Rachel and I plopped down our picnic basket. It was late in the day but we finally made it. By now the sun was already disappearing in shimmering shafts between the leaves and branches of the surrounding redwoods.

storytelling-creativity
Photo Credit - Unsplash

Even though we had planned on coming to this storytelling festival, both of us got wrapped up in our own "to do" lists before finally driving out. It was only 20 or so minutes across the Bay Bridge of San Francisco, but that didn't matter. For years I didn't understand why crossing the bridge was such huge deal for city dwellers, but now I was one of them and finally "got it."

Storytelling - Shared Experience of Creativity

Still here we were - spreading out a blanket and diving into goodies picked up from Trader Joe's.. prosciutto, cheese, grapes and obligatory baguette (Acme, of course)

I didn't know what to expect. Part of me pictured a bunch of quirky characters dressed in medieval jester costumes making up some tall tales with Paul Bunyan flavors.

Instead, these were very average looking folks up on a makeshift stage of some kind throughout the recreational area. Once we paid for entry into the parking area, it was "all you can eat" listening - at least until the park closed or the mosquitoes sucked us dry, whichever came first.

No, there were no exaggerated stories - although several of the stories were hard to believe. Tales of travel misadventures or routine errands gone astray.. very "real" or "normal" things that we could identify with.

So, I started learning how often storytelling isn't about making stuff up - it's about connecting with your audience and taking them on a journey with you.

Power of Storytelling in Business

Business doesn’t exist without selling, and copywriting uses storytelling to sell. We identify with the hero in the ad because the savvy advertiser speaks our language and tells the story of our biggest challenge. It's hypnotic and captivating.

Once again we connect with the journey that the business has creatively taken us on. When the big reveal happens, we see that their product or service is just what we've been looking for.

The Mad Men era shows how much power storytelling has. It can used just as easily good, as less benevolent purposes.

Storytelling in Your Art

When I dance Argentine tango, others watching me have told me that it's like I'm telling a story through movement. Ironically, I don't really understand much Spanish - much less Argentine Spanish. But I feel the stories that the songs are telling through the music and emotions conveyed by the singers.

You "dance your life" - bringing both struggles and triumphs into your steps inspired by songs that tell of lost loves, romantic bliss or heartbreaking tragedy.

Even when I hosted events as a DJ at Cellspace, I would create an evening with a story created by the song groups called tandas. On nights when we hosted events with a story like "beach party tango," these would always draw the biggest crowds.

Storytelling in Relationships

Whether it's dating or friendship, getting to know someone really comes down to asking - "what's your story?" Even that typical business networking question, "what do you do?" is really a version of "what's your story?"

That gal working at Starbucks turns out to actually be the lead vocalist of a girl band that does covers of the Chrissy Hynes and the Pretenders - now that's a story we want to learn more about..

Of course, we don't always feel we have the time or attention in this harried world to listen to others' story. That's why the greatest gift we can share is giving someone your undivided attention and caring about their story.

Connecting the Dots with Storytelling

Since Biblical times storytellers have drawn us into experiences with tales. They grab our attention, and we don't want them to let go. Stories grip us like a trance and stay with us because they're memorable. The real power is how they inspire curiosity, and we want to learn more.

If creativity is how we connect the dots, then storytelling is the picture created by these connections.

"..go where there is no path and leave a trail.." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes it amazes me how many stories walk among us. It's said that there are "no new stories - only the same ones told again and again." Sure, "the hooker with a heart of gold" sounds so trite but skillful storytelling captures our imagination.

So what's your story? How does it inspire your own creativity?

For more on curiosity and storytelling visit my LinkedIn post..

Here's a few of my YouTube comments..

 

Even though flow comes a lot easier these days, I still have moments.. you know, those times when things seem bleak.

creative-funk
Creative Funk photo: Ryan McGuire of Gratisography

Okay, maybe not full on “dark nights of the soul” moments - but just general bleh that you’d rather move on. I’ve already shared some of my top tips for avoiding writer’s block.

So, here are my top 10 ways of kicking that creative funk outta bed and moving on to more awesome sauce:

1. Go for a walk - besides getting away from your physical place of “stuckness” you’ll have your heart pumping and oxygen flowing through your veins. Once those endorphins kick in, it’s a natural high with no side effects or calories - and best of all it’s 100% legal.

2. Take a nap - sometimes you gotta go the other way. I used to feel guilty - like a good for nothing coconut for sleeping in the middle of the day.. until I saw Don Draper taking naps and realized there must be something to these siestas!

3. Watch engaging show or movie - speaking of which, I like Mad Men.. ok, I’ve come to love the show. Although television can be some major time suckage, great shows with cool stories can also be a source of inspiration. Use in moderation!

4. Shop & cook a meal - okay, I often go the quick, cheap route of fast food.. probably much more than I care to admit. The Slow Food Movement has grown out of realizing that maybe our parents did get something right.. try it and see how you like it.

5. Explore & find a cafe - besides a nice cuppa latte and that bohemian vibe, just getting out of your element and shaking it up a bit, you’ll benefit from a new environment that‘ll help get those creative juices flowing again.

6. Read in library or bookstore - even with more information available at our fingertips these days, there is still nothing like being in these hallowed halls filled with humankind’s collective wisdom and knowledge. If this doesn’t stir something in you, check your pulse!

7. Play a video game - I know, kinda childish right? That’s exactly the point. As a kid, we lacked inhibitions. And that, my friend is the greatest killer of inspiration and creativity - fear. So, even if World of Tanks or Poker isn’t your thing, there are tons of game apps these days. Find one that appeals to your inner child and PLAY!

8. Write about something you’re passionate about - if you’re a blogger or content marketer, it’s so easy to see writing as a grind. But sometimes it’s great to let the words flow, and write for the joy, not because you need to write something. Again, writers write. Get back in touch with associating positive, happy vibes to your craft.

9. Have mind blowing sex - well, it takes two to tango so maybe this one’s not entirely in your control. But hey if someone’s game.. another option is to actually dance orgasmic tango. Some folks have shared how tango “highs” can sometimes be better than sex. If this is also beyond you, find a way to dance - feel the music and lose yourself.

10. Help & take care of others - probably the best way to get out of a creative funk is to focus on someone else. More than likely you’ve been so wrapped up in your own worries that you just need some distance. Taking care of someone - whether it's a friend, neighbor, pet or even a complete stranger - will help put things in perspective. And again it's been shown scientifically that selfish altruism has health benefits.

So, these are my top 10 tips for getting out of a creative funk. I’d love to hear what you do when you feel stuck. What gets your creative juices flowing again?

 

What happened when a bankrupt artist moved to Hollywood with a suitcase full of clothes? Well, it turns out that he started a creative media empire that has touched the lives of millions in so many ways.

disney-creativity-courage
Walt Disney on courage and creative dreams.

Years ago Mom packed three kids into a copper Gremlin and drove us all down to “Wallyworld.”  On many hot summer days in Jersey City she would park us in the cool air-conditioned theater to watch double-features like Herbie Rides Again with Cinderella.

On Sunday nights our family tuned into the weekly Wonderful World of Disney movie. Years later I took my own kids to visit Disneyland and saw the magic in their eyes.

The Disney creative history reads like some biblical lineage - Disney begot John Lasseter who begot Pixar who begot Edward Catmull who begot Brad Bird. And so on..

Is it any wonder this company is currently valued at $120 billion with over 180,000 employees?

..or that they jealously guard their trademark? Woe be those who would think of painting Disney characters on a daycare nursery wall without the approval of their attorneys!

Where did it all start? How did a man and a mouse come to create this entertainment empire?

“I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse.” - Walt Disney

Dare to Be Curious

It takes courage to ask questions. Disney inspired web designer Rogie King says.. “Curiosity is key..” He says that Disney has always been an inspiration in everything he does - commitment to quality, theme, environment and storytelling.
Innovation takes this combination of courage and curiosity. Disney was the first to use sound for animation, then the first to use color. He received more Academy Awards than any other artist in his lifetime.

It Takes Three to Tango

In his first volume of Strategies of Genius NLP pioneer Robert Dilts talks about Disney’s creativity strategy as being three roles - dreamer, realist, and critic

Dreamer - give ourselves room to roam.. to explore and not limit ourselves. Too often we’re self-editing before we’ve given our creativity a chance to breathe. It’s playing with the wide-eyed energy of a child.

Realist - dreaming is great, but the realist rolls up their sleeves and gets to work, putting a plan into practice. While it’s great to visit the worlds of fantasy, we live in this world, and the value of visions is in making them real. Timelines and milestones measure our progress.

Critic - finally, test & test again. Taking in feedback and choosing your response is not the end. Failures disguised as mistakes are really opportunities to learn and adapt. As someone said, “You’ve paid for lesson.. so you might as well benefit from the lessons!”

Test your plan, look for problems, difficulties and unintended consequences. Evaluate them. Ask yourself "What could go wrong?" Think of what is missing, what is surplus, what the spins-offs will be. Define the context in which your plan is workable and problematic.

We tend to think of creativity as some wild, untamed animal. Disney showed how you can create systems that allow artists to be more creative.

How has Disney touched your own life? What ways has this inspired your creativity?

Monday morning - some folks are making their way back to work. Others are taking another day of “freedom.”

 

 

courtesy of Gratisography

This past Independence Day weekend I was reflecting on what creative freedom means to me.

For me it’s a combination of personal - the freedom to live life my way and to spend it with who I want, location independence - the freedom to work where I want, and financial - the freedom to do work I love and the means to have all of the above.

“Freedom to me is a luxury of being able to follow the path of the heart, to keep the magic in your life. Freedom is necessary for me in order to create, and if I cannot create I don’t feel alive.” - Joni Mitchell

Most of us are working hard towards “one day” - that one day when we’ll finally be free to create art that we want to create and to do what we want. Only recently folks like Tim Ferriss and James Altucher have asked us to ask the question what if that "one day" never comes.

The Price of Freedom

Years ago I remember being asked about freedom in a humanities class. A student of the Arts Institute of Chicago created an exhibit where he burned the American flag. “Was this art?” asked my professor. “More importantly, is this the freedom of expression guaranteed by our forefathers in the Second Amendment?”

At the time I was in the middle of my ROTC training. Call it brainwashing. Call it what you will. Not only had I bought into the patriotism of Uncle Ronny, I caught myself one day chanting “jodies” with the marines about napalm and babies.

Yet I argued that even if we don’t agree with what the student was doing, this was the very freedom that I swore my oath of allegiance to protect. Such is the irony of freedom in this country.

Unlike other countries around the world where you were free to do what you wanted as long as it didn’t displease some authority, our nation was founded on this idea of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..”

Be Careful What You Wish For

Here’s the kicker though - once we finally achieve our goals of freedom, this is what happens. We feel guilty. We feel guilty for taking time off when we think we should be working. We feel guilty for working when we should be spending more time with family and loved ones. We feel guilty for finally having the money to spend and enjoy the benefits of our hard work.

If we try to shrink back down to size - to conform to others’ expectations, we’re right back where we started. And so what was the point? Why did we go on this journey in the first place?

“the pursuit of happiness..” Those were the words we were promised - the opportunity, not a guaranteed reward. Only the promise that each of us will be given the opportunity to follow our bliss - wherever it may lead us.

Risk Before Reward

It’s not a journey for the faint of heart. In fact, it can be downright terrifying. Lately I’ve come to realize that the hero’s journey that Joseph Campbell talks about is the path that the Creative Entrepreneur must take.

There's no shortcut. In fact, it often looks more like this..

credit: Demetri Martin, This is a Book
credit: Demetri Martin, This is a Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s why stories resonate with us so much. “Artists use lies to tell the truth,” and the universal truth hidden beneath myths and legends is that as Campbell points out, “in the cave we fear to enter lies the treasure that we seek.”

What does freedom look like to you? How will you know when you get there at some level?

Be sure to join me in talking with film maker / indie entrepreneur George Ohan about his success secrets.

150 ft.. 100.. 50.. WHAM!

"I have the controls!" said my instructor pilot (IP,) as we bounced back into the air. We had come down so hard with my attempt at a landing that we went airborne again.

"You have the controls," I replied.

 

Watching the stick and throttle take a life of its own, it looked like some phantom pilot had now taken over the cockpit. In reality it was the instructor sitting in the rear, making adjustments to settle the T-34C down until we rolled off the runway.

We taxied to our parking spot with barely a word.

Trying to lighten the mood, the IP asked if I was okay. Dejected I muttered something about being fine - with a "sir," of course.

Back in maintenance control, we signed in our bird. The lieutenant made a few comments about things going well overall. It was my first flight and my first attempt at a landing.

I'm not sure what came over me, but as I entered our flight data, I asked the IP, "Sir, should I count that as one landing or two?" He look surprised and chuckled, "Let's go with two - we'll each get one a piece!"

Creativity is about taking risks. Although we try to push ourselves - grow in our comfort zone of the risks we're willing to take - at some point we just need to really stretch.

I often refer to the model the Heath brothers talk about in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (affiliate link - thanks for your support!) that we must master this dance between our emotional side the "Elephant" and our rational side the "Rider."

Although the Rider is greater at figuring out where we need to go, if we fail to appreciate the power of the much larger Elephant, the Rider is going to lose.

Rider1 Rider2

As a creative entrepreneur, this means you need to lower the bar and "Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant.” How can you do this? Find the one thing you can do today towards progress.

How to Stretch Your Comfort Zone as a Creative Entrepreneur

Got a business idea for a new book?  Brainstorm questions and an outline. Thinking about making a video? Write out a rough draft. Picturing a new design for your product line? Sketch out the key elements. Start there.

Take action. Then do it again. Build on this until it becomes a habit that's second nature.  As you progress, surround yourself with those who not only support you but encourage and lift you up. Success breeds success. The more momentum you build, the more it impossible it will be to fail.

Surviving that first landing allowed me to finally push my limit. As I connected with my fellow student pilots, we shared everything from study tricks to "gouge" on each instructor. I learned to build my confidence and face my fears each step of the way.

Similarly I've learned to surround myself with other creative entrepreneurs. By watching and sharing I've gained more confidence in many areas - from building a website to create animated videos and even graphic design.

How do you stretch your own comfort zone? What inspires you to go further each day?