Saturday, June 26, 2010

Myths about Creativity

I've been feeling a little pushed for time lately. Winter is here and the flu-bug has been passed around. And even though I'm working less hours, have been to a zine workshop and squeezed in lots of social time, I'm still feeling like I'm behind and not doing 'enough' and feeling a bit more consumed by everything. So as I was flicking through my folder of favourite things, feeling guilty for not having posted now for over a week, I came across this article by Gary Bertwistle. I found it rather relieving and since he can say it better than I can, I thought I should share these thoughts with you.

Myths About Creativity
by Gary Bertwistle

Tinker on the small things, at the same time, entertain, dream and ponder the big things.

Story Tools

For many years now I have been speaking to audiences about Creativity. Whether it be a small family business, or a multi national brand, creativity and innovation have become a much sought after commodity in order to find a point of difference and move ahead.

I’m also seeing it to be a commodity that the individual is craving and in most cases losing, due to our multi tasking and fast paced lifestyle. But is it really creativity that’s the answer, or is there another way to look at it?

While speaking on stage in London recently I commented to the audience that as I spend more and more time speaking to people about creativity and innovation, the less I’m actually using those terms. Naturally from the audience there were a number of quizzical looks. The reason for my comment is that the terms creativity and innovation tend to scare some people. Those two words automatically put up a barrier in people’s minds to say I’m not a creative and I’m not an inventor and so these two areas are out of my capability. Instead I tend more to encourage people to use their imagination and simply think differently about things.

You see, when you speak to people about imagination pretty much everyone believes that they have an imagination, as we’re born with the skill to imagine things when we’re children. And thinking differently, well, anybody can do that. In all aspects of your life through any given day you are required to look at things in a certain way. The challenge that comes in our world today is that we don’t take the time or place enough importance on thinking differently.

When it comes down to it, creativity, innovation and imagination are simply looking at things differently. When you reframe a conversation with someone around 'Can you think differently about this?', very few people will decline the offer. It changes the whole thought process in people’s minds about creativity and innovation - when simplified, it's just thinking differently.

That’s one of the myths with creativity and innovation. People believe you’re either born with it or you’re not, when really it’s something that we all have the innate talent to do and is in fact something that everyone’s born with. The problem comes in not making use of our creative talents and hence never really improving our ability to do it. Thinking differently is something that we can all do, its just a question of doing it more often in order to get better at it.

If you look at your diary right now I guarantee there is not pure thinking time allocated for you to sit with nothing particular in mind, just the opportunity to look at something or a number of things differently. The people who are seen as being the most creative or imaginative people are constantly looking at something and asking whether there’s another way to look at it. It is important to them and they make the time to do it.

Another myth is that creativity and innovation has to be a completely new concept in order for it to be thought of as creative. Whilst in London at the Talk Creative 07 conference I had the pleasure of speaking alongside Three Star Michelin Chef Michel Roux, from the famed London French Restaurant, Le Gavroche. Roux and his family have been constantly at the top of the restaurant industry in London for 40 years. He is recognised as being one of the best chefs in the world.

In my conversation I asked him about his imagination and creativity and whether he in fact took many risks. He said that they will try new things at Le Gavroche but a new idea would have to go through very rigorous testing in order to make it to the menu. This testing could take up to 6 months. He did however say that he constantly ‘tinkers’ with the menu. He will have an idea or a thought or in fact see something on a menu at another restaurant, go back to Le Gavroche and tinker with a menu item. He said he tends to do more tinkering than risk taking, mind blowing innovation, like Fat Duck or El Bulli. Fat Duck and El Bulli are recognised as being innovative restaurants that will blow your mind with the way they present and prepare their menu items. Le Gavroche on the other hand is a safer, traditional French restaurant, but exploring creativity none the less.

My point is that you don’t always have to have the big mind blowing innovation in order to be seen as being creative. Think differently about the small things as well as pondering the big things. The Japanese have a process called Kaizan which stands for small improvements, but done often, that make the biggest difference. Explore your creativity and imagination by taking time and making the effort to think differently. Tinker on the small things, at the same time, entertain, dream and ponder the big things.

So how do we unlock our great ideas? Here are my top 5 tips. They are simple, easy to do, daily tips that will assist you in digging down into your imagination and bringing to life different thinking.

Top 5 Suggestions

Walk It Out
Its amazing how through each day people are sitting in front of computers, grouping in board rooms or gathering in faceless hotel conference centres that offer no stimulation, no fresh air, crap food and certainly no leverage for your imagination. The Romans had a saying amongst themselves and it was ‘Walk it out to solve it’. One suggestion I have for you in order to unlock your great ideas is to walk around. Have walking meetings with your partners, and if you have the opportunity, get up from your desk and walk around. Whether it be morning tea, lunch time, before work or after work, or in fact whilst having meetings, its been shown that your brain operates at 10% greater efficiency simply by standing up due to the extra oxygen flow to your brain. People sit on their butts all day long and wonder why they can’t stimulate their imagination. The other thing with walking around is that you are constantly giving your brain new stimulation and creative hooks in order to draw it away from the literal or logical way of thinking.

Forget About It
One of the greatest tools we have for our imagination is our sub conscious mind. It’s a very under utilized tool for most executives, yet speak to any great creative person, whether it be in an agency, a community group, a social group or a small business and you’ll find that the greatest asset they have is time.

That’s because by giving yourself time to think you allow your sub conscious mind to go to work for you. So the ideal situation when creating a new idea or solving a problem is to get all the details down in front of you, have a thorough understanding of what it is you’re thinking about and then forget about it.

Whether it be for 10 minutes, an hour, an afternoon or ideally overnight, come back to your session with a fresh approach and you’ll be amazed at what ideas will have come to you. You don’t need to know how your subconscious works, but just know that it is a wonderful tool and the secret to a lot of creative directors.

Hey Whipple, squeeze this
I was working with a creative writer from Adelaide once and he mentioned this book to me. He said that when he was writing his creative scripts and he gets a blank, he quite often opens up this book and begins to read. He said he’s not sure how it works but quite often it will spark something in his imagination. It’s a quirky book for copywriters and I’m not suggesting that this is the book to rush out and buy, however I am suggesting that by finding your own reading material, be it a magazine, journal, novel or business book, quite often will spark a thought within your imagination.

It works in a couple of different ways. Firstly it takes your mind off the job at hand, allows your subconscious mind to do some work. Secondly it can also give you a different perspective on the challenge or opportunity you’re faced with. Thirdly, quite often its just the time out to relax where you are distracted, you drop your shoulders and when you’re relaxed, your brain works differently. There’s a lot to be said for reading a book in terms of your creative spirit and enhancing your ability to think differently.

Eating an Elephant
It's said that you can eat an elephant you’ve just got to do it one bite at a time. It’s the same for creative thinking. Quite often we try to tackle a problem or an opportunity as a whole and sometimes overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand, or find it difficult to make inroads with a solution. When breaking down into smaller pieces you can attack each of those pieces individually with a different way of thinking. This is the tool that ties in nicely with tinkering. Michel Roux from Le Gavroche restaurant in London, rather than creating a whole new dish for his menu, will quite often break it down by ingredients, presentation and style and tinker with the individual elements.

People often think that they need to have the big extraordinary idea within their organisation in order to be creative. It can be as simple as how to answer the phone more effectively, where you’ll present your proposal to a client, what your proposal will look like, how you can save money by buying a different brand of coffee, or different biscuits, right through to how much money you are wasting on photocopy paper, or is there a different accounting process that can be used in order to provide better accounting information to your board. When you break things down into smaller pieces it really enables you to apply your creative thinking in a wide variety of angles, as opposed to just approaching the issue or challenge as a whole. When faced with a problem grab a piece of paper, relax and break the issue down into the individual elements. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to start thinking differently when you have those smaller elements outlined in front of you.

I’ve recently presented a speech overseas around the music industry. My background was for a long while associated with the music industry through radio and I’ve learned a lot of tools from some of our great rock and roll stars about creativity and thinking differently. Kurt Cobain from Nirvana was a legend who changed the music industry with his brand of Seattle rock with his band Nirvana. Kurt Cobain used to doodle in his journal ceaselessly. Nowadays his writings are being bought by fans for enormous amounts of money.

Rapper Eminem, rocker Sheryl Crow, Sting, and so the list goes on, are all people who all keep copious notes in their journals. Things they see, people they meet, stories they hear, interesting words, lines that come to mind, and hooks that could be used in their next single, are all documented in their journals.

Now you can do it on napkins and scrap pieces of paper but trust me they end up nowhere but lost. Grab a leather journal and start to record your thoughts, ideas, feelings, ideas and observations. You owe it to yourself to write down your observations thoughts and feelings as every time you don’t record an idea that comes to mind, you’re pretty much programming yourself to say your ideas aren’t even worth the time to write them down. I’m a latecomer to journaling but I’d have to say that it's one of my greatest findings. It has greatly enhanced my learning and writing skills, and ability to problem solve. Think about your own day and how many ideas you see. And you’re not recording them.

Get a leather bound journal, write your ideas down and this will become the ultimate self help, creative, innovative, problem solving book you own. This thought is not new, just look at the writings of Beethoven and Mozart or Archimedes and Plato, Parado or Alexander the Great and you’ll see they were all keepers of journals in one form or another. These days there are tours that travel the world showing the writings, drawings and scribbles of Leonardo Da Vinci.

I’ll leave you with a saying from Leonardo Da Vinci - Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication. I hope this little story has given you some simple easy to understand yet practical tools to help you unlock your great ideas. The last thing a master learns is simplicity.

I need to remember these few words. Because I think they're the most important things.

picture courtesy of the lovely Ever Dazzling.

I also need to hit up Glebe markets for a review and get me a leather-bound journal.

love a little more hopeful,


  1. Wonderful little piece here. Great tips, Cactus!
    (Always nice to see one of my photos posted in a surprising place too!)

  2. I really love the idea of "Kaizan - small improvements, but done often".
    That is the key to creativity, I think.
    And I adore the soft pinkness of your site. It's dreamy and inviting. You have a good eye for design and colour.
    I definitely lucked out in that department. :-]

  3. EverDazzling - I didn't realise this was your pic! Found it on we heart it. I do heart it.

    Lisa - yes, definitely. I never give myself enough credit for the little steps along the way. Always thinking of the big picture.

    Oh thank you! Pink and green could very possibly be my favourite colour combinations. For one of my birthdays everything was pink and green - including an overgrown green foilage archway with musk sticks tied throughout it. Memories...