After having been really intrigued by the title of the song Happiness is a Warm Gun, I researched it a bit. The story goes that when he was shown the cover of a gun magazine that read ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, Lennon thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say.
“A warm gun means you just shot something.”
While reading Lehrer’s book on creativity and a later brainstorming session on discovery — led to a personal quest for finding ways and means to creativity. If you’re wondering how to be creative or looking for ideas, here are a few thoughts.
“Stop this nonsense and focus!” having heard this many a time from teachers, and watching parents frown at the math notebook’s last few pages full of doodles, visual notes, and such randomness as the AC/DC logo, it was not clear as to what the problem basically was. Then, the middle pages of a notebook which are stapled (or better quality ones with stitches) were a refuge. These were easier to tear away and not leave any traces of incongruous behaviour on my part. Although times have changed, and the discipline and so-called good-student-rulebook has made way for what was erstwhile thought of sign of rebellion, scatterbrainedness, also intellectual and social unconformity.
It’s time to bring back the lost art (recently being embraced by many) of the doodle. Doodling, unlike generally misconstrued, is not associated with a lack of focus. In fact, doodling can help you be in the moment during an activity in which you might otherwise find your mind drifting.
Suni Brown, a great doodling evangelist and author of The Doodle Revolution,suggests that some of the greatest thinkers used doodling to kickstart creativity. Doodling can activate distinct areas in your brain and improve recall. This in turn leads to new insights and breakthroughs. Some creative companies even encourage doodling and sketchnoting during meetings!
2. Create the Right Environment and attitude
The right environment is known to foster creativity. You simply require the right environment, stimulus, and support. Suspend any fear of criticism or don’t get bogged down by the mental image of feeling stupid after you fail at something. As grown ups, we should continue to laugh at and appreciate the failures — it reflects creative, risk-taking endeavours. Creativity occurs when things are attempted, and fear of being judged prevents any attempt in the first place.
Companies that put their employees at ease by creating a safe, comfortable culture — which allows for unabashed expression and unrestrained dialogue amongst peers — know this well. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even crazy, ideas. Businesses that value creativity do their best to enable a creative, comfortable space where unusual ideas are celebrated and where creativity is nurtured.
3. Sign Up for a Class for something new
Creativity happens when you get yourself out of your comfort zone and learn something new. Often classes that are very casual, the kinds with plenty of beginner offerings, are a good start. Try painting, pottery or woodworking — even sculpture. Learn a new language maybe, pick up a new instrument, or take a cooking class and cook some ratatouille?
4. Carry a Sketchbook
Buy a small, lightweight sketchbook that can easily fit in your bag or pocket. There was a time I kept a wad of post-its in my pocket. Start sketching whenever you can even spare few minutes. Draw everyday things around you, try caricatures of well known people, try capturing a mood in lines.
Just let it flow. Get it out of your system. More important than you being too critical of your artwork and trying to make a Monet or a Van Gogh out of it. That’s not the idea. The idea is to express, find a medium that you’d not used before, and eventually get better or faster. Creativity crosses space and time, so what you express and the way this sketching transforms you have a direct effect on your creativity elsewhere — maybe workplace, music or relationships.
5. Get back to playing with toys
The tactile nature of feeling something and shaping it opens up different aspects of your brain and your thinking. Many creative design companies who know this encourage employees to keep toys on their desks–from Lego Blocks and tangrams to Play-Doh and Jenga. Building something physically with your hands is a totally different experience.
6. Break the dam of perfection
Perfection is a dam that chokes the river of creativity. Your natural output, devoid of the quest for creating something that’s exactly right, will always result in creativity. Do not block the paths to achieving creative flow. Imperfection is a natural part of the human condition — nature itself is beautifully imperfect. The Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi celebrates this transience. Embrace imperfection.
Creativity is like water, it’s beautiful when it flows — it becomes murky when it stagnates for long. Let it free.
7. Do what you think you can’t
Seems weird, but do exactly that. Creativity starts when you find yourself confronting a great creative challenge. Write a novel in a month, paint a huge canvas with palette knives, home-brew beer, grow a green thumb, do the thing that’s alien to you. Maybe watch UFO documentaries and comment on them.
Isaac Mizrahi, a fashion designer — for example — is a talk-show host, he’s performed his own one-man show Off-Broadway, he was the subject of the hilarious documentary Unzipped, and he does regular cabaret nights at Joe’s Pub in New York City. In his own words,
“As little comfort as possible is a good thing, right?”
8. Sleep on It
Salvador Dalí called his process the paranoiac-critical method. Dalí described the method as a “spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena”. He once said, “All of my best ideas come through my dreams.” Sigmund Freud’s fascination with his own dreams led to a new avenue for exploring psychology. Sleep facilitates insight, fluid reasoning and flexible thought.
9. Mix two or more totally different things
If there are two things you like, put them together. Mixing is creating. Say you are a microbrewery (or a microbrewer?), and you know people like bacon and clearly they like beer — how about a bacon-flavoured-beer? It might not fly right away, but over a period of time, some of these remixes have the capability of becoming new norms, genres, subcultures.
10. Write versus type
Keep a journal. Read the Artist’s Way. Do morning pages. Delve in penmanship. Typing on a keyboard while gazing at a screen doesn’t always open up that tactile, feeling part of us that triggers creativity.
Writing is a very physical and real feeling. The texture of paper, the source of light and the shadow of the pen. The sound of the pen on paper when you write with vigour. The impression that the pen makes on paper. When you flip the page and caress the letterforms and ‘feel’ them, it’s a zen-like state where the pen becomes an automatic extension of you, your mind oozing through it and creating on paper.
11. Groggy is the new mind-altering drug
Well this one sounds a bit unheard of, but creative segues do occur when you’re deprived of sleep. According to a study published recently, people at their least alert time of day — like someone who is a night person early in the morning or a morning person late at night — performed far better on various creative puzzles, sometimes improving their success rate by 50%. Grogginess has a creative edge.
Dave Bayley, the frontman of Oxford art-pop quartet Glass Animals, has a degree in neuroscience. He claims that he owes his career in music to insomnia. When you’re sleep-deprived it’s quite similar to having taken certain drugs. The logical side of your brain is slowly withering away because there’s not enough energy to power it, and all these crazy ideas that your brain would normally suppress start happening.
Such is the brain — this mystical lump of jelly that has electrical impulses firing through synapses — bizarre and interesting.
Hope these allow you to see things differently, and help open several untraversed pathways in your mind. Maybe one day, alongside the weizen and stout, creativity (yes, bacon-flavoured) would be available on tap.
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I’d love to hear what pushes you to #BeCreative. Feel free to share and I might add to this list. If you have ideas, would love to catch up and discuss.