Monthly Archives: August 2009

What makes children creative?

See the picture below; drawn by a 51/2 yr old child. (This is a scene from the Indian mythology of Little Krishna stealing butter from the women folk)

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She drew this based on the stories she heard and not imitating a picture. What I found very interesting here is the entire sequence of the events depicted here.  As you can see, there are three ‘Krishna’s” in the picture (see the circles in the below picture)

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This is how the imagination goes. To begin with, Krishna is sitting on a tree top and see the two women coming with butter-filled pots on their heads (the top most circle). Krishna now silently gets down from the tree (the middle circle) and then is right behind the women about to steal the butter (the bottom circle)

Look at the concept of space and time depicted in such a simple way. As adults we have developed very strong sense of both space and time, which limits our imaginaion and ceativity.

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It’s just the difference between acting and reacting

A change is always tough. Most of us are sure that there are certain things that need to change in our lives. But when we attempt to change, there are all kinds of problems; uneasiness, fear, agony and depression. Even if we are able to change some thing (like a habit), there is a high probability of relapse after a period of uncertainty. I have wondered about it; often triggered by my attempts to stop smoking. When I did quit finally (rather easily), it gave me a new perception about the issue.

I think the problem is fundamentally with the point of change. Here is the theory : The difference between success and failure (or misery and happiness) is a simple choice between acting and reacting. Look at the picture below:

Action and Reaction

Say you are at the point Z and need to take a decision. You have two choices. One is to go by the patterns (or mind) which is usually the reactive path. The moment you align your mind in this way, mind starts further strengthening and reinforcing the point of view. You are then lead in one direction as indicated by the green line (the lines around it indicate the reinforcing mind patterns). There is another choice. That’s not to go by the patterns (mind), but to be aware or listen to your consciousness. This is the path of action, indicated by the red line. Even here, the mind does strengthen and reinforce the thinking.

Every moment in life we are actually at the point Z. If we can be aware and not get carried away by the mind, perhaps we can take right decisions for the future. This is rather simple.

But when it comes to change, the problem is more complex. The decision point is actually somewhere in the past and we have say taken a reactive approach and proceeded in one direction. Assume, it has taken us to Y. Now we want to change. We want to be at X. So we take a decision and convince ourselves to be at X. But this is just temporary. Soon the old patterns become dominant and you are mercilessly dragged to Y. When that happens the reinforcement is further strengthened and you are more convinced that you cannot change.

So where is the problem? You should actually be first moving to Z (and not X). This will demand that you work through the conditioning of the mind slowly and remove them. When you are at the point Z, look at the decision again. With the correct mindset or awareness, you can take the right decision and take the path towards X. Since the conditioning has been taken care of, they don’t trouble you hard and in no time new patterns are formed.

 Let’s understand this with an example. Take smoking. Assume you are a smoker (because at some point in your life, you decided to try it apparently for no reason) and you are trying to quit now. You are at Y, and have lot of stuff built already around it in the mind like – Smoking helps me relax, It reduces my stress, it’s difficult to stop this etc. You also want to escape and you want to be, say at X ,where you are free from the habit.

Action and Reaction eg

Now you project yourself to be at X (whatever method you use – Cold turkey, cutting down etc). For a day or two, you are better off (at X), but soon the patterns become active (and there are things going on in the mind like – perhaps this is not the right time, I should actually cut down etc..)  and you feel miserable. And soon you are pulled back to point Y (you relapse). The more this happens, you are even more convinced that you can never escape, because every failure reinforces your conviction that you cannot quit.

Why this happens? You were at the point Z, several times in your life; say whenever you are smoking or whenever you tried to resist the temptation. And when you decided to smoke, you actually said: This is enjoying and relaxing. This has taken you in one direction and all the conditioning is built around it. Even if you are successful with this approach to quit, you are likely to be depressed and miserable, because the basic decision is in question.

So in order to really escape, you need to go back to the point Z and rephrase the mindset. An example could be : “ This has been a dreadful disease that’s taken control of me, I am now stepping out. It feels so great to be free”.

Now there are three elements. You, Smoking and the act of Quitting (or not doing it). So at the point Z you have to use these three to construct a direction statement. You know what most smokers do? They construct it something like this : “ Though smoking helps me to relax, now because of my bad health, I have to somehow stop it. I am going to try it real hard. I am not sure if I will succeed, I have failed many times before. But I will try it hard this time”. This takes them straight to the path of misery. 

But if you can construct a direction statement like “ I am escaping from this dreadful disease, it is so great. I do not need to do this again”. You take the other direction.

It’s not just a simple affirmation statement in the mind. You need to use awareness (and reflection) to go deeper and deeper till you find the basic decision making point and make the change. And this change will be easy and permanent.

This might rather look simple, but if you understand it, it is the key to change.

Be creative like a child..

‘Be creative like a child” – I have heard people say this at least a dozen times (and the variations too: let’s think like a child, let’s be playful etc etc) during various sessions. This is a popular approach to overcome the logical barrier while Ideating (i.e. when you try to come up with new ideas, the logical mind says ‘shut up, that’s a stupid thing to say’. Children don’t’ seem to suffer from this, because probably they haven’t learnt enough). The moment the facilitator says “C’mon guys, be like a child’, there is definitely a change in the environment. And you see some interesting and sometimes foolish-looking ideas do come up.

But I have always felt that such sessions lacked something; probably some liveliness… Though the ‘children’ symbol seems to help, it was sort of forced and artificial. And I believe this is the reason we do not get quality ideas many times.

A simple incident yesterday showed me what the problem was. You could behave like a child externally, but can you adopt that peace, love and simplicity too? They bring the grace, beauty and creativity to children spontaneously.

Here is the story:

Yesterday, when I was going out, my little daughter wanted me to get her a chocolate, her favorite one.

 When I was back home (of course with the chocolate), she was playing with her friend in the living room. The moment I entered, she ran up to me demanding the chocolate. But because the other girl was not supposed to eat chocolates, I didn’t want to give it. I told her – see I cannot give you the chocolate now. When you have finished playing and your friend goes back, you can have it. Not now. I proceeded to my room for freshening up, ignoring her protests.

I could distinctly hear the two girls talking. Though I couldn’t well hear, I could sense that my daughter was trying to persuade her friend to leave, which she was not willing to. There was silence after a while.

I had just begun to shave; my daughter appeared at the door, and stood leaning on the doorframe. I gave her a questioning look.

She tells: “I know a secret” (trying hard to make it sound interesting)

I smile.

 “But I will tell you only if you give me the chocolate

I give her another smile.

 Few moments pass. She says almost in a whispering tone : “ The secret is about you

She should have been looking at me intently trying to sense if I am ready for the deal.

 I looked at her and gave a ‘don’t try these tricks with me’ grin.

Few more moments pass.

She says: “The secret has something good about you…

At this point, I burst out laughing (If I had not, she might have kept building on the story further to lure me). I gave her the chocolate and had to convince her friend to settle for a candy.

The beauty of the incident touched me deeply and made me feel so light. The creativity was so spantaneous and had a grace and profound simplicity. There was no technique, process, gimmik, frills, just pure creativity. 

This is what was going wrong in ‘becoming creative like a child’. What we do not adopt is the beauty that lies within – the peace, the simplicity, love and purity. In this world, we are just concerned about the ends, not means.

Productivity vs Creativity

          In this world of cut-throat competition (does such a competition really exist in the first place; that’s still a question), every organization is obsessed with several initiatives aimed at improving all sorts of parameters one can think of, whether tangible or intangible. The intangible part is gaining importance now, as companies wants to project themselves not just as mere money making machines, but also as bodies who care for people, surroundings and the environment.

        No one is really sure of what “that magic thing” is, that can take us to the next level or put us ahead of the competition. So they end up trying to improve everything; hoping at least one of them will do the job. One thing that happens in the process is that organizations end up creating contradictions. That is to say they try to improve two (or more sometimes) parameters that in reality cannot really coexist. Any organization that lacks a high level view of things is often left to wonder why things don’t improve.

            One good example I see these days is productivity and creativity. On one side, everyone agrees that people need to do more and more in the given time, do not idle away their time, need to be organized, manage their time effectively and be deadline oriented. This is what we have been advocating and practicing for decades now. We have developed a whole lot of processes, methodologies, trainings etc around this and people have changed their habits, thinking and approach to adapt to this model. But then came the surprise. There was definitely stagnation. Though the efficiency and productivity improved, the organizations did not really get the breakthrough they wanted to. Then came the concept of creativity – people said the stagnation is caused by lack of creativity and that’s what is needed to be successful in today’s world.

            Now the organizations that were so far obsessed with improving the productivity, took up creativity too and said – here is another new parameter we need to show improvement on. C’mon guys, how can we survive without being creative and continuously innovating? Look at Google, Ideo….

            In reality, how well these two can co-exist? I am a firm believer that creativity needs those ‘gaps’ or ‘spaces’ for it to express. The more you pack your schedules, the more you chase deadlines; you are actually doing the reverse – getting rid of those gaps. When organizations push two such contradicting initiatives simultaneously, they neither end up in a creative organizations nor a productive organization. All that will result is individuals (or even groups) that will start exhibiting one of these traits predominantly. And organizations  become an assorted bunch of people who predominantly lean towards one or few of the concepts / parameters.

            Is that bad? May be not really, in the sense that something is better than nothing. But this is no way near to making an organizational identity or culture. The solution sometimes is to drop one of those parameters. For e.g a company in the creative space like advertising, might actually not much focus on productivity, but just on creativity. But this is not the only solution. It could be possible to correlate them. For e.g an IT company for whom productivity is of prime concern, can look at creative ways to improve it. But in that case, this is quiet different from having them as two separate parameters for improvement.

            Why does it happen ? I think primarily because we understand both as ‘concepts’. We know ‘productivity’ as a concept and also know all that’s needed to improve it. Now we know “creativity” also as a concept and there are all these tools and workshops which teach you how to become creative. When we understand anything at the concept level (mind level), we cannot see the underlying inter connection. So it doesn’t occur to the organizations that they need to drop something to embrace something new.

            I think at the root of this is the basic human problem of wanting more and more (of anything) to make the life more meaningful.

            This is actually an extension of our personal life; where in also we create such contradictions. Take for example: We want to be paid well as well as we want to do a job that we love. This creates a contradiction. And mostly we make a compromise. But the compromise comes from the logical mind and soon it stops making sense. Say you decide that money is important for you right now and you don’t really care what trash you do.Fine. For few months, you are happy. But then the deep dissatisfaction starts emerging and you feel miserable. In rare cases (if it is strong enough), miracles can happen. People can drop everything and start some thing they love and still be successful. But normally such contradictions makes life miserable and you start feeling that there is no progress.

            The same contradiction of productivity vs creativity exists in our personal lives too. When you are too busy chasing deadlines one after another with packed schedules and always a short term goal to achieve, there is hardly any creative space. The conditioning in the mind is so strong that if you don’t do anything in office on a particular day, you feel guilty. You have wasted time; that’s a crime.

Because of all that noise that gets created in the mind, you never get to experience those moments of stillness where creativity blossoms.

Also read The ‘void’ for creativity in Organizations

We communicate by our presence

Yesterday, we were discussing about recruiting few more people in to the team. The role is to do with change management and we were listing down the attributes we need to look for in the prospects. The first came communication skills. No one seems to have a question about it; everyone agreed that we need people with good communication skills. Someone said – only people with good communication skills can create change in the organization.

Communication skills here means to be able to convey something effectively, respond spontaneously, defend ones’ viewpoint, talk fluently without hesitation, talk loud and clear, convince someone, win an argument etc etc.

As I sat there, something in me said –something is wrong? A story of Lord Buddha, one of the greatest change agents the world has seen, came to my mind. Buddha was supposed to address a large gathering once. As thousands waited to hear the great sage speak, Buddha walked in with a lotus flower in his hand and sat just glancing at it. No words. He just sat there silently. People waited impatiently for him to break the silence. He simply sat there in deep silence glancing at the flower. After a while, his disciple, Maha Kashyapa burst in to laughter. Buddha called him and gave him the flower; he was the one who understood the essence of Buddha’s teaching.

So, I think this is again yet another conditioned belief we have not been questioning. If you look at the people around us who are good orators, like salesmen, marketing people, politicians, do we really believe any of them? Someone with common sense can easily see malicious intentions concealed carefully beyond those carefully crafted sentences. But yet we are sure, everyone need to have good communication skills as an essential quality! You might argue that there are great orators who changed the course of humanity, but I think there are also several people who were not great communicators, at least in the sense we understand.

We really communicate by our presence. That is the reason we feel so light and comfortable in the presence of small children. The younger the children, better is the feeling. Imagine a child giving you a lecture on love; you will run away. Look at the people who have influenced you in your life, in whose company you felt peace and comfort, they all communicate by their presence. You just need to be in their presence and it makes no further difference if they talk or not.

This is not the case of a salesman trying to convince you in to buying their product. He might be communicating well, but his presence is really conveying the hidden selfish motives, which you can feel. That’s what makes you feel uncomfortable in the presence of such people.

And when can we communicate effectively with our presence? When we are at peace, mind is centered and content. Then you don’t need to talk anything, people will have no option but to be at peace in your presence. Just a smile from you can communicate what hours of speaking cannot.

When do we start recruiting people for their ‘presence’? I think even now we do that, but just that we don’t quiet understand it or our rational minds don’t accept it.

Our vision for the future is a negated past

We had a couple of ‘visioning’ exercises today in the office, where teams had to create a vision for themselves. The session was split in to three slots. The first was where teams where told how to create a vision (this included a video on visioning). Then they broke in to teams to do brainstorming to come up with a vision and a roadmap to achieve the same. Then everyone assembled back and presented the vision and the road map to everyone.

            I was in the audience during the presentations. Teams took turn to present the thought process (which was bay and large some issues that existed in the system), the vision and the roadmap to achieve the same.

            There were two very interesting observations from the exercise. The first was that most of the teams came up with very long, detailed (sometimes complex) vision statements. There were a few that came up with one liners. The audience liked the latter more.

As I was watching this, it occurred to me that when we make a ‘vision statement’ in one sentence, the space around it contains enormous possibilities that really should characterize a vision. When the vision statement is something logical with long set of statements the space around that is missing. This reduces the vision to a simple act in the future. I think the same is true in most cases. When you can present a problem in the most concise manner, the possibility space for solutions is larger; this is the space for innovation. Many times we are unable to come up with innovative solutions to the problems is that we define the problem so much in detail that we drastically reduce the opportunity space around it.

The second was more interesting. Most of the vision statements (and the roadmap) typically consisted of things that weren’t happening as desired. This is in fact the negation of the past or even the denial of it. That means when we look ahead in to the future, actually what we see is a negative image of the past. For e.g when a team puts “Delivering Quality solutions” as a vision, what they really mean is that we have not been able to do that in the past. And in the future we want to change this.

The same thing happens if we set a vision for ourselves. The influence of the past on our psyche is so much that it restricts or confines your view of the future. For e.g you put a vision for you that you will be perfectly healthy in another one year, you are actually saying that you are not healthy now, and you do not approve that and it needs to change.

This is as if the vision is in the past, and not in the future!

What is the problem with creating such a vision? It not only reinforces the undesirable past, but also reinforces the sense of denial. If you have failed to set this right in the past, it also creates fear and doubt about the vision itself. These two are sufficient to make sure that you can never achieve the vision.

So what needs to happen when you create a vision, either for your own or a team or the organization? You need to put aside the past completely, keep the ‘opportunity space’ as open as possible and create a vision. Be aware of doubt , uncertainty or fear. Any trace of it, the vision is most likely a denial of the undesired past and the mind will do what ever it can to make sure that you don’t make it.

Also visioning is not the act of logical mind; but that of the creative mind. When your vision looks logiocally right and practically achievable, chances are that it’s not a vision, but just an act in the future.