Creative Expression

Creative Expression by Troy Selberg

CreativeWhat is Creative Expression and how can we find it? As an adult, we may have learned to cover up or set aside much of our inner life, in order to get along with others and do our jobs. But if we want to be more fully alive and creative, it can really help to understand and stay in charge of our thinking and feelings. As author and entrepreneur Seth Godin says, “What you do for a living is not be creative, what you do is ship.”

In motorsports, to finish first – first you must finish – but perhaps we should add while obeying the rules. Before the start of a new season, NASCAR publishes a sets of rules–a lengthy tome of technical regulations, spelling out in detail every rule that covers the construction of a race car. It is up to the fabricators, engineers and craftsmen to define and work within the rules (or gray areas!) to get every ounce of speed and durability from their hand built machines.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted and high-profile individuals over the years and I’ve had an ongoing curiosity about why some people are more creative than others. I’m puzzled about whether creativity is a general skill comprised of traits and attributes that gives one the ability to apply highly creative thinking to any project regardless of domain or discipline? Or is creativity specialized, giving individuals creative-thinking skills and proclivities that apply only to one domain, no different than a Super Bowl winning coach wants to recreate that winning team over and over again?

Through my experiences (AKA watching and doing case studies), I have found that, to be creative, individuals must first internalize their culture, knowing the rules, the mores, and the conventions. But if they are only traditional and stick to those conventions, creativity never takes place, cultures don’t move forward, and nothing changes. Yet change simply because an individual wants change doesn’t produce lasting improvements and contributions either. It’s the synergy between having the rebelliousness to go where others haven’t gone while recognizing and keeping in tact what’s a valued contribution to the culture and task at hand.  Those individuals also possess a great amount of passion around their work, pursuing it until they experience an internalized sense of satisfaction with the finished product.

Creative individuals greatly enjoy life to the fullest, their openness and receptiveness giving them a great appreciation for culture, the arts, music, and sports. Creative individuals sincerely enjoy playful attitudes, having fun, jesting, and know the value of laughter and keeping situations and environments light and free from unreasonable drama. They know their strengths. They also are extremely focused on new accomplishments and challenges, regardless of past successes, realizing, as writers testify, a new, blank page awaits them every day.

Therefore, creativity is a culture, a passion of loving what you do by solving problems. It’s giving your employees purpose in their lives, at work and with their families. Transforming the workplace to invite openness and fun. Make accountability enjoyable but receptive. The perfect workspace isn’t what leads to brilliant work, but in my experiences, it’s a great start…

Purpose and the Ants

life calling modelAfter 21 years of living in the same house, my yard has grown to take on a life of its own. So recently, I have been working hard to take my yard back. Working hard and fighting with ants led me to think about how we find purpose in our lives.

My release from corporate American is yard work. A set of ear buds and some yard tools relieve my mind to ponder about other things. If you have done any yard work at all, you have probably battled ants. They are very structured and are hard to deal with. By just watching their mound, it‘s plain to see that all ants in a colony work together cohesively. They all know their roles and nobody steps on each other’s toes. Together, they are the perfectly functioning organisms. It makes me believe they know their purpose.

Now, lets compare ourselves to ants: We wake up. We go to work. We come back home. We watch TV. We go to sleep. We wake up. We go to work. We come back home. We watch TV. We go to sleep. And it just keeps going day after day after day. Sometimes we wonder if we’ve been on the “wrong” path, chosen the wrong career, or the wrong life partner. Or that perhaps we haven’t realized that our chosen path could be more meaningful or purposeful.

The reality is that most people today are so caught up with a million things that ultimately do not make a difference in their lives. Ask yourself this; what are my personal values, strengths and capabilities—the things that are true of me and are at the core of who I am? What is the scaffolding of my purpose? We all have our unique set of talent, background, opportunities, ideas, creativity, and the like. The equation looks like this:

Your Values + Strengths + Passions + Service = Your Purpose

Don’t let all the different variables discourage you. Once you dedicate some time for introspection and reflection on those variables, you’ll rapidly start to realize the direction you need to move in.

Start by creating 3 lists:

  • Your values
  • Your strengths
  • Your passions

The key is to figure out how you can combine your passions and strengths in service to a cause, person, community, or organization other than yourself. Do that and your values will fall into place.

It took 21 years for my yard to become out of control and for the ants, to teach me about how nature works. Ironic how humans like us, whose behavior arises from the interactions of its components has something in common with ant colonies.

All day, every day, the world’s ant nests are active: scouting, processing food, fighting and tending to the young. It’s never too late to get your yard under control, never to late to find a purpose and never to late to learn from ants.

If you could, would you go back?

While you can’t go back in a time, you can pay it forward. Hindsight is 20/20 and some of the best insights come from past experiences. As you ponder about yourself, here is a little of my story.

From the outside, Motorsports looks like it’s all about the beer cans and chicken bones, all that rubber in your face and loud cars. In fact, it’s all about coming up with new designs that offer solutions to industry problems and seeing your designs transferred into a commercial reality. Motorsports offered a lot of freedom to test your ideas against other groups of people who thought they too, had a better mousetrap.

You see, I grew up in a sport having access to state-of-the-art technology and I was learning new skills on a daily basis. I was working in a field that significantly crosses over with my hobbies, so most of the time; my work doesn’t really feel like work. Every day brought a new challenge, and I found it particularly satisfying to watch or read a five-star review of a vehicle that I have had a role in testing components for, and know I had a small part in its creation.

Everyone loves working in a team, and for years I lived, breathed and slept Team. My role also required a high level of precision and attention to technical detail, which I find very rewarding, and I like being able to work across a wide variety of projects. It all offers something different day-to-day.

Now days, I get the opportunity to meet fascinating people and improve their quality of life. After years of being part of a team adds to the job satisfaction, my life is never boring and my working days are often quite different.

You too should find every job equally exciting: The progress being made in many industries is rapid and seemingly exponential in its rate of change.

True hard work results in enormous personal satisfaction: “I’m getting the opportunity to use my skills and training to try to make a genuine difference to individuals and a community in great need. It is exactly the job I dreamed of doing when I was a high school student.”

My advice to others? If a job really isn’t working out, find something new and challenging. Life is too short. It’s the random experiences that make life exciting and will lead to new opportunities.”

Communication Methods

Whenever you are training or communicating with others, you have information and ideas that you want them to understand and learn effectively and efficiently. Your audience is likely to demonstrate a wide range of learning preferences, and your challenge is to provide variety that helps them learn quickly and well.

Your preferred teaching and communication methods may in fact be influenced by your own learning preferences. For example, if you prefer visual rather than verbal learning, you may in turn tend to provide a visual learning experience for your audience.

  • Sensory Learners – if you rely too much on sensing, you can tend to prefer what is familiar, and concentrate on facts you know instead of being innovative and adapting to new situations. Seek out opportunities to learn theoretical information and then bring in facts to support or negate these theories.
  • Intuitive Learners – if you rely too much on intuition you risk missing important details, which can lead to poor decision-making and problem solving. Force yourself to learn facts or memorize data that will help you defend or criticize a theory or procedure you are working with. You may need to slow down and look at detail you would otherwise typically skim.
  • Visual Learners – if you concentrate more on pictorial or graphical information than on words, you put yourself at a distinct disadvantage because verbal and written information is still the main preferred choice for delivery of information. Practice your note taking and seek out opportunities to explain information to others using words.
  • Verbal Learners – when information is presented in diagrams, sketches, flow charts, and so on, it is designed to be understood quickly. If you can develop your skills in this area you can significantly reduce time spent learning and absorbing information. Look for opportunities to learn through audio-visual presentations (such as CD-ROM and Webcasts.) When making notes, group information according to concepts and then create visual links with arrows going to and from them. Take every opportunity you can to create charts and tables and diagrams.
  • Active Learners – if you act before you think you are apt to make hasty and potentially ill-informed judgments. You need to concentrate on summarizing situations, and taking time to sit by yourself to digest information you have been given before jumping in and discussing it with others.
  • Reflective Learners – if you think too much you risk doing nothing. There comes a time when a decision has to be made or an action taken. Involve yourself in group decision-making whenever possible and try to apply the information you have in as practical a manner as possible.
  • Sequential Learners – when you break things down into small components you are often able to dive right into problem solving. This seems to be advantageous but can often be unproductive. Force yourself to slow down and understand why you are doing something and how it is connected to the overall purpose or objective. Ask yourself how your actions are going to help you in the long run. If you can’t think of a practical application for what you are doing then stop and do some more “big picture” thinking.
  • Global Learners – if grasping the big picture is easy for you, then you can be at risk of wanting to run before you can walk. You see what is needed but may not take the time to learn how best to accomplish it. Take the time to ask for explanations, and force yourself to complete all problem-solving steps before coming to a conclusion or making a decision. If you can’t explain what you have done and why, then you may have missed critical details.