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Category: Creativity

The Unfamiliar Stimulates Creativity

As years, decades and centuries go by, the one thing we always seem to increase in is our ability to choose. Because there’s always more available for us to choose from.

Yet we always default to the same. The same restaurants, the same genre of music or books. The same hair cut. The same daily routine.

And then we wonder why we get stumped in coming up with creative solutions on the fly.

The unfamiliar activates new neutron connections in our brain and stimulates right brain thinking, where our creativity originates from.

So the cure for creative block? Try something new. A new place to eat. New music. New literature. A different daily routine. Even a new haircut, but don’t go crazy with that one.

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Guilt Free Decompression

South Park co-creator Trey Parker gave some interesting thoughts on taking time to decompress in the 2014 film Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary.

After spending hours of effort creating original content, Parker revels in going home after a long day to build LEGO sets. More specifically taking time to methodically follow instructions piece by piece. He sees is as being therapeutic because it’s the only time in any given day when he’s not pushed to be creative. 

Relaxation and unwinding will look different for all of us. Spending time in a creative workday often pushes those individuals to resting their creative energy sources to eventually be replenished. Building LEGO sets, reading, watching a film, or possibly following recipe directions all fit the bill.

On the flip side, those with a more predictable, process oriented career could be more inclined to look for creative outlets that promote free thought and imagination as a way to decompress (e.g. writing, painting, customs car design, etc.).

Of course this isn’t a perfect science. The opposite will also be true. The main point is around the need for consistent time of decompression through moments of relaxation. And most important of all, not feeling guilty for what you decide that moment will look like.

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From Okay to Awesome

The creative process is usually invisioned as this deep fulfilling experience of going into a trance and producing our best work from it over and over again. It typically does work that way though.

I follow venture capitalist Arlene Dickinson on. She’s most known for appearing on the popular show Dragon’s Den for over 10 years. For Americans reading this, Dragon’s Den is the original Shark Tank.

She recently posted the following on LinkedIn that fully summarized the creative process we actually go through.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

1. THIS IS AWESOME

2. THIS IS TRICKY

3. THIS IS SH#%T

4. I AM SH#%T

5. THIS MIGHT BE OK

6. THIS IS AWESOME

I couldn’t help but laugh inside and fully agree with the accuracy of the sentiments.

Our creative process isn’t as linear as we’d like it to be. But the emotional roller coaster we ride can end up being a significant source from where we pull our greatest ideas and solutions from.

In other words, what’s starts off as SH#%T might actually end up as being AWESOME.

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‘Hands Free’ Innovation

When innovation is introduced, the first question we should ask is ‘why’? Instead of declaring ‘no one asked for this!’

In the case of Nike’s new Go FlyEase ‘hands free’ sneakers, someone did ask for it and the global sneaker brand fully committed to taking on the challenge.

That someone was Matthew Walzer who in 2012 at 16 years of age wrote a letter to Nike about the need for such a design. Walzer detailed in the letter how his battle with Cerebral Palsy made doing simple functions like tying his own shoes challenging.

“At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating and, at times, embarrassing.”

Nike designer Tobie Hatfield led the project and ultimately finalized the design with the help of Walzer. The Nike Go FlyEase allows Walzer to use only his feet to secure his shoes.

Sometimes at first ‘social media’ glance innovation looks like a waste of time and resources. And that we need to be convinced of the benefit to our individual lives. Like slip-on running shoes.

But if we’re brave enough to stop scrolling for a minute and research the ‘why’ we’ll be pleasantly surprised that a need for innovation was there all along. We just had to look for it.

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Kid Thinking

If you step into my home office you’ll notice something very playful about the surroundings.

I have books I’ve read and want to read in several different places. Some on my desk and more on a floating shelf. The covers of the books tend to be bright and multi-coloured, and relate to the subject matter of being creative.

Branded logos for Mars Inc. (the company I work for) are framed on my wall and in other visible areas. Skittles, Twix, Snickers and the M&M’s characters fill my work space with even more bright colours and creative images.

I have my NFL Funko Pop collection sitting on my desk and shelf. And of course I have my kids artwork hanging proudly in several different areas on the walls.

There’s a reason for all this colourful, bright, childlike madness around me each day. It’s to stay in a constant state of creativity. As we get older we slowly lose the creative innocence we had as kids. Peter Himmelman the author of Let Me Out: Unlock Your Creative Mind and Bring Your Ideas to Life puts it this way in a 2016 article for Time Magazine:

When a child is engaged in play, she is taking material from her inner reality, or dream world, and placing it into external reality, or what we might call the real world.

Play then becomes the intersection of dream and reality. I call that… “Kid-Thinking.” Very young children don’t think about the consequences or how they’ll be perceived; they just play.

Studies have shown that when we fully immerse ourselves in joyous doing—as opposed to anxious mulling—we can become more creative.

Books, brand images, Funko Pops, kids paintings in my office all remind me that even at 40 years of age, my inner child creative potential is limitless. I just need to give it permission to be so.

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Inclusion & Diversity = Authenticity

My favourite part from the Disney/Pixar movie Soul is easily the barbershop scene. A few weeks after watching the movie I learned the barbershop scene wasn’t part of the original screenplay.

Yeah, that scene was my idea. It wasn’t even in the film. I said like, “This guy has to pass through authentically Black spaces and there’s no more authentically Black space than a barbershop.”

Kemp Powers, a co-director for Soul who happens to be black , felt the movie was lacking a scene showing an authentic black experience with the characters. Through his own personal experiences he thought adding a barbershop scene to the storyline would fill that void:

Hair falls gently down to the floor. That’s how the scene opens. You hear the clippers buzzing and the hair falls onto Dez’s (the barber) Timberland boots….I just knew that it would be incredible to see the process of a Black haircut up close, in a Pixar film.

The animators took trips to the barbershops, and they sat there, and barbers worked through all of their tools so that everything was done in order. The level of detail that goes into everything; nothing happens in an animated film by accident.(Quotes from interview on State.com)

Having a co-black director in place, Pixar provided opportunities for culturally relevant ideas like adding the barbershop to actually happen. But they didn’t stop there with Soul.

All the key elements of the film were run by the internal culture trust made of Pixar’s Black employees. Areas like character designs, set designs, and more, to ensure the film felt culturally authentic. Additionally Pixar brought in external consultants to assist with lighting black skin to bring an authentic, distinct look to the black characters.

Soul feels the way it does when you watch it because all of these elements were considered ahead of time by Pixar. It’s impossible to create an culturally authentic experience without providing room for equity, inclusion and diversity in the creative decision making process.

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Just Start Your Own Holiday

December 26th is Boxing Day. The day after Christmas when we decide it’s time to do something for ourselves by waiting in line for hours for the door crasher deals we’ve been eyeing.

Like so many other events, COVID-19 lockdown precautions took away our Boxing Day experience forcing the closure of most retail businesses.

Where many other businesses prepared for lost sales, LEGO saw an opportunity to fill the void by officially declaring December 26th as LEGO Build Day – a celebration of creativity, imagination, and togetherness.

If families weren’t out shopping, they could be home doing something together. Like building LEGO sets. More likely ones that were unwrapped on Christmas. Which, we’re probably the sets bought in anticipation for LEGO Build Day in the first place.

The biggest times of crisis can bring out the genius we never knew we had. Whenever you get stuck always remember LEGO actually created their own holiday for the win.

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Leadership: Creating a Culture of Play

One of the best organizations I’ve worked for was a privately owned company where the owners made it their mission to create an employee first culture.

They would create company sponsored events for each holiday that would include department competitions for prizes, catered bbqs, fun interactive games and more.

But the most memorable events during my time there were the employee field trips. One of the owners (let’s call him Dan) would take about 15 employees from different departments on a full day excursion he called ‘Dan’s Day Out’.

It was a paid day away from the office to have fun doing a number of creative and fun activities around our city. With lunch included! Having a culture of play remained a priority for the owners. That ultimately lead to revenue growth year over year from increased employee productivity.

The world is in a different place when it’s comes to creating and maintaining healthy and effective company cultures, but it’s more in need now than ever before. The dynamic of remote work shouldn’t minimize how leaders engage in a culture of play with their teams.

With work from home mental health issues on the rise, companies will need to work with their managers to keep engagement levels high with employees and be creative when developing remote connection points that trigger feelings of positivity and fun.

Establishing a remote company culture of fun and human interaction isn’t just about separating managers and their team from daily work. It’s an investment in cultivating a happy and healthy work environment that ultimately will have a positive impact on the company’s success.

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Risky Business

Accomplishing greatness starts with making a risky decision to challenge the norm.

Vanderbilt University women’s soccer player Sarah Fuller made a risky decision and challenged the norm by becoming the first ever women to play in a power 5 College Football game this past weekend.

Feats like that don’t just happen. We decide to make them happen. It all starts with making a decision to shake things up, do something different and not looking back in spite of the criticism or the people we make uncomfortable in the process.

The best and most rememberable decisions we make are often the ones with the greatest risk attached to it.

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Thinking Outside of the Soapbox

In my early days of working in transportation, I had the opportunity to work with one of the largest soap brands in the world.

They were my main logistics account for the company I worked for, and I was their point person in charge of coordinating their freight.

Because of market share losses, senior leadership wanted fresh creative ideas to stimulate business growth. Most companies of their caliber and size would limit that conversation to the sales and marketing team. This company sought out a different approach.

They ended up inviting partners from all over their supply chain as well as their general office staff to participate in a group strategy session. Participants included personnel from accounting, customer service, contract warehousing, contract transportation (me), sales, marketing and senior leadership.

The idea was to get a different perspective from individuals who had a alternate vantage point for how the business was operating. First we had a brain storming session to flesh out new ideas. Then we went in groups of two to scope out the product layout at major retailers across the city. We returned to discuss innovative ways to make product placement more appealing to shoppers.

Its no surprise that businesses, large and small, who see year over year growth are usually the ones willing to take an unorthodox approach to creating growth potential and continuous improvement planning.

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