Creativity is the New Key to Success

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Are you an artist? Depending on your age your answer will vary. You see, if I were to walk into a kindergarten class and ask this question nearly all of the hands would go up in agreement. However, if I waltzed into a general education college class and asked this question only a handful of students would raise their hands. The truth is that we are all artists, whether you know it or not. For beginners we have to broaden our perception of art from a guy wearing a beret holding a paint brush and attacking a canvas like a skilled swordsman. Art is creativity, and creativity is boundless and freeform.

 

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

 

Symbolism and Light Sabers

 

We all share a common characteristic in our brains that allows us to do something that is uniquely human, and that is create, interpret and understand symbolism. We have our highly evolved neo-cortex (new brain) to thank for that. It’s our new brain that through evolution allows us to think in abstract and hypothetical. This is important because symbolism is the cornerstone of creativity.

 

I was recently playing Star Wars with my nephew and we were using these green swimming noodles as light sabers as we battled in a duel – I was the Sith Lord and as a result got my arm chopped off. The part I want to focus on here is the green swimming noodle, because that is far from an actual light saber as possible, I mean it’s a water toy. However, our ability to rethink and perceive that noodle as a light saber, and not a noodle, is a distinctly creative, human, and cognitive skill.  Thousands of years back when we were just starting out as apes in a jungle the ability to see a rock for something more than a rock was a huge advantage to our species. No longer just rocks, we now have a hammer to crush up food or a projectile to protect us from pursuing hunters.  Long ago we left the jungle behind, but we still keep our creativity and symbolism with us because it’s still vital to our survival.

 

Symphony, Success, and Back to the Jungle

 

Our lives are filled with symbolism: mementos, keepsakes, logos, brands, signs – most of these carry emotional weight only strengthening our perception. This process of interpreting symbols is often processed in our brains out of our consciousness so this process is often taken for granted. It’s important we spend time discovering our own creative processes in addition the creative processes of others.

 

Everybody has been through a process of creative inspiration, meaning that they witnessed or experienced an event that is seemingly unrelated to another event but some how gives it explanation or purpose. I call this the Apple/Gravity effect. For example: Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree and some how came up with the theory of gravity. Just think about that. It’s freaking mind blowing! The diversity of perception is fuel to our creativity. This ability to link two or more unrelated ideas is known as symphony.

 

I mentioned how we lived in a jungle many thousands of years ago. Well guess what, our culture is becoming a jungle again, and surprise, surprise, we need creativity to survive. Let’s look at our business world for a moment. There is so much competition and abundance out there that it’s scary. In my line of work I may be up against as many as 16 different vendors on a given deal, all offering similar goods and services as myself, now add a degree of uncertainty because of this crap economy and you can begin see the jungle I’m talking about. Alright Kevin, what are you getting at? If all products are essentially equal in quality the only differentiating factor is the emotional and creative appeal that is associated with the product. This means creativity and symphony are the X factor to success, especially in a turbulent competitive world. Creative thinkers step up. We need you now more than ever.

 

Pursuing Creativity: Creative In

 

I’ve heard a lot of people say “I’m just not that creative.” That’s a load of crap. They don’t have a creative disability; they’re just out of practice. The reason kids are so creative is that a child’s brain is nearly twice as active as an adult’s brain and as a result children have this desire to observe and explore everything. If you want to be more creative you need to open yourself up to new ideas, new concepts, and new perceptions. This will allow you to expand your thought and possibly provide the link that might lead to relevant symphonic ideas.

 

Pursuing Creativity: Creative Out

 

Externalize your creativity: write, draw, cook, doodle, dance, or something completely crazy that we don’t even know about.  Here’s a fun game I like to play when working with a new college class. Take out a blank piece of paper and a pen. You will have two minutes to write down as many uses for an object as you can think of. Have a friend give you a random object and begin. This is a practice in divergent thought, and you’ll be surprised with how many or how few uses people can come up with in that time. Once you’re done share your results with others and find out how they came up with that idea. Repeat with new objects. Keep in mind there are no wrong answers when you’re thinking divergently.

 

Lastly, define yourself as an artist, because in some way or form you are one. Personally, my art is people. I use the science of social interactions to better understand people so I can empower them and energize them to reach new levels of success that weren’t there previous to meeting or working with me. Okay, now it’s your turn. How are you an artist?

here's what i came up with

here's what i came up with

You’ve got to move it move it. What? Move it!

Movers and Shakers 

I have a niece and she is crazy. I mean she is just plain nuts. She is also only two years old, so she is living up to the “terrible two’s” stereotype, if not surpassing it. Now I don’t mean to say that she is a bad kid – and she’s not, she’s absolutely adorable – but she just gets into everything. She is curious, as all children are. If something has her attention she’s going to make a full effort to explore and find out more about it. The need to explore is a human trait and is deeply rooted in our neural evolution. For thousands and thousands of years humans have been very active in exploring planet Earth (and other planets too). Our activity as a result of our exploration has had some pretty profound impacts on our brain development. 

 Humans are made to Move 

notice that all of these people are in motion. that could be you!

notice that all of these people are in motion. that could be you!

Who wants to walk 12 miles with me today? Any takers? Probably not.  It might surprise you to find out that our human ancestors traveled as much as 12 miles a day. They did this to find food, safety and to explore. Thousands of years of traveling did much to improve the brain functions of early man, and it still holds true for humans today. 

 Our brains make up only 2% of our body mass, yet account for 20% of our energy use. That’s an incredible fact considering that if the brain was like the rest of the body is should really account for 2% of energy use. Oxygen is vital to brain nourishment. Activity (exercise) does humans a lot of good. When the body is moving during exercise it pumps blood and oxygen through out the body and especially to the brain. Nitric Oxide is a flow regulating molecule that through exercise creates more blood vessels in the brain in some pretty key areas. This process of neurogenesis helps improve our cognitive ability. 

 Don’t be a couch potato 

 

I highly recomend this book.

I highly recomend this book.

University of Washington Neurologist and author of the book Brain Rules, John Medina, shows that our society gives us a lot of reasons be a couch potato. Things like television, computers, and video games often allow people to sit around for hours upon hours with little body movement. Couple that with fast food and you wonder why America is the world’s fattest nation.  John goes a step further and examined some of our most institutional environments that we created for ourselves and how they negatively impact our brain development and chemistry. I’m talking about classrooms and cubicles, the mainstays of our educational and professional systems. Think about it for eight plus hours a day our children and coworkers are often sitting motionless at a desk or trapped in some fabric-lined neural jail cell. For our brains to function optimally we as humans need to move. 

Active Performance 

It’s important to note that exercise alone will not improve your cognitive ability but repeated tests have shown a strong association to improved cognitive performance. In fact it was found that physically fit kids and adults had faster response times compared to their over weight counter parts. What’s more amazing is that physical activity and exercise were found to decrease your odds of Alzheimer Disease by 60% and stroke by an amazing 57%. 

The great news is that you don’t have to run marathons to benefit from exercise. All you have to do is walk about 20 minutes a day three days a week and be more conscious of your dietary intake. It really doesn’t take much. It should also be noted that balance is key to exercise. Overdoing workouts will negatively impact your brain function. So be fit in a manner that comfortably works best for you. Walk when you can and breathe deep and often because Oxygen is so important your brain’s health and development. 

 We have the same brains our early ancestors did that walked 12 miles a day. So be active and make the most of your brain. I’ll leave you with this quote from John Medina that sums up why humans are made to move.  

“We were not used to sitting in a classroom for 8 hours at a stretch. We were not used to sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours at a stretch. If we sat around the Serengeti for 8 hours – heck, 8 minutes – we were usually somebody’s lunch.”

Embracing Failure… Becoming The First Penguin

You’re Going to Fail

 

You are going to fail. It’s that simple. You are going to fail. Now it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but at some point down the line you’re going to mess up.  And it’s not going to be some little screw up either. It’s going be really bad. For some of you, you’re going to see it coming. For others you’re going to get blindsided. Some of you, bless your hearts, are going to do everything right and then guess what, you’re still going to fail. Some of you probably all ready failed. Have you gotten the hint yet? Everyone fails in some form or way in their lives, be it professional or personal. But one thing is for certain, there’s no getting around it. So you might as well embrace it, because failing isn’t as bad as you think.

 

Why We Fear Failure

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A student fearing failure is a student handicapped by outdated educational ideals.

 

Now as you read that first paragraph your stomach probably turned a little bit and some thoughts started flowing through your head about things that could fail in your life right now. Maybe is that deal waiting to close? Maybe it’s that first date?  We as a society fear failure. We are terrified of it. Through our educational development we’ve been conditioned to fear being wrong. Failure is stigmatized in our educational systems. It is the reason why when a teacher asks a question in a kindergarten class all the hands go up and when a professor asks a question in a college course only a handful of hands go up. At some point along the way we as learners begin to think that being wrong is the worst possible outcome, and we run our business like this too.

 

Think about it this way. All of us spent the first 18-22 years of our lives being told that failing is wrong. The truth is that academic life is geared around your success. In most cases if you get a C in a course that is the pretty bad, when in reality its average. Failure in the real world is much different because anything goes and you need to take chances to succeed. If you consistently got a 4/10 on your college quizzes you would probably get an F in that class. However, if you were a professional baseball player and 4/10 at bats you got a hit you would be going to the All-Star Game.

 

 

The Other Side of Failure

 

Hypothetically failure is horrible, but in retrospect failure is often essential to success.  So why is failure essential to success? Well there are two main reasons that I can think of: The first is because only through our mistakes and failures we can truly begin to learn and develop. The other reason is that failing over time begins to make us resilient to aversive conditions.

 

Michael Jordan said it best. He said, “I can accept failure. What I can’t accept is not trying.” That is what I am getting at. If you try, if you really give it all you got you’re going to get something out of the process of your attempt. So the end result is that you goofed or things didn’t go according to plan. The odds are that if you truly gave your best effort you’re going to walk away knowing something that you didn’t before.  That is what matters most.  Ask any great champion or stand out in their field and they will tell you the same thing. Failure leads to success.

 

What Juggling Can Teach Us about Failure

 

In my senior year of college I heard Curtis Zimmerman give a speech. Curtis is a tall large framed man who slicked his brown hair back and wears thin wire framed glasses. Curtis is a world renowned entertainer and circus performer. He can swallow swords, eat fire and juggle like it’s nobody’s business. The culmination of his speech is to have a person come on stage who can’t juggle and learn how to juggle in front of the entire audience, and best of all he guarantees they will learn to juggle, and the person, nervous as they always are gets it every time. Curtis then puts on a juggling show where he’s juggling three, four, and five balls in different patterns and ways that people have never even seen before and he’s getting really into it he says, “Do you know why I am able to do this so well?… Because I’m not afraid to do this.” And he lets all of the balls fall on the floor. “The reason I can juggle so well is because I have dropped the balls more than any other person in this room. My past failures are the reason for my current success.”

 

The First Penguin

 

The late Randy Pausch PhD, author of The Last Lecture and former professor at Carnegie Melon, gave out a First Penguin award each year when he was teaching to the biggest failure in trying something big and new because he thought this should be celebrated. The idea came to him because First Penguins are the ones that risk their lives to jump into water first even though it might be filled wih predators.

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Behold the glorious First Penguin. This penguin is the first to dive into the water. That water might be filled with predators or that penguin might get first dibbs on all the tasty fish in the ocean. Take the risk.

 

My best advice is if you’re not the first penguin find someone who will make you the first penguin, find someone who will push you into the frigid waters below. When I first started my job right out of college I was fortunate enough to have a boss who embraced failure and taking chances. Believe it or not I was scared to make phone calls to clients because I was scared I might mess up and fumble my words on the phone and sounds dumb. So my boss sat at my desk with me and made me make some calls. I was so nervous I messed up a lot at first, but then I realized that this wasn’t so bad at all. After while my initial fear wore off and I became quite good at the phones. Now I start off every phone block session with a random call to a business in a phone book just to get my goof up out of the way. I used to be that little penguin on the edge of the iceberg looking into the water, scared to jump. Today I’m still that little penguin, but now I’m doing back flips into the water and give it my best effort every time I jump.

 

Be that first penguin. Celebrate your attempt even if it ends up in failure, because odds are you’ve learned something important along the way. Good luck.

 

Some quotes and media on failing that you might like.

 

“Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

                                                            – Batman’s Dad

 

“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.”

– Carl Jung, Psychologist

 

“My reputation grows with every failure.”

                                                            – George Bernard Shaw

 

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”

                                                            – John Dewey