How BIG is Your Creative Space? (Part 1)

Between the day to day routines of sleeping, waking, eating, commuting, socializing, answering emails, being entertained, and moving about, how much space do you set aside for your imagination? How much time do you set aside to create something?

Being creative is not (as convention would have us believe) something available only to mad geniuses or the talented.

Being creative is a choice and a commitment to make something you want happen. Whether it is making a dish for supper or tinkering with computers or bringing people together, all people create to some degree. To those in the know, creating and recreating is a truly fulfilling (and sometimes frustrating) process.

If you’re looking to up the quality of your creative space, here are some suggestions to work with.

I. You have to WANT to…

Why would one want to? Perhaps you want to make your ideas concrete. Perhaps there is a need in society that demands your attention. Or perhaps you are just dying to know how or why something works.

Or perhaps, as I believe, every individual has a creative fire that cannot be contained for long or else it gets snuffed out.

You get to have the new skills, the Eye-Opening experiences, joys and frustrations, SUCCESSES! and failures of embarking on your Creative Venture.

In such a privileged society as ours, we get to create something hopefully for the better.

Exciting isn’t it?

II. Clear out a space…

Imagine the difference between spending five minutes preparing a meal, five hours preparing and a lifetime preparing? It’s the difference between a microwave’d TV dinner, a sumptuous dinner, and Jamie Oliver.

Creative space is the time and place in the day where you give your own energy and resources into making something. The larger that space, the larger the possibilities of what can happen. Regardless of whether you know what to do in that space, you need to have the space to begin with!

It might be hard to clear your “life” calendar to free up space, but bit by bit you can grow the workshop for your project.

  • What tools will you need?
  • What materials?
  • What resources?
  • Where should this space be?
  • When will you spend time in it?

This might be the perfect time to re-evaluate the schedule so that you can spend your energy where you want.

Invite in the possibilities.

III. Begin it NOW

Start now! If you don’t know where to start, then this space is an opportunity for you to find out where to start. If you’ve already started, then each day is another day to remind ourselves to create again. Creation is an iterative affair with little pieces building on other little pieces.

In Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun says, “…there can be no perfect beginning: it’s only after you start – no matter how roughly – that you can evaluate and build on what you’ve done, shift directions, or start over with the insight and perspective you’ve gained in the process.” (pg 39).

You are the captain… so just give the order to go.

IV. Play

When you watch children play, you can see a sort of boundless energy and curiosity about them. You might feel jealous of their energy. However, I have this idea that adults have MORE energy than kids because we are more capable and more efficient. Adult energy can be directed.

My adopted Little Brother building just because
My adopted Little Brother building just because

The problem is where we direct our attention. How much energy is wasted on small worries or fears or activities that sap our brilliance?

So play!

Play is a crucial part of creating. Not only does it tap into your innate sense of curiosity, it also frees you from having to be perfect. In fact, you absolutely must let go of being perfect. It’s like learning how to use a new gadget…don’t read the instruction manual, but play with it. Push all the buttons, activate all the menu items, try all the features… if it breaks… well, luckily there’s warranty. So make sure there is a warranty.

But there is a deadly seriousness about adult playing too. As you play, you learn, you figure it out, you imagine possible uses for it thinking about how it could be better. Children play carelessly. We adults play intentionally.

But it is also not just about spaciousness of creative space, it is also about the depth. Continue to Part 2 here.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
U Venture

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in significant life challenges.

Mastering Our Monkeys

Let me back up. I was watching Planet Earth, a movie revealing the planet’s stunning landscape and wildlife in high-definition. While watching the daily lives of a troop of monkeys, I was struck by how much of their behaviour was like human behaviour: eating, grooming, socializing, chattering, mating, napping, playing.

Then I remember… our animal instincts are perhaps hundreds of millions of years old. Civilization has only been around for tens of thousands of years. Seriously, what instincts are going to be stronger… that of “civilized” man or that of “animal” man?

Our animal nature, our reptilian mind, our primate instincts or as I call them, our monkeys… they literally run our society. Left uncontrolled, they create huge problems in our individual lives and disasters in society.

Here are three out of many monkeys we should be aware of and control.

Monkey #1: Fear

One of our oldest monkeys is our instinct for self-preservation. It’s older than our higher-level brain. It’s older than humanity. A bush rustles and immediately we perk up because it could be a predator. Fear is a full-bodied emotion designed to keep us alive when potential threats are perceived. Our bodies instantly responds by increasing heart rates and flooding our body with chemicals to prepare us to flee or fight (see Deep Survival).

Unfortunately, fear unchecked ruins our ability to think well. I should know. I’ve lashed out at people under stress, choked on an easy goal in soccer, and panicked in an emergency situation.

On a societal level, terrorist threats, serial killers, and rare diseases create waves of fear that far outstrip the actual danger involved. Is it worth giving up our civil rights or refusing to leave the house at night? Driving kills more people than terrorism ever has. Should we have an unnatural fear of driving too?

For our sake, we must learn to turn fear into fearlessness. Arianna Huffington reminds us that “Fearlessness is the mastery of fear” and not the absence of fear. Nor is fearlessness a kind of unthinking bravado. Climbing a mountain without preparation is idiotic.

Instead, there is a space between the triggering of the emotion and being totally engulfed by fear. This is the place where we can pause to look around, to look inside ourselves, and to choose how to respond to the emotion.

It takes a lifetime of effort and practice to be the best of ourselves under stress. Mastering fear is like wrestling with a team of wild horses. But if the prize of stepping through that fire is an energizing life, a new opportunity, or greater learning… wouldn’t it be worth it?

Monkey #2: Need for Approval

I see it in people’s pets. I see it in children. I see it in myself. As social animals, we crave approval from our parents or our peers. For growing as a child as well as bonding with the human community, this natural desire to bond is good. Heck, it even feels good to be acknowledged and supported. If it feels good, it must be good right?

There is no doubt that being genuinely supported by others in our life journey to become better, more capable individuals is positive. However when the need becomes a dependency on people that may or may not have your best interests at heart… well, the risk is living a life guided by peer pressure or by fear of rejection by others.

For example, how many of us have been in relationships where preserving the relationship was more important than doing the right thing? I think that in every relationship you have to have room to risk disapproval… otherwise how else would it grow?

On a broader level, we live in a system of approvals. We need to get good grades from our teachers. We need to follow the law. We need approval from this or that institution. The rules may serve a purpose, but the danger is that it teaches us the need to be approved. Who will approve the institutions? Schools are slow learners. Laws must be updated. Institutions become stagnant. Somebody must step beyond the system.

So how do we deal with this monkey? We turn our need for approval into a need for principles. We hold ourselves to a higher standard that helps us determine what approval is useful or not useful.

Building these standards also takes time and practice. Other people can’t supply them. Other institutions can’t tell you them. But they might provide hints that you can learn from.

Monkey #3: US versus THEM

As human beings we may have started as small troops of people, but the benefits of being a group soon grew to living as tribes, then chiefdoms, then states, and now nations (Science of Good & Evil). Despite the modern-day belief in selfishness and independence, we actually have a stronger desire to cooperate and share as part of a group. Animals have it. We have it. And it has helped us survive and do things on a large scale.

The cost is a strong urge to divide the world into “us” versus “them”. Everyone has felt this. Have you ever been a part of a group where an attack on your family, your political institution, your organization felt like an attack on you? Have you felt your emotions bubble up and eclipse any potential of hearing the “other” side?

I have! Having been a part of a number of volunteer and work organizations, it still takes conscious effort on my part to be objective about criticism or insult directed at “my” organizations.

The underlying belief is that anyone in the “us” group is good, smart, and noble while anyone in the “other” group is evil and therefore must be dismissed or destroyed.

In the larger world, this gargantuan monkey reveals itself in gang warfare among street youth, religious wars resulting in the deaths of millions, and ideological battles in the media. The result is often propaganda about the other side and inability to listen to the other side.

An experiment was done where Israelis were given a peace proposal written by Israelis but labeled as being from Palestinians. The opposite was done with a group of Palestinians. Each group rejected the proposal (actually written by their own people) and instead preferred the other proposal (actually written by their presumed enemies)! The monkey cares only about who writes it rather than what is written.

This is likely the hardest monkey to transform. Ultimately we must go from “us versus them” to “we are them!” The group that we belong to is humanity and life, not this group or that group.

This is not to say we should all get along and be happy. Far from it! What it means is that we should fight our tendency to blindly “belong”. Our group is not always right. The “other” group is not always wrong. Being able to see the other group as human beings trying to make their way is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing today’s six billion people.

There are many more monkeys in us. Don’t underestimate them! People throughout the ages have warned against our natural instincts preaching self-awareness, self-control, and self-mastery. For any person on a life journey, paying attention to our thoughts and feelings is a necessity.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
U Venture

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in significant life challenges.

Lateral Riddles

Riddle 1

A surgeon has discovered a tumour in the patient’s brain. A strong enough beam of radiation could be used to destroy the tumour.

Unfortunately in this case, because of the tumour’s location and size, a beam strong enough to destroy the tumour would also kill the healthy cells on the way to the tumour.

Since surgery is out of the question, what is an elegant solution to destroying the tumour safely?

Riddle 2

A clan leader is planning on invading a castle surrounded by a moat. There are four bridges that cross into the castle.

The problem is that the clan leader cannot take his entire army down one bridge because the weight of the army will cause the bridge to collapse.

How does the clan leader plan his invasion?

Can’t figure it out? Don’t know why this is related to creativity? Be sure to read Part 2 of “How BIG is your creative space?” in the next newsletter.

When did you last embrace failure?

If it has been awhile, it might be worth trying it out. In order to be masterful or grow as a person or even raise children, failing is as critical as success.

Sure, failing is full of negative connotations: “you failed this test”, “you are a failure”, “failure is not an option”. What is failure really? It is simply not getting the expected results. In this light, then failure presents an opportunity for deeper understanding.

Here are some ways you can take advantage of failure.

I. Learning happens at the edge

Think of what it was like to learn to ride a bike. You got on it. You fell and scraped your knees. You learn. You try again. Eventually with a little help, encouragement, and practice you’re riding easily and naturally. It is in that moment of risking injury where that great leap of learning is possible.

But so often we are satisfied with just being good enough at something. For some things, it makes sense to leave it at “good enough”. Unfortunately, when all of life is just “good enough”, we lose our ability to grow.

Real learning requires challenge. Real learning happens at the edge of our ability. And thus real learning happens at the point where we might fail!

For example, we can drive decently, cook well enough (some of us), write reasonably… but what would it take to become better at it? Try driving in the crowded streets of Taiwan or cook a five-course meal for a party, or write and publish a book. Likewise, a big life requires a big challenge.

The point is not to arrive at greatness. The point is to live greatly through a never-ending push to the edge.

II. Masters seek failure

I had a “martial arts” instructor who is a master of his field. Sparring with him was a lesson in helplessness. However, what made him a master was his ability to learn exponentially greater than any student or teacher I know. What separates him from the crowd?

Asides from his dedication and hard work to his craft, he also had the ability to seek failure. He would often purposefully and intentionally puts himself in situations which challenged his abilities. He might spar using only his right jab with a student or he might work with professional fighters in other fields. World-class athletes must find ways to challenge themselves to continue their growth.

Studies into the nature of expertise show that taking on progressively more difficult challenges is what separates an “expert-learner” from a average learner (see Surpassing Ourselves).

If you want to be masterful, then find the nearest edge, push it back, and learn from it.

III. Children should be praised for pushing at the edge

Exploring the edge sounds good in principle, but failing is not well accepted by our culture.

In studying the performance gap in math between students in the U.S. and students in Japan, Stevenson and Stigler watched a Japanese boy struggle with drawing a 3-D cube on the blackboard for forty-five minutes. The boy made repeated mistakes much to the anxiety and discomfort of the researchers. The boy, however, was oblivious to this. Eventually he succeeded to the applause of the class (see Mistakes Were Made).

The researchers determined that American culture was far more likely to see math ability as innate rather than the result of hard work and learning through making mistakes. Later research showed that children who are praised for their efforts rather than their innate ability were far more likely to see mistakes and criticism as useful information.

It is hard to appear stupid, or face embarrassment in front of our peers, or let ourselves down, but those fears get in the way of reaching towards mastery.

IV. Give your failures a hug

Loving your failures can be difficult, but consider the injustice of not owning them, of not seeing them. Then consider what new powers or abilities you can develop by seeking out new challenges. So take a moment now, and thank all the times you learned from a broken relationship or a business idea that flopped or a design that failed. They deserve a hug.

Questions to reflect upon:

  1. In what area of your life would you like to develop more capability?
  2. What is the “edge” of your capability in that area?
  3. What learning is possible if you stretch yourself beyond your capability in that area?
  4. Will you embrace the learning?

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
U Venture

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in significant life challenges.