NHI Believes: Creativity and Consistency
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
The eighth core belief of the National Holistic Institute a College of Massage Therapy is creativity and consistency. Faced with complex, open-ended, ever-changing challenges, organizations realize that constant, ongoing innovation (kaizen) is critical to stay ahead of the competition. The same should apply to an individual life, even if—especially if– one does not view life as a competition. In order to grow and actualize one’s potential, consistent creativity is a must.
This is why we need to be on the lookout for new ideas that can drive creativity, and it’s why the ability to think differently, generate new ideas, and spark innovation within a team becomes an important skill. You need to work actively on building and cultivating this skill, and it can be done—especially as a team.
Often, though, we make the mistake of assuming that good ideas “just happen.” Or worse still, we get caught in the mind trap that creativity is a special aptitude; some people have it, others don’t. We are either born with it or we are not. Then there is the time-worn self-defeating belief: “I am not smart enough to be creative.” These assumptions are rarely true. Everyone can come up with fresh, even radically new, ideas. We just need to learn to open our minds and think differently. We also need to think differently about thinking.
A word of caution – while techniques and books of techniques for creative thinking exist (and are extremely effective), they will only succeed if they are backed by knowledge of the area we’re working on. This means that if we are not prepared with adequate information about a particular challenge or opportunity, we are unlikely to come up with a great idea even by using the techniques applied by Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, or Steve Jobs. What is your driving passion? Learn as much as you can about it. Then get freaky with your thinking.
All of us tend to get stuck in certain thinking patterns. Breaking these thought patterns can help you get your mind unstuck and generate new ideas. There are numerous techniques you can use to break established thought patterns, and books abound at your local bookstore or the internet on this subject.
Personally, I prefer stories to techniques and am a firm believer that greatness can’t always be taught, but it can be caught. So let me introduce you to three “mentors” of mine, people who lived their lives in unconventional ways that placed them in the center of a rich and somewhat wild sea of creativity. Have you ever heard the tale of the sage who was instructing a student about the nature of transformation? When you arrive at the ocean, do not bring a thimble but, instead, bring a 50-gallon tank. Think big. Think bigger than that. Escape the box that most of your thinking occurs in as if you were fleeing from a burning house. Once outside of the box, blow it up in your mind and then start thinking. If you were Albert Einstein for one day what would you think?
Creativity is one of the most spiritual—and transformational—activities a human being can engage in. Thus, in that spirit, read on.
To unleash your creative intelligence, start thinking like Leonardo Da Vinci. Try emulating some of the things he did to be more creative. Da Vinci had specific techniques that he used to stimulate his intelligence and creative thinking. For example, he was ambidextrous and could write and paint with both hands at the same time. Pretty cool, right? Try stimulating your mind by writing with your non-dominant hand for ten minutes a day. Then take another sheet of paper and brainstorm about what you are currently passionate about.
The primary thing to remember regarding Da Vinci was his observation and belief that “everything connects”. He coined that phrase; not Abe Lincoln, Ben Franklin, or that prolific writer, Anonymous. This was his core belief, around which his mental universe revolved. Making connections between disparate things is one of the most productive creative thinking skills, so strongly consider making it a practice to think of ways that different things relate to each other, and how different things could be combined to make something completely different, novel, and needed by millions of people.
Leonardo Da Vinci was fascinated with all branches of learning and, in his time, there wasn’t the same push to specialize. He didn’t differentiate so much between subjects because he believed that they were all inter-related. He was a generalist, and proud of it.He discovered that the learning and discoveries made in one area affect our understanding and knowledge of another subject of study. This is the central idea of becoming a Renaissance man or woman. True creative intelligence will come with the development of all your intelligences: physical, emotional, mental, social, financial and spiritual.
Another of Da Vinci’s more famous techniques for inducing creative reverie was his practice of looking for recognizable patterns or images in the smoke and ashes in his fireplace. You may remember Jodie Foster’s character in the film, Little Man Tate, practicing this technique with her genius prodigy son, as they spent hours gazing at shadows on their ceiling. You can do the same thing with clouds, patterned wallpapers, bark on trees etc. Just stare at the clouds and see what pictures you can see in them — faces, landscapes, animals and so on. Ask a question of them, and see what answers “appear.”
Leonardo da Vinci used notebooks to record his ideas, thoughts and observations. Journaling is now recognized as a tremendous creative stimulant. It seems that by recording our prime thoughts and observations we affirm to our mind that they are valuable to us. It frees our mind to expand on ideas, because the origins and subsequent steps of thought are written down and objectified.
We all know that Da Vinci was an amazing artist. He used his ability to draw as a thinking aid, doing little cartoons in his notebooks that illustrated something he was observing, or were the beginnings of an idea for a design or invention that he had. It’s easy to learn to draw sufficiently well that you can use it to assist your creative thinking. I recommend Betty Edwards ‘ book, Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain.
Leonardo Da Vinci was a scientist, engineer, artist, instrument inventor, anatomist, philosopher, and musical composer. He was highly popular as a story teller, joke teller, riddler, and was famous for excelling at whatever he applied himself to. He was also said to be immensely strong and physically fit. During one period of his life, he devoted an entire year each to heightening his five senses, perfecting his sense of hearing (through listening to and playing music), taste (by becoming a sommelier and gourmet chef), smell (becoming a perfumer in the process), sight (through observation of the natural world, and by painting), and touch (by training his body and becoming an Olympic caliber athlete before the advent of the modern-day Olympics). He found that by developing all of his multiple intelligences he gradually became a fully rounded individual capable of fulfilling his creative potential. He died used up and happy.
Albert Einstein’s creative thinking epitomizes most people’s idea of what a genius “looks like.” So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Einstein had specific creative thinking behaviors that you can emulate to attain creative breakthroughs in any field of endeavor. The primary creative mindset of Einstein was that of possibility thinking. Basically, this meant giving himself permission to think extraordinary and fantastic things. He was well-known as quite the (well-educated) daydreamer. Many of his flashes of creative insight came while he was walking around his neighborhood or taking a shower. I suggest that you set aside time to deliberately pursue the creative breakthrough. You can call it your “Einstein time.”
Make the choice to budget your time to allow for regular “thinking” work. How much time you devote to this will depend on your own particular situation, needs and commitment. There are certain fields of inquiry that will demand more of your time and focus to reach the breakthroughs that are “waiting” in that field. Albert Einstein’s thinking on the subject of Quantum Physics obviously demanded more of his thinking time than someone who wants to think up a really creative idea for a birthday surprise. Get started by determining to set aside at least twenty minutes a day to concentrated possibility thinking and contemplation in the areas of your particular interests.
Einstein also was comfortable with dealing with seeming paradoxes and ambiguity. He was a devout practitioner in uniting what, to many, seemed like polar opposites: spirituality and science. Not a religious man in the traditional sense, he once said, “There are two ways to live. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle. Personally, I choose the latter.” He entered the realm of the miraculous on a daily basis, the creative field in which everything is possible.
Buckminster Fuller and creative thinking go hand in hand. This creative powerhouse, referred to as the “Leonardo Da Vinci of the 20th Century,” is revered as a genius by those who knew him or his work. His extraordinary creativity drove him to become a philosopher, thinker, visionary, inventor, architect, engineer, mathematician, poet, cosmologist, and more. And the amazing thing is that all this creativity was spurred on by one life-focusing thought, a thought that will unleash a creative genius in YOU if you choose to adopt it. The thought? I’ll get to that in a moment.
It’s true that Buckminster Fuller had a flair for designing and making things, even as a child. As he grew up, he also demonstrated a flair for being a non-conformist — getting expelled twice from Harvard! He married young, served in the Navy during World War 1, and then went into business with his father-in-law — a business that ultimately failed. At age 32, Fuller found himself bankrupt, jobless and raising a young family in poor housing. When his beloved daughter, Alexandra, died of pneumonia, Fuller was inconsolable with guilt and shame. He blamed himself for her death and spiraled down into an alcohol-fuelled depression that took him to the brink of suicide. But just as he was about to end his life, Fuller heard an inner voice say, “Stop! Your life does not belong to you, but to the Universe, in service.” These words literally saved his life and launched him on the path that would make him world famous for his creative thinking.
In his depressed mindset, Buckminster Fuller—or “Bucky,” which he came to be affectionately known as, had been thinking about everything that was wrong with the world and his life. In the days after he heard that voice of inner guidance, he embarked, in his words, on “an experiment, to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.”
Fuller’s experiment lasted over fifty years. Along the way, he had another realization and said in a lecture, “Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And then there’s a tiny thing on the edge of the rudder called a trim-tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving that little trim-tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all. So I say that the little individual can be a trim-tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether, when the fact is you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said to my friends and students, ‘Call me Trimtab.’”
One of Bucky’s most innovative concepts was of the earth as a spaceship. This implied the idea of all people of all races being together on one finite vehicle. He invented the Dymaxion Map which showed how all the countries of the world are closely linked. All this pointed at our need to work together as a human team; that our long-term and best future would only come as a result of consistent and creative co-operation in meeting the challenges that face each and every one of us. Our future on “Spaceship Earth” will be determined, he felt, by our ability to figure out the “operating manual” and maintain the health and efficiency of the planet. Fuller knew and accepted that most people would see this kind of thinking as pie-in-the-sky idealism. His motto though was “dare to be naive.” To be creative you have to be a little foolish. The inner editor wants you to be “realistic.” It spits out the old refrains: it’s not done like that; it’ll never work; that’s just not practical. But as a creative thinker, you cannot afford to let that voice squelch your creativity.
Yes, the world we live in faces many challenges: environmental, social, economical, political. These problems can seem so huge and insurmountable that we often give up before we even try to tackle them. But the mind is designed to meet creative challenges. That is its nature. The way to unleash its creative power is through responsibility, choice, and commitment. When you choose that it’s up to you, that you are going to do it, then your mind gets into gear and starts working at a deeper level. In each of us there is a core desire to be of use. We all want to help make the world a better place. We all want to make a significant contribution. We all want to demonstrate to ourselves (and others) that our lives have meaning, that we are all important. And so, your enormous personal creative power can be unleashed by Buckminster Fuller’s thought: What can I do? How can I help? How can I make this world a better place? How can I help humanity have a better life and a better future? Dare to be naive. Dare to dream wild and lofty dreams. Dare to be creative for the benefit of all beings. Dare to take on the world’s challenges and, as an experiment, discover what a single individual can contribute to changing the world for the better.