Great Ideas

The Creativity and Distractions - Can they Co-exist or are We all Doomed?

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I've been thinking about the act of creation and the dilemma we face because we need to unplug to create.

Some of you might argue with this point and say that you can create while your email pings, cellphone vibrates with a new text, or you overhear eavesdrop on (we're all secretly voyeurs, don't you agree) several conversations.

Maybe...but not likely...and we could be creating at a much deeper level if we focused.

My email just pinged. I went to look, deleted the new message and now I am back. It is taking me a few moments to get back into what I was writing for this post. Sip of coffee might help.

… We need to unplug to create. I know this to be true for my writing. My best stuff flows when I shut down all outside influences for at least four hours. This is tough a challenge impossible with all the plugged-in things we have managing our lives (it's like they're in charge, isn't it?). Add to this the warm-blooded people and pets who seek our attention.

And then there are bodily functions, thirst, temperature, and other physical interruptions that pop up.

My writing was just halted by thoughts of being cold. I couldn't decide whether to turn the heat (no, because it will be hot later) or put on a fleece pullover. Or perhaps I should get on the WaterRower and generate heat. That seems like a lot of work.

Creation demands our undivided attention. And yet, so many of us find this a hard gift to give ourselves. Even the little red squiggly line that pops under misspelled words can disrupt our thinking.

Another ping. Should I look? Heck, I've already diverted my attention, might as well look. Two messages, deleted them both.

Where was I? Still cold and, oh yes, creativity.

Perhaps instead of a sensory deprivation tank, we need a disruption-free module somewhere in our home or office. We could remodel an Airstream Bambi and make it a safe zone. Or get one of those new office sheds. But the key would be to NOT bring cellphones, email, phones, or other potential distracters into the module. Or if a tighter space would be more practical, we could repurpose an abandoned phone booth (aren't they all?), paint it black and use a barstool sit on and the little shelve for your pad for laptop. Like a tiny house craze for offices!

Another ping. It’s OK, I'm still distracted because I'm shivering and haven't put on another layer. Why? My fleece pullover is in the other room and I don't want to get distracted. Wait, this email is GOOD – the REI summer sale starts today.

When I think about great writers – Hemingway, Steinbeck, other dead guys – I imagine they went to secluded places where they could write undisturbed. I've been to Hemingway’s home in Key West and, other than the genetically mutated extra-toed cats, it seems like a place that would have allowed him to focus while writing.

I am now distracted by my own mental interruption. I can’t help but wonder why there are BOTH too many wild chickens and too many street cats in Key West. It seems as though one would take care of the other and they would just have too many freaking fat cats. Having an extra toe means having an extra claw, too. Doesn't it? Not sure, but if so, they'd have one more weapon against the chickens. Will google.

But this has nothing to do with creativity.

The heater just kicked on, which tells me that I was not being a sissy, it was cold in here (we have the thermostat set at 67, so it must be colder than this).

I'm trying to think back to the last time I was able to create in a –

Another ping. It’s my daily Publisher’s Lunch email. I love seeing all the deals agents get for their clients...who write and FINISH books. How is it that some are so prolific? Do they not have a life or any friends? Or Twitter?

I am trying to think back to the last time I was able to shut out disruptions. It's been a while. I've read about famous writers who said that they took years to write a book. This seems like a long time, but maybe this is because it takes that long to string together bits of uninterrupted writing time.

an hour here

25 minutes there

two hours last week

etcetera

I am distracted by the fact that this is likely the first time I've ever typed out the word etcetera in a sentence. It looks strange. We get so used to abbreviations.

The heater is still going, which tells me that it was VERY cold in my office. No wonder I was having a hard time thinking. Jeezze.

What is the solution to this conundrum fight never-ending bloody battle? How can we create works of beauty within the ugly mess that is our everyday lives?

There is no magic pill. Not legal, anyway, and drugs are never rarely the answer. We need to embody personal accountability (there's a sexy phrase, said no one ever). We need to do the best we can to reduce distractions. Turn all pings off, wear a diaper (kidding), dress comfortably, go for a pre-thinking walks, pet the cats and then lock them in another room, and then fill up a large mug of coffee and create.


Build a Bolder Mindset and Re-Think Misadventure

Time to re-think misadventureIf you look at the dictionary definition of misadventure, you might think they're something to be avoided at all costs.

We should avoid driving off a cliff.

We should avoid ingesting poisonous plants.

We should avoid jumping into a pit full of hungry tigers.

Some of the more common words used to describe misadventures include mishap and misfortune. Even tragedy. And misadventures can be these things and often are. But let's talk perspective and scale.

Common mindset based on what we often learn about misadventures: Misadventure = something to avoid.

Consider another, bolder mindset about misadventures: Misadventure = opportunity to live full out and have a more vivid experience.

But how do we avoid driving off a cliff but welcome trying driving with no destination in mind or map? How do we avoid eating a deadly berry but welcome experimenting with new foods?

Misadventure as opportunity is a mindset that nudges our every day habits closer to the edge of our comfort zone. Eventually, misadventure as opportunity is a mindset that routinely takes us out of our comfort zones, but not irresponsibly (like jumping in a pit of tigers).

This week: Reflect on what misadventure as opportunity might mean for you. It's different for each of us, because our comfort zones are at different places.

For me, nudging or blasting through my comfort zone could mean:

  • Being really open and nurturing, spending time in this way.
  • Transcending what I think I'm capable of physically.
  • Engaging in a new enterprise that requires strong teamwork and co-leadership to succeed.
  • Cooking something new from scratch.
  • Taking a trip with no agenda or plan.

Yes, I'm a recovering control freak. I'm currently cooking up potential misadventures for all of these types of experiences. What might your list look like? And if you embraced your list, how might this impact your work or life? I think the more we nudge or blast past our comfort zones, the more interesting and fulfilling our live will feel.


Break Apart to Surge Forward

Untitled design (8) copyIn Anthony Brandt's TEDxHouston talk, he shared how creative endeavors involve bending, breaking, and/or blending. If you're interested in creativity, I recommend you listed to Anthony's full talk. 

This weekend, I'm contemplating the breaking apart part. Knowing some of my habits and assumptions are fairly ingrained, perhaps breaking some of them are in order. 

Like the spider plant pictured here, we can become root-bound and stuck. Stuck in our thinking and ways and stuck with beliefs that no longer serve us. Still alive but not growing. The antidote for the spider plant, and perhaps us, is to clear away some of the hardened roots and reimagine a freer way to exist. This task involves some risk.

The planting exercise was one of my weekend mini-misadventures, but it's also a pretty good metaphor for what we all can try to make leaps forward in progress.


When We're Relentless

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I admire those who simply MUST do X (and X is a good or decent thing) and ensure they do X even when barriers make doing X hard or near impossible. Case in point. David Sedaris' commitment (obsession) with racking up huge numbers of steps  on his Fitbit.

And by huge, I've learned that Sedaris routinely gets thirty thousand, forthy thousand, even sixty thousand steps in a day. He's even walked 20 miles in one day. And he loves beating the total daily step numbers of his Fibit pals. 

I first heard about his walking habit a few years ago in a New Yorker story. Then Bill and I saw Sedaris perform and he talked about it there. While getting him to sign a book, I told him I also used a Fitbit. He signed it accordingly (see pic).

That was when Sedaris could walk through his neighborhood in Normandy (or wherever he was). Then the covid crisis occurred. This recent story from the NYT shares how David got his steps in while being home-bound and restricted in NYC. At first, he walked around his apartment for hours each day. Then, when it was allowed, he started walking the New York City streets while wearing a mask.

That's dedication! That's grit! It might be a few other things, but I admire his resolve.

But this isn't a story about steps; it's about discovering something that is important enough that we become unstoppable. What would you put in that category and how might you like the targets of your grit and determination to change?

If you made one small change in the right direction, I bet it would make a big difference. Like the Butterfly Effect. 

For me, I need to get a more assertive hold on my various health issues. I have an appointment with my oncologist in a few hours and it's time to be decisive. I've been dinking around the corners and welcoming delays and inaction (some of it covid related, sure). But this is something that is keeping me zoned out and inactive. Barriers be damned. I'm ready to get this surgery over with and re-health back up to whatever my new normal can be. I've got some projects waiting for my focus and concentration (which is low right now).

Is there something that you could recommit to that would help put things on a clearer track forward


Good Tips from a Serial Entrepreneur about Dealing with Disruption

I attended a Startup Advantage zoom session yesterday that offered a few interesting tips. 

The talk was called, Get Uncomfortable: A Mindset for Innovation and Disruption. It was lead by Randall Stevens, CEO of AVAIL and co-owner of two large coworking spaces.

He related his ideas to a large disruption we're all living through right now: covid-19 and its reverberating impacts. Here are the key points:

Stop, slow down, or change what you can and should. This means that, even if decisions are difficult, we need to adjust some things. And as leaders, entrepreneurs, and community members, it's our responsibility to have eyes wide open and act accordingly.

Tell a new story. You might have a product, service, or skills that could help people and organizations right now - especially right now. Think Zoom. Think NTI technologies. Think grocery delivery services. But to add value and operationalize this capability, we need to tell a new story so that potential users or customers, who might not be thinking this is something they need or could trust, see the potential for how it might add value to their work or life.

Create features FOR the moment. Any disruption - whether broad like covid or specific to one location or industry - calls for some things to stop and new things to begin. What are the services, messages, tools, or features that would best serve the moment? I decided to start this blog at this time partly with this in mind. That people might need suggestions and encouragement for how to best enjoy their lives and careers during this major disruption. How to have fun in a fog kind of thing.

Meet your "customers" where they're at NOW. Things have changed. Needs have changed. Bank accounts have changed. The structure of family life has changed. Recreation has changed. Goals and aspirations may have changed. Don't expect people or organizations to restart right where they were in January. Start thinking about how to best help and serve them based on their current reality.

This is not rocket science, but it is helpful to think about at this time. I'm going to use these suggestions to assess how best to ensure the success of my writing, the Lexington Writer's Room, and my other endeavors. I hope you will, too!


Rock Your Morning/Day/Week by Using Todoist in a Creative way

I'm as Type A as they come and my swirling mind constantly takes an inventory of how things are going. I'm a world class list-maker and until recently, this was the problem. WHY? Because I was listing the wrong stuff. The silly little gnatty items that, when checked off, felt momentarily satisfying. 

But then left me feeling hollow inside thinking. Is this all there is to my life - tasks? Which is silly, I know, but a problem I created.

I don't want to die a person who crushed to-do lists filled with meaningless, soul-sucking tasks. 

Epiphany time! What if I changed what I put on my to-do list? 

I love the Todoist App. This is the first to-do list app that I've enjoyed, stuck with, and feel is totally worth paying for. You can make it "do" whatever you want. And when you check things off, you get "karma" points which I psychologically love earning. And this is the first app that has flawlessly synched across all my devices (had major frustrations with others in this regard).

Want to create a list of dumb stuff? Check. It can do that.

Want to create a list of micro-misadventures? Check! Ding, ding, ding! Let's do this.

And so that's what I'm doing now, and it's helping me have better days. I still have basic reminders on my list, but I ensure I have 2-5 items that have misadventure potential. Apps work great when we put great data into them. Here's an actual pic of today's to-do list in my Todoist app. You'll notice a mix of the usual boring stuff (take pills) and more interesting stuff.

Give it a try!

And now I get to check off a fun thing I've done today.

To do list


Progress: This could be messy (expect and embrace this).

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Just a short and reflective post today. It's Friday, June 19th - Juneteenth. And while I've known for many years the top line meaning of Juneteenth, I'm glad that my awareness is deepening regarding its modern-day significance.

Today I'm thinking about several big challenges. Racial bias and inequality. Increasing divisiveness. And a terrible pandemic very much affected by this inequality and divisiveness. And there are other challenges that pain me, disturb me, and worry me.

On this blog, I write about misadventures - those times we play full out to handle surprises and barriers. When we tap into strengths we might not remember we possessed. I often apply this idea to fun things - travel or personal goals - like biking across America. 

I think we'll need to offer the same type of grit help to make our town/state/country/society/world better. And like other misadventure stories we'll recall years from now, it will be the full-out efforts we gave and the positive impact we had on others that we'll relish. 

It's ok that things will be messy and unpredictable. That's how progress happens. Human systems are chaotic and trying to predict outcomes when many individuals and circumstances are at play is not a good use of time. Forward movement is highly dependent on, and sensitive to, each of our small actions. It's the butterfly effect in action.

And it's the journey and keeping it moving on a directionally correct path that will serve us best.

Here's to messy progress wherever it is needed most. And here's to each of us figuring out the small and large ways we can best contribute to progress.


Taking on a Big Challenge - the Navy Seal's 40% Rule

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To live a more misadventurous life, I need to do more things that challenge me and inspire me to play full out. These challenges could be physical, mental, intellectual, analytical or something else. 

Right now, I'm focused on taking on a physical challenge because the I've suffered from fatigue and lethargy for months and I've lost a good bit of my physical strength. If I wanted to, I could make make some pretty good excuses (health conditions and prescriptions) but going down that soul-sucking road would not be a good use of my time however true it might be.

Here's the mindset I think will be more helpful - I'm much stronger and more capable than I think.

Have you heard of the Navy Seal 40% rule? It basically goes like this. When you think you've done all you can, and you feel like you need to quit, you've only used 40% of your strength and capacity. There's a good discussion of this on the Age of Obsolete blog.

No this is not a scientifically researched number. Whether it's really 40%, 50%, or 30%, I believe that we quit - or feel ready to quit - well before we have to. I reflected on times in my life that I proved this to be true. Here are two vivid and relatable examples:

In 2009, I walked the very hilly Flying Pig half-marathon (Cincinnati) while carrying an extra 80-90 pounds of excess weight. It took me 4 1/2 hours to walk the 13.1 miles and I felt like quitting hundreds of times. There was a mental aspect to this challenge too, because I was keenly aware that I looked much heavier than nearly everyone and I imagined that people were looking at me with pity or scorn (I was embarrassed). I also felt pressure during the second half of the walk to stay a block or two ahead of the sweep cars closing the course and picking up those who'd not be permitted to finish. I made it! And truth be told, I was probably capable of going farther.

In 2014, I completed the 2-day MS 150, a 150-mile charity bike ride from Houston (flat) to Austin (not flat). We'd trained every weekend for several months, and while I was pretty strong, I was still carrying a ton of extra weight. Not so problematic on flat roads, but the hills on the second day were killer. Pain management became an even bigger challenge than the hills. It took everything I had plus more to finish near the end of the pack.

In both of these examples, I got to the end by pushing through barriers and finding a deep determination I didn't know I had. I did it in spite of myself. Sadly, I can remember many more times when I gave up too soon. When I quit at 40%. Those are regrets I have learned from.

My current state of strength and fitness is far lower than it was in 2009 or 2014, so I'm at a different starting point. That's OK.

But the process I need to use is roughly the same. Set a big and inspiring goal anchored by promises and commitments. Rearrange life and habits to move in that direction. Do small and directionally correct things every day to manifest the goal. Go until I want to stop, then go a bit more. Make big requests, when needed. 

I'm tired of being tired and weak and am ready to begin a new misadventure focused on becoming strong again. There will be many misadventures along the way that I will surely relish and remember. 

I'll share more about my thinking and plan over the next two weeks. If you want to challenge yourself in a bigger way, please share your goal in the comments so I can cheer you on.


Ask Catalytic Questions; Make Big Things Happen #breakthroughs

Untitled design (8) copy 3Strictly speaking, a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction. Although they participate in reactions, catalysts are neither consumed by nor incorporated into the products of the reactions. There is just as much catalyst at the end of the reaction as there was at the beginning. Catalysts will not cause reactions to occur, but they will help reactions that would have occurred without them to proceed more quickly or at lower temperatures. In most cases only small amounts of catalysts are needed to increase reaction rates.

Catalysts work by providing easier ways for reactions to occur. In technical terms, they provide alternative reaction paths with lower activation energies.  Every chemical reaction has a certain threshold, known as its activation energy that must be exceeded in order for the reaction to occur. A catalyst does not lower the activation energy of a reaction, but instead provides an alternative that produces the same results with a lower threshold. A good analogy is a bridge over a valley. Without the bridge, it might be possible to cross the valley by driving down one twisting road and then back up another. A bridge allows the valley to be crossed more quickly and with less energy. It does not reduce the amount of energy needed to drive down one side and up the other, but instead offers an alternate way to achieve the same results while using less energy.

Catalytic questions, then, are questions that provoke alternative reactions and easier ways forward. You might not know if a question is going to be catalytic, but you can practice asking more provocative questions and will find that some energize the discussion and enable new or better paths forward. 

During a 1999 flight from New Mexico to Sienna, Italy, I asked my husband the following: "If you could be any place, doing any kind of work, where would you be and what would you be doing?" This question ended up catalytic because it encouraged Bill to express goals he'd not shared, and this started a conversation that five weeks later resulted in us moving to Seattle where Bill started his own company. BAM!

The catalyst does not have to be so life changing to be powerful. Consider these questions, which could be catalytic for some in some circumstances:

Think about what you pull into the most these days. The activity or topic that energizes you. What adjustments could you make to increase the time you spend doing this activity?

Who would you like me to connect you with? (or, let me tell you about Sally...would you like me to connect the two of you?)?

Evangelists are passionate, loyal, and dedicated fans jacked up on caffeine. What would you hope your evangelists do?

In the scheme of things, does this really matter? If you stopped, what would happen?

If you had all the courage in the world, what would you do or ask for?

Embedded in catalytic questions is a deep and authentic curiosity. This is the key, because when we're engrossed in a conversation and curious, we inquire about more relevant topics.

It's fun to ask questions that end up being catalytic. We should all strive to help those we care for move forward more easily. And there's no reason we can't ask ourselves catalytic questions.

What's the question that would open up new possibilities for you?


Micro-Misadventures - Your Daily Wee Dose of Full Engagement

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I'm digging this new hack. Life is big and heavy - especially NOW - but we can find the time and energy for micro-misadventures. Even me (drugged up on hormones and oral chemo).

What's a micro-misadventure?

Five to thirty minutes of delicious mischievousness that has the following qualities:

  • You're quite interested and engaged to do this (hardest part for me).
  • High potential that things will go way wrong. In other words, this is not something you already know how to do and do every day.
  • It's a new or slightly new. Some aspect of this action is unknown to you.

Here's a brainstorm of potential MMs - these are my ideas, your results will vary. The point is to be deliberate and to seek at least one MM each day. Start with right now. 

  • Play You Tube Yoga Class Russian Roulette - search for 30-minute ______ (chair, standing, dancing, crazy) yoga class and select the fifth one you find.
  • Paint something in the house a bright color.
  • Try something (legal) that is known to have psychoactive properties.
  • Sit outside, select a bird that's making some noise, and practice mimicking it's call. 
  • Go live on Facebook right now and talk about something that is fascinating you at the moment. Invite input or support.
  • Offer to do something new for someone that you've never done before. Like cutting their hair, sewing a shirt, making a happy hour cocktail with different ingredients than you've used before.
  • Bake something for you've never baked before (basically anything).
  • Die your hair a weird color.
  • Re-plant a plant so that it is happier.
  • Take a ten minute walk and photograph everything _______(round, blue, spiky, gorgeous). Post on Instagram; explain your selections.

What do you think? Make your list and use it to have micro-misadventures throughout the week. Report back!