Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Focus on Creation and Production

Helpful Hints from Harmony
Life is Good When You Live in Harmony

Hint #9:  Focus on Creation and Production

For much of my life I thought of myself as completely un-creative.  After all, I am not the least bit artistic, have no mechanical skills, and am only marginally musical and athletic.  I supposed that “real” creativity must run in one of those channels.

In time, however, I discovered I have a knack for expository writing, professional teaching, and intellectual tool-building.  It turns out that in those areas, I am actually pretty creative.  Over the years I have developed a substantial body of original work, including four published books, dozens of workbooks and manuals, scores of unique and useful tools and processes for professional advisors, and hundreds of engaging workshops, programs, and presentations. 
Not bad for a guy who — at least in his own mind — was totally un-creative.

So what is my secret to creativity?  How was I able to create so many things?  I think it’s a three-part answer.

1.      I learned to be creative in my own way,
2.      I learned to build supportive teams, and
3.      I learned to push ideas through to completion.

Find Your Own Way to be Creative

Many of us have been conditioned to believe, as I did, that creativity has only a few “appropriate” outlets, like art, music, athletics, or mechanical tinkering.  If our set of talents doesn’t match up with the “approved” list, we think we’re out of luck in the creativity department.

That kind of thinking can definitely stymie creativity. 

I now believe it is possible to define creativity much more broadly.  There are thousands of valuable ways to be creative.  In fact, I think every person on the planet was born a creative genius.  Most simply have not yet found their creative niche.  Sadly, many never do.  As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, too many “die with their music in them.”

So how do we awaken the sleeping creative giant inside each of us?  How do we discover our creative sweet spot?

One way is to spend more time doing the things we do best and that give us great energy when we do them.  That requires identifying those activities where our skills, passion, and sense of purpose intersect.  It requires focusing our efforts and attention there, spending less time doing other things.  I call that being in “Perfect Focus.”

It was only when I concentrated on doing more Perfect Focus activities that I began experiencing creative breakthroughs.  The old saying about a jack of all trades being the master of none applies here.  Diffuse sunlight may produce a warm glow inside but only magnified, focused sunlight can start a fire.

Creative genius comes from being in Perfect Focus.  The key is to do the things we’re great at, the things we love, the things that speak to our soul, and the things that give great value to others.  If we do them consistently and with our own unique style, we’ll open the door to creative genius.
This process can be accelerated by regularly asking ourselves this simple Incisive Question:

“If I knew that within I am a creative genius, how would I go about discovering my creative sweet spot?”

With that question in mind, you must step out of your own way and let your brain go to work. 

Like magic, ideas will start coming to you.  Possibilities will just “show up.”  Allow yourself to follow them. 

Be patient with yourself as those tender shoots of “creative possibility” emerge and begin to grow.  Start small.  Take your time; this is not a race.  Seek out training to nourish your talents.  Fertilize your imagination by spending time with masters in the field.  Weed out self-doubts and ignore naysayers.  Allow the plant to grow and the fruit to ripen.  Over time, you will discover a bounteous harvest of creativity. 

Build a Team

My second great learning was that I needed a great team.  It’s impossible to stay in Perfect Focus without a lot of support.  And in today’s complicated world, most creative endeavors require a collection of talents and abilities.  It’s unlikely that one person can bring all the necessary skills to the table.  A good team is essential to creativity.

Sir Isaac Newton once stated, “If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”  My creativity did not begin to flourish until I learned to invite giants onto my team and to delegate important responsibilities to them, trusting they would do them better than I. 

Over the years, some enormously talented and dedicated people, all creative in their own right, have worked with me and for me.  That has made all the difference. 

Sometimes they were directly involved in the creative process itself, bringing skills that I did not possess such as graphic or computer skills, book design, or art work.  Sometimes they took responsibilities off my plate so I could be free to concentrate on my Perfect Focus activities.  Either way, they were essential to the creative process.  

Of course my most important team member and collaborator is my wife Marcie, and I thank her for all her support.  For many years, Sharon Greenway, Cyndi Campbell, and Tina Newell were the key members of the core SunBridge team and I must give them much of the credit for my success.

In addition, I have been able to collaborate with some exceptionally talented people on special projects, such as Mike Cummins and Mary Tomlinson on Legacy Planning Associates (www.LegacyPlans.com), and Ryan Ponsford on Main Street Philanthropy (www.MainStreetPhil.org) and Main Street Legacy (www.MainStreetLegacy.com).  

It’s exciting to bring a group with exceptional creative skills together and build something brand-new.  Creative work in a great team is so much fun!

Finish the Job

The third key to successful creation is to be a doer, not just a dreamer.  At the end of the day, it’s not what you can imagine but what you can produce.

I once worked for a guy who had a thousand brilliant ideas every day before lunch.  His mind was designed to think way outside the box.  He saw connections, extensions, overlaps, and new possibilities in everything he looked at.  When I first met him I assumed that he must have been a master creator.  But when I got to know him better, I found he had very little to show for all his amazing ideas.

That’s because imagination doesn’t equal creativity.  He could dream but he couldn’t do. He couldn’t follow through.  He couldn’t turn his ideas into results.  In fact, his daily stream of great possibilities often got in his way; they cluttered up any thoughts he might have had about how to implement his big ideas from the day before and the day before that.

In addition to him, I know lots of very imaginative people who never create much of anything useful.  They aren’t finishers.  They don’t know how to follow through.  Their minds, their desks, their workbenches or their garages are strewn with all sorts of brilliant but half-cooked ideas and uncompleted projects. 

Creativity requires riding herd on an idea from conception to completion.  It requires focus and persistence.  It requires sticking with a task even when it stops being fun, until it starts being fun again.  Follow-through is just as essential to creativity as imagination.

Every successful creative team must have at least one person who has that “git ‘er done” skill-set, someone who can ramrod a great concept to completion.  Without it, even breakthrough ideas will come to naught and the most brilliant thinkers will be left with a long string of stalled projects. 

So that’s my simple recipe for creativity:  Find what you’re good at and love to do, and do more and more of it.  Build a great team around you.  Push great ideas all the way through to completion.  It has certainly worked for me.

How will you manifest your creativity?