Creativity also embraces all the disappointments and frustrations on the road to a new way of doing things. They are part of the process.
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) takes a look at creativity from, I think, an unorthodox perspective. And his analysis is brilliant. He turns some assumptions about the creative process on their collective heads. The biggest takeaway for me was simply that we all have the ability to be creative—and it takes persistence. In other words, you gotta work for it! Creativity is a product of persistence and effort (lots of it).
Lehrer cites research and pop culture. Among his more intriguing findings (at least to this reader) include:
- Focus? While attention and focus are important, Lehrer tells us that “Occasionally, focus can backfire and make us fixated on the wrong answers.” Insight has a better chance of occurring only after you relax.
- Daydreaming can inspire innovation. But we have to maintain enough awareness to know when we are having a creative thought. That is the rub! Drifting is easy…noticing, tougher.
- The color blue stimulates mental relaxation and nurtures creativity.
- Mistakes. Yo-Yo Ma and the art of making music: “If you are only worried about making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing.”
- Rules do exist. Lehrer’s work reminded me of what Josh Linkner’s Disciplined Dreaming had to say: Creativity is not a random act of wackiness. Both authors referenced the art of jazz music. As Lehrer states, “The jazz pianists, for instance, needed to improvise in the right key and tempo and mode. Jackson Pollock had to drip paint in a precise pattern….”
- Turn off the censors. Successful improv artists can turn off the filters/censors in their brains. They are able, when on stage, to get outside of their heads. If we don’t “let go” we will “constrain our own creativity.”
- Collaboration. Innovation flourishes in a “culture of collaboration.” Innovations are more likely when outsiders are brought in. Avoid the temptation to work only with friends and known entities. That will limit you. Do whatever you can to encourage interaction. If you stay with the same people, you end up doing the same thing.
- Bathrooms! Lehrer relates a great and illustrative story about Steve Jobs and the reconstitution of the Pixar building. Jobs focused the building’s attention on one open area that encouraged (forced?) interaction. This included placing the only set of bathrooms in this atrium area. Why? Because “everybody has to run into each other….Small talk of employees is not a waste of time…they are a constant source of good ideas.”
- More interactions. The Allen Curve (named for Professor Tom Allen of MIT) shows that the employees who were the “high-performers” were those who had the most interactions with their colleagues. “According to Allen’s data,” Lehrer found, “office conversations are so powerful that simply increasing their quantity can dramatically increase creative production; people have more ideas when they talk to more people.”
- Brainstorming? Lehrer cites research studies that proclaim brainstorming is less effective than people working alone and then sharing ideas. Criticism is actually very important in the creative process. We need to have candid discussions. Pixar uses a strategy called “plussing.” Any criticism that is given must also present a plus or new idea that builds on the original idea.
- Urban friction. The diversity and expanse of urban populations create opportunities for innovation and creativity.
- Innovation gaps. Companies that encouraged cross-pollination with other companies (employees working with other employees) saw increased innovation. Those that thrived on secrecy did not. When we work with strangers and folks from other areas, according to Lehrer, we have “knowledge spillover.” This is what happened with the Homebrew Computer Club in 1975. That was where Steve Wozniak and others engaged in friendly collaboration and “schematics of the Apple I were passed around freely.”
- Obstacles. When corporations erect obstacles (read: hierarchies) they “stifle conversations, discourage dissent, and suffocate social networks.”
- Education. Rote learning is the antithesis of the creative process.
- Effort. “Nobody is talented enough to not have to work hard, and that’s what grit allows you to do…grit allows you to take advantage of your potential.” Angela Duckworth, psychologist (University of Pennsylvania).
Imagine reminded me that creativity is more than that moment of insight and exhilaration. Creativity also embraces all the disappointments and frustrations on the road to a new way of doing things. They are part of the process. But how many people quit and never enjoy the result?
Enjoy your week—and H.T.R.B. as needed!
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