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Creativity and Perseverance

May 17, 2012

Everywhere I turn these days, I seem to run into information on creativity – and it’s great. I loved the video of John Cleese video discussing his creative process, and I’m looking forward to reading Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine (reviewed here in the NY Times) in preparation for the MPI WEC Book Club.  The most important lessons I’ve learned about the topic come from the two most creative individuals I’ve ever met:  my 4 year old and my 8 year old.

What I’ve learned from the young artist:

Our 4 year old is the artist, constantly drawing and filling every corner of the house, car, stroller and fridge with her art work. We’ve collected many of her masterpieces, including those she has titled “Hula Dance at the Beach”, “I’m Making a Movie Theatre” and “Sparkly Ariel and the Bad Sea Witch”. I’m hoping she’ll do one soon based on her love of the “Eiffel Towel”.

A few things that I’ve learned from her are:

  • Creative types love to collaborate, on their own terms: She loves drawing together, and talking about what we’ll make, and asking me to do parts, but it has to be on her terms. Nothing is worse than someone coming along and adding something to her drawings that she didn’t want. I have to agree as well that I love to work projects with other people, and then there are some things that I take great pride in having done on my own. Having others make suggestions (even great ones) doesn’t always go over well. It’s not that I don’t want it to be the best it can be, it’s that there are some projects where it’s not just about the final product, it’s also about the creative experience and that sense of personal accomplishment.
  • What you see isn’t what everyone else sees: When it comes to her art, I’ve learned not to assume that I know what something is. Like the time I commented on the great picture of our family, only to corrected that it wasn’t a picture of our family, it was a picture of “Walking O’s”. For creative types, this means realizing that sometimes you’ll need to explain things and have a bit of patience for those that don’t get it right off the bat. For those that work with creative types, it means not jumping to conclusions, and asking inquisitive and open-ended questions.
  • If it’s someone’s birthday, they get to pick the crayons they want: She announced this one day at a friend’s birthday party and had me laughing. But everyone agreed and they set aside their own ambition for the pink and purple crayons and allowed the birthday girl to pick first. What I took from this is that creative people are willing to share both resources and spotlight provided that they understand and accept the rules of the game, and know that they’ll have their turn to have first pick one day as well.

What I’ve learned from the young musician:

Our 8 year old is the musician. He wakes up and heads to the piano, usually to experiment, sometimes to practice. He plays the guitar and ukulele as well, but more at our urging than through an internal personal drive. He’s written a few of his own songs, and one of my favourites is “You Might Find You Can Fly”, a song about perseverance. What amazes me the most about this song is that every time he plays it, he does something a bit different, constantly experimenting and changing the way he plays it.

A few things I’ve learned from him:

  • Creativity flourishes only under the right conditions: Stress and fatigue are creativity stiflers. He loves to write music, but if he tries to do it when he’s tired, or if someone makes a suggestion just before a performance, he gets frustrated and upset. I see thing with the many talented people I know in the meetings industry. With time to create a vision for an event, creativity can flourish, but trying to put together something inspired when fueled only by adrenaline strains relationships and limits the possibilities.
  • Great works need great inspiration: He writes songs about things that profoundly affect him. His first song was about the earthquake in Japan. He wrote a song about going to camp for the first time, and one called “Sometimes the World Needs a Little Hand” about helping others. I think we all need something powerful to inspire us to be creative. For me, creativity is usually inspired by a connection I’ve made with someone – an idea shared, a tweet I saw or a face-to-face meeting where that collective energy sends the words flying through my keyboard.
  • Don’t give up: I’m constantly amazed by the things that he says. His school this fall was doing a class project on expressing emotions, and he decided to write a song (also to comemmorate his “Pianoanniversary”) about perseverance. I can’t express any better than he did, so here are the lyrics:

You Might Find You Can Fly

Verse 1:

Sometimes I feel like I can’t do things right
I try something new and it comes out a fright
But then I remember the things I can do
That once upon a time seemed impossible too

Chorus:

Don’t give up up up up
Don’t give in in in in
Persevere, and you’ll win
If you try-y-y-y
And don’t cry-y-y
You might find you can fly

Verse 2:

Learning new things can seem so hard at first
Then all of a sudden it’s like there’s a burst
Frustration and troubles come to an end
Welcome back understanding my very good friend

Chorus

Verse 3:

Learning the basics is all that you need
Before you can write you need to learn to read
First you learn how things work, then you create
Don’t give up when things get tough because you’ll be great

Chorus

Don’t give up, don’t give in
Persevere and you’ll win.

MM

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