January 17, 2011

Curiosity and Creativity: Part 2

Last Monday I wrote about the role of curiosity and creativity in helping you develop a satisfying retirement. As I noted, creativity is a word that sometimes scares people. Many of us have this self-limiting view of the subject and believe we aren't gifted in that way. But, that simply isn't true. We use creativity everyday in virtually every aspect of our life, but often simply don't think of it as creativity.

Can your native creativity and curiosity be developed and strengthened? Absolutely. In this post, I want to detail some specific steps you can take to help you free your creativity and begin to find new inspiration.

Creativity Steps You Can Take

We all have had the experience when a great idea has flashed through our mind. It could be a solution for a problem at home or work, a way to make something work better or an idea to save money on a home project. It could be something quite complex or quite simple. The problem is that creative thought comes to us, and usually goes just as quickly. Because our mind is never still, an idea is easily lost.

The solution is just as simple: capture the idea right away. I've mentioned an idea journal before. This is a notebook of some sort where you write down every random idea or flash of insight you have. It can also include a clipping from a magazine, a screen shot of a particular idea from a web page, or a quotation that inspires you.

A small digital recorder is very helpful when you are away from a computer or a pad of paper. See something, hear something, or experience something that intrigues you and make a brief comment into the recorder. Later, transcribe the thought into the idea journal.

If you are stimulated visually, photos, clippings of pictures, videos, scenes in a movie, or even a rough sketch can become the foundation for a creative event. Look at the sketch books of Leonardo Da Vinci if you doubt the creative power of pencil and paper.

Develop a list of what you have tried before to solve a problem or to expand your creative output. After each entry note what you liked about each attempt and what where the pitfalls. Make another list of all the things you have thought about trying and re-read it on a regular basis. I begin playing guitar this way. After deciding I missed making music, I finally was prompted to buy a new guitar after reading that entry in my creativity journal month after month for almost a year. Suddenly something clicked and the time felt right.

At this point in the process do not self-edit. The idea may turn out to be impractical. Then again, it may be the perfect solution for a problem you haven't thought about yet. The idea may sit unused for weeks, months, or even years until there an application becomes apparent.

In addition to these more general approaches let me offer a specific strategy based on one aspect of your life.  The next post in the series will continue with two or three additional areas that you may find helpful in your quest to expand your creativity.

Interacting with Other people

One of the most important sources of creative thoughts can come from others. I am sure you know people who have interests and experiences different from yours. Your job is to talk with those people about what they do and you don't. Take someone out for coffee. Take a walk together in a park. Pack a picnic lunch and talk over a sandwich and chips. In a relaxed setting like these you can get almost anyone to talk about what interests them and why.

You may not be interested in what they are so passionate about. But, your mind might suddenly make a connection between something said and a need you have. Importantly, after talking and listening go find a quiet place. Be alone with your mind. Think about what you heard or felt. Decide if anything you heard is useful to you in any way.

If so, write thoughts into your idea journal. Let them percolate. Do not categorize what you hear. Force your mind to think of extensions of what is talked about. What is the relationship between what that person said and something else you may use? Can you think of a way to do something they have described better, faster, or differently?

Here is a exercise for you to try: look at something in your home, at a store, or even at a friend's home. Now, think of three different things you could do with it, or springboard a new thought from it. You don't actually have to do any of the three ideas. The point is to stimulate the part of your brain that looks for connections and extensions. In the Aha book the author gives this example: a friend saw an illustration on a toy box. Instead of just thinking it was a pretty drawing, he was inspired to create a series of books for children based on the character on the box.  

Ready for another? Think of one thing you have read or done today. Relate it to something else in your life. 90% of the ideas for the satisfying retirement blog happen this way. I'll read an article or see a story in the paper that triggers an idea. I'll be looking at family photos or a movie and suddenly be literally assaulted by one or two blog ideas. I don't actively expect this to happen, it just does.

Watch children whenever possible, either your own or grandkids or even children at a mall or in a park. See how they take something common and use it in a dozen uncommon ways. Just because the toy blocks are designed by an adult to be put in order to spell a word doesn't mean they can't be stacked on top of each other to make a tower. Why can't they be used as supports for a piece of railroad track for the Thomas the Train set? As adults we have a basis of knowledge about how to use or do something. Kids don't. Follow their lead.

Embrace ambiguity. Great ideas come when you aren't sure about something. Suspend judgment, be open-ended in what you allow yourself to imagine. Listen to complaints. They are often a tremendous source of opportunities to solve a problem or develop something new. Don't be sure of the answer all the time. Pretend you have to solve a problem differently from the way you usually do.

 I'll stop here before this post becomes too long . I hope you can see the unlimited opportunity in growing your creative muscles when interacting with others. Instead of listing of few of my earlier Related Posts, I want to give you a list of some of the books I consulted to develop these posts. I have read each several times and find they are invaluable to me when I start to get into a rut.

Aha                    by Jordan Ayan
The Artist's Way   by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan
The Creative Age  by Gene Cohen
Creating Minds     by Howard Gardner

The third in this series will outline two more areas in which creativity can be developed and nurtured. Look for Part 3 on Wednesday, January 26th.

Your turn to be creative: What ideas does this post give you to expand your creative universe? What roadblocks to creativity do you face? What hints can you give me to help me in my journey down the creative highway?


  1. For me, creativity comes from a few sources. I read a lot and the right turning of a phrase will absolutely hit home - I smile, re-read it and really feel its meaning. Likewise, certain pictures are just so and ignite inspiration within me. And of course there is that song on the radio with the harmonies just so that bring back a memory or just hit the spot. All of the above put my thinking on a different level and open me up to creativity.

  2. Music is a strong source I hadn't thought of but it certainly fits. Not only familiar songs, but a stirring piece of classical music or evocative jazz work can open the mind to a burst of creativity.

    Good point, Dave.

  3. Creativity always sneaks up on me, usually when I am in a different environment- new place, new people, new questions. Somehow being in my routine just stifles my creativity.

  4. I agree, Ralph. Routine is comfortable and craved by most of us most of the time. But, it is not a good environment for creativity.

    Being exposed to new anything is like rich soil to our creative growth. Does it occasionally produce weeds? Of course. So, pull them out and keep cultivating.

    Gee, I must be thinking about spring planting.

  5. Hi, Bob... I've had some creative ideas while riding a bicycle. And also hiking by myself. For some reason or another, those activities stimulate creative thinking -- at least, they do for me. Bill

  6. I haven't got an ideas journal, but I have plenty of paper and pens around the house to catch a fleeting thought. However you've made me realise I haven't anything next to my bed, I used to have a pen and paper to remember my dreams.

    I'm not sure about your exercises to spark creativity. I've always found it hard to force an idea, it's much easier when they come naturally. That's when writing it down is vital.

    Interesting Bob, I shall be back for more. I found you via Ralph Carlson's blog.

    Leamington Spa, England

  7. Welcome, John. My wife and i were in Warwick a few years ago which is just down the road from Leamington Spa. Very pretty part of England.

    The thing I discovered about the exercises is that is takes practice for them to start working. Just like any new process the first several attempts are awkward and unsatisfying. But, force yourself through a few times and you are likely to find your mind doing its job.

    That being said, you are absolutely correct that great ideas can spontaneously happen and that's when you must be able to reach for a pen & paper or small recorder.

    I visit Ralph's blog quite frequently. Thanks for paying me a visit.

  8. Bill (back a few comments),

    I'm not surprised physical activity helps you with creative thoughts. Fresh air and a lack of everyday distractions is the perfect mix of conditions to stimulate creativity.

    Just don't write down an idea while streaking down a mountainside on your bike. We need you to keep writing your great blog.

  9. Bob, If you want to answer your comments in the correct order, I use the very handy free plugin 'Wordpress Thread Comment'.

    It puts a reply button at the bottom of EVERY comment, your reply looks different, and it's good for SEO.

    It's my favourite plugin. It makes reading and replying to comments a real pleasure, because you can follow the whole conversation.

    Just a thought....

    Leamington Spa, England

  10. John,

    This is not a wordpress blog so I assume the plug in won't work. I wonder if someone has one for blogger? Thanks for the thought. I'd like to find something.

  11. I like the exercise of thinking of three different things you could do with something. I will trying that from now on. Good idea. Thanks.

  12. Glad you liked it, Sue. Let me know if you stumble across something fun or useful from the exercise.


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