By Bill Nottingham
Richard Fiorelli, one of my design professors at the Cleveland Institute of Art, talks a lot about “kinships in time.” This is his term for seeing possible connections between the seemingly unrelated. Richard inspired us to think this way in every aspect of our lives. You can’t expect to just turn it on for a brainstorming session. To be effective, you need to flex this creative muscle daily.
Art is built on connections. So is innovation. To see connections (or, as I call them, creative collisions), you need to commit to being open to them. John Nottingham says, “Innovation is not a thing we do on Thursday. You think about creativity, you live creativity. It’s not an event, it’s a process. Embrace it.”
Creativity is not the result of nature or nurture exclusively, nor is it fixed for life. There are lots of small things you can do to increase your creativity quotient, and to be the change you want to see in your organization.
Get out of the office
I’m a strong believer in attending conferences and expos. But any change of scenery can help you think more clearly. Take your laptop to a coffee shop or library. If your company has some outdoor space, invest in a picnic table or two.
Spending time in nature can provide a valuable mental reset and even realign your attitude. The Japanese term shinrin-yoku means “forest bathing,” metaphorically cleansing yourself in a more natural environment than where we spend most of our time. Even a walk in a park will help.
Movement in general has many benefits related to creativity. Walking can help you think, and running literally makes you smarter. Regular exercise can boost neurotransmitter production and help us cope with stress.
Get out of your routines
The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about lawncare fanatics. This quote jumped out at me: “I sit 8 to 10 hours a day at a computer … When I get home it’s nice to use a different part of my brain and see measurable, tangible results.”
Our brains didn’t evolve to focus narrowly the way many jobs require. Hobbies provide much-needed gear-shifts. Take up a musical instrument. Build models. Try recipes from unfamiliar cuisines. What matters is that the activity is so engrossing that you don’t think about anything else (especially work), and challenging enough that progress is genuinely satisfying. That builds confidence. As writer Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in an essay about learning French: “There is absolutely nothing in this world like the feeling of sucking at something and then improving at it. Everyone should do it every ten years or so.”
Get out of your head
In a 1950 interview, novelist Ernest Hemingway said that he “learned to write by looking at paintings in the Luxembourg Museum in Paris,” and recalled borrowing from Bach to create rhythm in the opening of A Farewell to Arms. He instinctively grasped something crucial: inspiration can be found in unexpected places. The boundaries between disciplines are imaginary.
“Kinships in time” are everywhere, but they often appear when you aren’t looking for them. This isn’t mysticism, it’s just how our brains work. You can improve your “vision” by immersing yourself in as much as you can. Visit museums. Change up your music playlists. Read fiction and biographies, in addition to business books. Buy season tickets at one of Cleveland’s many theaters. Create a new profile in your Netflix account and see what the algorithm suggests.
A version of this article first appeared in Smart Business Cleveland, September 2018. Reprinted with permission.
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