I Must Have Pens And I Must Have Zen

Recently, we read Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit which included a section on an exercise she refers to as “scratching.” Essentially, this is the time when your creativity has stopped and despite your dedication to practice, you are stuck. Writers call this “writer’s block.”

I decided to analyze the way I perform my version of a Scratching Exercise based on my preparation for a final project I have due in a little over a month. This is what I determined, ultimately, I have the heart and mind of an English major.

The strategy I generally take when trying to generate some form of creativity is less full of action and more of methodical thinking. This is something that I have been doing for a very long time, although I never had a name to put to it. Basically, these are the steps. First, understand the problem. What am I trying to figure out? What is the real question? This could involve reading the assignment and studying the key elements or it could be considering a challenge I have in work. Second, I let the idea bounce around in my head for a while. This could be hours or it could be days depending on the amount of time I have to get to the answer. Third, I sit down somewhere and I think of all the possible components of the answer and I write them down in a list. Often, only a few of the items on the list actually go into the final answer but it is important to examine all aspects in order to get an idea of what the issue and possible solutions are. Fourth, I research. Research is a loose term. It could be sitting, staring at the wall and allowing my thoughts to travel down one string of ideas to a conclusion, then traveling down another and another until I come to the realization of what I must do. Or, research could mean going to a book and reading something that seems related. I could do this on the internet as well by searching for information on one of those items on the list I wrote down. Eventually, I gather a lot of information during the research stage. Fifth, I look over the research I have gathered and I try to arrange it in a logical manner. This could be chronological, cause and effect, or some other way based on the issue. Sixth, I write. I don’t consider what I am writing too deeply beyond the fact that it takes in all that I have generated up to this moment. At the very end, I will review and edit out what no longer fits or add in what I now realize I am missing. Basically, the scratching exercise is methodical, like Tharp suggests about being creative. But even so, this is just the beginning of the creative process or something that I do to generate more ideas. Now, with this information, I have my blank canvas to express my art. In the picture below, you can see the aftermath of a scratching exercise. Notes throughout, books, computer, iPad, too many pens, and some zen. I must have pens and I must have zen.

Aftermath of a Scratching Exercise

Aftermath of a Scratching Exercise

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Leading Through Change

I have been thinking a lot about leading through change, especially about how, even though I am not a leader by title, I can still be a leader by example. My work is currently going through some changes. They are all good and I am excited to see where they take us. But they are hard, because change is hard, on everyone. Even something as simple as rearranging the furniture and changing desks can trigger something in people that makes them forget why they come to work every day.
The other interesting piece is talking with customers as they adjust to changes in their relationship with the company. We recently made two major announcements, one that had a generally positive effect on people, even though they felt it was negative, and a second which either positively affected a member or had a significant negative affect on them. Ultimately, both changes were necessary for our company to maintain sustainability and be able to offer even greater benefit down the road. But change is hard, especially when it comes in the form of less dollars in a pocket. Part of my job is to assist my CEO with answering the barrage of questions he gets when announcements are made. I write in his voice, he approves, edits and the messages are sent to our members. Suddenly, I am acting the leader and am leading through change.
This is what I have learned from assisting my CEO in this way.
  • Start with empathy and understanding.
  • Provide them an avenue to express their concerns.
  • Let the team know you are listening to what they have to say.
  • Give reply to their concerns with heartfelt sincerity and as much transparency as is possible.
  • Make changes to your change when necessary and where possible.
  • Reassure them by providing extra resources to aid in their understanding of why the change is necessary.
  • And finally, you will not be able to please everyone. You will lose members of your customer base, you may lose members of your team.
  • Keep your sights on the vision and what is best for the company. Do not allow the negative to bring you down or second guess your capability.
Reading John Maeda’s book and then reading the articles and learning about the vote of no confidence and talking in class, brought a lot of this into perspective. It is hard to say if he was a success or not at his school, despite the number one ranking. Ultimately, we do the best we can through change and with each failure we must pick ourselves up, see what we’ve learned and try again. A good leader will get it right most of the time.

A First Day of Stories

Glacier National Park, MT

Glacier National Park, MT

“An inspiring piece of content made by anyone can connect and move mountains and enact real change. This was not possible at this scale ten years ago.”

I think it was Hanson who said this during the first half of Saturday. I think of all the individual stories of individual people throughout the ages that could have inspired more hearts. I think about the story of Caine and his arcade. Thank goodness that struggling filmmaker came along and recognized the magnificence that was before him.

I think also of Inocente, a homeless teenager who caught the eye of filmmakers through her colorful art contradicting her reality at every stroke.

I think of the poor four-year-old boy who was injected with heroine and from his tragedy rose a community of giving for Safe Place, a local temporary home for children in the foster system. These are individuals with stories that were captured and distributed and resulted in waves of positive impact even beyond themselves.

All of these, but the last one especially, makes me wonder. In “Storyteller Uprising,” Hanson notes, “in the most primordial way, we humans have been conditioned to pay attention to stories that help us make sense of our own lives, to which we can relate both individually, and in a collective way.” Yet, none of the above stories represent a situation I can relate to, nor, do I believe, can many of those people who went out of their way to support these individuals. How do we learn about ourselves through these people, or this baby? But yet, we all feel something.

It must be more than life experience. It must be deep within ourselves that we see these people struggling to hold onto the beauty of their life. We all do that in some small way. Still thinking on this one…

On Saturday, we discussed the potential motive and benefit the filmmaker of “Caine’s Arcade” may have had when he came back to ask the father if he could tell Caine’s story. I wonder does this motive take away from the authenticity of the impact, does it better the overall outcome, or does it even matter? In Inocente’s case, the film won an Academy Award, obviously no small feat for the creators. Personally, I do not believe a piece of content made with the wrong intentions, no matter the story, can be as inspiring or impactful as one made with the right ones.

If you listen to the same radio I do, you’ll realize I’ve heard these stories on KIRO 97.3 FM. I’ve been listening to KIRO consistently for a year, and they are excellent story curators and creators. But it wasn’t until today, that I heard what they were saying differently and understood the potential impact of their work. You might think, well this is a major news source here in the Northwest, of course they have great impact. Sure, that is true. But Inocente’s impact did not come from their coverage and the outpouring of support for Safe Place came from a story given to them by a listener.