Simple Parameters Drive Creativity

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

During the golden age of movies, which took place between 1933-1963 (some would argue it started in 1915, but the box office dollars disagree), The Hayes Motion Picture Code was in place to make sure films were wholesome and moral. I’ve read numerous accounts of directors saying that it was more rewarding to make movies prior to 1963 because the parameters placed on filmmakers by the code forced directors to be more creative—causing the films to be of a higher quality.

In talking with a Broadway producer last year, I learned that the preproduction period never exceeds 12-weeks. The reason is that the 8-12-week parameters are just the right amount of time to ensure excellence on opening day. The period is long enough for the cast to learn their songs, steps, and costume changes, and short enough to not cause anyone to get bored with the show.

Placing these types of soft parameters on projects is enough to drive the creative flow without choking out or overstressing the artists. The heightened creativity increases the entertainment value, which turns into box office dollars during the show’s run.

Unfortunately, if stress stays in play too long, not only does our creativity fail us, but we see negative side effects. According to ULifeline, an online resource for college mental health, “Emotional stress that stays around for weeks or months can weaken the immune system and cause high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and even heart disease. In particular, too much epinephrine can be harmful to your heart. It can change the arteries and how their cells are able to regenerate.”

Unwarranted or unrealistic pressures placed on employees from a boss who doesn’t understand how to encourage innovation leads to catastrophe in the areas of creativity and innovation. However, soft parameters can drive a sense of focus on a project that propels it into an active state that draws the support of the entire team.

Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar, understands that an overly stressed environment destroys the team and honing a quality environment filled with good people drives innovation. In his book, Creativity, Inc. he says, “Find, develop, and support good people, and they, in turn, will find, develop, and own good ideas.”

There is an investment in good people that must be embraced for innovation to excel. Prior to the 1980s, companies never used the lay-offs to balance the budget. Today, employees never know when some form of downsizing will put them out on the streets, making it difficult for a person to innovate. Creativity must be nurtured within companies, which requires companies to allow for failure.

If people are let go because of a mistake, the simple act of watching someone being fired hinders the entire team’s creativity. But if people are treasured and the mistake develops a clear understanding of what doesn’t work, then the team benefits from the practice and empowers others to innovate.

Catmul speaks frankly about employees when he says, “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”

The light pressure of an audience’s need or request drives quality workers to step up their creative game and produce an unexpected thrill. Empowered creatives always come up with a great solution or a better form of the requested innovation.

To have this type of success on your team, implement the following steps:

  • Lay out the simple parameters of the project (allowing complexity to come from the design, not the idea)
  • Embrace failure as a lesson learned for the next steps (never allowing fear into the creative process)
  • Empower the creatives to explore multiple possibilities (never settling for the first idea)
  • Maintain deadlines (without creating added pressure)
  • Wait expectantly for the emerging solution to solidify (the polishing process makes all the difference)
  • AND, remember that products are not finished until its release date (or a few weeks later, but rarely earlier)

A team that understands failure adds to their learning and innovation comes from play, is positioned to create something far better than originally conceived. Their empowerment comes from focused parameters and the freedom to explore. Anything opposing these key elements hinders the team’s ability to innovate.

© 2019 CJ Powers

 

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The Library of Focus

LibraryThe Art Institute of Chicago is a wonderful place to explore painting styles that have brought pleasure throughout the centuries. Some of the great classics are on display including works from Winslow Homer, Grant Wood, and Edward Hopper. Each piece of great art can capture your attention and maintain your focus for several minutes, unless you’ve experienced what I call “artistry overload.”

The last time I visited the museum, I felt the effects of artistry overload after attempting to pause at each of the 1,000 plus paintings and appreciate what the artist was attempting to communicate. My time dwindled quickly and I never got to the works of art that I appreciate most.

I did, however, learn to appreciate several new artists that most people raced past on their way to more familiar corridors. My observation that day helped me to realize that knowing when to pass or pause was essential to understanding and appreciating great art.

I first became aware of artistry overload when I visited the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Prior to attending, I had watched two documentaries on the making of the park and read a couple of behind the scenes books regarding the details missed by most vacationers. I was ready to experience the park through the eyes of the artists who created the venue.

The turnstiles spun as a large crowd moved into the park. I tried to avoid bumping into too many people as we funneled toward the entrance. I was ready to see the park with new eyes. Everything I had learned popped into my mind as I saw the very things I read about.

Glancing around, I realized that I was one of the few appreciating the full artistry of the show (“Show” being one of Disney’s four keys to a great guest experience). Most hurried past on the way to their favorite rides.

The layout of the Magic Kingdom was designed to be a show, similar to watching a movie. The first things you see are the trailers or coming attractions. When you enter through the tunnel that resides under the train tracks, you see posters on the walls featuring the coming attractions from inside the park.

Once you enter Main Street Square, it’s like watching the opening credits. The signs and windows are covered with the names of people who made the Magic Kingdom possible. For instance, above the Main Street Athletic Club are the words, “Big Top Theatrical – Claude Coats, Marc Davis, John DeCuir, Bill Justice.”

The sign honors the four men listed, three of which are Disney Legends, although they had nothing to do with any make-believe Big Top Theatrical company. Claude Coats painted all the sets for Disney’s first animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and he also worked with Imagineering to design numerous rides including Pirates of the Caribbean. Marc Davis was one of the Nine Old Men, core animators during Disney’s life.

John DeCuir was a production designer and art director who not only won three Oscars for his work on The King and I (1956), Cleopatra (1963), and Hello, Dolly! (1969), but also illustrated in watercolors numerous theme park ideas that Disney dreamt up for the Magic Kingdom. Bill Justice, who painted many of Disney’s ideas, also animated characters in Disney’s classics, but is most known for animating Thumper from Bambi (1942).

There are dozens of credits throughout Main Street that pay tribute to the park’s artists, but are only appreciated by the discerning eye. I had fun scanning Main Street’s heritage, but soon tired from all the visuals bombarding me. I was experiencing artistry overload. The more I knew and could appreciate, the slower my trek down the boulevard.

I shared what little I had accumulated concerning artistry overload to a friend, who happily suggested that I shift my focus to what I use in a library. He said, “Picture shelves upon shelves of books expanding across aisles and aisles of floor space. All of which are due appreciation at some point, but not today.”

My mind jumped to my last library visit. I headed straight for my two favorite stacks of books. One held the books on entertainment and the other on movies and filmmaking. The carpet was well worn from my many visits and the nearby table was comfortably familiar. It was a place that never overwhelmed me, as I had already perused every book on the shelves.

That was my answer. I had to return to the Art Institute of Chicago multiple times. Once to see the traveling Monet exhibit, another time to study the miniatures, which I’m so very fond of, and another time to explore one new artist. Maybe during another month I’d visit my favorite artists and then plan future explorations to improve my discerning tastes and expand my horizons.

Heading back to the Magic Kingdom with a plan created great relief. I spent three entire days exploring things that most people miss. In fact, after a discussion with a cast member, I soon found myself behind the scenes and appreciating the artistry of show far more than I could ever have imagined.

The key was seeing things from a library of focus. No longer would I see the entire library as I entered, but instead I’d focus on only the things I was ready to explore. Just as a great movie can be watched numerous times to pick up on all the director’s hidden Easter eggs, how I enter new locations with a sense of appreciation changed to only take in what I could manage on any given day.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

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Breaking the Deterrents of Creativity

StripAll too often I hear someone say that they’re not creative, but I know it’s far from the truth when I see the cool ideas they generate. What they might mean is that they are too muddled down in their own habits to see life from a new perspective. Or, they are so regimented in their schooling, which was originally designed to train students for factory work, that they find it hard to break free of their rhythm in the name of progress.

The greatest deterrent to creativity is the discipline and habits that individuals form to fit into a logical society. However, our culture is now changing and requires creativity to survive, so its time to change gears and learn how to create and innovate. Here are three steps that a person can take to increase their creativity.

1. Break Habits. People talk about how ideas pop into their head while showering or doing anything mundane like eating breakfast. Those things do tend to happen when we first get up, but soon dissipate with the rigors of a work filled day. To counter the effects of habits we need to purposely change our life patterns.

By parking in a new space, sitting in a different place during a meeting, or walking a new way back to your office can fill your senses with new observations. The fresh experience will generate unfelt reactions, altered thinking, and a form of circumstantial genius that allows you to take in data that you’ve never considered before—all of which will fuel your creativity.

The above cartoon demonstrates the breaking of a habit. The ant that said, “A,” broke the habit of repetition. The ant that joined in, albeit skeptically, by saying, “B,” supported the change. Unfortunately, the next ant was confused because he didn’t focus on the unexpected.

2. Focus on the Unexpected. Boredom sets in when we find ourselves trapped in a reoccurring scenario day after day. When we focus on the unique or unexpected circumstance, we open our minds to consider new perspectives and ideas.

The person that focuses on the newfangled experience reenergizes their faculties of observation and creativity. This also opens the door to developing new patterns that can lead to success, especially when focused on the possibilities that come from the change.

Had the 7th ant focused on the change and said, “A,” the 8th ant would have most likely said, “B”—affecting permanent change. Unfortunately the focus on the change was missing, which encouraged the 8th ant to go back to the same boring, yet comfortable pattern as usual. Creativity lost its opportunity because the last ant wasn’t willing to live in the moment.

3. Live in the Moment. The person that drives to work at the exact same time and takes the same route rarely lives in the moment. The person who lives in the moment creates fresh opportunities and experiences a heightened sense of reality that feeds his or her creative soul. The new stimulus can help us capture information in a new and exciting manner.

The freshness from living in the moment is invigorating for positive people and fear ridden for those who see the cup as almost empty. Perspective plays a major role in the fear factor, which can paralyze those who seldom see the world through the eyes of hope.

The 5th ant above was living in the moment and made an exciting change. The 6th ant was also living in the moment, but was so uncomfortable with change that he questioned the new direction by dragging his proverbial feet. The 7th ant was perplexed and didn’t want to return to the old boring life, nor did he want to support the unknown. His ability to live in the moment wasn’t based on wonder, but instead based on fear.

These three steps allow our mind to meander and draw information from various memories in a new fresh way. Being purposeful in breaking old habits like the ones that no longer serve our vision, can open us up to an unforgettable adventure. By focusing on this change and paying attention to how it unfolds empowers us to turn the unexpected into a vision-boosting rocket. And, living in the moment helps us to steer change into a positive result.

While these three steps drive creativity, it’s our participation that determines success or fear formed failure. Embrace a positive mindset and start breaking habits today.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Creating a Two-Minute Persuasive Story

The vice president of Sales and Marketing approached me a week before the big trade show. He said he’d be joining me for dinner to meet one of my clients on the first night of the conference. He also made sure I understood the severe consequences if I didn’t set up the meet-and-greet.

Just before we sat down for dinner, I introduced my client to the VP. I was surprised to learn that the president of my division was also invited, along with two other executives and their guests. The dinner for three barely fit at the table now set for eight.

Then came another surprise. The president suggested that I start my presentation before the food arrived. Presentation? What happened to the meet-and-greet? The VP instructed me to begin. I wanted to confront him, but didn’t know how, so I dove into an off-the-cuff presentation.

The client, who agreed to a meet-and-greet, not a presentation, quickly interrupted and clarified what I already knew; He couldn’t do anything until he received his next budget in six months.

It was no surprise that I returned to a pink slip back at the office and was promptly escorted out of the building. I never learned if the dinner was a set-up, but I did wonder how things might have been different had I confronted the VP. What would’ve happened if I took two minutes at the table to persuade the executives to understand that the dinner was scheduled as a meet-and-greet, and nothing more?

The most difficult situations I’ve experienced always came down to a defining moment that was either won or lost during a two minute conversation. Being able to present a persuasive viewpoint in two minutes can separate those who are embraced in business from those who are rejected.

Everyone in business can present a persuasive argument by following four simple steps that can be formulated in the moment.

  1. Define a Specific Problem. The more specific the focus, the more plausible it is to correct or improve the stated problem. General comments allow the mind to wander into various avenues of possibilities and it dilutes the prospects of an actual fix. By establishing a focused issue, the train of thought is easily followed and considered – creating a mental or emotional buy-in on the specific problem being discussed.
  1. Share a Similar Experience. By sharing a similar experience that was methodically fixed, associates can easily extrapolate the same information as a probable fix, or at least agree to a certain line of thinking that has the potential of delivering a similar result. This connection positions the associate to consider a new outcome.
  1. Share the Positive Outcome/Benefit. All ideas must be field tested to determine its potential level of success. When positive results occurred consistently using a similar model or approach, associates are more likely to vote for similar trials within the area of problematic concern. Listing the benefits received from a similar experience helps the associates paint a vision for their own testing in order to speed the possible solution and its estimated benefits.
  1. Suggest Similar Action with Specific Problem. Buy-in is typically reached during a two-minute persuasive talk that matches a similar benefit to a known problem, however, without the actual “ask” to take action, the idea will dissolve into a sea of arbitrary comments that preceded the moment. It’s critical to state the needed action and ask for a consensus to move forward on implementation.

The above steps can be shared in two minutes. Defining the problem and getting a quick buy-in will take about 45 seconds. Sharing a similar experience can take 30 – 45 seconds. The benefits achieved will take 15 – 30 seconds and the call to action only takes 15 seconds.

Using these steps during an unexpected meeting with executives will clearly demonstrate great leadership skills, an understanding of the business, and insights worthy of consideration. It may also get you promoted to the task force for follow through – A chance to demonstrate additional leadership skills.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers