23 Apr 2021

Putting the thinking & feeling caps on

by John O'Brien

I have a pet peeve – people asserting they “haven’t got a creative bone in their body.” What a crock. Just because you can’t paint the Mona Lisa the first time you pick up a brush does not preclude you from creating. It should not stop you from being innovative or imaginative.

We all have the ability to be creative. Creativity comes in many forms and guises, whether that is in the kitchen, the boardroom, the spreadsheet or at the easel. It’s not about being an artist but more about a state of mind, one where you find better or more interesting ways to do things and practise refining those techniques as you go. Unlocking that potential without fear of failure is the key to this trick.

Old tropes die hard


Creative types don’t all (s)wank around in berets, bow ties or kaftans. That stereotype is outdated and stale. I’m fascinated by the local farmers, fingers fat from years of toil, laughing at us ‘arty types’ yet they come up with so many ingenious solutions to numerous daily problems with just the pile of stuff at hand. They don’t like being called artistic but “hey mate, that trailer hitch is a bloody ripper” buffs their pride.

We know in CX world there is immense creativity required to stage an event. Working out where best to place the speakers, tuning them for the room (and expected punters) and then making the act sound sweet as it all evolves takes a great deal of creative thought. Some similar technical knowledge may be used for studio engineering, but a different set of creativity is involved.

Hours of thinking, drawing and plotting go into stage and lighting design, then get tweaked on the day to best fit the room or conditions. Ditto video and streaming design. Alongside this is the enormous task of pulling all these disciplines together to produce a show or install. Production of these events requires inspired coordination, particularly when it’s one-shot-only live work. All these tasks need inventive and resourceful minds to function smoothly.

Creative types are also business leaders and mentors. Much money is made with creative accounting. Science is another area requiring considerable lateral thought. A dear friend is a self-confessed uber geek and bioinformatician by trade. This polymath might not be up for painting Guernica but throw him the challenge of designing a more efficient way to crunch several terabytes of data and his eyes light up.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines creativity as: “the ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new or imaginative.” So, you can even be creative in the way you pack a truck or cable a rack (keeping OHS in mind, of course!).

Creativity is an advantage in any kind of problem solving; in finding better workflow; in optimising business processes and approaches; in all sorts of domestica; in handling all manner of life issues; in collaborating with others to achieve common goals. A creative approach is possible in pretty much anything that you do.

Blazing your own trail

My mother always swore she was not creative. She meant it in the artistic sense, but she budgeted frugally, made and repaired all our clothes, played multiple musical instruments and raised three boys essentially on her own, all while working full time and studying part time. If that doesn’t require creativity, what does? Later, she showed some casual travel pics to a friend who convinced her to forward them to Lonely Planet, where they were featured in print for the next several editions. She still insists that she’s not creative – I beg to differ.

My late father was a manufacturing engineer. Give him a frying pan and he’d make a mess but give him an engineering task or problem to be solved and you could hear the machine start whirring in his head. His creativity was only apparent in engineering but that drove his fundamental thought processes. Once I understood this, I understood him better.

That epiphany helped my personal creative development. As a youngster, I always assumed that I’d follow in his footsteps – I was good at STEM subjects and my brain is analytical enough – but I was never passionate about it. Timely careers guidance unlocked architecture as a path that could use both my logical and intuitive sides.

How to be creative

Whether consciously or not, I’ve been engaging both aspects of my personality ever since. If I can’t actively think out a solution to a problem, I put it aside and let the unconscious mind go at it. Some of my best work is done in my sleep. Similarly, some of my art is planned out and refined with intellection. Some just happens automagically. Such is the nature of the mind.

The left brain = logic / right brain = intuition theory is long busted as a myth. It turns out our brains are far more complex than that and neural pathways are more important than any hemispherical asymmetry. However it works at the chemical level, you can train your mind to respond with either more feeling or sequencing.

How so? Brain exercises, like crosswords or jigsaw puzzles, help with neurological plasticity. Meditation and mindfulness practise work well for many. Exercise does it for others – I do some of my best thinking while walking laps of the house. If only I could remember every zinger line that goes through my head doing this!

It’s fun to change up your routine and try doing mundane tasks differently. A great example is brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand for a few days. It will feel awkward and likely get messy, but it will help with realigning neural pathways to enhance flexibility and suppleness in your thought processes.

You could take a creative course or join a group to try a craft. You could try changing your commute from the most optimal to the most interesting – it might take longer but it will give you a different perspective and some time to ponder.

Nurturing the fertile ground

I recently attended a reunion for the group that I started uni with. It’s been 36 years since we first met and nearly as long since I’d seen or even thought of some of them. Many graduated and became architects but just as many ventured into other fields. What struck me most is that all of them remain creative and all with the confidence to put their own unique spin on things.
Some moved into related fields like landscape and interior design, some into quite disparate directions such as teaching, law and sports admin. A few went right out of the box (me!), but the best examples go to George who now grows lavender for oil and Miranda who has recently become a power lifting coach. All though approached their ventures with creative flair and individuality. Our training probably helped us to have the confidence to follow our enterprising paths.

On deeper reflection, all my close friends are highly creative, inquisitive, questioning folk. We tend to feed off and inspire each other to even greater heights. Some of them are well on the spectrum but there is a genius in their madness. I get a buzz pinging ideas around with open-minded people and watching the concepts mutate. Every now and again one of these thoughts takes seed and becomes a basis for, or angle on, a new piece of work for one of us.

Unleash your inner flair.

However you get there and however you choose to apply it, creativity is a mindset. We are all born with different innate talents, but it is up to each of us to hone those latencies towards our own goals. A creative approach is a rewarding way to make the most of those skills. Don’t deny your creative bones – refine and use them!


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