Annie Lennox on staying creative and relevant

It’s just one small part of an interview she did for Harvard Business Review back in 2010 but one small part is all the excuse I need to recommend you read the lot:

She was asked what the secret is staying relevant?

Curiosity, and not allowing yourself to be boxed in or easily categorized. In pop music you have to be prepared to take risks. Not everything is going to be to everyone’s taste. But you stay alive artistically.

Life’s Work: An Interview with Annie Lennox – Alison Beard, Harvard Business Review (October 2010)

Read the full piece.

Create something solely for yourself

We spend all this time writing for audiences – from real live audiences to commissioners and producers – but have a go at doing something just for you instead.

Building small, self-contained projects is a great way to learn and expand on your skills. When you learn by building something new instead of just through reading and theory, you learn implicitly rather than explicitly, and are more likely to retain and use the knowledge you’ve gained.

“Forget the rules, and learn from first-hand experience instead. There’s so much more to be gained from not knowing how to do things the ‘correct’ way, and learning to do them your own way.” Richard Branson

Why you should make things no one will use – Belle Beth Cooper, Crew blog (undated)

It’s not a long piece but there’s a lot in it. I’d not heard of the Crew blog: I got this via 99U.

You knew it: you’re not appreciated

This is true. We’re all yay, yay, yay when something creative happens, most people just aren’t interested until the point the yaying starts:

In the United States we are raised to appreciate the accomplishments of inventors and thinkers—creative people whose ideas have transformed our world. We celebrate the famously imaginative, the greatest artists and innovators from Van Gogh to Steve Jobs. Viewing the world creatively is supposed to be an asset, even a virtue. Online job boards burst with ads recruiting “idea people” and “out of the box” thinkers. We are taught that our own creativity will be celebrated as well, and that if we have good ideas, we will succeed.

It’s all a lie. This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity.

Creativity is rejected: Teachers and bosses don’t value out-of-the-box thinking – Jessica Olien, Slate (6 December 2013).

Olien had me at “it’s all a lie”. Read her full piece.

Lying and excuses: our route to creativity

The always excellent Brain Pickings has an actually delightful piece about a book called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School:

…celebrated children’s book author Davide Cali and French illustrator Benjamin Chaud weave a playful parable of this childhood tendency to come up with excuses so fantastical that they become charming stories in their own right — a crucible of creativity and a sandbox for the young mind to play with the building blocks of storytelling.

One morning, the little boy is late to school and when his teacher inquires about the reason for his tardiness, he proceeds to offer a litany of imaginative excuses. Giant ants ate his breakfast! Evil ninjas ambushed him on the way to the bus stop! A massive ape mistook the school bus for a banana! His uncle’s time machine misfired and sent him back to the dominion of dinosaurs!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School: A Charming Catalog of Excuses and an Allegory for How Human Imagination Works – Maria Popova, Brain Pickings (undated but 5 March 2015)

Go get your lunch and have a read of the full piece.

Beer brewed specifically to make you more creative

I’m banjaxed, then: I don’t drink. But if you do or even if you’re just curious about whether this can possibly be true, take a load of this:

Conventional wisdom tells us that getting a little drunk stimulates creativity and problem-solving by quieting that “inner critic” who tells us to ignore (or not speak out loud) our most divergent ideas. The trick, of course, is getting just drunk enough to be creative and productive without slipping over into the territory where every idea feels like a good idea.

Advertising agency CP + B has teamed up with Professor Jennifer Wiley of the University of Illinois at Chicago to solve that problem for us. Wiley’s team discovered that a blood alcohol level of 0.075% is optimal for creative problem solving. The Copenhagen-based ad agency has created a craft IPA brewed to get an average-sized person to 0.075% in one serving. They’ve dubbed this potion of creativity “The Problem Solver.”

New Beer Developed to Maximize Creativity – Jason Brick, PSFK (22 December 2014)

O-kay. An advertising agency thought of this. A likely story. But there’s more: read the full piece to see what else is cooking in how we stimulate and feed our creativity.

Unleashing your creativity, a bit

Your creative potential is just sitting there waiting to be tamed. Don’t let it waste away!

1. Do everything at 10:17: 10:17 a.m. is the optimal time for creative productivity because you’ve finally got your brain warmed up for the day and you’re not yet completely exhausted. Make sure to do all the creative work you need to do within the span of this minute!

Unleashing Your Creativity: 17 Tips For Tapping I… | ClickHole

Read the full piece for 16 more ideas.

Don’t be happy, worry

From a Brain Pickings piece on how trying to be happy all the time is bad for our creativity.

To be clear, I myself am deeply opposed to the Tortured Genius myth of creativity. But I am also of the firm conviction that access to the full spectrum of human experience and the whole psychoemotional range of our inner lives — high and low, light and darkness — is what makes us complete individuals and enables us to create rich, dimensional, meaningful wo

In Praise of Melancholy and How It Enriches Our Capacity for Creativity – Maria Popova, Brain Pickings (28 November 2014)

Read the full piece.

Constraints and limitations make us creative

Perhaps I mean they make us more creative. The Atlantic has a good three-biscuit read of a feature about Abbey Road studios and – in part, in the part that interests me the most – the Beatles music was made there without anything approaching today’s technology.

limitations of Beatles-era technology were substantial by comparison, and they forced a commitment to creative choices at earlier stages of the recording process. If, for example, an engineer wanted to exceed the number of recorded tracks that their tape machine allowed, two or more tracks had to be mixed together and “bounced” to an open track elsewhere. Cuts were physical, done with razor blades and tape. Mixes were performed by engineers in real time. Big mistakes at any point in the process could force an entire recording to be scrapped.

It was because artists were often stuck with the mistakes they made that they sometimes decided to embrace them. Once while recording a Beatles song called “Glass Onion” Scott accidentally erased a large number of drum parts that had been painstakingly overdubbed. Certain that he’d be fired, he played the tape to John Lennon. To Scott’s surprise, Lennon said that he liked the unexpected effect created by the glitch—and both the track and Scott stayed.

The Technical Constraints That Made Abbey Road So Good – Justin Lancy, Atlantic (23 October 2014)

Read the full piece.

Bugger. Walking is good for your creativity

Bugger, bugger, bugger.

This research – as well as the nifty soundbites or anecdotal quotes that have been around for hundreds of years – suggests that the act of walking itself, not just what you enjoy along the way, is what’s beneficial. The science to back this up is long established and trusted.

Exercise, of course, gets the heart pumping faster, thus circulating more blood to the brain. This is even true on small ambles – not just powerful sprints. All this extra oxygen-rich blood getting to the brain allows it to perform certain tests much better, especially those concerned with memory and attention.

More recent research showed that walking actually encourages the brain to create new connections between cells and helps transmit messages between them much more effectively. Furthermore, it can reduce the speed of tissue degradation and even enlarge the hippocampus, which is responsible for spatial navigation and converting information from the short-term to the long-term memory.

When it comes to a boost in creativity, though, researchers said there might be something else at play. They argued that walking distracts the brain’s prefrontal cortex, as it’s this which is responsible for decision making and rule learning – among other things. With the prefrontal cortex otherwise occupied, it enables left-field, alternative suggestions to sneak in where they may otherwise have been rooted out.

Does walking really improve your creativity? – Tom (no surname given), Ordnance Survey Blog (23 September 2014)

How a routine stops you becoming routine

I’m afraid I know nothing about comic books so I’d not heard of this guy, but Joe Keatinge is apparently a star in this world and demonstrably interesting about being productive, creative and freelance:

I didn’t [have a daily routine] when I initially went freelance and largely floundered because of it. That said, if I can pass on anything to anybody, developing a routine has helped me immensely and greatly increased productivity. It’s also something I’ve recently greatly reworked to huge benefit and something I’m still getting used to, but here’s the gist of what I strive toward.

Monday through Friday I strive to be up no later than 7:30 AM, eat breakfast, drink coffee, achieve basic sustenance for my morning, but that’s it — I don’t look at my phone, at Twitter, at e-mail, not a damn thing. I used to do that and fall into the trap of screwing around when I should be working. Even the smallest diversion can take longer time to recover from than the actual distraction itself was so I’ve learned to keep them out of the way as much as I can.

That said, I’ve found if I immediately write ANYTHING immediately, I can achieve a lot later in the day, so at this point I do just that. Sometimes I immediately jump into a page, sometimes it’s just free form writing, sometimes its something I’m on a deadline on, sometimes it’s something no one will ever see, but it is something. And in writing anything I find my brain gets going and it keeps me on track for the rest of the day, even if I get distracted later on.

Creative Spaces: Joe Keatinge – Kevin Knight, (17 September 2014)

There are a couple of examples of his work in the piece and they are anything but routine. But he says he’s learnt to build structure into his day both for the sake of himself and for the sake of his art. Read the full piece.