Point of Departure
By Amy Frazier
Italian translation ringraziamenti a Remo Nuzzolese.
Embarking on the act of creating something is like launching ourselves on a journey. Though the route begins at our point of departure, too often our imagination is focused on what we’ll do when we arrive – the sights we’ll see, the marvels we’ll experience – and not on the path which can take us there.
Years ago, when traveling in Italy, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of clarifying the path.
My travel companion (read: husband-at-the-time) and I had quit our jobs to dedicate four months of our newly married life to the highways and byways of his ancestral paese. He was the anthropological guide, I the cultural attaché. He gravitated toward the ruins, ancient coins and familial table. I led us to the museums, restaurants, and – importantly – to the wine. We were on a backpacker’s budget, so the choice of all of the above had to be strategically considered and meticulously planned. Guided by a slim paperback on Italian food and wine, I readied recommendations as we arrived in each regional capital.
On the day in question, we were in Piedmont in search of its good wines, exemplars of which could be found in and about the town of Canelli, home of Moscato d’Asti and one of the premiere wine-producing communities in the world.
We had planned to take a locale train to Alba, and from there board a bus to Canelli. The train pulled in and we piled out. Husband-at-the-time trotted over to one of the waiting busses, spoke quickly to the driver up on his perch, and then waved me to hurry. The bus was leaving right then.
The urgency seemed inconsistent with my carefully planned itinerary, but I hurried on board. The bus pulled away. The driver turned to us over his shoulder and affirmed: “Stiamo andando a Canale…”
Only the very slightest shift in vowels caught my attention. Did he say “Can-ei-lee?” or did he say “Can-ah-ley?” “Aspetta!” I said. “Wait! — Canelli?” “Ma no,” he said. “Canale!” “Ferma!” I called out. Stop! We’d jumped on the wrong bus.
Canelli and Canale. So close, yet the distinction meant everything. The towns were less than 25 miles apart – still, to have arrived at unremarkable Canale in the search for noteworthy Canelli would have been a disappointing waste of resources, and an unnecessary loss of experience.
I think about this near-miss sometimes when I find myself impatient to move forward with a creative project and suspect that I’m forcing the process. I also think about it when I hear people describe a point in the future as the moment when they will engage their creative thinking — when the time is ripe to “toss around ideas,” for example, much the way that husband-at-the-time and I looked forward to tossing back a few glasses of Canelli’s effervescent varietals.
What makes us think that creativity, and its cousin curiosity, aren’t at least as important when we are boarding the bus as they will be when we arrive?
In fact, with applied creativity and innovation processes, choosing which bus to board is the first major phase of work. It’s a highly creative space and demands attention, inquisitiveness, and clarity. In fact, it sometimes goes under the name of “clarification.” If we don’t do a good job clarifying, we may find ourselves miles down the road, in a town that sounds kind of like where we thought we were headed, but where the returns aren’t nearly as gratifying. Often such near misses (in contrast to the really major failures of navigation, such as ending up in neighboring Austria, for example), are simply papered over, the losses quietly and cynically chalked up to failed ideation efforts, or “bad brainstorming.” But if you didn’t know where you were going when you set out, or which bus you jumped on to get there, is it any wonder your discoveries may disappoint?
On the other hand, taking the time upfront to bring creative thinking to the clarification part of the process can benefit you immeasurably down the road. It’s more time intensive at the beginning, but, much like the efforts which go into producing good wine, it’s worth it: ideas are better vetted to successfully find their home in the world, with less confusion and strain. Their worth has been made clear.
So the next time you’re tempted to save the creative thinking for a later stage in the process, consider this: “Lu vino buono se venne senza frasca.” Good wine can be sold without needing to advertise.
Beyond the light bulb
By Amy Frazier
I’m getting burned out on the light bulb.
I see it a lot. Try doing a search for images related to creativity and innovation and you will, too. The light bulb has become an icon of creativity and innovation, even as the light bulb going on has become the most lauded step of the creative process.
There’s good reason. We all love the moment when the solution becomes clear—the rush of excitement, the relief of freedom from uncertainty, the burst of energy which powers us forward. In his seminal model of the creative process, Graham Wallace called it, fittingly, “illumination.” No doubt it’s a pivotal moment, we couldn’t do creativity without it.
But it’s not enough.
And what stands on either side of it, is a lot of hard work.
(It’s ironic that the light bulb – an invention made possible by Edison’s famously painstaking process – should have come to represent the quintessence of instantaneous insight…)
The moment of insight arises from within the context of attention, commitment, learning and mental labor. In his classic work The Courage to Create, psychologist Rollo May described the moment of insight as the targeted outcome of deliberate mental effort, aimed at our problem or concern. It was those things toward which we had bent our energies and attention which produced the a-ha moment. We don’t get big insight moments, he implied, for things we don’t really care about, or pay attention to. The more effort we put in to defining our problem, learning
about it and working it over in our minds, the more we are setting the stage for insight. “Chance favors the prepared mind,” Louis Pasteur said. This all takes a lot of work, including the years of study and practice we’ve invested in our own knowledge and expertise.
The phase after the a-ha moment can be just as demanding—and, as anyone whose brief moment of insight has resulted in years of labor knows, take just as long to play out. Here, we’re tested by the materiality of the world, and by time. An idea is quicksilver, ephemeral—if it’s ever going to go beyond that, it must become translated into the world beyond our minds. Whether the next step is to sketch the design, schedule the meeting, write the business plan, or fire up the sauté pan, you will need to move your idea into physical space, rearranging time and material resources to make it possible. And you may need to do this over, and over, and over, and over again – sometimes for years. “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
This is commonsense to anyone who has spent time considering the creative process. I’ve been aware recently, however, of feeling burned out when I see the light-bulb icon; I think it’s being not only overused, but misused.
I suspect the words creativity and innovation often come to refer to, at least suggestively, outcomes more than processes; the light-bulb then begins to symbolize not ideas and insights, but answers, solutions, successes. This belies the hard work on either side of the quick moment of illumination by hinting that the flash of insight is all it takes. It also sets us up for disappointment, when light bulbs don’t start popping as quickly as we, or our higher-ups, hope they will, as well as missed opportunities, when promising ideas are not given the time or resources needed to fulfill their potential. This all can lead to a creeping cynicism towards the creative process, or toward our own ability to successfully deliver.
We’ve come to glorify the light bulb, without realizing that a lot of our creative work
happens in the dark.
How might we overcome this tendency?
- Educate ourselves in our own creative process so that we can identify not only with our moments of insight, but also the preparation beforehand, and the real-world work which follows.
- Have patience for the preparatory phase, because it may take longer than we care for; have confidence that this preparation is creative work.
- Build stamina for the development and implementation phase, because these will likely test our ideas in ways we hadn’t imagined; trust that just because it feels like grunt work doesn’t mean we’re not being creative.
- Find symbols for the whole of the creative process. I’d love to see an image search on the word “creativity” turn up as many results for preparatory labor and execution grunt work, as it does the fantastic, beloved light bulb.
Feeling the Power?
By Amy Frazier
How do you feel when you’re being creative?
Oh, it can be all over the map! Engaged, stumped, frustrated, blissed out, in a state of flow, driven, ferocious, unsparing, enchanted, oblivious to the world, unstoppable, like a vessel to the universe, a scribe to the muse, a slave to the drawing board.
Yep. All over the map.
But I bet, at least some of the time, being creative comes with a pronounced sense of “rightness” to it. Something just feels right. And if you pause and take the time to look inside, perhaps you feel, like I do, that you’re connecting with a part of yourself which feels solid, energized, authentic, and – no matter what your creative process might be yielding in that moment – in an important way, empowered.
What’s that about?
What is it about engaging in a process which by its very nature is a movement toward the unknown that can – though, albeit, not always – leave us feeling empowered?
I’ve been asking myself this question for a few months now.
Empowerment, I think, alludes to a movement from a position of less power, to one of greater power. Some would say it’s a restitution of the natural power we all have. And typically this greater power bears the hallmark of personal authenticity or relevancy: it’s rooted in you, in your very nature. It’s a return of something missing, or it’s the removal of an unnatural obstruction. To be empowered is, in my mind, a return to a natural state of personal power.
Creativity is a natural state as well. It, too, is rooted in our very nature. Often, accessing and strengthening our creativity is a process of restoring ourselves to a state of being creative, or of removing those obstacles which are blocking this natural capacity.
So creativity and empowerment have some things in common, at least in how they represent integral parts of who we are. But what’s the nature of the connection between them? How do they work together? Do they work together?
As I said, I’ve recently become curious about this. I’ve been asking around. One of my creativity colleagues offered that using affirmative judgment (a creative thinking skill) feeds the feeling of being empowered.
Another added that learning deliberate creativity practices like Creative Problem Solving gives you confidence-building tools for creativity, and this is empowering. I thought these were great answers.
A client offered: “To be creative but completely un-empowered would be useless. To be empowered and completely uncreative would be dogmatic.” I thought that was awesome.
Another said: “Being creative with a purpose equals empowerment.”
Lots of interesting responses, but I feel like there’s more in here to discover. What would you say? How do you think creativity and empowerment are related?
Let me know your thoughts, and I’ll keep asking around. Then, empowered by your input, I’ll aim to creatively pull some of these ideas together into a future post….
By Remo Nuzzolese
Editing By Amy Frazier
Have you ever felt disconnected from your work at the end of a problem solving session? When the facilitator you hired hands out a mountain of rolled up flip-charts and an avalanche of post-its; your hands are covered with permanent markers and the meeting room looks like a battle field? When the only thing you feel is a strange dizziness and the desire to hide back into your office in the safety and comfort of your chair? And what to do with all those wild, new ideas, the uber-detailed plans and all the networks you now have to put in place… it all seems too much… It would take a hero to make it all happen and an entire army to tame the monster that the creative session has generated!
So, what if you actually were one? A hero, I mean, not a monster.
The creative journey is really not too different from any epic story – a journey during which we abandon the comfort of our environment, we walk through a path scattered with challenges and dangers, we find allies, come up with ideas, develop plans and eventually win our princess, a treasure or the most sought-after market segment in the mobile industry.
So, let’s say, you are a Hero, our little adventurous hobbit, and you are using Creative Problem Solving to achieve your goal. You know how the process works, so you know what you have to do to get things done: there is a time to clarify the vision, one to generate ideas and one to develop and implement the plan. But do you always feel aligned to those activities and mindsets? Do you feel that you are actually driving the process or is the process overwhelming you? Is the vision that you are setting for your journey ambitious and authentic? Is your ability to come up with new ideas really free from the conditioning of the environment? Are you able to own the results of the creative journey, or does everything remain sadly on paper at the end of the facilitation?
Wouldn’t it be nice if you, your hobbit friends and all the strange creatures that populate your office were able to own the challenge with authentic passion and a strong sense of purpose and accountability? How can you make sure that what you write on the final to-do list will actually be done?
So, let’s observe how heroes do it and learn some useful lessons that we can apply to our case. Most importantly, let’s understand what hobbits, the lion Simba and you have in common. But before letting the fun begins, let’s put some order in the elements of the journey so we can understand what tricks are needed to make it a success.
The Thinking Skills model of the Creative Problem Solving process is organized into four phases: Clarification (Explore the Vision, Formulate Challenges), Transformation (Explore Ideas, Formulate Solutions) and Implementation (Explore Acceptance, Formulate a Plan). The fourth one is Assessing the Situation, the meta-cognition, the thinking about thinking and feeling that happens continuously during the process; it also informs us about which steps are appropriate to take.
The challenge now is to find a way to make sure that we really connect with those phases, and act as protagonist of the action and hero in our journey. The Hero has to find a way to connect to the formal steps of the process in a more instinctive and personal way, embracing the essence of each task, as if he really were a hero on his journey.
And here is where we find inspiration in a variety of Archetypes, and allow our self to embody not just one but all of the symbols and characters that we feel we need to fulfill the task.
Why are archetypal figures so powerful? Archetypes are universally understood symbols representing emotions, instincts and sensations formed during the evolution of humankind. As Socrates explained to Plato (imagine the conversation..), they are the “bricks of thoughts;” they are beyond space and time, living, eternal images. Carl Jung defined them as deep structures that are able to show the most authentic paths of existence. They speak directly to our soul, they are able to reflect a basic human psychological structure, they embed a universal meaning, expression of a common process.
Let’s go back to Creative Problem Solving and see examples of Archetypal characters that can embody the different emotional skills used during the different phases of the process and connect our Hero with the challenge in front of him. Take these examples I give below only as a way to explain the idea, and enjoy finding the Archetypes that work intimately for you.
Clarification: This step requires visionary thinking, the ability to dream and desire what is not there yet. (My choice of Archetype is The Child, the symbol of beginnings, the feeling of potential.)
Transformation: This is about coming up with ideas, playfulness and resisting the urge to decide. (My choice would be The Jester, for his attitude to break rules and generate chaos.)
Implementation: In this step we find allies and the strength to not be shaken by failures and setbacks; it’s about faithfulness and resilience. (I find that The Horse and The Dog work well for me: the first will never give up and the second represents unconditional faithfulness to the vision.)
Assessing the Situation: This central step is the mindful activity of attending to thoughts, feelings and sensations. (My choice goes to The Sage who oversees The Hero without becoming affected by the battle.)
As we see, Archetypal characters are useful tools to help us connect with impulses, fears, perceptions and needs during the different stages of Creative Problem Solving. Once they are identified for their characteristics and symbolic impacts, Archetypes will convey energy, strength and attachment to each step of the goal, one at the time, empowering you to fulfill, own and become your challenge: dream like a Child, play like a Jester, remember your vision like a Faithful Dog, and constantly be ready with the wisdom of the Sage.
The power of Archetypes comes also from the fact that they are universally understood, with little need for explanations, translations or adaptations to diverse cultures, languages or experiences. For example, imagine how easy it would be to say: “Let’s behave like a Jester!” — and how quickly everyone in the room would understand that it’s time for divergent thinking, without the need for you to explain what playfulness is.
So, next time you plan your innovation session, unsheathe your sword, trust your Sage, aim at your treasure and begin the journey with “Once upon a time….” And remember, heroes come in all shapes and forms: Hobbits, Wonder Woman and the lion Simba. So, which Hero is inside of you, and what is your story?
Attend our Open Workshop on Archetypes for Creativity in NYC.
By Amy Frazier
It’s summer. The season of vacation. Time for time off.
I know it’s summer because the days are longer, if not really hotter in Seattle where I live. But would I know it’s summer because I actually took some time off? Took some vacation? Stopped working for awhile?
What a novel idea.
So this summer, I did. Two whole weeks. Wow! Unusual for me. Ok – Ten days. Well, really it was nine. You get the point. It’s so easy, and often feels so necessary, to just keep working. In the fight for personal time, I often lose the battle, struggling with feelings of trying to do too much, and yet not doing nearly enough. The recipe for burn-out.
For my vacation, I went to my home state of Colorado. It was on fire.
Talk about burning out.
My family lives in Ft. Collins – the urban center closest to the High Park Fire, which briefly held status as the most destructive fire in the history of the state.
Hot, dry weather, winds, and stands of beetle-kill ponderosa pine had fed the fire for weeks by the time I arrived. Ft. Collins itself was ok – and when I was there, the winds had died and the smokiness abated. By the time I left, the fire was 100% contained.
Except in my imagination. I had seen the effects of the burning, but not the fire itself. What must it have been like to see the hillsides ablaze? All that heat and energy.
It got me thinking: like a forest fire, creativity runs hot. Creativity is energy-intensive. Creativity can be all consuming.
And it also demands renewal. We renew ourselves when we let go. When we accept the fact that we don’t have the answer, even though we needed it yesterday. We renew ourselves when we stop trying so hard to be creative, when we trust that, in letting go, we permit our creative thinking to descend down past our conscious awareness and control, where, in an underground world, new insights are seeded. If we can’t let go, we can’t renew. If we can’t stop working – even working “creatively” – we burn out.
Mulling this over as I was, two books came to mind. In the Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron recommends two regular practices for staying connected to your creativity: writing three pages of stream of consciousness journaling every morning; and taking yourself out on an “Artist’s Date” once a week to do something which inspires you. Regular creative practices such as these, done for their own sake, and not for any specific outcome, keep our creativity moist and replenished.
The second book is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey (may he rest in peace). The 7th Habit: Sharpening the Saw – Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal includes giving attention to ourselves physically, socially/emotionally and spiritually, as well as mentally. Covey is clear: if we don’t renew in these ways, nothing else – no great problem-solving, breakthrough thinking, innovative insight, or deft leadership – is possible, at least not over time, not in a sustained or sustainable fashion.
As a creativity professional, I’ve known these things for years. Yet how often do I follow my own best advice? Not that often. And how much am I willing to risk by not letting go? Acres and acres of my own personal ponderosa pine. Compulsive determination becomes it’s own version of beetle-kill, draining the juice out of ideas and possibilities, leaving them dried out and exposed, endangering the creative ecosystem.
On my last day in Colorado, I took a short drive through the outskirts of the burn zone. Thinking back on the images of both burned and living trees, and the mountain homes saved through heroism and chance, I offer the following creative conservation measures:
- 1. Recognize the signs of impending burn-out. Does your creative thinking feel all dried out? Or pliant, flexible and alive?
- 2. At the first sign of fire, sound the alarm. Don’t wait.
- 3. Draw a line: be willing to sacrifice this much, but no more. Protect what you can.
- 4. Be ready to evacuate: if the fire is that close, leave. Get some down time.
- 5. Ask for help. Who’s on your Volunteer Fire Department? Your creativity is a natural community resource, and we’re all the worse off if it goes up in smoke.
- 6. Acknowledge the loss. House burn down in this one? For god’s sake, don’t pretend that’s no big deal! Talking about your experience honors the loss and motivates the rest of us to take preventative measures.
And here are some tips for a healthy creative forest, with some inspiration from Julia Cameron and Steven Covey:
- 1. Diversify yourself – take Artist’s Dates (Cameron); be engaged socially, read, write and study (Covey). A diverse forest is less susceptible to disease.
- 2. Manage your resources – get exercise, manage stress, meditate (Covey).
- 3. Know your own inner ecosystem – journal, free-associate (Cameron); visualize, clarify your personal values, and connect synergistically with others (Covey). The better you understand yourself, the better you’ll be able to care for your unique biodiversity.
- 4. Practice good forest husbandry – keep your saws sharpened (Covey); hone your daily practices, such as Morning Pages (Cameron); be willing to clear out the deadwood inessentials (Covey).
And finally, remember that renewal is not only necessary for our sanity, but a natural process that follows even the worst of burn-outs. As destructive as the High Park Fire was, even before I left Colorado I heard report that, deep in the stands of charred ponderosa, oak seedlings are already peeking forth.