When did books on creativity begin coming out in droves? Certainly, there have been dozens of books in the last twenty years that promise to have us more creative if we just take the time to read that book. Some of the books are quite good (Michael Michalko’s CRACKING CREATIVITY comes to mind), but most of them have one thing in common. They are all reasonable, well ordered books with programs that claim to have measurable effects. If you can’t measure it, you can’t be confident it will work and you certainly can’t install the fairly expensive program into your organization.
Whatever they might promise to the individual, the books are really about making organizations creative. What they really mean is upping innovation. Coming up with product and service ideas that will be useful and marketable.
The problem is that a lot of our reality isn’t reasonable. Our bodies aren’t reasonable, or, to put it another way, our bodies have their own reasons. If you sit your workforce in front of computer screens and desks or make them perform standard, uniform actions all day long, such as at an assembly line, there is little chance of nurturing creativity.
If you want to release creativity, release the body.
A lot of recent research says exactly that. It’s nothing new. But many organizations don’t want to pay for fitness, suggesting instead that it’s a personal responsibility. Aside from the obvious physical health benefits though, you can also track mental benefits too. Better attention, focus, resilience, equanimity means better ability to handle stress and contradiction.
What about artists and writers? Creative folk need the same attention, focus, resilience, equanimity that the organization worker needs. So any physical program that assists in the development of those qualities is important. But there are other considerations.
Creating any form of art is not a program or a recipe-driven activity. We need a fairly constant availability of impressions, memories, connections, and intuitions. These might seem to be entirely psychological factors, but I prefer for the moment to look at them as physical phenomena. Does the body have anything to do with the ability of the artist to feel spontaneous joy? How about with the ability to mine the useful aspects of melancholy and suffering? How about the body in responding with enthusiasm to adventure? How about staying within stillness for an extended period—not allowing chatter or Ipod sounds or inner quarrels?
Your ability to experience and retain such states needs as much practice as your ability to pump iron or run a half-marathon. What we don’t need: to buy a book by a stranger telling us what to do with our bodies. A book or a blog can get us started, but we have to develop our own understanding of the voices in our body and how to respond to them. When we hear them, responding is not hard. The core of all such response is openness and love.
Do you have any days when you want to scream from how much order and control there is in our lives? When every step and every direction is predictable? Sure, we can shout in frustration against chaos too, but let’s stick with the dark side of order. Routine is useful because it gives us efficiency and safety. We don’t have to think about every little step. But eventually it’s the death of creativity, and no organization creativity program can stop it.
We need to be a little crazy—every day. Not a lot crazy, because that isn’t fun for anyone. Not crazy in a way that is ungenerous to living beings. But crazy in a way that busts us out of the slackjawed predictability of word, action, and response, Often, we save such efforts for holiday travel. Why? Why not travel in our own city? Take a different route to work or play. Go shopping in a district you’ve never been to. Resolve only to listen and not to speak for an hour when you are in society. Resolve to look at signage as if it were meaningful. Look at people openly you would otherwise always avoid. In nature, discriminate between bird sounds. In the late evening, breathe in the moon and the stars until you can taste them. Wherever you are, feel your body—as if you were walking with your lover after a long absence.
There’s a lot more. Once you allow yourself to be a little crazy it’s hard to stop. Look forward to tomorrow’s craziness. I’m not going to give you my list, because I refuse to make one, for obvious reasons. Come on.
Film director Werner Herzog reputedly once walked 500 miles from Munich to Paris to present his film to a very sick friend, film historian Lotte Eisner. He thought his action might stop her from dying. Crazy. She didn’t.
Painter Jack Wise gardened naked in the Kootenays, and one day a vision of calligraphic brush strokes came to him that was so strong he had to get them down on paper. Then onto canvas, and his painting career took on a new direction. Weird.
Mime and actor Samuel Avital has continued to teach movement, mime, kabbalah for decades with no organizational funding or grant money. Rdiculous and crazy. Students have flocked to him in Boulder from all over the world.
Poet William Blake used to walk for hours and once saw an angel in a tree just outside London. Nuts. His visions didn’t stop him from creating poetry and one of the great poems in English “The Tyger.”
Tolstoy fasted to such a degree that some thought it would affect his health. He had a very long life, and his fasting did not seem to affect his ability to write well.
Enough said. Create rules for your working practice. Observe them. Then break them regularly in new and interesting ways.