Dew Droplets

Food for thought this Friday morning with some quotes:

“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs

“The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.” – Oscar Wilde

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” – Ray Bradbury

“Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.” – William Plomer

So… what level are you thinking on? Are you a leader or a follower? Where is your critical spirit? Are you a thinker or a doer? How do you connect the dots?


Creative Stumbling Blocks: How to Hurdle Them

This is a guest post from contributor Sarah Whinnem. Sarah and I met on Twitter and have maintained a relationship online for quite some time. She is an inspiration as a visual artist, active social media participant, and good friend.

Creative Stumbling Blocks: How to Hurdle Them

No matter what aspect of the creative world you work in, I’m sure you’ve had the experience of hitting a metaphorical creativity wall. It happens more often for some, but trust me, it happens to everyone. Personally, I find myself in the situation for mainly one of two reasons: First, I have been concentrating on something so long that I can’t see the forest for the trees. I’m too close up to whatever I’m working on to have a fresh perspective. Second, I am working on something I’m not totally invested in. It’s usually a project where I either don’t have clear direction, or I’m not quite happy with the direction it’s taken. These situations seem to get me stuck pretty easily. But in analyzing what my personal stumbling blocks are, I’ve  come up with a few good strategies to get past them. Some are more productive than others, and I have taught myself how to recharge my creative batteries while staying on track.


The Obvious: Take a Break

This trick ALWAYS works. Walk away from the desk, the laptop, the paper, and leave it alone momentarily. This is often a solution to the first stumbling block. By giving your mind a break from the project youÕre working on, you can come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes your brain just needs to change gears to get back up to speed. Einstein allegedly worked a job in the patent office to keep his brain distracted while not concentrating on physics.

The Trap: Procrastinating
The key to this trick is that it’s very easy to get distracted into doing something else altogether, and get sidetracked from whatever you were working on. This isn’t exactly the point of getting a mental break, so you have to be careful not to let yourself get carried away!

The Better Solution: Alternative Work
I have found that I work better by simply putting one project aside and switching to another type of work. This seems to be more suited to non-thinking-intensive work, such as data housekeeping, billing or filing, or even some types of coding. These types of things aren’t that fun, but all need to be done on a regular basis, and I’ve found that they’re the perfect diversion when I’m stuck and getting them done still allows me to be productive.


The Inspiring: Creativity by Osmosis

Another really good way to get your “Ah-ha!” muscles moving is to be inspired by the creativity of others. Today, there are thousands of millions of galleries, articles, and conversations by and among those infinitely more creative than I am. It often doesn’t take long to be inspired when viewing someone else’s work. Now I don’t mean copying here, I mean letting someone else’s creative solution to a problem inspire you to come up with your own creative solution.

The Trap: Idle Browsing
It’s very easy to wander off on a tangent while you’re searching around for inspiration. A gallery of photography easily leads into a list of photographers on Twitter and before you know it, you’re catching up on all the latest Sockington news. Or reading reviews of the newest camera to be released. I have found that I need to be very disciplined when opening up my feed reader so I stick to my Design category and avoid ICanHasCheezburger when I am supposed to be working.

The Better Solution: Boundaries
I am easily distracted with this, so I have two solutions. One, set a time or content limit for the diversion. I give myself a small amount of time, or if I have found something interesting, I’ll finish reading it. Two, a great alternative is to pick up an actual book. I love flipping through an art or design book to see what the masters have done. Even poetry is inspiring- there are tons of fresh ideas in creative fields outside my particular area.


The Collaborative: Brainstorm with Others

Two heads are better than one, right? A productive way to get inspired for a project is to get feedback from others. This solution works especially well for projects you’re stuck on for the second reason- ambiguity. Another set of eyes can help you see something you may have missed, or may be able to suggest a solution you haven’t thought of. I’m especially lucky in that I work with several other talented designers I can collaborate with, but communities such as Twitter, ConceptFeedback, or Dribbble are all ways for freelance and independent designers to work together. This tactic also mentally switches your brain from design mode into conversation mode, which is often enough to power through a tough spot.

The Trap: Getting Social
Again along the distraction lines, collaborating with others quickly can progress into chatting. You just need to be aware of that and stay focused. I actually don’t have too much of a problem staying on topic when I’m discussing work with a colleague. This seems to be the most helpful tactic for me.

The Better Solution: Meetings
As bad a connotation as that word has, it’s useful for brainstorming. It’s a simple as setting a time limit for a quick session where you can talk about the project, and come up with a solution together. It’s helpful if you’re direct and concise about the conundrum you’re having and what problems you need solved.

All in all, the main idea here is to force your brain to switch gears, and to know what motivates yourself. It’s relieving that when I get stuck in a rut, I know myself well enough to realize what works and what doesn’t. Staying inspired and productive is really about knowing yourself and finding out what stimulates your creativity.

Sarah is a graphic designer, Mac geek, and mean margarita-maker. Check out her site* and be sure to follow this brilliant beauty on Twitter @madysondesigns. *Note: Sarah’s site is currently under construction, but should be back up and running soon. Make sure to check back and experience her brilliance first-hand.

Dew Droplets

image credit: Sandy Kelly

The best of the web as relates to creativity:

Anything is possible with a little bit of Creative Problem Solving. Thoughtwrestling tackles creativity with some notes on problem solving. Don’t forget to write them with your own real-life examples of creative problem solving!

The concept of books is changing very quickly. Perhaps the biggest leap in information sharing since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, online media is changing the way we think and how we communicate. What if you could have a Choose Your Own Adventure story where your choices shape the author’s work in real time? What about a story serial that had multiple endings or was re-written countless times through other points of view? Textbooks with notes, highlights, and bookmarks from multiple students or even notes from your own professor right in the margins? Technical manuals that self-update? All of these things may be possible with the use of relational databases and e-Books, says Chris Kubica on Publishing Perspectives. If you had no limits, what kind of book would YOU write?

Having a hard time coming up with that next blog post? Read: 6 Ways to Constantly Produce Quality Blog Content.

With so many people lately raving over Apple’s new iPad, it came as a bit of a shock to read that Peter Bregman returned his brand new, fully functioning device. He argues that the iPad is too good, too consuming, too fun and he is never bored, thus hindering his own creativity. What’s the value of boredom? Do you get your best inspiration while doing nothing at all? Do your best ideas hit in the shower? Taking out the garbage? Trying (and failing) to fall asleep at 2am? Do you make time to be bored, to get inspired? What’s most conducive to your own creativity?

Does your blog have a balanced diet? Let’s see: raisin bran, spinach, roast, chocolate cake, tobasco, check… HubSpot addresses the 5 different kinds of posts every blog should have.

Mid-Year Goals Assessment for Creative Minds

Evaluation and refocusing are two essential pieces to accomplishing goals, especially for someone like me, who often comes up with tons of creative ideas, but never seems to have the energy to complete them all.

Last week, I posted regarding my goals for 2010 and the plans in place to achieve those goals. This week, I reflect on what’s worked, what hasn’t and where to go from here. I am doing this with just a few simple steps.

  1. Review my best laid plans to remind myself of all the things I want to accomplish, both large and small.
  2. Assess which goal paths I have been following and how much progress I have made.
  3. Look for other goal path opportunities.
  4. Act.

Learn

Assessment: I have utilized my free time very well and integrated learning into my work life with much success. I have accomplished a lot in the way of reading (books and blogs). I have deepened and broadened professional relationships, both through my office and no my own. I am extremely grateful to have a great new mentor and other professionals in my network whom I consider positive influencers, teachers, and colleagues. I’ve discovered areas of interest I didn’t know I had, uncovered talents and built skills I didn’t think I had the capacity for.  I view every challenge as a learning opportunity. I’m grateful and determined, working hard on every creative project and taking every chance to develop skills as a young professional. I’ve started journaling (on paper, in ink) again, launched this new blog to catalogue my progress in creative ventures and I am keeping the conversation going on the creative process across disciplines and fields and various platforms. I haven’t made it to any of the finish lines for my learning goals, but I’ve made huge strides.

Next step: I need to get out that 35 mm film camera and take some photos!


Create

Assessment: I’ve started this new blog about the creative process and have been successful with posting fairly regularly. I’ve cleaned out old clothing and have a huge pile of things to donate to charity… soon it will be time to make my own pieces. Though I haven’t completely succeeded here, I’m encouraged to do more the second half of the year. I’m excited about more opportunities to create blog content, my own clothing, jewelry for my roommate (who’s allergic to any metal except for gold), and putting together a cohesive and comprehensive offline journal. I used to carry around a Moleskine, which was not just a journal, but a living piece of art – I’ve started to get back into this practice and it’s amazing what a difference it makes in my life. Even if no one else ever sees it, “Art for art’s sake.”

Next step: Design my logo and put together a site. Completely finish cleaning out my closets and get my art and craft supplies in order in a workspace.



Invest

Assessment: I am doing MUCH better with eating well and have been shopping almost exclusively at the farmer’s market and only at Trader Joe’s aside from that. I have invested money into a personal trainer and this morning I started working out at the gym with her. The monthly membership and training sessions are expensive, but I’m looking forward to getting into shape and staying that way. I felt great this morning and, though I will be sore tomorrow, the investment in my future health is the only motivation I need to keep going. I’ve done a terrible job at keeping track of the accomplishments, but I certainly have been keeping up with the goal of doing something every week that I’m proud of – I think I’m going to start writing them all down for future reference and motivation. As I said above, I’m working on cleaning up and out and getting rid of any clutter (this one still needs quite a bit of work). I’ve been doing great with paying down what little debt I have and hope to continue on that trend throughout the rest of the year.

Next step: Writing in my journal the accomplishments I want to remember, work at better balancing my budget.

Image Credits: Learn – Rachael Ashe; Create – jessica wilson; Invest – connie zhen.

I’d love to know where you are on your goals for the year. How do YOU assess your progress? What adjustments have you made? How do you feel about the rest of the year?

Dew Droplets

image by Rakeem Cunningham

The best of the web as relates to creativity:

Think a press release sounds too much like fiction? That’s probably because the writer has a great handle on writing. Read this post that explains 10 Things Public Relations Flacks Can Teach You About Writing Fiction.

Not sure what to write about? Here’s an idea or three: Let Analytics Be Your Guide from HubSpot’s Inbound Internet Marketing Blog.

The the Creative Copy Challenge and show what your made of! These sets of key words challenge you to create a short story that incorporates all 10. This morning, a feisty, fantastic bunch inspired by Shane Arthur’s grandmother.

Len Kendall Tweeted the other day about the word “fresh” – thinking fresh involves strategy and discipline. Becoming Innovative involves using what you know and linking it with the unexpected. Use what you know, turn it, mold it, form it into something fresh.

How To Grow New Brain Cells and Outwit Competitors is another knock-it-out-of-the-park post by Jonathan Fields. He illustrates how physical fitness leads to success in his series on Fueling Epic Journeys. Get ready to fuel your own when you join Zia Hassan, who posted not long ago on this blog about How To Get Into The Best Creative Shape of Your Life. How similar are building muscle and building brain cells? What does that mean for the creative spirit? I’ll let you be the judge.

What kinds of things influence the creative process in putting together a logo? There are many, but have you ever thought about what the energy of your logo embodies? Carolyn Winter, a professional energy healer and life coach, analyses Chris Brogan‘s new logo in her post, asking Do you resonate with your logo? Do your customers resonate with it? Something else to think about when you are creating – how does energy, physical and perceived, play into your work?

Dew Droplets

image from National Geographic

The best of the web as relates to creativity:

In need of some inspiration? Why not try on a new persona? Stepping out of the norm might just give you the kick in the pants you needed. Copyblogger’s Johnny B. Truant explains the freedom that comes along with letting your true self out, the one true self that you were always a little scared to be, but the one who drives your dreams, who inspires everyone s/he meets including you. So, who are you, really? What is your true self going to accomplish today?

We all get tired now and then. Burnt out. Here’s 10 Ways to Stay Creative While Exhausted… just a little fuel to keep you going this Friday.

Let us not forget the things we can do with absolutely nothing at all… here’s some fantastic art created only with the human form (work safe).

PLAY. Be silly. Do something frivolous and unexpected. Let spontaneity take over. Read The Creative Life: (Re)Learning How to Play.

Sir Ken Robinson speaks about creating the right environment for learning and creativity in his TED Talk (TED = Technology, Entertainment, Design): Bring On The Learning Revolution!

Why I Like A Challenge

There are several reasons why I like a good challenge:

rock climbing

image from Flip D

1. If forces me to think. A good challenge forces me to really think. In order to overcome a challenge, I have to be present, set aside all other projects, and concentrate on the one and only challenge that occupies my brain. It requires a clarity that isn’t always present in the everyday routine. It’s centering, grounding. It draws me from my own selfish thoughts and requires a peace of mind, something that shifts my thought process and makes me a little uncomfortable. A good challenge forces my brain to grow.

2. It forces me to use my resources. When there is a true challenge, I am forced to draw on my knowledge, utilize my skills, pull together my assets and put everything on the table. Not only do I bring my pens and pencils, my everyday experience, but also those untapped springs of talent, those yet unused or undiscovered assets. A good challenge shows me that which I did not know I was capable of.

3. It forces me to be creative. When a valuable challenge presents itself, not only does it demand time and attention, but it makes all I do take a back seat to the creative process. I have to think outside the box – or reinvent the box – or break down the box altogether – or put the box back together again. A venerable problem or issue is not something I have ever encountered before; it’s something completely new. I like to think of it as an adventure. On this quest, I may surprise myself. Ideas flow forth from that moment of zen, of complete quiet, where my brain has never ventured before. While the process and the solution may well be influenced by past experience, each one is new and completely unique to the situation. A good challenge brings about change.

Inspiration for Your Weekend

image from Anna Nguyen

The best of the web as relates to creativity:

The power of creativity is an awesome thing, indeed. Look what the Favela Painting Project is doing for the slums of Rio de Janeiro! Amazing what a little paint and a little instruction can do. (Thanks, Mack Collier, for the link!)

Steven Pressfield interviews Jonathan Fields, author of Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love on his creative process. Check it out here.

The Six Hats of Creative Communication from Best100Ideas.com explores the different colors of creative thinking in the context of communication strategy.

Struggling to make every thought of yours new and creative? Check out the antidote: Why Being Obvious Can Be Original, Too from Danny Brown.

The lines are blurring… how everything is related to everything, or at least how sales writing is related to public relations from Amy Mengel. What perspective are you writing from? How will it improve if you incorporate the best of everything else you’re great at? What about thinking outside the box? Or knocking down the walls of the box altogether?

Need to brainstorm on how to brainstorm? Usual cloud technique not working for you? Explore all types of Creativity and Innovation Techniques from Mycoted, a wiki site dedicated to improving creativity and innovation for solving problems worldwide. See something missing? Add it! (Thanks for the tip, MyCreativeTeam!)

So you want to be a writer? What are you waiting for?! Check out 8 Must-Dos for Aspiring Writers from Amber Naslund. This woman makes things happen. She’s inspirational. Follow her lead and soon you’ll be inspiring others, too!

How to Get Into the Best Creative Shape of Your Life

This is a guest post from contributor Zia Hassan. I have known Zia as a friend for years – we went to college together at American University. Throughout time, he has always been an inspiration in his creativity. As a songwriter, guitarist, and singer, Zia is always bringing more light into the world and he has a lot to share. If you are interested in collaborative projects, I encourage you to take a look at the project he completed for his 25th birthday this year – Collision. The Collision project and performance benefited Haiti Relief.  Proceeds from the soundtrack will go to Words, Beats, and Life.  Proceeds from the book will go to Hollaback DC.

How to Get Into the Best Creative Shape of Your Life

Getting into the best creative shape of your life is hard work.  It’s comparable to the challenge of getting physically fit.  Most fitness experts recommend a healthy lifestyle, which promotes permanent, long-lasting changes. Living a healthy lifestyle also means that you can’t be as focused on immediate results as you would be if you were doing P90X or the Southbeach diet, but it means that you’re attacking the problem of your current unhealthy lifestyle from all relevant angles.

The same concepts used in developing a “fit” lifestyle can be applied when designing a creatively fit lifestyle.  For instance:

1. Eat nutritious foods.  Devour as much relevant content as possible.  This means skimming the fat by deleting RSS feeds that don’t inspire you or give you new perspective.  it means un-following those Tweeps who just post their daily meals.  It also means seeking out as much knowledge as possible in the offline world, as well.  If you meet someone who is successful (in whatever field), ask them what they did to get what they have and try to apply it to your own work.  Just like in the dieting world, it’s important not to get obsessive about this.  Watch stupid YouTube videos occasionally.  It’s just important to make sure that this part of the plan doesn’t consume your entire life, or you’ll never get around to actually creating.

2.  Work out regularly. Sit down at the same time every day, and do your work.  Creative work doesn’t get done if you sit around all day dreaming about it.  Get something onto paper, even if it’s absolutely terrible.  If you can do this, you’ve already made progress.  You wouldn’t give up on the gym just because you couldn’t bench press immediately, right?  You may start noticing, after you develop this habit, that inspiration starts to strike (coincidentally) the minute you pick up your pen in the morning.

3.  Rest. This is two-fold. First, you need to actually rest.  As in, sleep.  8-9 hours a night.  You can’t be possibly be as perceptive as you need to be in order to be creative if you’re running on 4.5 hours of sleep.  No, coffee won’t help.  Second, take breaks from creating.  Don’t try to write a novel in one day.  If your mental energy gets you as far as half a page, don’t over-exert your creative muscles or you’re looking at injury.  And mental injury is much more difficult to recover from.

4.  Muscle confusion. This is a term used in the fitness world for mixing up your exercise routine.  If you do the same thing every day, your body learns to adapt and you end up on a plateau.  Same goes for your creative work.  Try writing a country song if you normally do hip-hop.  Color in neon green.  Take a photo in black-and-white.  The more things you try, the more you stimulate your mind.

5.  Ditch the treadmill and run outside. Seek out new experiences.  Be curious. Sticking to your same old routine will only keep your mind stagnant.  Go to art galleries, concerts of musicians you’d normally never go to, movies you’d never see, places you’d never visit.  If you stick to the same old routine, it’s a lot like being on a treadmill at a gym every day.  You don’t want to run in place, creatively. 

6.  Stop calorie counting. Sure, calories counting can help you lose weight, but it can also suck the joy out of the “getting fit” process due to constant over-analysis.  When comes to being in creative shape, you don’t want to be a meticulous perfectionist.  I know a few perfectionists and the one thing they have in common is that they rarely produce creative output. Being a perfectionist about your creative work can suck the joy out of the creation process to the point at which you give up entirely.

7.  Habits first, equipment later. Some people think that if they buy an expensive piece of exercise equipment or a really expensive gym membership, that the money they spent will motivate them to work out regularly.  The truth is:  paying for an expensive tool won’t automatically produce work of quality or frequency.  You won’t take more pictures just because you bought that super expensive Nikon.  You won’t write better songs with that 3,000 dollar Taylor.  Pick up your point and shoot and go for it.  Make recordings on your iPhone’s voice recorder.  Get into the habit first, and when you’re producing a steady stream of output, you’ll know be able to justify the cost of that new condenser microphone.

The obvious lesson here is that living a creative lifestyle is not actually about being creative.  It’s about forming habits that will end up making you more receptive to the connections in the world around you, and as a by-product, you’ll end up being more creative.

Now go, go, go!

Zia is a songwriter, music producer, and tech geek.  Hear his music, read his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ziasami.