Creative Process

My business coach asked me what my process is. I started thinking about my workshop process, how I structure the LEGO® Serious Play® workshops to capture the information that people are looking for. What questions I ask and how often we meet. Stuff like that.

But as I was thinking about my business process, I started thinking about my creative process. How do I come up with new ideas? How do I help other people come up with new ideas? I seem to have a few methods:

1. I hold open space somewhere in the back of my head while I look at things. I don’t consciously manipulate things, just let them go back there to marinate. Could be art, or reuseable materials (I love the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse!), or costumes (we went to the SF Opera’s costume sale last weekend) or house tours. I let the things I see inform what I want to do. It’s a very inexact, unstructured, and unreliable way to bring things in to my head, but also fun. I usually feel excited about the possibilities in front of me.

2. I brainstorm. I toss ideas back and forth, list everything that might possibly relate, figure out a back story or a future story, work with if/than, build a world where everything fits. I ask why and how. I love doing this with my husband, we have been known to create an alien world out of an alien that resembles frogs, or sea turtles, or birds. This is much better done with someone else, since each person’s ideas can spark new ideas in the other.

3. I take pieces and put them together until they feel right. I do this most of all. When I make beaded necklaces, I need all my beads out so I can figure out which ones go together. When I write a dance I figure out which steps need to go next to which other steps. When I build with LEGO® bricks I pick up blocks and move them around until I make something that seems to speak to me.

I realized in all of this that #1 and #2 are just feeding #3. I need to come up with the pieces that I move around, and I do that partly by looking for inspiration. I need to create pieces, so I brainstorm until I have pieces that are helpful. And then I move the pieces around until they seem to fit.

I have read quotes that said that creative people don’t really think they’re creative, they just see connections between things that were always there, but no one saw them before. And I guess that’s true for me too. I don’t always think what I do is that brilliant, I just go with what I see in front of me. (I used part of a blazer in a craft project and had too much left to throw away. So I cut of the sleeve and turned it into a small purse. It just seemed obvious. But I got much praise for it. Odd.)

I do this all the time, innately, automatically. I can help you do it too.

The LEGO® Movie

As you can imagine, I was very excited when The LEGO® Movie came out. Since I play with LEGO® bricks all the time, and I know they can be used in very interesting ways, I was curious what they would do. I’ve seen it twice, and I think there is a very important message there that I’d like to talk about. It is about creativity.

In the movie, the master builders (and there really are master builders in real life, although none of them are Batman, as far as I know) keep asking Emmett to build something. But all he knows how to do is follow the rules, follow the directions, do what’s been done. He feels inadequate because he doesn’t feel creative. The creative people, however, can’t figure out how to work together. They can each make things individually, but they can’t collaborate. Batman only builds in black, and some very dark shades of grey. Princess Uni-Kitty needs everything to be rainbow. When they build a submarine together, it leaks. It takes someone like Emmett, who follows directions, to give the builders enough structure to work together.

The most creative people are often the most structured in some ways. They need to nurture their creativity. If they play music they need to practice every day to have the structure in place so deeply they don’t have to think about it any more. Artists draw or paint regularly. Wood workers work wood. (How much wood would a wood worker work if a wood worker could work wood? Something every day, I’d say.) There need to be some rules, some structure, to make it all work.

Emmett learns he can be more creative. So does the dad in the movie. It feels like a very big humanizing step for the dad to be able to play with his son rather than keeping all his LEGO® buildings permanently fixed in place. And, the son used a lot of the structure his dad built in order to play in it. The world wouldn’t have been as appealing to play in if it hadn’t been so meticulously rendered and so completely filled in. It took both, structure and creativity, following directions and making things up, to turn the basement world of LEGO® into such a great playground.

I think the benefit of creativity is something that came across pretty well in the movie. But I didn’t want the benefit of structure to be lost. Go practice! Learn the rules. Then learn which ones you can break. Play well!

The Stories We Tell

I’ve been thinking a lot about the stories we tell ourselves. Whenever I talk to people about building with LEGO® bricks, someone gets anxious about not being very good at building. It’s never about the quality of the construction though, the important stuff is all in the story about it. You could pick up a green brick, call it a frog, and say it represents leaping ahead of the competition, and we will all see it as a frog leaping ahead of the competition. I could have a brown brick and say it’s also a frog, but it represents hibernating under the ice and mud all winter to come out in the spring, and we will see it as a frog lying low during the bad times so it can flourish in the good times.

My business coach has been talking about stories in our lives as well. I’ve always had a lot of stories in my head about work and success, and I never challenged them. Things like, only things that are difficult and uncomfortable are valuable. I’ll never be able to make a living doing something I love. My work is less important than the well-being of my family. I’m changing some of these stories now. I see that what I do naturally can be very valuable, I can get paid for it, and I don’t have to hate work. And not hating work, actually doing something that I thrive on and that can help other people thrive, is in itself supporting the well-being of my family. How great to grow up with parents who love what they do!

I was taking a walk this morning and thought about the stories I tell myself in non-work-related areas too. The staircase in front of me – is it an obstacle to be overcome? Is it a reward in and of itself? Is it the path to great possibility at the top? As a kid I would have worried about it – I hated getting out of breath, and when I got too out of breath I got left behind. Now, I enjoy working my body, and the view at the top is always worth the climb. Very different stories.

I’m not going to try to turn this into group therapy, or a lecture about how you too can overcome your stories. I tend to do that, and in this case I just want to tell the story and stop. I am noticing how interesting it is that stories are coming up in all parts of my life. That usually means something. At least, for me, right now, where I am in my life. Is it true for you too?

Play well, and I hope you find your story fascinating too!

Play Has No Age Limit

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Play Has No Age Limit

I took this photo a while back at a farmer’s market. There was a children’s play area, and I was sitting there because I was with a child. I saw this man come over, get down on the ground, and start playing with the toys. I was thrilled, since so many grown adults think it’s beneath them, or they’ll lose their dignity, or that it’s boring, to see him embrace his desire to play and to see him enjoy himself.

Animal Faceoff

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Animal Faceoff

The story we tell about our LEGO® models is much more important than the way they look. Are these two animals friends? They look like they might be shaking hands. Are they able to make this connection because the tiger is just a cub, and the monkey is wise? Or maybe they’re about to fight. Or maybe they’re trying to fight using rock paper scissors, and they need a better way to solve their conflicts. It’s always fascinating to see how these toys become symbols and stories and real life situations.

Networking at The Box SF

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Networking at The Box SF

I brought my LEGO® bricks to The Art of Active Networking at The Box SF last night. This woman works there, and build a model of herself and her relation to her work. She built a box to represent The Box SF, put a trophy on it to represent the best event space, a bush to represent their efforts to be green, and a strong female character who is a zookeeper to represent herself, a strong woman who wanted to be a zookeeper when she was a child.