This has been (and still is for those of us in lockdown) a hard few months. So let’s explore how we might use creative practices to help us influence, nurture and maintain our approach to creativity during difficult periods.
This week a focus on the specific skills that can influence our approach to creativity.
Each day I encourage you to focus on one of the top seven skills that make up a creative skillset and undertake an activity to assist to practice this skillset.
This work comes from the research undertaken by Drs Mandell and Jordan that identifies a number of creative skills and behaviours that were consistently represented by the great masters of art. These are central to the creative success of the artists studied, but also applies to the success of business leaders responsible for creating innovations in the products and services of their operations. Best of all, their research demonstrated that each of these skills and behaviours was able to be learnt by anyone.
I’ve found the seven creative skills, also reflected in our behaviours, provides a highly applicable framework for anyone wishing to successfully create change in their lives, to assist them to discover how creative they really are and how much more creative they could become. Creative skillsets overwhelming point to those who are curious, open to experience and take a new perspective on problem solving.
Briefly, the seven creative skills are:
- Preparation: Deliberately engaging in activities that help break us from our usual patterns of thought and feeling and prepare us for creative insight.
- Seeing: Having the ability to discern new connections, gain fresh perspective, and stay alive to new possibilities.
- Using context: Understanding how the varied environments in which we work and live influence our thoughts and behaviours, and using that knowledge to make changes in our lives.
- Embracing uncertainty: Acting on the opportunities, sometimes hidden, presented by change and uncertainty.
- Risk taking: Acting without certainty of outcome.
- Collaboration: Engaging with others to help one make desired changes.
- Discipline: Acting consistently whether or not one feels motivated.
Look in detail at each skill, what characterises each of them and determine if there’s a skill you’d like to work on by applying it to an issue, challenge or goal. Notice how do you do or don’t emphasis this skill in your work and every day life.
Previous blogs have noted the concept of insight and analytical modes of problem solving and the need for ideas to incubate for them to form. We noticed that we’re often in a relaxed state, daydreaming or distracted when these ideas are realised. Thinking about where you get your best ideas is a good starting point to understanding the skill of preparation.
Preparation means deliberately engaging in activities that help break us from our usual patterns of thought and feeling and prepare us for creative insight. There are many forms of preparatory activities, with the critical attribute being exposure to different stimuli to enable a different way to think about the problem.
There are numerous ways to trigger these activities, such as listening to music, viewing art, visiting a gallery, soaking in a tub, walking, and repetitive actions like knitting, or sitting in a garden, being in nature and patting your pet.
During preparation we:
- Let go of the need to come up with an immediate solution.
- Are more engaged in activities that stimulate creative insights.
- Engage in physical or mental activity before considering our problems.
- Engage regularly in brain-body practice.
- Engage in a variety of creativity triggering activities.
By deliberately engaging in preparation we’re creating the physiological and mental conditions to access higher order cognitive insights, connections and breakthroughs.
In life, seeing is the ultimate creative skill, and at its essence is the ability to discern new connections, gain fresh perspective and stay alive to new possibilities. Seeing is more than visual ability, and involves observing our own responses to experiences, being in touch with our emotions, and having a heightened awareness of both our internal and external environments.
Cultivating our seeing skill can occur through many forms, from keeping a notebook to capture what you’re noticing, to creating mental images through visualisation to create new levels of self-insight.
Seeing enables us to explore our inner world and notice our habits or the patterns we repeat that don’t service us or our creativity. When we apply this skill to our lives it opens up more possibilities; we learn to make connections and become open to new experiences.
When seeing we:
- Notice aspects of situations that other people don’t seem to see.
- Don’t make assumptions before the full picture emerges.
- Are aware of at least several ways of interpreting a situation.
- Pay attention to what is missing and not obvious about a situation.
- Detect connections between seemingly unrelated things or ideas.
The habits of everyday life, often undertaken as a means to save energy, don’t encourage us to notice and respond. But there’s value in enhancing this skill by stepping away from daily life or work to gain a fresh perspective.
Every day we’re influenced by context; when we categorise someone as a baby boomer or Gen X we are labelling their demographic context, or when we refer to a ‘post 9-11 world’ we’re acknowledging a global political context.
Context includes cultural, economic, political, geographical, technological and spiritual, and can relate to our own world through the context of:
- Personal: our personal and family story
- Social: our friends, social networks and community
- Work/Professional: our colleagues, environment and associations
- Historical: the broader world in which we live and how it came to be.
To recognise the value of context we need to acknowledge where we were at in the past and where we are at now to understand how the varied environments in which we work and live influence our thoughts and behaviours and use that knowledge to make changes in our lives. Trends make up critical elements of context because they add meaning.
When using context, we:
- Pay attention to trends taking place in our areas of interest.
- Pay attention to what’s going on in society and the larger world.
- Take social trends into account when making key life decisions.
- Assess what’s working and what’s not working in our areas of interest when considering a new direction.
- Understand how our contextual identity (professional, marital, social, and so on) can bias our thinking about options for change.
In cultivating this skill, reconsider the problem or challenge to be resolved, invite creativity to be seen as a problem-solving process, be willing to experiment outside your contextual comfort zone by embracing exploration, discovery and leading to integration. A structured reflective process would involve these steps:
- Creative problem: what’s the challenge?
- Explore and discover by identifying contexts affected by the challenge; gathering and assessing information related to context; identifying potential implications and experimenting with responses.
- Integrate by assessing the above and expanding possibilities.
When offered a choice between the predictable and familiar verses chaos and uncertainty, what would you choose? Most of us would go with stability, but it’s interesting that often it’s the case that when one area of our life is going well like a relationship, we’ll be destabilised in some other area like our job security.
So how are we to respond when we know that life is uncertain and change is constant? Embracing uncertainty requires us to cultivate a skill that will enable us to navigate life’s changes, as it involves acting on the opportunities, sometimes hidden, presented by change and uncertainty.
When embracing uncertainty, we:
- Understand that constant change and uncertainty is a source of creative insight rather than an impediment to it.
- Do not try to impose premature solutions.
- Allow opportunities for change to unfold, even though we don’t have all the information.
- Actively seek opportunities in fluid situations.
- Adapt approaches in midstream to help us move forward.
So instead of stopping uncertainty, we begin to cultivate a skill that seeks to navigate uncertainty in life, and along the way appreciate this may involve feeling lost. It may also involve unlearning habits and assumptions no longer useful, to help steer a new direction.
In strengthening this skill, we can seek to convert uncertainty into a source of creative insight. Go back to ‘preparation’ rituals that can assist to ground us to feel stable, or introduce little rituals that in the midst of uncertainty will remind us that our essential self remains unchanged.
Risk is full of uncertainty; by its very nature we’ll never know all the answers before we proceed in a certain direction, so how can we approach risk as a creative skill?
This skill is the essence of creative problem solving as it forces us to stretch into the unknown as risk taking means acting without certainty of the outcome. At its heart is the appreciation there’s more to be gained by going into the unknown, entering into creative and innovative, sometimes misunderstood, approaches.
When we take a risk, we:
- Believe in the importance of moving in a different direction, even when the path is unclear.
- Decide to do what seems right for us, despite possible negative consequences.
- Manage the emotions (fear or anxiety) that could interfere with taking action.
- Take action when others doubt us.
- Convert mistakes into opportunities to learn.
Often, we’ll revert back to a central and simple question: ‘Is the risk worth the time, effort and potential cost?’ But the problem with this question is sometimes taking risks can’t just be reduced to a perfectly logical set of pros and cons. It also raises all the negative possibilities before we have an opportunity to experiment creatively.
When considering risk, we need to partner it, embracing uncertainty, and reframe the question to: ‘How do I manage the anxieties and fears surrounding my choice in a way that allows me to step into risk?’
A key to managing risk is to first identify the specific risks and break them down into smaller, more manageable risks to reduce the overwhelm. Along the way this will also reduce potential costs if the risk doesn’t work out. This approach is explored through the technique of prototyping.
We can also enhance our approach by gathering information and asking questions from diverse sources. With the creative problem-solving modes these ensure we undertake the first crucial step of preparation and/or problem clarification.
Collaboration means engaging with others to help us make the desired changes, and we’ll use this skill in our working relationships, with our mentors, teachers and advisors, and through the communities we engage with over our life.
When collaborating we:
- Believe we can make better life choices by collaborating with others than we could on our own.
- Actively seek out others engaged in their own life change for mutual support.
- Build on others’ ideas, even if they don’t match our preconceptions of what is right.
- Share ideas with others.
- Rely on a group of trusted advisors to help think through strategies for life change.
At the heart of this skill is the respectful give and take of ideas, openness of experience, and each other’s history and perspectives. It can accelerate the creativity of those engaged through deliberate or accidental connections.
Working with others in a collaborative way is also a powerful motivator in neuroscience terms because it activates the brain’s empathy pathways. Collaboration by building communities, tribes and collaborative relationships takes many forms. From original ideas being part of a continuous line of invention by many different people, to the value of interaction found through liquid networks, to the dispelling of the lone creator myth.
The active engagement of others in our parenting approaches, the workplace, the way we manage staff, and as we age, all provide rich perspectives to enhance our creative abilities.
Discipline is the key to creativity and requires us to not just reflect and think but to act.
At its simplest discipline requires acting consistently whether or not one feels motivated.
When we are disciplined, we:
- Are able to quickly return ourselves to the task at hand if distracted.
- Recover quickly from disappointment and failure.
- Adopt habits that help us work consistently and effectively.
- Stay engaged in the task at hand for as long as we need to.
- Hold ourselves accountable for following through on actions to which we are committed.
Cultivating this skill enables us to think widely about the building blocks of discipline, which rely largely on personal accountability. Establishing mechanisms that help us convert our intentions into actions can be supported through activities that remind us of our commitments.
Activities such as intention setting can help us consistently work towards something every day. The reflective exercises you can access in the bonus offer are a means to use these intentions and turn them into goals that lead to tangible creative behaviours.
For more check out the excellent reference:
Mandell, F & Jordan, K. (2010) Becoming a Life Change Artist: Seven creative skills to reinvent yourself at any stage of your life. Penguin Group, US.