I just finished reading an interesting book, The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry. The book provides advice on maintaining creative energy for those of us who need to think and create every day in our jobs. A lot of the advice resonates with me, but at the top of the list is the idea that to maintain creative energy, we really need to stimulate our creative minds. Henry says:
“You need to be purposeful about including self-directed, thought-provoking and capacity-increasing stimuli into your life on a consistent basis. Whether it’s in the form of print media, movies, web videos, conversations, advertisements, or anything else that is delivering a message you must process and assimilate, the stimuli you take in over the course of your day informs the quality of the insights you generate. Just like good food increases your capacity to be active and healthy, the higher the quality of your stimuli, the better you are setting yourself up for high-level breakthroughs.”
To reiterate: the stimuli you take in over the course of your day informs the quality of the insights you generate. In other words, as the old saying goes, “you are what you eat.”
That got me wondering whether I am doing enough to regularly stimulate my creative energy.
My perspective on the need for creative stimulus has been sharpened by some recent experiences. When facilitating a collaborative inquiry process in a recent course, a colleague had recommended some articles by John Heron and Peter Reason, who talk about four ways of knowing. Without getting into the deep details (although I recommend the articles cited below), it is important to note that one of the ways of knowing is “presentational” – which is knowing through metaphor and story as well as through images and movement (knowing expressed in nonverbal and artistically creative ways). Too often, we gloss over presentational knowing in favor of what we experience and what we know intellectually and what we do, effectively shutting out an important part of how we interpret our world.
For those of us who need to be creative on a regular basis, highlighting that more expressive mode of knowing can be important. In a recent Positive Professional Development workshop with Michele Martin, we used images instead of words to try to capture our professional contributions and goals. I admit to having been skeptical of this process, but in the end, the images served to bring to the surface some more deeply held thoughts and feelings. The act of verbalizing (or telling stories about) the images – explaining why the images resonated – brought forward language and metaphor that proved to be very useful for deciding on actions.
Which brings me back to thinking about how to more effectively and deliberately provide stimulation for my creative side – to find ways to access presentational knowing as I do the work of designing, strategizing, and facilitating every day.
I am a voracious reader – fiction, fantasy, memoir, and bookshelves of non-fiction on the professional topics that interest me. I tap into the theory and research community in our field by reading a variety of academic journals and research web sites. I also regularly review blogs and twitter feeds from some thinkers whose work resonates with me (and some whose work challenges me). Conferences are always a great source of stimulation as well, and I am looking forward to Learning 2011 coming up in a few weeks.
But all of that is intellectual stimulation… I want to find ways to tap into that more creative, artistic mode of seeing the world, and use that perspective to inform and shape my work as well. I admit I’m not quite sure how to do that… Geek that I am, I am going off to the library later today to pick up some books on creativity exercises to see if they will give me some clues. (How ironic! Perhaps I should go to the art museum instead.)
I would be happy to hear advice from you on how you tap into your “presentational knowing” – your more creative, artistic side – in order to energize the intellectual work you do every day.
For more on presentational knowing, see:
John Heron and Peter Reason (2008). Extending epistemology within a co-operative inquiry. In Handbook of Action Research, 2nd edition. Edited by P. Reason and H. Bradbury. Sage Publications
John Heron and Peter Reason (1997). A participatory inquiry paradigm. In Qualitative Inquiry 3(3), Sage Publications