outside the norm of by-the-numbers business and focused on what drives innovation and creativity, which was eye opening.

I’ve rewritten this opening section four times now. I keep thinking about the line in The Grace of Great Things ‘injunction to self knowledge is a heavy challenge’ (111). How true this statement is. How do you even begin to explain who your ‘self’ is? Do you start with traits? Do you start with beliefs? What is the essence of my self? Is there a structure I should be taking when approaching the explaining of my self? These very questions ran through my mind for the better part of an hour as I started, stopped and erased opening after opening.

This all seemed counterintuitive to me; did I just not spend the semester exploring my ‘self’ through class exercises, books and papers? Did I miss the big ‘Ah ha’ moment? Did I somehow lose my ‘self’? Why am I asking so many questions? This should just flow out like a water from a facet. Stop. Ask dumb questions. I remember that chapter in Creativity in Business. So I revisit it, thinking it will shine some light on who my ‘self’ is. It makes me feel better about asking these questions by stating that ‘a question is an opening to creation’ (94). But at the same time it frustrates me by stating that ‘a question is an unsettled and unsettling issue’ (94). Tell me about I think to my self.

But the more questions I think of, the more one question would lead to another set of questions. So I stopped again. Maybe asking questions is a part of my ‘self’. Maybe through questions I find what I€™m looking for: creativity. Not answers. I think I ask questions seeking answers, but it€™s the moment that I stop seeking answers and allow them to come through creative thought that allows me to be creative. I think my ‘self’ uses the ability to ask questions as a way to foster curiosity. It integrates with the four tools of the creative hero rather well. ‘Ask penetrating questions.’ So simple, yet so difficult to do. This tool is a part of my ‘self’.

‘Suspend negative judgment.’ A tool that resonated with me the first time I heard it. The tool sounded like such a good idea; why contain my ‘self’ with judgment that does not benefit anyone€™s creativity? The books further influenced my view on the subject of this tool. Leap spoke of ‘toss[ing] out all our preconceptions and prejudices…creative business ideas know no limits’ (24). The Art of Possibility talks about ‘being with the way things are by clearing judgments’ (104). Creativity in Business has an entire chapter called ‘Destroy Judgment, Create Curiosity’ (39). It was this chapter in Creativity in Business that really sealed the idea that the tool of ‘Suspend negative judgment’ would forever be a part of my ‘self’. The discussion of the voice of judgment was a shocking reminder of the negative judgment that I had in myself. The stated goal exercise on page 63 at the end of the chapter really allowed me to pinpoint judgments against my stated goal; it€™s amazing what kind of negative judgments we have against ourselves. In many regards this voice of judgment had worked against first tool of ‘having faith in my own creativity’. Without suspending negative judgment, I don€™t think my ‘self’ could be as creative. Therefore, this tool is a part of my ‘self’.

While these tools make up pieces of my ‘self’, there are traits that I think are contained in my ‘self’ that lend themselves to make me more open to creativity. The one trait that comes to mind almost instantly is humor. Humor is often over looked I believe because people think that people with a sense of humor are often not serious about their work. However, I see it in a different light. Without humor we are not able to laugh at ourselves, to explore the world around us. My ‘self’ does not concern itself with the concept that an idea I have may be laughed out of a room; I€™m simply not concerned about my image. I€™d rather make mistakes and be laughed at then not take the risk in the first place. How can I discover new things if I don€™t try or are worried about being laughed at? Like the Grace of Great Things explains ‘humorless people are unlikely to discover much…they are usually more concerned with their own dignity…’ (32).

Tools and traits explain pieces of my ‘self’. It paints a picture of who I am and what I do and believe. But one must understand where I come from, the people who instilled values and beliefs in me. I look over the charted web of family we composed in class. I read the traits I wrote down at the time for each person and my mind wanders onto stories or events I€™d shared with each person. With 30 plus people on my list, trends are easy to see. My family came from working class roots in farming and the trades. My father and mother still farm today; I grew up on such a farm. I knew how to drive a tractor before I ever sat behind the wheel of a car. Both of my parents€™ parent owned farms when they were growing up; one, a dairy farm, the other peach orchards. World War I and II, Korea, and Vietnam each had at least one of my family members in it. They amazingly all made it back from each war. Everyone in my family has hard work and determination in their blood, in whatever field they found a passion in. My father once told me one early spring morning ‘it€™s hard work…but I fire that tractor up and smell that diesel and morning dew in the air, and I know I was meant to be a farmer.’ I was 10 years old when he told me that. It has always stuck with me.

My passions may be different then that of my family, but they never discouraged me from pursuing them. They always backed me up even when I failed. Their spirit is a part of my ‘self’. To them I owe a great deal of the fearlessness, strive and hard working attitude I take into everything I do. This is a part of my ‘self’ that cannot be quantified. This is a part of my ‘self’ that can never be forgotten or taken away. It is a part of my ‘self’ that I am the most proud of. I do not forget where I come from for I owe them a great deal.

Who is my ‘self’? I am curious. I ask questions that no one else would dare to ask. I believe in my abilities and my creative nature. I use the tools of creativity to my advantage and do not fight with them. I accept failure and mistakes as stepping stones to greater discovery. I laugh at myself, and find humor in my surroundings. I strive for creativity, but am willing to let go. I am the culmination of generations of my family. I am proud of my roots and where I come from. I believe in magic and inspiration.

What is my ‘work’? A question that leads me to the chapter in Creativity in Business ‘Do only what is easy, effortless, and enjoyable’ (113). Having completed the exercise in class based largely on this chapter, I see many things that I find that could very well be my ‘work’. I find my love for soccer, baseball, acting, photography and writing to be on the top of the list. The list continues on, covering all matter of topics. To the common reader there may seem to be no trend in the list. But in fact I see a trend that offers clues into what my ‘work’ is. The trend is that there is no trend. My interests are varied and across the board; sciences, business, theatre, sports, philosophy, nature, the arts. There is no rhyme or reason, yet I find all these many different things to be easy, effortless, and enjoyable. What does this say about my ‘work’? That it must contain the elements of curiosity. Given what I€™ve stated about my ‘self’ this makes sense; my ‘self’ seeks out new discovery and experiences in all matter of fields. It is not constrained by borders or job titles.

It became obvious to me that I must go beyond the list. I must look back as if I am at the completing stages of my life, as is talked about in Creativity in Business. How did I get there? What am I doing at age 80? Age 90? I started with 10 year brackets; I started at 30 and only found myself reaching to 60. At age 60 I was lost. I could not see past this time. And so I left this exercise for a few days and revisited it. Again, I could not find myself getting past age 60. I found myself to be very present oriented, striving to make things happen sooner rather then later. But the striving was not for myself; I found that many of my goals were set in place to make the lives of other better. I want to give my family a great life and make sure they€™re taken care of. I wanted to provide grants to schools to provide more education resources to children. I wanted to help make the human condition better. At 60, I had completed many such goals, and while I could strive to continue, I feel a void. As if all this time I missed something that I was supposed to do complete in my youth that is now outside my reach as I am older. Fun. While I enjoy working and helping people, I forgot to have fun. I rework my timeline, and enter in new things such as getting married, having a family, and now I see my philanthropic side in a new light spanning until I€™m in 80€™s.

This exercise is actually very enlightening to me. It helps better define what my ‘work’ is. But in greater detail it brings forth an important aspect that I had even failed to consider; balance. Without balance in my ‘work’ what was once easy, effortless, and enjoyable would soon become difficult, distasteful and depressing.

It is from this balance of my ‘work’ that I think that I become ordinary. Creativity in Business talks about being ordinary as ‘to know your purpose in life and find contentment in your daily doings, unimpressed with the accumulation of monetary wealth or public recognition’ (178). If I do something that I find easy, effortless, and enjoyable and that matches with my outlook as I get older, I think the ability to become ordinary becomes a reality.

But what is my ‘work’? The exercises have helped me identify some very valuable insights. Can it be described in one word? A sentence? How do I express the overall image I see in my mind? In all regards I wish to foster creativity not only in myself, but in others. As the Grace of Great Things says ‘creative freedom grows, rather then contracts, when it is shared’ (136). I agree with this statement. There has to be the ability for my work to bring out the creativity in others. I want to see other people succeed, and I want to provide an environment for them to do so. But even with the environment, I would have to make sure that they can in fact be creative and aren€™t afraid to make mistakes. As Leap states ‘you can€™t create a structure giving people permission to unleash great creative thinking and then sit back and expect that only great creative thinking and innovation will come out of it’ (199). This also reminds of the Dateline video we saw in class. Something I took away from that video was that it was better to take the risk, make a mistake and then ask for forgiveness then to always ask for permission before you tried something. I like this concept, and I want to make that happen in my work. I want to be able to do just that, and foster this concept in others.

At this point, I€™ve come to the realization that answering the question ‘what is my €˜work€™’ has taken me down some interesting and very non-linear thoughts. This is pretty much reflected in what I€™ve written so far, as it doesn€™t read all that smoothly, and is frankly bouncing all over the place as I hop from thought to thought. If this was last year, I would have scrapped it, but I think this really reflects a part of my ‘self’ coming out in trying to describe what my ‘work’ is. The six phases of the creative process rears it€™s head. But I digress.

What is my ‘work’? My work is to foster in myself the ability to be creative. This creativity could be in any field that I find of interest. My work is effortless, easy and enjoyable and because of this, I see the world in a completely different light. I seek to help others understand their own creativity and help foster within themselves the ability to make their own dreams a reality. My work allows me to explore the possibilities that this world holds.

My self makes me an individual. My work makes me ordinary. Together, my self and my work make me happy.