rising-tide-ships

“What is that?” asked the passerby.

“It’s tango - Argentine tango,” I replied. A couple of other gals were doing their mock version of the typical Fernando pose complete with invisible rose in their teeth that people associate with the dance.

“Really?” she marveled.

“On Wednesday night we have a dance near the Mission,” I explained, handing her a postcard flyer. “There’s a free dance lesson at 8 and dancing ‘til midnight. Come on by.”

“Cool - I’ll check it out!” she said.

“Sorry about that,” I said turning back to my partner.

“That’s okay,” Deanna said. “Part of the job right?”

She was right, of course, but I’m not sure how it happened.

 


(photo courtesy of Norm Davey)

Somehow what started off as a joke - a merry band of misfits calling ourselves “The Secret Tango Society” - became a movement.

Long before flash mobs became popular we occasionally held these “hit and run” guerrilla milongas that were coordinated via email like some covert ops cells.

These were just the start. Next came weekly tango events at a funky studio performance space (ironically called Cellspace). That’s when things really took off. I quickly realized the need to organize and filed for 501(c)(3) non-profit status as an arts organization.

What started out as a hobby became my mission to promote this art form.

But how did this happen?

 

On long drives to job sites as a project manager for a IT consulting firm, I would rehearse moves from class in my mind.

Tango music itself was definitely an acquired taste. At first I found it hard to relate to. The complex antiquated music with its many layers was often too subtle for my untrained ear - and sometimes hardly bearable due to the scratchiness of old recordings.

Occasionally, I would switch to more contemporary hits, and that’s when it hit me - what if we danced tango to modern music?

So I pinged a few dancer friends, and we conspired to meet on the weekend. Brainstorming on locations, we decided on spots that were public enough to attract attention but not so much that it would cause a “disturbance.”

We settled on the Palace of Fine Arts. While lovely in its elegance the space was wrapped in typical blustery San Francisco weather, and the gravel floors were less than ideal for pivoting. Strike one.

Next we decided to give Union Square a try. There were plenty of shoppers and tourist rushing to their destinations, but occasionally a few took notice. Although we experimented with a few other venues, this became the fallback spot for meeting.

Once we started having weekly dances, that’s when the “Old Guard” took notice. These folks believed that the purity of the dance was preserved by playing nothing newer than Golden Era tango songs from the 1940’s. To dance tango to covers of Metallica “Nothing Else Matters” or bluesy Norah Jones was considered sacrilege of the highest order.

But we were no longer just some upstart rag tag outlier. Slowly but surely our ranks swelled. Suddenly, we were a force to be reckoned with.

‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.' - Jim Rohn

Besides just having fun, our dancing improved as we became comfortable enough to both try out different sequences and share techniques. Soon we were the ones teaching beginners and helping them get started on their tango journey.

In Switch the Heath brothers talk about how cultivating a sense of identity leads to change. We were the misfits of the traditional tango world, but we were also the future of tango evolution.

Traditionally artists have influenced each other’s creativity. Movements like the Impressionists or modern artists like Dali and Picasso were born from mutual respect and admiration for each other while their contemporaries often regarded them with, well, contempt.

“Good artists copy, great artists steal." - Pablo Picasso

The Heath brothers also talk about rallying the herd and how behavior is contagious. I knew that our little movement had come of age when one of the largest events in the country added a “alternative tango” event. (a term we coined for what we did) For more on mastering the dance of creativity..

Now in my work as a content marketer I am constantly finding ways that we influence each other. While we often think of more artistic fields as requiring creativity,  have you ever tried to come up with 1001 ways to sell bath and body products? Never mind struggling with writer’s block - it’s like finding a way to make sausage-making interesting!

Recently, Mark and Philomena Timberlake shared how to repurpose content in a Google community of online educators I follow. They said that they had been inspired by Scott Scowcroft. Meanwhile, I shared this on another forum for content marketers.

Here’s a video of what I shared -

So, you see, there’s almost a neverending ripple effect of influencing each other. I definitely love connecting with positive, motivated creative entrepreneurs. Not only do I enjoy the connection but we’re constantly learning from each other.

Who’s in your inner circle of inspiration? How do they inspire your creativity?

We tend to think of creativity as some wild thing that needs to be captured or tamed. Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg argue that “outside the box” thinking is not only wrong but keeps most of us from benefiting from being more creative in our lives. Their work points out how creativity is really a skill that can be learned.

“Outside the box” thinking became all the rage in the 1980s after a management consulting team used a nine dot box puzzle to illustrate their point that employees needed to look farther beyond obvious things, and to try thinking beyond them.

(Photo Courtesy of Scott Danzig - visit Luna at LittleChomper.com)

While this seems like good advice, it is actually harmful because this goes back to our need to tame the Elephant by making things more concrete and clear-cut, rather than wide open and limitless.

In other words, as Barry Schwartz points out in the Paradox of Choice, often having more choice actually keeps us from moving forward.

Recently, Boyd and Goldenberg published Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results which shows case study after case study of folks who have used this methodology whether they knew it or not.

Although they broke this down into five key thinking tools - Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Task Unification, and Attribute Dependency - I’d argue that in true Pareto fashion 80% of the creativity solutions come from using Division. So, that’s what we’ll cover in more detail to show how to apply some of the key principles.

Basically, Division uses the idea that by dividing a product and/or its components and rearranging them you can form a new product with greater capabilities than the sum of the parts. By considering different structures - either as a whole or individual components - and dividing into different pieces allows you to rebuild in new novel ways.
For example, normally the airline check-in process was considered a linear process - until Southwest looked at ways that the steps could be changed. In fact, this approach allowed them to accomplish 10 minute turnarounds while the industry standard was one hour.

But more importantly the idea is not to look at limits as obstacles but as opportunities to find creative solutions.

Instead of looking at the few ingredients available in the kitchen how can you create a new dish? I’d argue that some of the most popular recipes have their roots from simply using what the cook had available to them.

Chicken marengo is said to come from Napolean’s chef foraging in town and creating the dish from what he could gather after the Battle of Marengo.

According to legend, the Emperor enjoyed the dish so much he had it served to him after every battle, and later when the chef was better-supplied and tried to substitute ingredients like adding wine to the recipe, Napoleon refused to accept it, believing that such changes would bring him bad luck.

So next time instead of trying to look “outside the box,” try looking at your situation, not as limits but possibilities.

So what are ways you can be more creative by looking “inside the box”?

“Who am I? Why am I here?” Two hundred plus dancers from around the country - and beyond - sat captive. It was the last night of an event that exceeded our expectations. Somehow our tribe had grown from a handful of hacks to so many others that shared our values and ideas of community.

After months of planning and hard work three massive days of sharing and bonding had finally ended, and it was time to celebrate one last time together before scattering to the four winds.

Part of me asked those questions as much for myself as for the audience. It reminded me of that Talking Heads song that goes “you may ask yourself.. well.. how did I get here?”

 

Who doesn’t want to be on Oprah or win an award like the Oscars?

But, with the deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams still fresh in our minds I’m reminded of how often artists and creative entrepreneurs chase after fame and fortune - only to come up short in both heart and spirit, sometimes with tragic results.

Today the image of hard-drinking writers has been replaced by musicians and celebrities pumped up on drugs. But the idea is still the same - many still believe that being an artist means that you have to struggle with some kind of addiction.

A friend recently shared his blog post on Facebook and talked about recognizing his own unhealthy obsession with fame. Realizing this in himself is a big deal.

 

I remember driving to yet another tango event and gripping the wheel of my car as I finally broke down. What was I doing?

Night after night I had been going from one dance to another. Sure, most guys start dancing to up their social life - to find some willing partners for dating and romance. But what was I looking for?

A friend of mine used to have this questionnaire - much like the kind you find in any issue of Cosmo magazine. You’d score yourself for things like “you divide your friends between those who dance tango and those who don’t.” I pretty much aced that like some high school geometry pop quiz.

It’s funny how the most profound changes always happen so gradually you barely notice them. Sure, things started innocently enough. One dance class a week turned into two.. which became dancing 3-4 times before the weekend.

Next thing you know it’s a seven days a week, listening to scratch old songs to fill the other 24 hours when you’re not on the dance floor. Still, my friends and I would joke - at least it’s a “healthy addiction.”

Julia Cameron based The Artist's Way on the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous after her own bouts with addiction led her to realized this connection between addiction and creativity. She contends that we can't learn creativity. Because our education system trained it out of us, we must recover it.

 

When they run a medical test doctors inject a radioactive iodine tracer. If your body has enough natural iodine, the substances just passes through. However, if you lack iodine in your system, your body absorbs this toxic mimic.

No real food around? We grab fast, junk food. Yet, instead of satisfying our hunger, our body craves more and more because it’s not getting what it needs - real nutritional substance. Here's an article on how artificial sweeteners may actually hurt dieters in their effort to lose weight.

A friend shared an article that points out how, contrary to popular belief, drug addicts really crave real, meaningful connections.

Creativity is about connecting the dots in a meaningful way. We may crave recognition or reward but I’d argue what really nourishes our soul is creating work that matters to those we serve.

Whether it’s a blog post, a song, a painting or video, we need to know that somehow someone’s life is better for it.

 

So, that’s the paradox - on one hand we need to know that our work matters; on the other chasing after recognition is a road to nowhere.

I didn’t plan to be a co-founder of a non-profit for tango dancers. But the need was there for someone to help organize.

I didn’t plan on running weekly events that still continue to this day. But each week about 40 to 70 dancers congregate.

I didn’t plan on putting together a national reunion of dancers. But this group needed to connect with others who share their values.

Least of all I didn’t do it for fame or fortune.

creative-addiction

Photo - Unsplash

“Fame is the excrement of creativity, it's the shit that comes out the back end, it's a by-product of it. People think it's the excrement that you should be eating. It's not. It's the creativity and the audience and being there in the moment.” - Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden

Yet there’s still a choice. That’s what separates the hero’s journey from being just a narrative. You must choose to accept your role to go on this journey

That friend is choosing to travel and get away from LA. Sometimes a change of scenery is just what we need to get new perspective. In Switch this is actually pointed out as one of the ways that folks can tame our irrational Elephant side. I hope he finds some clarity - sometimes distance does offer perspective.

What does your creative soul crave?