Ellie’s the sweetest dog, but when she wakes me up at 2 a.m. to go outside I have a hard time feeling the love, even for a face like that. It’s not always business on her mind, sometimes I think she just wants to be a wild animal and hang out with the javelinas. So after her standard 10-minute lap of the backyard, she gets back into her bed and is immediately back to sleep. This is when I notice that it's really quiet in the middle of the night. Early in the evening, there are always some distant traffic sounds and in the Spring the frogs are crazy loud at dusk. Not ring ding d-d bem bem bem Axel F annoying, but loud enough you can’t hear yourself think. So being the only one awake in the abyss of the night, it’s hard not to process the day’s events and try to piece together some great meaning to life.
The interesting thing is that thinking quietly after a decent amount of sleep, my mind is in an odd state. I can feel that it’s been sorting through the fragments of the day and it feels like all of its illogical methods are inherently creative.
Maybe it was my own perspective from my youth, but somehow I convinced myself that you can’t be both logical and creative, thank you, Mr. Spock. My confirmation bias was strong, just look at the litter along the way: the guitar, baritone, piano, and school art classes K-7.
So at some point, I got past that way of thinking and started reading articles on boosting creativity and I found there is a wealth of ideas out there from mind-altering drugs to Ben Franklin’s air baths. Franklin used to sit in the nude with the windows open and then either read or write. His justification was that he was trying to clean out the ‘bad’ air so as not to get sick, but it’s hard to argue with methods that worked for such a prolific inventor.
A thread linking many methods can be summed up as breaking your routine. Doing something new to light your brain on fire is a great way to improve creativity. Here’s a sampling:
Air travel - I’ve always found that air travel gives me new ideas, probably the stress of new situations coupled with long stretches of sitting still and oxygen deprivation?
Lecture on an unknown subject - Listening to a talk on something you know very little about. The incoming information will attempt to be mapped relative to what you already know and the disconnect will cause disruptions that promote creativity.
Learn a new skill – Physical learning is cross-training for your brain.
Get out of the office - go for a walk, sit on a park bench, meditate. I first tried meditation to help me get to sleep and it works great. Unfortunately for me meditation=sleep.
Reading – What works your imagination harder than trying to visualize a good story?
Cheat code - TRIZ is the Russian theory of inventive problem-solving. It assumes the problem you are trying to solve has already been solved, you just need to do some lateral thinking. Here’s a visualization of the principles.
Using tools to be more creative reaches out to the emotional side of our thinking and adds depth to our ideas. These tools may feel unconventional, but if innovation is a key goal of your organization, you should create a culture that values the search and implementation of effective tools that spur your team’s creativity.
I’m in the last snippet and haven’t even mentioned the headline topic inspiration. The reason is that it’s really hard to get to the level where you’re inspiring others. Inspiration is the feeling where people are compelled to be involved because they are emotionally invested. I don’t have all the answers to what it takes to move up the ladder from management tools to inspiration but I believe it can’t be accomplished without accessing your team's feelings. Encouraging creativity is an effective step in the right direction.
Wake up Ellie, it’s morning. Time to get up and go for a walk. I had this dream about a coyote I need to tell you all about.
Darren Verebelyi, PhD
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