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The Experts Up Close:
Michael J. Gelb is a creative-thinking expert and leads seminars at companies such as Microsoft and Nike. He is the author of several books, including How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. His latest book is Innovate Like Edison.
Kevin Carroll is a speaker and expert in personal growth and human potential, the founder of Kevin Carroll Katalyst and the author of several books, including Rules of the Red Rubber Ball: Find and Sustain Your Life's Work.
Niurka is a speaker, a communication and influence expert and founder of Niurka Inc., a corporate-training company.
Q: What are some smart strategies for solving seemingly overwhelming problems?
Michael Gelb: Many people get overwhelmed by problems because they keep their attention exclusively on what’s wrong and react to it emotionally and unconsciously. This negative focus often leads to a downward spiral of pessimism and limited resourcefulness.
Refuse to be overwhelmed. It’s important to cultivate the ability to maintain inner balance, equanimity and clarity of mind in the face of challenging circumstances. Once you are centered, you can bring your attention to defining the problems at hand. As educational philosopher John Dewey noted, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”
Focus on clarifying desired goals and outcomes in an optimistic framework. Decades of research demonstrate that optimists get better results in all areas of life. This isn’t because positive thinkers summon New Age fairy angels to sprinkle achievement dust on their efforts, but simply because optimists stay engaged with the problems at hand and look for solutions. Since your brain is the most profoundly powerful solution-finding mechanism in the known universe, your chances for success are much greater when you embrace problems as opportunities for resourcefulness and creativity.
Q: Are there tips or exercises to become a more creative person?
Kevin Carroll: Nurture your neoteny (juvenilization). I heard the term neoteny used several years ago by Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play and co-author of the book Play. In most species, there are “adult-aged” members that retain youthful-like traits and behavior. As he put it, “Neoteny is the state or attitude of perpetual immaturity and playfulness.”
Research from psychiatrist Bruce Charlton shows the value of a youthful state of mind for adults. He says the demands of the 21st century, such as embracing technological advances and dealing with the uncertainty of business and personal situations, require adults to take a much more teenlike approach—be more adaptable, malleable and open to new things.
The kid-within-us-all needs to be given permission to have fun regularly (especially in the workplace) and celebrate the big purpose of play throughout our entire life.
- Have the discipline to be present.
- Maintain eyes of wonder to identify new opportunities and teachable moments.
- Stay forever curious.
- Actively pursue a hobby or avocation.
- Be a lifelong learner and recognize you have human homework to accomplish personal improvement.
- Read these books: Sparks of Genius by Robert and Michelle Root-Bernstein, The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley and Not a Box by Antoinette Portis.
- Seek out the best practices of thought leaders and creative organizations such as: IDEO, Play at LookAtMoreStuff.com, Solution People, Rockwell Group/ Imagination Playground
Michael Gelb: Yes. Find the best role models. If you want to learn golf, you study the best golfers, like Tiger Woods or Annika Sorenstam. If you want to learn creativity, study Leonardo da Vinci or Thomas Edison. Here are some principles from Leonardo da Vinci:
- Ask challenging questions and encourage others to do the same. Keep a journal to record your ideas.
- Leonardo may be history’s greatest genius, but he made plenty of mistakes. He always focused on learning from them quickly.
- Leonardo wrote, “The five senses are the ministers of the soul.” Create an inspiring, enlivening environment. As you surround yourself with beauty, you invite your senses and your soul to come alive. Put fresh flowers on your desk; listen to inspiring music; enjoy healthy, beautifully presented meals.
- Maintain your sense of humor in the face of uncertainty. Smile like the Mona Lisa in the face of change. Listen for the voice of your intuition.
- Learn mind mapping®, a whole-brain technique for thinking, planning and problem-solving, developed by Tony Buzan.
Leonardo said, “Everything connects to everything else.” Creativity is all about making new, unexpected connections.
Q: Do you recommend any resources to enhance creativity?
Niurka: Get in touch with your source of inspiration and let your passion flow through your unique talents. What thrills and delights you? What turns you on mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually? Whatever it is, practice it. Are you most inspired when connecting with people? Join a mastermind group. Surround yourself with creative, like-minded people who share their gifts and talents. Go to festivals and gatherings with people who share your interests. It will trigger your imagination. Are you more inspired when in solitude? Meditate. Devote time each day to silence. Be in nature. It will clear your mind to allow creative juices to flow. Journal. Give yourself a consistent time and place to practice your art so that you condition your brain and body to respond creatively on demand. Do you love physical activity? Exercise enhances creativity because it gets the blood fl owing while sending oxygen to the brain— generating vitality and stimulating mental acuity. Be bold and adventurous. When on unfamiliar ground, you will be wide-open to new ideas and possibilities that will ignite creative impulses.