Tag Archives | Creativity

Freedom to Believe – and Freedom from Beliefs

Martin Amis said something interesting about writers in a recent interview with Charlie Rose. When describing a friend who is a writer, he stated that he felt this writer’s gift had really blossomed when he stopped defending Marxism. His point was not about Marxism, it was about writing from a standpoint of ideology: “Writing is freedom. If you’ve got some Commissar staring over your shoulder, you’re not free. If you have some consensus that you’re loyal to, you’re not free.”

I think he makes an interesting point: One may have extraordinary gifts, but if one looks at the world through a specific lens, then everything one writes is going to be unconsciously edited to support or promote that viewpoint. If, however, one can achieve a perspective of being open to many perspectives, then one can be free to consider many viewpoints, many possible outcomes, and one can authentically create various characters.

This requires an ability to perceive and accept different shades of gray. It does not allow for black-and-white thinking.

I think this applies not only to writing, but to many things: To leadership, to management, to relationships, to creativity; to the choices we make, to the paths we follow, to the way we encourage ourselves to succeed or prevent ourselves from succeeding.

The lens through which we look at the world consists of the beliefs we hold – beliefs we often take for granted. And those beliefs may or may not be grounded in sound and current data.

True freedom begins with identifying our beliefs. It then requires that we examine those beliefs and ask ourselves where they came from and whether they are valid.

Identifying one’s beliefs is harder than it sounds. This is because beliefs are like a layer cake, or like the layers of the earth. There are conscious beliefs that are easy to identify. But there are other, deeper beliefs that we can only reach by digging. How do we do that? By asking questions, especially “Why?”

If one is willing to pay attention to one’s statements and actions and ask, “Why?” – “Why did I do that?” or “Why do I think that?” and “How do I know that?” – then one can begin to peel back layers and open curtains. Only then can we examine our beliefs – by first identifying them  – and decide whether they are valid.

I am reminded of a story I once heard, and I will paraphrase it here. There once was a woman who was teaching her daughter how to prepare a pot roast. “First, you must cut the ends off,” she said. “Why?” her daughter asked. “Because they’re no good,” the mother replied. “But they look fine,” the daughter said. “Well, that’s how my mother taught me,” the mother said in exasperation. Curious, the daughter later asked her grandmother about this. The grandmother burst out laughing and said, “I only had a small roasting pan, and the roasts wouldn’t fit in it if I didn’t trim them!”

The process of questioning our beliefs requires curiosity. And curiosity requires being open to chaos – or at least being at the edge of chaos – where things change our knowledge and our perceptions of the world shift. And that requires groundedness, a belief (ironic, isn’t it?) that change is not death, that I will go on and be OK even if I change, if I change my mind, if the world around me changes. I don’t have to control everything in order to go on.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that we go through life without beliefs. What I am suggesting is that we examine those beliefs so that we can consciously decide whether they are serving us or we are serving them.

As I said in my ebook, beliefs can be the seatbelt that keeps us from going through the windshield when life slams into us. They can be guideposts that help us choose what road to take. If we hold on to them too tightly, they can become a platform that we feel we must defend and even evangelize. If they are mistaken, they can send us down the wrong path. They can become unnecessary obstacles.

Here is an example from my own life: I believed that my gravelly, strangled-sounding voice prevented me from having an effective career presenting workshops and webinars, coaching, and facilitating meetings. Why? Because I believed people wouldn’t want to listen to me, and that they would not respect me because of how I sounded. Why? Because I hated listening to myself. Did I have any sound and current data about this? No. In fact, people were giving me unsolicited praise about my skills. I also created a double bind for myself: Because I had not done enough research and my voice had not been successfully diagnosed, I believed that there was no treatment for my voice. More specifically, the only treatment I knew of was unappealing. So therefore I had “real” obstacles to doing work I wanted to do. Once I did get more information, however, I found there were possibilities for improving my voice. So my beliefs on both counts were mistaken and created unnecessary obstacles.

If you had asked me if I believed these things, I probably would have said No – at least initially. Reflexively. It wasn’t until I examined the situation and the difference between my words and my actions that my beliefs became clearer. Often our words and our beliefs are consistent, but they may still be unfounded.

I am not going to ask you what you believe, at least not right now. But I will ask you this: How do you know what you believe? Are your actions consistent with what you say you believe? Have you ever let go of a belief? Are you willing to wonder?

Creativity, Problem Solving and Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese

I don’t like salads with apples in them.

I just don’t. It’s a quirk, I admit it. I love apples, though, and the handy-dandy apple slicer that you place over your apple and push down to core and slice your apple in one easy motion changed my eating habits forever. (That and my salad spinner.)

So why would I even think about, much less LOVE, a grilled steak and cheese sandwich with sliced apples in it?

Well, I was making lunch the other day and looking for inspiration in the refrigerator. I found the remains of a piece of steak, some cheddar cheese, and some good bread. Sounded like a good sandwich to me. I wanted to put something green in it to give it a little zip, though, and I didn’t have any greens. (OK, I did, but they weren’t green any more and they were in the garbage.) But I did have some apples (Granny Smiths, to be exact).

What made me think about slicing an apple ever so thinly and putting some slices in my sandwich? I don’t know, aside from the fact that I hadn’t eaten an apple in a while and I didn’t want to have a plain bread-and-meat-and-cheese sandwich. I wanted something just a little healthier. I thought about the apples in the fridge, and at first I thought, “Eeeew.” But then I thought about apple pie with cheddar cheese on it, and I thought about a nice grilled sandwich, and I decided to give it a try.

That was a darn good sandwich! Everything was nicely warmed through and the cheese was nice and gooey and the apples weren’t hard and cold and edgy; they were warm but still crisp and apple-y. In fact, it was so good that I made it again the next day and it was good the second time, too.

It’s not about my food habits and quirky tastes. It’s about creativity.

You might be wondering why I’m telling you this. It’s not about my food habits and quirky tastes. It’s about creativity. And about being willing to try something new.

I learned something important about creativity and problem solving from this: Although sometimes the best solution is something completely new and disruptive, sometimes the best solution is something that works in another context but hasn’t yet been tried in this context.

When was the last time you were stuck for ideas, and the only idea you had was so far-fetched that you didn’t think anyone would try it? Or it was so far-fetched that you wouldn’t even try it?

The next time you – or your client – is stuck between a rock and a hard place, think up a crazy idea and ask yourself, “Is there a connection to something else here that makes this reasonable?” (Like apple pie with cheddar cheese.) Or, ask yourself, “What can I do to the old solution to change it just a couple of notches so that it works here?”

I’d love to hear from you about a time you came up with a solution to a problem by thinking of a connection that made sense in another context.

What Is Like a Muscle?

I noticed a pattern recently in things I hadn’t previously thought of as related: Courage, Creativity, and Belief. I’d like to get your thoughts on it, and see where else we can take it.

A while back I heard the quote, “Courage is like a muscle,” and I was quite taken with it. The idea is that exercising a muscle is difficult at first, but the more you use it, the more you can use it. It’s easy to be timid, to play it safe, and harder to take risks, to be visible. But the more you take those risks, the more realize you can do it, and the fears you had were either unfounded, no longer relevant, or just not that important. You become able to act despite fear, and you become able to do more, go further, and push the envelope.

So I noticed when, early last year, Reut Schwartz-Hebron posed a question about habits vs. abilities in her (now closed) KindExcellence blog and a related LinkedIn discussion. She opened with:

“We are capable of innovation but we don’t always bother to innovate. We can be empathic and kind, but we are often not.”

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we will put it into practice when the time is right, even if in retrospect we think it was the “right” or more effective thing to do.”

She went on to ask for examples of effective habits, and examples of situations in which a leader had an ability but did not apply it – and asked whether anything else was missing other than having an effective habit in place.

I commented that “a key habit is courage. Yes, it is a habit, not just a quality. Someone once said that courage is like a muscle and must be exercised regularly. This is true for anything that becomes a habit. 

In that vein, I think that often managers fail to lead due to a weakness in their courage muscle. Whether in being willing to give credit where credit is due, or to take a stand, no matter how small, courage is the habit that supports so many other actions.”

This prompted Reut to write related blog post on “Courage As A Stepping Stone for Innovation” and asked people to expand on whether they thought courage was a habit and what other such habits might be required for people to be effective innovators or change facilitators.

I was actually surprised how many people disagreed! Many did agree, but many felt that courage was not required for creativity – you just did it (creativity) or you didn’t – or that courage was not a habit – either you had it or you didn’t and it is only called out in extraordinary situations – like the soldier who carries his or her comrades to safety while under fire, or the mother who lifts a car off of her child.

But I’ll go out on a limb and stand by the idea that it is a habit that can be developed by exercising that muscle. Sometimes people who have never been courageous before do stand up and make a courageous act, large or small – just like some who has never been interested in fitness may go to a yoga class and then decide to continue in that vein.

Recently a series of tweets from Linda Naiman caught my eye. Linda writes and consults on the subject of creativity. Some of her comments included:

“Learning to be creative is akin to learning a sport. It requires practice to develop the right muscles.”


“Business leaders are adopting the principles and practices of art and design to build creative muscles in their organizations.”

Linda has also written posts highlighting the connection between risk-taking, leadership and creativity, as well as exploring the notion that creativity and innovation in organizations are often viewed as dangerous:

“Creativity is fostered in organizational cultures that value independent thinking, risk-taking, and leadership.”


“Root fears present re creativity and innovation are fears of change risk and failure.”

Then Johnny B. Truant made me sit up this week (which is not unusual) when he re-published a blog post about the importance of belief. In particular, he stated that the obstacles that we let stop us only stop us because we believe in them – or believe in our inability to overcome them. He says,

“And if you stop projecting false problems in your path – or panicking about something that might happen – then you’ll soon discover that you’ll build a sense of surety within yourself that you can learn to trust, and that will keep you on that true path.” (This is what I was talking about in my post, Suspend Disbelief.)

But here’s what really made me sit up:

Belief is like a muscle. You have to build it over time, and it all starts with telling yourself that something you fear or that appears to be in your way isn’t really there. If it is, fine. Take the hit and adjust. But I’ll bet that a bunch of times you’ll walk right through it – no harm, no foul.”

Suddenly I saw a pattern emerging:

Courage is a muscle.

Courage is required for Creativity.

Creativity is a muscle.

Creativity requires positive beliefs in our ability, or at least a suspension of disbeliefs in our inability.

Belief is a muscle.

Belief takes a certain amount of courage.


I am one of those who believes that everyone is creative, but they may need help to be courageous about it, to believe in themselves, and to develop those habits.

What else is like a muscle? Let’s see if we can find more patterns, or expand on this one.

Opportunities for Inspiration Are All Around Us

Opportunities for inspiration are all around us if we are willing to try something new.

A new show started on HGTV earlier this year, “The Antonio Treatment.” The design star is a musician and former set designer, and he looks more like a biker than an interior designer. I love this show, because it is iconoclastic.

In one of the series’ first episodes, he brings in a friend who is a cartoonist, Steven Silber, to meet with the client, who is also a cartoonist. The client makes a comment about not having the courage to distort people’s faces (an important tool of the caricature artist). Silber’s response was great. He said, “Sometimes something that may break your usual mindset is to use your opposite hand than what you’re usually using, and then you’ll do something completely different from what you’re used to doing.”

What a great reminder to just change things up a little bit to get very different results.

What a great reminder that even “creative people” need to spark their inspiration.

What a great reminder that even people who say, “Oh, I’m not creative,” can find inspiration in just doing something differently.

What can you do – or have you done – just a little differently in order to get your creative juices flowing?

Suspend Disbelief

We must suspend our disbelief in order to allow for the possibility that something new can be created.

I can’t remember where I heard or read it, but somewhere in my past someone said that the reason Theater works is because the audience is willing to suspend disbelief. Willing to forget that the people on the stage or the screen are actors, that it is a contrived situation, and accept the premise, at least for a little while, that what they are observing is somehow real.

I was reminded of this when I was writing a different essay on the importance of doing something in a new way in order to get a different result. In the process, creativity is sparked.

You know the saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Well, it occurred to me that in order to try something new, we have to suspend our disbelief in our ability to create something. Suspend our disbelief in the possibility of a better outcome. Suspend our belief in a negative outcome if we take a risk.

Negative outcomes such as a result that looks even worse than our previous effort. Negative outcomes such as people laughing at us. Negative outcomes such as an unknown result. (“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”) The unknown is scary. The unknown is outside of our control. The unknown is Chaos.

(If you grew up watching “Get Smart” like I did, then you might remember that the acronym for the Bad Guys’ organization was KAOS and the acronym for the Good Guys’ organization was CONTROL. Hmmm.)

In order to try something new, we have to suspend our disbelief and believe in the possibility of an outcome other than Chaos or, even more revolutionary, believe in the possibility that Chaos is not bad. At least not as a transitional state. Can we suspend our disbelief in the possibility that the outcome of trying something new can be anything other than anarchy, failure, or ridicule?

If you believe that trying something new will not result in something good, if you do not believe that it could result in something positive, can you suspend your disbelief long enough to give it a try?

You do it every time you go to the movies, and the result is that you co-create a different reality, even if only for a short time.

Imagine the possibilities if you were able to apply that in other areas…

The Art Part

Back in the mid-1990’s I discovered “Inside the Actors Studio” on the Bravo network. And I became addicted. Not addicted to watching Movie Stars reveal Juicy Tidbits about their lives (although they certainly did). I became addicted to watching people talk with passion about their craft. Whatever it was.

They talked about the scientific steps that they followed that allowed them to get their arms around a character, or get into a certain mood. But they also talked about the magic, the Art, that happens, the strokes of insight that can be acted upon when they have done The Work and exercised their mental and emotional muscles enough to be ready.

This fascinated me, and part of the reason was that I got it. I understood the relationship between Art and Science in my own work.

I was working at the time as a recruiter, a job that definitely required both Art and Science in order for the recruiter to be successful. We were taught that there were specific steps in the recruiting and placement process that, if followed, would make us successful. But I also learned that there was an Art part that also played a crucial role.

For example, if I followed the process for asking certain questions in an interview, I would find out the information I needed to be able to know if someone had the experience for a certain role. But by paying attention to how they answered, and by digging a little deeper, I could get a pretty good sense for whether they would do well in a certain environment or rise to the challenge of a particular opportunity. If I made enough calls I would find a company that needed a person, but how could I convince a hiring manager that she should at least interview this candidate even though he wasn’t a perfect fit because I knew how strong he was in these other areas? I could find a person that had the skills that matched a job requisition, but how could I convince her to meet with me if she was happy with her current job? That’s the Art Part.

I was reminded of this recently when I read an interview with Seth Godin about his new book, “Linchpin” (which I am reading). The interviewer brought up that in his book, Seth states that we are all Artists. “Wait a minute,” you’re thinking, “I’m not Creative.” I hear people say that a lot. And you know what? I don’t believe you.

Think about what you do, whether it’s your career, or something else – tennis, golf, gardening, chess, parenting. What’s the Science part? And what’s the Art Part?

Are you taking it for granted?

Is the Art Part missing?

Is that ok with you?

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