Thursday, 4 November 2010

'secrets' again

Article in the Saturday Guardian, 30.10.10, entitled: 'The secret to being creative' (Work section).

Although you might believe certainty and control over your circumstances brings you pleasure, it is often uncertainty and challenge that bring the longest-lasting benefits...

And a series of bullet points:

1. seek out the new
Kashdan's dawn-till-dusk challenge involve inserting novel experiences into the daily routine to open the mind. You could listen to a new kind of music over breakfast, swap your usual newspaper for a different perspective, lunch with someone you don't usually speak to, visit an exhibition you would normally steer clear of and learn a language  or cook an exotic meal instead of turning on the tele when you fall through your front door

2. embrace new views
talk to people who may have a completely different way of thinking about an issue... instead of automatically looking at a situation from your usual stand, take a look from a different perspective whether its an unwelcome comment from a colleague or the war in Afghanistan

3. reinvent your desk
rearrange your worktop, adding an inspirational montage or motto or anything else that might shake up your apathy. 'The key is to changing your usual surroundings to find the unfamiliar in the familiar..' 

4. escape your confines
those lightbulb moments require a mulling period and that playful, rebellious spirit, and your unlikely to manage that in the office with phones and blackberries pulsing all around you. 'Find a space that works... going for a walk is a  proven way of changing your mindset to a positive and playful one'

5. stick to the here and now
if you're haunted by a pile of unanswered letters of agonising over a cock-up in conference, sort things out before you start mulling. 'Creativity is impossible if you're focussed on the past or the future...believe it or not, breathing properly, steadily, rhythmically, deeply, is a great way of focussing on the moment. Watch any athlete doing it'

6. help yourself
if your brain declines to play along, kick-start it with strategies as brainstorming or De Bono's lateral thinking. 'Find the ones that work for you.. but don't get hung up on them. Creativity is not completely conscious, rational process. Daydreaming is surprisingly effective'

You don't say! We've heard it all before, but perhaps we need to keep hearing it....

It seems to be remarkably easy to lose novelty from your life. Humans seem programmed to fall into recurring patterns and habits, safeties, securities, knowns. When did you last change the furniture round?!


  1. Or go on holiday!

    With 4 office moves in 5 years I'm getting pretty tired of shifting the furniture around. The thing with these suggestions which are supposed to make us all more creative and keep our minds flexible is that they take up time and attention. If we go on holiday we have all the time the holiday provides to do all kinds of new and stimulating things. But I'm sure you've noticed what happens when you go to stay in a foreign country for a while: you don't try to keep everything up in the air all the time, that would be exhausting. We seek routines and stability to make us feel secure and to allow us to focus on what really matters. In many ways it's habits that make a home not bricks and mortar. Maybe I'm wrong, perhaps creativity is all about making a habit of having no habits... sounds like a recipe for madness to me though!

    Daydreaming is great though -I'm sure if I looked I could find one or two quotes about daydreaming being a holiday in the head.

  2. You're right, I don't think either extreme is good. So that comes back to balance, again, doesn't it? If you have too much change you become destabilised, but if you stay in your well-worn channel you can become stale.

    Perhaps the really big thing, though, is what you say about time and attention. I remember early on in this blog writing about how impossible it was to be creative in a hurry (of course harsh constraints can make you more productive for a bit, but it's not sustainable). It's no accident that I wasn't able to be creative in the way that I wanted to be in painting in the years I was a full-time academic.

    Your point about habits seems central to me - as well as somehow making more space instead of trying to cram in more and more novelty (and becoming more and more manic in the process) perhaps we need to think about establishing habits that themselves make the kind of space we need?

  3. Ahh yes of course, balance - why didn't I think of that!? There's another aspect too perhaps which is that of choice: feeling that you're doing something (or would like to) because you want to, not because you have to, are obliged to, or somehow feel you should (I'm back to intrinsic motivation again). Going through the motions of creativity (by shifting the furniture etc) might well make us more creative but it's also quite possible that, if our hearts aren't in it, it'll turn what should be a fulfilling thing into a monotonous chore.

  4. In order for the brain, our brains, to free up bandwidth for the here and now, the brain delegates actions to the lowest level that can perform that action. Hence learning to drive, for example. This habituation is benign in essence, but it does lead to being on autopilot inevitably unless we court change consciously and fairly frequently.



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