Success Builders Inc. Article of The Month
January 2000

Nurturing Your Creative Genius

By Barbara Poole

Suppose I asked you to identify the most creative individual you could think of, past or present. Who would it be? Leonardo daVinci? Ben Franklin? Thomas Edison? Maybe it would be your imaginative five-year-old daughter, or your friend who turns cast-off clock parts into jewelry. For me, it might be my dad, who used to fashion coat hangers into everything from replacement cabinet hinges to lunchbox handles.

Creativity is about seeing the magic in what we’re surrounded by everyday. It’s about suspending judgement and thinking outside the proverbial box. Businesses pay for it, marketers sell it, and audiences love it. Creativity just might be the adaptive elixir for modern times.

So how creative are you? Now before you dismiss this question with a demure, "Who, me? Why, I can’t even draw a stick figure," think back to the make-believe games you played as a child. Tap water was high tea; teddy bears were your guests; and an old broom handle was the gate to your veranda. As Pablo Picasso once said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

If, as author Julia Cameron believes, creativity is the natural order of life, what gets in the way and wraps our imaginations up in dust and cobwebs? Stress is one big factor, as we go about coping with the demands and busy-ness of our lives. Self-criticism is another. We all have gremlins in our heads that censor original ideas before they ever make it to the table. Fear is a major obstacle to creativity, especially when it’s associated with what somebody else might think. Add to the list: demands for quick results, bureaucracies with outdated rules, sensory overload from mass media…….It’s a wonder we still manage to dream in our sleep.

Fortunately, creativity is a quality that can be cultivated. Just as we can develop muscle mass by exercising our bodies, we can flex our imaginations and nurture the creative genius that is lurking inside. Want some ideas?

  • Vary your routine. We are all creatures of habit, and our rituals generally serve us well. On the other hand, reliance on routine can prevent us from seeing possibilities and newness in our everyday experiences. Take a different route to work, eat lunch at a restaurant you’ve never visited, take a day off in the middle of the week and explore a small town you’ve never been to before.

  • Pay attention to your hunches. Intuition is that creative, right-brained "sense about things" that does not derive from direct knowledge or fact. Sometimes it’s accurate, and sometimes it’s not; but it’s virtually always original, and can lead to problem solutions that might otherwise elude us.

  • Be curious. One way to do this is to spend time learning about concepts and things we take for granted. How does electricity work? What makes some sounds soothing and others annoying? Why do leaves change color in the fall? Another approach is to play with "What if" thinking. What if there was no gravity? What if our school systems had unlimited sources of funding? What if they decided to close Wall Street for a two-week vacation?

  • Observe nature. Nothing that humankind has invented comes close to demonstrating the artistry, creativity and wonder that surrounds us. Notice how a flowerbud forms. Listen for the differences among birdcalls. Note how the angle of light through your backyard trees shifts as the seasons change.

  • Create idea-friendly environments at work and home. Decorate in ways that feed all of your senses and stir your imagination. Find ways to weave in vivid colors, unusual designs, varied textures, good music, plants, candles, fountains.

  • Play! Do it at work! A fellow coach, Teri-E Belf, has coined this combination "plurking". The reason why most people live for weekends is that they don’t have fun at work. Fun at work? An oxymoron, you say? Actually, smart managers realize that when people feel free to be playful, humorous and "light" at work, they are more innovative, energetic, and their productivity increases. So bring those toys into the office – yo-yo’s, slinky’s, puzzles…. and watch the place come alive!

  • Make mistakes. Lots of them! Mistakes are responsible for many of the world’s greatest discoveries and inventions. Thomas Edison could reportedly tell you 1800 ways not to build a light bulb before he finally experienced success. And Columbus discovered America thinking he had found a shorter route to India. When we lose the fear of being wrong, we release creative energy in abundance.

  • Build "think time" into your schedule. In my coaching practice I hear corporate clients repeatedly tell me that they are so busy "doing" and putting out fires that they have no time to think. That’s fine, as long as things never change and no new challenges come along. But how many of us can say that about our businesses? It’s important to be able to spin on a dime and be decisive when the need arises; it’s also important to build time for learning, processing, and true dialogue into your agenda.

Mark Twain once said "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Perhaps it’s also true that most of us are about as creative as we choose to be. What’s your choice?

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