Ideas and Creativity with Execution

Have you ever read a book that hit you right in the moment, that answered every question or wonder you were imagining? For me, that was “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, who also wrote “Eat, Pray, Love.” I never read the latter book, but the former is everything I could have been hoping for as I have been in a mindset considering creativity over the past several weeks. The day after I wrote the post about the importance of giving yourself permission, I read a chapter in the book about giving yourself permission. It was like the world was coming together for me in support of creative endeavors!

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Creativity involves bringing original ideas to life. I don’t consider myself an artist, with paint or clay or any special materials or medium, but a creator who translates my ideas into words on a page (or a screen). If you’re a reader, you’ll understand that there is artistry to the written word (though I am not trying to claim artistry here!). Artistry and creativity do take many forms. My coloring skills would leave something to be desired! What do you create with?

When you think of creativity in its form of turning ideas into reality, the wider doors open to what it means to be creative. If you think about the concept of innovation, which is a highly creative activity, it isn’t about creating something completely new, but rather changing how something is used, manufactured, sold, transported – basically, innovation is a variation on a theme. A new look at something “old”. With all that technology has brought us, from the telegraph to the telephone to the cell phone to the smart phone, someone was creative enough to imagine something differently and find the ways to execute on it.

That might be the key to creativity – that we have to take action on our ideas. Thinking and journaling and talking mean nothing without follow through and implementation or experimentation. How can you consider yourself a creative person if you haven’t put pen to paper or molded something physically? Starting, no matter how good or bad the idea seems, is an important part of the process. Admittedly, I haven’t taken a lot of action yet on my ideas. My hope is to solve problems that impact business performance and how people live their lives. What can be done differently? Or better? The enemy of creativity in action is hearing “this is how it has always been done.” To me, this is a rallying cry that we can find a better way, and it spawns moments deep in thought of how to try to take things to the next level.

If you have ever read anything by James Altucher, you’ll know that he is a proponent of coming up with 10 ideas each day to turn yourself into an “idea machine”, the thought being that ideas beget ideas, and that as coming up with 10 becomes more routine, you’ll have more to draw from to execute on.

This is where I find the power of practice comes in with creativity. You can’t be an expert from the start. Even the masters, as talented as they are and were, need to refine their skill and, I think this is most important, experiment with style, direction, intent, and approach. The experimentation can be purely organic, or can be inspired – by other people, others works, something completely different, nature, and beyond. Opening yourself up to opportunity and seeing the world, or even just your neighborhood, in new lights can encourage you to think in different ways and approach your creativity and execution differently.

Here are a few of the easy ways I make attempts to open up my world. On many occasions I am finding my inspiration for ideas. Just yesterday, during a morning workout around the neighborhood, I was inspired about a whole bunch of ideas to write about that you’ll see in coming weeks.

  1. Reading opens many doors for me to ideas and creation. I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, but for every two to three non fiction books I read, I do read a fiction book to reset my mind and escape into another world.
  2. Writing everything down, and going back to it. Sometimes it is just ideas, and sometimes a full post that doesn’t feel right, and sometimes it is from journaling.
  3. Walking instead of driving, or, riding in the passenger seat. This allows a new perspective. When we drive, it all goes by so quickly, even with lowered speed limits in many towns.
  4. Listening to podcasts. Getting a new perspective or even a twist on my current perspective can make me think of something new I want to try.
  5. Having meaningful conversations that include a lot of questions. “What do you think about…”, “how do you feel…”,  “what if…”, “just playing devil’s advocate, but…” are some examples I use and I hear friends use that end up sparking the ideas and new approaches

But when I get out into the world, and have one idea, usually another spawns from it. And another. And yet another! It goes back to what I mentioned above on practice. What happens when you are overwhelmed in the best way by a million ideas? This is a great problem to have! How do you capture the ideas when they are flowing so quickly? It is a rush to write things down.

  1. Always carry a notebook, or use a notebook app on the phone (I am forever carrying a notebook with me)
  2. Send yourself an email (this is especially easy when I am walking or running)
  3. Voice recordings on phone, or leave yourself a voicemail
  4. Call, email, or message someone about it to discuss further

In what other ways do you capture your ideas?

The biggest trouble I have with my own ideas is the struggle choosing which ideas I should pursue. I end up doing nothing, instead of something. My almost-creative ideas live (or die) in a journal moleskine notebook, or maybe a spiral bound from CVS. I should do more so that I can fail, or even be overwhelmingly successful beyond all of my expectations. Is it human to be able to fear our success, more than our failures? That may be a discussion topic for another time!

How do you come up with your ideas? Has practicing any particular technique over time helped you get better? What do you so that you get started on your ideas?

 

Magazine Round Up: The Ideas that Shape and Inspire on the Printed Page

Though magazines aren’t as instant as social media, it is impossible to stay on top of every article posted at all hours of the day. Plus, who doesn’t love getting mail?! Each month, I save the magazines that come in for an empty weeknight or weekend morning. I enjoy having a few hours to pour through the pages and think about the ideas shared. Self-education and continuous learning are important, not just for the joy of reading or escaping boredom. Learning more allows us to think with more dimension and color, and make connections we previously couldn’t see. It allows us, as you’ll read below, to solve old problems in new ways and new problems in creative ways.

Here are some highlights of what I’ve read in two recent issues!

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From Inc., March/April 2018 issue.

  • Page 18: “The Future and the Farm” – One area identified by author Lauren Barack that was underhyped, but with related excitement about the area, was security. Digital security and physical security are both important because without them functioning well, there is fear amongst us normal folks and specialists alike. We have to be careful about the perception of security, and balance the need for privacy and safety with community and ease of use.
  • Page 26: “Rising and Grinding with Daymond John” – I love the approach to goal setting Daymond John has, and not just related to setting the action and timelines for the goals. He themes his goals around areas of life that are most important to him, and he reads them twice a day as a reminder, no matter how long range or immediate they might be. He understands the impact his goals have on other people, and this is probably one of the mindsets that has led to his success.
  • Page 36:  “Here’s a Crazy Idea for Startups: Profits” – This article focuses on the concepts of business sustainability, rather than how the founders exit and get paid. It seems like a smarter business ideal, smarter investment approach, and a better way to treat customers and employees.
  • Page 42: “Keeping Your Workers Well” – “…18 percent of American adults suffer from some form of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.” This is a staggering statistic that shows we need to do a better job taking care of ourselves and helping others care for themselves also. Treating mental health issues before they hurt who they afflict can impact business productivity, but we have to remove the stigma.

 

From Entrepreneur, April 2018 issue

I may not own a company, but I find the articles to be relevant to work and my interests and the intersection of both of those. Occasionally, we need to change our perspective and the way we think to implement new ways of doing things.

  • Page 22: “Always Serve Your Customer” – Having customers provides the ability for a business to exist, but the company has to pay attention for how they treat their customers! Investment in this area is crucial. Author Boyd Farrow quotes expert Maryli Karske on the fact that good service follows satisfied employees.
    • Personal note: my husband recently had a third-in-a-row bad experience as a newly opened sweetgreen near our home. We submitted a complaint about inventory and customer service. The customer rep responded in a way we couldn’t imagine (in under an hour to an online form!), explaining the actions the company would take to make sure this didn’t happen again. Not only were we heard and received a response, but I was given three options on how I would reward the employee for five-star service. How cool is that!
  • Page 30: “90 Meetings in 90 Days” – Stephanie Schomer highlights the efforts RubiconMD founders Gil Addo and Carlos Reines made to learn about the applicability of their idea to potential markets and customers. The results were surprising! This is a great indicator of the importance of socializing our ideas, asking questions, and understanding the problems that people may not be able to define, but need solved. It was a short but inspiring article reminding us that business is more personal than we let ourselves remember.
  • Page 42: “When Disaster Strikes, Can Entrepreneurship Save Us?” – Hurricane Maria left island nations and Puerto Rico in ruins, without communication or power. Entrepreneur Jesse Levin traveled to understand the biggest issues impacting those on the island. Simply communicating and asking questions led to executable solutions to help large groups of Puerto Ricans – a $33K investment led to $3M in grocery transactions to feed the hungry island residents. The article goes on to detail what is referred to as “expeditionary entrepreneurship” and the resolve and creativity of many Puerto Ricans, working together to build each other and their communities back up.
    • Personal note: The story notes that Levin hopes to focus on emergency preparedness, rather than disaster response. There is so much sex appeal around building new versus taking care of what we have. We NEED, as a society, to take care of what we build. Whether your home, the local school, the state bridge, or the federal highway. Infrastructure investment is essential and forgotten by our government officials, and even regulated and quasi public industries like utilities for water, wastewater, and power.

 

Which topics resonate the most with you? What new ideas are you thinking of after reading about what others are doing? Are any inspiring to you?

Taking Action and Making It Happen with Your Goals

About a year and a half ago, I came up with what I felt was a genius concept to write a book on the beneficial aspects of the sorority experience. I started conceptualizing and outlining and writing. I took breaks, lots of breaks. Work got crazy, I needed sleep more than I needed to write, I prioritized the blog over the book, I was sick, my husband and I got married, life was happening!

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But I’ve kept coming back to this goal, to write this book to help the nearly one million sorority women who are in college or within five years of graduation develop their sorority experience into a great career.

I’ve been inspired by this topic, one that I hope will help others. While twelve year old me was hopeful I would someday write the next great American novel, thirty year old me was hopeful to change lives and the perception of the impact of sorority life. These are certainly different outcomes of writing! But, I want to make myself proud. Maybe twelve year old Mary Kate would be disappointed that I never wrote the great American novel (though not an impossibility, it is an improbability). But today, when I look at the word count in Docs and my scribblings between the printed text, I’m amazed at myself.

Whatever it is you are working on, your version of a book, maybe your own book, be proud of you. Be proud of progress and action and that you are working to make your own dreams come true. Keep the efforts going. Congratulate yourself. Allow yourself an indulgent smile. Hug a loved one with the excitement of support from others in response to what you are doing. Celebrate each and every step.

And keep going. The power of action is important, but what is a book if it is unpublished and unread? Not all books can be best sellers, though we all have the highest of hopes. But there is no chance to attempt best seller status if you never press whatever version of “publish” exists for you and your goals.

I may be using the example of the book for me, right now, but this applies to everything in life. Growing up, cleaning the family bathroom was a task that rotated amongst the children. As beautiful as the mirror and shower and floors might look, if we neglected the dust on the light fixture that managed to gather since last week or to re-load a three roll supply of toilet paper, the job was not done. We were beholden to keep going. And finish.

It is important to define that finish line both at the beginning and also along the way. Sometimes you may even need to re-define what that finish line is to take reality into account. The Olympic stage is for a select few; at some point in your life you need to realize that no matter your level of effort, you may never get there. For me, my career in sports ended when I stopped growing at 5’-4” and was clearly not the fastest in my class. It didn’t stop my hustle or hard work or the love of whatever I was playing, I just knew my sports career would be limited and not lucrative.

Changing the finish line can help erase the self doubt. I could have felt like a failure for not being able to follow my dreams in sports. In moments of reflection I certainly felt the disappointment. But I reset the finish lines and refocused on what I could do, like being healthy and a good teammate and focusing more on school and volunteering and leadership. This was a realistic reset that has helped me be a happier person.

Here is my current approach to going after what I want to accomplish. Do you see similarities to you and your approach? Maybe below is an asepct you hadn’t considered before. Maybe you can leave an aspect I hadn’t considered in the comments.

  1. Set a goal. Every book I read promotes a different strategy and quotes a different academic study for the “BEST goal setting method”. The only thing I know is true is that you must find a way to set goals that works for you. Looking back on when you’ve been successful, what kind of goals were you setting? Remember to reflect on failures and partial achievements to think about what was missing from previous efforts. Maybe you use SMART and maybe you use stretch goals, a combination, or none of the above. But set something that you want badly to achieve. Set a finish line. Dream.  
  2. Make a plan. Even if John Steinbeck wrote that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” it is best to go into your goal efforts with a plan in place. Do you drive or walk somewhere new without first consulting GPS for directions? Same concept. Give yourself some direction in your plan to meet the goal. Without this, you are a fish flopping on the deck of a boat.
  3. Schedule into your day. I find this is often forgotten with making the plan. You have to make room in your life for goals! If you don’t make time for them, are they really that important to have? Think about your priorities. Maybe you need to adjust a timeline for your goal. I hoped that I would write a book in a few months, but it will take almost two years by the time I publish.
  4. Find support. My husband is amazing. My friends are amazing. My parents are amazing. Sometimes when my husband tells ME that I am amazing, it is all I need to keep going. I do know I am capable of amazing. Sometimes we all need reminders when the going gets tough. On occasion we need to be our own support. This is when I consult Pinterest for “positive motivation success” for a few moments as a break and then jump right back in.
  5. TAKE ACTION! Seriously, Nike has it right when they say to just do it. Think about your goal. Let it inspire you. And then, take that first step or jump or leap of faith or sign up.
  6. Use support as needed. Sometimes I will be typing away in the kitchen with unintentional poor posture, hunched over my computer. Just the other night, my husband walks in, smiles, and says, “you go, lady!” and walks out. That makes me smile and gives some extra energy and motivation to do a few more minutes or pages. Sometimes, I use Pinterest. That takes extra time and i have to sort through the pins that aren’t congruent with my approach to life. But in the end, there usually are one or two that provide the extra motivation I need. Sometimes I go to step 7 and text a friend.
  7. Take a break as needed. Sleep. Seriously, sleep can be wonderful. Not writing for a few days can be wonderful. A walk or workout can be wonderful. Breaks are ok, because we are humans. Hell, even machines need down time for maintenance and repairs.
  8. Repeat steps 5-7 until you reach your finish line. Just. Keep. Going. Drive to that finish line. Reset if you need. Break as often as you need to, change support methods if you need to. Keep the push going!
  9. Once you reach the finish, ship it. It may not involve putting something in an envelope with a stamp, but getting the finished product out into the world.
  10. Celebrate. Reflect. Give thanks. You made it!

I’m not quite at step 10. But I’m on my way there, continuing on step 8. I can’t wait until step 9. Actually, today is ship day for the draft of my book to a set of almost twenty five gracious readers who are willing to give me feedback! I am so thankful for the support of friends old and new who renew my faith in friendship and an myself. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and how close to the finish line I am getting. I know I will get there. 

What are the goals you are working on? Do you find yourself resetting the finish line, and how does that make you feel? What was your first “ship it” moment like?