Thursday, April 30, 2015

Enjoying the Exhale: Breathing in Creativity & Wellness


By: Jennifer Quarrie

Breathe with unconditional breath the unconditional air.  - Wendall Berry, Given

Life hangs on every breath we take; yet when was the last time you consciously thought about your breathing?  Within every activity you do, breathing plays a critical role - from speaking and exercise to sleeping and nutrition.  What is there to really think about?  The body takes care of breathing through some ancient autonomic system, so why use precious, limited thought resources on it when you could spend your energy on more important cognitive pursuits? 

Beyond the life-saving qualities of a good breathing habit, there is much more at work.  It turns out that breathing is foundational to overall wellness in ways we may not have previously understood.  Not only that, but deliberate, deep breathing also fosters creativity, decision making and other key cognitive and affective functions.  Simply put, improving your breathing is one of the single best practices you can develop to foster your health and creativity and here is why.

 Body

It is a common belief that we breathe with our lungs alone, but in point of fact, the work of breathing is done by the whole body. Alexander Lowen, The Voice of the Body

     Increased Oxygen - On the most basic level, deep breathing increases oxygen levels in the blood stream, helping to raise energy, cell survival and brain function, all of which support creativity.  The way we exhale is actually more critical to getting the oxygen we need and should generally last longer than the inhale.
     Metabolism - Oxygen is fuel.  By taking in greater amounts, it charges your cells to function more effectively, improves digestion, and thus improves your metabolism.  Increased overall energy means more resources can be directed towards creative endeavors.
     Sleep Quality - Deeper, healthful breathing while awake helps keep us alert and focused on important tasks.  During sleep it significantly improves sleep quality, extends dreaming brain states, supports neural connections, and facilitates the clean up of toxins in the brain, bringing clarity to waking cognition and creativity.
     Relaxation & Stress Reduction - Deep breathing lowers cortisol levels, normalizes blood pressure and stabilizes body rhythms, all of which foster mental clarity, relax your body, and prime you for creative insight.
     Immune Function - Breathing is the best way to change the pH of your body toward an alkaline state that helps prevent large-scale disease.  By expelling carbon dioxide from your lungs and breaking down salts, breathing is one of the most affective ways to eliminate extra harmful acids.  Every exhale removes toxins from your body, just one of the many reasons yogis consider breathing a path to purification.

Mind

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.   Thích Nht Hnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation

     Focus - Breathing is the primary mode of mental focus in meditation.  By calming the body, breathing can increase the ability to focus attention, which is critical to successful problem solving and ideation.
     Awareness - Deliberate, deep breathing can also take focus a step further and assist the mind in expanding your awareness of yourself and your surroundings.  Developing this new consciousness helps you take in new stimuli, clarify needs, and highlight priorities, all critical to creative thinking and problem solving.
     Managing Emotions - Our emotional states may be partially predicated on our proactive breathing patterns.  Breathing is more shallow when anxious or depressed.  Deeper breathing promotes positive emotional states and a greater sense of calm, both of which empower creative thinking through finding the value in ideas and focusing energy toward problem solving.
     Motivation - Increased energy from deep breathing directly impacts motivation levels.  Motivation is considered one of the only commonalities across all eminent creators.

 Connection

I am never alone wherever I am. The air itself supplies me with a century of love. When I breathe in, I am breathing in the laughter, tears, victories, passions, thoughts, memories, existence, joys, moments, and the hues of the sunlight on many tones of skin; I am breathing in the same air that was exhaled by many before me. The air that bore them life. And so how can I ever say that I am alone? C. JoyBell C.

Taking in the World - Breathing is a very physical way of connecting with both our environment and others in it.  As Alexander Lowen says, we live in an ocean of air, and so to breath deeply we immerse ourselves in our environment.  Taking this mindful vantage point prompts us to immerse ourselves more deeply in our surroundings in other ways as well: noticing things we normally overlook, taking in more information, and making new connections that prompt creative ideas. 

Social Connection - Given that our emotions build on our breathing patterns, deliberate deep breathing may increase how positively we experience social interactions, therein leading to a more positive and less anxious mental state.  An affirmative mindset is crucial to the ability to build on ideas and find creative solutions to problems.  The social aspect of our environment is also especially stimulating and can serve as a wellspring for novel connections. Further, an increase in positive experiences may lead to an increase of social interaction over time, therein increasing personal longevity and lifespan.

Breath of Fresh air

Breathing pervades every moment of every day and is an incredibly healthful habit to consciously develop.  Likewise, creativity is omnipresent throughout each day, and actively fostering the creative mindset expands the quality of each experience.  Weaving these two deliberate practices together promotes personal wellness on a grander scale.  The bottom line, in both breathing and creativity, is to stay out of the shallow end - there is benefit to getting in deep. 

And the next time you find yourself waiting for inspiration?  Dont hold your breath.



References:
Broad, W. J. (2012). The science of yoga: The risks and the rewards. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Gates, R., & Kenison, K. (2010). Meditations from the mat: Daily reflections on the path of yoga. New York, NY: Anchor.
Grof, S., & Grof, C. (2010). Holotropic breathwork: A new approach to self-exploration and therapy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Robin, M. (2010). Wellness on a shoestring: Seven habits for a healthy life. Unity Village, MO: Unity House.
Ross, S., & Rosewood, O. (2003). Happy yoga: 7 Reasons why there's nothing to worry about. New York, NY: Regan Books.

Bio: Jennifer Quarrie is a dynamic innovation strategist and creativity expert with a visionary outlook and a knack for metacognition, facilitation and listening.  With a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of Virginia and an MSc in Creative Studies from the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at SUNY Buffalo State, she incorporates budding areas of mind and creativity research into all of her work.  As a leader and speaker she inspires wellness, fosters transformation and emboldens self-actualization.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder

A book review by: Jennifer Quarrie
Buffalo State College

Vitamin N for Creativi-T:
Applying The Nature Principle to Creativity

How have you experienced nature in the last few days? If you’re like me, perhaps you sandwiched a quick run between the morning routine and hours of errands? Spent a few minutes watering the houseplants or lawn? Possibly something as decadent as sitting on the front porch for a few minutes, of course sorting through mail or thumbing through a magazine (ever productive!). We know this degree of outdoor time isn’t ideal, but is it really so important to hang with the mosquitos or risk a sunburn? Well, as it turns out, time with nature is extremely important for everything from your physical health and emotional wellness to your social investment and ability to focus. What’s more, most of the ways in which nature helps humans to thrive are also key elements to fostering creativity. 

While Richard Louv may have written his non-fiction book, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, to share his conception of the role of nature in the lives of humans, he may not have realized that he also helped collect foundational research on ideal physical climates that foster creativity. There currently exists a critical gap in creativity research in the area of climate. The majority of creative climate research has been in the field of organizational climate aimed at enabling individuals to thrive creatively within varied social and institutional constraints; however, very little attention has been paid toward the impact of physical environment on creative work. That said, it is commonly accepted that we generally feel happier and more productive when snagging a window office or going outside in the middle of the workday. Many people report getting their best ideas when they are on a walk, exercising outdoors or on vacation in a natural setting. Anecdotally, we also know that some of the most creative people in history specifically relied on nature to enable their work, and some of our modern creativity tools, such as excursions outdoors, leverage time in nature to step back from a problem, introduce numerous unassociated stimuli and put our minds into a more receptive and open state.



Inspired by memories of a childhood growing up in nature and concerned by modern children’s predominantly indoor and increasingly digital lives, Louv coined the term nature-deficit disorder to mean “an atrophied awareness, a diminished ability to find meaning in the life that surrounds us, whatever form it takes.” He published Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder in 2008 to raise awareness around the growing distance between children and their most stimulating environment. 

Much like creativity, reconnecting with nature requires expanding awareness, gathering information and stimuli, realizing core values and priorities, placing oneself in new contexts, and letting go of assumptions. At its core, Louv’s nature principle asserts that “a reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit and survival.” He believes that the mind/body/nature connection, also called Vitamin N (for nature), will not only enhance physical and mental health but will also help lead to a more “high-performance human [who] will conserve and create natural habitat,” and with it, new economic potential. Louv embraces technology and its benefits but recommends using nature to balance it, thus increasing “our intelligence, creative thinking, and productivity, giving birth to the hybrid mind.” This holistic approach mirrors some of the primary tenants of creativity - inclusion of disparate elements, finding new ways elements may combine, and consciously building our future through awareness and deliberate work - that will leverage human/nature capital to “enrich and redefine community to include all living things.”


Fostering Creativity
I found Louv’s research incredibly inspiring at both a human and intellectual level. Something resonates deeply when discussing our innate draw to nature - it makes sense intuitively. Yet the science is strong as well. While the majority of the research can only be categorized as correlative rather than causal, the link between time in nature and varied aspects of wellness is undeniable. At minimum, nature is a force multiplier in the greater equation of thriving. The potential for further research to examine these strong correlations between nature and wellness, as well as the specific relationship between nature and creativity, is alluring. While the book is more of a research volume than a story, Louv shares the information in a very fluid and digestible way. Numerous studies cited throughout The Nature Principle apply, but these primary themes embody the core of how nature may directly foster creativity:
  • Increasing memory and attention, increasing the likelihood of striving for quantity in ideation and pushing past obvious solutions
  • Enhancing physical well-being (through exposure to sunlight, microbes, etc.), thus ensuring we have the resources to solve problems
  • Nurturing social bonds, therein increasing chances for collaboration, exposure to diverse mindsets, inclusive and generous behavior, empathic listening and deferral of judgment
  • Increasing psychological well-being, and thus people’s willingness to solve problems and implement solutions
  • Prompting flow while embedded in ecological time vice mechanical time and connected to greater biorhythms
  • Honing our senses, possibly leading to increased awareness, information collection and emotional intelligence
  • Lending perspective when faced with challenges, reminding us that everything is constantly changing, many problems are smaller than we think compared to the larger world and thus may seem more solvable, nature finds a way and so can we, and that we are part of something greater than ourselves

While The Nature Principle is not dedicated to creativity, it holds important implications for the field and provides a vast set of starting points for further research specific to creativity through neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, medicine, design, art and architecture. It also brings the reader to a new point of awareness about the benefits that come from time in nature and creating that which we love and find most fulfilling - why are we watching Treehouse Masters when we could climb a tree or build our own castle in the clouds?

References:

Louv, R. (2012). The nature principle: Human restoration and the end of nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

About the Jennifer Quarrie:  
Jennifer Quarrie is an innovation strategy and change leadership expert for Booz, Allen & Hamilton, where she also leads strategic communication initiatives, facilitates entrepreneur/startup partnerships, and pioneers crowdsourcing approaches.  She combines her expertise in creativity and background in cognitive neuroscience to teach metacognitive courses including creative problem solving, critical thinking, cognitive bias, interdisciplinary thinking, mindset and leadership development.  Ms. Quarrie holds a graduate certificate in Creativity and Change Leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State and is a current candidate for a Masters of Science in Creativity Studies.  Her creativity focus areas include wellness, physical climate, empathic listening, neuroscience, consciousness, intuition, inspiration and quantum mechanics.

The Nature Principle on Amazon

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kinesthetic Creativity

A Master's Project By: Adela Vangelisti
Graduate Student
International Center for Studies in Creativity
Buffalo State College

I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t experience great joy expressing myself through movement. There was (and still is) nothing in the world I would rather do than dance. Throughout the years dance gave me a voice, and ballet shaped my character. Unfortunately, not all individuals are given the opportunity to be movers. Even though movement is as natural to humans as breathing, passivity starts early in schools. We are taught to sit still and in silence for long periods of time. By the time we reach adulthood and enter the workforce, we have almost forgotten our sense of embodiment. This lack of movement is counter-productive, not only to learning but to the development of creativity as well.

I entered into the Master’s program at the International Center for the Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College searching for a way to enrich my self-expression beyond what I developed inside the ballet studio. I was looking to incorporate my creativity into a bigger picture. By the end of the program I became a creativity nurturer as well as a creativity doer.

Creativity, as it turns out, is not just for the artistic, it lives and thrives among people of all métiers. Body movement is also an innate human trait that operates at a pre-linguistic level; it is a type of visceral intelligence capable of advancing our creativity. Understanding through movement unleashes the unlimited creativity of our senses. Furthermore, creativity is, by definition, physical and pragmatic, because it utilizes thinking in a unique way that closely resembles action.

During my time in the program I was introduced to the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process. I was exhilarated to learn that there was a systematic way to capture and nurture our innate creativity. Furthermore, there was no reason why we couldn’t achieve brilliance on a regular basis following the four stages and guidelines of this process. However, the connection between movement and CPS came to fruition later as I began to explore this project.

At each stage of the process there is a variety of tools that facilitates our understanding. For instance, during brainstorming in the Ideation stage images are utilized to motivate connections and engage our visual sense. We are also encouraged to take guided mental excursions engaging our auditory sense. However, there is no tool that involves our proprioception sense and kinesthetic learning style. Thus, connecting my movement experience with CPS was the next logical step. For my Master’s Project, I designed a tool to recapture the joy and playfulness of movement. Furthermore, the tool seeks to improve kinesthetic intelligence and build a bridge between movement and creativity.

Throughout the investigation for the project I combined academic research on embodiment, metaphors, gestures, movement languages, ballroom dancing patterns, and children games. I conceptualized, laid out; prototyped, experimented, and evaluated a set of facilitator’s direction cards and participants mats, videotaping the final effort. Following are a few samples, to read the project in its entirety go to http://digitalcommons.buffalostate.edu/creativeprojects/ and to watch my video go to http://youtu.be/0vSoegpp5ZI!



Drawing upon research and my own experience, I suggested in my project that the body has a mind of its own and that movement is one of human beings’ most vital and adaptive traits. Understanding how the brain, body, and senses work together, we can establish and strengthen our neural connections and nurture them to perform better. In addition, I proposed that creativity is a form of problem solving that differs from traditional analytic thinking, and, thus, it benefits greatly from innovative tools that are multimodal.

My hope is that my Master Project helps to clarify aspects about the often-misunderstood art of dance, shatters the myth that learning through movement is childish, awkward, and unnecessary, and brings awareness about the least understood sense (sixth/kinesthetic) to a wider audience.
Read the entire Master’s project paper in the ICSC Digital Commons

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A recent graduate from the M.S. program, in creativity and change leadership at the International Center for Creative Studies at Buffalo State College, Adela is a native of México City and a former ballerina and fashion editor. Adela’s diversified background provides her with a unique understanding of the issues impacting corporate as well as educational organizations in the 21st century. She is certified as a Strategic Play LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY™, Creative Problem Solving (CPS), Neuro Design Engineer, as well as Technology of Participation facilitator. She is fluent in Spanish.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Quick and Nimble: Lessons From Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation

A book review by: Courtney Zwart
Buffalo State College

BOOK REVIEW OF ADAM BRYANT's Quick & NiMBLE


Introduction and Link to Creativity

Do you wish that you could pick the brains of leading CEOs on how to create a culture of innovation within your organization?  If so, then journalist Adam Bryant’s non-fiction book, “Quick and Nimble:  Lessons From Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation” is just the resource you are looking for.  If the name Adam Bryant sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the author of the New York Times’ weekly feature, “The Corner Office,” which provides highlights from discussions with today’s leaders about both leadership and management.

Drawing from discussions with more than 200 CEOs occurring between March 2009 and May 2013, Bryant distills their insights regarding essential ingredients of an effective corporate culture as well as leadership strategies for cultivating and sustaining innovation in organizations.  A journalist, not scholarly researcher, Bryant’s book represents a qualitative approach to identifying and understanding these ingredients.  

With this book, Bryant dives headfirst into one of the primary influences on creativity – the environment in which creativity operates.  Grounded in actual experiences – stories by CEOs – his book provides “practical tips and insights that would be useful and relevant for any organization” trying to build a culture of innovation and drive growth.  This work is an excellent complement to studies and assessments of optimal environments for creativity by researchers such a Teresa Amabile and Goran Ekvall.

Overview

The book is organized into two parts.  Part I, “Setting the Foundation,” delves into the necessary elements of an effective culture.  Part II, “Taking Leadership to the Next Level,” offers leadership strategies (that build on this foundation) to cultivate and embed innovation.

Elements detailed in Part I range from the high-level to the tactical.  The first, and perhaps most important chapter in the book, explores why culture matters: “A successful culture is like a greenhouse where people and ideas can flourish—where everybody in the organization, regardless of rank or role, feels encouraged to speak frankly and openly and is rewarded for sharing ideas about new products, more efficient processes, and better ways to serve customers.”  The last chapter in Part I discusses a much more tactical element, the hazards of e-mail, and offers that email “does nothing to build the connective links among people that foster a sense of teamwork, and you need teamwork to innovate.” 

Other chapters in Part I explore elements related to the importance of a simple plan (no more than three measurable goals), values and their adherence (enforce them with a zero-tolerance policy), culture of respect, trust within the team and timely and instructive feedback.  The latter is especially critical as Bryant advises, “these conversations can uncork energy that is otherwise bottled up because people are reluctant to say what’s really on their minds.”

Leadership strategies detailed in Part II offer ways that organizations can build on the foundation established in Part I.  These include strategies related to communication, management, learning and fun.  Communication-related strategies include elements such as consistent (and frequent – there is no such thing as over-communication) communication of the organization’s vision and goals by the leader and encouragement of feedback, in all directions, to surface problems.  Management-related strategies include management training (especially on emotional intelligence), how to run a smarter meeting (hint:  it lies in having an agenda and being clear about decision makers) and actions to be taken to break down silos within organizations.  “Learning” is a key strategy, as, Bryant articulates, “creating an environment of continuing education” will help retain the brightest employees.  Finally, pursuing strategies that promote playfulness are critical, Bryant advises us, because “there’s nothing like some good, honest fun and a few shared laughs to bring people together and provide some glue for the team.”  Strategies on this topic offered by CEOs include pajama days and Disco Friday (breaks during which people dance in the hall).

Reaction and Ideas

What Bryant has assembled is a highly instructive treasure trove of elements that leaders have incorporated into their organizations to help cultivate and sustain creativity and innovation.  And, he has done so in an engaging way – the stories told by CEOs are powerful and detail live application of strategies.  However, every organization is different, so the readers should take caution not to try to apply strategies outright, but to customize them for their organizations.

The book reinforces my belief and experience that the environment, especially the psychological environment in which the creative operates, is one of the biggest drivers of both creativity and innovation.  It also echoes my thinking about the critical role leaders play in deliberately cultivating and sustaining supportive environments, especially as it relates to establishing trust and respect and working as one team.  In my professional life, I have seen the negative impact on creativity and innovation that occurs when these elements are absent and, going forward, I will champion their prioritization.

Where the book falls short of expectations for me is in the lack of connection of these strategies to actual business results related to creativity and innovation.  As a follow on, or follow up, it would be great to see Bryant elicit and summarize measurable impacts of these strategies.  Additionally, Bryant doesn’t provide commentary on key environmental dimensions known to positively impact creativity and innovation in organizations, such as diverse work teams and having autonomy over how one completes one’s work.  It is widely accepted that we learn through story and it would be valuable to include CEO tales on these dimensions.  If Adam Bryant is listening, perhaps this just provided him fodder for a sequel to this important and timely book.


References
Amabile, T. M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., & Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the work
environment for creativity. The Academy of Management Journal, 39(5), 1154-1184.

Bryant, A. (2014). Quick and nimble: Lessons from leading CEOs on how to create a culture of innovation. New York, NY:  Times Books.

Ekvall, G. (1996). Organizational climate for creativity and innovation. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5(1), 105-123.

About Courtney Zwart:
A seasoned innovator with a passion for creativity, Courtney has spent most of her career creating, developing and implementing novel solutions to business problems.  She has held senior level positions in innovation and new product development at both J.P. Morgan Chase and Citibank and currently consults with individuals and organizations on applying creative problem solving processes to business challenges and goals.

Courtney has facilitated creative problem solving sessions, and delivered workshops on deliberate creativity, at Fortune 500 companies including Citibank, HSBC, CVS Caremark Corporation and Loews Corporation. She also instructs on creativity at colleges in the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

She received an MBA in Marketing from Vanderbilt University and a BA from the University of Virginia. She holds certificates in Design Thinking from both the Darden School of Business and the Creative Problem Solving Institute.  She also holds a Master of Science degree in Creativity, Creative Problem Solving and Change Leadership from the internationally recognized Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State.  She can be reached at



**Looking for more books on creativity? Visit the ICSC Amazon Bookstore

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review

A book review by: Vivian Geffen
Buffalo State College

REVIEW OF ERTEL & SOLOMAN's MOMENTS OF IMPACT 

Strategy is a popular word, everyone knows it’s an important thing but how many of us really know how to deliver it as consultants and creativity practitioners? Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change (Ertel & Solomon, 2014) is a business-leadership book that delivers answers to the question “How do I create an environment that will generate insightful and perspective-changing discussions about ambiguous situations my client or team is facing?” 

Claiming 10,000 + hours of leading and planning strategic conversation, the coauthors Chris Ertel, a social sciences PhD consultant who works at Deloitte Consulting and Kay Solomon, a professor of innovation from an MBA program in design strategy, describe this work as sitting “at the crossroads of three disciplines: strategy, design and conversation (or group dialogue)” (p. 14). They do not purport to break new ground but rather create a laser focus on the intersection of the three disciplines, which they call strategic conversations.

This book is written for today’s business leaders facing ambiguous challenges. It is in the vein of creative Creative problem Problem solving Solving in that Ertel and Solomon refer to divergent and convergent thinking in the process of devising strategic plans. However, they use the term adaptive challenge instead of creative challenge to define a situation where there is no single best solution—in other words, the kind of situation that calls for leadership instead of management. Ertel and Solomon call this the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. The general solutions this book offers are how to identify the need for, and then design, successful strategic conversations.

The role of strategic conversations is explained as “pivotal, synthesizing moments within a larger process” (Ertel & Solomon, 2014, p. 39). The outcome of an effective strategic conversation will “enable a group to achieve new levels of clarity and coherence about their adaptive challenge—and help move leadership teams toward deeper levels of shared commitment and understanding” (Ertel & Solomon, 2014, p. 39). Strategic conversations are intended to be galvanizing moments that release energy and momentum for an organization. They are frequently held off site, can include interactive experiences, and bring in people with multiple points of view. They also require detailed planning so that the affective experience, although perhaps not consciously appreciated, anticipates needs and minimizes distractions. Contrasting types of meetings are standard and brainstorming sessions. Standard meetings are typically held in conference rooms and rely on PowerPoints, charts, and data for analysis, this keeps people in their regular analytical, answer-seeking mindset. Brainstorming sessions are generally held in the same type of environment. They get people excited but, according to Ertel and Solomon, lead to a lot of ideas that are neglected once people leave and go back to business as usual.

The competencies Ertel and Solomon focus on helping the reader develop are understanding and figuring out how to design strategic conversations. They offer three reasons to have a strategic conversation: (a) building understanding, (b) shaping choices, and (c) making a decision. The reason is determined by assessing what type of output is needed and where the organization is in relation to the adaptive challenge it is facing. Ertel and Solomon offer Core Practices and Key Principles which will help the planner determine various components and logistics of the session. Some elements are the type of information presented, how information is presented-there might be games, stories or interactive experiences. Who attends and what information they bring is also a large consideration. The idea is that when all of the elements are carefully crafted, you improve your odds for best possible outcome. In order to support the reader, the final section of the book is a starter kit that lays out the elements for each type of conversation. It also includes a reading list for further exploration of each topic.

I found the book timely because it is written be a guide and tool for people in who find themselves in leadership positions that require out-of-the-box thinking. The authors used expert interviews to describe successful scenarios where this type of conversation took place. The writing is very straightforward and businesslike. It has a “nothing but the facts, ma’am” kind of attitude. There are no funny anecdotes or Dilbert cartoons. It is logical, methodical, and specific to supporting strategic thinking. I believe mastery of the principles outlined would be beneficial in running any type of meeting. For instance, Ertel and Solomon’s suggestion that one think of oneself as a producer and event coordinator can only help improve any meeting experience. The more a leader takes the attendees’ needs into account, the better participation of any sort is bound to be.

From a research perspective, the book does include references to scholars and researchers in the business and psychology and creativity realms. Ertel and Solomon referred to cognitive psychology to describe and explain the type of resistance and challenges one may face in leading these conversations. They include a whole chapter devoted to “yabbuts” and how to diffuse them.

As I contemplated the differences between a well-organized meeting and a well-designed strategic conversation, I noticed that the latter type of engagement is more multidimensional. The way I would describe it is that in an ideal execution the experience should be the difference between seeing a regular movie and a 3D movie. Both experiences will give the story, but one puts the viewers in the center of the action and changes their perspective and reactions. Being able to effectively execute such a lofty outcome requires practice and attention to detail. Using this book as a starting point can give the novice leader insight and confidence to attempt the goal of trying something new with people.

Reference:
Ertel, C., & Solomon, L. K. (2014). Moments of impact: How to design strategic conversations that accelerate change. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

About Vivian Geffen:  
Vivian Geffen, The Creativity Muse, is in the process of earning a Master’s of Science degree in Creativity Studies at Buffalo State College in New York. She has developed an interest in how to apply creativity to strategic planning, particularly for non-profits organizations like The Samburu Project, where she is on the Board of Directors.

Vivian also created and developed Creativity for Personal Transformation, a workshop that uses Creative Problem Solving as the impetus for generating personally motivating and meaningful strategies to overcome challenges. She lives in Los Angeles. @creativitymuse


**Looking for more books on creativity? Visit the ICSC Amazon Bookstore

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Book of Life: Guided Exercises in Designing Your Big, Bold, Beautiful Life

By: Murray Altman-Kaough
Graduate Student
International Center for Studies in Creativity
Buffalo State College


The Book of Life: Guided exercises in designing your big, bold, beautiful life is a compact CPS curriculum in narrative form.  I created the Book of Life as my Creative Studies Master’s project, and as a curriculum for use in my coaching and training.  Designed to lead participants in conceptualizing their lives in a storybook format, the curriculum provides CPS training and invites students to reimagine their creative lives.  Self-discovery is accomplished in a relaxed and playful way, in both written and illustrated form, as creators are guided in exploring collage, doodling, mandala coloring, poetry and storytelling as they work through the Book of Life.  As a visual artist I firmly believe in the power of the arts in stimulating the imagination and in accessing intuitive knowledge beyond the reach of the rational mind.  Not only are hands’ on projects effective in accessing wisdom beyond the rational mind, they are simply fun! 

The purpose of the Book of Life is first, to help participants conceive of themselves as authors and full owners of their life narratives.  Second, to support learners in their own possibility thinking beyond culturally defined limits.  Shared conceptions about what is possible - or even suitable - at various life stages may inhibit the development of radical life goals, especially for people at or beyond midlife. And third, the Book of Life is intended to provide a basic foundation in creativity skills training.   Participants are supported in constructing new timelines capable of inspiring divergent thinking and ultimately, in more fully developing their creative potential.  In thinking of their lives as a story composed of individual chapters, students are freed to select new themes or change story lines that don’t support them in living the most vibrant and productive lives possible.

While the content is definitely applicable to all age groups, I developed the project primarily for use with historically underserved populations such as women and adults mid-life and older.  I had observed during my time in the Creative Studies program that, while a prodigious amount of creativity research investigates and supports creativity in children and young adults, very little specifically targets training and skill development in mature adults.  Despite relatively recent improvements in the recognition of women as full equals in creative potential, a gap unfortunately remains between men and women in terms of ‘Big C’ creative output across disciplines.  Exceptions still prove the rule.  For example: first woman Supreme Court justice, first woman astronaut, first woman racecar driver, first U.S. woman poet laureate, woman president of the U.S. - oh wait, never mind.

Here in the West we tend to view the arc of the human lifespan as unidirectional; flowering early and dwindling fast, and ending in an utterly predictable and ignoble end.  Were you to examine the common timeline of the average human, you would find that the vast majority of positive milestone events are clustered in the first thirty or so years.  For example, learning to drive, heading off to college, entering the work force, marriage, home ownership and childrearing are generally accepted as positive events and necessary markers toward attaining adulthood. 

But what comes after that?  What are our assumptions beyond midlife?  The mile markers grow fewer and far less positive - we typically don’t anticipate much beyond retirement, old age and the attendant declines in health and productivity.  Not unlike humanity’s former shared belief in a flat earth, we seem to think of the human lifecycle in static terms.  Youth is effectively regarded as a time of high divergence, while maturity converges rapidly on an increasingly narrow perspective.  Even the words we use to describe maturity are underwhelming and undermining, and rebranding is clearly needed.   If our assumptions about creative output beyond midlife aren’t a textbook example of premature closure, I don’t know what is!

While our lifespans have continued to increase, for the most part, we haven’t revised our expectations of productivity and creativity across the decades of life.  We’re clearly living longer, but have not adjusted our expectations accordingly.  We expect older people to dwindle and diminish in creative capacity and output, and so they do. This strikes me as a preventable human tragedy. 

And so the Book of Life concept evolved as a curriculum for use in small group training sessions in CPS concepts.  But even more importantly, it is also intended to motivate and inspire students in questioning their own assumptions about their creative potential, and in encouraging them in radical goal setting beyond the first third of life.  We now know that creativity is highly correlated with learning and curiosity.  We also know that environments can stimulate or inhibit creativity.  The Book of Life is intended to help participants avoid premature closure, question assumptions and experiment artistically in imaging fuller and more creative lives.

Read the entire Master’s project paper in the ICSC Digital Commons

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Murray Altman-Kaough (Max) is a success coach and motivational trainer with twenty years' experience in higher education.  She earned a Master of Science from the International Creative Studies program in 2014.  She leads transformational adventure excursions to deserts of the western U.S., in which she combines her passion for inspiring others with her love of the arts and the wonders of the outdoors. Murray is an accomplished painter, budding author and energetic motivational speaker and creative collaborator.  She believes that we are called to follow our hearts in living creatively, and that in pursuing our passions we can best help heal the world.  Her mission is helping inspire others to be powerful creators, living to their utmost and  engaging in deeply meaningful work.