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?

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?

There are lots of amazing TED talks on a variety of topics. Here are my #topthree favorites on creativity.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, talks about how the Ancients may have gotten it right about Creativity. After the success of her book Gilbert felt the pressure of "what's next?" She suggests that rather than put all the pressure on ourselves, we see that our inspiration is channeled through us.  -

 

Sir Ken Robinson shares how our Education system may be killing Creativity in our children. One of the most poignant stories is about a girl whose parents take her to see a psychiatrist because of difficulty in school. It's a very telling example that our schools are lagging with what students need to thrive in today's world. -

 

J.J. Abrams talks about his infamous "Mystery Box" and its role in inspiring his Creativity. Abrams shares the story of his first box and how it continues to challenge him to entertain and delight his audiences.

What TED talks on creativity do you find inspiring?

Who would you like to see give a TED talk?

Are there other videos on creativity that you recommend?

fear-creativity
photo credit - wikipedia

"You have the controls."

With that the instructor pilot sitting in tandem behind me took over. He started yanking and banking.

Suddenly, I was no longer flying in a T-34C turboprop trainer. Instead I was back on the Great America roller coaster ride near our school - yelling at the top of my lungs with each thrilling, stomach churning roll -

Up, down, left, right!

We did this for a good number of minutes before the instructor asked, "Okay over there?"

"Yes, sir!" I replied, barely able to contain the ear-to-ear grin.

"You don't get sick for anything, do you?"

What was wrong with me? I'm sure the instructor was really doing his best to see how I handled the most extreme aerobatics he could throw at me.

This was my aerobatic solo check ride - meaning after I passed (if I passed) I was cleared to take a bird all by myself! So, the instructor wanted to make sure that if I got myself nauseous, disoriented or worse yet possibly passing out, I could still fly home safely.

But so far, his plan wasn't working. The instructor tried again. "I have the controls."

Again, we did loops and rolls, pulling G's - nothing.

At this point I guess the instructor was satisfied that I could do almost any aerobatic maneuver and make it back to base.

For most of my life I've taken on things that other people consider "scary" - without much thought. Even when I was a kid, I had no fear of getting up on a stage of a night club and creating my own act.

Once I applied for and got a job as a delivery driver - without knowing how to drive stick. Fear - Trial by Fire or Fuel for Motivation

In college I took a swim test for joining the navy - without knowing how to swim! (that's also in the blog post above)

So, when it comes to creativity, I don't really let fear stop me. I know that what separates the good artists from the great is their willingness to face fear. Inspiring Ted Talks on Fear and Creativity

You can't be creative by playing it safe. Our schools teach us to draw within the lines, but what we really need today is to learn which rules still matter and what rules it's time to break.

Creativity-Literacy

Traditionally, entrepreneurs and their small businesses have been the backbone of this nation's economy. Now more than ever the world needs their creativity  because the days of earn your degree, get a job and retire are long gone.

Creative entrepreneurs not only create opportunities by seeking problems to solve.  Their courage inspires us all to share our unique gifts - whether it's a book to be written, a film to be made, a piece of art to create.

And our lives are better for this!

How do you let fear drive you or does it hold you back?

(Post note: sometimes facing our fear is actually the safest choice.. )