The New Season of Creative Mindfulness

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I remember the changes that occurred in business when upper management altered its focus to an innovative mindfulness called a paradigm shift. Every executive I knew was searching for a new way of looking at processes and conducting business. Changes in operations led to consolidations and the tossing out of unneeded practices. Even sales teams shifted their selling techniques to fit the changing marketplace.

During the fourth quarter of last year, a new mindfulness started to appear. Fresh research was published by Linked-In, Adobe, and the Forrester Group. All of the results and documentation pointed to the emergence of this new mindfulness being that of creativity. Executives at Fortune 500 companies started to pay attention to the fact that creativity was directly correlated to business success.

In his new book, Creative Calling, releasing on September 24, 2019, Chase Jarvis shares how the practice of creativity in business will soon be established as a standard for a healthy employee. The creator of the Creative Live website takes it a step further by insisting that creativity will be considered just as important to each day like exercise, nutrition, and meditation.

For this very reason, I have shifted the focus of this blog and my new podcast to help people grow their creative thinking and abilities. We are all born with creativity, which is seen in every child prior to them starting school, where we are taught to focus on logic.

The logical side of life is tactical in nature and the creative side is strategic. It didn’t take long for business futurists to figure out that within another decade Ai technologies will replace the vast majority of tactical jobs, leaving only strategic and creative positions available for people.

To help people start increasing their creative abilities and thought processes, Jarvis illustrates in his new book the I.D.E.A. system.

IMAGINE

The imagination can create hope and a vision for our future. By improving one’s ability to imagine things, a businessperson can bring clarity to new processes and gain an understanding of what is required to implement that new future. The imagination can also drive an individual’s focus to clarify their intentions on how to proceed.

DESIGN

Jarvis’ design phase is all about establishing a daily practice and conforming our lives to support expressions and transformation. The average person in business today fears change and is hesitant to move forward in what appears to be a blind expedition into the unknown. However, the strongest employees are the ones who are at the forefront of creating change.

EXECUTE

Creativity isn’t innovative or more than just a concept unless it is fleshed out. The businessperson has to learn how to execute their innovation, turning their vision into reality. Even the most ambitious plans can be accomplished one step at a time when a businessperson learns how to execute creative ideas.

AMPLIFY

The business world has turned into a community that requires the participation of many hands for the out-rolling of new projects, products, and services. Finding ways to impact our partners and engaging our communities, increases our productivity and success rate. This amplification process provides a natural byproduct of replicating the best part of ourselves in others.

Developing our own creative thoughts and abilities is critical for our survival in the coming years. This is due in part to the unprecedented challenges in our economy, environment, and technology. We can’t erase the past that put a powerful computer/phone device in the hands of every business person, so we must learn and master what the device can’t provide us—CREATIVITY.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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Good Deadlines Drive the Imagination

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All projects need an end in sight to bring the creative flow to its natural conclusion. Yet many see the deadline as a dreaded device that squeezes the life out of a project. Disney Imagineer and Senior Principal Production Show Designer, Neil Engel, put a positive spin on deadlines when he says, “Deadlines can keep your imagination active, and ideas fresh and flowing.”

Engel’s perspective is about shifting our perspective to one that energizes activities, rather than causing the creative to freeze up. By shifting our attention to what motivates us and keeping the focus on the portion of the project being worked, Engel suggests that we can reframe our perspective and make the deadline just another objective.

After giving his viewpoint consideration, I realized the validity of making sure every deadline-based project is broken down into easily managed milestones. A fiction writer that has to write and deliver a manuscript in twelve months wouldn’t have to fret if he broke down the overwhelming 100,000 words into achievable milestones.

Most beginning novelists can write 1,000 words a day and pros can write twice that amount. By setting milestones for 1,000 words a day gives the slowest of writers a completed first draft manuscript in six months. A goal of 2,000 words a day converts the writer’s ideas into a first draft in half the amount of time.

The business salesman making cold calls can also breakdown his activities into milestones. If he makes 23 cold calls an hour, he is likely to get 3-7 prospects. Out of the 40 prospects during the day, he is likely to get 1-2 meetings. Out of seven scheduled meetings during the week, one or two are likely to convert into a sale.

If the boss is pressuring everyone to close one sale a week, the salesman might feel more pressure at the beginning of every week unless he focuses on the milestone process instead of that one deal that must be closed. In other words, our perspective makes the deadline nerve-racking or just another milestone.

A screenwriter doesn’t count the words, but the script pages with the total landing at 110-120 pages on average. The milestones for a first draft might be writing four pages a day, which would deliver the first draft in a month. However, most screenwriters that I know don’t go by page or word count, but by the number of scenes that the story requires.

The milestones for a screenplay are usually first broken out by reels, story sequences, or mini-movies. Then the story is broken down into smaller segments that meet the requirements of the beat sheet. When the writer focuses on just the key beats for any given day, there is little stress related to the deadline, which also reduces the pressure of on set rewrites—when everyone is waiting for the changed pages for that day’s shoot.

My past experiences confirm the accuracy of Engel’s perspective. I also agree with his view that some pressure is necessary to force the creative process to flourish. There is a reason all Broadway musicals take 8-12 weeks to rehearse. While some suggest producers can’t afford to pay for a longer rehearsal period, most pros agree that the show would become boring and flat for the performers if it extends past that standard period.

Engel presented the concept from a creative’s perspective when he says, “With too much time, a project can become overworked and lose its spontaneity or direction.”

For a successful project, it is critical that creatives stay fresh. They need enough time to do the job properly, which requires a strategically placed deadline. They also need to learn how to turn the deadline into a normal milestone to reduce the pressure to what is manageable in a normal day. By facilitating these two issues concerning deadlines, bosses and managers can get the most creativity and efficiency from their teams.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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How to Reverse Brainstorm in 4 Steps

ReverseBrainstormBrainstorming is a known creative process with specific guidelines that must be met for success. However, there are certain conditions that stop even the best at brainstormings, such as a growing level of cynicism within the ranks or an unknown problem that can’t be pinpointed. The quickest way to turn the attitudes and results around is by using the creative technique of reverse brainstorming.

The process focuses on discovering an unknown or futuristic problem. The first phase typically assigned to the task force is figuring out what problem can be identified. The second phase is to facilitate a troubleshooting recommendation that can reveal the needed action steps for change and implementation. Both phases require an understanding of the guidelines used to facilitate the process.

Here are the guidelines for reverse brainstorming:

Figuratively Break the Process

Reverse brainstorming is the opposite of finding a solution. The team must work hard to come up with ways of breaking the system. This holds true regardless of the topic. For instance, let’s say the original brainstorming goal is to find ways to keep customers on the website. The opposite becomes the starting point for reverse brainstorming: Finding ways to drive people away from the website.

Everyone shares their ideas. Maybe the list looks like…

  1. Require user sign-ins every 20 seconds.
  2. When the reader gets to the critical part of the post they’re reading, startle them with pop-up pictures from a horror film.
  3. Don’t allow anonymity.
  4. Blast new music with every page.
  5. Place ads in between paragraphs.
  6. Etc.

Clearly, the list could reach a hundred items in a short period of time.

Flip the List

The next step is to analyze the list. The goal is to discover what real items are directly correlated with its opposite. For instance, “require user sign-ins every 20 seconds” suggests that the site should not require any sign-in unless someone is signing up for a specific offer. The horror pop-up picture suggests that customers will get irate every time the reading of their important article is interrupted.

The flipped list might look like…

  1. Only have a sign-in for specific offers.
  2. Don’t interrupt the reading of an article.
  3. Allow all people to peruse the site.
  4. Don’t play music or have a silent default setting.
  5. Keep ads away from, or to the side of important articles.
  6. Etc.

Evaluate the Potential Solutions

Out of the long list of possible problems and its probable solutions, each item needs to be evaluated. The top three or ten, whatever length of possibilities deemed right for more in-depth exploration, are assessed to determine its value to the company. The goal is recommending the items considered to be low hanging fruit (quick fixes) or bigger bang for the buck (fixes with a greater financial impact) to decision makers. The evaluation process can review the list based on any criteria needed for planning improvements and implementations.

Have Fun without Commiserating

The reverse brainstorming activity tends to be humorous and sometimes sad. Laughter typically comes from those moments when people are surprised that they unknowingly built a stupid problem into the website while attempting to do something positive for the customer. The sad moments come when people realize that they were clueless about problems they didn’t even know existed.

These moments can drive sarcastic comments and enlightenment. Unfortunately, it can also open the floodgates for those who feel the impulse to commiserate, all because the learned problems can be systemic and highly relatable. The guideline is for the team to have fun with the surprises, but to avoid sharing war stories because it changes the tone and focus in the room to something less productive.

Reverse brainstorming is a simple tool to implement and requires the same respect for one’s peers as brainstorming. The key to remember is that all boarded items are welcome, as some are there for the sole purpose of prompting other ideas. No idea is wrong or wasted.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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Takeaway Creativity

JengaHave you ever given a talk and had too much information to share?

Last night, I shared how to give a six-minute talk that helps the audience understand a key problem, learn the steps necessary to make changes, and inspire them to take some form of action. I wanted to give the talk in six minutes to demonstrate my point, but I had 30-minutes of information to share.

My prep time reminded me of the Jenga game. Players start with a large tower of wooden pieces and have to carefully remove one piece at a time without the entire structure collapsing. The game is always a challenge because opponents alternate the removal of pieces, which means their move might be to keep the tower stable for a few more rounds or designed to force the destruction of the tower upon your next move—so they can win.

In business projects, takeaway creativity is like a Jenga game. We research and are supplied resources for our assigned project. A brain dump occurs of all the information we have to work with followed by a sifting and sorting process to select only the useful or pertinent information. And then, we decide if we’ll give a presentation with 46 slides or whittle it down to our best seven.

The ace solution is always the simplest. It’s true in filmmaking, writing, and presentations. No one wants to be lulled to sleep by the information that isn’t relevant.

When television first got started, the shows were 58 minutes in length, giving time for sponsors to demonstrate their products in exchange for covering the show’s production costs. Once the power of television became known to advertisers, a deluge of companies started promoting their wares, which forced show lengths to drop down to 43-minutes.

The programs improved as a result because writers were forced to use only the pertinent information that was absolutely necessary to tell the story. Then streamers hit the market and the rules about programming length changed to fit the story. Suddenly the advertising-free shows were released at varying lengths based on what the story dictated for each episode.

The right-sizing of content to close a business deal is important and the information must dictate the length of a presentation. No longer will a cookie cutter template keep the prospect’s attention. This forces businessmen and women to reduce their presentations down to the bare essence of what is necessary for the deal.

A published humorous anecdote that 100 years later was attributed to Michelangelo, alleging that it was a true story at the revealing of his David, reflects the idea of takeaway creativity. The man asked, “how could you achieve such a masterpiece from a crude slab of marble?” The response, “All I did was chip away everything that didn’t look like David.”

Taking away what doesn’t belong in your presentation starts with a Jenga-like tower of information. Knowing what pieces to pull from the presentation will reduce the structure down to its ideal size. But if too much information is taken away, the story is incomplete and the client lacks the necessary information to say, “Yes.”

The art of condensing the information down to its core elements can be learned from the Jenga game. Here are the steps in the search for the key elements that must be removed to condense the presentation:

  • Start with all project related information.
  • Take away the obvious that the client already knows.
  • Take away the fluff information.
  • Take away the repetitive information.
  • Take away the features that don’t benefit the customer.
  • Take away the history of the product.
  • Take away anything that doesn’t perfectly meet your focus.

What you are left with might be…

  • The client’s problem.
  • The recommended solution.
  • The features and case studies that proved the solution successful with other clients.
  • The benefits the client receives from the solution.
  • The structure of the deal and its related offer.
  • Plenty of time for Q&A to fine-tune the client’s solution.

Just like pulling one piece from the Jenga puzzle at a time to focus the presentation down to its bare essence, making sure certain elements stay in place to maintain the health of the offer is also critical.

In preparation for my talk last night, I distilled a 160-page book on how to give a six-minute talk down to five critical sentences. Then I added in relatable information to clarify those sentences and help the audience take ownership of the structure that I shared. The result, several people took notes for their next presentation and one woman changed her planned talk that she’s giving to a national group of investors tomorrow. Oh, and I gave my talk all within the six minutes time frame to prove it works.

One of the greatest forms of creativity that we must practice is the art of condensing information, or what I call Takeaway Creativity. I have practiced it by reediting a feature movie down to a short film, taking a novel and turning it into a short story, and taking a 46-slide corporate presentation deck and turning it into a 7-slide show.

Take time this week to practice your creativity by cutting out the unnecessary and reforming it into a highly impactful solution that will impress your associates.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

 

Be Like Einstein—Innovate with Metaphors

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Albert Einstein was a person that few could hope to assimilate or emulate. His scientific principles were so advanced that few ever consider that their process of innovation could hold a candle to his scientific methods. Yet, Einstein used creative skills to advance the sciences far more often than people realized.

One of his favorite forms of exploration was the development of metaphorical scenarios. By creating an allegorical or symbolic construct, or imaginary world, he was able to test abstract ideas. Einstein actually created these imaginary worlds that were disassociated with facts, numbers, and natural rules to free himself from the objective and play with ideas from a subjective perspective.

This process helped him to solve many problems because “reality” never got in his way. One time he pictured himself as a two-dimensional being, which led to his experimentation and exploration of infinity. Another time he imagined finding his love with all its related experiences before ever meeting her, which drove his contemplation on causality. Another mental picture included him riding a light beam, at the speed of light, while holding a mirror in an attempt to see his reflection, which can’t be done because the reflection would have to travel faster than the speed of light to be seen.

Einstein’s theory on general relativity was birthed using this creative process. His theory basically stated that the nature of situations depends on the orientation of the observer. In other words, by changing our perspective, we can immediately open our possibilities to innovation.

The process of innovation using metaphorical scenarios includes five steps of play. Yes, play. That means what I’m sharing are guidelines that can be altered. The rules are not rigid to be strictly followed for success. Creativity is very personal, as it draws from everything we have to offer that resides deep within our heart and mind.

IMAGINE

To construct the metaphor that will bring a solution to bear requires make-believe. We have to picture the problem in our mind. The idea is to see it from multiple perspectives. I like to pretend I’m an old woman exploring the problem followed by looking at things through the eyes of a preschool boy.

Let’s say I’m trying to figure out how to get my podcast out to more people. My first step is to picture that podcast from various angles. Maybe I contemplate what it looks like while I’m recording it, or after it is uploaded to its current site. Or maybe I picture the idea phase where I try to figure out what creative process I think the audience might need this week.

DEFINE ESSENCE

This next step is the hardest for most people because the idea is to define the heart of the problem, not the problem. I like to think and ponder over the essence or the perception of the problem, getting a feel for what needs to be addressed.

The problem of getting my podcast to more listeners might be a problem of public relations, advertising, or developing better content that causes people to talk about the show around the water cooler. In this case, I believe the essence of the issue is the number of steps required for entry. Audiences don’t like to pay for a show that they are unfamiliar with, especially when competitive podcasters give their show away for free to increase the sales of their courses, speaking engagements, and book sales.

FOCUS ON ESSENCE

At this point, I forget about the direct issue and consider an imaginary circumstance with the same essence as my problem. This takes the form of a made-up scenario or story—a fairy tale.

Let’s say there is a spy that has information during the cold war, or something similar in the country of Zorka, that could save lives. A dictator, who desires to control the minds of the people, publishes a renegade newspaper that appears to be opposed to him and distributes it for free as an underground paper.

When the people read the paper, they unknowingly read strawman articles and start to sympathize with the dictator who is “working hard on behalf of the people.” But the spy has proof to expose the truth and help the people join forces to take down the dictator.

PLAY WITH POTENTIAL RESOLUTIONS

When we work on the make-believe scenario and try to fix the problem, our mind goes off in many directions of exploration without any pressure. The lack of pressure increases our ability to brainstorm and come up with numerous possible solutions. Our unhampered mind is free to explore limitless ideas.

I might consider the spy finding a printing press and publishing a competitive paper that shows the other side of the issues. Or, maybe I find an open radio frequency to broadcast the information and start handing out receivers that only get that frequency. The spy could also find a financial angle to donate funds to advertise opposing views in the marketplace.

The ideas go on and on. At first, most of the ideas seem logical. However, the more you play and learn to let go, the more creative the ideas become. For instance, maybe the spy puts on a circus where each act presents a portion of a message that the audience can decode by the end of the show. The goal is to consider all kinds of fun possibilities.

TRANSFER THE AHHA MOMENT

Somewhere in the unencumbered playfulness, a real idea emerges. The essence of this real idea will translate to the real-life problem that must be solved. In this case, I’ll say that the decoded circus message is the one that will lead to my podcast solution. My goal is to translate the silly idea into my actual reality. So, here goes…

I will start salting into all of my content, coded messages that will increase employee’s ability to innovate, which will lead to business success. When the people find the secrets to success that I’ve layered into the content, they will be able to use the information at work, gain recognition for their ideas, and tell everyone they know about my podcast.

At this point, I have the start of a new imaginative idea that needs to be fleshed out in the real world. I’ve taken advantage of the metaphorical process to help me come up with the idea of salting in secrets to success in all my messages. My next steps will be to figure out how the specifics can be handled to make it a reality.

The key is recognizing that the salting in of secret success messages in each shared content would never have popped into my mind without first playing in the spy’s world. And, by exploring his scenario and trying to get the truth out about his circumstances, I now have a handle on what needs to be done. My new goal is to get the truth about creativity out to the business world so individuals can innovate.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

 

Creative Ad Creation with Book Brush

Have you ever wanted to focus your time on creativity, using an intuitive online software system to build ads and promotional materials quickly?

I had the opportunity to try Book Brush and found it to be simple to use after the first ten minutes of dabbling with it. Book Brush is similar to Canva and Adobe Spark in that all three online software packages allow you to quickly build social media ads, blog and email headers, and promotional memes with ease. The biggest difference is that Book Brush is focused on helping authors.

Here is a sample promotion I built for my novel.

BookBrushImage-2019-4-25-18-857

It took me about three minutes to create the above promotional piece. I then spent another handful of minutes clicking on other templates for Facebook Ads, Pinterest posts, Instagram stories, email headers, etc. Within 10-15 minutes I had created a dozen various size ads.

The software allows you to swap out different book images, backgrounds, text containers and fonts, and buttons for use with online links. The process is very simple to use. The first step is selecting an ad size. You then choose a background followed by placing an image of your book.

Before placing the book, you have to upload your cover. Once it’s in the system, you select which direction you want it to face, whether or not it’s a 3D image, hardback or soft cover, positioned on a smartphone or tablet, or one of the other numerous choices. This is done with a simple click to select your product pose followed by another click to apply your cover image.

Typing text comes next. The system simplifies the process for those who just want to type and click. However, for those who want far more control, the system gives you about a dozen adjustable options. I found it easy to select a recommended standard and then tweak it to my satisfaction, rather than starting from scratch with a 100% custom idea.

Book Brush also has a Facebook Group of authors that use the software. They are there to help answer questions and share ideas with each other. Based on the comments, I’d say the group is very friendly and supportive of each other. So, if you’re an author, you might want to consider the great support system Book Brush has put in place for you.

For those who aren’t authors, the system is easy to use for creating an ad or promotional piece. The monthly fee is low and includes the license for supplied pictures. You can also upload your own pictures with ease.

The only downside of the system is a handful of things that are not intuitive, but I’ll assume that the folks at Book Brush will get to those areas soon, especially since they have consistently worked on improvements and additional functionality. In the meantime, make sure you save your work before clicking on a button that will take you from the workspace because you won’t be able to get back to it without losing your work.

© 2019 CJ Powers

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hopes that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Podcast: Exploration Ice Cream

I’ve been busy speaking on The Creative You podcast over the past handful of weeks. My recent speaking engagements have also been on the topic of creativity. Many that heard my recent talks have requested that I publish new posts to my blog on things a person can do to grow or expand their creativity.

Today, I’ve decided to respond with a technique designed to remove the ruts of our thinking patterns while brainstorming perspectives not yet considered. Instead of spending time writing out the technique, I’ve decided to share a podcast. I chatted with my host, Rebecca Boskovic, about the process of how to remove the ruts of repetitive thinking and how to practice the “Ice Cream” method.

To listen to the free episode, click here or go to https://www.patreon.com/cjpowers

As you listen to this episode, put yourself in Rebecca’s shoes as she walks through the process. Then you’ll be able to try the technique on your own using your real-world situation. And, if you like this episode and are interested in hearing other episodes, you can subscribe on that same page for a small fee of $4.00 (the cost of a cup of coffee) for four, half-hour episodes every month. Enjoy this free episode.