Creativity at Play #3

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

Can Anyone Direct Me to the Perfume Aisle?

If there is any one retail outlet more intimidating than the local giant home improvement warehouse hardware mecca, point it out, please. You can get lost just locating a shopping cart. One thing is certain: the target audience of these emporiums is heavily male. Now imagine you are asked to consult on a new brand of uber-spacious hardware paradise, this one targeting women. List at least twenty ideas to make the local oversized hardware warehouse appeal to a female demographic

Three Stories

I live in the Netherlands, and I can speak enough Dutch to manage most forms of shopping. Some years ago I went into the local hardware store, I knew exactly what I wanted, only I didn’t know what it was called because growing up I could just wander into my Dad’s workshop and pick up whatever tool or supply I needed. So I didn’t have the right vocabulary to even look stuff up in Dutch, I had to draw the thing I wanted, much to amusement of the sales guy. I wasn’t intimidated, but I have never felt so aware of “secret men’s business” as I did in that moment.

I was at a conference about branding and marketing, and the keynote speaker summed up marketing to women as “pink it and shrink it”.

Decades ago when I was deciding what to study an engineering recruiter pointed out that women who sew their own clothes, as I do, should be good at engineering since they’re already thinking about how to make flat surfaces (fabric) into three dimensional shapes (clothes).

I tell these stories to show that I recognise the male-bias in hardware stores, but I don’t want to solve it by the sexist cop-out of painting everything pink, and I think women have existing skills that make them capable of undertaking DIY projects.

My List

  1. Hire women. I was tempted to just repeat this 20 times. I don’t go to hardware stores all that often but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a woman working in one.
  2. Provide a creche, and a supervised playground. For a large emporium this is just good business, women will stay longer and buy more.
  3. Develop a visual glossary, a bit like the old “Point it” books for travellers, to help women find the tools and supplies they’re looking for without having to know all the specific vocabulary.
  4. Use the visual glossary on signs alongside words to make specific tools more recognizable.
  5. An app based on the visual glossary from which I can create a shopping list before I come to the store so that I can research and check what I want.
  6. A range of tool sizes – it’s much easier to swing a hammer that’s the right size for your hands.
  7. Offer DIY kits with step by step instructions, think IKEA and make it simple and visual.
  8. Offer beginner’s classes for specific build projects eg; “build a bookshelf in a day” and let these classes have a social element. Women who are into craft often enjoy crafting together.
  9. Provide tools and supplies for advanced projects – don’t assume all women are beginners
  10. Promote women-based DIY businesses to customers.
  11. Offer trade discounts to women working in DIY comparable to other mega-hardware stores.
  12. Create a community online where your customers can talk about their projects and share their progress and results, refer to ravelry.com for examples.
  13. Train all your staff that women are becoming experts in DIY. If a man and a woman are shopping together, don’t assume that it’s the man doing the project and speak only to him.
  14. Trolleys that are ergonomically fit for women to use.
  15. Hire women experts to demonstrate how tools work, how to complete projects.
  16. Profile successful customer projects on your site/app.
  17. Carry a range of work clothes that fit women, from gloves to overalls, with lots of pockets. Have a range of colours – not all pink.
  18. Keep shelving at a reasonable height, adjust shelves so that 80% of women can reach them.
  19. Hire women. It’s worth repeating.
  20. Good coffee.

This was easier than I expected, perhaps because I’ve been reading reviews of Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez about how the world is often built from a male perspective and the impact on women ranges from inconvenient (public toilets) to dangerous (medical diagnostics). As psychologists would say, I was slightly primed for this task.

It was still a fun and creative, but something else occurred to me, many of these steps would just be good for business.

Creativity at Play #2

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

What day is it?

The week of seven days was adopted in Rome somewhere about 400 AD and spread into Europe, but it had been recognised long before that in the East. The names of the days are generally associated with Roman mythology.

It’s time they received a contemporary change. Your task is to rename the days of the week to be more modern. They can all be associated with a theme, or they can all have different meanings. They can be as long or as short as your like, but they must all end with the suffix “-day” like they do know.

First up, the names of the days of the week in English are generally associated with Norse mythology, not Roman. Latin based languages adapted the names via Roman Gods, so Friday is named after Frigg/Freya, the wife of Odin. She was often associated with love, and connected to Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and Friday in Italian and French became venerdì and vendredi respectively. That’s the factual detour out of the way, now I can get creative.

First, what if we just numbered the days? Oneday, Twoday, Threeday, Fourday, Fiveday, Sixday, Sevenday

It’s much easier to remember, and handy for foreigners learning English. In fact Mandarin Chinese does this, for six of the seven days, and it is very easy to learn. Slavic languages also use numbers in naming some days, but in a more complicated way, and Sunday is something like “no work day” in Czech which is genius.

A random co-incidence there are seven colours in the rainbow so how about:

Day  Day  Day  Day  Day  Day  Day

It may appeal to people with synesthesia, less useful for people who are colour-blind. Tricky for design and colour printing.

I have rather neutral associations with the actual words for days of the week, maybe if I renamed the days I could have positive association.

Monday becomes Beginday

The first day of the week and you get to start new things

Tuesday becomes Dashday

For some reason Tuesday is often a day for lots of meetings and actions, which sounds heavy unless I think of it as dashing my way through the meetings and then it sounds fun.

Wednesday becomes Focusday

We’re in the middle of things, time to focus on the centre of what needs to be done

Thursday becomes Doday

A day to get things done with the energy of Thor

Friday becomes Capday

Time to cap off the week and plan for the next week

Saturday becomes Playday

A day for socialising, for meeting friends, for watching movies and doing the fun things of the week.

Sunday becomes Createday

On Createday I will write and work on creative hobbies.

Did this exercise break out the creativity? Yes, it was fun to think about it from different angles and throw some different languages into a post for once. Will I really use my new days of the week? Sort of, it feels positive to give working days a theme, but I can’t completely control my calendar so the theme remains loose during the week. As for the weekend – that’s already a reality.

Creativity at Play #2

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

What day is it?

The week of seven days was adopted in Rome somewhere about 400 AD and spread into Europe, but it had been recognised long before that in the East. The names of the days are generally associated with Roman mythology.

It’s time they received a contemporary change. Your task is to rename the days of the week to be more modern. They can all be associated with a theme, or they can all have different meanings. They can be as long or as short as your like, but they must all end with the suffix “-day” like they do know.

First up, the names of the days of the week in English are generally associated with Norse mythology, not Roman. Latin based languages adapted the names via Roman Gods, so Friday is named after Frigg/Freya, the wife of Odin. She was often associated with love, and connected to Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and Friday in Italian and French became venerdì and vendredi respectively. That’s the factual detour out of the way, now I can get creative.

First, what if we just numbered the days? Oneday, Twoday, Threeday, Fourday, Fiveday, Sixday, Sevenday

It’s much easier to remember, and handy for foreigners learning English. In fact Mandarin Chinese does this, for six of the seven days, and it is very easy to learn. Slavic languages also use numbers in naming some days, but in a more complicated way, and Sunday is something like “no work day” in Czech which is genius.

A random co-incidence there are seven colours in the rainbow so how about:

Day  Day  Day  Day  Day  Day  Day

It may appeal to people with synesthesia , less useful for people who are colour-blind.

colours or sounds

moods

 

 

Creativity at Play #1

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain. The first

That Looks Just Like Nothing

Our lives are filled with pattern. We see patterns in textiles, building materials, nature, even food. With as much pattern as we see, it begs the question. “Is anything random anymore?” Time to explore the answer. Grab a digital camera. Your task is to take ten pictures of things in your environment that have no pattern or order. Find things that are completely random. Go!

I picked this as a first challenge because I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. Almost everything made by humans has some element of pattern in it, to be fair it’s often functionally needed. Nature also defaults to patterns, trees are essentially lazy fractal patterns, snowflakes are more or less hexagonal, water forms spirals. Even things that seem random, like cloud formations, have a level of predictability and therefore non-randomness. My eye is drawn to patterns and symmetry and found I really had to focus on looking for the off centre, the accidental and the out of balance. That woke up my brain – It was a good exercise!

So I’ve chosen 9 images, an odd number, but nice and symmetrical on the page.

New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I’ve made three. It’s been a couple of tough years filled with change and I finally feel more settled with a company I respect and a comfortable home, so it’s time to challenge myself again! Here are my three challenges for this year.

1 Say Yes To Scary Stuff

Seek out and say yes to opportunities to speak at conferences or write for professional sites. I always get a lot out of doing this, and saying yes to one often leads to more opportunities. I’ve connected with a group of friends and we’re going to encourage and mentor each other to step up and take these opportunities.

2 Be More Creative

My job and my hobbies lead me to spend a lot of time staring at screens, and I want to have more fun and be more creative.

I want to get back to crafting, when I’m not looking at a screen I like knitting, sewing and fabric art. I want to complete at least four craft projects this year. One is something for a friend’s baby, that shouldn’t take long!

I’ve started a new Instagram account called 101 Good Things, where I make very bad drawings of things that make me happy. It’s a nice combination of making me notice the happy moments and have some fun trying to draw it. I am really bad at drawing hands, there may be improvement over the year.  Not sure whether I’ll stop when I get to 101.

Back in 2010 I reviewed Caffeine for the Creative Mind but rediscovered while unpacking, it’s 250 exercises to help you be more creative. I’m going to test the exercises and see what works. I may even post some of them here.

3 Read More Books from More Diverse Writers

I didn’t read enough last year, and I missed it. This year I want to read more, and from more diverse writers. A friend of mine posted this list, from R. O. Kwon, and I’ve added about 10 books from it to my wish list. I received an amazon voucher for Christmas but it’s not going to cover it!

  • by a writer who identifies as LGBTQI
  • a classic (not a re-read)
  • a poetry anthology
  • a Booker or Pulitzer prize-winning writer
  • by a writer from Africa
  • by a writer from China
  • by a writer from another Asian country
  • by a writer from a country I haven’t visited

I’ve started Middlemarch, so that’s the classic covered, I’ll take recommendations for the other options.

 

Let’s see how well I do – I’ll review at the beginning of December.

How to Fly a Horse

How to Fly a Horse; The Secret History of Creation and Discovery

Kevin Ashton

Who discovered how to cultivate vanilla?  How did the American Airforce develop jet engines in a matter of months?  Why does Woody Allen (almost always) avoid the Oscars despite almost two dozen nominations?

This book is a collection of lessons about creativity with a myriad of examples – some of which will be familiar and some of which you won’t have heard of.  It begins by attacking the myth of creativity, the very pervasive idea that creativity is the province of a certain type of person, that creativity is a gift, an amazing flash of inspiration.  Instead he posits, with significant evidence, that creative thinking is in everyone’s reach, in fact it’s just thinking. We only get to call it creative when we see the results.

creative thinking

While we’re all possible of thinking, and of generating creative results the outcome, or rather the impact may vary. New ideas aren’t believed, our own cognitive biases make us favour the status quo. It takes the remarkable persistence of someone like Judah Folkman, whose work on blood supply to tumours is now considered a breakthrough. But for more than ten years he pursued what his colleagues considered a “dead end”.

In order to move our opinion away from the status quo we need extraordinary, convincing evidence.

evidence for new ideas

The challenges to creativity and inventiveness grows as organisations grow and compliance becomes more important. But the history of the development of jet engine at Lockheed Martin offers an example of how creative results can be supported within an organisation; it took leadership, a dedicated team in their own environment, a clear goal, freedom to challenge the status quo. They benefitted from an existing culture of “show me”, so an inventor can convince their colleagues by showing their idea works rather than endless discussion. (In another chapter Ashton laments time wasted in meetings with discussion)

The book is worth reading for the histories of inventors and creativity alone, but it goes beyond that in encouraging everyone to practise their creativity, setting out the work needed, and showing the challenges you’ll face. passion fuels creativity

How to Fly a Horse was awarded a “best business book” award earlier this year, however to me the specific applications for business seem less than those for individuals. I would recommend this book for anyone who feels “stuck” in their creativity.

image: books via pixabay

Creativity Inc

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 17.37.28This was the best non-fiction book I read in 2015, hand’s down. I bought it because I heard Ed Catmull speak at the Dublin Summit and liked what he had to say. I add notes as I read, and this is my most annotated book. I was texting quotes from it to a friend – who has now bought his own copy.

In part it’s the story of Pixar, but from that there are distilled lessons for business leaders of all sorts. There’s a touching afterword titled “The Steve We Knew”, which details how Steve Jobs worked with Pixar, and shows not just the level of commitment he had to the company but the enjoyment he got from Pixar and how much he learnt from them.

In someways Pixar is a special case; it’s a highly creative company with a string of movie hits. Those movies have been chock-full of technical innovation, but it’s the story arc, and the “realness” of the animation that has won them fans, earnt the dollars and won the awards. They are relentless in their pursuit of quality, and take unusual steps to achieve this;

  • On the ground research; animation teams experience first hand the real life environments they’ll need to create on the screen. The makers of Brave had archery lessons, and a chef made ratatouille for the makers of Ratatouille.
  • Honest feedback; movies go through multiple rounds of feedback on every aspect of the film, from the story itself to dynamics of animation. Often the focus is on pinpointing what is wrong rather than prescribing a fix.
  • Trust; while the process might seem messy, the direction is right and the quality story will emerge from the messiness.
  • Open Communication; anyone can talk to anyone.

This creative DNA has meant that the company was more willing to test ideas on how to work. The feedback loop on the creative output could be re-engineered and applied to the creative process and then to the company culture. The result is some real lessons for businesses.

I think the most powerful idea is that if you have the right team, then the chances are that they’ll get the ideas right. This is so often overlooked in companies where the emphasis is placed very strongly on process.  It’s backed up by the ideas of hiring people smarter than you, and people with great potential to grow.

Pixar always looked to improve, so even with a string of hit movies and good growth figures when managers got a sense that the company culture was tilting away from their vision they held a “Notes Day”, designed to collect specific improvement points for action. The day itself was compulsory, and it was opened by John Lasseter, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, sharing the feedback he’d received about his own behaviour. This radical honesty set the stage for more openness. After the event there were more than a dozen specific ideas to implement, but much of the value came from the event itself. It served as an explicit re-inforcement of the company’s open culture and commitment to honest feedback.

Catmull’s love of the company he founded, and his belief in it’s continued success shines through every page. He seems very aware of the impact of his style of leadership and his decisions and very focussed on building excellence into the company, the output and most importantly the people.

In the final chapter called “Starting Points”, Catmull summarises the learning points from the book and adds this caveat “I know that when you distill a complex idea into a T-shirt slogan, you risk giving the illusion of understanding – and, in the process, of sapping the idea of its power”. The ideas, though, have potential as mantras for managers and employees. He talks about how imposing limits can encourage a creative response, which is true, although the story behind this that is related in the book shows that it needs to be tempered with some common sense so that the limits don’t kill your team. His comments relating to risk are instructive as well – it’s not for managers to prevent risk, but to make it safe for to take them. The attitude to failure is a positive one “It’s a necessary consequence of doing something new”. If the leadership of your company said that and demonstrated belief in it, what might you achieve? Another favourite and one that I’ve put into practice “Be wary of making too many rules”, you can spend a lot of time making rules to prevent something that almost never happens. It’s better to focus on building the behaviour you want and address issues individually.

But my favourite, one that I would put on a t-shirt is “Protect the future, not the past”.

This book is on my “favourites” shelf, partly because it validated some of the things I’ve already been thinking about working with creative professionals. I was fascinated to have a glimpse inside Pixar, the style of writing is conversational and easy to digest, and there was a lot to learn.