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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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What to Do when Old Goals No Longer Serve You

Professor Penguin studies for greater knowledge.

[Author’s note: If you want to get the short notes on this story of discovery, look for the list of three steps below. It should be easy to find.] I have always heard that as a writer, I should read voraciously. I just couldn’t find a lot of time to do so. I had heard about presidents who would read an amazing number of books. Teddy Roosevelt read a book a day at least, in addition to magazines and newspapers. Even at my best, when I had nothing to do but read and no desire to do anything else (the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school), I could only read about 100 pages a day unless it were a particularly good fantasy novel.

As I got older, I tried to find a speed reading book that would help me read faster. That didn’t work. So, I decided to go about it the old-fashioned way. I was going to set a goal and achieve it. In 2010, I decided to read a book a week. The only parameter I set was that it had to be a book. Magazines and newspapers didn’t count, and while I tracked my audio books, they didn’t count as reading either.

I accomplished my goal, reading 52 books with an average page count of 221. The longest book I read was 1099 pages, and the shortest was 28. I also listened to 18 audio books, but those would fall by the way side in later years. These numbers gave me a baseline, and so every year thereafter, I kept upping the ante. In 2011, the books averaged 222 pages each. In 2012, the average didn’t change, but I read 16 more pages than the year before. In 2015, I fell short of my goal by four books, but I made up for it in 2016 by reading additional books. In 2018, I read 58 books.

So, this year, I set my sights on 52 books with an average page count of 255, but 10 books in and I find that the unintended consequence of this goal is that I don’t read magazines, and I avoid lower page count books because they would make the average that I have to read in the future go up. The dilemma is that I have several books that have fewer pages than 255 that I need to read for research, and I have a couple of magazines that I need to read sooner rather than later because of the opportunities they hold.

While it’s still early in the year, it’s clear that my goal is hampering my progress rather than helping. It’s done this before, but I just ignored the implications and bulled my way through the process. Now, the situation seems different. It’s time to change the goal.

The process for doing so must look something like this:

  1. Recognize the goal no longer serves you; you are serving it.
  2. Decide what you really wanted from the goal in the first place.
  3. Set a modified or new goal that enhances your ability to achieve what you really need to achieve.

The original purpose of the goal was for me to be able to say I read a book a week and know they weren’t all children’s books. I didn’t exclude children’s books outright because there are a lot of good children’s books out there, and they typically make the best way to learn the basics about some subjects quickly. For example, children’s book on Ancient Egypt presents a starting point for the subject matter that is easy to follow, generally accurate, and provides enough information that the adult (or child) reader can find out what specific aspect about the subject matter he or she wanted to learn and move on to more adult books about that part of the subject. (Also, I was studying to be an early childhood education teacher at the time.) By setting up a tracking system and breaking it down into number of pages read, I stayed motivated and kept myself on track. There was always an end of the year blitz, but some of that had to do with holidays as well as motivation.

At this point, for this particular goal, I think I need to modify the page count, or at least not worry about it. I might not be able to read a book a week while I am in research mode, but that shouldn’t dissuade me from catching up at the end of the year. As long as I maintain my reading on the subject matters at hand – Disney, creativity and online marketing, in the early part of the year, and the Twilight Zone, creativity and online marketing in the latter part of the year followed by a holiday blitz for the final month – I should be okay. If not, I should be able to forgive myself and realize the goal is only as good as the benefits I get from it. In this case, it is the benefit of education and the growth of vocabulary and literary styles.

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Harness the Power of Video Games

One of the reasons why video games are so popular and so easy to play for hours is because they set up quantifiable goals that allow you to understand whether you’re being successful or failing. It’s not just save the princess; it’s save the princess while scoring the most points or doing so in the fastest time. Hardcore gamers will sit for hours trying to gain levels, get treasure, discover secrets, complete side quests, and feel accomplished. Even gamers who play Match 3 games or Farmville have goals they can measure – one more level to complete or a certain score to attain. The numbers are tracked, saved, compared to your friends, and celebrated when milestones are reached.

Your IRL goals need to be set up the same way. No matter what you want to achieve, there are tasks that have to be done beforehand. In writing, you have to research and then need to write 40,000 to 80,000 words before you have a book. Give yourself a week to do the research and the write 2,000 words a day. Can’t manage 2,000 words because of family, jobs, or reasons? Try 500 words a day. Even if you can only write 200 words a day, you’ll have a book at the end of the year. Keep track of the number of words: these are your points. At every 10,000 words, celebrate: you’ve made it to the next level.

If writing isn’t your thing, but you have something that’s going to take time, set up your goals, write them down, and post them some place you’ll see them every day. Then start knocking out your goals and getting your rewards and points for real-life accomplishments.

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