When Your Muse is Missing

doubleyolkThis morning I cracked open a couple of eggs for an omelet and was delighted to find that one of my eggs had a double yolk. I quickly looked up the odds, which I thought would’ve been one in a million, to see why the old tales of good fortune turned the event into a sign of good luck. I was shocked to learn the odds were only 1:1,000. I even saw a man’s picture of 11 double yolk eggs in a frying pan—almost a perfect dozen.

The moment inspired me to write a blog entry referencing this new muse of mine. Oh, it wasn’t stirring enough to write a passionate post, but it was enough to get my gears moving. I decided that if I was able to turn a silly little event into the spark of creative thought, there must be a simple trick to help creatives develop something when his or her muse is missing.

Use A System

“When the creative muse isn’t around, look for systems and strategies to generate good ideas.”
—Jim Jaskol, Ride Control Engineer

I’ll never forget the system I was taught in the Bell Labs Think Tank. The instructor had us look over a new product that was ready for release. He wanted us to brainstorm 100 ways the device could be used. “Once you run out of ideas,” he said. “Think about its use from the perspective of your grandmother. And then from the viewpoint of a child, and so on.” The product released six months later promoted from two perspectives, one of which I had brainstormed. It was a thrilling experience, thanks to the instructor’s system.

Engage In Educational Play

“Understand the problem, do the research, play hard looking for the potential options, sleep on it, and let your subconscious do the rest. Great solutions make a wonderful breakfast.”
—Bobby Brooks, Concept Architect

The number of times I have a great idea pop into my brain during my morning shower is too numerous to count. There is something about playful exploration that continues to reside in your brain well into your slumber that activates the right side of the brain. I can attest to how the brain works while you’re asleep to solve the problem playfully pondered that day. But for it to work, the left side of the brain must first understand the problem and what a solution might look like. Then sleeptime gives rise to the right side of the brain with no limitations.

Create An Environment

“You can’t flip a switch and make someone else creative, but you can set up an environment in which the switch is more often on.”
—Alex Wright, Show Designer

The first time I wandered through an animation studio I couldn’t help but notice all the toys and gadgets cluttering the creative’s work space. There was enough unique stimulus to power multiple feature length films. Several years later I was working as a consultant at Kraft Global Foods and found their new office space designed for creatives to be off the charts. The entire environment didn’t have any hint of “office” in it. The space was designed to feel vacation-like, while being broken up by inspirational and motivational designs to stimulate the workforce. Within minutes of being in that space the Vice President and I solved the five-year-old problem.

Originality comes from the juxtaposition of systems, educational play, and environment. While having a muse simplifies the development of an idea, how we address creativity when the muse is missing determines how consistent we are and how professionally we can create on demand.

Can you imagine how this post was inspired by double egg yolks showing up in my omelet this morning? For my logical friends, I’m sorry that you can’t see the connection, or how one led to the other. But you can rest assured that my omelet was very tasty.

© 2018 by CJ Powers


The Misunderstood Creative (pt. 1)

yard saleI get tired of being misunderstood. My sister aptly put it, “You think the exact opposite way of me.” Of course, she said this after being surprised that I did something counter intuitive to what she would’ve done. The thing I found the most amusing was the look of surprise on her face.

Since she knows that I think differently, I’m still trying to figure out why she always assumes that I’d respond in the same way she does. The juxtaposition of her thoughts and comments makes me wonder if the people who misunderstand me are subconsciously trying to stick me into a box that makes them feel comfortable.

Neurologists have confirmed in numerous studies that highly creative people think and act differently than the average person. One white paper was clear that the brain is physically wired differently. I’ve been told that 1 in 10,000 people are highly creative, but I haven’t heard how many of those people are in a position to create something that impacts our society.

The numbers are staggering and suggest that most people don’t even know a highly creative person, especially since the creatives tend to clump together in the arts. Out of those who do know one, those who also love them have probably experienced moments when they seem to be living in a completely different world, which they do.

The key is that trying to change them or fit them into a box that’s comfortable for the average person only creates problems. Instead, the average person is better off trying to understand them. Here are a few ideas that can help bring understanding to the thoughts and actions of the misunderstood creative.

1. Watch the Wheels Turn. Friends from time to time ask me the question, “Don’t you ever give your mind a rest?” Whenever they look at me they can see the gears in my mind grinding away on some creative notion or perspective.

Even while I’m typing this blog I’m contemplating how to help an automotive firm win a marketplace ethics award for 2018. The wheels rarely stop, but they do slow down at times. It’s something people close to a creative should always remember.

2. Always Asking “What If?” The creative is curious. If he asks you a question its typically to learn, not to make a point or to test your resolve. The more information a creative collects, the more likely he is able to come up with something new for society.

Unfortunately the creative’s friends sometimes think they’re under interrogation, but in reality the creative respects them enough to ask lots of questions. By asking “what if” type questions, the creative easily shifts his perspective to many different angles, which gives way to new unique solutions.

I once attended a think tank meeting with 25 creative people at a Fortune 50 company. Our task was to come up with 100 ways a specific invention could be used. Within the first 60 seconds many people came up with two-dozen ideas. By the end of five minutes several people had exhausted their ideas with about 40 – 50 solutions. I had filled in all 100 slots on my paper and asked, “What if the paper had 200 slots on it?” I started to write in the margins.

3. Embracing Their Genius. Creatives tend to embrace who they are more than being understood. Staying true to oneself for the sake of integrity always outweighs the bling or offers associated with compromise. In fact, they are so focused on being who they are that they seldom climb into the box others suggest will help them in life—most don’t even realize the box is being offered.

Two years ago I was given an opportunity to make a faith-based film and I turned it down. People thought I was nuts for not compromising so I could make a theatrical picture. The problem was that I know what kinds of stories resonate with me and those are the stories I want to make. Anything else wouldn’t be in keeping with who I am.

4. Follow the Flow. Projects seem to ebb and flow with creatives. Big gaps in efforts seem to happen out of the blue followed by almost manic surges of incredible brilliance. This isn’t because the creative is bipolar. Creatives incubate their ideas in a way that cause most people to think they are inactive—forgetting that they think differently with gears that never stop.

When my kids were growing up, we found ourselves standing in a long line waiting for food. A comment about being bored came up. I pointed out that life was not boring, there are only boring people. The kids quickly learned how to fill their waiting in line time with creative and fun thoughts. To the average person, my kids were well behaved and standing in line quietly, while my kids were actually on great adventures.

5. Quiet Time. No matter how extroverted the creative is he still needs some quiet time alone. This helps him recharge his batteries and bounce back with more energy than before—filled with new innovative ideas.

Every time I came home from Walt Disney World (WDW) my family could tell where my business trip had taken me. WDW is one place on earth that refills my creativity and I come home with hundreds of great ideas. It’s a place that amps up my creative juices and allows me to freely flow through and past ideas that no one has ever shared before.

This coupled with a need to have a quiet Saturday morning for recharging from the day to day, gives me a new lease on life with a fresh new perspective. The idea of being bathed in creative freedom is inspirational to my soul. And, this creativity blooms all the more on a movie set. Oh, I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you it is positively true.

(Click Here to Read Part 2)

© 2017 by CJ Powers