Vincent Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. I have had the opportunity to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam several times and always walk away inspired by his creativity, productivity, and personal story.
His words are equally inspiring. The following quotes are frequently attributed to him. I’m not sure whether he said them all or not, but I treasure them nonetheless.
“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” –Vincent Van Gogh
I found it fascinating, and I kept returning to the prompts to push myself. Then, I reached out to Jane to talk about her research and experience into creative strength training.
Jane Dunnewold teaches and lectures internationally, and has mounted numerous one – person exhibitions of her art work around the world. The former President of the Surface Design Association, she has authored numerous books on textile patterning and surface design.
“You are perfect the way you are…and you could use a little improvement.” -Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Yes, Skip, it IS possible. It would be disingenuous to say that everyone is capable of being creative at the same level, but EVERYONE is capable of learning to think (and behave) more creatively than they do right now. Of course there are people who are really creative, and they’ve embraced it. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the large percentage of adults who are “out of touch” with what it means to be creative.
Re-connecting with creativity happens in stages. The first step is acknowledging how you feel about your own abilities. You might not feel very creative. You might not feel creative at all. Either way, I’d be inclined to ask, “What about other people? How creative do you think they are?” Because most of us can see something creative about other people’s behavior more easily than we can see it in ourselves.
Once we begin to notice other people’s creative ability, it’s easier to acknowledge our own. After all, if everyone else has at least some modicum of creativity, by default we must, too! Accepting that creativity is in us, no matter how untapped it may be, is the first step in learning how to unlock its potential.
Copyright Jane Dunnewold. Used by permission.
By the way, I highly recommend actually writing down whatever you’re thinking concerning creativity – yours or someone else’s – because then you’ve tethered your thoughts to the earth plane. We’ve all had the bummer experience of having a great idea – one we can’t possibly forget. But then it slips out of consciousness, and no matter how hard we work to get it back, it’s gone. Writing captures thoughts and ideas in order to allow time to develop them.
The second stage is remembering creative approaches or ideas we’ve used in the past. Sometimes I use a few questions to get people started, like, “Can you remember making something as a kid, from odds and ends – maybe re-purposing something, maybe even a toy? What was it? How did you do it?”
Another good question? Games we invent as kids. What were the rules? Who made them up? These prompts almost always lead to memories of creative activity—changing a recipe, fashioning a quick fix for some household problem, coming up with a gift for someone that was off the wall. Most people are creating all the time. They just haven’t named it yet. So asking someone to recall small acts of creative action primes the mental pump.
The third stage encourages people to embrace being creative on a regular basis. Because, as is true of all learned behavior, practice helps us get better at whatever we’re doing. Athletes don’t come out fully formed and neither do musicians or spiritual guides. Each works repeatedly at improvement. Creativity isn’t any different. You may not ever be the most creative kid on the block, but you can get a heck of a lot better at it if you intentionally seek opportunities to be creative in your approach to work or play – or Life, for that matter – and then embrace those opportunities.
Cultivating strategies to enhance the ability to think creatively include asking questions when you face a situation where the “same old, same old” doesn’t feel like the best solution. The questions could include:
What’s boring about how this is usually resolved?
What are the roadblocks to the problem’s solution?
What’s the craziest solution I can think of right now?
What would ___________ do? (Not Jesus, but someone you really admire and believe is a creative person! What would that person do under the circumstances?)
Maybe you’re not problem solving per se; you’re just thinking about your life and wishing you could be “more creative.” If that’s the case, then answer these questions:
Is there something I’d really like to learn to do?
Am I afraid to try it? Why? What am I afraid of?
Can I accept trying something even if I’m crappy at it, if I think it will be fun?
Each of us can craft questions that suit our own situation and personality. But ask a few of the above to kick things off. Get a feel for how to advance beyond usual thinking where problem solving or personal use of time is concerned.
“Find your own rhythm. Seek your own alignment.” -Jane Dunnewold
Copyright Jane Dunnewold, 2005, Used by Permission
I LOVE this question! Stamina = strength, right? Athletes build physical stamina, and you might think “creative” stamina only applies to artistic types. But anyone can build creative stamina by showing up and by working with the three stages I described above. Just don’t turn away or give up when the going gets rough. I’m reminded of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”: Tim Robbins cogitating, strategizing, working endlessly, bit by bit, to escape from prison. Creative stamina isn’t as harrowing as that, but it does involve good-naturedly returning to a situation with resolve. As an artist, it means not getting a “poor me”’ attitude when things aren’t going well in the studio. It would be easy to look at what other accomplished artists have done, and give up. Just shelve it. But don’t. Keep working. And there’s always more to do. The end goal is elusive. This is the story of authors who send manuscripts to 50 agents before they find one who will give them the time of day. This is the story of actors who try for roles until they’re totally beat, but go to auditions anyway – and eventually land a part.
People who don’t think of themselves as creative assume what I’m describing has nothing to do with them. But it does. Building creative stamina means figuring out what you care about and then engaging with it creatively—whether you love to cook, and the vegetable soup isn’t quite right, or you love to garden, but the ground is hard as a rock. Maybe you don’t even know what creative passion is, but you keep showing up and trying things on for size.
“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.” -Katherine Hepburn
It’s no secret that I love books. A few years ago, I confessed to abiliophobia, the fear of being without a book or at least something to read. (Try telling your doctor about your affliction and see what happens.) There’s little more concerning to me than being stuck somewhere with nothing to read.
Fortunately for me, my career has me covered. Whether visiting a library, a book warehouse, an author conference, a publisher, a bookstore or my home, I always have several within reach.
Like most of us, a book cover captures my interest. I often pause and peruse books simply based on the graphic design.
Do you ever buy a book because you are attracted to its cover? That’s the goal of every designer: to influence that moment and make you take action. Pick me up!
Each year, I make a list of the best book covers. And, it’s not only fun, did you know that book covers also offer valuable leadership and goal setting lessons? (Click here to read more.)
If you want to compare this year’s list with previous years:
An artist I know loves to show me a blank canvas and describe, in detail, the painting. To her, it’s so clear. Where I see only a blank canvas, she sees an entire landscape full of vibrant colors.
An entrepreneur I know once took his family on a tour of a remote piece of property. He shared his vision for where buildings would go and all the customers who would be mingling in various parts of the land. The family couldn’t imagine it, but he saw it all vividly. And, today, it looks exactly like that. It’s a thriving business.
An author friend of mine creates characters in her mind. Month after month, she dreams about them, talks with them, listens to them. They become so real to her that, when she finally starts writing, it’s as if she is merely recording what happens instead of inventing it.
“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” –Vincent van Gogh
On a recent vacation, my wife was relaxing on a deck with a view of a mountain. As she often does, she was bringing people into her mind and praying for them one by one. Mesmerized by the beautiful scene in front of her, she decided to take a quick picture with her phone.
When we returned home, she was looking at her pictures and shared this one with a few close friends. Immediately, the responses started coming back. There’s something in the clouds!
“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” –Chuck Palahniuk
Rob-Jan De Jong is a speaker, consultant and faculty member at Wharton’s executive program on Global Strategic Leadership. His new book, Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead, outlines what it takes to become a visionary leader. Sharing examples and principles from his research, Rob-Jan’s mission is to increase your personal visionary capacity. I recently had the opportunity to ask him about vision and the art of looking ahead.
“Anyone can grow their visionary capacity.” –Rob-Jan De Jong
As a CEO, I just loved this sentence: “Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.” It’s really something for everyone, not only those with a title. How do corporate leaders unleash creativity and vision at all levels of the organization?
Empowerment and trust.
An important success factor is around empowerment and trust. A directive company culture is detrimental for people’s engagement. Having a sense of influence is a prerequisite for getting people to become involved in the hard work of engaging with uncertainty and anticipating the future.
“Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.” –Rob-Jan De Jong
A second critical factor is fault tolerance. This naturally goes with empowerment – people will get it right and every so often they will get it wrong. These are the important moments of truth for you as the leader, as your response will set the standard for the culture that shapes from these moments. People will be on the lookout about how serious you are about empowerment. My simple suggestion is to not focus on what went wrong but to focus on what the person has learned.
“Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset.” –Rob-Jan De Jong
And a third factor that should not be underestimated is that you will also need to enable your people to do this. Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset. And it is often a step aside from the environment people have grown accustomed to, so you will need to enable your people to strengthen themselves in this area.
That might sound like blatant promotion for my work and my book, but I’m absolutely convinced that this has been a gap in management theory. Despite the widely acknowledged importance of ‘vision’ in leadership, little – if any – systematic support has been provided in terms of developing your visionary side as a leader in a responsible way. Scholars, business schools and strategy textbooks agree that a vision is one of the most powerful instruments a leader can have. And how you go about developing this side of your leadership has been met with tremendous silence.
It was my intention to fill part of this gap by offering a comprehensive perspective on the topic, original ideas, a developmental framework, various practices, and many stories and anecdotes to draw lessons from.
“Vision, the hallmark of leadership, is less a derivative of spreadsheets and more a product of the mind called imagination.” –Abraham Zaleznik