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Creativity Boosters to get you in the Flow – 4 of 4 – Nature

We all know Creativity at work is important. It is a leading driver of innovation and it boosts productivity. And when you are in the right flow, you are more creative and productive. Other than having a formulaic approach to better flow (Formula pins down what gets people in the “Flow”) we all want to know what leads to better creativity and some of the other outcomes it contributes to. I know what works for me and instinctively and from experience, you might know about these too. In this four part series I want to share what works for me – this post covers nature and the creativity boosters tag captures all the posts.

Creativity

First a little more about creativity and why it is so important at work. Each post from the series will elaborate on one aspect of this and then go onto the specific creativity booster that supports it.

Did you know creativity is a relatively recent phenomenon? It does seem counterintuitive since humans have been creative from the get-go, one would think. It is what set us apart from other species. But according to this article (which also has other excellent info on creativity) and Google’s Ngram tool, it wasn’t really part of the popular lexicon until midway through the last century: What is creativity? The ultimate guide to understanding today’s most important ability.

And it has come a long way since then.

One could say its meaning needs reassessing.

A recent study by Microsoft and Steelcase came up with some new themes which I have captured below – study article here: The Creative Shift: How Place + Technology + People Can Help Solve 21st Century Problems.

Click to enlarge

Nature

Whether you are for mountains, forest or water (classic icebreaker question) getting out into nature will do the trick for your creativity.

study published in 2012 was one of the first to address the effect of time spent in nature on higher-level tasks of the creative intellect, such as problem-solving. 

In 2013, research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that walking in a city park or any green space for as little as 25 minutes is enough to give your brain a rest and boost cognitive functioning.

I am very lucky to have gorgeous countryside on my doorstep and frequently try to take breaks in my day and especially when I am in the middle of a work challenge that requires creative thinking – which is pretty much always. It helps I need to walk some of my furry keeps 🐶🐶.

When I can I go on longer excursions – here is a video below from a morning hike (18 miles) I went on with a friend. I challenge you to immerse yourself in the audio (turn up the sound for the bird song) and visual and remain unmoved – imagine immersing yourself for longer than the 15 second video snippet allows.

To really make a difference to my creative output I go on longer excursions, or OuterVentures as I like to call them. Mostly these are on vacations where I try to make access to nature at least partly possible or through longer hikes with friends. I’m about to go on one such hike through Scotland on the West Higland Way: West Highland Way – Scotland’s Best Loved Long Distance Walking Route. I’ll do a write up on my return but I know I am going to come back fired up with creative juices as is always the case.

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Creativity Boosters to get you in the Flow – 3 of 4 – Meditation

We all know Creativity at work is important. It is a leading driver of innovation and it boosts productivity. And when you are in the right flow, you are more creative and productive. Other than having a formulaic approach to better flow (Formula pins down what gets people in the “Flow”) we all want to know what leads to better creativity and some of the other outcomes it contributes to. I know what works for me and instinctively and from experience, you might know about these too. In this four part series I want to share what works for me – this post covers meditation and the creativity boosters tag captures all the posts.

Creativity

First a little more about creativity and why it is so important at work. Each post from the series will elaborate on one aspect of this and then go onto the specific creativity booster that supports it.

Does creativity still matter in the age of Artificial Intelligence? That is a central question of our times as both “capabilities” are so in demand and prominent. My view is a resounding YES.

AI is becoming capable of creating music, art, code, etc. It is even driving outcomes in customer engagement. What then for the role of human originality. In my view, it is in combination that we can expand the infinite possibilities and solutions – technology, data and the human touch blended to achieve scalable solutions that meet unique human needs or spark unique human engagements.

Take customer engagement. Though AI is being used to driver greater customer engagement outcomes, humans are creative thinkers, seeing connections between things that might not seem at all related. Humans often see obscure links to find solutions to seemingly impossible problems. Humans also bring emotional intelligence and empathy, interpreting emotions and meaning from nuances in body language, voice, and even silence and adjusting as needed.

Empathy is critical too and showing that you understand a customer’s dilemma is the first step to helping them solve their problem. 

Human cognition is also innately intuitive, using life experiences to make rapid decisions. We don’t just use the facts in front of us to make judgments and draw conclusions. We draw on experience and knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. 

These are the things that make us creative powerhouses but together with machines we can stretch possibilities and performance as this HBR study confirms: Collaborative Intelligence: Humans and AI Are Joining Forces.

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Meditation

I have written an eBook on Mindfulness practice and how it can lead to better outcomes at work including how it can improve your creativity. Improved mindfulness is an outcome of meditation BUT that is not the point of meditation.

As Alan Watts conveys in this video:

Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment and therefore if you meditate for an ulterior motive, that is to say, to improve your mind, to improve your character, to be more efficient in life, you’ve got your eye on the future and you are not meditating.

Meditating to improve your creativity is the same thing. Having said that, done well and for the right purpose, meditation definitely does improve a vast number of things as a result, including your creativity – or so I find.

And whether it’s through meditation or an increased level of mindfulness, there are also things you can do to increase your flow state and inspiration potential or just get you back on the right path. Here are a few pointers:

  • Activities you can do to influence an “aha moment” brain state:
    • Reduce distractions (sensory deprivation), e.g. meditation session with eyes closed, go into a dark space, etc.
    • Think positive (it activates the anterior cingulate which expands your scope of thought)
    • Widen horizons (imagine yourself in a vast environment like space, or a different one, like another country)
  • Notice when you have the urge to “push through” or “think harder” and try stepping away instead. Stepping away is part of the creative process. Giving your unconscious mind time to reorganize the information and clarify it for you. 
  • Setting aside time for creative play provides the space the mind needs to work out how to bring ideas to life.  Everyone has the capability of creativity.  Think of it as forming patterns in unique ways. Here is a sample of some activities for creative play.  The key to play is to detach from the outcome and release yourself from the rules and structure.  In other words, just see what comes up without judgement!
    • Sketching – I swear by it with my DanelDoodles.
    • Brainstorming
    • Free-writing
    • Non-dominant hand exercises
    • Fantasy/Day Dreaming
    • Dance/Free movement
    • Decorating your workspace or home – just rearranging things can sometimes help, even clearing things up (especially clutter)
    • Tinkering
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Creativity Boosters to get you in the Flow – 2 of 4 – Coffee

We all know Creativity at work is important. It is a leading driver of innovation and it boosts productivity. And when you are in the right flow, you are more creative and productive. Other than having a formulaic approach to better flow (Formula pins down what gets people in the “Flow”) we all want to know what leads to better creativity and some of the other outcomes it contributes to. I know what works for me and instinctively and from experience, you might know about these too. In this four part series I want to share what works for me – this post covers coffee and the creativity boosters tag captures all the posts.

Creativity

First a little more about creativity and why it is so important at work. Each post from the series will elaborate on one aspect of this and then go onto the specific creativity booster that supports it.

Half of us will need to reskill in the next five years, as the “double-disruption” of the economic impacts of the pandemic and increasing automation transforming jobs takes hold.

That’s according to the third edition of the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Reportwhich maps the jobs and skills of the future, tracking the pace of change and direction of travel.

The World Economic Forum has taken data from LinkedIn and online learning platform Coursera with which to track with unprecedented granularity, the types of specialized skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow, which are in demand across multiple emerging professions. Here are the top 10 skills needed with Creativity clearly amongst them.

Coffee

It is probably no coincidence that the London coffeehouses of the 17th & 18th centuries were the engines of creation that helped drive the Enlightenment – the European intellectual movement that emphasized reason and individualism rather than tradition.

Yes a recent study showed that caffeine boosts problem-solving ability and not creativity, but that is not what we expect from coffee. If creativity takes hard work (which it does), then coffee is how you prime the pump. The study also showed that caffeine increases focus, alertness and motor skills. The rest is still up to you, but at least you will be ready for the creative juices to flow or the creative muse to visit.

Here is how I focus on the best coffee. My go to is the Bialetti Moka Pot and with my Italian background that is probably no surprise, I grew up with it. I often use Illy or Lavazza blended coffee beans and from time to time, I grind my own beans when I find good ones. I don’t only use it for Espresso’s which it is typically associated with. I have a slightly larger pot and I make one entire pot for myself first thing in the morning, often with just a little bit of warm milk. Or if I want to spoil myself on occasion, I froth some hot milk (I have a Lavazza milk frother for that).

Thats how I start my day and also the time I put aside for serious creative work, the earlier the better. If needed, I add a second pot and then that’s it, no more creative work, or coffee.

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Creativity Boosters to get you in the Flow – 1 of 4 – Music

We all know Creativity at work is important. It is a leading driver of innovation and it boosts productivity. And when you are in the right flow, you are more creative and productive. Other than having a formulaic approach to better flow (Formula pins down what gets people in the “Flow”) we all want to know what leads to better creativity and some of the other outcomes it contributes to. I know what works for me and instinctively and from experience, you might know about these too. In this four part series I want to share what works for me – this post covers music and the creativity boosters tag captures all the posts.

Creativity

First a little more about creativity and why it is so important at work. Each post from the series will elaborate on one aspect of this and then go onto the specific creativity booster that supports it.

While creativity is highly important in business, it’s an abstract process that works best with a concrete structure. This is where design thinking comes into play.

Top industries are hiring those with Design Thinking Skills

From: The Importance of Creativity in Business, 25 January 2022.

Music

You don’t have to be an avid muso to appreciate this. In fact sometimes it can distract, as it does me. Thats why the music you choose to support the work you are doing should be in the background and down low.

One new study explores music as a source of creativity. Since music has been shown to improve cognition and enhance learning and memory in other studies, it makes sense that perhaps it has an impact on creative thinking, too. 

From: How Music Helps Us Be More Creative, November 17 2017.

Here is my Spotify playlist. It’s made up of LoFi beats and very chilled music – I use it any time I need to tap into my creativity. Maybe it helps you :)

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Finite creativity and the importance of time out

Creativity is important. In our personal lives as well as business. Creative juices are sustenance for our innovation output. Why then do we treat it as if it were an infinite resource that can be tapped at will.

Creativity depletion deniers will say there is no limit to our capacity to be creative. But it is the possibilities that are limitless, not our capacity to be creative.

You can fill a glass only so much. What overflows is not necessarily of the same quality.

The antidote is time out – OuterVentures

Time out from the daily grind, from the incessant, plodding monotony.

Time out and immersion in different cultures, experiences, environments.

I am extremely fortunate to be able to enjoy the possibilities. I have just come back from a vacation. I regularly get out for hikes and travel frequently (although less so of late for obvious reasons). I had forgotten how beneficial this is.

My latest OuterVenture has taken my wife and I to Cape Town for the last two weeks.

What an amazing, vibrant and richly cultured city. Full of entrepreneurs and innovators making the most of sometimes challenging circumstances. What beautiful landscapes too. Such refreshing experiences overall.

This site is all about InnerVentures – an inward looking pursuit most times.

As you may have gathered, OuterVentures is the opposite.

As much as it is important to spend time investigating inwardly, it is equally important to lift our gaze from our navels. As Marcus Aurelius, the renowned Roman philosopher famously exhorted, stop thinking and act!

Anyway, some of the best snaps from my recent holiday below. Next is a 7 day hike in Scotland on the West Highland Way.

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Content management with WordPress evolved – full site editing 1

Last month WordPress announced that full site editing was coming to its WordPress.com users of which I am one. I’ve been meaning to take it for a spin but haven’t managed to until now. This post is an attempt at documenting my experiences as I try and learn the new functionality as well as get to grips with how to test new features and functions like this on my active site without breaking it. I’ll track it all with my WordPress tag.

So on the very last point mentioned, I came across this option for How to Create Your Own WordPress Staging Site. I was going to explore that option but before I could, I came across this video below – a recording of a webinar run by WordPress on full site editing.

It does a great job not only of showing how full site editing works, but also goes through an alternative site staging option. It shows how to create a new site on WordPress and export and import your current site content and test that with a new block theme that works with full site editing. This way you test the new site theme and functionality in a kind of staging environment with existing content until happy and then you could switch to this new site when happy. Or upgrade your current site knowing what works and how.

But as attractive as this last option seemed, I soon ran into problems.

Problems with using WordPress.com as a staging site

  1. I’m currently on a Business Plan which is needed for enabling WooCommerce.
  2. My site has ecommerce functionality based on WooCommerce and using the Storefront theme currently. The Storefront theme is not currently capable of full site editing.
  3. I found a cool alternative: Wowmall – WooCommerce block based theme
  4. The problem is on a free WordPress site you cannot run WooCommerce and nor can you upload the Wowmall theme – you need to be on a Business Plan at least. This is cost prohibitive.
  5. My Plan B is to try run this on a an Azure plan I have, i.e self hosted WordPress on which I can instal WooCommerce and upload the Wowmall theme after grabbing it from here. Good article here on how to run WordPress on Azure.

So that’s all for now. I’ll update my progress in another post.

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The opportunity for inspiration is infinite

I started my DanelDoodles as a way to capture simple inspiring thoughts visually, for myself. I also use them for visual sensemaking. Some of my early inspirational ones can be found here. They are also a great creative outlet.

I started creating them using the Paper 53 App and their Pencil stylus on an iPhone (now just Paper after being acquired by WeTransfer and their stylus is discontinued). Then I migrated to iPad and Apple’s Pencil. Now I create on both iPhone and iPad – the former for quick idea capturing, the latter for finishing in higher quality. I’ve also moved on to Procreate now – trying to get to even higher quality.

You could say the market for inspiration is infinite. You need only look at the many inspirational cards, mugs or t-shirts out there, etc. Which is one of the reasons I started my little side gig – getting my DanelDoodles onto t-shirts. But this is not for massive commercial success – with all the competition that would be a challenge.

But I do want to try and be different. I’d like my designs to be original, quirky, thought provoking or at the very least, to provoke a smile.

I have created two categories for them – one for personal inspiration (Mind Doodles) and the other for inspiring people at work or in a work context (Work Doodles). This is pretty much in line with the main purpose of this entire site, captured by the strap line: Adventures inside Organisations and of the Mind.

Which leads me to the featured image at the top of this post. This is a kind of showcase image and not just aligned to the title. You can also see it on a t-shirt and buy it if you like too – I’ve embedded the product page at left

I use it to remind myself when things are tough or I am down, that there is beauty everywhere and life is short so I should open my eyes to see that.

As far as I am aware, this is entirely original meaning I did not copy this from anyone or anywhere. I can’t say that’s the case 100% for this or any of my work since nothing is ever original and anyway, great artists steal (said a pretty good artist called Pablo once).

But I’m not saying I’m a great artist. I’m just having some fun, inspiring myself and hoping that perhaps that may rub off on others that might need it.

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Making your personal goals stick in 2022

I’m about to share how I do what is described in the headline. That’s not to say it’s guaranteed to work for you. But I’ve been doing this for at least the last 5 years and its starting to stick and work better and better for me. Maybe it helps you too or you get some ideas.

First some screenshots of my phone screens and then some explanation.

The first thing to explain is that I manage this all on my iPhone because that is probably the thing that gets most of my attention day in and day out. The first screenshot above is of my Lock Screen and the other two are alternative views of my home screen. This nails my first approach on effective goal setting – visibility – but let me handle that and others separately.

Visible

So I’ve mostly covered this point in the last paragraph above. The only thing to add is that I cover different aspects in the different views. The Lock Screen is where I have tangible goals around my creative output. Of the other two, one is intended to change every month and guide that month’s intentions and the other every quarter for similar reasons.

Written

There are a ton of articles (many based on good research) that describe why writing things down makes it more likely for what you wrote down to stick. This applies to goals. I use an app called Scribblet which allows you to add written notes to widgets – the second two screenshots above. For the Lock Screen I just used the Paper app.

Attainable

Not all my goals, aspirations or intentions are as quantifiable and tangible as the ones you see on my Lock Screen but all are attainable. And you may argue my Q1 aspirations are too vague but I do have ideas behind each of them – I just didn’t want to take up screen space by writing them down in detail and also I’d prefer not to have them be seen.

That’s it, in essence.

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A review of the new Microsoft Whiteboard

Click to see larger view

Naturally I used Microsoft Whiteboard for the review itself. I then exported an image of it and that is what you see above. This is not so much a feature overview since you can find that all here: Welcome to the new Whiteboard! That was the announcement post from a few days ago. This is more about the drawing, writing and doodling capabilities of such a tool as I’m a massive fan – see my many DanelDoodle’s. For the record, these are the tools I use mostly on my iPad currently, as mentioned in the review: Paper and Procreate. As soon as the new Whiteboard becomes available on iOS, I’m going to try that and also in my next Microsoft Teams Meeting.

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The ebb and flow of productivity at work

I was thinking the other day about the times when I’m most productive at work. So much has been written about the subject and I work at a company and in a role where it’s one of the key functions of my job, i.e. to make people more productive through technology. There are a gazillion sites and services out there on how to be more productive. I think a lot of them miss the point.

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We Work Unbound – key concepts for a hybrid world

Working at Yammer back in the day (2012 onwards), we were at the forefront of some cutting edge work practices that had been brewing a while. The advent of social technologies of which Yammer was a latest iteration and that I had also previously been involved in (more here: birth of enterprise social) were driving these new practices. At the time we came up with a concept that could probably be called a precursor to hybrid work in that it made the most of social technologies that enabled remote work yet also included in person work. We used to hold frequent get togethers including customers, employees, leading outside thinkers, etc. There is still a Facebook group and LinkedIn group that are semi active for organising things. The manifesto which is the featured image for this post describes the concept at its core and below are some additional notes penned at the time. Sharing here for posterity.

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Overcoming challenges in an innovation imperative world – 2nd edition

Just a few weeks ago I highlighted how important innovation was and yet how disinterested everyone was in it: Innovation has never been more problematic or needed – 3 things you can do. I went on to suggest 3 ways in which you could address this challenge. Not more than a week later, this post came out on the World Economic Forum (WEF) site: Companies need innovation more than ever. Here’s how to measure it. It makes similar points that cover challenges and solutions. In my previous post I shared an example of a company tackling things the right way. In this post I’ll talk briefly about the WEF post and share another great example of a company doing things right.

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