Your Creative Juices Not Flowing Due to Uncertainty?

Having trouble getting your creativity loaded? Those creative juices simply not flowing for ‘ya? “Creativity block” is something akin to writer’s block. It’s a difficult stage to get through and at times can last longer than we’d like. It’s been especially difficult developing new ideas, creating new products and launching new services in the chaotic reality of this pandemic.

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Do times of uncertainty cause a decline in creativity and innovation? That’s not exactly a slam dunk of a “yes”. History tells us that innovation and creativity thrive even in periods of uncertainty and chaos.

Many successful companies like Airbnb and Uber, for example, were founded during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. General Electric was established and grew during the massive economic downturn in America, also known as “The Panic of 1893.”

According to this Harvard Business School article on innovation, the Great Depression of the 1930s was one of the most innovative decades in the last century. A proliferation of new technologies, exceptional innovations and inventions that pushed the world forward were conceived and created during that time period.

Inventions such as the jet engine and the helicopter were created, followed by the FM radio, sunglasses, copiers, nylons, ballpoint pens, electric razors, car radios and much more.

Accessing the mindset of creativity and innovation in times of uncertainty is not easy. When we feel as if we are losing control over our external circumstances, we start telling ourselves there is no point in starting the creative process, as nothing we do will succeed. Nothing like shooting ourselves in our creative feet before we begin!

Uncertain times are the norm. It’s always been that way. We can’t predict the future and the only thing we can control is us. We’re the source of creativity, innovation and inspiration. Nothing new there.

The stability and certainty we need to support our creative process comes from within. How can we tap into that? As I touched upon in another blog post, we need to find an inner calm so that we may better conjure up the spark to our creativity. It’s there in all of us. We just need to find that which can ignite the spark.

Hemingway ignited the spark when he had trouble getting started on writing, by writing one declarative sentence . . . the rest, he said, will start to come naturally. You’ve got to “prime the pump,” so to speak. Even the artist needs to take a brush or a pen and just start doodling, anything that will stimulate the mind.

When we find our inner calm, alongside our commitment to continue the creative process no matter what, we’ll also find the right mindset for stepping up and making progress. The more we detach ourselves from the external madness, the more we can engage the creative process. We need to “catch the wave” before we can ride it.

Recession, chaos, uncertainty, and, yes, even a pandemic or two go hand in hand with creativity and innovation. Uncertainty surrounds us whether we like it or not. So, let’s deal with it in some way, shape or form. Start creating, inventing, solving problems and adding value. You do that by thinking clearly, calmly and intuitively. Concentrate on what you can control. The rest usually takes care of itself.

This post was contributed, in part, from an article by Nili Peretz, Forbes Councils Member.

Creativity Tip #27: Never fall in love with your idea; there’s always a better one around the corner.

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

 

Quotes (since it’s been awhile)

As it has been some time since a post was published with nothing but quotes, I thought we’d resurrect the form. Whereas in previous posts there has been a variety of authors quoting something not necessarily pertaining to advertising or the industry. This time, however, I thought we go with an emphasis on advertising, at least from people from within the ad biz. Enjoy!

When we are too timid to risk failure, we reduce the opportunities to succeed. And we eliminate the chance to learn. Keith Reinhard, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Remove advertising, disable a person or firm from proclaiming its wares and their merits, and the whole of society and of the economy is transformed. The enemies of advertising are the enemies of freedom. David Ogilvy, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Creative imagination — the lamp that lit the world — can light our lives. Alex F. Osborn, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art and good writing can be good selling. William Bernbach, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one. Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

An important idea not communicated persuasively is like having no idea at all. William Bernbach, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

When we are too timid to risk failure, we reduce the opportunities to succeed. And we eliminate the chance to learn. Keith Reinhard, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Creativity is no longer about grabbing attention or raising consumer awareness. Its goal is to remind consumers about what is fundamental and gratifying about a brand. Peter A. Georgescu, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Rules are for people who don’t know what to do. AND I don’t like closed doors. Creativity flourishes best in an environment of open doors and open minds. Keith Reinhard, Advertising Hall of Fame

Rod Serling on Writing and Creativity

To sleep. Perchance to dream. To dream. Perchance to imagine. To imagine. Perchance to create. To create. Perchance to write; perchance to make a difference. Mr. Rod Serling definitely made a difference and impacted society with his unique form and brand of creativity in his writing.

One could not watch an episode of either the Twilight Zone or Night Gallery and not be moved in some way. His genius and commentary were not limited to “inside” the story lines, but could also be found in his opening and closing narration.

Take the following, for example:

Then there’s this gem on creativity (circa 1971):

Quoting from the book “As I knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling,” by Anne Serling, (wonderful read, by the way) “In what was to be my father’s final interview, he was asked what he wanted people to say about him a hundred years from then. He responded, ‘I don’t care that they’re not able to quote any single line that I’ve written. But just that they can say, ‘Oh, he was a writer.’ That’s sufficiently an honored position for me.'”

As creativity goes, he was a master. As a writer, he was unsurpassed in this genre of storytelling. Oh sure, you have Mark Twain, Hemingway, Poe, Dickens, and Stephen King to name a few. But they were different; they each had their own style. Serling was also of another generation.

I often wonder what great works he would have produced should he have lived beyond 50 years. If King was or is the master of horror, then Serling, surely, was the master of the macabre for his generation, just as Edgar Allan Poe was for his. Not surprisingly, Poe was a great influence on Serling.

One thing to keep in mind, no matter who is or has influenced you as a creative person or a writer in particular, don’t be afraid to extend your limits, your boundaries. If you don’t think you can design it, write it or overcome it, try creating it anyway. Get to work even if you’re doing it in small, baby steps.

Even Hemingway wrote in a one sentence at a time mindset. Serling, being aware of his capacities, didn’t limit himself to actual writing of words. His generation of technology at least afforded him the dicta-phone so he could keep pace with his mind.

Write on, Rod!

de Bono on Creativity

As you may know, Edward de Bono recently passed away. What he leaves with him is a vast treasure trove of creative insights and reminders of how and what we might do to strengthen and enhance our own creativity. Here are some select quotes from him provided by the World Creativity Innovation Week/Day and Prady, whom we thank for letting us further promote the creative thoughts of Dr. de Bono.

More de Bono quotes:

A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.

Most executives, many scientists, and almost all business school graduates believe that if you analyze data, this will give you new ideas. Unfortunately, this belief is totally wrong. The mind can only see what it is prepared to see.

Creativity is a great motivator because it makes people interested in what they are doing. Creativity gives hope that there can be a worthwhile idea. Creativity gives the possibility of some sort of achievement to everyone. Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting.

Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate profits.

The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas.

Bonus Quotes:

Humor is by far the most significant activity of the human brain.

It has always surprised me how little attention philosophers have paid to humor, since it is a more significant process of mind than reason. Reason can only sort out perceptions, but the humor process is involved in changing them.

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

Don’t Look Now, Our Creativity is Leaking

Portions of this post are based on excerpts from the book by Michael Easter, The Comfort Crisis. We spend an awful lot of time consuming digital media, lest we get easily bored. A recent study looked at what happens to a bored mind without easy access to media?

The Canadian neuroscientist James Danckert recruited some volunteers and put them into a neuroimaging scanner, and induced them into a mood of being bored They had them watch two guys hanging laundry for eight minutes. You could say they were bored out of their gords!

While bored, a part of their brains called the “default mode network” fired on. It’s a network of brain regions that activates when we’re unfocused, when our mind is off and wandering. Mind wandering is a rest state that restores and rebuilds the resources needed to work better and more efficiently when we’re focused on the outside world.

Mind wandering is also a key driver of creativity, which is why other studies have found that bored people score significantly higher on creativity tests. Research dating back to the 1950s may explain why we’re now facing a “creativity crisis.”

If I didn’t already know this was a 1950’s Classroom, I would have guessed it. Has that look and feel – BTW, where are the little girls?

Ellis Paul Torrance was an American psychologist. In the 1950s he noticed something off target about American classrooms. Teachers tended to prefer the subdued, book-smart kids. They didn’t much care for the kids who had tons of energy and big ideas. Kids who’d think up odd interpretations of readings, inventive excuses for why they didn’t do their homework, and morph into mad scientists every lab day.

The system deemed these kids “bad.” But Torrance felt they were misunderstood. Because if a problem comes up in the real world, all the book-smart kids look for an answer in … a book. But what if the answer isn’t in a book? Then a person needs to get creative.

He thus devoted his life to studying creativity and its uses for good. In 1958 he developed the “Torrance Test.” It’s since become the gold standard for gauging creativity. The TTCT (Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking) assess how creatively a child’s mind works and are often given to children to determine advanced placement or as part of an entrance examination. Instead of traditionally taught subjects such as reading or math, these tests assess creativity. Children are scored on a number of aspects, including:

  • Creative titles for pictures
  • Expressions
  • Imagery
  • and Humor

He had a large group of children in the Minnesota public school system take the exam. It includes exercises like showing a kid a toy and asking her, “how would you improve this toy to make it more fun?”

Torrance analyzed all the kids’ scores. He then tracked every accomplishment the kids earned across their lives, until he died in 2003, when his colleagues took on the job. If one of the kids wrote a book, he’d mark it; if a kid founded a business, he’d mark it; if a kid submitted a patent, he’d mark it. Every achievement was logged. What he found raises big questions about how we judge intelligence.

The kids who came up with more, better ideas in the initial tests were the ones who became the most accomplished adults. They were successful inventors and architects, CEOs and college presidents, authors and diplomats, etc.

Torrance testing, in fact, bests IQ testing so much so that a recent study of Torrance’s Kids found that creativity was a threefold better predictor of much of the students’ accomplishment compared to their IQ scores.

Now, according to Easter, we’ve killed off one of the main drivers of creativity: mind wandering. The result? A researcher at the University of William and Mary analyzed 300,000 Torrance Test scores since the 50s. She found that creativity scores began to nosedive in 1990.

She concluded that we’re now facing a “creativity crisis.” The scientist blames our hurried, over-scheduled lives and “ever increasing amounts of time interacting with electronic entertainment devices.”

And that’s bad news. Particularly when we consider that creativity is a critical skill in today’s economy, where most of us work with our brains rather than brawn.

Despite what productivity gurus will have us believe, the key to improving creativity might be to occasionally do nothing at all. Or, at least, not dive into a screen. We’ll think distinctly, in a way that delivers more original ideas.

Yet, ironically, society’s tech giants still deliver more advanced software to supposedly aid us in our creativity, while holding us increasingly captive. A proper balance has yet to be realized. And may not ever.

While it may sound silly, occasionally doing nothing works. At least for me, it does. Of course, my body may not be doing anything but my mind is usually traveling at warp speed. It’s usually during these times that I let my mental forces do what they’ll do. More times than not, they produce . . . an idea . . . several ideas . . . a partial script . . . something to which I can apply time-in-the-future to develop.

Boredom is just one evolutionary discomfort we’ve lost from our lives. Easter’s book, The Comfort Crisis, investigates nine others, covering what happens to our bodies, minds, and sense of self without them—and the benefits we can reap by reintroducing these evolutionary discomforts into our lives.

Seth Godin on Creativity

“To count, it needs to ship,” Seth Godin.

Whatever you end up creating, for it to count, it needs to ship. Ship in the sense that it needs to be published, displayed, lectured, drawn, invented, etc. Whatever you create needs exposure.

If you’re not that familiar with Seth or his myriad of work, go explore Seth’s site. You’ll be glad you did.

I’ve been following Seth’s podcast, Akimbo, for several years now and find it quite nourishing. I also subscribe to his emails. How he does this 365 days of the year, I’ll never know.

But, I’m glad he does.

So take a listen below to Seth’s take on Creativity if you haven’t already. Once done, choose to create something.

Then ship it!

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

Special Edition: Creativity Mastermind, Father of Lateral Thinking Edward de Bono Has Died

I couldn’t let the week go by without a Tip-o-the (Six) Hats to the truly creative wizard I had the pleasure of meeting back in 2005 at an international creativity conference.

Creative thinker Edward de Bono has died less than a month after celebrating his 88th birthday. De Bono died last Wednesday morning and the news of his passing was announced by his family. 

I really didn’t know anything about him before I met him at this conference in Austin, Texas. He was one of the featured panelists at the conference and, one could argue, probably the most famous. He was also unassuming as he sat there on the panel giving out advice and counsel based on his many books, especially Six Hats.

Edward de Bono photo: Roy Zhao

That’s one of several he autographed for me as we visited for a brief bit following his presentation.

Born in Malta, De Bono graduated as a doctor but went on to study psychology and physiology from where he developed an interest in thinking processes.

He fathered the phrase lateral thinking, which has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, and developed multiple thinking strategies, including the Six Thinking Hats method.

In a statement, his family described de Bono as a global citizen, who returned to Malta in his final years.

“This has always been his home. He lived an extraordinary life, inspiring, encouraging and enabling all of us to be better and more creative thinkers. He wrote in his book The Mechanism of Mind: ‘A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.’ May the memory of Edward live on and inspire many future generations,” the family said.

De Bono received his initial education at St Edward’s College and the Royal University of Malta, where he achieved a degree in medicine. Then as a Rhodes Scholar at Christchurch, Oxford, where he gained a degree in psychology and physiology and a D.Phil. in medicine.

He holds a PhD from Cambridge, a DDes from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and a LLD from Dundee. He has had faculty appointments at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Harvard. 

Thanks to the World Creativity and Innovation Week/Day

He has written over 60 books and programs, with translations into 43 languages, has been invited to lecture in 58 countries and has made three television series. Included among these 60 books are Serious Creativity, Creativity Workout, and Handbook for the Positive Revolution, all now displayed in my library with his autograph.

His ideas have been sought by governments, not for profit organizations and many of the leading corporations in the world, such as IBM, Boeing, Nokia, Siemens, 3M, GM, Kraft, Nestle, Du Pont, Prudential, Shell, Bosch, Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young and others.

The global consultancy, Accenture, chose him as one of the fifty most influential business thinkers. In a 2004 interview with MaltaToday, de Bono even proposed a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he launched his thinking centre in Malta.

In 1994, de Bono was made an officer of the National Order of Merit by the President of Malta.

Thanks to Kurt Sanson of MaltaToday for material upon which this blog is based.

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

Depression, Creativity and Leadership-Part 2

In Part 1 it was suggested that dwelling on repetitive thoughts can lead to useful reasoning and help with problem-solving. Another suggestion is that a depressed person may have a more realistic assessment of a situation. However, there are little data to support the notion that these cognitive features of major depression may aid in problem solving or creativity.

Previously, the example of Abraham Lincoln was used to raise the question as to whether he rose to greatness in spite of his apparent depression or alternatively was in some way aided by it. In reviewing arguments in favor of depression contributing to creativity or leadership, it was suggested that there are a number of challenges to the evolutionary viewpoint that depression might have desirable qualities.

Here in Part 2, again adapted from an article in Psychology Today, at least two kinds of cognitive traits have been taken to support some positive aspects of depression. They suggest that either the ruminations typical of depression, or a potentially more realistic assessment of situations, may have value in problem-solving.

Potential value of repetitive thoughts . . .

The notion that dwelling on repetitive thoughts may be useful has recently gained support from a study showing changes in brain networks associated with this activity (1). The “analytical rumination hypothesis” suggests that ruminations can lead to useful reasoning, first in a causal analysis and then in a problem-solving analysis. The implication is that ruminations can help a person come up with explanations and solutions for an unhappy event.

Counter-arguments would be that this view works best when depression seems tied to a particular trauma, and may more likely be a healthy response in a person who is sad after a specific upset; it is less clear how it might work in seemingly paralyzing severe depression, chronic depression, post-stroke depression, or mood disorders of old age (3).

Among those who study evolutionary psychology, there is an even split over whether rumination is adaptive; it suggests that supporters are more likely to be non-clinicians, while clinicians, who have witnessed patients who seem stuck in ongoing non-constructive circular thinking, are more skeptical (4).

We need bear in mind the distinction between sadness, and major depression, in which a despondent mood dominates one’s life for at least two weeks, and is associated with decreased functioning, cognitive changes, and a host of physical symptoms.

It might be that ruminations are more likely to be useful when one is sad, but that in major depression they are more likely to be circular and non-constructive. In major depression ruminations might be part of a constellation of cognitive changes which are generally unhelpful, like alterations in memoryattention and decision-making.

Realistic assessment of situations

A second argument as to how depression might be adaptive suggests that persons with depression benefit from what is known as “depressive realism.” In one often-cited study, depressed and non-depressed students were given problems on a computer and asked to what degree they felt their actions were related to a light flashing on the screen.

Non-depressed subjects tended to overestimate their responsibility when light flashing was frequent and considered desirable, and to underestimate it when lights were considered undesirable. Depressed persons had much more realistic assessments of the degree to which their actions were responsible for the lights flashing (5).

The degree to which depressive realism could play a role is not firmly established. One large analysis of available studies concluded that overall there was “a small depressive realism effect.” On the other hand, the authors noted that the findings were more likely to be positive in studies that lacked objective measures of realism and relied more on self-report (6).

In summary, reaching back to part 1 of this two-part series, depression’s ubiquity does not necessarily argue that evolution has favored it as an advantageous trait. Though it is an attractive idea, modern studies have had mixed results on whether there is a relationship between major depression and creativity.

The hypothesis that ruminations in depression lead to problem-solving is controversial, and may be of limited applicability. A second notion is depressive realism, but its effect is small and whether it is seen at all is highly dependent on the methodology of the studies.

It’s important to distinguish between sadness or depressed feelings in response to specific difficult experiences, and major depressive disorders. It seems possible that we have a built-in response to specific difficult experiences which sometimes can be of help in assessing problems and leading to solutions.

It also seems possible that some people such as Lincoln found ways to harness their distress and use it to spur a drive for achievement. But this is different from arguing that major depression is an often helpful state, or that any possible upside compensates for the suffering it involves.

As for me, my bouts with depression would have to produce a significant upside to adequately compensate for what I go through to get back to a state of normalcy. Thus far, only time, positive thought and medication help me get out of the clutches of depression. While in those clutches, however, I trust I don’t lose access to my inherent creativity. We all have it and it can be amazing!

References

1. Zhang, R. et al.: Rumination network dysfunction in major depression: a brain connectome study. Prog. Neur-Psychopharmacol and Biol. Psychiat. 98, March 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2019.109819

3. Lehrer, J.: Comments by Peter Kramer in ‘Depression’s Upside’, New York Times, February 25, 2010.

4. Kennair L.E.O., Kleppestø T.H., Larsen S.M., Jørgensen B.E.G. (2017) Depression: Is Rumination Really Adaptive?. In: Shackelford T., Zeigler-Hill V. (eds) The Evolution of Psychopathology. Evolutionary Psychology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60576-0_3

5. L.B. Alloy and L.Y. Abramson: Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed students: sadder but wiser? J. Experimental Psychol. General 108: 441-485, 1979. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/528910/

6. Moore, M.T. and Fresco, D.M.: Depressive realism: a meta-analytic review. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 32: 496-509, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2012.05.004

Bored? Good! Quarantined? Yes! How’s Your Creativity? Read This.

Anxiety, panic, fear, pandemic stress: The cornerstones of the negative universe. Yet, while all hell is breaking around us, can we still muster up the courage to innovate and create. Is creativity still alive or is it merely napping? Do we create out of despair or want? Out of necessity or desire? I guess that depends on each one of us.

In a recent article in Psychology Today, boredom is cited as an almost certain stimuli for creativity. Now, some of you may not agree with this, and that’s okay. If you don’t and even if you do, let me hear from you with your reasoning.

According to the article, which contains some very interesting points I want to share with you, you’ll see explosive creativity everywhere you look: in how people stuck at home are constructing elaborate recreations of their favorite artworks for the #GettyChallenge; or how we make ways to connect—whether it’s singing from our balconies or happy hour delivery via drones—while social distancing; even in the acerbic memes and uplifting stories flooding social media to offer inane distractions and inspire hope during this crisis.

Interestingly, quarantine and the resulting ennui (a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of excitement) of our home-bound brains have proven to be a catalyst for innovation. Thus, boredom breeds inventive creativity, as long as it’s the right kind of boredom.

Fruitful Boredom

Psychological studies describe five levels of boredom: indifferent, calibrating, searching, reactant, and apathetic. In its seeking state, boredom drives us to find something to engage and delight us. Think of the imaginary friend you had as a child; you did have an imaginary friend, didn’t you? Or the games you’d play with that certain stuffed animal, whose goal in life seemed to be avoiding Mom’s washing machine. Both scenarios seemed to trigger one’s own imagination, and, thus, your creativity. (Note: At least it did mine.)

In today’s society, real boredom escapes us; it seems everywhere you look, all eyes are staring into multiple-shaped devices hosting 24/7 news and entertainment. It’s as if we have to go out of our way to truly be bored.

bonding time of mother and child

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

While technology provides us creative outlets and a means of connecting when we are physically isolated from one another, these distractions are like the digital equivalent of junk food for our brains while good old fashioned boredom is a hunger that nurtures creative thinking.

What’s unique about this quarantine is that it constrains us in so many ways.  Our typical means of working, socializing, and even provisioning ourselves have been dramatically restricted. And while people tend to think that constraints limit creativity and innovation, research proves quite the opposite to be true.

Continue reading

New Report Reveals Crisis in Creative Effectiveness

We like to think that every creative execution hits right on target. Well, we know better even when we don’t like to admit it. A recent report from the UK, suggests quite the opposite, that creative effectiveness is being called into question.

UK advertising agencies are fast-paced, dynamic and produce advertising, media and marketing that many consider to be the envy of the world.  One organization that voices their concerns, showcases their work and continuously develops their skills to keep them at the top of their game is the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), incorporated by Royal Charter.

The IPA exists to help members be the best they can be. They set the protocols for the UK industry’s best practice standards. They advise on how to choose an agency, how to run an agency or how to behave if you work in an agency. They also work collaboratively with members to improve diversity within the industry.

So, as this new report makes the rounds of the British ad scene, it will be interesting to see what the reaction is. It will, I dare say, be interesting to watch what, if any, reaction there is here in the US. If anything, the US has always been much more conservative in our approach to advertising compared to the UK. Does that conservatism mean our ads are more effective than theirs. Doubtful. It’s sort of like comparing apples and oranges. Continue reading