Change In Times Of Fear (How To Reclaim Your Creativity In The Storm Of Disruption)

How ‘bout we this article off with some onomatopoeias? Kaboom. Vroom. Crash. Pow. Blam. Squish!

Is there a better way to describe what the advancing army of Amazon must sound like to today’s retailers? How else to portray the clamor of marauding hordes of small, fleet, web-based companies as they move to obliterate stalwart professions like law, health care, insurance, and asset wealth management? Intellectual property owners, and content creators, what do you think? Is this not the simplest way to illustrate the emotional impact of disruption on your industry, disruption that was once on the distant horizon, but is now at your doorstep? Bear with me as I introduce a somewhat strange metaphor, one that addresses both the psychological effects of increasingly rapid change, and ways to reclaim your creativity in spite of it.

Human beings are hardwired for stress. We are genetically programmed to be on the lookout for threats and dangers of all kinds. In fact, neuroscientists have discovered that a state of mental emergency isn’t something that happens to us occasionally; it's our default. Too many of our waking moments are spent using our creative capacities, not to imagine a brighter future, or to create fresh opportunities, but to defend ourselves from things we mistakenly believe will kill us. While it’s true we are constantly standing guard, for most of us, actual threats to our lives are extremely rare. But even when we only feel attacked, our focus narrows, bringing our entire attention to the source of the threat. That makes sense. If a deadly black mamba snake were rearing it’s head and about to strike, it would behoove you to refrain from thinking about that new business plan or that tricky last verse to the song you’d been agonizing over. You would want to focus on ways to save your life and nothing else. Unfortunately, this myopic focus is a real impediment to creative thinking.

Here’s how we need to think about this: The black mamba is deadly; Amazon (name your latest disruptive threat) is not. Though your anxiety around disruption can seem life threatening, it is something else altogether. It is, in a word, just—anxiety. While anxiety feels very much like a mortal threat to the amygdala, the primitive part of our brains in charge of releasing adrenalin among other things, nonetheless, there is nothing deadly about it. The onus then, is on us to utilize a higher faculty of our brains, our intellect, to inform our highly excited amygdala that this fearful, anxious situation is just a false alarm. I liken all this hyper-defensiveness, to a querulous, imaginary voice by the name of Marv. His name stands for: Majorly Afraid of Revealing Vulnerability.

Marv, quite simply, is the ornery little dude in our heads who keeps telling us why we’re not smart enough, not pretty enough, and not worthy enough. We have all experienced Marv. No amount of money or fame can get him to leave us alone. He’s so incredibly annoying that you might think that what follows next is a list of the best ways to kill Marv, to silence him, or to stuff a rag in his mouth and banish him to a dreary basement. Sorry to disappoint. I will do no such thing. We don’t want to harm Marv; we want to honor him and show our gratitude for his good intentions. Remember, Marv is a metaphor for the amygdala, which as I mentioned earlier, is constantly on guard against those aforementioned mortal threats.

But while it’s easy to understand why Marv perceives real danger in encountering a black mamba, why does he think change, that most constant of all things, will actually kill us? In other words, why can’t he differentiate between fear and anxiety?

Here’s how it looks from Marv’s POV.

In attempting to think and act more creatively, there is always the possibility that I will fail. Marv is not the least bit shy about reminding me of this. He makes a lot of sense too, I could fail. And so, as he speaks, I listen attentively. His next course of action is to remind me of the first consequence of failure, which is shame. (Cue the ominous sounding cellos) “And do you know what happens to shameful people?” Marv asks. We all know the answer to that. Shameful people are shunned and abandoned. Among the many things the human species cannot abide is abandonment. Abandonment is anathema to the human spirit. It is, arguably, the thing we fear most.

Now, I am in Marv’s thrall. My creativity and imagination is essentially paralyzed by the fearful construct Marv has set up. But it doesn’t end there. Marv has one last scare tactic and it’s a doozey; “Peter,” he says to me. “Do you remember what it was like when you were an infant, when you needed your parents to provide everything for you?” Of course I remember. Even though I’m balding, my goatee is gray, and I carry around an AMEX card (three sure signs of adulthood), I am still, if only subconsciously, very much connected to my child-self. After all, the me that peers out from behind my eyes hasn’t changed one iota in all these years. So, indeed I remember, and Marv goes in for the coup de grâce. “If your parents had abandoned you”, he says, almost breathlessly now, “You would have died!” And guess what. Marv is 100% correct on that point. Left alone as a young child, I would most certainly have died. It’s our subconscious fear of being left alone in the world that keeps Marv in business.

Indeed, anxiety’s tentacles reach back to our childhoods. Our anxious feelings almost always connect in some way to a fear of death-by-abandonment. So when Marv scares me in that hypothetical scenario, he isn’t trying to impede my creativity, not at all. He is simply trying to save my life. He does so by preventing me from taking action on anything other than saving my life. Marv is convinced he is fulfilling his neurobiological role of protecting me. “Don’t come up with solutions, don’t relax, don’t get creative,” he says. “Now is definitely not the time!”

Instead of becoming transfixed, by Marv’s protestations, as we so often do, we must learn to use our faculties of reason. We need to learn the super-productive skill of being mindful of the differences between real fear and anxiety —no matter how anxious we feel. There’s only a split second in which to accomplish this and so, the diligent practice of awareness becomes paramount. When we are overcome with anxiety, we must be attentive to our bodies. We must feel its sensations; the tightening of our muscles, the knots in our stomachs, our sweaty palms; all of it. In that split second when anxiety first hits, we must realize that it is only anxiety and then calmly explain to Marv that everything is alright, that there is no reason to for him to get involved. We may even suggest he go and get himself a latte and a newspaper.

Most importantly, we must learn to act on that which we fear. The actions I’m suggesting we take are never large, they require neither heroism, nor great strength, but they all involve first-steps. For example, if you know you need to write a strategic plan for your business, but Marv has paralyzed you from taking any action towards that goal, set the timer on your smart phone for ten—even five minutes—sit down at your desk, and start writing. The short time span will make it easier for you. If you think in terms of days or weeks, you're sunk. If there’s a phone call you know you need to make, but you’ve been putting it off because of Marv, then do the same thing. Set a timer, sit at your desk, dial the 10 digits, open your jaws and start talking. The idea here is that by taking these small, concrete actions, you change the mind's focus and intent. By asserting control and moving toward your goal you will find yourself going from paralytic stupor, to dynamic response.

What happens when you move forward and take these small but decisive actions is that Marv says to himself, “Hmm, looks like Nancy’s got this situation under control, I’m gonna kick back and let her do her thing.” And the good news is that when Marv relaxes, you relax. When you are relaxed, your focus widens, your worldview expands, and you will begin to regain access to your innate creativity.

For those of you who like a take-away, here it is:

  • Rapid change is bound to make anyone anxious. You're no different from everyone else in this regard.

  • Recognize the difference between real fear and anxiety, and immediately take the small, doable steps toward that which you fear.

  • When you take those small steps, you allow Marv to relax his grip on your mind. You will then be able to release your innate creativity. And through that release, you will be giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed, no matter what kind of storm you find yourself in.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Hearing Like Prince: How A Rock Star Can Teach Leaders To Listen

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” —Prince

I'm pretty sure you never considered Prince a poster child for leadership, but his uncanny ability to hear would have made him a great one. By the time he hit his stride in the summer of 1984 with the release of his album, Purple Rain, Prince's music had acquired the power to point millions of fans to something larger than themselves —a power which derived from Prince's expertise in the rare art of deep listening. Perhaps most crucially, Prince's music has helped people from all walks of life magnify their own sense of what's possible. If the hallmark of great leadership is the capacity to empower others to feel that their own dreams are achievable, Prince clearly possessed the makings of a true leader.

Before we'd ever heard his name, Prince had absorbed a vast array of musical influences, expanded upon them, and repurposed them as the building blocks of his own songs. Prince learned the art of story-songs like "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" from Joni Mitchell, one of his earliest idols. The ultra funky guitar stylings that he used in songs like "Kiss" and "Controversy" were gleaned from listening to Tony Maiden, Chaka Khan's amazing guitarist. The dark minimalism of Sly and The Family Stone's arrangements were the impetus for Prince's unorthodox decision to leave the bass guitar off "When Doves Cry", one of his biggest hits. No matter what stage he was at in his career, Prince was listening, gathering up ideas, and storing them away in his seemingly infinite paintbox of musical colors. 

Listening to the mastery and depth of Prince's recordings brings into focus just how much we can all gain from stepping outside our own biases and beliefs. Whether it's politics, the arts, or everyday discourse, there is a pervasive narrow-mindedness that's on the rise these days, and it's up to everyone in a position of influence (and who among us is not in some position of influence) to work against this trend by listening more often, and more intently to what's going on around them. 

As leaders we are too comfortable with pouring out oceans of words, and yet so often we don't hear anything but the sound of our own voices. Take a moment to listen to Prince's music today and you'll see by virtue of his genius that he showed us how much more there is to listen for.

While most of us are habituated to listening at the depth of say, an inch or so, others of us, the more skilled ones, are able to listen at the depth of a foot. Prince was able to listen at a depth of thousands of feet. With every song he left behind, he informs us that the very act of listening is a skill we can constantly improve upon. We can do better. We can listen more and say less. We can listen in ways that are more attentive and less perfunctory.

If we could hear like Prince, maybe we'd be able to hear one another, maybe we'd be able to hear past our own assumptions —and maybe then, we'd be able to hear with the sole intention of understanding.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

The Idea-Revealers: Where Business And Art Intersect

The relationship between business and art may seem a bit hazy, but there are some stark similarities. Foremost is the shared challenge of taking a nascent idea and bringing it to life.

Ideas, whether artistic or entrepreneurial, are by nature, locked away in the human mind. It's only through experimentation, creativity, and collaboration that they are able to be made manifest, and to address some aspect of human need. Not surprisingly, these are the very ingredients necessary in all of business and art. You wouldn't be far off if you were to describe both the businessperson and the artist, as idea-revealers.

Making ideas of any sort, tangible, always begins with a process of reduction, leaving only that, which serves the final result. Successful idea-revealers often end up with what they believe is relevant and good, but since, at the start, their ideas contain the possibility of purveying anything and everything, they inevitably face a struggle over what to leave in and what to leave out. Their real work then, becomes one of cutting away excess, getting rid of the superfluous, until the desired emotion or, (in the case of business), utility, is revealed. No idea-revealer has ever been able to skip the step of wending his or her way through a chaotic, stew of possibilities. They must chip away at that chaos until the beauty of their seminal idea becomes apparent.

As idea-revealers winnow their ideas, they also pare down what is extraneous in their own lives, the noise in their lives —a noise, which, so often derives from people’s expectations. Society dictates what they should believe, how they should think, and how they should measure their own capabilities. Protecting themselves from the sway of this, often, negative influence, takes a resilience that must constantly be strengthened.

Idea-revealers are unique, in that they possess extremely strong points of view. The most successful among them make a concerted effort to examine their own values, and then, to purvey those values in their speech, in their actions, and through their work. Idea-revealers know what they will, or will not do for money for fame. The know exactly how far they will go when it comes to compromising on their vision. This clarity around their sense of purpose is how they guard against external pressures and move constantly forward in the implementation of their ideas. For an idea-revealer, skill-sets and acumen alone will never suffice as a bulwark against the barrage of naysaying they will invariably encounter. 

In the grand scheme, the idea-revealer's job is to point humanity past the immediate, past the already known and already believed, to wondrous things —things obtainable only through tireless diligence, deep conversation, true collaboration, and perhaps most of all, empathic insight into the human condition. At their best, both the artist and the businessperson are able to reveal that the 'impossible' is not waiting at a distance, but rather, it is within us even now.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

How Purpose Drives Innovation: Finding Our Way to Things of Higher Value

Among the most diabolical torture techniques ever conceived is one in which a victim is repeatedly forced to carry rocks up a hill, only to roll them back down. It’s been applied in different forms and at different times throughout the millennia, and always with the sole intention of destroying morale. There’s something unspeakably painful about subjecting a human being to toil at an act he or she believes has no value. But far too many of us are filling our time with things of a similarly Sisyphean nature.

Last week I was in Chicago having lunch with a friend who runs a successful design firm. Over the course of our time together we touched on what it means to do things of higher value. As we got deeper into our conversation we began to consider, even as leaders in our organizations, just how much of what we do each day is mindless, process-driven activity, pursuits that have all the creativity of steering a train straight along a single track. For some in positions of leadership, minimizing mental exertion might seem like a blessing —at least on the surface. After all, who doesn’t want to work less hard? But what researchers have found is that people are happiest when their work involves a degree of struggle. How one conceives of struggle is important. Too much, and you’re suffering —obviously that’s not ideal. But here’s the interesting thing; too little struggle and you’re suffering as well.

Just as my friend and I were about to say our goodbyes he told me about data he’d collected on his employee’s overall job satisfaction, the implications of which were of great interest to him and somewhat surprising as well. His firm had been doing especially well over the past five years. Salaries were up nearly forty percent on average. But still, in blind surveys, he’d found sentiments like “malaise”, “disengagement”, “boredom”, and “dissatisfaction”. What he learned supports what researchers (and smart people who aren’t researchers) have been saying all along: Satisfaction doesn’t come from salary hikes; it comes most often from involvement in purpose-driven activities that promote the growth of others. One more thing my friend learned from his survey was that his people felt they had “no time.”

Time, and in particular, the scarcity of time, is a central theme with so many of us. But what does it really mean when someone says, “I don’t have enough time?” If you examine the statement it’s nonsensical. Everyone has time. We all have exactly the same amount; no one has more or less than 24 hours in a day. But for those who are stuck in roles that preclude them from reaching for what they consider things of higher value, time does indeed feel scarce. When our skills and acumen are underutilized we can often feel that our jobs are too mechanical, too short on purpose, and altogether too easy. But wait; don’t we all strive to make our work easier? Isn’t that what we’ve been trained to do, to make things more efficient, more streamlined?

Yes perhaps, but the moment our jobs become easy is the moment we lose touch with our creativity —and when we lose that, we lose a sense of fulfillment.  Ease alone isn’t what we want to fill our days with. What we truly want is for time to push against us, to pressure us, to create a tension that leaves us cognizant of the fleeting nature of time itself —and then to do something of a higher value with our time. What we crave most are those moments when we are lost in the midst of purposeful engagement.  Lost is the operative word Getting lost means that we have placed ourselves in unfamiliar territory, that we are breaking new ground, and that we are finding our way with our senses engaged, rather than acting on autopilot.

What is that thing of higher value in your life, what is it you do that brings you and the people around you the greatest degree of fulfillment? Are you able to get lost in the work you do, and more importantly, are these ideas deeply embedded in your organization’s culture? People who are engaged in things of higher value will typically find themselves endeavoring to improve someone’s life. Whether you’re working in a laboratory to create a new drug, or working one on one with a child to teach her to read, acting for the betterment of an individual or an important cause has the single greatest influence on generating a sense of personal fulfillment.

While it’s true, getting to a place where more people are accomplishing things they find important, is aspirational, especially given that the vast majority of employees don’t have the opportunity to evince this kind of work in their current roles. But as leaders, we need to bring these opportunities to as many people as possible. We need to understand that being involved in things of higher value and helping others to get to there is not only a moral imperative, it’s about unlocking the very solutions that can prevent the disruption of our organizations.

The way forward is an exploration rather than a recitation, it is finding our way as opposed to knowing our way. What we need to rethink is: How many of the things we do each day fit in the box of: I’ve got this job down to a science,’ and how many of them fit in the box of: ‘this is new terrain, ambiguous territory, with answers that are not well defined and edges that are not yet clear?' It’s only in the latter that we find engagement, fulfillment, and purpose.

For too many of us, money is still the thing we reflexively equate with value. Don’t get me wrong, money is important, vitally so, but its greatest significance becomes apparent only when it buys us and those around us, time to work on things of higher value.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Utility Of Urgency (Or How Tension Begets Creativity)

Much of my time last week was spent beneath cliffs of sheer red rock that towered over the St. Vrain River as it snaked its way between groves of poplar and basswood trees. I was in Lyons, Colorado, to perform at an outdoor festival and to teach aspiring songwriters how to sharpen their craft at a gathering called the Rocky Mountain Song School. I’ve been a facilitator at the school for the last 15 years and recently it’s become something of a weeklong laboratory for me, a low-pressure setting where I feel free to experiment with different ways of unlocking innate creative potential. Most of the attendees have lives far outside the music business and yet, everyone who shows up is dead serious about making their songs better.

One of the ideas I sought to impart was how narrowing one’s focus — even to the point of eliminating creative possibilities  — can be beneficial in generating exceptional outcomes. If you’re thinking this sounds counterintuitive you’re not alone. Most of us have been acculturated to believe that creativity exists only in some unbridled, unstructured frame of mind. We have come to accept as fact that anything, which seeks to set limits must always be a step in the wrong direction. But what I’ve found over and over, both in my own work as a songwriter, and in enabling the work of others, is just the opposite. Only by homing in on what’s essential is it possible to create urgency, a vital component in any creative endeavor.

The curious thing about urgency is that it only happens through the application of tension — whether it’s the tension of limited time, the tension of limited resources, or the tension that comes when we are tasked with making a particular idea happen in the here and now — and not at some nebulous point in the future. Only where there is real tension, can real change occur. Highly creative people are skilled at creating, and then harnessing the utility of urgency. They know that:

• Tension creates focus

• Focus creates urgency

• Urgency accelerates creativity

Give a creative person a week or a month to finish a project and see how he or she gets around to working on it only in the eleventh hour. Sounds a lot like procrastination doesn’t it? But it’s not; it’s actually more akin to gestation. That’s an important distinction. Procrastination is the willful delaying of a task, usually due to fear of creating a less than desired outcome. Gestation, on the other hand, is the meticulous development of an idea, even when that development is taking place subconsciously. What happens when we are pressured into making an idea manifest —whether it’s a song, a conversation, or a business plan—is that we create urgency around the idea. Once that happens, what had previously been dormant will suddenly appear.

Still exploring the subject of urgency, one of the more fascinating anecdotes the American journalist Sebastian Junger presents in his short but powerful book Tribe is how people in present-day Sarajevo have been reacting to a strange bit of graffiti that’s been showing up on the walls of their city: "It was better before..."

"Better before what?” you might ask. How could things have possibly been better during wartime? Was it better when snipers were murdering young lovers as they crossed the city square hand in hand? Was it better when there were severe food shortages, aerial bombardments, and daily killings of men, women and children? You might well assume that only an insane person could have scrawled that graffiti —and that only insane people could agree with its sentiment. But what was better during those years of war between 1992 to 1995 was that people were relating to one another with a sense of urgency, and more specifically, with an urgent cognizance of the preciousness of life.

Even during the horror-filled years of the Bosnian War there was a feeling that communication, whether with friends, family, or even complete strangers, went far beyond the habitual, the impersonal and the transactional. That is why residents of Sarajevo understand the dark-humored truth of the phrase: “It was better before.” Life was, in some ways, and for some people, richer and more fulfilling then. It was this same sense of urgency, Junger went on to report, that caused suicide rates during the Bosnian War to plummet —along with a record decline in incidences of mental illness, and depression.

When people relate to their surroundings with a sense of urgency, they are far more willing to express themselves fearlessly, to show love and concern more freely, and to move through the world with far less regard for how they will be judged. It wasn’t war that people missed —that goes without saying, it was the freedom from judgment and the consequent unleashing of creativity that produced the conditions that the Sarajevo graffitist so longs for.

When there is urgency we find ourselves wrestling less with peripheral considerations and more with things of vital importance. Accessing urgency often requires that we create it for ourselves, and here are three proven ways to do just that:

• Set time limits. (The less time you have for a project the more quickly you step out of what I call mulling-mode and into action-mode.)

• Create a forcing frame. (In music, examples of this would be, setting a tempo or a key signature. In business, a forcing frame might be an intensive focus on innovation or marketing strategy.)

• Redefine what’s important. (Take five minutes to list three ideas that are most important to you or your organization, and then spend at least one hour this week focusing on them.)

All three of the suggestions listed above revolve around the admittedly counterintuitive conceit of narrowing focus to create purposeful, dynamic tension. When you are able to do that, two positive things occur: First, you will improve the chances that your idea will come to fruition, and second, you will gain a more unencumbered access to both your previously developed skill sets, and your innate capacity for creative thinking.

Here’s to things being better. Not in the past — but in a very real (and not too distant) future.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash

Creativity: The Strategic Necessity You May Have Overlooked

Want to rent a house? I’ll bet you ten bucks your first move won’t be to call a real estate broker. You’ll search one of dozens of sites like Zillow or StreetEasy. Nagging sore throat? WebMD. Looking to buy a wheelbarrow or a pair of swim goggles? Amazon. And if you stop your Google search for just a moment you’ll hear something other than your fingers tapping on your computer keyboard. You’ll hear the deep, low drone of encroaching thunder.

That's the sound of disruption, and the only thing that can stop it from upending your business are the ideas you generate through more creative and flexible thinking. Even staid professional service industries like accounting, insurance, or law firms aren’t immune. They too, need a means of injecting creative thinking into their practices if they want to avoid being disrupted. I can already hear the cynics among you asking, “Law firms, creativity? Where's the connection?”

Several months ago I met with the executive leadership of Levenfeld, Pearlstein LLC, a Chicago law firm, to discuss goals for their annual retreat. They told me they wanted their people to think in more innovative and creative ways. Innovation and creativity are broad terms, and whenever I hear them cited as goals I know it’s time to dig deeper and find out what those words actually mean to an organization. The things I want to know are: How would people in your organization act differently if they were more innovative? If your people were more creative, how would their conversations change? And perhaps most importantly — do you as leaders have the stomach to entertain a slew of new (and occasionally awful) ideas?

As their answers emerged I began to understand how serious Levenfeld Pearlstein was about improving its culture.  They were looking for a change in focus from a concentration on standard processes like preparing contracts (an important function, but one that can be delegated fairly easily) to things you’ll sometimes hear derisively described as soft skills — like storytelling, empathy, and vulnerability. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine who had just made partner at a different law firm, she looked at me with a sardonic grin and said, “wow, sounds like a hippie commune. At our firm we focus on the bottom line.”

No surprise there. Many business leaders think that things like empathy and storytelling are better suited to an MFA creative writing course than to a professional services industry. When I asked her what the three biggest challenges to her firm’s bottom line were, she had this to say, “The first is employee retention. When someone from our firm quits it costs us a fortune in replacement and retraining costs. The second is client retention and the third is finding new clients.”

No surprise there either. You lose money when employees and clients need to be replaced and you make money when you gain new clients.

My friend had characterized Levenfeld Pearlstein as a hippie commune, but I ask you, which of the three areas that concerned her firm’s bottom line are not powerfully affected by human considerations like communication skills, empathy, or the ability to understand the stories of clients and employees? Levenfeld Pearlstein is hardly a bunch of hippies; they are just as concerned with the bottom line as my friend’s firm is. And yes, while it’s true they are progressive, they are progressive only in the sense that they are fostering capabilities to see what’s beyond the horizon. In doing so, they are being strategic about their bottom line as well. They understand that with online services like Legal Zoom eating away at the market share of many law firms, simply positioning theirs, as the best at creating contracts is no longer a sustainable business model.

Having a record of someone’s spending habits, their online searches, or their whereabouts is not the same as truly understanding them. We’ve come to accept that possessing statistical data is the same as possessing deep knowledge. It’s not. We humans are visceral, emotional, and spiritual beings who exist in a multi-dimensional world. We learn through humor, through music, and through acts of kindness. The Internet is indescribably helpful in making our thoughts and ideas manifest, but we shouldn’t mistake its utility as a way to grasp the totality of our humanness.

Any strategy, which purports to improve the bottom line, must include a proactive and intensive approach to bolstering creativity and innovation, along with the cornerstone of all creativity and innovation: unfettered communication between human beings. We must invest freely in developing “human capital” — an over-used and slightly perverse way of describing the actual men and women who work within our organizations.

Discussing the need for creativity in the workplace, planning for its implementation, and then, putting that plan into practice, is how successful companies lay the groundwork for a culture that is well prepared for rapid change, and for the flexibility in thinking that change demands.

If that’s not strategic, I don’t know what is.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Photo by Atul Vinayak on Unsplash

An Unexpected Reason People Lack Creativity: And How To Overcome It

On occasion, my wife will help one of her friend's son or daughter with a college essay. She’s a fine writer herself and she can typically coax a good piece out of a kid. Yesterday she was working with Geoff, a seventeen-year-old high school student who’d essentially given his life over to acting. Geoff had been a devotee since kindergarten and for the last several years, not a week had passed when he wasn’t doing something theater related.

As he went through several drafts of his essay, my wife noticed that Geoffwas able to beautifully articulate the challenges he faced; grueling rehearsals, demoralizing auditions, and a litany of comments from directors and other actors proffering the hurtful idea that at five-three, Geoff simply didn’t have the body to act at the professional level. But what he couldn’t express was his love of acting itself. After many attempts to define why he was so passionate about the theater, he’d written only that he found it “fun.” The shallow description was more than a matter of Geoff'’s youth, or his not possessing adequate writing skills. Geoff just seemed very ambivalent.

All this was borne out after my wife probed a bit and found that at the root of Geoff'’s ostensible love for acting lies a deep need to connect with his father, a former actor in a regional Shakespeare company, who’d been divorced from his mother since Geoff was an infant. It was a preponderance of fear, not love, that drove Geoff into acting, a fear of not being close to his dad. But why is love even relevant when speaking about a creative endeavor?

There’s a critical misunderstanding of the over-used C word. The first thing most of us think of when we hear that someone is creative is: artist, poet, musician, or entrepreneur. That’s not to say that creative people don’t fall into those categories, but what I’m suggesting is that creativity is a state of mind rather than a set of skills in a particular area.

Creativity isn’t only about mastery; it is, at its root, a joyful willingness to engage with the world. It is a fearless state of alertness to detail. Whether we’re swinging on a drum kit in a bebop trio or kneeling on the floor playing with a toddler, our level of creativity is determined by our openness to a given situation — and also our intense love for it. Creative people share three qualities that I call specific, present and true:

  1. Specific:They break down their big goals into small, doable pieces.

  2. Present:They take action on those pieces in the here and now — they don’t postpone them for some time in a nebulous future.

  3. True:The things they are engaged in are things that they feel passionately about. They are not overly compelled from outside motivators.

Geoff has specific and present down pat. He diligently studies his lines and recently, he's even been getting up early to read essays by renown Russian acting coach, Konstantin Stanislavski. That’s no mean feat. Most people who dream about bringing their ideas into the world neglect those first two, very critical steps. But where Geoff is challenged creatively is in the last category: true.

Someone pursuing a goal in which the majority of his motivations are coming from some external source — such as Geoff's involvement in theater primarily to please his dad — will have a very hard time creating resilience against the inevitable challenges he will face in the pursuit of that goal. Not to mention, the difficulty he will have in deriving any joy from it. One telltale sign that a particular creative goal isn’t engaging a person on this “truer level” will be his inability to speak or write with any impact about his love for that thing.

When Geoff eventually embarks on an inward journey of self-discovery he will come to see this more clearly. He will then be able to use his boundless energy to expand his life, not by quitting acting, but by doing more and more of the things he truly loves. That would make him far happier, far more engaged with the world — and in a very real sense, a far more creative person.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Stop Searching For Contentment: The Value Of An Unsettled Mind

Striving for constant contentment is like striving to eat only ice cream; both will leave you feeling miserable. I say this because most of us are striving to be contented. I said most of us because I sometimes wonder... Are the guys from ISIS actually striving for contentment? Yes even they, in their warped way, probably are. But here’s the thing, not one of us is truly contented, at least not for very long.

Neuroscience has shown that the mental default setting of human beings is one of fear and anxiety. We are constantly on the lookout for threats, constantly protecting ourselves from danger of all kinds, whether from a wooly mastodon, or a judgmental boss. And when we're striving for something so clearly unobtainable it seems probable that we will feel—in addition to discontentment—a bit of disappointment too. That’s a problem. It’s like adding insult to injury. But what if we did a little re-framing as to what our feelings of discontentment actually are. Those unpleasant feelings are actually compelling factors. They are mental energies that move us, and by dint of our efforts, the world at large, to a better place.

A sense of discontentment is the very thing that drives human initiative and innovation. It’s the thing that says, the world is imperfect and we must get up off our asses and do something about it. The restive feelings we have, the subtle sensations of unease, which we feel on a daily basis, are inherently good things. Time out: Notice I’m not talking about profound depression or anxiety. That’s something else altogether. Those are mental illnesses one needs to treat. I’m talking about an animating tension that fuels our imagination and pushes us towards finding our own creativity.

I live in Santa Monica and without disparaging my fair city; I will note that it probably has per capita, the largest density of yoga studios, meditation centers and mind/body awareness clinics of any city in the world. This is not a bad thing. Hell, I’ve been a practitioner of meditation for the past 30 years. It does, however, set up a dialectic whereby a perfectly calm state of mind becomes considered by many to be the "proper state of mind," and a less-than-calm state of mind the improper one. I’m proposing, at least since we all have it, a little forbearance towards discontentment. The unsettled mind is a crucible for new ideas. It is a powerful engine of imagination, revving up possibilities of change.

I am hereby giving us all a pass. I’m simply saying, don’t feel bad if you’re not riding through your life on a cloud of bliss. The fact is that no one is — not even your yoga teacher or your meditation instructor. Everyone is at least a little freaked out, and why shouldn’t we be? We are only consciousness, housed in delicate and fallible bodies, peering out from behind the eyes we had as young children. Just look at all the sh*t we have to deal with! And here, I’m thinking about our fellow bliss-seekers from ISIS again.

Perhaps if we could simply embrace our lack of contentment and not fall prey to actually becoming depressed about it we’d feel better overall. Perhaps if we could understand the benefits of discontentment we’d at least be a little grateful for the experience of it. It’s a simple as this; we human beings get discontented and then we make things to ease the pain.

So, next time you find yourself upset that you’re not achieving anything akin to Nirvana, realize two things:

1. Nobody actually achieves it. (Some say they do and for reasons of their own, expect us to believe it.)

2. All creativity is fueled by discomfort. Embrace it; love it even. And then, go have yourself a big honkin' bowl of ice cream.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

How Willing Are You To Make An Investment In Creativity?

Sure, you’d like your employees to have more buy-in around your company’s brand and mission statement. And no doubt it’d be far better to get your people enthusiastic about coming to the office, rolling up their shirtsleeves, and getting down to work. But you’d be making a big mistake if you think enthusiasm is possible without giving people creative freedom. Nobody gets psyched to come to work as a result of a pep talk, or even a hike in pay; not for long anyway.

The question I have for leaders is simple: Do you really want more creativity and innovation in your workplace or are you just giving lip-service to a kind of change you have no intention of implementing? 

Let’s be honest, what many employers want most of all are people who will act within pre-existing, pre-established procedures and guidelines. Very few employers actually want a group of creative, initiative-taking leaders; their companies just aren’t set up to change at that kind of rapid pace. But the problem is the world is changing fast —faster than any of us know.

Creativity demands experimentation. But experimentation often means delays, added costs, and people coming forward with ideas and solutions that may sound absurd. Encountering occasional absurdity is one of the costs —and benefits— of creative freedom; 'absurd' as in say: creating a business around people paying for rides in family cars instead of taxis, or people renting rooms in private homes instead of paying for hotels —think Uber and Airbnb! The list of so-called absurd ideas goes on and on, from hamburgers made on an assembly line, to asking people to pump their own gas.

Let’s say you’re heading a company that has invested overwhelming amounts of time and capital in creating systems and processes to streamline and cut costs; and yet all around you, you can see how rapidly those very systems become outmoded. What’s needed is a new way, not only of looking at your business, but a new way of seeing the world.

By nature, human beings have a penchant for creating permanence, for maintaining order, and for limiting chaos. But maintaining the status quo and relying on processes that seek to limit ambiguity and uncertainty, is anathema to creativity. A masterful artist, that is, one experienced in the process of stretching him or herself to find new ways of looking at solutions, (even if those ways include looking into past precedents,) has become inured to the idea that truly creative work seldom comes with a roadmap. Rather than follow a linear path, innovation often arises from non-linear thinking; in its early stages it may even appear nonsensical. But it’s in that “nonsense” that new ideas are allowed to gestate.

Before a seed can germinate it must first decay. It's not until it’s been buried —tucked out of sight, as it were— and begins to decompose, that its real strength is revealed. In other words, the creative mind must lose sight of its goal again and again. It must be allowed to experience moments of deep frustration and inertia. Only after traveling into the darkness of doubt and fear can anything of value be born. And so how does any of this relate to companies and their need to keep pace in a furiously changing world? Leaders who truly want their organizations to grow and to prosper must re-evaluate their tolerance for ambiguity, for risk, and for experimentation.

We've all seen companies whose main belief is:

'We need a means of maintaining the way we’ve been doing things.'

Rather than:

'We need a means of interdicting the fears that prevent a willingness to change.'

And while some companies may express a desire for creativity and innovation —only the strongest, most sustainable companies know that the costs of actually implementing those ideas are always worth the expense.

Give the smart people you employ a little leeway and they’ll come up with all sorts of ideas that can move your business forward in ways you could never have dreamed.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Four Pathways To Authentic Leadership

I'm not at all pleased to report this, but even the good ol' word leadership has become something of a buzzword — a term people bandy about without considering its deeper implications. It's the same thing that's happened with words like creativityinnovation and disruption.

In an attempt to service the ever-increasing demand for web content, the pace of creating content has also increased. Sadly, this is all too often accompanied by a decrease in serious analysis. To attract as many readers as possible to their sites marketers tend to overuse certain words that emerge as more eye-catching than others. The trouble is those words get used so often they begin to lose their inherent meaning. This is a problem for both society and individuals when it happens with words that deserve more, rather than less of our attention. To help refocus, here are four pathways to evincing more authentic... (and here comes the buzzword again) —leadership.

Honesty

Honesty means doing what you say you’re going to do, being where and when you say you’re going to be and crucially, admitting when you’re wrong. That last one is where we have trouble. We make the mistake of believing that our relationships are predicated on our being smart, being proficient, being clever, and being strong. We are deathly afraid of being anything other than right all the time, and so to protect that insane image of ourselves we are often less than honest. And while we might be attracted to those aforementioned qualities, none of them has anything to do with what makes a real leader. Authentic leadership insists that we don’t distort reality. It requires that we clarify rather than obfuscate the world around us; that we, by our honest appraisals of ourselves and others, help to order the burgeoning chaos in this ever more complex and ever more troubling world. Authentic leadership is the antidote to falsehood. It’s honesty that provides space for our hope, our love and our creativity to flourish.

Empathy

Empathy is easy to talk about and very difficult to put into practice. It is by its very nature a state of mind, which contravenes a basic part of our humanity  — our animal selves and our self-serving need to simply stay alive. This primal and instinctual part of us is not a bad thing, but because of its constant focus on "me" rather than "you," it betrays the higher levels of humanity to which we must aspire. To be an authentic leader is to subsume the survival instinct within the more lofty aspiration of allowing others to grow and thrive.

This is where leaders are often put to the test. To be as concerned with the welfare of others as we are with ourselves requires a rewiring of our brains, a retraining of our minds and habits. It demands that we see the world less as a hostile place of paucity, and more as a nurturing place where love and abundance can flourish. Empathy of this sort is an ideal, and while we may never become totally empathetic, perhaps we can at least become mindful enough to judge whether we are on — or veering off — the pathway towards empathy at any given moment.

I once heard someone say of a man I admire, “Don’t make him out to be more than he is, he’s only human after all.” Taken in the light of empathy, and an awareness of what tremendous human-powers it takes to be truly empathetic, I now feel more, rather than less admiration for this particular “only human” man.

Forgiveness

I had once been very angry with someone. Years had passed and still I was angry. I was convinced that she should have acted differently. Even after her untimely death, I remained so. About five years ago I visited her gravesite and had an epiphany. I began to see the anger I was carrying as a huge stone. I was standing at her grave in the falling light of a late summer afternoon and all of a sudden, almost reflexively, I let my hands go wide apart as if I were pantomiming the dropping of this metaphoric stone.

The whole thing probably took me no more than 10 seconds, but the image of the massive stone I’d been carrying, falling of its own weight, was enough to completely change my perceptions of this woman. Whatever anger I had, had fallen away in that moment, (along with my gaining a lucid sense of how insane it was for me to have needlessly carried that stone for so long). When I think of her today I understand that she did the very best she could. I have only feelings of love for her. Forgiveness is an extension of empathy. If we truly feel for someone else, we will surely understand that we too make mistakes  — that we too, act out in anger, and that we too are overly self-protective. To say and to feel, “I see that quality in myself, ” is the cornerstone of strong leadership.

Self-sacrifice

Our concept of leadership has been inverted. We’ve come to believe that leadership confers special advantages: The leader flies by private jet, she barks out orders and subordinates cower, he issues a decree and things get done —and quick! But the authentic leader holds in her mind a vision of a collective good and strives by her tireless effort to disseminate that good to others. She is motivated not by the benefits that will accrue to her but rather by the benefits that will accrue to others.

To some perhaps, particularly at this moment in history, this sort of thing might sound a little naive, or even ridiculous. But the fact that the pendulum has veered so far from this understandably aspirational vision of leadership shouldn’t matter one iota; the effort required in becoming a true leader still lies in recreating for oneself a true north, a focal point to constantly strive for.

Authentic leaders are rare for one reason: most human beings are hard-wired toward self-service, rather than self-sacrifice. Most humans, as we see on a daily basis, claw their way to short-term self-aggrandizement; authentic leaders, unlike most others, are extremely rare because they are concerned with long-term societal benefits.

When we see people evincing authentic leadership, we are inspired to act as they do, to reach for goals higher than we thought possible and to achieve great things, not for ourselves alone but for the greater good of all humankind.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Five Super-Strange Ideas That Will Definitely Make You More Creative

That’s right. I said super-strange. If you thought creativity was a normal process that required normal ideas, I’m afraid you’ve been misled.

But before I go into my list of five let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding the meaning of the word “creativity.” If what you conjure up when you think of creativity has to do with things like writing songs, choreographing a dance, inventing a novel marketing plan, or directing a play, then my use of the C-word will be entirely different from yours. What I’m talking about is getting yourself in the best frame of mind to access, both your proven skill-sets and the stuff that lies just beyond your conscious mind.

1. Don’t miss out on mornings

Most people drag themselves out of bed without giving themselves time to think in that rarified window between consciousness and dream state. To picture what I’m talking about, imagine it’s morning; your alarm clock goes off—or your cat swats you on the head—it’s all the same. You’ve just opened your eyes and you’re looking up at the ceiling or at your alarm clock. What I’m suggesting here is that you linger in this in-between-state for three to five minutes to see what kinds of thoughts come across the transom of your still-blurry consciousness.

See, for instance, if you can solve some problem you’ve been having. Without losing the sort of dreamy sense of the world you’re experiencing, let your mind wander to arrive at solutions. Maybe you need to think of a title for a book; perhaps there’s a need for a better marketing angle for a product of service you’re involved with. Maybe you need to repair a rift in a relationship with an important business contact or a loved one.

You are likely to find that early-morning thinking doesn’t follow the same pathways and processes normal daytime thinking does. It’s by not treading the same old mental ground that you’re many times more likely to come up with unique solutions and creative ideas.

2. Spend more time looking out the window

It’s quite possible you'll think of this idea as a waste of time, something that a lazy person does to avoid getting to the hard work of getting things done. I get that. And while that may hold true in certain instances, for creativity to flourish, you need to experience stretches of time that are de-routinized and de-mechanized. Of course no one can expect to get anything done if they’re spending the bulk of their time staring out the window (or talking a walk in nature, stopping to read a verse of poetry, or spending time in prayer or reflection).

But without taking time to strategically break away from your routine, you are not allowing your mind to access anything it doesn’t already consciously know. And of course, if you’re not accessing things you don’t consciously know, you are by definition, not in a creative state of mind.

3. Make someone happy

This simple idea might sound confusing. What in the world does making someone happy have to do with creativity? Here’s how and why it works.

The biggest hindrance to your creativity is fear of judgment. You—along with the rest of humanity —are deeply fearful of negative judgments. It’s the way our brains have evolved to keep us safe in a world where a stampeding woolly mammoth might be charging up the next hill. While there aren’t many mammoths, woolly or otherwise, these days, there still are threats. Threats to job security if we say or do the wrong thing, threats to our social standing if we aren’t as high achieving as we think we should be… The list goes on and on. And whether or not these are actual lethal threats makes no difference at all. Our brains become narrow focused on survival in any case. But what happens when we've just written to one of our kids, for example, to tell them how proud we are of them (and by the way, this works best when they haven’t received any awards; when we are just proud of them for who they are) we become happy ourselves. When we become happy, the forces of fear, which restrict our creative thinking, are momentarily suspended.

It’s in those uplifted moods when we’re most capable of original thought.

4. Feel like a speck in the world

(I promised you these five ideas would seem strange—but then again, if it’s already “known” it’s not strange, and if it’s not strange, at least in some sense, it’s not creative.)

By “feel like a speck,” I don’t mean that you need to feel diminished or bad about yourself; it’s exactly the opposite. When we sense ourselves being part of a vast, wondrous universe, our minds expand and we become better able to think of and contribute our creative ideas. Conversely, when we feel that the world revolves around us, our thinking becomes myopic and narrow focused. Here’s one sure way to escape the feeling that it’s all about me!

I should add that it works in almost any environment. (I wrote “almost any environment” because in truth, it might be more difficult say, if you’re sitting on death row). But leaving that aside for now, let’s assume you’re sitting in your cubicle under a fluorescent light, feeling like the least creative guy on the planet. What I’m suggesting here is a two- to five-minute period wherein you contemplate the infinite mystery of that’s taking place at this moment in your cubicle.

The questions for "contemplation" might sound something like these:

  • Who did you speak to four years ago that lead you to the next person, and the next, and the one after that —that finally lead you to the position you’re in today?

  • How is it that you are able to write emails without ever once having to think about taking your next breath?

  • How are you able to take the thoughts in your head and communicate them to another human being through the mysterious process of speech?

The better you becoming at taking your mind away from its tendency see things only as you have always seen them—as opposed to the way they could be, the more creative you will become overall.

5. Think—thank you—all the time.

Of all the things on this list, gratitude may well be the single most significant driver of creativity. To be in a thankful state of mind creates a sense of fulfillment, and when we feel fulfilled our fear of judgment and our anxious sense of need is diminished.

Creativity’s greatest nemesis is active fear and anxiety. When fear and anxiety are lessened we have a more complete access to our skill-sets. If I’m a downhill ski racer, for example, the less fear I have the more in touch with my highly developed skills I’ll be. If I’m delivering a presentation to the board members of my corporation, the greater my sense of fulfillment, the more at ease I will be in presenting my ideas. No matter what it is we’re doing, a sense of gratitude will reduce our fear and open our minds.

A friend of mine challenged me on this point. She raised the argument that "Van Gogh was a severely depressed person who could in no way have been grateful for anything. And yet," she told me, "he was one of the most groundbreaking artists of his time." While it may have been true that for the majority of his time Van Gogh was in an ungrateful state of mind, what is equally likely is that during the time he was actually painting —the time, in other words, when he was most creative—he was in an extreme state of gratitude and fulfillment.

But how does one go about maintaining a grateful outlook?

Gratitude starts in the morning. So let’s circle back to the first suggestion: Don't miss out on mornings.  Between that drowsy (and hyper-suggestible) period between sleep and waking, simply think of three things you’re thankful for. They don't have to big things. In fact the smaller, the more commonplace, the better.

Try this everyday for two weeks. And as you do, take notice of how you feel in general, and of how much more creative your overall thinking has gotten.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.

About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Moving toward a qualitative life

I’ll spare you the time it’ll take you to read all the details of the 75 year-long longitudinal study by Harvard researchers on what it takes to make a happy life. Hint: it isn’t money, it isn’t IQ, it isn’t good looks –it all comes down to making and maintaining what those researchers call WR’s, or warm relationships. Warm relationships are those in which each partner feels trusted, feels loyalty and feels most of all, that their partner will have their back no matter what.

So if just before you started reading this piece you were doing something other than fostering your WR, know for certain that there’s no appreciable increase in happiness between making say, fifty thousand or fifty million dollars, between having an IQ of 110 or 150, and no evidence whatsoever that fame does anything other than make famous people less happy.

So my question is really, why? Why is almost everyone striving, on a daily basis, for the very things that don’t make them happy? Why do we live our lives in search of something that hasn’t been shown –whether from the viewpoint of an academic study –or our own experiences, to give us anything more than bragging rights, (something also shown to do nothing to increase our happiness?) If I had to hazard a guess I’d say it has something to do with fear. There’s something very primal, very visceral, about the human need to squirrel away resources for an uncertain future. And Lord knows our futures are uncertain. But no matter how much “stuff” we acquire, there’s always a nagging sense that we don’t have enough. I might feel that if I had $100k in my bank account I’d feel secure, but the minute I do, that previously large sum will feel small, and then I won’t feel secure until I have two or three or four hundred thousand socked away. The number will keep spiraling upwards forever.

That is the nature of living a quantitative life, as opposed to a qualitative one. The former is about ‘high numbers’, the latter looks for ‘deep values’. The problem is that in order to achieve a qualitative life we need to do the difficult work of using our intellect to overcome the thousands of knee jerk responses that are elicited daily from the most primitive part of our brains, the amygdala.

Instead of looking for more, we need to look for deeper. Instead of following our initial impulse to take, we need to foster an impulse to give. Instead of looking for instant gratification, we need to live our lives in such a way as to create and follow plans that unfold more slowly. This all begins the same way as learning a language or playing the piano; one small step at a time. In order to learn to play, a very important first step is to listen to the piano being played by someone very skilled. It is from the listening, from the knowing, that we start developing a desire to play. It is the desire itself that provides the impetus to begin the process of sitting down and learning. When the desire is well formed, that is, when the desire is hot within us, we will be able to endure the challenges that naturally come with step-by-step learning.

To live a more qualitative life, the place to begin is to look to your own experiences and those of others, to learn to detect first of all, what the actions and activities in our lives that are truly the most fulfilling. As you consider this, be careful not to start thinking about things that are simply, “fun.” While I have no beef whatsoever with fun, I believe strongly that things we consider fun like: going to the movies, skiing, listening to music, reading, playing sports and video games; do not, after careful consideration, qualify as the things in our lives that are most fulfilling. Even the fun of winning the lottery won’t qualify as “fulfillment.”

I don’t need the results of Harvard’s 75 year longitudinal study to back me up on this, but since it does I’ll quote it again: The things in our lives that are the most fulfilling are our warm relationships. When we think about our WR’s (or if we don’t have them, when we think about achieving them) we will first build a desire for them; to strengthen them and to achieve more of them, and only when they are foremost in our minds will we have the intellectual strength to place them where they need to be in the hierarchy of life goals –at the top, before making more money, achieving more fame, or working on our suntans.

Like anything we value, living a qualitative life takes hard work. The work we need to do is simple however, it is to constantly focus on the truth of what makes us happy –and to steer our actions toward that truth.

To recap:

Buying a new Mercedes might be fun, but it will not make your life better.

Becoming closer with your daughter might not make you rich, but it will make you happier.

Now go and reprioritize, put quality before quantity. You’ll be happier for it.



About the author:
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, best-selling author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. Time Magazine writes: “Himmelman writes songs with the same urgency that compelled the Lost Generation to write novels."

 In addition to his own, continuing creative work, he is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps organizations to leverage the power of their people’s innate creativity. Clients include Boeing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. His most recent book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016. Peter also holds an Advanced Management Certificate from The Kellogg School of Business, at Northwestern, and a Certificate Of Leadership Development from the National Security Seminar of The United States Army War College.

Core Value Examples: IKEA

Core Value Examples: IKEA

Togetherness
Togetherness is at the heart of the IKEA culture. We are strong when we trust each other, pull in the same direction and have fun together.

Caring for people and planet
We want to be a force for positive change. We have the possibility to make a significant and lasting impact - today and for the generations to come.

Cost-consciousness
As many people as possible should be able to afford a beautiful and functional home. We constantly challenge ourselves and others to make more from less without compromising on quality.

Simplicity
A simple, straightforward and down-to-earth way of being is part of our Småland heritage. It is about being ourselves and staying close to reality. We are informal, pragmatic and see bureaucracy as our biggest enemy.

Renew and improve
We are constantly looking for new and better ways forward. Whatever we are doing today, we can do better tomorrow. Finding solutions to almost impossible challenges is part of our success and a source of inspiration to move on to the next challenge.

Different with a meaning
IKEA is not like other companies and we don’t want to be. We like to question existing solutions, think in unconventional ways, experiment and dare to make mistakes - always for a good reason.

Give and take responsibility
We believe in empowering people. Giving and taking responsibility are ways to grow and develop as individuals. Trusting each other, being positive and forward-looking inspire everyone to contribute to development.

Lead by example
We see leadership as an action, not a position. We look for people’s values before competence and experience. People who ‘walk the talk’ and lead by example. It is about being our best self and bringing out the best in each other.

Core Value Examples: Whole Foods

Core Value Examples: Whole Foods

Trust
We communicate openly with our customers, and do what it takes to keep their data secure.

Growth
We’re obsessed with our customers’ success and take pride in their achievements.

Innovation
We pursue ideas that could change our company, our country — and maybe even the world.

Equality
We respect and value employees from every background, and we thrive as a result.

Core Value Examples: Salesforce

Core Value Examples: Salesforce

Trust
We communicate openly with our customers, and do what it takes to keep their data secure.

Growth
We’re obsessed with our customers’ success and take pride in their achievements.

Innovation
We pursue ideas that could change our company, our country — and maybe even the world.

Equality
We respect and value employees from every background, and we thrive as a result.

5 ingredients you can use to build a vision statement immediately.

Everyone seems to get a little nervous when it comes to drafting a vision statement.  Here are 5 great ingredients you can use to build your right now.

  1. Be purpose-driven:
    Give your team a way to connect to larger purpose. Tell them why they are doing what they are doing and why it matters. This is the one must-have for your vision. Get to the heart of "why".
     
  2. Be daring:
    Imagine a future that you create by waving a magic wand. Don't get caught up in the steps you will take yet. Don't waste energy imagining risks. Treat it as a game "if I could wave a magic wand to create this future, what would I create?" 
     
  3. Orient to the future:
    Challenge the present. Vision refers to seeing the end of the journey, it is not limited to the present ground. A bold vision statement challenges the present by saying "we may be here, but there is where we are going." So describe the changed reality that your company has already created by taking this journey.
     
  4. Provide a simple point of focus:
    Think of your vision as a camera lens. It brings things into focus for you and your team. To create focus, it will need to be simple and easy to remember. 
     
  5. Inspire: 
    The language in your vision statement needs to invite people to take a journey with you. Provoke strong emotion and excitement with vivid imagery. That's the key to creating your enticing and clear "north star".