Why is it that when business people are taught about creativity, they start to create voraciously?! Writing poems, painting, singing, writing songs? You wouldn’t think that the pinnacle of business excellence is when the person could take some time off and pursue creative endeavors? But maybe that is the pinnacle, and maybe it should be.

Did you read the WSJ cover article last week about Peter Muller, the Morgan Stanley quant trader who took years off to do creative things, including writing songs and playing music in the NYC subway… the WSJ had a quote something along the lines of “if anyone had known that this particular subway musician was worth millions…”

Why is it that Mike Csikszentmihalyi, the creator of the concept and author of the book Flow, says that creativity is important? Is creativity important to flow? Why does creativity become so important along so many lines?

Maybe it’s because of this…

“I do believe it is possible to create, even without ever writing a word or painting a picture, by simply molding one’s inner life. And that too is a deed.”
~ Etty Hillesum

Here is Etty’s quote bio from the Daily quote list:

About Etty Hillesum
Etty Hillesum, less famous than her contemporary, Anne Frank, lived a short life of great courage. She was born in 1914 in the Netherlands to a Dutch father and a Russian mother. She studied law, Slavic languages, and psychology. Hungry for knowledge, she cut down on food in order to buy books. She went voluntarily to the Westerbork camp to help fellow Jews interned by the Nazis. Her letters detail her experiences; her more meditative diary focuses on issues of faith. She died at Auschwitz in 1943.


In tenth grade, my English teacher told us the best way to prepare for an English essay-writing exam. He said, “Think of a question that covers many of the books we read this term, such as “What is the role of death in our readings?” and think of a concrete, wonderful answer.”

Then he tricked us. Or he gave us a lowball. Depending how you think of it.

We walk into the exam, and there were three questions – each worth 33%. The last question was, “Write the question you wrote to prepare for the exam (unless it was about the role of death), and write the answer you wrote to prepare.” !!!!!!!!! Exactly!

Sure, I’d prepared, and done as he had suggested, but I could have put more time into that pre-exam!

That’s what today’s game is about. Penelope Trunk writes about media training that she took in preparation for the radio and TV interviews for her book. She excerpts a section of the training manual from Clarity Media Group:

“Don’t try to prepare for every possible question that could arise. Determine the 6-8 topics that are likely to come up during your interview and then:
a. Hone a key message for each topic.
b. Identify anecdotes you can tell that illustrate each message.
c. Prepare specific examples or compelling data to prove your point.
d. Think of clever analogies if appropriate.
Think of these interviews as the equivalent of a good movie trailer, in which your quest is to independently drive to the very best scenes, anecdotes and newsworthy revelations in the book.”

You know when Joan Rivers or Carson Daly have come up to celebrities on the red carpet with the big microphone to ask one pointed question? That’s you – the celebrity! And that’s you – Carson Daly! You’re both the interviewer and the interviewee – you’re on both sides of the mike.

————————————–
When:

* When preparing for a job interview

Goal of the Game:
* To prepare well for a job interview – just like for that English final.

How Long to Play:
* 20 minutes. Play by yourself to prepare, and later potentially run your answers by a friend.

HOW TO PLAY:
1) Prepare 6-8 questions that the interviewer might ask you (“Tell me about yourself,” “What is your greatest professional accomplishment?” …)
2) Prepare stories for each answer.
3) Prepare specific examples or SARI (situation-action-result-interesting thing) answers.
4) Run these by trusted advisors and friends.

ROCK ON!


What is harder than rock, or softer than water? Yet soft water hollows out hard rock. Persevere.
~ Ovid

If there is one key to creating what you want in your life, it is daily practice. When you repeat again and again, you learn so much about the habit you’re building and about yourself. There are nuances that you do not learn from a how-to guide. Such as how to persevere.

Why daily? And why action?

  • DAILY! Daily moves you toward putting in hours to develop your expertise and toward repeating an activity to develop discipline and focus. Whatever your regularity is, you build your own daily practice. You can choose if your daily means 5 days a week (work week daily) or seven days a week (whole week daily) or three times a week (M-W-F regularly).
  • ACTION! Action is a form of commitment. A thought can be transitory, passing. An action is you saying to the world, “I am ready and I am doing it.” An action is more powerful than a thought – by definition, Action = Thought + Activity.

But why do it? Why take regular, structured, self-scheduled daily action as opposed to acting whenever you feel like it?

The Deep Math Example. As my very good friend and a former math professor says,

“It takes a while to get into the problem. You need to sit with it at your desk for several hours at a time just to start to focus deeply enough to be able to create any new conclusions.”

It takes time to get deep enough into a subject that you are no longer skirting the surface.

Math
The Ballroom Dancing Teacher Example. Have you found that some people who are excellent at what they do returrn to the basics from time to time? Like a yoga teacher taking a basic refresher course. Or an author going back to the structure of his characters? I know dance teachers who regularly take beginner classes. Why? Ballroom Dance
  • When you are at an advanced level, you get a lot more from beginner lessons. You start to see the nuanced distinctions that you didn’t notice at the beginning – “When I ask my students to ‘rock-step’ here, some are still thinking that they are rocking when the important distinction is that they are there-and-immediately back, on their toe and immediately forward… it’s more about the forward than it is about the rock-step back.” You start to see new ways of describing something, new ways of understanding and then being able to explain a concept.
  • You take the beginner class to come back to the beginner’s mind. To return to that joy that you loved about the activity to begin with, and to hear and see and feel and imagine what it is like to learn the steps for the first time. As Chip Heath and Dan Heath say in Made to Stick, we are sucked into the Curse of Knowledge: We are no longer able to often explain things to a five year old because we know too much detail. Avoid the Curse of Knowledge. Play as a beginner.
The Twyla Tharp Creativity Example. You make space for yourself – in your head and in your heart when you practice something regularly. You make space for yourself to be creative, to focus, to live in the moment. So much of life ends up being planning and rushing that unless you make the Creative Habit as Twyla Tharp says in her book, then you don’t ever create the discipline of creativity, the space for allowing yourself to do. That space is often only possible within the constraints of time allowed for that activity. Twyla Tharp
The Alaska Hiking Example. It is through action that you create a habit, and through habits that you create the life you want to live. According to Ann Graybiel, neural pathways – i.e. the pathways that create a new habit or new behavior pattern – form when you go over them again and again. Again and again. Like a hiking trail in Alaska worn by all the footsteps repeating over the ground again and again, so a new mental pathway forms when you repeat an activity. Best results are daily. Hiking
The Guitar Example. My guitar teacher years ago said, “The most important thing in learning guitar is daily practice. Even if you play 15 or 30 minutes a day, do just that. And if you have the choice to play once for 30 minutes or twice for 15 minutes, play twice for 15 minutes.” According to him and many other musicians, the mind learns when it starts a-new – when it comes to a project a-new. So scheduling that “new” regularly allows a habit to make that deep Alaskan hiking trail pathway. Guitar

And then, once you have taken the daily actions, keep track of them. Put a star on your wall calendar. Post about it on your blog. Write yourself an email accounting for that day. Track your progress. Roy Baumeister of Florida State University says (23-min interview) that one of the keys to creating a new habit is writing down those times when you have acted on that habit.

Is it really possible to achieve anything in life?
Let me ask that another way: what is harder than rock, or softer than water?

Lesson and Take-Away: 1) Take daily action and 2) write down your daily actions!

Images: math, dance, Twyla Tharp, hiking path, guitar.

Senia Maymin Senia Maymin, MBA, MAPP is an Executive Coach, and presents workshops to corporations about Positive Psychology. Senia is the Editor of Positive Psychology News Daily, and posts her latest ideas about positive psychology, business, and coaching at Senia.com. Senia’s bio.

The February 23rd challenge!

I challenge you today to book yourself for an event in the next 30 days (by March 23, 2007) that is just a little more difficult than you are used to. An event where you need to perform just a little more than you are used to!

I challenge you to challenge yourself to play the Book Yourself game with a specific goal and time.

I do my BEST work when I put a goal in front of me – a goal that is just a little higher than I am used to, and then I strrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeetch.

Streeeeeeeeeeeeeetch A woman named Laurie that I know is an amazing volleyball player. She played competitively in college, and I played with her several times in grad school. When she played with us, she was many leagues better than our grad school intramural team, BUT…. but she played as if her life depended on it. She played as if every block, every serve, every hit was the one. Was the one that would make us win. Was the one that would count.

And the single best thing that she did when she played with us was that she would shout out just in time “streeeeeeeeetch” to the person at the net going for a spike. It didn’t matter that more than half of us didn’t jump up when we spiked – we spiked from the ground. It didn’t matter if it was the best player on the team or any player. Laurie yelled “streeeeeeeeetch,” and each of us stretched!

That’s what I’m talking about. Streeeeeeeeeetch yourself. Do that one thing that seems just a little bit above where you are! Streeeeeeeetch and GROW!

Some examples:

  • Exercising a certain number of times a day (that’s self-regulation), and doing a workout that’s just a little harder than is comfortable (that’s streeeeeeeeetching).
  • Booking yourself as a speaker at a conference before you have the full outline prepared (that’s streeeeeeetching). Then working regularly, repeatedly, deliberately on creating a superb presentation for that day (that’s self-regulation).
  • Expanded your business in a direction you’ve never tried before (streeeeeeeeetching), and preparing for each new milestone in the new direction by creating a process (self-regulation) that you can rely on in the future.

So, for the next 30 days, what can you book yourself to do that will challenge you?

(BTW, in case it EVER seems like I have all the answers, please don’t think that could be true. I have a whole bunch of fun questions. I’m changing things about my life and work while I’m writing this website. My answers in the comments. If I suggest something on this site, it’s because I’m thinking about it myself. Streeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch!) :)

Sometimes you need a challenge in order to move yourself into action.
What’s your challenge? :)

CONGRATS for doing this for yourself – for playing this Book Yourself game.