Creativity: Gift or Craft

I heard a podcast with stand up comedians Ken Davis and Bob Stromberg talking about creativity. The one thing that stood out worth sharing was that neither man felt creativity was a gift. To clarify, they defined the “gift” as the capacity and desire to create, while they said “creativity” is a learned craft that everyone can practice.

I agree that everyone can be creative especially when following these 5 practical steps that I use:

1. Capture

The first step in being creative is capturing the things that stir the emotions. When I capture in a quick note or sketch the thing that impacted me or moved me, I’m able to remember it and give it my full consideration.

2. Explore

Once I’ve captured the moment, I then explore why it touched me. I ask myself questions in an attempt to learn the truth about why I felt the humorous or dramatic moment.

3. Birth an Idea

When I contemplate or meditate on the very thing that I chose to explore, new creative ideas pop into my mind. The one that makes the greatest impression fuels the fire of passion, giving me an opportunity to flesh out the concept in the form of an artistic expression.

4. Play

People stop being creative when they stop playing. It’s therefore important to play around with variations of the new artistic idea. Rather than searching for the one “right” answer to present, playfulness requires exploring multiple right answers to find the most entertaining one that clarifies the message.

5. Polish

Assessing the presentation or performance with a test audience helps me figure out what worked and what didn’t work. More importantly, I learn what the audience understood or missed. This new gained knowledge gives me a chance to tweak and polish my creative idea for its final and official production.

Being creative is a choice that requires a playful viewpoint while developing the craft. Everyone is capable of being creative, but not everyone chooses to work hard at capturing the emotional elements required to be successful. Fortunately the first step is child’s play, which everyone is capable of because we all know what its like having been a child.

© 2017 by CJ Powers
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Creatives Are Driven To Live

OklahomaBill Hybels, a legendary spiritual leader, once talked about a “holy discontentment” and how it drives the spiritual to continually look for ways to help others. Choreographer Martha Graham spoke of an artist’s “divine dissatisfaction” that drives all creative work.

Prose writer Rachel Carson also spoke of this unrest that leads to creative activity, “No writer can stand still. He continues to create or he perishes. Each task completed carries its own obligation to go on to something new.”

Dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille, known for her original choreography in Oklahoma!, a musical that generated numerous awards including a record setting 2,212 performances, found herself struggling with her “fairly good work” when critics touted it as a “flamboyant success.”

De Mille received clarity concerning this disconnect in her life when she bumped into Graham and shared her sense of dissatisfaction. De Mille started the conversation with a confession that she had a burning desire to be excellent, but had no faith to achieve it.

Graham: “There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

De Mille: “But, when I see my work, I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

Graham: “No artist is pleased.”

De Mille: “But then there is no satisfaction?”

Graham: “No satisfaction whatever at any time, there is only queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Graham and Hybels had hit on something fascinating. Both saw the activity rising from creative discontentment as divinely inspired for the good of others. While artists long for satisfaction with their work, the blessed only receive a drive to move on to another work.

Julia Cameron, known as a artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, journalist and teacher, learned through her studies of the human condition that, “Art is a spiritual transaction. Artists are visionaries. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance—often visible to us, but invisible to those around us.”

When I meditate on what I’ve observed, whether information from life or scripture, and many times the combination of both, I receive a divine awareness that helps me to understand a perspective that most have never considered. The excitement contained within the moment drives me to share it with others. But they don’t get it.

The only way for people to understand what I’ve seen is to create art that can demonstrate it or move a person to consider something outside of their reality. It therefore compels me to create art, always hoping it reaches the people it was intended to reach.

This continual drive that most of my friends label as passion, breathes life into me daily. It forces me to try and try again so everyone gets the gift of understanding that I received, but my attempts always fall short. The cycle begins again and again. While I can’t complain because of the life that stirs within me, I am always dissatisfied in my feeble ability to communicate such an important understanding.

And there lies the truth of an artist’s dilemma. Filled with life overflowing, always driven, but never arriving with any form of satisfaction. I’ll call this curse a blessing for it is who I am.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

 

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Creative Child’s Game Simplifies Value Decisions

How to Assign Value to Disparate Projects for Equal Consideration

Have you ever wanted to know which project to start next? Did you get frustrated comparing unrelated activities in an attempt to determine which provided the greatest value? The solution is as simple as a child’s game.

No, I’m not talking about a Six Sigma Pugh Concept Matrix to determine which potential alternative solution can more quickly and easily be engineered into a viable product for just-in-time manufacturing.

I’m talking about a simple game that boutique tech businesses use to prioritize projects by overall value.

It’s called a weighted decision matrix and its fun to use.

Picture a simple table with the name of the projects listed down the far left column. Across the top of each column is the criteria that you’ll use to measure a projects overall value. Where each project and column intersects are the letters H, M, and L. The far right column holds the total of the criteria scores for each project.

Slide1

STEP ONE:

Name each project in the first column. Name the criteria being considered at the top of each column.

The H M and L represent the importance level of the criteria for the project—giving it a high, medium or low level of importance for each particular criterion. Circle the level of importance that each project holds based on the given criteria.

Slide2

 

STEP TWO:

Give a value to each H, M and L. With less complex decisions I use the following values: H=4, M=2, and L=1. If the decision is more complex I use: H=9, M=3, and L=1. Then total the score by adding the values from each cell. The decision is obvious—I need to write a blog on Decision Matrix (see below table).

Slide3

 

But many times life is not so simple because some criteria are more important than others, which requires some form of weighting.

STEP THREE:

When criteria are not equal, a numeric value must be attached that will work as a multiplier. I use a 5-point scale to make sure each criteria receives its due credit or strength in the formula. However, when sorting through a large number of projects, I switch to a 10-point scale in order to pick up on the value of subtle nuances for each criterion.

In the below table I’ve given each criteria a numerical value. In the first cell the M was circled and is valued as a 2. I then multiply it with the weighted criterion value of 4 and get a new total cell value of 8. Each cell is added together for a total score of 40.

Slide4

The weighting has clarified what’s more important and shifted the score to a tie. In this case I would’ve been better off using the larger spread of values: H=9, M=3, and L=1 as in the below table. However, the scoring is so close that the decision of what blog to write had an original score of 10, shifted to a tie, followed by coming in second place (see below table).

Slide5

Here’s where the game gets tricky. You have to be totally honest with yourself whenever assigning values to what’s important. Deciding between H, M, L is pretty easy, but the choice is more difficult with a 5-point criteria value—even more tricky with a 10-point value.

In the table below I changed the weighted amount for the third criterion from 3 to 4. Why? Well, since most of my readers run families, small businesses and departments, I thought the category should hold a higher level of importance.

Slide6

Now look at what happened to the scores. The numbers made the decision very clear, but only because I was being truthful about the third column’s actual value of importance.

WARNING: As in all games that use numbers, a person can cheat to make things read anyway they want, which defeats the purpose of playing.

STEP 1A:

It’s important to use only the criteria that are truly important to a project. Extra criteria that’s not seriously weighted only complicates your decision making process.

If you’re an artist, consider some of these criteria:

• Passion Zone
• Stretch Comfort Levels
• Gain Knowledge
• Generate Money
• Advance Career
• Network Expansion
• Develop Skills
• Touch Lives
• Build Relationships
• Fun & Games

The above factors can all impact a decision for an artist deciding whether or not he or she is interested in signing on to a film project. Sometimes it’s worth doing if it expands your network or you can learn something significant from the experience. Other times making money is the number one weighted factor.

In business, other criteria might be considered like:

• Meets Objectives
• Forwards Career
• Meets Boss’ Bonus Requirements
• Generates Commission
• Creates Double Digit Growth

The above list can go on and on, but the idea is sound. Figuring out what criteria is important for the projects being considered helps change the decision from an aggravating dilemma to a child’s game that’s easy to solve with a quick hand written table or spreadsheet.

Members of different departments that make up a special team can also play this game. Each can add a few criteria to the table to make sure their area of expertise is well considered by the decision maker.

The biggest decision I faced was sorting through 11 projects with 32 criteria. Thankfully it was on an automated spreadsheet and the answers were quick and sound.

Let me know what other games or tools you use to decide which project should be next.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Crisis Energy to Feed Stamina

Turning the Adrenaline Rush of a Disaster into Energy for the Solution

Years ago my company created art for a museum that had a specific deadline. Everything needed to be mounted and in place for the grand opening of the new display. The press was coming out in full force and the curator just hung up the phone after pushing me for a specific delivery time. He made it clear that I had 42 minutes left to deliver the final artwork.

Museum_PhotoI felt my muscles tighten and worried about the onset of a heart attack, even though I had no family history. The emotional drama within my body felt like a tsunami was collapsing all around me and I was unable to surface for a breath of air. The worst pressure came while I waited for the subcontractor to finish the arduous process of laminating the art to meet ultra high museum archival standards.

Everything around me started to waver and the room sounds dropped to a deafening quiet—I was passing out. I asked the person next to me if she would mind me lying down on the floor. She looked concerned and nodded a willing “yes.” I dropped to the floor, turned onto my back and wondered how I got in such a spot.

Staring up at the lights was a weird phenomenon, especially when I realized that there were four things that I could do to change my response to the circumstances.

Accept the Worst – Everyone who feels they are falling into an abyss of the unknown needs a solid baseline from which to start their recovery. By accepting the worst-case scenario that my imagination could realistically paint, I was able to stop the sense of pending doom. I no longer felt like I was in a free fall and could work on my choice of thoughts.

Change the Perspective – Turning the corner from a negative perspective to a positive one forces my feelings to follow. A small sense of glee rises when a person stops thinking about their cup of lemonade being half gone and decides to savor a second half-cup more of delight. The positive person can even pick up on how the second half of the drink tastes a tad sweeter due to the sugar settling over time.

Release the Rigid – Facts typically raise its ugly head the moment a person tries to see an opportunity in its best light. After all, we’re taught from an early age to think logically about the situation when a swift deadline appears to be statistically out of reach. The choice to turn the ridged facts into a moment of flexibility brings relief and experimentation—the very thing that fuels creativity and solutions.

Think Creatively – Taking advantage of the freedom found in flexibility energizes the creative soul to see the circumstances as an opportunity to be a hero. Once pulled off, the client will trust their vendor no matter how unrealistic the schedule. And, they’ll even be willing to pay higher dollars for “miracles” knowing the job will get done right and on time.

Strength surged through my bones as I stood up and brushed the dirt from my slacks. I suddenly had the stamina to complete the task and I was ready to be a hero. I had the opportunity to prove my team’s skills and commitment levels. Oddly enough, I also felt comfortable in the middle of the calamity.

Within seconds the subcontractor handed me the pieces of art and apologized for the delay. I thanked him and smiled when he handed me the invoice that read “No Charge.” He thanked me for the opportunity and asked that I consider his firm for future work.

I pulled into the customer’s loading dock and was met by specialists who care for archival quality art. They were ecstatic that the quality exceeded their requirements and worked diligently to install the new display.

The client pulled me to the side and apologized for the pressure he had placed on our team. He learned ten minutes prior that his boss gave an earlier deadline to avoid being embarrassed in front of the media.

I left with a large check that included a bonus. More importantly, I left more capable of managing my emotions based on choice, rather than arbitrary circumstances. And, I had learned how to turn crisis energy into the stamina necessary to complete a project in the midst of turmoil.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

 

 

 

 

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The Benefits of Creativity

How to Extend Life, Solve Problems, and Develop Confidence

Going against the crowd with an innovative idea does not create bad stress as some might think, but instead adds to your life, allows you to help others by solving problems, and instills a deep sense of self-confidence. Yet these values are seldom sought after in business because it goes against the cultural norms of the corporate world—leading to the demise of 100+ year old companies like SEARS.

pen-idea-bulb-paperI was working in a theatre on the set construction team when the director went nuts. The scene being rehearsed left too much to the imagination and came across flat. The lead actor was supposed to use a special techno device that lacked originality and looked far from a working model. The property master had failed in bringing about the believability factor.

The director turned to me, pointed his finger and said, “You, make something that will wow the audience.”

I put on my “Imagineering” hat after scavenging through my basement, the prop closet and stage workshop. The creation required me to play with levers, buttons, gismos, blinking lights, and a bit of fog pouring out of cracks in the hoses. And of course, I did use some gaffer’s tape for good measure.

The audience admired the innovation with several people offering the theatre money for the prop. Bids kept coming in throughout the run of the show and the machine was eventually sold to offset some of the production costs. But more importantly was the outcome in my life. I was given free stage access to produce my own show to a sold out crowd.

Not only was the creative moment the key to unlocking my future in theatre, but it also gave me three additional benefits.

A Longer Life. Numerous studies now show that creativity reduces stress. The Journal of Aging and Health published findings, from 1,000 men studied between 1990 and 2008, that only creativity—not intelligence or overall openness—decreased mortality risks. In fact, all of the creative men lived longer than the others.

The University of Rochester Medical Center’s Nicholas Turiano said, “Individuals high in creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks even into old age… Creative people may see stressors more as challenges that they can work to overcome rather than as stressful obstacles they can’t overcome.”

Improved Problem Solving. Creative people are used to seeing things from multiple perspectives, giving them an advantage in finding a solution that will work. Because creativity is a form of play for the creative, he or she is more likely to try things others may never consider. Even Einstein used what he called combinatory play. By testing the juxtaposition of various unrelated ideas he was able to create his theory of relativity.

During the NASA space missions in the 1960s and 1970s, scientists followed Einstein’s lead by using combinatory play to explore solutions that might benefit the space program. The result was over 4,000 patents that led to the creation of many common household goods of today including the super soaker, cordless vacuums, treadmills, insulation, water filters, scratch resistant lenses, solar energy, ear thermometers, etc.

A High Level of Confidence. While some people think confidence opposes humility, it is the exact opposite. Confidence is the ability to see failure as a tool that leads to success. People who have a high level of confidence seldom hold onto fears in life. This stance brings clarity of thought and the ability to improvise when needed.

The creative person who lives with failure as a tool for success sees a looming deadline as an opportunity to play. The person who lacks creativity sees the deadline as pending failure. He or she will tend to freeze up and block new ideas from forming.

We know that Thomas Edison was a creative because it took him 1,000 attempts to invent the light bulb. That means he had to be creative enough to come up with 1,001 new ideas. He didn’t have one idea that happened to work. He had a creative process in place that allowed him the opportunity to test out 1,000 freshly brainstormed ideas.

People who play it safe in corporations by not speaking up or volunteering for tasks that require creativity are missing out on the great benefits that creativity gives us: a longer life, improved problem solving abilities, and a high level of self-confidence. They are also missing out on the opportunity to play when associates freeze up with fear. For these reasons I always recommend people work on developing their creativity.

Are you able to come up with 1,001 ideas, one of which will change the world?

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Difference Between Talent and Genius

MemoirsMagic is a word that falls short of explaining the difference between the artisan who is wildly talented in his craft versus the person that is a genius in that same craft. Yet we can understand that Michael Jordan was a genius on the basketball court and Beethoven was a genius in the concert hall.

German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer found the distinction between talent and genius easy to delineate.

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

American Novelist Jack Kerouac, a writer who felt he had nothing to offer but his own confusion, found the roles between talent and genius clear.

“Genius gives birth, talent delivers.”

The difference between the two elements that rise from deep within the artist does not separate him from the pains that all artisans experience. Jan Swafford shared in Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, his tragic and triumphant genius that made him an outsider. She stated that he was “utterly sure of himself and his gift, but no less self-critical and without sentimentality concerning his work.”

Swafford also shared her perspective on talent versus genius:

“Genius is something that lies on the other side of talent… Talent is largely inborn, and in a given field some people have it to a far higher degree than others. Still, in the end talent is not enough to push you to the highest achievements. Genius has to be founded on major talent, but it adds a freshness and wildness of imagination, a raging ambition, and unusual gift for learning and growing, a depth and breadth of thought and spirit, an ability to make use of not only your strengths but also your weaknesses, an ability to astonish not only your audience but yourself.”

Being self-aware, Beethoven described genius in his letter to Emilie:

“The true artist has no pride. He sees unfortunately that art has no limits; he has a vague awareness of how far he is from reaching his goal; and while others may perhaps admire him, he laments the fact that he has not yet reached the point whither his better genius only lights the way for him like a distant sun.”

Skills are taught and will accompany inborn talent, but genius is that elusive element that births the wow factor. Genius is not learned. It is what I describe as a supernatural gift that allows the artisan to create things that no one else considers. It gives him a vantage point on life that no one else can see without him manifesting it within his art.

A good example might be the author who gets writer’s block. He may be a skilled writer, but the talented continue to play with words until the story comes together. The talented has several books inside of him waiting to come out, but the genius has an unlimited supply of stories to share for his lifetime.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Highs of Combinatory Play

Dream_Play

Being creative never ends. Nor is it something that is easily turned off. Some have suggested that once it gets into your blood or bones, you’re hooked for life. Maybe it’s the innovation that drives inspiration to do it again or possibly it’s just the thrill from the last project that gives you a boost for the next one.

There is a euphoric feeling that comes at the end of each creation that catapults a person to try something imaginative one more time. I’ve heard it described as the same result runners get from endorphins popping within their blood. They’re driven to do another run within the next 2-3 days, because their biological systems respond as if they were coming down from a drug high. Everything within them screams for another fix that only a run can bring.

But creativity is not a drug. Nor does it create drug like responses. The built in thrill comes from triumphs of moving from concept to completion. And I’m not speaking of just any type of accomplishment, but the ones that naturally cause a person to play. Being creative is all about being flexible, a good troubleshooter, and most of all a person who loves to play.

If the project isn’t fun, then it’s not a creative project.

Even Einstein took time to play with ideas. He used a concept called combinatory play to develop a good number of his theories and inventions. He started with two columns of lists. Then he drew a line between an item on the first list and another item on the second list. The result was something completely new to consider.

Computer Slicer
Coffee Maker Ticket
Sun Glasses Soda Can
Toast Window
Bagel Small Container

If a person draws a line between the bagel and slicer, he would start to come up with the invention of the bagel slicer, which of course was invented. Connecting Coffee Maker with Small Container may have led to the single cup coffee makers of today. There are many other combinations that will spark creative thinking that leads to innovation.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”  —Steve Jobs

I’ve been told many times that I’m the most creative person any given he or she had ever known. They’re also amazed at the wide and diverse range of activities I’ve experienced in life. The wealth of experiences within my memory gives me numerous things to ponder every day. And, with all of those experiences I’ll never find myself bored. After all, the beginning of any creation can pop up in my head just by considering a possible combination as I play mental gymnastics.

I’ll never forget inventing an illusion in middle school and then seeing it used in a television magic special that Friday night. I realized that the combination of experiences I used to create the illusion wasn’t unique. Someone had already dreamt up the same idea. But I felt great knowing that my idea worked and looked amazing. It gave me a high and I dove in to create again.

The afterglow of creativity always energizes additional inspiration with new perspectives and ideas. The playfulness around the conceptual makes it fun to bring the ideas into reality and the word failure never shows up, simply because there’s not enough time to be critical when exploring various possibilities. It’s all about play and feeling great.

© 2017 by CJ Powers