Does it matter how fast you go?

In the medium sized room that is my office I have at least 7 ways of telling time, not counting calendars or special apps for timing or tracking time or “managing” time, or the various messages about time that I might hear from various project materials, office records, administrative flotsam, even the voice mail light on the phone.
 The message is clear in most of our environments. Time awareness is important to us. Time is one of our most valuable experiences, and we may experience time as a scarce resource.
 So we feel pressed, and think we must hurry sometimes or all if the time, believing that hurrying is somehow a solution to the problem that we experience as time.
 When you are doing creative work, do you ever hurry, or feel hurried?
 Is that helpful or harmful to your creative process, or does it matter?
 Or do you find that hurry precludes creativity, shuts it down, rips it off of the table?
 Go even a little further. Does hurry in your life, even far removed from your times of apparently creative work, add to or take away from your ability to do creative work, do it as well as you believe you can, or do it joyfully?
 If you hurry through some of the parts of your day that don’t seen to matter so much, does the speed win back some time to do the work that does seem to matter? Is that where you actually end up spending the time, and is it good time?

Is this your creative work or someone else’s?

Does the creative project you’re working on, trying to work on, or feeling you should be working on actually belong to you?

Are you painting the kind of picture that you think will bring you recognition or customers or self-respect? If that’s a result of the creative product, how lovely. If it’s the real engine behind why you’re doing this and not something else, when exactly are you going to start doing your own work instead of someone else’s?

Are you starting or running a business because it’s what others think you were meant to do?

Are you working on an invention that fired you up months or years ago, but for which you have no lingering fire in the belly? Is it the work of a you that once was, or for the people who know you were once excited about it and who expect you to finish it and make them proud?

The creative work we do as an employee or student may be largely constrained by what others want, need and expect.

But the creative work we call our own, whether within someone else’s structure or solely under our own steam must be ours truly if we hope to bring true creative joy and genius to the process and outcome. This is the stuff of satisfying contribution and creative delight.

Do you have the courage to stop doing someone else’s work so you can have the space to do your own?

Doing everything but what you really want

A principle of many diets is that we should go ahead and eat a moderate amount of what we really crave. Otherwise we will eat our way through a lot of other food we didn’t really want, trying to satisfy a hunger that won’t quiet until we have the thing we actually crave.

However useful that food principle is, it can be a powerful level for finding out how to shift how we spend out time so it better reflects how we want to experience our lives.

Do you buy books that you don’t have time to read, when you’re really buying the fantasy that if you own the book you will actually have a long stretch of time in which to read it? Even being aware that this is what I’m doing, I find myself here again and again.

Is your reading time spent in less than satisfying ways? Do you over-consume news, blogs in the escape topic of your choice, social media posts, or other short forms that leave you feeling mentally jagged and undernourished? I can relate. The same amount of time might have given us the satisfaction of a chapter or two in a good book, an enlightening but lengthy professional article I actually want to read, or something else intentional and memorable and long enough to lose ourselves in. When we spend time in the stories and information sources that strengthen or refresh us, we stop being just content consumers and go back to being readers. Do you ever miss being a reader?

What else do we do instead of what would really satisfy or move us forward?

We space out in front of a screen, randomly and perhaps fretfully clicking, scanning, viewing things, hoping to stumble into an experience of engaged or rewarding relaxation.

We may think we’re playing, shopping, reading or connecting, relaxing, winding down, staying informed, but how often is that true in an intentional, useful and really rewarding way?

Often we are too tired or distracted to figure out what we really want or need. Or we are keeping ourselves from starting the actually rewarding activity we really crave (sleep? reading? creative work? conversation? time in nature? exercise?).

What we would really find rewarding might well be found on a screen, but do we do the work of figuring out what that is and focusing there, or do we just place ourselves in front of the tv, tablet, phone or game station and hope we will magically stumble across what we really need at the moment.

Like mindless or displaced eating, shopping or even working, the hope and expectation of the magical appearance of genuine satisfaction if we will just place ourselves in a promising environment is one of our crazier and more wasteful forms of self-delusion. The abdication of awareness and choice is generally unsatisfying in any context, but do we really want to spend much of our unstructured time asleep at the wheel of choice?

Do we think we just don’t have the time for what we crave–a long nap or long novel, perhaps, or quality time with our creative project or our loved ones–so we refuse to take smaller bites? We’re taking small bites of something, why not let it be something we have chosen with some care, discernment and self-awareness?

Do we feel we haven’t earned what we really want–perhaps because we feel we haven’t accomplished enough yet, or we have wasted time, or we are behind on so many commitments? Because we don’t deserve the luxury of time with what we really want, we don’t give it to ourselves. But then do we go unconscious about what we do instead, either in unsatisfying busy-ness or fake relaxation, so in the end nothing is gained–neither our shoulds or our desires?

Certainly one person’s misplaced activity or downtime is another person’s genuine delight or refreshment, but the quick or reflexive fix for our time needs tends to be no fix at all.

We can be like fractious toddlers, seemingly unable to provide for ourselves what we really need, or even unable to know what that is. That leaves us whining or thrashing miserably, presumably at the mercy of the outside forces that block us from having what we really need.

We often kill our own happiness, creativity and flow this way. These not-really-what-I-wanted choices are a perfect place to begin practicing awareness and choice and to turn the time around in our favor.

What would you do with creative genius ?

Creative genius is a controversial idea.

In the past decade or so ideas about all sorts of genius are moving away from exceptional giftedness ( you’re specially able or you’re not, a genetic lottery ticket) and toward practice-makes-brilliance (many thousands of hours of focused, deliberate practice bring mastery and exceptional performance).

While studying Einstein’s life and work, I was struck by the circumstance of ordinary people carried away by exceptional passion. Passion or fascination for something leads naturally to exceptional numbers of hours thinking about and working with the object of passion.

I no longer view genius as something delivered to a few of us, outside our control, a matter of luck or curse depending on how it works out for us individually. I do think we have some inherent proclivities which set us apart from each other, and which probably come to us from a nature-nurture combination. I don’t think these proclivities are the whole picture in genius, though, but more likely a sort of direction finder or nudge toward a particular sort of fascination and type of effort.

Now I believe most genius comes largely from interest and choice, and to some extent opportunity, rather than relying solely on mysterious quirks of fortunate ability.

Whatever we believe about genius has an impact on what we attempt and what we achieve. It’s old news that school teachers who assume a particular set of students will excel find that they actually tend to do just that, and vice versa.

Just as a mental exercise, believe for now that you are capable of creative genius.

It doesn’t matter if you already own this belief or if it’s a what-if exercise. Also doesn’t matter if you believe in the genetic lottery theory, the divine gift theory, or the pay-attention-and-practice theory.

Just assume for now you’re capable of creative genius. It’s yours.

Now, what would you like to create with that creative genius?

Answer these questions quickly and without arguing with yourself about them.

You may need to get over yourself for the moment, ignoring your fears about your abilities, resources, feasibility, uncertainties, and what others will expect and accept from you.

It’s ok if your answers are inconsistent among the five questions. This is an exploration, not an admissions exam.

It’s especially ok if you don’t know the answers. Most likely your answers to most or all of the questions will be I don’t know!

Fine. It’s true. It also doesn’t matter. Say I don’t know! , then write down an answer, whatever strange or unlikely thing comes to mind. We won’t hold you to any of it.

*** *** *** ***

1. You’re receiving an award for your remarkable creative contributions.

What is the reward? If it doesn’t exist, make it up. Be creative, for heavens sake. Just for now you’re a creative genius.

2. Your creative work is the cover story in a media outlet you respect.

What’s the traditional or digital newspaper, magazine, trade journal, tv show, company newsletter, YouTube channel, TED talk venue, or what have you? (Again, make it up if you need to.)

What’s the headline or topic title?

3. You’re being photographed with your work (a book, a painting, a design, a music score, a photo-journalistic story) or some representation of it (a logo for your entrepreneurial venture, a model representing your engineering feat).

Describe the work you’re showing, or at least something about what it’s about (a memoir, a screenplay, a cartoon strip, leadership in a space exploration mission, a new technology that solves a particular environmental problem, a methodology for teaching music to very young children, a diplomatic negotiation that expands peace efforts in a certain region of the world, a new approach to animal training, an interior design project that expresses beauty and function according to your unique sense of style. What?).

4. Imagine yourself at work on some creative project that fascinates or compels you. It can be after your work has achieved fame or fortune (see the first three questions), or long before it is completed.

Describe the environment where you’re working, as well as the materials and possibly the people you’re working with.

You may be in an urban loft office space with a small team of enterprising architectural engineers; in your easy chair with a sketch pad; on a solitary walk in the woods thinking thoughts of poetry, philosophy, or quantum craziness; in a dance studio with a company of talented modern dancers, and you’re the visionary; in a war zone with a camera; in a neo-corporate warren of cubicles where sandled feet, pets brought to work and amazing coffee define a work home to those of you who are inventing the next generation of computing platforms; in a healthcare environment where you are comforting sick kids or bringing them hope….you get the idea. Where are you?

If you don’t easily see yourself in a particular working environment and context, just make up one where you might like to find yourself creatively playing one day.

5. Now describe how you felt while imagining actually doing and sharing this work or these projects (open, excited, energized, scared, comfortable, right, important, humbled, curious, dazzled, buzzed, challenged, confused, surprised, belonging, playful, what?)

*** *** *** ***

Pencils down.

What did you notice about what your personal creative genius might like to play with? What were some of the themes in the type of work, the products and contributions, the environments that you imagined?

Are you already playing in or toward any of these creative sandboxes?

If you’re already spending time in your sandbox, have you yet had the courage to work on the thing that really calls upon your particular genius?

If not, will you get started today?

This week?

This year?

This lifetime?

What will you do with your own creative genius?

What do you have that we’re waiting for?

The good stuff: Persistence

While I was doing my doctoral thesis on Einstein’s work, one of the top five things that impressed me was the awful, critical need to survive the long slog, the longest period in any deeply creative project, or indeed deeply creative life, when it’s just not fun and it often seems for nothing, but without which there will be nothing.

Surviving the slog is much about persistence, as illustrated in this generous, slightly raw story about a fiction writer who is struggling, succeeding, and defining it all through the lens of persistence.

This is the truest thing I’ve read all week.

My favorite tidbit from the story:

I’d soon realize persistence wasn’t an end game. It was the name of the road.

Persistence isn’t something we employ in order to get there , wherever that may be. It isn’t something we do for long enough with the reward that at last we can be done with persisting. It is the road.

As long as we have a question to answer, a vision to make real, a direction we want to head in, there will be a long slog. We can choose to persist, or we can give up caring deeply about anything. May we long be fortunate enough to care deeply.

Ten things I want for you

My fascination is understanding how new ideas, discoveries, inventions, expressions and other creations of useful originality are accomplished and experienced by the individuals who pursue them from spark to finish.
 What I want for you, one of those people who want to create the whole spark to finish adventure for yourself, or experience it more often or with less pain and drama, is this:
 I want for you
 1. To find your areas of fascination, or to help them find you.
 2. To make room for noticing and for creating more, spark to finish.
 3. To know that it’s not those other people who can and do create, contribute and break through. You don’t need to see yourself as special enough. You just need to see that those guys really aren’t that special. It’s not about special.
 4. To make the processes of creation and breakthrough familiar territory.
 5. To experience the practices of creation and breakthrough as routine.
 6. To successfully work through the difficult periods of finding footing, slogging, completing, launching.
 7. To create your own preferred mix of work and play, fascination and routine, personal mission and attending to others.
 8. To notice the personal transformations that accompany creative work.
 9. To be aware that in following your creative instincts you are expressing, or becoming more of, who you really are.
 10. To make creative contributions in the area of your fascination. To get it done. To launch it to us. To let us benefit from your work, your passion, your fascination.

Does it matter if creativity is useful?

Super Bowl Sunday approaches.

What I do about that is remember to ask someone who will be playing, so I’m not completely blank when faced with a conversational reference in the following week. Lately, though, the after-game conversations will be as much about the remarkably creative commercials as about the game or contestants.

Is a buzz-worthy commercial worthy of being called creative even if the business results of the advertisement don’t turn out to be worth the expense?

What about the occasional as that’s memorable, but we can’t remember what was actually being advertised. Does that matter to the creative value of the ad itself?

Creativity is generally defined as something new (original) and useful (including aesthetic value), both of which criteria have subjective elements.

But how important is it that the creation is valued by anyone besides the creator?

How much does it matter if the most engaging and fresh Super Bowl ad this year is also highly effective at promoting the product or most closely aligned with the company’s marketing or communications strategies?

If it’s clever, fun, unique and popular, does an ad deserve to be considered the most creative of the bunch even if it could be shown that other ads were better aligned with company strategy and resulted in higher sales volumes or profits

A recent study of what makes for award-winning creativity in advertising suggested that originality was more important than business-appropriate strategy in predicting award-winning ad campaigns.

Is that fair?

Is it true or fair in your field?

Is originality the primary factor, or should it be, in literary prizes, art awards or scientific honors?

Originality is not negotiable in creative work, but either is it sufficient in most cases, advertising awards aside.

This can be a contentious issue for people who equate creativity mostly or completely with originality, and can lead to attention-seeking by means of outrageous uniqueness, and to disappointment and sometimes outrage when the creative work doesn’t reach the commercial or success the maker believes it deserves for the brilliant (?) originality of the work.

Sometimes a creative person will equate the requirement of usefulness with mercenary values that lead to “selling out” as an artist.

Ultimately the creative person will need to align their work with their own values and make their own peace with the resulting alignment or nonalignment with judges, critics and markets.

How much does it matter to your work that it is aligned with the criteria for usefulness in your field?

Creativity loves company

One of the most enjoyable and effective ways to consciously construct a creativity-inducing environment is to be around creative people doing their creative things.
 Ideally this is done carbon-based, in real life 3D, but virtual is a fine substitute or supplement.
 The creative company you keep need not be related to the kind of creative work you do. In fact it helps and invigorates to watch or be around creative work completely unrelated to yours.
 My creative work is primarily writing and coaching. My creative heart is ignited by attending the symphony to see and hear the conductor and musicians work a kind of creative magic that humans have been transported by since our earliest history.
 Watching great TED talks online is not only informative and entertaining, I am inspired by the experience created by the speakers who design their talks with passion and technical expertise.
 Talking with artists about their work when I visit their booths at community festivals leaves me in awe and full of respect for a form of creative work that I believe will always be foreign to me.
 Watching How This Film Was Made documentaries is often more fun for me than the film itself. The vocal tone and eye quality of the various creative people who are interviewed about their contributions links me to their experience of their own artistic processes. Footage of these artists in action likewise gives me new insights into how so many different art makers approach their work, solve their creative dilemmas and deliver their art to the world.
 What kind of company is your creative self keeping?

All the time you need

What if you have all the time you need to do your creative work and creative play?
 Not what if you had all the time you need. What if you have it, already, even if you can’t see it or find it, don’t own or or deserve it, don’t have evidence or permission. But you have it and you know it.
 What if that is true?
 What is then possible?

Being there vs Getting there

We tend to think of characteristics in the absolute of the verb to be.

You are courageous.
I am patient.
She is outrageous.

Except we probably weren’t always thus. We became thus.

It’s a small distinction, easily missed and undervalued. I noticed it again when I read this phrase in the subtly brilliant Breaking Out (John Butman):

You become willing to separate yourself from current thinking

That is, by the way, a great question to pose to yourself now or at any time. Are you willing?

While you ponder whether you are willing, notice that the statement actually asks us to test if we have become willing.

The implications:

1. There is a range of this characteristic. We need not be fully, perfectly, certifiably willing, courageous, patient or outrageous in order to be so. For if we become these things, we started from a state of not being these things significantly enough to claim and proclaim them. We went from zero or a small degree to some remark-worthy degree. And presumably we can gain further degrees if we choose. We don’t have to be all-the way there in order to own and use some trait or situation.

2. Following from #1, a journey is implied. Inside a journey likely much will be learned, experienced, contributed, synthesized, created, observed. In other words, having to grow into a characteristic or condition has much to recommend it, even though most of us would prefer our desired state to be automatic, pre-existing, or by the quick-and-easy button.

3. Those other people–our heroes, models, objects of envy–who possess this characteristic or condition that we want and need, also became so. While some attitudes, skills, traits, and so forth may be to some extent innate or early wired into us, or rather into those lucky others, a lot of practice and polishing (and fumbling and failing) went into the development of that condition into something that is owned, that is a source of strength, honor or success.

This is a nice shift to try on next time you are confronted with a question or accusation (most often from within) about the stuff you’re made of.

Are you authentic, innovative, reliable, ingenious–whatever it is that you’re about to get squirmy about because you just can’t shout Yes, you bet I am!–can shift to Have you become, or are you becoming so?

When you admire or envy the person who really has this trait (in your perception), you can shift from she is so on top of things and they are such a strong partnership to she became on top of things and they became strong partners. None of them started out that way, and none of them are all the way there.

The possibility and the doorway to what’s next are not found in to be. Possibility and what’s next are the province of to become.