Let Your Freak Flag Fly

People don’t trust what they don’t see. You can tell your people that they are safe with you til you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t have blue in your hair, they will still think they have to stick to strict standards of conformity.

I’m not saying you have to literally dye your hair. I’m saying that if you want a creative team who feel safe speaking up, who trust you will have their backs if they mess up, who believe they can bring any wacky new idea to you and you will listen and help them find the part that will work – then you need to be a little wacky too. You need to show your vulnerability, and admit when you make mistakes. You need to wear mismatched socks sometimes. You need to show that you are your own person with your own peculiarities, and that you welcome the peculiar parts of other people too.

I spoke to an image consultant once who told me the blue in my hair had to go if I wanted to get corporate clients. I said no way! I’m advocating for people to show up as their whole, unique, creative, and messy selves at work. I want people to feel safe to be weird and silly as well as focused and capable. I want people to bring all their ideas, not just the conforming ones. This is how we will survive, with the creative ideas to solve complex problems coming from all the people bringing all the weirdness together and seeing which parts work. Cutting part of us off in order to fit in does no one any good.

This is part of my mission to change the world of work. I want people to feel safe being themselves. I want people to feel safe bringing up new ideas. We need the creativity that comes from disparate things coming together. If all we show up with is the same as what everyone else has, we will come up with the same solutions everyone has already come up with. So please – let your freak flag fly. At least a little. Let the other freaks know that you’re their kind of freak, so they can feel safe being weird around you. We will all benefit in the end.

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Playing While Messy

I haven’t done a creativity game in a while, so I wanted to share this one with you. I like it partly because it takes something messy and turns it into something creative and fun.

Start with a stain on some paper. Maybe you put down your coffee cup. Maybe a leaky pen. I’m using a paper stained with grease:

The first picture is of the paper with the stain on a desk, the second picture is held up to the light to make the pattern easier to see.

The challenge is to turn this random collection of blobs into something different. Maybe recognizable, even. This is what I did:

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I looked at my little critter and thought it needed a place to live, so I kept doodling:

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I even gave it a friend in the lower left hand corner. A friend just as lumpy as it is, but without the dramatic coloration.

I would like to note that I am not a professional artist. I’m sure that some people could turn this into a work of art. I just doodle. If I can do this, so can you. You don’t have to share the results of your doodling, but give it a try. It’s a great way to open up possibility thinking – what could this random stain turn into? What do I see in it? How can I transform it? How can I bring out its essence? How can I play with it?

As I’ve said before, and I’m sure I’ll say again, creativity is like a muscle, and it needs to be exercised. The more creativity games you play, the more you practice open-ended possibility thinking  – the more creative thinking you have the rest of the time, too. So when your job, or your life, needs creative thinking, you will have more new ideas because of practicing creative thinking.

Another creative exercise – give your doodle a caption or a title. I find this challenging, which is why I’m including it! Maybe: Fluffy Finally Finds a Friend. Or: Yes, He’s Part Rottweiler and Part Dragon. What do you think it should be called?

Practice Makes Perfect – Or Does It?

My father is a professional musician. He always told me that only perfect practice makes perfect. If you practice your mistakes, you get really good at making those mistakes!

This makes sense for anything where you are training your fingers or body to do something the same way over and over. Musicians, dancers, martial artists, all want their muscles to think for them from having practiced until perfection is innate.

What about other arts? I think practice makes easier, in a lot of ways. My husband is a professional artist, and he says everyone has 10,000 bad drawings inside them, so you’d better get started drawing to get them out. The more you draw, the more you learn about drawing, and the easier it is to draw next time. The more you perform, the more ease you have with performance.

I read about a ceramics teacher who divided his class in half. The first half he graded on quantity – they’d get an A if they used enough clay and made enough stuff during the semester. The second half he graded on quality – they’d get an A if they made really good stuff. What he found was that the half that made a lot of stuff kept practicing, learning from mistakes, trying something new, and getting better and better. The half that focused on making really good stuff spent a lot of time talking about it and planning it, but the stuff they made wasn’t that good.

So, another reason practice makes perfect is that practice allows you to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It lets you try out new things in a safe space.

The problem comes when all you do is practice. Or theorize. Or talk about it. At some point you have to do it. Experience comes from doing.

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I took a class with Caterina Rando, and she doesn’t like the idea of practice. She says just go out there and do it. The doing is practice of a sort, in that you get better and better the more you do it. But if you spend all your time trying to get perfect before putting yourself out in the world you’ll never get anywhere.

The thing is, mistakes teach you something. No one will ever get to be so good they don’t make any mistakes – and if they did, they’d be boring and stunted. You risk mistakes to try something new. You risk mistakes to get bigger, brighter, and more amazing. But if you don’t risk it, you stay small and dim.

Mistakes aren’t the enemy. Staying stuck is.

In improvisational acting, mistakes are celebrated. People feel like they failed and are encouraged to say Yay! Mistakes are a sign that someone stretched. They tried for something. They learned something. This is a cause for celebration, not demonization. It takes courage to fail, loudly, publicly, and on stage. But if it’s not actually a failure, if it’s a sign you’re human and striving and it gives permission to everyone else to be human and striving too, that’s a victory.

So, practice scales. Practice tai-chi. And then get out there and dance. Wildly, imperfectly, and perfectly you.

Rummage Sale of the Brain

One of my strategies as an artist is to look for new input all the time. I look for new ideas, look at other artists’ works, go to galleries, go to open studios, and visit garage sales and places like the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse which have lots of random bits of things that can be crafted and art-ed with. I let these new ideas and materials and possibilities simmer on the back burner of my brain, and new ideas get cooked up.

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In other news, I was reading an article by Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” that was linked on LinkedIn. In it, he says:

The good news is that Adaptability, like each EI competency, is a skill leaders can develop. And, the EI competencies build on each other. Three keys to developing adaptability can be summed up as “Listen Inside,” “Look Outside,” and “Step Outside.”

  • Listen Inside means tapping into emotional self-awareness to recognize what you are feeling, how it impacts your behavior, and whether you are operating from habit.
  • Look Outside is shorthand for looking beyond your usual information sources, paying attention to data that contradicts your current thoughts. This means tapping into skills in organizational awareness, another EI competency.
  • Step Outside involves intentionally stepping beyond your comfort zone and seeking out new experiences, opinions, and environments.

– See more at: http://www.kornferry.com/institute/train-your-brain-for-change#sthash.Aw56QMBK.dpuf

This made me think about my artistic habits. It also made me think of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. After all, part of what makes LSP work is that people think with their hands. Which means they need to have a big old pile of LEGO® bricks on the table from which to choose. The amount of possibility lets them sort through and figure out what they want to build, and say. Maybe something they never thought about before. Maybe something they never had the courage to say before.
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Sometimes someone will feel the need to sort the bricks before they start building. When this person is the boss, it worries me. It makes me think that perhaps this leader feels more comfortable in the position of being in control, and that perhaps they don’t invite in opposing views. They may end up in what the Harvard Business Review called  a CEO Bubble, or Daniel Goleman refers to as “feedback deserts.” They don’t really want a lot of ambiguity, possibility, chaos, new ideas, or additional information cluttering up the clarity of their desk or vision or direction. But this also means they are less likely to be flexible and adaptable when the inevitable need to change arises.
It is difficult to tell a leader that you think they lack the necessary flexibility and adaptability to change with the changing world. You may well end up changing jobs if you do. Some people crave poking through rummage sales, some people think it’s garbage and don’t want anything to do with the chaos and clutter. I don’t think that LSP will single-handed-ly change a person’s innate nature. But perhaps, maybe, possibly, introducing such a leader to more new ideas can open him or her up to a little more change. Maybe, it’s possible, that giving such a leader an article like this one can help them think about bringing in information from more sources, including ones that don’t feel comfortable. Possibly, maybe, perhaps, they can be convinced to water their feedback desert and get more options (with the corresponding lessening of clarity) to bloom.

The Power of Questions

What if…

How many new ideas have come from those two words? What if we could fly to the moon? What if we made an ice cream sandwich using a donut as the bread? What if my car could drive itself for me? What if we crossed a poodle and a labrador?

I was reading How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J Gelb, and he talked about the power of questions to shake up how we see things. All sorts of problems can be solved when we ask the right questions. Not just what is the problem, what is the advantage of leaving it the way it is? What are the underlying issues? What paradigm might be limiting my perception? What problems may come from solving this problem? Who is affected? Who perpetuates it? Who can help solve it? When does it happen? When does it need to be resolved? Why is it important? And why again, and why again… These sorts of questions can help define a problem, find solutions for it, and even get our brains to start climbing out of the boxes they live in so we can see things from a different perspective.

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Byron Katie also asks questions. Her questions are very powerful, because they are addressed to our most intimate of possessions – our thoughts and beliefs. And she asks – is it true? Is it always true? What a question to ask!

I’m not going to speak up because speaking up always leads to bad consequences. Better to blend in.

Is that true?

Of course. Mom used to yell at me when I interrupted her reading. My third grade teacher would make fun of me for asking questions. My last boss fired me for challenging him. Speaking up leads to humiliation and loss.

Is that always true? Has speaking up always led to humiliation and loss? Has speaking up ever helped me? Is there a cost to not speaking up?

Well, there was that time. I told Mom I didn’t want to play piano any more and she eventually agreed, without any yelling. Other teachers liked hearing my questions. And one boss recognized me for saving time and money by my suggestions. So I guess speaking up and being noticed isn’t always bad. And I sure would like to catch the eye of that person I’d like to date…

I’ve found that I need someone else to ask me if a thing is true, since I firmly believe it is until it’s questioned. What’s really amazing is the amount of freedom I’ve experienced from letting go of thoughts and beliefs that weren’t true, or at least not always true. Realizing that some of my fundamental beliefs about the world are only stories I tell about the world to make sense of it really shook me at first, but now I can write new stories that serve me better. Rather than saying I overeat because I’m pathetic and hopeless, I say I overeat to cope with feelings I’m afraid to face, at least for now. Much gentler, and leaves open the possibility of things changing. But I believed I was pathetic and hopeless for a long time.

What do you believe? What would change if you questioned that belief? What problem are you having that needs a new perspective? Like Byron Katie, like Leonardo Da Vinci, ask yourself lots of questions!

Smart Hands

One of the reasons LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® works is that it lets us think with our hands.

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What does that even mean? Well, when challenged to build an idea, you  might not know what to make. How can you portray courage? Or fear? Or maybe the problem is that you don’t even know what you want to say? What is the idea you want to have? If we allow our hands to start picking bricks, we can figure it out as we go.

Let me tell you a secret: I almost always believe it won’t work – just before it does work. I was trying to demonstrate for someone how this happens, so I started clicking some bricks together – and I felt I had to tell her I had no idea what I was doing, since I had no idea what I was doing! I felt a terrible panic that it wouldn’t work, she would see I’m a fake, and she wouldn’t hire me. But then, the miracle happened: I started talking about what I was building, and suddenly the meaning was clear. I was building a base for something to stand on, but the base wasn’t completely solid. There were places it could tip. It didn’t always, but there was my insecurity made visible, I was afraid I would tip over. She could watch it happen, the way random bricks suddenly became a story with meaning.

Some artists know they can trust their hands. Probably hair dressers and makeup artists too. People who doodle sometimes find meaning in their drawings. But those of us who work with computers don’t have that experience of letting something take shape between our hands, and develop meaning as it does. LEGO® bricks are a great place to try it out, since no one will get hurt in the process, and it’s sort of fun to see what happens. There’s something satisfying about clicking the bricks together, even when the meaning is slow to materialize. I encourage you to give it a try! (And tell me about it – I’d love to hear your experience!)

Exactly What We Need

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Do you know what you need to thrive?

Everyone is wired their own way. We get parenting advice and schooling and workplaces that are set up for people who are wired in a certain way, and we might not match that. We are not given a lot of encouragement to figure out what exactly we need to function well. Therapy is seen as a weakness, as is compassion, as is taking a nap.

I’m talking about something beyond knowing if you are an introvert or an extrovert, though that’s a good place to start. Do you get energy from being with people, or from being alone? That’s important to know. I need a balance of both – too much time alone and I feel lonely, but too much time with people and I get overstimulated. I gain energy from being with people, but only to a point and then I need quiet.

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How are you with touch? Do you love it or hate it? Do you want to hide under a weighted blanket, or do you not even want a sheet on you? Are you okay with touch that’s expected – a handshake, a hug you can see coming – but not with the unexpected contact of someone’s hand on your shoulder? My son is very reactive to unexpected touch, but also seeks out deep pressure on his body and rams himself against me. I love cuddles but don’t love being bashed into. Sometimes I get angry when he gets needy – not the best combination we could find.

What about structure? Do you thrive when you know what your plan is, or do you have great creative leaps when you have vast amounts of unstructured time? A mixture of both? How much of a plan do you need? Scheduled minute by minute, or hour by hour, or day by approximate day? I find myself floundering when I don’t know what I should do and I’m alone, but loving unstructured time with other people.

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How much love do you need? How much compassion? How much judgement can you withstand? From yourself or from others? Can you imagine other people having different parameters from yours? Where you might be able to thrive in a milieu of constantly testing ideas to make them stronger, others might need to let their ideas grow from a tender sprout to a more substantial tree before they can handle any critique.

What about joy? What about complaining? Are you happiest when you are discontented? How much joy can you take in? What is your default setting? Is this a setting that can change? Sometimes just becoming aware that I’m seeing the world with fearful or anxious eyes can help me switch to seeing the joy, support, love, and expansiveness that’s available in the world.

Can you imagine a world in which everyone has all the resources they need to thrive? Where everyone can get enough sleep, eat the right foods, have the most comfortable amount of human contact, get the most helpful amount of emotional support, for who they are and what they need?  This is what freedom is, to me. Why we include the pursuit of happiness in our constitution. Because we don’t want anyone to dictate what we should get or do or be. What they like and want won’t fit us. What we like and want won’t fit them. We are all free to figure out what we need and pursue it, and when our needs are met, to figure out our gifts and develop them. To find what brings us joy, and pursue that. To see what lights us up, and spend more of our time lit up from within. Our world needs that light.