When problem solving, we often only think of solutions that we have used before instead of reconceptualizing the question entirely. La Paz, Bolivia can provide a good example of what happens when you think creatively.
Late night host John Oliver shared the story about the Mama Zebra Project in Bolivia where the solution to gridlock and pedestrian safety was resolved through the use of “traffic zebras” who inject levity while addressing a very serious issue. It’s worth your 5 minutes to watch here.
The Zebra Project addresses several issues at once – lightening the mood of drivers, ensuring the safe passage of pedestrians and giving work to a hard-to-employ population. It’s a win-win for everyone.
As Oliver says, I’m sure that “traffic zebra” didn’t jump in your mind as the first solution to this problem but keep it in mind the next time you’re faced with a vexing issue. Maybe the best solution is one that is the most out of the ordinary.
As part of the Aspen Ideas Festival, two speakers made comments that stuck with me – and as I later pondered how to incorporate them into my life, I realized that they were in direct opposition with each other!
One idea came from opera director Yuval Sharon who spoke about the concept of “doubling” that he used in the development of his recent production. He literally doubled his core artistic team, hiring two directors, two writers and two composers for his opera Sweet Land, intentionally done to create a dialogue between different points of view.
In contrast to working in pairs, historian and author Erik Larson spoke of how he does not use research assistants for his work. Even though scouring the archives can be extensive and tedious, he is not convinced that someone else would have his instincts and look for the same things so he does all of his research himself.
It was fascinating to me that on this national platform, one person applied the strategy of doubling in the artistic field where individuals are often heralded as the stars for their work, and another advocated the process of working solo in research which is often a team effort.
Maybe the real lesson is that those who shine in their field are the ones who utilize methods outside of the norm; who break the boundaries of what “should” happen and find ways to find new insights – either by including others or excluding them in certain phases. Don’t approach your projects by rote; rather intentionally consider whether your work could benefit from doubling or independence. There is no one formula for innovation.
A colleague shared a memory of her time as a tourist going to the top of the Empire State Building. (Can you even remember when we used to do things like that?) The observation deck is on the 78th floor and the elevator ride can prove to be a bit nerve-racking and ear-popping for some guests.
To combat this, the tour operators devised a way to divert people’s attention and equipped the top of the elevator car with a computer screen. On the way up, riders watch an animation of the building being constructed, and on the way down the building’s Art Deco logo morphs into a U.S. map. The ride only takes 30-45 seconds but with this forethought, it becomes a memorable and enjoyable experience for the tourists rather than one filled with angst.
Put yourself in the shoes (or the elevator) of those using your service. How can you eliminate some discomfort or increase the pleasure – or in the case of the Empire State Building – achieve both simultaneously? There are ways to wow all around you if you elevate your thinking toward that goal.
I suspect that many people are missing their coffeeshop “offices” and the ability to work in a location that varies from their usual desk setting. Different environments can spur more creative thinking and often enable you to become more productive because the distractions are limited. Also, when you go somewhere, you take with you the mindset that it’s time to get some serious work done and are mentally more compelled to follow through.
I experienced this myself when I planned to work in the car while waiting during someone’s appointment. During this time, I had a renewed focus and energy and was able to push past a block that I had on one project, outline the content for a handout and have a new perspective on another issue. It was one of the most efficient hours of my week.
You may not yet be able to plop down in Starbucks and commandeer a table for a few hours but don’t give up on the principle of a change in location. Maybe that means just thinking in your car while sitting in a parking lot, moving to your porch or basement, pondering a problem while walking around the block, taking a phone call while you go for a drive, or even rearranging the office furniture.
It has been long enough that for many the temporary home office is feeling normal, and with that comes the downside of a routine. Break out of your environmental rut and try to do your deep work elsewhere. A different view often provides a different viewpoint.
The founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was also responsible for the establishment of the Boston Pops Orchestra, a novel idea in 1885 when it happened. Civic leader Henry Lee Higginson knew that the audience for classical symphony music was limited, so he envisioned a way to expand the orchestra’s reach through offering “light” classics and popular music in the off-season. But his real motivation was to extend the work of the musicians to be year-round, possibly attracting higher caliber performers who welcomed the full-time employment.
In addition to his innovative approach to talent management, Higginson also understood the importance of the environment in which music was played. He oversaw the design of Symphony Hall so that during the Symphony season, the theatre is fitted with straight back chairs in traditional aisles. A specially-crafted elevator is hidden within the floor so that when Pops season begins, the Symphony chairs are stored away underneath and the hall is transformed with cabaret tables and loose chairs around them, allowing for an informal ambiance akin to the lighter music.
Instead of making the Pops Orchestra a lesser version of the Symphony, Higginson had the foresight and vision to create it as an entirely new experience. From the repertoire, to the attire, to the appearance of the hall and other venues where they play, the Pops has achieved acclaim in its own right and doesn’t live in the shadow of the classical orchestra.
Think of whether there are lessons you can adapt to your organization from the symbiotic relationship between the Symphony and the Pops. Can you partner with an entity to design a space to meet both of your needs rather than building or renting two? Is there a way to increase your talent pool by sharing roles for part-time positions so that they become full-time contributors? Have you thought about the look and feel of space that you use for your programs and whether it is aligned with the content and outcomes you desire?
The Pops Orchestra may not have experienced its wild popularity if it was only seasonal and had to adapt itself to the formality of an unmodified Symphony Hall. Don’t force your music to be muffled because of the limitations you create yourself.
The New York Times called Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber the most commercially successful composer in history. He’s the man behind The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running show on Broadway that has grossed over $6 billion in revenue during its run.
So, if you were a producer who had the opportunity to invest in another show by Webber featuring the same Phantom characters, chances are that you would have invested. It would have been a mistake. Love Never Dies was a flop, and never made it to Broadway at all.
Despite all of his successes — Webber composed a number of hits that were on Broadway for years, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Sunset Boulevard – he also had a litany of shows that never became mainstream: Starlight Express, Whistle Down the Wind and Aspects of Love. His By Jeeves was so bad that it closed after just a month in London, but Sir Webber kept writing music and still has multiple shows on Broadway today.
The only sure-fire formula that guarantees success is perseverance. Your chances of doing great work improve by producing a lot of work and continually learning from it. Keep making music, even if some of what you produce seems a bit off-key.
In the film The Aeronauts, two characters from 1862 London ascend in a hot air balloon to conduct scientific experiments about the weather. The movie is loosely based on the actual James Glaisher, a scientist who believed that weather could be predicted.
When Glaisher presented his theory to the Royal Society of scientists, he was literally laughed off the podium. In his era, such a notion was preposterous and the Society would not fund his expedition. Glaisher found a pilot who would take him anyway (a fictional character in the film), and they manage to achieve 37,000 ft. in altitude, the highest any human had ever been at that point in time. Glaisher’s measurements revealed multiple characteristics about the atmosphere and when he presented them, the Royal Society ultimately gave him a standing ovation.
James Glaisher is another of many examples where the innovator is called a fool long before he is praised as a genius. Don’t keep your dreams on the ground because others call them crazy. You may first need to do what others laugh at before they recognize how high your ideas can take you.
I have an Easter decoration that always makes me laugh – a plaque with a bunny being hatched from an egg. It’s an absurd combination, yet the symbols of bunnies and eggs are inextricably linked for the commercial portion of this holiday. There are many facets of Easter that make no sense: rabbits with baskets, coloring and hunting for eggs, chocolate rabbits and jelly beans – but they have been so ingrained into our culture that we don’t pay much attention to the implausibility of them.
Embrace that spirit of creativity today to allow yourself to have free-flowing associations with disjointed concepts. Link your own version of rabbits and eggs to create a new idea for work or for family entertainment.
Hide spice jars around your house instead of eggs. Put your books in the cupboard and plates on the bookshelf. Mix two unexpected ingredients to make a new dish. Wear polka dots and plaid together. Intermix carrots and petunias next to each other in your front landscaping.
Easter symbolizes a new beginning. Use the fresh start to infuse a burst of creativity into your world.
One of the best things I’ve seen lately is a series of graphic designs depicting an actual 1-star review for each of the National Parks. The art itself is appealing but what really impressed me is the idea of taking this approach in the first place.
Artist Amber Share wanted to take a “unique twist” to depict the parks and when she learned about the reviews created her “Subpar Parks” series of designs. Some examples: Grand Canyon: “A Hole. A Very Large Hole” or Yellowstone: “Save Yourself Some Money and Boil Some Water at Home.”
There are thousands of pictures and paintings of each of these national treasures, but it took a real artist to see the opposite perspective that Share took.
Think about how you can follow her lead and approach a project from a totally different view. Target your marketing plan to those who haven’t purchased from you instead of those who have. Take photos, as my friend Tracy does, of the backside of famous statues/places instead of the same view everyone else captures. Start a meal with dessert and finish with the appetizer. Take your own 1-star reviews and turn them into something positive.
Einstein said: “Being creative is seeing the same thing as everyone else but thinking of something different.” With that as the measure, Amber Share earns a 5-star review.
If I asked most readers if they were an artist, my guess is that the vast majority would say no. But why does “art” carry with it such a stigma that it has to be lofty or created by a professional in order to qualify as art?
When I was at the shoreline, I encountered several pieces of art that were made by those passing through. These sculptures were made out of natural materials discarded by the tides and will soon be returned to the Lake, but in the interim, they brought joy and appreciation to those who saw them.
I doubt that any of the pieces were created by professional artists but they were “art” nonetheless. Art comes from rocks, sticks, words, fabric, clay, paint, pencils, ink, paper, metal, music, wood, trash, wires, beads, string, lyrics, film, crayons – and it comes from you. What art will you contribute to the world today?