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The ABCs of Creativity: Imagination

The ability to conjure of visions of the future or past is essential to the work of imagination, which forms the basis of creativity. With imagination, you can envision anything. Whether it’s a better life, a job with more money, or a purple cat who disappears, your imagination is what you use to think about the future. Imagination can also be used to think about what could happen in the future that isn’t good. So, even if you only think about the worst things that could happen, you’re still using your imagination. The trick in creativity and learning to live a better life is to get the imagination to work for you.

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it” – William Arthur Ward.

If you want to improve your life or the world, you have to know what that means. By imagining a better life, you can plan the steps it takes to get there. By imagining a better world, you can describe it to others, so everyone knows what it will look like and they’ll want to get there. How do you use your imagination better?

  • Write Down Your Dreams: Keeping a dream journal will allow you to harness the imagination that flows when you’re asleep. Keep the journal and a pencil near your bed; write down your dreams before you do anything else.
  • Make a Wish: In “Pure Imagination,” Gene Wilder sings about the world he created. He starts with making a wish. You can do the same. Make a wish, see yourself with the wish, now imagine how you got there.
  • Find a Mentor: Wilder invites the group to come with him and view what he’s created. It’s a jumping off point for a group of arguably unimaginative kids and adults to begin to explore their own imaginations.
  • Track Happy Accidents: Sometimes, you’ll misread or misspeak. Use that to jump into your imagination. Keep it written down.

Of course, imagination isn’t the only thing you need to achieve a better life. You’ll need to work to bring it to life through creativity, innovation, trial, error, and perseverance. For more on creativity, purchase “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improve Your Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”

Pure Imagination lyrics
Hold your breath.
Make a wish.
Count to three.
[Sung]
Come with me
And you’ll be
In a world of
Pure imagination
Take a look
And you’ll see
Into your imagination
We’ll begin
With a spin
Traveling in
The world of my creation
What we’ll see
Will defy
Explanation
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There’s nothing
To it
There is no
Life I know
To compare with
Pure imagination
Living there
You’ll be free
If you truly wish to be
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There’s nothing
To it
There is no
Life I know
To compare with
Pure imagination
Living there
You’ll be free
If you truly
Wish to be

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A Hard Row to Hoe: Cautionary Tales in Creativity

eiffel tower during daytime

Ignaz Semmelweis could be seen as a cautionary tale for creatives. In 1846, he advocated for washing hands before delivering babies, and Vienna General saw an increase in mother and new born survival rates in the clinic where he worked. However, because he didn’t know why handwashing worked, he was derided by the medical and scientific community. He lost his job and his life because the establishment didn’t accept what he saw as common sense. “My way saves lives; of course, everyone should adopt it, even if we don’t know why.”

He was dealing with saving people’s lives and the scientific community. Rather than someone jumping in to test Semmelweis’ theories and find out why it worked or if it was a fluke, Semmelweis’ doctors and colleagues continuously found fault with his idea, even when they didn’t do any experimentation of their own. Not only did Semmelweis end up losing his life, but thousands of women and children died because he couldn’t defend his hypothesis and no one else wanted to check it out to see what the hospital was doing differently. Semmelweis isn’t the only cautionary tale that creatives should think about.

According to Kevin Ashton in “How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery,” Gaston Hervieu tested his parachute in 1909 by throwing a 160-pound dummy off the Eiffel Tower. The dummy floated down to safety. Franz Reichelt was not impressed. Reichelt was working on his own parachute and called Hervieu’s test a sham because he used a dummy. In 1912, Reichelt showed up at the Eiffel Tower, press in tow; he was ready to show off his own parachute, which he was going to test on himself.

Hervieu showed up at the Eiffel Tower to stop Reichelt. Hervieu said the parachute wouldn’t work for technical reasons. Reichelt went up the Eiffel Tower anyway. Experts at the Aero-Club de France had previously told Reichelt his parachute wouldn’t work. Previous experiments that Reichelt did with his parachute had ended in failure; he had broken his leg in one failed attempt to deploy the parachute. Reichelt didn’t listen to his rejectors, which are common when any new idea is presented, and he didn’t learn from his failures. He stuck with the same design and jumped from the Eiffel Tower to plummet to his death.

While Semmelweis would have been well-served if he could’ve ignored the slings and arrows of the ignorant medical community experts of his time and continued with his crusade to persuade them as to the efficacy of handwashing, Reichelt would’ve been better off listening to the critics of his invention and heeding his own failed experiments. Failure and rejection aren’t necessarily bad if we can learn the right lessons from them.

In these cases, one lesson would be to persist in the face of rejection, but learn from it. If Semmelweis had been able to get past his belief that common sense would prevail and started conducting experiments, he may have discovered the germ theory of illness before Pasteur. Another lesson would be to pay attention to your failures. If Reichelt had accepted the reality of failures, he may have been able to make a parachute that would’ve been better than Hervieu’s. Instead, both creators’ deaths can be linked to their innovations.

Being creative isn’t easy. You will be ridiculed. You will be rejected. You just need to keep going and change with every lesson that is dealt to you.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Becoming More Creative for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”

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Handwashing, Change and the New

mother and child washing hands

According to Kevin Ashton’s “How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery,” Ignaz Semmelweis was a doctor at Vienna General in 1846, and the medical community was mired in 2,000-year-old the belief that the body’s health was based on a balance of four fluids: Black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. Vienna General had two maternity clinics. In one, women gave birth with the help of midwives, and both mother and child survived at normal rates for the time. In the other, women gave birth with the help of doctors, and women and children died in droves from puerperal fever. The maternity mortality rate was so high, women were better off giving birth in the street.

The doctors would often go from dissecting cadavers to delivering babies. Semmelweis thought the fever might be transferred from the corpses to the women. He convinced the other doctors to wash their hands, and the deaths in the clinic dropped from 18 percent to two percent, the same percentage as in the clinic with the midwives. In some months, the death rate was zero percent during the two years that Semmelweis was practicing at Vienna General.

In spite of the overwhelming circumstantial evidence and the approximately 500 women, and who knows how many children, whose lives Semmelweis saved through handwashing, his views were rejected. His detractors questioned his scientific method; Semmelweis didn’t run any experiments. They said he didn’t put forth a clear theory; he didn’t know what was responsible for the transfer of disease, he suggested it was some sort of organic material. One American doctor claimed that “A gentleman’s hands are clean” (p. 73) and couldn’t carry disease.

Semmelweis expected common sense to prevail, but at the cost of thousands of women’s and children’s lives, the medical establishment refused to implement handwashing as a standard procedure. The change that Semmelweis proposed challenged the underlying beliefs of the establishment, and those beliefs were too sacred to challenge by a demonstrably better way to do things.

Semmelweis ended up losing job, “being lured to an asylum” and beaten. He died two weeks later, and Vienna General’s doctors stopped washing their hands. Mother and child mortality rates rose by 600 percent.

Semmelweis’ handwashing challenged ingrained and incorrect ideas about the body and health. It challenged ingrained ideas of identity. It challenged the status quo. Semmelweis wasn’t the only one who challenged the establishment, but his story is illustrative of what can happen when people put forth an idea that disturbs the everyday workings of an industry, government or other established organization.

If you still don’t think it’s difficult to change people and culture, many men today don’t wash their hands after using the toilet or urinal in public places where peer pressure should be in effect. They spread disease because they don’t believe germs affect them (and some don’t believe germs are real).

New ideas aren’t readily accepted by anyone, including creators themselves. People always say they want change, but they choose what’s familiar. If you put forth a new idea, be prepared to fight for it and for yourself. Creativity needs fortitude, strength and a healthy dose of wisdom.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improving Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.

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The ABCs of Creativity: Humor

Bertha in the Elephant Bathing Pool

Edward de Bono says that humor involves the same kind of thought process that creativity does. You’re going along one direction and suddenly the punchline moves you in another direction. The same is true of creativity. People think the thought process is in one direction when someone takes it in another. The move to a creative solution looks like a leap to people outside the process.

Humor improves the business environment by taking down a person’s self-monitoring process. People build up walls to protect themselves and their jobs. These walls are made of monitoring and judging what they do and say. Humor takes down those walls and allows people to be more themselves. When inhibitions and self-monitoring are reduced, creativity can flow.

When Marc Davis joined the Disneyland designed team, he worked on the Jungle Cruise. When the attraction opened in 1955, it was a straight attraction. The skippers would take people through the displays as if they were real. Davis added humorous scenes to the attraction and to the spiel. Davis’ humor is what makes the Jungle Cruise a continually popular, classic attraction. Without Davis’ creativity, the Jungle Cruise may have gone the way of other defunct Disneyland attractions.

The more humor you engage in, the more creative you become. Just be sure that the humor gets others to laugh with you and not at them. Joining an improv group can help guide you to greater humor and creative heights.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative” and “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Becoming More Creative for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.

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Is Brainstorming a Good Thing?

woman looking at sticky notes

In “How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery,” Kevin Ashton questions the validity of brainstorming for creativity. His main objection stems from the fact that brainstorming doesn’t have a way to turn ideas into reality. For Ashton, having ideas is not being creative; the ideas must be realized in order for creativity to result.

Ashton is not the only creativity author to poke this particular hole in brainstorming. Edward de Bono also believes that brainstorming is inefficient and a bad way to come up with ideas. Having more ideas doesn’t mean having better ideas, and businesses need better ideas.

Another failure of brainstorming is the exclusion of people who are shy. Even with instructions involving no judgement and participating, those who are afraid of failure, making mistakes, public speaking, or being laughed at, may hold their ideas back. Instead, Ashton says the research suggests that people working alone come up with as many ideas as people working together, and the ideas will be better. Groups tend to fixate on one idea as the brainstorming goes on.

Brainstorming was originally used in advertising to come up with ideas. What makes it work is how you use it and what you do when done. Brainstorming sessions have their place in creativity, but it needs someone to guide the ideas from the whiteboard to reality. If you’re using it in a business, the person implementing must have the power to do so.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improving Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”

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The Internet Killed My Creativity

Untitled Mosaic by Cathy Cooke

by Cathy Cooke, BCHN, BBEC
Founder and Creator of the Sleep Easy Method

When I was kid growing up in the ‘70s, I remember creating elaborate stories in my head about far away lands I’d only heard of in books.  I remember playing in the woods in our backyard and pretending to be a soldier in the army – more specifically, being the first woman ever drafted into the army because my skills were so imperative the Corps’ success.  I had the most amazing journeys to places like China, Africa, the deserts of Saudi Arabia, all without leaving my backyard.

Fast forward to May of 2000, and I was still enjoying adventures to exotic places.  Four years after graduating college, I was dreaming of joining the Peace Corps and imagined myself living among the villages in places like Kenya or Angola.  I could picture it in my head: the dirt floors, the thatched roofs, the smells of Injera cooking on a wood stove.  I don’t know if that’s how it really was, but it was fun to pretend.  Maybe it was demeaning or naïve, I don’t know, but my imagination was strong and the creative urge inside me was fulfilled.

Over the next few years, I found myself becoming more involved with emails and looking up information online.  If I really wanted to know what life was like in Kenya, I just put it into a search engine, and wham, there it was.  And no surprise, it wasn’t exactly how I’d imagined.  Instead of debating for hours with friends about a particular topic, exercising my mind to see different points of view, employing creativity to construct a new argument for persuasion, or trying to use my brains flexibility to understand all sides, we’d simply look it up online, and the conversation was over.  No heated debates into the wee hours of the morning that often left us with a better understanding of the other side and agreed upon points of view.

It makes me sad really.  I want my brain to engage, to work, to be flexible and creative in these conversations and daydreams.  But it doesn’t happen anymore.  I don’t have to imagine, or think, or create, because I can just Google it, and that ends the experience.

I have found the same to be true for my artistic abilities.  I have always enjoyed doing crafty and artsy things.  In the early 2000s, I took up mosaics.  I remember walking outside for inspiration, looking into street-corner shops, in backyards where children played, on the nearby trails or at the plethora of activity happening in the trees and sky.  Certain colors and combinations of shapes would send my mind off to a place of wild creativity… “what if I combined that purple color with a deep red for an intense October sunset…”  I made some really unusual but pretty cool mosaics back then.  But with the advent of Google, I found myself looking online for ideas; it was easier than going outside.  And do you know what happened?  My mosaics looked flat, lifeless, or like I was imitating someone else, mostly because I was.  I was no longer exercising my creativity, because it was just too easy to look online.

This also makes me very sad.  It makes me sad for myself that I turn to the easy way too often, and thus, miss out on all the amazing things the natural world has to offer.  And it makes me sad for all the youth that never got the chance to imagine, create, or dream about what life is like in the Amazon or the South Pole.  They’ve never had a chance because the answers have been in front of them the whole time.  What kind of art will these kids create?  What kind of stories will they make up?  Where will they get their inspiration?

I have been known to say “If I could snap my fingers and the Internet would have never existed I would do it without flinching.”  I mean that with complete conviction.  Not only do I have an issue with the health impacts (EMF exposure, blue light, bad posture, poor social development), but also because it killed my creativity.  I know I have the power to remedy this.  You’re right, I could just get off the computer and go outside and find my inspiration again.  The problem is that in today’s high-tech world, we have come to rely on the Internet for the large majority of our communication, personal and business transactions.  I run a small business, and if I want that business to be successful, I have to be online a good portion of the day.  I don’t want it to be that way, but it’s the unfortunate reality of living in 2019.

Of course, I do admit to the benefits of the web, increased access to education and information, entertainment, social connections, etc.  But, is that worth what we have lost?  Not a chance.  I am a human being with needs that go beyond food and shelter.  I don’t need to see pictures of what Angola looks like.  I don’t need to connect with all ten of my friends from the 1st grade again.  I don’t need to be able to watch a marathon of “Mad Men” on Netflix this weekend.  But what I do need is my sanity, feeling fulfilled, and nourished.  The Internet does not provide this for me.  My daydreams, imagination, friendly debates, walks in nature and exercising my brain’s creativity, that’s what fulfills me and nourishes me.

So yes, if I could, I would snap my fingers and the Internet would disappear. And then I would have my exotic trips to far away lands, conversations until the wee hours of the morning, and some fantastic mosaics that are full of unique imagination.  It would give me back my creativity!  And that would be worth it.

Cathy Cooke, BCHN, BBEC
Cathy Cooke, BCHN, BBEC

Cathy Cooke BCHN, BBEC, is the owner of Whole Home and Body Health where she helps people to realize their potential through health interventions related to diet, lifestyle, and environmental concerns including air quality and EMF mitigation.  You can find out more about her services at wholehomeandbodyhealth.com, or by contacting her at cathy@wholehomeandobdyhealth.com

Editor’s Note: Cathy Cooke has released a Sleep Easy Class for people who have difficulties falling asleep. She is an amazing instructor who has spent years studying sleep and how to achieve a better night’s rest. Check out this introductory video to get rid of your insomnia for good on YouTube.

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Archimedes, Creativity and the Power of Ordinary Thought Process

baby inside white bathtub with water

In “How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery,” Kevin Ashton attempts to debunk the “Eureka” moment that has become synonymous with creation. Ashton goes back to the original “Eureka” moment when Archimedes immersed himself into a bath tub while trying to figure out a way to learn if the gold crown the king had received had been cut with silver or was pure. Archimedes’ displacement of water gave him the idea of how to measure a gold or silver object. The solution struck him with such force that he jumped out of the tub and ran through the streets naked shouting “EUREKA!” When he put the king’s crown in the water, it displaced more water than gold of the same weight, which meant the king had been cheated.

Ashton says the problem with this story is that the proposed method doesn’t work. Galileo disproved it, and Ashton speculates that Archimedes would’ve surely know that it didn’t work. Buoyancy is the key not displacement. Still, the apocryphal story is told and retold to show the “Aha!” moment of creation.

Ashton’s problem with this is that it puts creativity in the hands of a few, and it’s not supported by scientific experiments. The “Aha!” moment isn’t even supported by this story. Archimedes went into the bath thinking about the problem. He was actively engaged in thinking about the problem. Ashton points to several studies that show creative thinking is no different than regular thinking. People get to creative solutions step-by-step, one step at a time.

In the retelling, it might seem like an intuitive leap, but when people are asked to describe their thought process, they generally follow the same pattern of going through possible solutions:

  • State the problem.
  • Suggest a solution.
  • Suggest why it wouldn’t it work.
  • Suggest another solution.
  • Suggest why it wouldn’t work.
  • Suggest another solution.
  • Ad infinitum

The more creative solutions come with more steps. Some people stop as soon as they have a solution that’s good enough. Others keep going to find better solutions. As Ashton says, the one who makes the most steps wins, but creativity is the result of ordinary thought processes.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Using Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”

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The ABCs of Creativity: Goals

Penguins with ball

Many people think that creativity only involves a free-for-all, throw-stuff-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks, and it can be that. Disney uses “Blue Sky” as its terminology for ideas that have no boundaries. Some organizations call it “Green Field” thinking. A simple brainstorming session can also encompass this type of idealized creativity. One person alone or a group of people coming up with ideas about anything and everything.

But that’s not really how most creativity works. Disney might have blue sky sessions that encompass everything from transportation to theme park attractions and TV series to communication break-throughs, but most of the time these sessions are focused on a goal. The goal may still be overwhelmingly large, like a story for the next great Pixar movie, but it is a goal nonetheless. Jackson Pollock doesn’t sit down to write a novel and end up with a painting, and George R.R. Martin doesn’t sit down to write a novel and end up with clay statue.

For some people, the word goal may be too pointed. There still have to be limitations or a problem that the person is solving before he or she can really engage the creative juices. The goal, or general direction, helps people to focus their creative energy and allows the brain to pick up on the importance of the project or question. Even if no answer is immediately forthcoming, the problem may be solved during an unrelated activity.

If you’re having trouble firing up your creativity, it may be because your too thinly spread. Focus on one thing you want to make better and work on that. One goal I always come back to is “What can we do to make Tomorrowland more about tomorrow?”

If you have suggestions, leave them in the comments section below. You can read some of my ruminations in the upcoming book “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Until its release, you can pick up “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative” and “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Becoming More Creative for a Better Life and World.” You can also preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.

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One Episode in: The Umbrella Academy devalues creativity

The only child, Number Seven, or Vanya as she likes to be called, without powers is perhaps slated to be the most powerful of all the superhero children gathered at the Umbrella Academy. In the first episode we’ve already seen Vanya, played by Ellen Page, practicing violin on a stage. She’s written a book, and her dream patterns were beeping off the chart and compared to the relatively normal brain patterns of the other children. She is clearly the most creative of the group, and that’s what makes her dangerous.

Diego and Luther are the tanks. Time and space travel boy is a freak! His fight scene against what appears to be an elite military group was incredible. Suggestive woman is dangerous, but says she has stopped using her power. And Klaus, a drug addict and cliché, speaks with the dead – that’s a different kind of freaky. That leaves Vanya, who is undervalued and underappreciated.

Creativity and the resulting innovations are what set the humans of today, homo sapiens sapiens, apart from other humans and animals. Being able to make something and then turn that to other uses is how people became the dominant species on Earth. People aren’t the fastest or strongest. They aren’t even the smartest necessarily, but people adapt the situation to their needs. Too cold? Build a fireplace and house. To hot create an air conditioner. To wet? Open an umbrella.

Vanya also trained with her father though she may not see it that way. She knows what the people in the group can do and how to use their powers, and as soon as she adapts her thinking to solving the problems at hand, she will be the one to guide the members of the Umbrella Academy to greatness with better chances for success.

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Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, Storytelling and Ken Anderson

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

Walt Disney turned to Ken Anderson to work on the Haunted Mansion in the late 1950s. There had been other concepts before, usually one or two drawings and not much else. Anderson got to work and began coming up with stories for the mansion, which he referred to as the “ghost house.” Anderson came up with the design based on a building in Baltimore, and he came up with several different stories, especially suited for a walk-through.

There was Captain Gore, who killed his bride when she found out that he was an infamously blood-thirsty pirate; she haunted him until he hanged himself. There was the Blood family, whose ancestral home where they all died was transplanted at Disneyland. Anderson worked on various effects and storylines within those concepts, including one with the Headless Horseman and naïve guides, but none of them worked for Walt. The Haunted Mansion resisted cohesive story-telling.

Instead, it needed to be more like the Pirates of the Caribbean, which wasn’t developed at the time Anderson was working on the Haunted Mansion. Walt told his imagineers to think of Pirates like a cocktail party. People wouldn’t be able to hear all of the conversations going on. This was a good thing because it meant that they would have to come back to see it again. That approach worked for the Haunted Mansion, too.

While the façade of the Haunted Mansion was completed in 1963, the attraction wouldn’t open until August 9, 1969. The years it spent in development and the amount of time the mansion stood empty only worked in favor of Disneyland where it opened to large crowds and earned the hearts of millions of guests.

Celebrate 50 years of the Haunted Mansion with us and preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” A wholly unauthorized look at the history of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and what it can help us learn about becoming more creative.