Solving Problems When You Don’t Feel Creative

CandleBoxTacksWhen I was in college, Oktoberfest was a big celebration in Wisconsin. One year, the local radio station had a competition to find the hidden medallion. The winner received thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes, major media coverage, and was honored in the parade. Every morning the radio station broadcasted a clue to help people find the medallion that was hidden somewhere within a half-hour radius of the tristate area along the Mississippi.

Known for my creativity, numerous people asked if I was going to solve the puzzle and reap the rewards. I decided to give it a try and found myself following the clues to within an inch of the medallion. I even rested my hand on the stone that covered the medallion. But I never lifted the stone to find it. Why? Because I had a functional fixedness bias from my childhood.

A common game we played in our childhood was called Hide the Thimble. The rules were that the person hiding the thimble had to place it in plain sight, so it could be seen from at least one angle without anything blocking it. My heightened observation skills made me a natural at winning that game. But in the case of the Oktoberfest medallion, there was no rule of it having to be in plain sight. I assumed the rule because of my functional fixedness.

The emotional pain I experienced when the station announced where the medallion was hidden, having had my hand on that very stone, was intense. I cringed when I realized that the reason the stone wobbled under my hand wasn’t that it was uneven, but because part of it was sitting on top of a medallion. Argh!

Today, I’m very conscious of any form of bias. I also practice interrupting patterns on a regular basis. The reason I work diligently at breaking away from functional fixedness is that innovation demands my mental freedom and the longer a person continues in functional fixedness the harder it gets to break free and think creatively.

Functional fixedness is a bias that hinders creativity—limiting people to only use an object in the way it was intended to be used. The opposite of functional fixedness is reflected in MacGyver’s ability to use common objects in a different way than originally designed. It takes a tremendous amount of creativity to use unrelated objects together for a solution, like using a cellphone camera as a mirror, a brick as a doorstop, or a quarter to unscrew a screw.

In moments when we feel less creative, psychologists suggest that we are likely caught in the functional fixedness mindset. This concept was first introduced by Norman Maier in 1931. By 1945, psychologist Karl Duncker designed a test to determine if a person held the bias or not. The test included a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a book of matches.

The test subject was to solve a simple problem. The goal to find a way to hang a lit candle on the wall using only the materials provided. The person with a high degree of functional fixedness was not able to see the box of tacks as part of the solution. He could only perceive it as the container holding the useful thumbtacks.

The unhindered creative solution had the person dump the tacks out of the box. Place the box on the wall using thumbtacks and placing the candle in the box. Then the matches were used to light the candle. This simple solution is mentally blocked for many people who hold a bias that they are unaware of.

Unfortunately, many people who realize they are no good at solving these types of problems seldom take time to break the bias and improve their creativity. They typically state that they aren’t creative, allowing their functional fixedness to grow more powerful. The only way to reduce our unhealthy biases is to build and empower our creativity.

There are three steps I use to break free of functional fixedness:

Explore the Problem using Make-Believe

Today’s culture suggests that problem-solving is a logical practice because of functional fixedness. To use the right side of our brain, where most of our non-diagnostic troubleshooting skills reside, we have to make the problem abstract. This can be considered a form of play, which opens our mind up to all possibilities.

Sometimes I pretend that I’m living in a sci-fi world where normal rules of nature no longer apply. This creative world-building allows me to look at a problem from new vantage points because it distills the issue down to its core elements—surface issues that typically hold our attention due to bias fade away.

Drawn from Alternative Fields of Knowledge

Once I’ve exposed the bare essence of a problem, it is easy to see similar issues being worked on by professionals in other fields. This allows me to draw from their expertise in how they work the basics and transfer them to my situation. This process typically fuels my creative thought process and feeds me new perspectives and ideas worth exploring for my specific problem.

Play with the Inspired Possibilities

At this point in the process, my thoughts are freer of bias and I continue to play with the ideas. This is the stage where I keep all possibilities open for as long as I can, not wanting to take just the first solution that pops into my head. The playful stance during this phase of the process allows me to explore multiple solutions so I have a few to choose from.

Freeing our creativity requires the breaking of strongholds like functional fixedness. A bias never self corrects, so we must purpose to change our viewpoints. By acknowledging our bias, we can focus on strengthening our creativity and fuel our future with a greater ability to problem solve and innovate—making us a valuable resource for our company, community group, and family.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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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

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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Mentors Breathe Inspiration into Creativity

Movie_Theatre

My Home Town Movie Theatre

When I mentor young filmmakers in how to develop their style and breathe life into their films, I often watch their eyes close me out from their thoughts. They are adamant about making sure the film is theirs and they don’t want anyone to give them a helping hand. This is problematic for a collaborative art form.

The idea of inspiring someone to a higher level of art can only come from words of encouragement, difficult moments of challenge, and the sharing of conceptual ideas. The word, “inspire,” means to “breathe into” or to “infuse with life by breathing.” That means someone has to do the breathing of new ideas to help the filmmaker get his mind cranking.

The creative process requires an environment of ideas, enthusiasm and energy. These are tools that help us gain experience from others and expose our minds to various styles and artistry. The shared wealth of history creates a powerful form of influence that brings the young filmmaker to a higher level of art than his or her counter parts ever achieve. Yet, Millennials seldom want to collaborate.

Inspiration of Mentors Stir Our Heartfelt Voice

The best thing that happens in a collaborative process is the deep sense that your own ideas demand to be heard. From deep within the gut comes this voice begging to resound. The inspiration of mentors draw out those deep ideas from within us and we suddenly find a way to express them. The inspiration brings our ideas to the surface so we can take action.

Unfortunately some people think that when you share a creative idea with the hopes of inspiring them, they think you want them to use your idea. But that is far from the truth. The mentor only wants to get the filmmaker thinking about something they never finished thinking about—that special something that resides deep within their heart.

I was mentoring one filmmaker who wanted to create a world that lacked water. The scarcity drove many to kill for a single cup of fresh water. The original script had a sign in it that made the idea of water scarce, but I suggested he find a way to demonstrate the rarity of water instead.

His latest cut of the film had the water sewn throughout the entire story as the key driver of all decisions made by every character. It became obvious that the liquid was such a rare commodity that everyone’s life changed in the presence of fresh water. Within that setting his protagonist could then mature and become a person who questioned his selfishness and chose to demonstrate love sacrificially.

While I gave him a handful of ideas that were plausible to demonstrate the scarcity of water, he was inspired enough to come up with his own unique ideas. Not one of my suggestions made it into the film, which was good, because my goal was to inspire his convictions and expressions. His choices worked.

The Journey of Understanding

Film is an emotional medium that comes from the heart. Those who hold to conservative standards make conservative films. Those who understand the liberal first and then make conservative films takes the audience on a journey that ends with a conservative view that makes sense to all, not just those with likeminded ideologies.

By finding inspiration from both sides of the political spectrum, a filmmaker becomes more powerful in the messages he can send to an audience that’s hungry for answers to the latest societal issues. But closed-minded conservatives who only focus on their views can present nothing of value to the liberal.

And what good is a film that only reaches the likeminded?

Film is not necessary when used as a tool of validation. It’s only necessary to help opposing viewpoints be understood. When film demonstrates the potential results of an idea, while touching the emotions of everyone watching, the audience is able to buy into the concepts and consider how they might apply within their own life.

For this reason I hangout with liberals and conservatives. I read both sides of every issue. And, I create paths through story that will take an audience to the life-breathing conclusion that cries out to be heard. These actions breathe creativity into each viewer so he or she is capable of altering their life with healthier choices.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Misunderstood Creative (pt. 2)

part2(Click Here To Read Part One)

The creative is misunderstood no matter how hard they try to temporarily fit into society. Some think its because they live 5-10 years ahead of everyone else. Others think it’s their unique wiring that gets them in trouble with the logical ones in life. Regardless of the arguments, its better to learn how to understand the creative rather than pointing out their differences as being weird.

Here are some insights that would help the cause of understanding.

6. They Feel Deeply. It’s not possible to create something of great meaning without first experience the depths of the idea to an even greater depth than would be expected. The creative feels everything more deeply than others so they can feel and understand the emotional tug that must be placed within their art.

Many creative people have well intact memories of their deepest experiences that can be drawn from. Those writing about despair are capable of reliving their darkest moments in order to get the flavor of the experience onto paper. The same is true for the highest of highs. The mere thought of a joyful moment will cause a smile to bust open on the writer’s face.

When the average person watches the writer relive a terrifying moment from their life, it’s all too easy for them to consider dropping the subject. But, the writer embraces the moment to capture the right emotions for his creative work. The unpleasant experience is justified in the final emotionally driven story.

7. Give Long Explanations. When you ask a creative a question, he gives a long-ish story in response. The average person would prefer a short concise answer, but for the artist, the point isn’t the answer, but the journey of the experience. The creative will answer in story form so the person asking the question gets a feeling for everything that led up to the answer.

When I was a kid my family ate dinner together almost every night. My mom would always start off the conversation with any information we’d need for later. Once we had been briefed, my mom would ask dad a question about work. In his artistic storytelling fashion, we’d then experience the life of a cop as he told numerous stories of the day’s events. He was never capable of answering her question in a few sentences. Instead, we all went on a journey as junior cops exploring his day through story.

8. They are Their Work. Artistry is a very personal work that every creative does from his or her heart. They are not capable of separating their art from who they are. The voice of the critic makes life a struggle since each critique is a commentary of their self-worth—validated or condemned. When all goes well, the artist shines all the more, but when things turn south the artist must fight for their emotional survival.

I’ll never forget the premiere of “The Ragman.” It was one of my earlier films made on a micro budget. I had to set up the food tables, collect tickets and then put my tux on in the men’s restroom. A critic caught me dressing and wrote his column on my hole-in-the-wall production company instead of the movie. The film flopped in the U.S. and broke even overseas. I was humiliated—a feeling that resided in me for years. As a result, I can now write tear-jerking stories.

9. Off-the-Hook Intuitive. Creatives intuitively know how to flow within their art form, while the average person can’t even understand the how and whys of artistry. Science has tried to create robot art numerous times, but continues to fail at capturing the essence of the imagery. This is due largely to the intuitive nature of tweaking art based on the artistic imperfections of the human condition—something that must be experienced and can’t be faked by algorithms.

I remember teaching a photography class on composition. The lesson was on the golden section versus the rule of thirds. I ran a quick competition with the students. They would shoot their best work using the rule of thirds and I was to shoot my work using the golden section. We showed the great pictures to numerous students outside of class and the golden section pictures won every time. Okay, I probably should’ve mentioned to the students that I was a national award-winning photographer in both Kodak and Polaroid competitions that year, but I wanted them to emotionally buy into the golden section, not just learn its measurements.

10. Love to Play. Life is about movement, action and adventure. Creatives are always learning and exploring anything that raises their curiosity. Research to an artist is a game that’s fun to play and filled with lots of observations. They toss out the stodgy idea of a methodical program and instead plunge into a more interesting way of capturing the essence of what they’ve set out to learn.

I can’t help but notice that during family birthdays a couple people always find ways of acting goofy. The childlike behaviors invigorate the group with life and joy. The artists in the family seem to get younger every year and some of the more logical folks find themselves sitting in chairs and conversing about the goofy ones rolling around on the floor with the little ones. I’ll admit that at birthday parties I’ve flown trips to the moon, gone on deep sea diving excursions and have piloted an airplane in and out of volcanoes just before they’ve erupted—all while sitting underneath the cake table with happy kids.

I hope these thoughts help you to better understand the creative soul. I also hope its stirred your own heart to bring your creative streak back to the forefront of your life with enthusiasm. Life for a creative is always full of play and that very choice leads to a young energetic life.

(Click Here To Read Part One)

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Turning Right into Creativity

Security camerasWhen I first met the spy, I thought he was kidding about his occupation. However, his explanations were plausible, so I listened further. It wasn’t until he started teaching me how to escape from a populated area that I knew he was telling the truth. Well, that is except for his name. I’m certain the personal information he shared was not real.

The best way to escape from any arduous state of affairs is to plan alternative routes in advance of a dicey situation. The preplanning process must be nonchalant and atypical of the most efficient route that we all conform to over time. This is true within the creative world, which helped me relate the need to escape with high-pressured creative sessions.

Here are the three spy lessons that have helped my creativity.

TURN RIGHT, NOT LEFT

To draw from your creative instincts during intense circumstances is like the spy who has to shift to his plan “B.” The man told me the first step in creating an alternate route is to turn right at your normal first left turn. This sends you in the opposite direction and forces you to make new decisions in developing a B-route.

During a creative session, at the first observable moment that a story beat is supposed to happen, its time to turn right into a new creative perspective. Coming up with a completely unexpected turning point in a story propels the characters into a mode of exploration. Further development is required to determine what direction or next step they must follow to survive.

Spies like unexpected twists in circumstances since few can guess what their next move might be. Only the well-prepared plan-B can help the spy survive the new reality as it unfolds, losing those who attempt to follow. Due diligence during the exploration phase will empower the spy to move quickly during the execution of the plan.

The search for new routes or creative viewpoints forces us to be alert. We are no longer able to function on autopilot, which helps us to avoid traps hidden within our customary creative reserves. When we lose the ability to rely on our habits to get by, we’re forced to innovate and keep one step ahead of the audience.

SKETCH NOTE NEW SURROUNDINGS

The spy told me to turn right and drive for a block or two, then pullover and sketch note everything I observe. The notes would be like a location scouting report with enough picture detail for strategic planning. Once the sketches are complete, he suggested I drive a couple more blocks, stop and repeat the process.

It was also important to figure out what the common next step might be for the average thinker and establish an unexpected action. This choice would then lead me down a new road for a couple of blocks. I’d then pull over and sketch again. Capturing every detail helps the spy during rapid escapes, and helps me during intense creative sessions.

WORK PLAN “C”, “D”, AND “E”

When on the run, spies know their pursuer is trying to out guess their every move to get two steps ahead of them. Those with great manpower throw several agents against the half-dozen possibilities with the hope that one will capture the spy or at least learn his next steps.

In the creative world, there are always a few in the audience who try to figure out where the story is headed before it gets there. I’m one of those who can usually guess the ending ten minutes into the film. Few movies startle me with interesting plot points that captivate my attention with surprise. When a director has multiple plans to draw from the audience is typically amazed at the new and fresh ending.

Pixar is known for brainstorming a dozen endings and then throwing them away for the sake of coming up with that one new idea no one thought about. Their productions take extra time to develop because they don’t want anything to seem old. They work every possible plan until they find the one that stirs the audience with both delight and surprise.

Meeting the spy gave me some interesting viewpoints to consider within my realm of communication and creativity. I even learned how to back into parking spaces for quick get-a-ways. But, there was one other thing I learned from the spy that bothered me. He said, “And whatever you do, don’t trust anything a spy says because he’s probably using you as a disposable asset in the moment.”

As the man disappeared from my sight, I realized that he might have lied about being a spy. And if he did lie, could I trust what he taught me? Certainly if he had told the truth, it was clear that I couldn’t trust a single word he had shared. Hmm, maybe the lessons in today’s blog aren’t lessons at all.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

The Responsible Creative

logicalThe title of this post seems like an oxymoron, but I assure you it is not. Part of the dilemma some face in seeing truth within a title, is based on their previous experiences that are founded on their sole perspective. Finding the truth requires a glance into the lives of others, enough time spent to understand the definition from a new vantage point.

Most creatives I’ve met are more responsible than their logical counterparts. The artisan, who shows up late to a function because he is emerged in the deep and intense development of an idea that will soon enrich humanity, is far more responsible than the person gloating about his logic because he managed to maintain a certain status quo on behalf of society.

Society demands of its artists that they move our culture forward, while demanding of those exuding logic to carefully maintain and preserve our current way of life.

The airplane pilot is a great example of a calm logical person assigned to sustain our status quo at all costs. When boarding a plane, no one asks the pilot to experiment with flight control during the trip. Nor do they request an adventurous ride that is sure to catch them off guard and spin their life into an exhilarating experience worth weeks of water cooler conversation.

We want our pilots to be mundane. Our expectations are for them to find the least risky path for the plane, avoiding even the slightest turbulence when possible. We also want every decision they make to be founded on a depth of experience and logic that is seldom argued. When all is said and done, the pilot is “responsible” when he delivers nothing more than safe passage and a smooth ride.

The creative on the other hand is pressed by society to exert every level of risk in bringing us something completely new and innovative. With hundreds of new television series released this year we all gravitate to the few that take the audience to places they’ve never been and reveal wonders of life and times they’ve never experienced. We demand the fresh ideas from our creative at any cost.

When he is tardy to social events, most chastise the creative because he didn’t meet the logical or responsible time frame for attendance. They forget that the creative is only late when he is deeply emerged in creating elements for our future. In fact, the amount of energy it takes a creative to not give in to the distractions of the event later that day, but instead hunker down to the hard work of creating the next big thing is perplexing.

To understand that the artist, who doesn’t live by logical standards, is actually responsible by creative standards is accomplished by seeing how the two work together. The balance or synergy between the two types of people moves us to a new level in life and maintains it until the next breakthrough. The forerunner to the smart phone is a great example of combined efforts.

A creative person dreamt up the Star Trek communication device, which appeared in the television series that promoted a universe where people of all races were accepted, worked as a team and kept in communication using a wireless flip phone type of device. It was the due diligence of the creative that took responsibility to avoid distractions and instead put in the hard hours of brainstorming to create the vision.

A logical man bought into the dreams demonstrated in each episode of the telecast. He put his electrical engineering degree to the test and soon invented the personal Star TAC wireless phone that flipped open just like the device on the show. He had taken responsibility to turn the fantasy into reality using the mundane principles he had mastered. With over 60 million units sold, our world quickly changed.

Two responsible people with great differences in the way they perceive life teamed to launch the popular demand of communication devices. The creative birthed the vision and through the magic of television demonstrated its use. The logical bought into the vision and turned the dream into reality. Together society moved forward.

So why is it that many logical people think the procrastinating creative isn’t being responsible when he consistently delivers ideas that shake and alter our future? After all, creatives need that down time to increase the productivity of their creations. The irony is actually seen in the artist’s perspective who always appreciates the responsible engineer that turns his fantasies into reality.

Why does mutual respect between the two never happen? Actually, it does happen. Most engineers love working with creatives because they love to work the puzzle of design into reality.

It’s the general public that attributes great responsibility and excellence to the logical process and little to the artistic process. Yet, the general public spends a third of their 24 hour day viewing and using things developed by the creative. It’s absolutely ironic.

The creative takes the responsibility to procrastinate, brainstorm and dive deep into figuring out how his vision will be structured for the next big thing, but few recognize the value of it until they can hold or watch the final product. Of course, once the final product exists the public acknowledges the diligence of the logical persons who turned the dream into reality and forget about the creative who put in incredible amounts of emotional energy to birth the idea in the first place.

Still, the creative takes responsibility to continue his efforts regardless of the missing applause for his due diligence. Yep, creatives are more responsible because they create regardless of the missing pats on the back.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers