In this issue, we’ve set out to help you understand the nature of creativity and how to develop it at the personal and organizational level. We hope to convince you that creativity is not something with which you are born. It is something that can be developed by opportunity, encouragement, training, motivation, and most of all –practice.
Success in business today demands that we constantly innovate. We must continually reinvent our organizations and ourselves, dissolving old ideas and creating new models for changing markets. We must continually look for the next opportunity by finding hidden connections and insights into new products or services. Creativity is a requirement.
Savvy managers understand that brainpower is their most valuable resource and that harnessing creativity requires passion and commitment. The payoff is big – as success flows directly from innovation!
The conference room at TWC is plastered floor to ceiling with whiteboards. When one of us gets stuck we go into the conference room, alone or with a colleague, to map out the issue and get a new perspective. Just freeing ourselves to work in a big informal space, make problems visual, and use some color and drawing frequently leads to new and creative insights. To find out how your organization can ignite the creative spark and foster innovation, read on.
It’s Not a Gift; It’s a Habit Formula for Creativity Involves Preparation and Effort
Creativity: it’s not a gift from the gods bestowed by some divine and mystical spark. Rather, it is the product of preparation and effort. It’s a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.
That’s the premise behind Twyla Tharp’s new book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life. Tharp should know a lot about creativity – she is one of America’s greatest choreographers and a very successful businesswoman. She takes the lessons she has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career and shares them with her readers.
Tharp tells us that creativity is not just for artists. “It’s for businesspeople looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.” She claims, “It takes skill to bring something you’ve imagined into the world! No one is born with skill. It is developed through exercise, through repetition, through a blend of learning and reflection that’s both painstaking and rewarding. It takes time.”
Here’s a peek at some of the practical advice she offers.
Routine is as much a Part of the Creative Process as the Lightning Bolt of Inspiration
To get the creative habit, you need a working protocol that’s habit-forming. Tharp touts the rituals of preparation. For her, it’s rolling out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and hailing a Manhattan taxi to take her to the gym for a two-hour workout. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training she puts her body through each morning; the ritual is the cab. “The moment I tell the driver where to go, I have completed the ritual.” She believes that it is vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive patterns of behavior – at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at the peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up or going the wrong way. For Tharp, turning something into a ritual eliminates the question: Why am I doing this? “By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it’s too late to wonder why I’m going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed. The cab is moving. I’m committed. Like it or not, I’m going to the gym.” Her morning workout ritual arms her with confidence, jumpstarting her creativity.
To Help You Focus on a Project, Consider Subtracting Things from Your Life
Before Tharp begins a big project, she tries to place herself “in a bubble of monomaniacal absorption where I’m fully invested in the task at hand.” She lists the biggest distractions of her life and makes a pact with herself to do without them for a week. Here are some of the things she suggests that you consider cutting out: television, the Internet, mirrors, clocks, numbers, and music. She believes that subtracting your dependence on some things you take for granted increases your independence. “It’s liberating,” she says, “forcing you to rely on your own ability rather than your customary crutches. The act of giving something up does not merely clear time and mental space to focus you; it too can become a ritual.”
Before You can Think Out of a Box, You Have to Start with a Box
A box, the kind you buy at Office Depot for transferring files, is Tharp’s solution for an organizing system. She starts every dance she choreographs with a box. “I write the project name on the box and as the piece progresses, I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance.” For Tharp, this means a card with the project’s goal(s), notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of her working alone in her studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books, photographs and pieces of art that may inspire her. For Tharp, the box “makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet.” It also represents a commitment. “The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work.” The box also means that she doesn’t worry about forgetting.” One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn’t write it down and put it in a safe place. I don’t worry about that because I know where to find it. It’s all in the box.” Tharp notes one final benefit to the box: it gives you a chance to look back. The box gives you the opportunity to reflect on your performance. “Dig down through the boxes archaeologically and you’ll see a project’s beginnings.” Ask yourself: How did I do? Did I get to my goal? Did I improve on it? Did I change along the way? Could I have done it all more efficiently?” Tharp contends that, in the end, “your box is proof that you have prepared well.”
Scratch for the Small Idea
When you first begin a project, you must dig through everything to find something. Big ideas are all around you, but when you can’t wait for the thunderbolt to hit you, you must scratch for a small idea. Twyla Tharp gets started on most of her new dances by scratching for the idea. “A dance doesn’t hit me whole and complete. Inspiration comes in molecules of movement, sometimes in a nanosecond. A quick combination of three steps is an idea.” And from that idea, she builds her dances. “When I’m scratching, I’m improvising,” she says. She likens it to a jazz musician jamming for an hour to find a few interesting notes; a choreographer looks for interesting movements. Tharp believes that there are as many ways to scratch for ideas as there are ideas. To get you started, consider:
Reading. It’s your first line of defense against an empty head. Reading generates ideas, because you’re literally filling your head with ideas and letting your imagination filter them for something useful. “If I stopped reading,” says Tharp, “I’d stop thinking. It’s that simple.”
Everyday conversation. If you listen, you will hear ideas. Tharp recounts how Paul McCartney and John Lennon spontaneously wrote “Eight Days a Week” after being inspired by a comment that a chauffeur made when McCartney asked, “How’ve you been?” “Working hard,” said the driver, “working eight days a week.” That comment became the launch of “Ooh I need your lovin’…”
People’s handiwork. Take a stroll through a museum; go to a theatre or an exhibition. Inspiration abounds.
Mentors and Heroes. Use the paradigms of your mentors and heroes as a starting point. Ask yourself, “How would they solve this problem?” But, be careful, warns Tharp, not to turn yourself into an imitator rather than a creator.
Nature. Step outside. Observe wildlife, plants, and sunsets. Mother Nature is a wonderful source for scratching.
Tharp sums it up this way: “Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.”
Prepare to be Lucky
There is a fine line between good planning and over planning. You never want the planning to inhibit the natural evolution of your work. “In order to be habitually creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative,” says Tharp, “but good planning alone won’t make your efforts successful; it’s only ” after you let go of your plans that you can breathe life into your efforts. Tharp tells us that creative endeavors can never be thoroughly mapped out ahead of time. “You have to allow for the suddenly altered landscape, the change in plan, the accidental spark – you have to see it as a stroke of luck rather than a disturbance of your perfect scheme.” She tells us that you don’t get lucky without preparation, and there’s no sense in being prepared if you’re not open to the possibility of a glorious accident.
Build Your Creativity on a Foundation of Skill
Tharps reminds us: Great composers are usually dazzling musicians. A great chef can chop and dice better than anyone in his kitchen. The best fashion designers are invariably virtuosos with a needle and thread. The best writers are well-read people. A successful entrepreneur can do everything and anything – stock the warehouse, negotiate with vendors, develop a product, close a deal, placate an unhappy customer. Her point is that all these people have mastered the underlying skills of their creative domain, and built their creativity on the solid foundation of those skills. “Skill is how you close the gap between what you see in your mind’s eye and what you can produce: the more skill you have, the more sophisticated and accomplished your ideas can be.”
Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut
“It’s going to happen sometimes: despite all the good habits you’ve developed, preparation rituals, the organizational tools, the techniques for scratching for ideas, there will come a time when your creativity fails you,” acknowledges Tharp. You are in a rut. Tharp offers a three-step process for dealing with ruts: First, you have to see the rut. Second, admit you’re in a rut. Third, get out of the rut. It’s this third part that is hard. “Knowing and admitting a problem are not the same as solving it,” acknowledges Tharp. “But executing a solution is also the fun part because the solution saves you and gets you moving again.”
The Long Run
Tharp tells us that there is no long run for a creative life without devotion, commitment, and persistence. “When creativity has become your habit; when you’ve learned to manage time, resources, expectations, and the demands of others; when you understand the value and place of validation, continuity, and purity of purpose – then you’re on the way to an artist’s ultimate goal: the achievement of mastery.”
We hope the ideas presented here trigger you to think about how you develop your own creative habit. We’d love to hear what works for you – and what doesn’t. Click here and share your thoughts with us.
Gain a Different Perspective to See an Issue Freshly
By Judy Futch, TWC associate
“People…they just keep trotting back and forth thinking there is something better on the other side. If they would just wait quietly – something good will come along. But no – with humans, it’s rush, rush, rush, every minute.”
“So how do you do it?” Her colleague asked.
“I sit still a good part of the time and don’t go wandering all over creation. I know a good thing when I see it. I stay put and wait for what comes.”
What wise sage made these statements? Of course, it was Charlotte; the renowned web-designer from Charlotte’s Web and Wilbur, the pig that was radiant, terrific, and “some pig.”
So what can we learn from a spider? To tap into your creative side, you must begin by accepting that you have a creative side – even if you are the most linear of thinkers. We all have insights that come from our unique backgrounds and experiences. Sometimes you have to walk away, literally or figuratively, from the issue to gain insight. That may mean a physical walk, run, or swim. The rhythmical action lets your brain rest and stimulates the creative side of your brain. For some people, spending time outdoors – gardening, walking in the woods, or extended time in the wilderness, gives them insight from the natural world. The idea to repackage potato chips into a uniform shape and thickness (Pringle’s trademark) came from an observation that after a hard fall rain leaf piles were condensed to half their size. The issue? Potato chips were packaged in bags to reduce breakage but shipping was too expensive. The idea? Reduce potatoes to “mash” (like wet leaf piles), dry the mash, and “cut” uniform chips that would fit into a cylinder. Uniform potato chip shapes, uniform container, cheaper shipping costs, and all because of a walk in a fall rain!
Sometimes one of the best ways, as Charlotte suggests, is to sit and wait for what comes. It takes moving from the question of what and how…to the question of why am I focusing on this issue. What is underneath the need to create or to know? And then allowing the image to emerge.
From The Power of Appreciative Inquiry, A Practical Guide to Positive Change by Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom (Berrett- Koehler Publishers, 2003) inquiry creates change and the moment we ask a question, we begin to create a change. What are key questions that you can use to stimulate your thinking when you are in a creative funk?
- Think of a highlight from your experience when you were engaged in a creative activity (woodworking, child raising, problem-solving). What did you do? What did you feel like? What sparked that insight into the possible?
- If you were eight years old and unencumbered with the rules of the adult world, how would you look on this issue?
- What are your three hopes or wishes for you…your organization…this issue, that a creative spark will help resolve?
It helps to identify people who are your creativity catalysts – people you can call upon to exchange ideas and who stimulate your thinking and perspectives on the world. It sometimes just takes explaining the issue to someone who thinks differently, who works in a different field, who views the world somewhat differently to re-ignite your creative spark. It’s there. Like Charlotte, you may just need to gain a different perspective to see the issue freshly.
Jump in the Shower to Jump Start Creativity
Why is it that inspiration often strikes while you are lathering up in the shower? Does something magical happen when you blend soap, water, steam, and a few minutes alone? Turns out, the answer is “yes.”
A recent article in Inc. offers this explanation: According to clinical psychologist Joshua Coleman, “Creativity requires an attitude that is a paradoxical blend of attention and relaxation.” What better place to cultivate such an attitude than the shower? Steven M. Smith, a cognitive psychologist at Texas A&M. describes it this way: As we scrub, “our minds revert to a sort of neutral state in which we are receptive to issues or themes that bother us or that are unresolved.” The author of the Inc. article, Alison Stein Wellner, speculates that as our minds wander as the water beats down, “it is easier to entertain playful thoughts. In most cases, these playful thoughts lead to nothing, and you leave the shower all wet. But on occasion, you’ll hit on something really great.”
The shower is a near-perfect environment in other ways, too. Assuming you are showering alone, you are in a personal space, free from anxiety, negative feedback, and other distractions. Your relaxed mind is free to generate and sort creative ideas.
Now that you know this, you needn’t feel guilty about spending a few extra minutes alone with your soap and your thoughts in the shower. It could be a “Eureka!” moment.
Lessons from an Expert
Hewlett-Packard Company, a leading global provider of computing and imaging solutions and services, holds “invention” at the heart of its core values. Its culture is based on the belief that invention depends fundamentally on creativity and that creativity is a process and a skill that can be developed and managed throughout the entire organization.
HP’s philosophy for fostering an environment for creativity and innovation is embodied in its core values – its way of thinking and a set of behaviors – published under the title: Rules of the Garage. (The reference to the ‘garage’ is to signify how and where HP started, in “the garage” at Palo Alto California, where Stanford University classmates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded HP in 1939.) Click here to find HP’s Rules of the Garage. By most accounts, they seem to be working!