Happiness At Work #47 highlights ideas and stories linked to creativity.
We see creativity as central to our learning, our resilience and our happiness and a vital aspect of flourishing.
When we worked as Creative Agents with teachers and students in a variety of London schools, we regularly found two things to be live and relevant for whoever we were working with: firstly, the subject of creativity itself – what it means and how to tap into it in our day-to-day lives; and secondly, that almost every one us believes we are not as creative as we would like to be.
In this article Leo Widrich writes up the results of his research into the science of creativity and offers some top tips for maximising our own creativity:
“A creative idea will be defined simply as one that is both novel and useful (or influential) in a particular social setting.” – Alice Flaherty
This applies to every field, Flaherty explains, including programming, business, mathematics together with the more traditional “creative” fields, such as music or drawing…
In organisations, too, creativity is often a central spine of the the learning and development programmes we make, whether in relation to imagining and developing a way to reach a better future, or finding ways to collaborate and work more effectively as a team, or discovering and crafting ways to be more productive, effective and fulfilled at work, or to unblock and free an individual’s energy, voice and presence in order to be able to communicate and lead with greater impact, authority and influence.
This week, with Maria Ana Neves, we co-hosted a creative thinking dinner with a group of dynamic people who gathered around a table of wonderful food to dream up ideas together for the next Thinking Hotel, due to open for just 72 hours this summer as a space for people to check into to imagine a better future ~ whatever that would mean to you ~ and recalibrate yourself into a better more balanced you ~ whatever that would mean to you.
Before we hit these times of greater financial constraint and difficulty, the vitality and necessity of creativity for successful work and learning was understood and accepted. These days, it seems, creativity has been shoved into luxuries pile – ‘lovely but To Do only if time and resource’. It is again being treated with an old fashioned wariness, stripped of legitimacy and urgency in a business agenda that it is being prioritised instead with cost reductions, doing more with less, tightening belts, centralising, streamlining, tightening efficiencies still further, and crunching performances against less and less ambiguous indicators.
As if creativity cannot help to make any and all of these outcomes better, never mind a more proactive strategic longer range view that seeks to grow and adapt and learn and reinvent and expand and change…
A really good article in MBA Warrior Blog outlines a number of compelling reasons that add to the business case for creativity in 21st century organisations:
The day-to-day operations of any business can become mundane at times, which can lead to complacency and mediocrity among employees. Creativity is just as important as the other more technical skills required to operate a business and business leaders should manage and promote creativity just as they would any other asset.
“In the past decade business has grown more rigid as headcount has been reduced and we are asked to do more with less,” said Clark Finnical, a Florida resident who was employed by Avaya for 24 years. He received his MBA in Marketing and Finance from American University in 1989. “As work is more and more challenging, the need for creativity is greater than ever. Individuals who can develop creative solutions will stand out and be more likely to weather the next round of layoffs or even get promoted.”
“What we learn from each other will enable us to be more creative,” Finnical said. “By honoring and respecting the differences among those we work with, we create a workplace characterized by mutual respect and acceptance. This does wonders for working relationships.”
Creativity also lends itself to such skills as problem-solving and leadership, which are critical in the business environment. Self-motivated individuals breed creativity because they are always looking for fresh ideas or innovative ways to tackle problems.
Harvard Business School professor and coauthor of The Progress Principle Teresa Amabile created the MBA course Managing for Creativity because “managers cannot be effective in contemporary business unless they can understand and support creativity — the production of new, useful ideas.”
“Rapidly-changing challenges and opportunities facing for-profit and not-for-profit organizations demand a continuous search for novel approaches that will work in a given context,” she says. “This means that everyone inside organizations, from top-level leaders down to people working in the trenches, must constantly think creatively.”
Edie Raether, international speaker and corporate trainer on innovation and creativity, shared some tips to encourage creativity:
- Keep a journal. Make it a habit to keep on the lookout for new and interesting ideas. Write them down in your journal. Your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on.
- Don’t be afraid to get a little crazy. Genius has tolerance for the unpredictable. Ask yourself, is it crazy enough to be correct? Logic hides in the illogic. You must be willing to get out of your comfort zone and take a risk.
- Allow for some right-brain thinking. Screen, filter, and get rid of negative thoughts such as fear, doubt, and worry that result from the fight-or-flight response of the instinctual brain. Numb the critical, left brain so the right brain can get into the flow.
- Give technology a break. Excessive use of technology ‘dumbs’ us by 10%, twice the negative effect of smoking marijuana. Get back to cursive writing which stimulates the creativity centers of the brain.
- Brainstorm strategically. Brainstorming is effective when done sequentially. For example, you don’t want left-brain critical thinkers interrupting the flow of the right-brain people. You can also try solo brainstorming in which people can reflect and then come together to pool their ideas and diverse thinking styles.
- Ask questions. Questions ignite creative thought processes. Ask yourself continually ‘what can I do to make it better? How can I alter, adapt, magnify, add or eliminate? How can I rearrange and reverse it?’
- Do mirror writing. Leonardo da Vinci would write from right to left to make the brain see opposite directions, thus breaking old thought patterns that limit and stifle new thoughts. Patterns are efficient and convenient, but make us robots. Think about how to get the water rather than making the water come to us.
- Know your true talent. Get in sync with your instincts and then think BIG. Dare to dream and be bold.
Matt Monge writes a two-part article in his Mojo Company blog, the first part exploring the subject from an individual’s perspective, and then the second part from the organisational perspective:
5 Things You Need To Build A Creative Culture as an individual
…these are the things we should be engaging in for ourselves, encouraging in others, and ultimately making sure our organizations are facilitating as well…
- Motivated Attitude…
Who cares? You should. Don’t fall prey to the myth that only some people are creative and you’re not one of the chosen few. You are creative; it’s just a matter of figuring out in what way. So find things you’re curious about and that are interesting to you, use your imagination a little (even when the ideas sound silly), utilize all that knowledge you have locked away in that brain of yours, stay motivated and work at it, and surround yourself with others who are doing the same.
…zooming out and looking at it from a broader, organizational level, here are some practical considerations if we really and truly want our teams to be creative:
It’s not as simple as telling them to be more creative, or nodding and smiling when someone mentions creativity or innovation. There has to be an intentional focus on it, or it will become an afterthought. You’ll have little bursts of creativity here and there from individuals, but nothing on the level of organizational creativity.
Here are some things you could take a look at:
- Interaction with others who think differently…
In this article Shane Burroughs explores how some of the world’s greatest innovators embrace their failures in order to acquire such greatness.
How ready are you to fail for the sake of your success?
Edison, Picasso, Disney, Cadbury, and Facebook learned that to be creative we have to venture new ground at the of risk failure, because always knowing what you are doing and always doing what you know is not a recipe for creativity: it’s the fast track to irrelevance.
Today, the most ambitious companies know that they have just two options; they can “fail to succeed” or they can “fail, to succeed.”
What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?
Of course not everyone is convinced about the essential virtues of creativity.
Launching a critique of the rhetoric and glorification of creativity in his latest “Easy Chair” column, Harper’s Magazine contributor Thomas Frank sarcastically eviscerates the business class’ most prized literary genre: creativity.
Consider, then, the narrative daisy chain that makes up the literature of creativity. It is the story of brilliant people, often in the arts or humanities, who are studied by other brilliant people, often in the sciences, finance, or marketing. The readership is made up of us — members of the professional-managerial class — each of whom harbors a powerful suspicion that he or she is pretty brilliant as well. What your correspondent realized, relaxing there in his tub one day, was that the real subject of this literature was the professional-managerial audience itself, whose members hear clear, sweet reason when they listen to NPR and think they’re in the presence of something profound when they watch some billionaire give a TED talk. And what this complacent literature purrs into their ears is that creativity is their property, their competitive advantage, their class virtue. Creativity is what they bring to the national economic effort, these books reassure them — and it’s also the benevolent doctrine under which they rightly rule the world.
Of course we don’t agree with these sentiments. But we do endorse wholeheartedly any notion of creativity for creativity’s sake is a vacuous and saccharine pursuit. Our definition of creativity is always situational: just like any other tool it’s point and purpose is to either make something or to fix something. That we often feel good while being creative is a happy by-product.
Artistry is different. Artistry can lend itself to creativity, but art exists to help us to see and feel and understand differently, and its prime objective we would say is to communicate, often leaving it open to its audience to choose what they do or do not do as a consequence.
That said, there is a great deal we can learn about creativity from artists. Here are some of their voices in this week’s collection:
by Maria Popova
“The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.”
Watterson speaks to the importance of work ethic and grit — but, like Freud, he places playfulness at the epicenter of creativity:
If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.
Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.
A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun. If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you’ll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.
Watterson stresses the vital difference between “having an enviable career” and “being a happy person,” admonishing about the “hedonic treadmill” of achievement:
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.
He concludes by echoing Rilke:
Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself.
Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of creativity – we believe even its defining characteristic – is its application for solving problems. This is one of the points made by Arthur Miller in this video of a British Library seminar held in partnership with University College London Neuroscience on 18th April 2013.
This is a long (nearly 2 hour) watch, worth enjoying if you can make the time, but here are some chapter headings and their timing markers as a guide:
1’37” Professor Vincent Walsh, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL sets some quick creative tests to try, and then goes on to talk about the merits and limitations of MRI scanning for our understanding about creative brain activity.
5’46” The Table, Blind Summit Theatre – an improvised performance made by a 3-person operated cardboard puppet illustrates a dazzling array of the creative complexities, synchronicity and artistry we are capable of achieving and a real delight to watch.
30’11” Arthur Miller, Emeritus Professor of History & Philosophy of Science, UCL and author of Einstein and Picasso talks about Creativity in Art and Creativity in Science:
‘We all have the capacity to be creative but what is it? It can be defined quite easily as “to produce new knowledge from already existing knowledge”. Creativity is essentially problem solving…it couldn’t be anything else…improved creativity helps us to solve problems better…’
57’09” Chiara Ambrosio, Lecturer in History of Art & Science, UCL talks about Creativity and Constraint: How Do You Break Out Of Tradition? and illustrates her ideas with examples of how artists have redefined science in order to represent anatomy:
‘Sometimes creativity comes from frustration about wanting to do something else…’
1:10’23” Milton Mermikides, Lecturer in Music, University of Surrey & Professor of Guitar, Royal Academy of Music, composer talks about creativity and music in his talk, The Myth of the Muse, illustrating his ideas with formulaic approaches to composing great music such as cryptograms, using the letters of a name (Bach) or a line drawing of the New York skyline (Villa-Lobos):
‘One of my favourite Stravinsky quotes is when he was asked how he composes, and he said “Well I go to the piano at 10am and I work til 1pm and then I go back from 2pm til 8pm and that’s my daily routine.” “But maestro what if the muse doesn’t visit?” “Well at least I kept my appointment.”
‘The real-world muses are deadlines, money/non-poverty, promotion for better circumstance, and constraint – the limiting of those huge ideas…
Creativity and inspiration are the result of a hard earned skill placed in the right circumstance…creativity requires training and enough obstacles.’
The importance of routine and sheer hard work is reiterated in a 1991 book, Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born, rediscovered by Maria Popova in her Brain Pickings. This book is a synthesis of insights on creativity from conversations with 40 winners of the MacArthur “genius” grant — artists, writers, scientists, inventors, cultural critic. It’s author, Denise Shekerjian writes in it:
There’s no use trying to deny it: a conscious application of raw talent, far more than luck or accident, is at the core of every creative moment. … The cultivation of aptitude, far more than coincidence or inspiration, is responsible for most creative breakthroughs…
The trick to creativity, if there is a single useful thing to say about it, is to identify your own peculiar talent and then to settle down to work with it for a good long time. Everyone has an aptitude for something. The trick is to recognize it, to honor it, to work with it. This is where creativity starts.
One of the geniuses she features in this book is palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould, about whom Shekerjian writes:
Gould’s special talent, that rare git for seeing the connections between seemingly unrelated things, zinged to the heart of the matter. Without meaning to, he had zeroed in on the most popular of the manifold definitions of creativity: the idea of connecting two unrelated things in an efficient way. The surprise we experience at such a linkage brings us up short and causes us to think, ‘Now that’s creative’…
Stephen Jay Gould’s talent for forging vital connections happens to go to the heart of creativity, but, even so, it’s a talent that wouldn’t amount to much if he didn’t work at it. Endurance counts for a lot in cultivating talent to the point of being able to do creative things with it — endurance and a concentration of effort to a specific sphere of activity. As D. N. Perkins, another researcher in the field of creativity, put it:
Be creative in a context, for to try to be original everywhere, all at once, all the the time, is an exhausting proposition.
The importance of hard work and working hard is emphasised again in another Brain Pickings article, this time underscoring the need for routine and being able to ritualise some aspects of our process.
by Maria Popova
“When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.”
…there is something to be said for the value of a well-engineered daily routine to anchor the creative process. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Behance’s 99U editor-in-chief Jocelyn Glei and featuring contributions from twenty of today’s most celebrated thinkers and doers, delves into the secrets of this holy grail of creativity.
In the foreword to the book, Behance founder Scott Belsky, author of the indispensable Making Ideas Happen, points to “reactionary workflow” — our tendency to respond to requests and other stimuli rather than create meaningful work — as today’s biggest problem and propounds a call to arms:
‘Only by taking charge of your day-to-day can you truly make an impact in what matters most to you. I urge you to build a better routine by stepping outside of it, find your focus by rising above the constant cacophony, and sharpen your creative prowess by analyzing what really matters most when it comes to making your ideas happen.’
And in this next article, B. Jeffrey Madoff offers similar advice about the importance of perseverance. :
Anyone pursuing a creative career should realize it’s a job. A fun job. However, discipline is essential and like an athlete, dancer, film maker or musician, practice and challenge yourself constantly to get better. Although I make my living as a film maker, I teach a class I developed about entrepreneurship called “Creativity: Making a Living With Your Ideas” at Parsons School for Design in New York City.
Making a living with your creativity is a tough, but it’s tougher going through life doing something you don’t like. Passion is the fuel that propels talent, but you need the perseverance to deal with the hustle & the rejection. Creativity is the passion to affect change. Passion is internal. Follow your passion.
We, too, fully recognise the importance of perseverance in our creativity training work.
It is part of a set of skills linked to being Persistent, which is one of our adapted set of 5 Essential Essential Capbilities for Creativity that we have recently updated taking a lead from the the prototype of 5 Dispositions for Creativity being developed by the OECD for assessing creativity in schools.
Here is our adapted full set of 5 Essential Essential Capbilities for Creativity:
~ asking “What if…?”
- divergent thinking & playing with possibilities
- making connections
- using intuition & instinct
- using unconscious thinking, day dreaming
- embodying: showing rather than telling
~ asking “What else…?”
- wondering & questioning
- exploring & investigating, generating multiple possibilities
- challenging assumptions
- shifting perspective & looking for the unexpected
- experimenting & taking risks
~ asking “Why is this necessary…?”
- resilience, passion & determination
- tolerating uncertainty
- perseverance & sticking with difficulty
- original thinking & daring to be different
- facing fears and taking action
~ asking “Who can I work with…?”
- empathy, listening & noticing deeply
- enjoying complexity, seeking difference & diversity
- making a shared vision
- collectively growing ideas & possibilities
- dialogue, problem solving & sharing ‘not knowing’
~ asking “How can I make this better…?”
- reflecting critically
- learning, practicing, developing techniques & expertise
- crafting & improving
- keeping balanced
Creativity & Self-Mastery
Remembering that creativity is a skill, and, so its various theories and ideas are only helpful to us up to a point, we have also collected a number of articles with real down-to-earth practical guidelines.
Phil McKinney offers these practical tips:
So you want to be more creative?
It may not be as hard as it sounds. Like so many other things in life, there are steps you take to train your creative muscle.
- Want it. Teach yourself to be original, rather than continuing in any kind of “same old” routine…
- Motivate yourself. Take another look at the suggestions in Step #1, and follow those suggestions consistently and with some degree of self-discipline…
- Stimulate your brain. There are several ways to make this happen. One way is to learn something new…
- Rub shoulders with people who are creative. You might learn some things about them that you can use yourself to become more creative…
- Be part of a team. You’ll get perspectives, feedback, and ideas you would never have conjured up on your own …
- Have some self-confidence. Remember, “can’t” is a four-letter word. If you don’t believe in yourself, then it’s likely that you won’t ever be creative or successful…
- Be happy. Research shows that positive emotion enhances creativity. This point might be difficult to follow if you are under a lot of pressure or emotional stress. If that’s the case, then … strive to ensure that happy thoughts are predominant in your mind, rather than worrisome or sorrowful thoughts…
- Down time. There’s been a lot covered about diligence, perseverance, and commitment. But it’s also important to remember to take some down time. Sometimes, the brain just needs to step away from the problem before the light bulb goes off…
Matt Wilson suggests this list – see his article to find out what he means and why these suggestions increase our creativity:
1). Get lost. On purpose.
2). Break your routine.
3). Challenge your creativity.
4). Remove boring people and boring things from your life.
5). Bring awesome people together.
6). Collect people, not things.
7.) Get emotional.
In this next article, Mary Borchers outlines some practical techniques for overcoming self-doubt…
We live in an artistically enriched country. The world is already full of all kinds of music, so much art, and so many books. With the Internet, you can experience art’s many forms at the click of a mouse.
In my heart, I am an artist. Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved creating artwork. Writing stories, drawing illustrations, playing the piano, painting, sculpting…
The unfortunate thing is that I am paralyzed—not in the medical sense. I have working limbs, imagination, training, experience, and the resources to “actualize my potential” as an artist. The thing I lack is confidence.
I am crippled by my own self-doubt…
And Drake Baer suggests some ways to learn and practice patience and how this can fire our creativity:
Look at this picture for as long as you can – what more do you see in this it the longer you look?
An Art History Professor makes her students sit in front of a painting for three hours.
P&G invents the Swiffer.
Those events are more alike than you think….
Deep patience. Close attention. These are not virtues often associated with college students (or some tech workers, for that matter). But as Harvard art history professor Jennifer L. Roberts recently explained, the skills for finding the “details, relationships, and orders that take time to see” can be introduced.
She calls it “decelerating education,” like when, for an intense research paper about a single work of art, she prompted her pupils to plop down in front of a painting for three hours, giving them a stillness they don’t usually get in a multi-tabbed way of life.
“(It’s) designed to seem excessive,” she says, but students end up “astonished by what they have been able to see.”
…acute, focused observation births creativity. And innovation often begins with observation…
Patience, then, is a kind of appreciation: In the same way that a gourmet can savor the flavors of a dish and reverse-engineer its preparation, the patience-practicing, insight-seeking observer becomes familiar with the subject of her study, whether canvases or customers – and, in so doing, can begin to know their needs.
Heather Caliri, writer and blogger at A Little Yes provides a very practical everyday life application of creativity and challenges us to see its wider possibilities:
Doubt that dishwashing has much to teach about handicrafts, starting a small business, or using your imagination? Think again.
The truth is, the more we rescue “creativity” from the clouds and make it an everyday habit, the more creative we are. Like any other skill, creative projects take practice, perseverance, and a big helping of grit.
We often look on creativity as a nice add-on for some people: perhaps a profession if you’re specially gifted, or an enviable hobby if you’re above-average. But the truth is we’ve all been given a creative drive, and we’re all called to use it. Making a daily practice of the things that give you joy will make your whole life sparkle.
Here’s what time at the sink has taught me about creativity…
Creativity & Resilience
Inspirational and relevant, Phil Hansen shares some of the ways he has responded to his own limitations and uses these constraints to fuel his artistry…
In art school, Phil Hansen developed an unruly tremor in his hand that kept him from creating the pointillist drawings he loved. Hansen was devastated, floating without a sense of purpose. Until a neurologist made a simple suggestion: embrace this limitation … and transcend it.
Taking a cue from his own artistic journey, Phil Hansen challenges us to spark our creativity by thinking inside the box…
‘After having gone from a single approach to art I ended up having an approach to creativity that completely changed my artistic horizons – embracing my limitations could actually drive creativity… We need to first become limited in order to become limitless…
“Learning to be creative within the confines of our limitations is the best hope we have to transform ourselves, and, collectively, transform our world…’
The power of the arts and creativity to transform our lives and our world is so clear to those of us who already believe in it. But if you are not yet convinced, here is still more evidence for why the arts matter:
Erin Millar writes:
For a long time, Susan McCalmont has worried about the marginalization of the arts in schools. As she saw it, music and fine arts were shoved aside as a result of prioritizing science and math. The focus on outcomes as defined by standardized tests only made the problem worse.
“What happens in the future if our children only become compliant test takers?” she wondered. “What if they go through school told to get the highest GPA and go to college, but not to imagine, to think, to have ideas?”
…Ms. McCalmont and a group of like-minded leaders launched Creative Oklahoma in 2007, a non-profit dedicated to increasing creativity in Oklahoma. In consultation with Sir Ken Robinson, the group began organizing initiatives and conferences aimed at bringing leaders from education, cultural and business together to boost the creative economy and innovation in general in the region.
“The end goal,” explains Ms. McCalmont, “is economic prosperity in the state and more jobs and startups, as well as helping existing businesses to improve the quality of their products. But fundamentally, it’s to improve our quality of life.”
Artists as much as the rest of us use creativity to solve problems and express their solutions. Some of the examples you will find in his week’s collection include:
Any time you feel the stress mounting or the fatigue seeping through you, we can think of no better antidote than to go to Steve McCurry’s site and get a lift from what you will find there. This week Steve McCurry celebrates and draws us in to contemplate the importance of the here-and-now moment, and, as he always does, makes poetry with his photographs:
Life is not made up of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years, but of moments.
– Sarah Breathnach
This week’s top happiness story comes from new research with 1,000 families that shows having relaxed time to enjoy being with our loved ones is more important to our happiness than any luxury product or material possession:
A family day out was rated one of life’s biggest luxuries, followed by dining out with the family, and spending quality time together.
For deeper and further exploration into the wonders and workings of creativity, here is a handy book list: