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The ABCs of Creativity: Zone

When someone is “in the zone,” he or she is exhibiting the highest level of his or her talent through a seemingly effortless expenditure of energy. Michael Jordan’s 38 pts, 7 rebound, five assists, three steals and a block stat line while having the flu or his hitting six triples against Portland and shrugging about it after being criticized for his lack of three-point shooting skills are both great examples of being in the zone. Athletes are most often described this way because they are most often in the limelight, but artists, scientists and hobbyists can feel as if they are in the zone or, as creativity pioneer Csikszentmihalyi called it, “the flow.”

In Csikszentmihalyi’s “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention,” he describes part of the creative process as “the flow” and says that there are nine elements that characterize the flow:

  • Clear goals with no ambiguity: In the case of Jordan’s basketball games, the goal is clear; put the ball in your hoop. Whether you do it or you get a teammate to do it, the ball needs to get in your hoop.
  • Immediate feedback: The ball either goes in the hoop or it doesn’t. The feedback is immediate.
  • Challenge and skills are balanced: This is a little more difficult to illustrate. Basically, the question is whether or not the person’s skills are balanced with the challenge he or she is facing. If the challenge is too easy or too difficult, the person will not be able to enter the flow. It’s when the two are in alignment that the person enters the flow state.
  • Action merges with awareness: The person is focused on what he or she is doing. They do not think about anything other than the activity in the here and now.
  • No distractions: They exclude distraction from their minds. They are in the moment.
  • No concern about failure: The activity that the person is involved in is too consuming to give the person the opportunity to worry about failing or the outcome of failure.
  • No self-consciousness: The activity is too consuming for the person to be worried about how he or she appears to the outside world.
  • Time changes: Things slow down and time speeds up so that while the person is doing the activity, every detail can be examined, everyone else around him or her is slower, but when the activity is over the person doesn’t feel as if any time at all has passed. He or she loses track of time.
  • The activity is the end not the means to an end: If the activity is itself the goal and the required means to get to a greater goal, it becomes easier to enter the flow. If an author is writing to write a book and not to publish it or make money from it, he or she is more likely to enter the flow.

Getting into the flow creatively is why artists are depicted as absent-minded or the author doesn’t her someone calling out to him while he or she sits at the typewriter. It’s also what makes creativity so rewarding. Being in the flow indicates the person is operating at his or her highest possible ability without being overwhelmed. Get in the flow, or the zone, if you prefer, become more creative.

For more on creativity, check out, “Disneyland Is Creativity,” “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity,” and “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories for Greater Positive Creativity.” If you want more content like this, join our Patreon.

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The ABCs of Creativity: X-factor

Sure, I could’ve gone with xylophone – it’s a musical instrument. I could’ve chosen a multitude of words that begin with “ex” and just shrugged when someone brought up that they actually started with “e” and not “x.” I could’ve gone with someone creative like X. Atencio. Instead, I’m using a hyphen as my cheat code. When I write for the paltry sum of cents per word, a hyphenated word only counts as one and not two words, so “x-factor” it is.

We’re not talking about the TV show, which focuses on singing skills and offers biting criticism rather than providing a critical view. However, we are talking about where the name comes from; the x-factor in creativity is the talent that you have naturally. You are creative, but your beginning talent level will naturally be different than someone else’s creative talent level. You can’t do anything about that.

You can, however, change how much work you put in to cultivate your talent. Hard work can beat talent as long as you’re willing to overcome your natural limits and improve your mind and work effort. Following a plan, engaging in creative acts, and continuing to learn about the world around you are all acts that will help you improve your creativity. Unlike physical talent, creative talent has no ceiling. Work on your ability, and you’ll watch your x-factor grow.

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The ABCs of Creativity: Well

Working at a regular requires that you take a break every once in a while, if you want to be good at it. Your brain and body need regular rest during the day, the week and the year. It’s one of the reasons why jobs have breaks every two hours, every five days, and for two weeks out of the year. Employers have recognized the importance of giving people the opportunity to recharge.

The same is true for creativity. You need to take a break from the actual work of creativity and replenish the well that you draw from. This doesn’t always mean getting fully away from a creative project. Coming up with ideas is often more like an Artesian well, if you stop the flow it may not come back.

It does mean that you need to do things that help you create better. For some people watching a movie or reading a book is a good enough rest to get them recharged and creating again. Others need to travel to their favorite destination, like Hawaii or Disneyland. Stepping away from a project is paradoxically sometimes the best way to get it completed. Fill yourself with ideas and refill when you need to.

For more on creativity, order “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Get “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories” and improve your creativity for a better life and world. For more on the Disney company, get “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Join us at Patreon for the “Secrets of Creativity” available only to our Penguinators.

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The ABCs of Creativity: Vision

Vision can be the way you perceive things. No one sees the world exactly like you. Your life experiences have given you a unique way of viewing situations. The only way that anyone can begin to understand what you see in the world is if you share your vision.

A vision can also be the goals that you want to achieve or the way you see the future. You might look toward a utopia. You might see problems with the drainage system and possible solutions. You might have the key to opening up a new discipline. But this only happens after you develop your vision and show it to people. If you aren’t able to tell people about what you want to achieve on a grand sale, you are unlikely to achieve it.

You can use your vision to drive toward your vision, and creativity should be an important part of that drive. Walt Disney saw that there were no places where adults could enjoy spending time with children. He sat eating peanuts while his daughters took rides on the carousel in Griffith Park. His vision was a park that parents and children could enjoy equally together. Without either sense of vision, we wouldn’t have Disneyland or any of the other theme parks that came after it.

For more on creativity, order “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Get “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories” and improve your creativity for a better life and world. For more on the Disney company, get “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Join us at Patreon for the “Secrets of Creativity” available only to our Penguinators.

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The ABCs of Creativity: Uplifting

Your creativity is a powerful tool that you can harness for better or worse. You can use it to unleash your fears and doubts or to capture them and put them on canvas or paper. You can use it to bring yourself greater joy and to reach for self-actualization. You can use your creativity to harm people or you can use it to uplift them. Conspiracy theorists are as creative at telling stories as novelists are. Bank robbers solve the problems associate with their chosen profession with creativity. Creativity is only a tool and you choose what to do with it.

It’s hard to always choose to use creativity to be uplifting. It can be difficult in the face of abject poverty and bald-faced lies to summon the courage to bring creative solutions to the problem to bear. Oftentimes, we get dragged down by the news and reality of a society that values profits over people. As creatives, we need to turn our efforts to making a better world for everyone.

Of course, that better world starts with us. By reaching out our hands and offering to lift people up, we will make our own situations better and more bearable. Give your creativity over to what it was meant to do – help you make life better for you as an individual and for human race. Be uplifting, create uplifting works of art, and create something that makes you, and those around you, happy.

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The ABCs of Creativity: Thinking

While thinking may seem like an obvious trait in creativity, it’s important to examine what people think is obvious and what it means to the subject at hand. It’s part of being curious. In creativity, there are two accepted modes of thinking: divergent and convergent.

Creativity is filled with diametrically opposed qualities. The thinking required to get you there is no different. Divergent thinking is being open to new ideas and is the important part of the idea generation process. It’s usually done at the beginning of a project and when more ideas are needed. Brainstorming is a popular form of divergent thinking.

Convergent narrows down the ideas to come up with one that will work for the problem at hand. If you continually think divergently, you’ll never wind up doing anything. Convergent thinking allows you to focus on one idea and bring it to fruition, or at least far enough along to find out whether or not it will work.

Both types of thinking have their places in the creative processes if you’re looking to bring something into the world. If convergent thinking is applied too soon, it could limit creativity. Divergent thinking brought in at the wrong time could derail a project for something seemingly better. Learn to apply these to your deep thinking, and get better at creativity.

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The ABCs of Creativity: Risk

Being creative means taking risks. When you’re doing something new, that no one’s ever done before, or that you haven’t done before, you’re taking a risk. It may be a small risk; no one will see you mess up a canvas or write a sentence incorrectly. Or it may be a big risk: taking on an assignment at work that could decided the fate of the company. There are a lot of different kinds of risk in between.

When you stood up for the first time, you were taking a risk. You might lose your balance and fall. Of course, your baby mind didn’t really think of it like that. When you fell down, you probably cried and were comforted by your parent(s) or guardian. Then you got up and tried it again. Then maybe you took the next step, literally, after standing. That probably resulted in falling down to.

As a baby, you were used to taking those risks. If you were in diapers, it didn’t hurt a lot. Even if it did hurt, you didn’t mind after a while. You saw everyone else standing and walking, and you wanted to get there, too.

You probably continued to take risks growing up. Raising your hand to answer a question was a risk: if you got it right, kids might think you’re a know-it-all; get it wrong and the teacher might think you’re dumb. You probably learned that answering the question wasn’t worth it.

As an adult, if you suggested something new at work, you were probably met with objections and derision. That risk was bad enough. In some places, a creative person is seen as a threat.

But people are meant to be creative. If you want to become, if you want a happier overall life, if you want to make something, you’ve got to take the risk. You may fail, you may make mistakes, but if you do it right, you’ll have fun and learn more about who you are.

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The ABCs of Creativity: Question

child on shoreline

When you were young, you probably asked a lot of questions: Why is the sky blue? Where do babies come from? Why do I have to eat broccoli? Why do bees buzz? Why? Why? But why?

And you were probably met with: Because I said so. Because they do. Because it is. I don’t know. Be quiet. Shut up. Children are best seen and not heard. Stop asking questions. Now is not the time…

It didn’t get better in school – a place you were supposed to be to learn things. Unfortunately, many of the things you were supposed to learn were what the teacher wanted to teach you or, if you were really unlucky, what was required by standardized testing and curriculum. There was a right answer, and it was whatever the teacher said it was. There was no room for deviation or questioning. The best pupils were quiet and accepted what they were told. Questions were unwelcomed because they took time away from the subject at hand and caused other students to question what they were learning, which caused confusion for the less inquisitive.

But ultimately, questioning is a good thing as long as the questions are asked with an honest intent to learn and understand. Questions like “How does a burr attach to clothes?” “How do I improve shoes for athletes?” and “Why isn’t there a place for adults and children to have fun?” have led to multi-billion-dollar companies. Questioning improves creativity through its ability to spark deeper thinking.

The question “Why?” is powerful, but you’ll still be met with resistance. “Why” is often seen as threatening and accusing. Many people will respond with “because it’s always been done that way.” “Why not?” can be just as powerful because it can free you to try something new.

With the Internet, you should be able to find out the answers to many questions, but that’s not enough for creativity. You must make sure the information is accurate and that you didn’t just accept it because of confirmation bias. Then you must assimilate the information and allow it to change your behavior and thoughts. Learning from your questions is only part of becoming more creative, but it’s an important part.

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The ABCs of Creativity: Practice

That’s all this stuff is… It’s just practice, you know, and you continue to practice.

Tim Perkins at Malta Comic Con 2015

You were creative once. School, authority figures, and a system that punishes mistakes and failures, while rarely rewarding those who create, beat it out of you – or rather, it beat the belief that you are creative out of you. But that’s where your ascendancy in creativity starts: Believe you are creative and start practicing. Creativity is a skill. Some people have more talent at it, but everyone can become more creative. All it takes is practice.

Practice your problem-solving skills, look for more than one solution, even if you find one that will work, go an extra two or three steps and find more ways to solve the same problem. The more solutions you come up with, the more likely you are to hit on one that will be better than the others. However, even if your first solution is the best, you’ll have explored other options and exercised your creative muscle.

Practice coming up with ideas. Keep the idea process flowing, track them, and make the ideas important. Then choose one to implement. While you’re implementing the idea, don’t stop coming up with new ideas. As long as you track them, they’ll be available when you finish implementing the first idea.

When you do implement that first idea, it won’t be great. It’s not supposed to be great. If this is your first foray into the realm of a creative endeavor, you will probably make mistakes, and the effort will probably fail. That’s okay. It’s like walking when you were a toddler. You probably fell hundreds of times; you’ve probably tripped and possibly fell recently. That didn’t stop you from getting up and going again.

Write every day. Draw every day. Do something creative every day. You will get better at it.

Of course, classes, mentorships and knowledge about your chosen area are essential to being more creative. If your new to physics, you’re not going to know enough to be creative in the field though you could be creative for yourself. Once you have a could base, it’s just practice, practice, practice, even if you’re Allen Iverson.

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The ABCs of Creativity: Open

Open to new experiences

If you want to be more creative, you have to be open. You have to open yourself up to new experiences, new ideas and remain open minded. People are naturally closed. They want to confirm their beliefs and be comfortable, which is counter to creativity. Creativity challenges. Creativity is uncomfortable. Creativity is scary because it leads to change, and no one can really predict where the innovation will take people.

Open to New Experiences

New experiences are the basis of new ideas. Having the same experiences day and day out only leads you to becoming an expert in whatever your experiencing or becoming extremely dull depending on the experience. At some point, you need to step out of your everyday activities and work on something different. It can be as simple as putting together a puzzle or as complicated as taking a zip line in a foreign country where safety rules might be more like suggestions. Even something small like changing the route you take to work is good for your brain.

Open to New Ideas

If you continue to cart around the same ideas day after day, your mind will become stale like a cart full of bread. Your thought processes will mold, and you’ll be faced with the prospect of not being able to feed your mind. New ideas are worth entertaining, they’re worth looking at, and they’re worth evaluating. You may have to discard ideas that don’t work. You may have to discard ideas that you can’t accomplish. You may have to discard ideas because you’re not ready for them, but where you need to discard them to is a journal. Capture all of your ideas by writing them down, and then have new ones.

Open Minded

New experiences and new ideas won’t matter, however, if you go in having already made your judgement about them. You have to have an open mind to the experience and to the idea in order for it to be able to grow. If you shut it down to soon, it’ll shrivel up, dry out and leave no lasting mark on you. That’s not good for creativity. Open yourself up to the experience, to the new idea and let your creative self flourish.

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