Creativity: A Semi-Finite Resource

When our lives undergo tremendous change, be it moving jobs, homes, traveling, marriage, divorce, children, etc, we are required to respond. However, we can either choose to use creativity and joy or we can use fear.

If we look at change as something scary, that is is painful and to be handled, it can easily burn through our energy in just a few hours. We might not feel inspired to “create” because we are “dealing” with change, that is, we are spending down our creative resources.

On the other hand, if we look at it as an opportunity to express our creativity, to solve problems in creative ways, we can actually receive a tremendous amount of energy and further creativity. As I arrived at a creative solution to a problem while on the treadmill the other day, in the blink of an eye 40 minutes had passed, while normally I only run for 10-15. I was pumped!

Fear is the enemy of creativity, but creativity is far more powerful than fear. Fear invites us to burn through our last remaining molecules of creativity by making us worry, making us wonder “what if,” and so we have spent our creativity on a soul-sucking waste of time. That’s why we can become mopey and alone and exhausted. We have spent our last bit of energy being creative through fearing.

In those moments of fear, that is the best time to return to something that you do well, something that gives you joy, something that is of service to others. For example, working on a drawing, painting, singing, organizing something, cooking a meal, planning an event, making lists. All of these things are small ways to actually “do” something and restore the creative juices so that you can start re-energizing yourself.

This is why I say it’s semi-finite, it depends on how you use it.


Stability and Creativity

There are few feelings as sweet as creative juices pumping through your veins, with moths in your stomach over a new idea that you can’t wait to pitch, with the feelings of endless possibilities at your fingertips. You will hold court in a few days and colleagues will walk away inspired and awestruck with how their world has shifted. And, I bet, you would do almost anything to stay in that place for as long as possible. Being “creative” is part of our human nature, it is an almost transcendental experience where we take the best of who we are and try to gift that to the world and inspire it.

However, sometimes we go through ruts in creativity. In a recent book, the accidental creative, author Todd Henry suggests a neat set of techniques for developing your own creativity, even though you don’t necessarily consider yourself a “creative” type. I am with Todd on all of this, however, I am going to add a few things:

To become creative we need to find our place of stability. This does not necessarily mean a geographic location or financial success.

Stability in the traditional sense is not always for the best. Sometimes it really takes one getting out of their comfort zone, really trying to do hard things, pushing your heart and soul to the max that helps them discover what the real foundation for stability is. In Pamplona I see many pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, all of them looking for something deeper, for some greater stability than just the creature comforts of a comfortable bed and a clean kitchen.

What it does mean is we need to find either faith, a routine, a ritual, a coffee, a ____ that helps us feel “okay.” It’s hardest to  be creativity when we don’t have that feeling of being “okay,” because we are then operating without security, with a sense of fear. For those who are more self aware than myself, they have discovered the capacity to operate in any environment and not be controlled by the environment of where they are. They are almost always “okay.” As a man of faith, I find prayer to be a place of stability, that which allows me to function, even when everything might be changing around me.

The great thing about pushing our limits with stability is that it allows us to have even greater creativity when we are in a more familiar environment. The results of doing something hard are always worthwhile for helping us grow into more of what we are, into being more creative. Pushing ourselves allows us to know our own created greatness and inspire others to become great themselves. Perhaps, this is the most fundamentally important thing to keep in mind about creativity, especially when we are going through periods of instability.

Building Concensus: 7 Ways to Avoid Bad Decisions

Deciding between 2 people, is sometimes a wrestling match.

When making a tough decision, I follow the WRAP process, as articulated by Chip and Dan Heath in their book “Decisive.” I LOVE this book, because it helps me gain the confidence to decide about a myriad of difficult circumstances. While I can control the decision making I make on my own, I cannot control the other’s decision making process. Whether a spouse, boss, coworker, respected leader, etc, if I have someone’s attention, I am often painfully aware that they make decisions in a different way than I do. That is, unless I’m with Chip or Dan Heath (I’m guessing).

So, in my own decision making lifetime, here are 7 things I have learned to do in order to avoid making bad decisions.

  1. Run a good self-checkup.
    Are you hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or stressed (HALTS). You aren’t making any good decisions right now. “Oh, I’m fine…I just really want…or I just really feel…” Guess what, you have a lot on your mind below the surface right now. If you are like me, you have a whole host of feelings that float below the surface, and it takes a great deal of humility to say, “shoot, I’m not doing great right now. I need to get some perspective.”
  2. Nip your “fear-of-loss” in the bud.
    Fear of loss is always going to be more potent than opportunity for gain. When you fear loss, write it down in a concrete number / figure. Now place that number right next to the possibility of gain in a concrete number / figure. If your “fear-of-loss” figure feels more potent than the possibility of gain, then take some time in prayer or meditation to come to terms with this particular decision. Practice giving up control of all outcome.
  3. Make time to talk.
    Very little gets decided without concrete time to talk. Be up front and say, “Hey, I see we have a big decision to make, and it’s the most important thing in the world to me that we be unified in our decision. When can we find some uninterrupted time to talk about this?” That signifies it’s importance and the person’s importance to you in this process.
  4. Communicate early and communicate often about the process.
    I know this sounds basic, but communicate to the other that this is on your mind, and it’s really important to make a decision about it.
  5. Ask “How/when/where?” questions.
    These are the are the least emotionally charged we can ask. Ask “how are you planning to decide about this?” “When do you think you will know?” If you receive “I don’t know,” then their emotional circuits are blown. In that case switch to empathy. What can you see in the other person that you recognize. Fear? Stress? Overwhelmed? At least you can say, “Hey, I see that this is a difficult decision for you. Please let me know if you want me to listen to what you are thinking before any need to make a decision.”
  6. Understand the fastest.
    Realize whoever understands the fastest wins. Spend 10x more energy understanding “why” the other would want to make the decision the way they want to make it. Then if you think that they should change their minds, consider what new information they might not be aware of that would trigger them to reconsider.
  7. Write down the decision shortly after you make it.
    This should never be brought out, but write it down so that you have it in your mind clearly. That way, when you look back and say, “I decided this because of this,” you can say so with more peripheral clarity. Often our minds change and we see events in the past differently than we did at the time we made them. It’s called being human.

These tips can help you avoid unhealthy, expensive, resent-building decisions. That will make a much greater difference to you and your professional and personal relationships and you will be known for making decisions with greater integrity.


The Uncertainty Principle and Dead Reckoning

Stephen Tobolowsky talks at great length about the “uncertainty principle.” As  rough quote: “Certainty, like doritos, is best in small doses.” I couldn’t agree more.

The difficulty is that when you are staring down the barrel of untold of changes and life seems to change every day, literally moving 90 degrees to the left one minute, followed by 90 degrees to the right. The rapid changes make for an exhausting emotional rollercoaster of change. It’s not so much that we want certainty as much as all our expectations have been completely flummoxed.

Greek has a term for this: paradox. That is, when something happens that is contrary to our expectations. The problem is that the subconscious does not know what to do with confusion, and so often we may act out in anger, frustration, go on a bender, or pick up an extreme sport. It’s not so much the matter of encountering transcendence that is the motivation for so much of our bad behavior in the face of confusion, it’s rather wanting to make that encounter on our own terms. Rather, we can also choose to embrace confusion, to allow ourselves not to get angry, to not act out of our misguided need to control things.

The choice to make a more positive response lies in two factors that I can see.

First, we have to get change our mindset. What we see as a 90 degree shift may actually be only a five degree movement if we zoom out a bit. It’s not that everything has changed, it’s that there are some adjustments to be made. When we think the adjustments are too large

Second, we have to practice a mindful attitude of dead reckoning. Dead reckoning is a naval term that means that you determine where you are going to be within the next hour with 95% accuracy, and the next 24 hours with perhaps 75-80% accuracy. That is to say, you will likely be right about what will happen on your drive home from work, but you will not expect the very possible car accident that you will be in. You may imagine that tomorrow you will be going to work just as you are now, but you might have a lot less clarity or control over all the other factors 24 hours from now. You recognize that you have a good guess as to what will happen, you have some ability to predict the future, but it’s only a probability, never a sure bet.

What this does is it frees the subconscious from having to ask the question of “what if?” of having to have a need for certainty that cripples us from living and taking risks and becoming flexible to the million and one changes that can take place between now and one week from now.

Today, we got some interesting news. Nothing bad or good (nothing wrong with our health and no deaths in the family), just interesting news. We have a pretty good idea of what will happen in the next hour: we might get a particular email or we might not. We have an even less clear idea of what will happen in 24 hours. Beyond that, we are not engaging that part of the future, because there is so much going on now here in the next hour and 24 hours. Moving beyond what dead reckoning can tell us is only a recipe for predicting what may never have reason to come to pass. For me, I will remain tranquil.



Becoming a Successful Transplant

What would happen if you tried to transplant a tomato with no roots?

Part I: Decision

The first is making a decision. Decisions are usually more cognitive in nature, and they do not seem to cost as much emotional energy. There may be hiccoughs, ups and downs, but there comes a point when that decision becomes firm, i.e. when you have firmly resolved something, and when it becomes hard, i.e. when you buy the non-refundable plane tickets. That starts the second step, this is when preparation happens.

Part II: Preparation

Preparation is perhaps more emotionally challenging. What you have decided to do hasn’t yet come to pass, but there is a ton to do before you can move. This is where you have to emotionally process the “goodbyes.” The best is to say goodbye early and often, taking stock of every moment and enjoying it.

The strangest part about this time, however, is that you will tend to become much more emotional. You will experience parts of your past with incredible clarity and sentimentality. You will become increasingly more vulnerable and things that you used to not care much about suddenly become drastically important. It’s a weird time, because nothing concrete has happened, but you have to challenge your subconscious to behave. the most important thing to maintain is hope, hope that the future will be better than the present or the past. Hope that you will find exactly what you need when you need it. Without that hope, the time of preparation can become incredible claustrophobic.

Another cure for this preparation claustrophobia is to be truly present. Take deep breaths and focus on the sensations of all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures you encounter. Add to that the more important things, such as the relationships with friends. for our time in Spain we are taking stock of the friends we have made here, the lifestyle, the ease of life without a car, the phenomenal care and love we have been given by so many during our time here. We have allowed our roots to grow deep, to allow our skills to develop, so much so that we almost begin to think of Spain as home.

Part III: Transplanting.

This is where all the preparation and all the decision comes to fore. It is also one of the most difficult parts because none of your memories are present to you, neither is anything from your most recent past. Here we return to the question of the tomato. Transplanting  is a shock, and it requires lots of care and attention. If the tomato had feelings, I’m sure it would be quite frustrated about getting moved around. It is a long, hard process before the tomato is finally stable, but with enough time, it begins to feel itself right again.

But what would happen if the tomato hadn’t had enough time to grow roots? It would wither. It would not have the resources it needs to start seeking out it’s new root system and find a lot of what it needs quickly enough to survive. It would have less of a chance to thrive and be alive on account of competition from other plants.

We don’t need to be in a hurry to put down permanent roots, because our roots will grow again. Roots grow naturally no matter where we are. Any transition requires a lot of work and emotional energy, and it will not feel great for a long time. But as time passes, it will flourish and begin to produce some of the very best fruit it has ever produced.