Practice

by Rebecca Cochran

practiceWhat did you practice today?

Practicing isn’t just for musicians. Or ballerinas. Or Olympic athletes.

We all need to practice in order to improve. In order to learn. In order to ingrain strong habits within ourselves.

Practice enables us to do things. Even simple things like cooking. Or gardening. Or blogging. Practice also enables us to do things well.

The act of regular practice helps us to get better at innovating within our companies. Practicing innovation skills such as questioning, observing, networking, experimenting and associating, can enable us to effect change within our organizations.

Practice doesn’t have to be complicated or even time-consuming. Any of us can do it. The key to accomplishing anything is to establish a practice routine. Your routine may be weekly, semi-weekly, daily or whatever. The important thing is to carve out time on your calendar to engage in regular practice of the activities or skills that are important to you.

I think we all need to practice practicing. Or, as Aristotle so adeptly put it, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

Walking Backwards

BackwardsDid you ever try walking backwards? I did the other day. Well, not actually walking backwards…

I take a walk daily. I’ve been doing so since I was a little girl. It feels so good, so natural and it’s such a simple way to exercise my body and my mind.

The other day, on a whim, I decided to start at the end of my usual route and walk from there to where I usually begin my walk. I know…that wasn’t exactly rocket science, but it was interesting to take in everything in reverse, to see the “backs” of things: trees, buildings, signs, everything.

As I “reverse-walked,” I couldn’t help but see things differently. I spied a hidden garden that I’d never noticed before. I saw sunlight glistening on a building, giving it a dazzling glow that I’d been missing all those years I’d been approaching from the opposite direction. And, I couldn’t help thinking that I should walk backwards more often, literally and figuratively.

What might I be missing each time I start a project at “the beginning”? Could I achieve a better result if I started somewhere in “the middle” or, even, at “the end”?

Could I be a better problem solver if I consciously worked backwards? By clearly defining what the end result should be, could I reverse-engineer the steps needed to reach that goal?

Certainly, as a musician, I recall teachers suggesting that the best way to learn a piece of music is to “learn it backwards.” In other words, start from the final measure, then append and learn a few prior measures, little by little, until you find your way back to the beginning. This works particularly well when memorizing anything.

Might I be more creative if I consciously “work backwards” more often? It’s incredibly easy to fall into the habit of sticking to a system, especially when that system has been working well for a long time. If I reverse my creative process, might my results be, dare I say it, more creative?

The simple exercise of taking my walk from “back to front” has reminded me that there is more than one way to approach a problem, reach a goal or generate a new idea.

I need to practice walking backwards more often.

What analogies can you add to this list?

by Rebecca Cochran

10 Habits for Cultivating Creativity

PhotoAren’t Feeling Particularly Creative These Days? You’re not alone. Many people admit to being so distracted by the avalanche of stimuli demanding their instant and constant attention that they have lost the ability to be creative. Here are ten tips to help get you back on a more creative track:

  1. Do a little something new every day. By challenging yourself to make even a small daily change to the status quo, you’ll unleash some pent-up creativity. Examples: Take a different route to the office or to the coffee shop. Or, order something you’ve never tried before at the cafeteria or lunch counter. Who knows? All this newness could become a creative habit.
  2. Talk to interesting people. Seek out people who challenge you to think about topics that are new to you. Everywhere you go, try to catch the eye of someone who looks interesting or different. Start the conversation yourself. You’ll both benefit.
  3. Take a walk. When in doubt, take a walk. (This one, I learned from my dog). Walking out-of-doors stimulates your brain cells. Just the act of moving around puts a creative new spin on things.
  4. Turn off the TV. As “creative” as some of those sitcoms may be, just sitting and staring at a screen is no exercise for your brain (right side or left).
  5. Listen to Bach. More than any other composer, J.S. Bach’s music is so orderly and exquisitely structured that, just by listening, we get the equivalent of “defragging” the hard drives in our minds. You’ll immediately feel less cluttered. Trust me: it works and you’ll enjoy yourself in the process.
  6. Get away from your computer. Many creative types claim they are creating at their computers. I disagree. I believe creativity happens when we disconnect from technology, at least temporarily. Our computers and accompanying software are simply tools for executing our creative ideas.
  7. Limit yourself. Yep, that’s right. Research shows that when you have too many options (the proverbial blank slate), you can actually hinder creativity. When you begin a creative project, allow yourself just a few tools and make up some ground rules. By boxing yourself in a bit, you’ll force yourself to be more resourceful and creative. Try it!
  8. Learn to tango. The true Argentine tango is the most improvisational of all dance styles. After only a couple of lessons with a good instructor, you’ll learn the few basic steps. Then, you and your dance partner can step out at a milonga and create your own dance according to the mood, the music and what you wish to communicate to each other. Argentine tango may be the only dance form that allows for unlimited creativity. There are no wrong moves in tango.
  9. Fall in love. (Note: Can be combined with #8.) According to a study at the University of Amsterdam and recounted in Scientific American, thinking about love triggers global processing, which in turn, promotes creative thinking. According to the researchers, romantic love induces a long-term perspective and allows the mind to make remote and uncommon associations. I’m convinced!
  10. Travel. Akin to the global processing theory of #9, traveling spurs creativity in most of us. Getting away, near or far, stimulates our minds and clears out past clutter. In particular, travel to unusual locales opens up our minds to new ways of looking at things. Supposedly, even just thinking about traveling can get those creative juices flowing. (And, yes, you have my permission to book that trip to Buenos Aires to learn the tango right away!)

Let me know your thoughts. How do you get creative?

by Rebecca Cochran