How to Tap into your Creative Energy (Part Three)

In my two last blog postings on Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative, I visited several of Henry’s insights on how organizational tensions and negative influences (of “assassin”-like factors like dissonance, fear and unrealistic expectations) can impair the creativity of your association. But in today’s final installment, we look at positive and constructive strategies that Henry recommends, to stoke our organizations’ creative fires. He says that our default strategy of “working harder and staring more intently at the problem to achieve better results, is like trying to control the weather by staring at the clouds.” What’s called for is a change in strategy that could benefit all of our organizations.

Henry studies five elements that he considers to be key to building necessary boundaries that enable us to generate and use positive and sustainable creativity. The elements are represented by the acronym F-R-E-S-H—focus, relationships, energy, stimuli and hours.

First, Focus—We can train ourselves to focus deeply on a problem with high-quality thought (instead of by measuring the number of hours we’ve been thinking); and to work when our creative rhythm is on the rise, or peaking, instead of having to “appear productive” all the time. By that focus, we can give priority to difficult problems, when our creative rhythm is strong. Similarly, we can cluster similar, more routine tasks together, when that rhythm ebbs. Focus is essential to the creative process.

Relationships—need maintaining, as they generate part of our creative work (especially in team-settings). But we must be careful to leverage relationships that feed our creativity and to limit time spent with those who are “creativity vampires”– who drain the energy from our meetings. Relationships allow you to be “real” with others in your organization and to “submit to the wisdom of others,” when appropriate. Henry argues that working in a creative circle with constructive peers can provide valuable solutions to your work.

Forming a creative circle (within an association) can also allow you to share with others when your creativity is high, by collaborating and inspiration, and then to listen to those others when your creativity declines. Thus sharing the process of creation with others lends itself well to continually developing thoughts over time, and not viewing a project or problem as a monolith.

Energy— is another building block for creativity in every organization. People are the most productive (and have better ideas) when they move between periods of “high focus and intermittent rest.” The “50-minute focus” discussed by Steve Slaunwhite in The Wealthy Freelancer, comes to my mind here (earlier pioneered by Eugene Schwartz as a “33 minute, 33 second” unit of work). In these approaches, a Creative alternates periods of intense concentration with (shorter) periods of undisciplined time (“buffers”). Periods of such work can be followed by unrelated, but necessary, physical tasks (cleaning out the hard drive on our laptops, getting stationery from the cupboard, even using the washroom), to maintain a reliable stream of energy. This approach measures the creative “value” of energy as being more than just time, and as a process more than a product. The goal is to funnel energy by your own mental rhythm, not by unrealistic measurements of what’s “predictable” or efficient.

If Henry is right, in our associations, we should feel “stretched” but not “overextended” by work, by applying energy, value, rhythm and process. Henry uses the metaphor of a vine in which, “if the young growth” like fresh ideas “are not pruned back, the vine will bear less fruit and eventually produce none at all” (128). If our lives are dominated by ever-new, unconsidered obligations and an “always on” attitude, we’re not doing that pruning. To switch metaphors, we’ll miss any critical breakthroughs we could have, because we won’t be balancing energy with rest. And he notes that not managing our energy in our associations means that we’ll never sustain effectiveness over time (128).

Stimuli—We have to manage the information overload of the office (emails, calls, text messages, face-to-face meetings, industry-related reading to keep abreast with trends, etc). If it’s “garbage in,” it’ll be “garbage out.”

Stimuli would be outlawed by most Creatives if it didn’t sometimes contain information necessary to our work! Stimuli are relevant if they give us challenges that enable us to understand complex concepts. But we need “intuitive connecting points between the random stimuli” if value, rhythm and process are to prevail in our work, and if dissonance, fear, and unrealistic expectations are to be subverted. Henry observes that the more random the information is that hits us daily, the more effort is required for us to process and use it. So we shouldn’t waste time tracking down just any scattershot ideas. For instance, why research consumer blogs for a new photocopy machine, when staff are already well-served by a new competitively-priced model that the company rep demonstrated yesterday?

Finally, Henry says that Hours are a final element that can help us to generate creativity. When our days are filled with meetings and internal management, what are we doing to guard time, “the currency of productivity?” We should block off periods of uninterrupted thinking, that are respected by colleagues. Pacing ourselves so that we are not “always on,” and so we allow ourselves to engage in purposeful but “unnecessary creating” (such as painting, creative writing, rearranging furniture, writing a song, etc) is crucial. Taking artists’ dates with oneself (based on Julia Cameron’s concept) enables us to privilege creativity for its value, rhythm and process; and help us to shake the “assassins” of dissonance, fear and unrealistic expectations.

In sum, Henry’s The Accidental Creative is a “must-read” for many associations, since it provides insights on how to generate, and work within, the structural boundaries of F-R-E-S-H—to acknowledge value more than time, rhythm more than efficiency, process over product, and minimize–or at least keep in perspective—the perennial nay-saying assumptions of dissonance, fear and unrealistic expectations.

We can facilitate creativity by dealing with the daily pressures and expectations of our organizations. By controlling these factors as much as possible, we can create an “exponential return on resources” (35).

The bottom line, Henry says, is that we’ll only see results in our creativity, when we “let go of anxiety” and “pour” ourselves into activity that increases our “capacity to experience future insights.” Please write me with your ideas on finding and mining creativity. I’d love to hear from you!

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