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Inner Mind Creativity (Part 2)

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Visualising Your Situation

When you face a transcendental situation, the first thing you need to do is to visualise it in detail and from as many different perspectives as possible. Incidentally, this behaviour demonstrates the key difference between highly creative people and averagely creative people. When the average person faces a transcendental situation, she looks for ideas. When a highly creative person faces such a situation, she examines it in detail first. She knows that the only way to discover truly creative action is to understand the situation inside out and upside down.

The lesson here is simple. When you face a transcendental situation, learn not to generate ideas, but to visualise it in depth and to look at it from various angles, as different people, in multiple contexts and in a variety of ways. Once you do this, you will find that you have a more profound, multidimensional understanding of the situation – making it easy to devise and build creative action you might take.


Meditative Visualisation

In my workshops, I do a series of exercises, inspired by meditation techniques, to help participants visualise situations in their minds and then to explore those situations. Through breathing exercises, gentle instructions and sometimes music, I help participants get into a relaxed state. Then I help them visualise their minds (as I wrote about earlier). Participants can spend a moment exploring their minds. Next, I help participants visualise the situations for which they want to take creative action. Once they are doing this, still in a semi-meditative state, I enable them to see the situation from different angles, though different people’s eyes and in new ways. I add unexpected concepts to the situations and this inspires new thinking.

As participants come out of their meditative states and return to our shared reality, I give them time to write down their thoughts and insights. This is critically important. Unexpected thoughts disappear out of the mind as quickly as they appear. If one does not make note of them, one will almost certainly forget them.


Self-induced Meditation

Sadly, it is not always possible for me to put you into a meditative state, as much as I would like to be of service to you. Fortunately, it is possible to put yourself into a meditative state. I have summarised the method below. If you have the opportunity to learn how to meditate through a coach or a workshop, I suggest you take advantage of the opportunity. Meditation is a useful skill. I learned about meditation from Buddhist monks while living in Southeast Asia in the late 1980s and the 1990s.

Here is a short and simplified method to put yourself in a relaxed, meditative state and to ponder your situation. Give it a go!

  1. Find a quiet and comfortable space where you will not be disturbed.

  • Get into a relaxed position, such as sitting or laying down.

  • Focus on your breathing.

  • Take slow, deep breaths.

  • Visualise the top of your head and consciously relax it.

  • Continue this process down your body. Visualise segments of your body, your forehead, your eyes, your nose and ears and so on, relaxing each bit as you move downwards until you have relaxed your toes.

  • Now, visualise your situation in your mind. Focus on it and nothing else.

  • Imagine yourself in your mind. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Make yourself comfortable here, you will be spending some time here. If you are not happy with your mind, change it and start this exercise again. Fortunately, it is your mind and you can change it!

  • Think about how this situation came about. Why does it exist?

  • What is the conventional action to take in such a situation?

  • Why do you want to do something creative?

  • How will the situation be after you have taken creative action? How will it be in a year's time?

  • What will happen if you do not take action?

  • In your mind, walk around the situation. Look at it from various angles. What do you see?

  • Fly above and below the situation. What do you see?

  • Are other people involved in the situation? How do they perceive the situation? What would they like you to do? How might they be affected by your creative action?

  • Change the colour of the situation. Make it red. Make it green. Make it blue. Make it pink. Make it black and white.

  • Bring random people or objects into the situation and see what happens. (Admittedly, this is difficult if you are doing this on your own. Before you begin the meditative state, you could choose a few random words from the dictionary or random images from a picture book and keep them in mind for your meditation)

  • Continue to explore your situation until you are ready to re-enter the material world.

  • Once you have returned to the material world, write down your insights in a notebook, on a tablet or whatever works for you. Keep the notebook nearby for 24 hours. You will often find inspiration continues to come long after the meditation. Workshop participants sometimes tell me they see a lot of new inspiration in the morning after the meditation – often upon waking.


  • Walking Meditation

    You can and should try a similar method while walking. Although you obviously cannot get into such a deep meditative state while walking, walking does have the advantage of being exercise, exposing you to ever changing inspiration in the form of scenery and exploiting your creative energy.

    I prefer walking self-meditation over the sitting kind. I find it helps me look at situations more comprehensively. However, one needs to be careful. I was once so absorbed in thought, while on a walk, that I walked into a signpost and broke my nose. Really!


    Keep the Situation in Your Mind

    If there is no hurry to take creative action in a situation, then keep it in the back of your mind and do other things for at least a day. As you go about your life, the things you see, the places you go and the people you talk to will provide your mind with new insights and ways of looking at the situation.

    In the mornings, particularly after waking, you may very well be inspired with insights and ideas that seem to have sneaked into your mind at night. When you sleep, it seems your mind takes the opportunity to go through your memories and experiences of the day, filing them away as notions for future use. This process often connects seemingly unconnected notions which can inspire new insight and ideas about which you become aware when you wake.

    The critical thing here is to write down insights and ideas as soon as they strike you – whether you have just woken up, are taking a walk in the woods. A great, unexpected idea can disappear from your mind as quickly as it appeared.

    This, dear reader, is the single most important creativity tip ever: always keep a notebook and pen (or a digital device such as a tablet if that is your preferred note-taking device) handy, no matter where you are. You never know when you might need to jot down an idea, an inspiration or a phone number.

    A Word About Assumptions 1

    Reality is basically a series of assumptions we make about the world around us. Most of those assumptions are sensible. We assume the sun will rise in the morning – unless, of course we are astronomically minded, in which case we assume the Earth will continue to rotate at its usual speed so that the sun appears to rise in the morning. Scientifically minded or not, we assume there will be no radical changes in the laws of gravity during the day. And so on.

    Most assumptions are safe. Indeed, if you were to question every assumption all day long, you'd soon go mad. However, some assumptions are not reliable, either because they are based on misunderstandings or because the bases of those assumptions have changed. For instance, for hundreds of years it was assumed that our body was filled with four humours and if they remained in balance, you remained healthy. If they got out of balance, you got ill. Medical treatments, such as bleeding sick people, were based on these assumptions and, as a result, often killed patients faster than diseases left alone would have done; particularly as there was no understanding of the importance of hygiene, sterilising medical tools and the like.


    Dangerous Assumptions

    Assumptions are particularly pervasive in organisations such as businesses, government bodies and non-profits. In many cases, assumptions which held true when a business – or even an entire sector – was founded, become untrue over time. For instance, in the early 1900s, it was assumed that the main form of personal transportation for the middle and lower classes involved horses. Sure, cars existed, but they were expensive playthings for the wealthy and out of reach to everyone else – until Henry Ford launched his inexpensive, reliable and easy-to-maintain Model T. Within a few years, the car became the default form of personal land transportation for the middle classes and horse related businesses – built on the assumption people would always uses horses to get around – went bankrupt by the thousand.

    More recently, the film industry assumed that when people would always want high quality prints of their photographs. When the first digital cameras came out, they produced poor quality images that looked atrocious if printed at any reasonable size. Secure in their assumptions, the film industry ignored digital imagery even as image quality improved. And in a sense, the film industry is correct, even today a good quality film camera can produce a better quality photographic print than can a digital camera. The problem is, people today seldom actually print images. Rather they look at them in their computers and share them on various social networks. The fundamental assumption of the film industry became wrong and because the industry clung to it, once huge businesses such as Kodak and Polaroid went bankrupt.


    What Are Your Assumptions?

    Do you see where I am going here? Of course you do! The assumptions you make in your organisation may seem safe today, but could become invalid in no time. For this reason it is critical that you make a list of all the assumptions you make about your product, your sector, your customers and your business model.

    This sounds easy, but it is not. When I ask participants of my cosmic creativity workshops to do this, they find it extremely difficult to identify their deepest, most ingrained assumptions. For example, I asked a director of logistics (mostly involving trucking) this question and he listed some very trivial assumptions, such as that their trucks would be in good repair. I suggested, “you are assuming that you will always be able to get diesel fuel for your trucks., but what if that becomes unavailable? You are assuming that there will be a consistent need for trucking in your continent, but what if 3D printing becomes so commonplace that people print products rather than buy them?”

    I would like to say that he was astounded and thanked me for my deep insight. Instead, he was polite and acknowledged my observation. But I believe he thought I was crazy – those assumptions were far too ingrained for him to question them. And, perhaps, the answers to those questions could be frightening than he wanted to think about, especially in a rather entertaining workshop.

    But, as the horse industry learned in the dawn of the 20th century and the film industry learned in the dawn of the present century, deeply held assumptions change. Worse, the rapid pace of technology and the ease with which upstarts can launch new businesses means that the bases of many assumptions are changing with disturbing regularity.


    List Your Assumptions

    This is why you should make a list of your assumptions. This will not be easy and I recommend you ask friends, family and creativity wonks like me to help you list those assumptions.

    Think about every aspect of your business, your sector, your customers, your business model; think about everything you do and list the assumptions behind those actions. Don't forget the most fundamental assumptions. Do this alone, with your team and with outsiders.


    Personal Assumptions

    While assumptions are most pervasive in the business and political world, they also affect us as individuals. One of the most common assumptions is that we need to earn more money in order to live a better life. A consequence of this assumption is that in families, one or more of the parents ends up working long hours in a stressful workplace in order to maximise income now and promotional possibilities for the future. Those promotions typically result in greater income and greater demands at work.

    As a result the hard working parents (more and more often, it is both parents) have little time for their children, their families and the pursuit of the dreams they had as young lovers.

    Sadly, it is all to often at the deathbed that the hard workers reflect back on their lives and do not say, “by golly, I wish I had worked harder and longer hours.” No, they typically say, “I wish I had worked less and spent more time with my family.”

    Because, the truth is, what your family needs most of all is not the money you earn, but you, your time, your love, your emotional participation and your physical participation.

    But many of us make mistaken assumptions about our lives, our partners and our families. It is important therefore to list your own personal assumptions from time to time – and to question those assumptions. Again, ask others to help you with this.

    I think you will be surprised by what you learn – and eventually amazed at how much your life can improve once you question those assumptions and change behaviours based on flawed assumptions.


    Not Always Bad News

    So far, I have focused on the consequences of assumptions. But there are also happy-ending stories. For instance, Arm and Hammer has sold baking soda for more than 100 years. For most of that time, they assumed customers used baking soda for baking. But baking soda for baking is a limited market. On the other hand, sodium bicarbonate (which is what baking soda actually is) has all kinds of terrific properties, such as absorbing odours, cleaning and even extinguishing fires. By making use of these properties, the company was able to launch a wide range of new sodium bicarbonate products which enabled them to expand the business manifold over the years.


    Meditation

    When you meditate over your transcendental situation, think also about the assumptions you are making in your organisation or your life. Might some of those assumptions apply to your situation? If so, visualise what would happen to the situation of the relevant assumptions were wrong. This can be powerfully inspiring.

    We will look at assumptions again when we look at building creative visions. In the meantime, keep questioning your assumptions!

     

    Collaborative Vision

    If you are collaborating with others on a transcendental situation, then you will need to share your visualisations of the situation together with the resulting insights. Until we find a way to wire brains together in a cognitive network, in the way we now network computers, we will have to settle for more lowly ways to share a vision of a situation.

    Although diversity of thought is important in creativity, you need to ensure that every member of the team shares a similar understanding of the transcendental situation before you try to build a vision of a creative action you can take. If members of the team see the situation differently, it will be impossible to collaborate productively on a creative vision.

    The best way to evaluate a transcendental situation, with the aim of a shared vision, is to bring the collaborating team together in order to ask and answer questions about the situation.

    The first question to ask is:

    Why does this situation exist?

    Answer the question. Then ask:

    Why does this answer apply to the situation?

    Continue drilling deeper with why until you have asked “why” a total of five times.

    For example:

    Situation: We wish to launch a social media marketing campaign

    Why 1: Why do we wish to launch a social media marketing campaign?

    Answer 1: Because all businesses in our sector are rushing to social media, yet we have no social media strategy.

    Why 2: Why are all businesses rushing to social media?

    Answer 2: Because that is where people, especially young people, hang out.

    Why 3: Why do we want to reach young trendy people?

    Answer 3: Because we want to sell our product to them.

    Why 4: Why do we want to sell our product to them?

    Answer 4: Because if we succeed in that, we will increase sales and market-share.

    Why 5: Why do we want to increase sales and market-share to young people?

    Answer 5: Because our new product is targeted to them.

    By answering the why question five times, we understand this situation better. It is not really about marketing on social media. It is about selling to younger people. Our vision of the situation should not be one of social media, but rather it should be of young people desiring to buy our product. Social media should probably be a part of that vision, but not the entirety of the vision of our situation.

    It is interesting to note that by asking why five times (also known as the Five Whys, a method invented by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries, a massive collection of companies including the manufacturer of the eponymous cars), we have changed the nature of the situation. This often happens when you ask why five times, your situation changes and you see it more clearly.

    In addition to asking why five times you can ask other questions to help you see a situation more deeply and from varying perspectives. Here are some businesslike examples. There is no need to ask all of these questions when collaborating on a transcendental situation. Just choose some relevant questions, ask them and answer them.

    1. What are the consequences of doing nothing?

    2. What would be the consequences if our action failed?

    3. What limitations should we keep in mind?

    4. How would we like the situation to be in one year, two years, five years?

    5. Who is affected by the situation?

    6. Do our competitors face similar issues?
      - If so, how are they dealing with them?
      - If not, why not?

    7. Where can we seek additional information?

    8. Can we think of parallel situations in other, unrelated businesses?
      - If so, what did those businesses do?
      - Could their situation be applied to our organisation?
      - If so, how?
      - If not, why not?

    9. How could we seek additional insight into this situation?

    10. What are the conventional actions and semi creative actions in a situation like this?

    11. What potential barriers might prevent some actions?

    12. Who can make a decision on this?

    13. When must a decision be made?

    14. How will our proposed action be judged and evaluated?

    15. What budget is available?

    16. How much time do we have?

    Once you and your team have asked questions and shared insights about your transcendental situation, you should each meditate on it privately for at least a day and ideally several days before coming together to share thoughts.

    Once you have had time for individual meditation, the team should reconvene to define the situation, both as a brief description of the situation (ideally a short sentence or phrase) and a more detailed description to include relevant background information.

    In the next chapter, we will explore how you can share and develop an understanding of the situation.

     

    Your Feedback

    What do you think of the two chapters above? I'd value your feedback, comments and even corrections of typos! Use this form to contact me. Thank you!

     

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    Jeffrey Baumgartner
    Bwiti bvba

    Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium