Archive for the ‘The Heart of Creativity’ Category

I love a good comeback story. Whether it’s an athlete battling back from a career-ending injury, a friend from a life-threatening disease or a business from an unexpected economic condition–I am cheering them on. And while disasters and misfortune and pain are a significant part of our reality and we hate to see anyone dealing with difficulty, you have to admit, comebacks are sublime. My favorite children’s stories, movies, news events and even cartoons always seem to involve someone or some place overcoming obstacles.

Comebacks came to mind 312187_416858315078290_430805569_nthis past week while attending a BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) Conference in Buffalo, NY. Having never been to Buffalo, I was thrilled when my cab driver gave me an impromptu history lesson about Buffalo’s rise from the economic disaster after Great Lakes shipping was rerouted and the steel mills relocated. That evening while attending the conference opening reception, I got another history lesson in the recovery of Buffalo’s cultural vibrancy after the decline of the grain-milling industry from another local resident. In both conversations, the pride with which these life-long residents recounted the slow, but significant recovery their city had effected was palpable. They LOVED telling me the comeback tale.

Having been through a personal comeback of my own this past few years (and still climbing), my experience in Buffalo reminded me of how comebacks not only define us as human beings, but as organisms within a greater system of similar tenacity.  Nature comes back in the face of extinction (Nature’s Top 10 Greatest Comebacks of the 20th Century.) Small towns rebound from economic down turns (America’s Best Small Town Comebacks–my hometown of DeLand, FL made the top ten!). Cities devastated by natural disaster come back with more ingenuity and community spirit than ever (7 U.S. Cities that Rallied after Natural Disaster).

And while stability and prosperity are preferred states of being, the reality of the world we live in is a reflection of the planet we inhabit. There is flux and destruction and loss. But there is also glorious tenacity, perseverance and resiliency. So instead of focusing on what’s terribly wrong in today’s world, on the ecological, economic and social problems with us and looming on the horizon, the community leaders at the BALLE conference championed creative comebacks. Realistic about the challenges, they highlighted the tenacity and resolve of communities all over North America making a real difference. And when see the comebacks all around us, we can feel confident and yes, hopeful that no matter what, we have what it takes to rise again and again. Famed football coach Vince Lombardi Jr. summed it up: “The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.” Amen Coach. Amen.


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To start off the new business year, I’m going to repeat what I tell my clients over and over. YOUR story matters in the marketing of your business and your creative work. This demonstration from Landor Unleash aptly shows why stories are such an important part of marketing.

AND to follow up a recent post on my dislike for jargon and take this mantra into 2013, I’m going to use some doublespeak I just discovered that nonetheless describes something I am passionate about–transmedia storytelling. Coined by media experts in the early 1990’s and currently being advanced in popular media by Dr. Pamela Rutledge of the Media Psychology Institute, all transmedia storytelling means is using the whole of technology to tell whatever story you have to tell, whether it’s for business or cultural or personal or entertainment purposes. By engaging the audience with multiple platforms, be it written, spoken, visual, gaming, cinematic or social media applications, not only are the characters more compelling, but the consumer becomes an interactive player in the story. Says Rutledge:

“Stories are the brain’s way of organizing information – in other words, how we rise above the noise. Stories package information for rapid comprehension by engaging the brain at all levels: intuitive, emotional, rational, and somatic.”

So even though I hate mumbo jumbo, I am convinced that the marriage of the ancient art of storytelling with modern methods of information delivery is critical to our ability to bridge the old with the new and make our messages heard. Because our brains are wired to understand stories, I believe “transmedia storytelling” is how we will begin to sort through the proliferation of technology and quiet the static of our modern lives.


modern storytelling

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I have a couple New Year’s Day rituals that have served me well the past few years, but one that consistently hits the mark is pulling one card from a deck of Native American animal medicine cards. The pasts few years have turned up the spider, dolphin and antelope. In retrospect, all quite appropriate for what the years brought to me.

Today, Jan. 1, 2013, I pulled the Badger. Well la-de-da. The meanest, baddest little animal around. I read the history, the symbolism, the lessons to be learned and tried to see how this might fit into the life situations facing me in the new year. badger24

Badger Symbolism and Power (excerpted from purespirit.com and whats-your-sign.com)

  • The white stripe is symbolic of how open it is, providing knowledge and enlightenment to other animals and the earth.
  • The strong jaws tie the badger to the mysteries of the “word” – in particular the magic of storytelling. Badger reminds us to remember stories and give them away to people when they are needed.
  • The remarkable digger hints at the ability to see beneath the surface of all things and people. Also, the closeness to herbs and roots make badger dynamic healers.
  • Loners and solitary, badgers teach us to be self-reliant and comfortable with ourselves.
  • Bold and ferocious when cornered, badger reminds us to never surrender.
  • Connected to the earth, so a grounding totem.
  • The symbolism of the badger also includes individuality. The badger is a unique creature, well equipped to meet all the challenges it faces. It lives its life quite effectively. And although its methods might seem unorthodox, the badger doesn’t care what the rest of the animal kingdom thinks about them. This is perhaps the greatest lesson the badger imparts to us. In short, the badger tell us to “walk your own path at your own pace.” Nevermind what others may say. Have faith in your own abilities and know that you are well-equipped to take on whatever challenge faces you.

And then the irreverent (don’t watch if you are easily offended) “Honey Badger” viral video came to mind. Is 2013 my “Honey Badger Don’t Care” year? You never can tell.  There’s something to be said for boldly going for it. Mixed with a healthy dose of compassionate action,  the badger attitude might just make 2013 a break-out year.

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I have written a lot about living in a small Virginia town filled with beautifully restored architecture, about how different it feels to live in an environment steeped with a sense of history versus the clean-swept feel of the more modern cities I’ve lived.  There are rich stories that go along with each place here, the telling of which are supported by a local cultural emphasis on the importance of maintaining and sharing the beauty of what has been in order to nurture what is—our economy, our community, our individual lives.

In thinking about the importance of the stories as I have retooled my publicity and marketing business, I realized I have had a misperception about  the role history really  plays in our lives.  The study of history has always seemed a factual, academic pursuit rather than a creative one to me, like accounting or record-keeping.  Sure, artful presentation of history offers some creative outlet, but the content seems fixed by the rules of reporting. But when I read the following statement about memory and creativity describing a conference on body, memory, creativity and the art , my perception changed radically:

“Memory and creativity can be conceived as complementary dimensions of embodied perception and agency, where “memory” points to the acquired competencies of the body (the “I can”), both tacit and conscious, and creativity points to the contribution of embodied understanding and skills in carrying out artistic, intellectual and other tasks in original and interesting ways.”    (Body, Memory and Creativity in the Arts)

Substitute history for memory in this concept and what you get is a new sense of how the past interfaces with creativity on a more collective level.  By viewing history as the “acquired competencies” of a community or society, creativity exhibited by a group can be seen as an appreciation and understanding of our “stories” (what we are capable of) and a combined effort to stretch beyond capability to explore potential.  By conceiving history and creativity as complementary dimensions, problem-solving and innovation become effortless as the group connects knowledge with experimentation to create new ways of being and doing.

I think I finally get the history connection. Our stories are not just important because they show us what we can do and help us avoid repeating mistakes.  They are vital because they allow us to turn our dreams into reality.

Here’s acclaimed producer Ken Burns on history and creativity:

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I haven’t been sleeping well for a few months.  A new business endeavor, lots of appointments, the anxiety of uncertainty. Not an unusual plight these days–we all seem overstressed and overstimulated no matter what healthy coping or defusing mechanisms we manage to cultivate.  Anxiety and restlessness is often a fact of life.  But some of us seem even more sensitive and easily overwhelmed than others, dancing a fine line between being animated by creative energy or overloaded with sensations and ideas that can’t be released or executed.  For me, my long wakeful nights are the result of a mind over-filled with sensations and plans that I cannot shut off.

The catch phrase for this “condition” is high sensitivity, which is characterized by a finely tuned nervous system that takes in more of the subtleties of the environment than the rest of the population.  Research seems to show this is an inherited trait possessed by 15-20% of the population.

Learning to accept sensitivity as one of the avenues to creativity without being overwhelmed by the volume and speed of what’s coming at you (especially in today’s information and stimulation-rich world) is perhaps the key to being a successful, rather than an anxious and depressed creative individual. Think you fit the profile? Take a self-test.

More articles about High Sensitivity Personality at www.highlysensitive.org and A Lofty Existence and this great piece from Psychology Today, Sense and Sensitivity.

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I’ve been observing the creative process in others for some time now, always curious how the most prolific and profound among us manage to keep creating meaningful projects again and again.  Do they have a different chip in their brain?  Do they see the world through some other lens? Having done a great deal of reading about memory recently, it occurs to me that perhaps one of the things these folks intuitively understand is how our brains collect sensory input, then encode and retrieve it as memory.  They know to store what may seem like unrelated or unimportant data at the time in such a way that they can retrieve and connect the dots later, as more pertinent information appears.

MY brain collage by *jessemayberry on deviantART

It may be that consistently creative people however, not only store and process memory better, but understand and accept that memory and perception are constantly changing with the introduction of new experiences. Daniel L. Schacter points out in his fascinating 1996 book Searching for Memory that memory is the “complex constructions built from multiple contributors.” Schacter likens memory to the fragments and elusive remnants used to create a collage.  We are constantly integrating new information and experiences into our mental collages.

Establishing a durable memory of an experience depends on thoroughly encoding the occurrence by associating it with something that already exists in memory. We store experiences based on a number of factors—what we were seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling or thinking at the time for instance—then are able to retrieve the memory later when that encoding cue is introduced.  In most cases “successful recall depends heavily on the availability of appropriate retrieval cues.”

The most creative among us realize that while our perceptions and understanding of the world and our place in it depend on the complex workings of memory, memory itself is a shifting collage that is constantly incorporating new into old.  No doubt, creativity depends on being able to successfully recall old experiences when presented with the appropriate cues, yet also on staying open and receptive to what emerges in the present.  Releasing preconceived notions about memory as a stored picture of an experience or event and understanding it as an ever-changing process may be the key.

Daniel Schacter and Benedict Carey discuss memory encoding and retrieval on the Charlie Rose Show.

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Jeff Hawkins explains why intelligence is based on memory and prediction, not behavior.  Which leads me to these questions…If intelligence is the ability to remember and be able to predict what will happen next, then is creativity the ability let go of predictions (preconceived notions) and open to all the other possibilities?  Is creativity an anti-prediction mechanism that keeps the brain from insisting that something that looks and feels the same as a previous experience is absolutely the same (the old looks like a duck, quacks like a duck syndrome?)?

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