Be tuned in to the world around you: creative observation

(Creative observation is the 6th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

Creativity rarely, if ever, occurs in a vacuum. Rather, it comes from tuning in to what is happening around you. And tuning into creative observation demands more than just sight.

Five sensesFeel the chair you’re sitting on. Is it hard or soft? Smooth or rough? What about your pet? Your skin? Different textures offer a fertile ground for new discoveries.

Take a sip of water (or beer or wine!). Swish it in your mouth and pay attention to how it feels.Take a bite of food. Notice the structure and crunch and quality. How can taste help generate new ideas?

Take a deep breath. Think about pleasant and unpleasant odors that have influenced you in your life. When have smells triggered emotions that might be tapped into as part of invention?

Close your eyes and listen. Do you hear sirens, conversations, or silence? Are you surrounded by music? Why? Try to integrate unique sounds into creative exploration.

Sight, touch, sound, taste and smell all play a role in observation and subsequent innovations. So, be observant using all five of your senses.

Creative observation

There is no one right way to do creative observation. Some people prefer to go out and experience things before researching data that might explain, affirm or expand on what they experienced. Others prefer to dig into data on trends and ideas before they go out to experience their learning. (Perhaps the former are “right-brain” and the latter are “left-brain” thinkers?) The Coursera course Creativity and Observation emphasizes the importance of observation and divergent thinking in the creative process.

In any event, creative observation involves gathering both soft and hard data, and allowing that data to “incubate” and mature. Remember that ideas spring from other ideas. The more you observe, the more senses you use, the greater the potential for creative insights. It’s an iterative, integrative process.

Creativity is connecting things

Creative observation

Well-known innovators acknowledge this stepping-stone process. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, stated: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it; they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

There is a bit of serendipity in the process. The more you look for connections, the more you will be ready for them when the time is right. Henry Ford was quoted as saying: “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work … Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable.”

Creativity is observation

How to be a better observer

So, how can you become more aware? Start by allowing yourself to be bored occasionally. Don’t feel compelled to spend every moment being “productive” or playing games on your cell phone when you are waiting in line or have a down moment. Stop multitasking.

Pay attention to the people, sights, sounds, and even smells around you. Make it a habit. Listen to nearby conversations (without eavesdropping obnoxiously). Can you spot opportunities for new products, services, or solutions?

Modify your routines

Change your daily habits.Tune to different radio stations (or listen to different music) during your work commute. Or take alternate paths. Pay attention to sources (news, politics, sports) you don’t normally heed. Notice things you never paid attention to before. Challenge yourself to experience something unfamiliar each day – whether it’s striking up a conversation with a person you’ve just met or eating at a new restaurant.

Become an expert

Work to become more of an expert within the area you are trying to be creative. Listen to TED Talks (or similar sources on YouTube). Network with experts and lead users whenever you can. Look for mutual advantages within the network to keep it dynamic. Compile statistics, projections, assumptions, forecasts, expectations, and other data to inspire and inform your creative efforts. Feel free to beg, borrow and steal ideas (ethically and legally, of course!).

Avoid NIH

Creativity suffers when a Not-Invented-Here (NIH) attitude dominates. Don’t allow your ego to be an obstacle to new ideas. Be open to the unexpected. Creativity doesn’t just happen on command. Rather, the more you tune into the world around you, the more likely you will have provided your subconscious with the necessary stimuli to connect concepts in creative ways when the time is right.

Where to from here?

After your creative observation, when is the “right time” to take the next step? The time is right for creativity when you are motivated – and I’ll discuss motivation in the next post.

Introspection: Finding your creative passion

(Finding your Creative Passion is the 7th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

Introspection and self-reflectionIn prior posts I discussed curiosity and the freedom to explore and evolve creative ideas.

But none of that matters if you don’t care. If you don’t have passion. Finding your passion requires introspection into what makes you enthusiastic. Once you understand that, you are better able to self-motivate with intrinsic rewards.

That’s what this blog post is about. Creative passion. Introspection. And intrinsic motivations.

Creative passion

I have two distinct millennial daughters. The oldest is a zoo keeper (beach photo) and the youngest (smiling faces photo) is a tech project manager. They share a lot of the same genes and had a similar upbringing. But they have different interests and abilities. Very different.

Finding your creative passionFinding your creative passion





Scott Barry Kaufman raises an interesting point in his Psychology Today article,  Genius, Genes and Gusto: How Passions Find You. “Between 22 and 36 percent of the differences in creative achievement in the arts and sciences may be explained by natural endowment.” That means a lot of creative passion is due to things other than genetics.

Creative passion refers an extreme desire. It’s a hunger or a craving to have or do something. According to Malini Mohana in PsychCentral’s The Motivated Mind: Where Our Passion & Creativity Comes From:

“The word itself, ‘passion,’ derives from the Latin root ‘pati’ — which means ‘to suffer.’ The veracity in this linguistic statement lies in the fact that passion is what moves you to persevere at something despite fear, unhappiness or pain. It is the determination and motivation to push through suffering for the sake of an end goal.”

It’s interesting to note that passion is derived from the word for suffer. I remember my mother frequently saying, “no pains, no gains; no sacrifices, no rewards.” I learned a lot of things by living that motto during my career. Creativity may require pain and sacrifice. And occasionally the need to take risks. That’s all part of creative passion.

As cellist Yo-Yo Ma stated, “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”

Passion fuels creativityIntrospection: Finding your Creative Passion

Creative passion fuels creativity. But have you taken the time to discover your own passion? Some people are spontaneously passionate. Others need to work to find their passions. That’s where introspection comes in.

According to Wikipedia, introspection is the examination of your thoughts and feelings. But it’s more than simply “knowing thyself” (which can, in fact, have a negative effect on mental well-being).  Healthy introspection is self-reflection with a future focus and self-acceptance. It helps you differentiate between passion and obsession. Between superficiality and substance. Unhealthy introspection is spiraling rumination about the past, with an oversized focus on limitations. It can become obsessive and superficial. While knowing your limits is necessary, it’s less helpful as a propellant for creative energy.

As Oprah Winfrey said in The Secret to Finding Your Passion, “Passion can’t be found in your head because it lives in your heart.” Actually, I believe you need both head and heart to identify your passion triggers. Here are a few starting points about being introspective for creativity.

Rethink childhood memories

Children often manifest their passions by how they play. What did you absolutely love doing while you were growing up? Drawing? Singing? Competing? Building? Something else? Try to feel the excitement, intensity and joy you had from those experiences. Tap into that buzz.

Remember when you made time flyTime flies when you are in flow

Think about times you’ve been completely lost in what you were doing. When you were so absorbed and immersed that you lost track of time.  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi refers to this as flow, or completely focused motivation. It’s in your heart, but you need to identify it in your head.

What is it that gives you this sense of flow? Do you enjoy the process of rebuilding old cars? Or get excited supporting a social cause? Perhaps you relish solving mathematical algorithms? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment after completing a strategic plan? Are you driven more by a need for self-expression or a need to find solutions? Answer these questions thoughtfully. Creativity is more likely to happen when you are in flow.

Retrace your educational offerings

People are attracted to certain topics more than others. What attracted you to non-mandatory high school or college classes? Which company-sponsored workshops interested you? Have any events at libraries, convention centers and other local meeting places sparked your interest? Look for a theme or pattern in your interests.

Find connections in leisure activities

I really enjoy bike riding. Not racing or competing, but simply escaping my day-to-day concerns. I appreciate landscaping for the same reason. So, what’s the pattern? I realized my passion wasn’t exactly biking or gardening. While I enjoy both activities, the truth is they provided the opportunity for me to plan and organize writing ideas in my head. That was the true passion.

Make a list of your leisure activities. Consider favorite books and movies. Level of sports participation. Volunteer efforts. Is there a common denominator that highlights your creative passion?

Make room for yourself

We live in a world of continuous partial attention. Multitasking is the norm. Yet disconnecting and slowing down is valuable for finding your creative passion. In “Can 10 Minutes of Meditation Make You More Creative?” three Harvard Business Review authors explain how mindfulness meditation can help get your mojo back when you’ve lost your zeal.

Then remove distractions. Clear your desk. Mute your cell phone. Suppress the urge to check email, respond to messages or clean your garage. Train yourself to focus on the creative task for as long as possible before taking a break or shifting to non-creative work.

Next, envision your environment. Do you become more creative when you are in solitude? Or when you are surrounded by people? Are you more of a sunrise or a sunset type of person? Do you need quiet? Or does background music help you think? What kind of music? These are all introspective efforts to define your creative passion. Your personal motivators.

Passion is an intrinsic motivator

Passion fuels creativityThe euphoria you get when engaged in something you find meaningful is an intrinsic motivator or reward. Passion is the fuel of creativity. Decades of research have shown that creativity increases when people are “intrinsically motivated by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself.”

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, refers to incentives, rewards, or penalties that are external to the individual. They are not similarly effective for stimulating creativity. In fact, people may become less creative when provided with external motivation for a task they already enjoy because they begin to externalize the motivation. Dan Pink, in his TED talk on “The Puzzle of Motivation,” provides a solid case for the value of intrinsic over extrinsic motivation for creative efforts.

You are more likely to be intrinsically self-motivated (in flow) when you are involved with a task or project you are passionate about. Even if you are not enthusiastic about every aspect of a project, look for specific parts that interest you.

Where to from here?

In addition to creative passion, part of your motivation will come from your dreams and visions, as I will discuss in the next post.



Creative visionaries: Imagination, originality, foresight

(Creative Visionaries is the 8th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

A consultant I recently had breakfast with made an interesting statement. “The trouble in business and government today is that we have too many visionaries.

In the context of the conversation it made sense. If everyone simply talks about vague strategies, nothing gets accomplished.

But that doesn’t mean visions are unimportant. The truth is, they are.

Being passionate, as I discussed in my last post, motivates you to work on something. But what that something becomes depends on your vision.

What are creative visionaries?

Creative visionaries may be viewed as impractical dreamers. As quirky entrepreneurs. Or even as geniuses. The “right” answer depends on your definition of vision and visionary. Here are a few.

  • Merriam-Webster defines vision as: “something that you imagine – a picture that you see in your mind.” It defines a visionary as: “one having unusual foresight and imagination.”
  • defines vision as: “the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be.”  A visionary is defined as: “a person of unusually keen foresight.”
  • Oxford Dictionaries defines vision as: “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.”  A visionary is defined as: “a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.”

The common themes in these definitions – imagination, originality, and foresight – are what I’d like to focus on here. Creative visionaries use imagination to create mental pictures. They use original thinking to challenge the status quo. And they use foresight to connect their concepts to the future.

Imagination of creative visionaries

Imagination is the gateway to creative intuition. It starts with dreaming and daydreaming. We do it all the time in an unfocused way. Sometimes it’s referred to as creative visualization. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Imagination Institute, imagination is “the conscious representation of what is not immediately present to the senses.”

creative visionaries: imagination

Your goal is to experience the outside world inside your mind. First, ask a lot of “what if” questions. Then use your imagination to connect the answers into a virtual tapestry. Form and manipulate mental images in your brain’s neural network.

To start, practice visualization. Look out the window. Pick out an object (a car, fire hydrant, sign or anything). Mentally rotate it as a 3D image. “See” it in your mind from all angles.

Or take two objects (either physical or non-physical such as music). Reflect on how you could combine them into a single complex item.

Write stories, especially fiction where you need to connect with the characters.

Practice photography. Manipulate the images with digital software.

Remodel your home.

Your imagination goal is to work on activities that require complex, holistic connections.

Einstein believed intuition and imagination spawned achievements in both science and art. He suggested the main difference was that science is conveyed in the language of logic. Art is conveyed through the senses. But imagination is the starting point for both.

Originality of creative visionaries

Next up, originality.

While it’s important to “think outside the box,” originality is more than that. You should know what’s in the box first.

People at times think they have created something original simply because they haven’t explored what’s actually out there.

creative visionaries: originality

So rather than isolate creativity, give your brain significant mental stimuli. Then let it incubate in an effort to create fresh ideas. Original thinking may simply be “seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” Reconfigure existing gadgets. Try unconventional applications of current things. Give them new life.

Originality means viewing things in novel ways. But it doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. As William Craig pointed out in Fortune’s Why Creativity Isn’t all About Originality, vision can be focused on execution. Lego, Apple and Oreo, for example, were successful due to business savvy as much as invention.

Foresight of creative visionaries

Finally, being a visionary means looking into the future.

MIT defines foresight as “the Art and Science of inventing and designing the future. It is the first and key step of innovation in a fast-changing world.”

creative visionaries: foresight

Creative thinkers need hindsight, insight and foresight.

Hindsight consists of the data describing what happened.

Insight is the interpretation of the data to explain why it happened.

Foresight is your analysis of what might happen. Use foresight to ground your creativity not just in the present, but also in how the idea fits into a future scenario.

George E.L. Barbee, in Two Simple Concepts for Thinking about the Future (Strategy+Business) recommends building a “foresight network.” Find people with diverse experiences and views on the future to help inform the process of creativity and innovation.

Where to from here?

Being a visionary – tuning into your dreams, aspirations and inventiveness – can be both energizing. But it can also be exhausting. Consequently, it’s worth taking a look at energy management in my next and final post of this 9-part series.

Energy for creativity: Don’t just manage time, monitor your energy

(Energy for Creativity is the 9th and final segment of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

You need energy for creativity. It’s obvious from all my prior posts that creativity is really demanding. And unfortunately, it really, really wilts without conscious energy renewal.

This post is about managing and recharging your energy. You need energy to get out of creative ruts. No matter how strong you are in the other traits of creativity, your inventiveness will suffer if your energy has been depleted.

Health is part of energy for creativity

Let’s start with a few common sense items – the basics of wellness.The link between creativity and health is well established by research. While I’m not sure whether creativity improves health, or being healthy improves creativity, they are nonetheless linked. So improving your wellness matters.

First, eat a balanced diet. Now I’m not going to promote any specific foods. You know what your diet should look like. Just eat more of the healthy items (fruits and vegetables) and less of the unhealthy ones (fats and sugars).

Exercise regularly. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain.That improves critical thinking, memory and other brain functions. Exercise also clears the mind, giving your subconscious the opportunity to think through problems. In that way it helps with the incubation of ideas (as discussed in my post on the process of creativity).

energy for creativityA rested brain is more creative

From a creative perspective, exercise is a form of rest because it is a restorative activity, even though it’s not passive. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang discusses this in Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. While the title is a tiny bit misleading, it highlights why creativity cannot simply be forced.

Here’s another point to consider. Most exercise programs and personal trainers utilize interval training to allow recovery times for our bodies. This involves interspersing high-intensity workouts with periods of rest. Our bodies are designed to alternate between high focus and periodic rest. We benefit from similar recovery for our brains.Experts recommend taking breaks every 90 minutes or so. The Pomodoro technique suggests 25-minute focused intervals.

Build intermittent breaks into your creativity routine. Breaks can come in the form of total rest, or as energy-giving buffers. If you anticipate a particularly stressful period (with people or situations draining your energy) plan for recovery time. Then incorporate energy-giving activities as buffers between energy-draining activities. Energy-giving activities are those things that boost your energy. That could be a walk in the park, reading a novel, or stopping to watch the sunset on your way home. Plan for it.

Finally, get sufficient sleep — in addition to rest and breaks. Even small amounts of sleep deprivation reduce creativity. (As a side note, sleep plays an important role in the incubation of ideas. I discuss that in my post on the process of creativity.)

Patch together time for creativity

Detach creative (conceptual) time from concrete (task) time. Freeze time chunks for creative thinking. Cluster meetings (and other concrete tasks) adjacently so you can carve out blocks of uninterrupted time for the more abstract tasks.

Limit focus shifts during your creative time. When you have several tasks demanding your attention, your conscious mind keeps bouncing back to them. Your focus is therefore not fully creative. To minimize the pull, record the interrupting tasks on a to-do list. Force yourself to “forget about them” for a while. The sheer act of writing the list helps convey to your mind that the tasks will not be forgotten totally. They thereby demand less of your mental energy.

Set aside one or two hours a week (or more as suits your needs) for pure idea time. Limit interruptions. Prevent distractions. Stop multitasking. As I’ve discussed in other posts, multitasking drains creative output. Don’t feel compelled to fill every single minute with doing (i.e., being efficient). Try to focus on effectiveness (being creative). Overemphasizing time efficiency (over effectiveness) can acutely damage energy for creativity.

Relationships matter

Build social networks that stimulate your creativity and boost your energy. These networks can be online or offline, work-specific or leisure-related, colleagues or friends and family, and close-knit communities or a patchwork of far-flung connections. The point is to find the type of networks and frequency of contact that energizes you. Steer clear of the creativity vampires — people that suck the creative energy from you.

Creativity at your peak times

Be honest with yourself about whether you are a morning person or a night person. That’s your optimal work time. If you have to do both cognitively demanding (analytical) and intuitive (conceptual) work, complete the concrete tasks when you are at your optimal.

Creativity can occur during your non-optimal times for a couple of reasons. First, getting into the flow” can sometimes energize you when you are tired. Second, your brain wanders more when you are tired, potentially leading to more insights.This doesn’t mean you should avoid being creative at your optimal time. In fact, you might start the creative process in the morning (if that’s your peak time), with a-ah points occurring later, after they have had time to “incubate.”

An article in Scientific American reinforces this point, suggesting that eureka moments are greatest when we are NOT at our best. According to the article:

“Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where susceptibility to “distraction” can be of benefit.  At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider a broader range of information.”

So, not all creative output happens when you are at your best. Be alert to the serendipity of ideas whenever they hit you. Energy for creativity comes in many forms.

This is the end of my 9-part series on characteristics on creativity. I will address other aspects of creativity and innovation in future posts.

Meet Linda Gorchels

Thanks for stopping to meet me!

Linda GorchelsI’ve helped thousands of people (actually more than 10,000 people) update their “knowledge systems.” Think about it. You routinely upgrade your computer system, but do you continually rejuvenate your brain? I try to help people do just that. Both in person and by providing “brain snacks” on my website.

For 25 years I was part of the UW-Madison management education faculty.  I worked hard to make “academic” principles accessible to professionals in their everyday jobs.And from what I’ve been told, my efforts were pretty successful.

Not only that, I learned new ideas from my classes — from you — and shared these ideas with others. (It was sort of a crowd-sharing function before the internet made that much easier!) Now I am an emerita director and continue to share ideas as well as reinvent myself.

I’ve won some awards  and have written several books. (The number keeps changing, but you can see them on Amazon).  I have copies of these books translated into quite a few languages that I’m not really sure what to do with!They represent what I have learned from providing training to companies in the United States, China and Europe.

And I worked in a bunch of companies before I started at the university. But that’s ancient history at this point.

Now it’s time to reinvent myself. I’ m slowly turning myself into a blogger, mystery author and Creativity Curator for my own company, Tomorrow’s Mysteries, LLC.