By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2016-04-05 05:45:38
Some people just seem to ooze creativity out of every pore. Everything they say, wear, make and do reflects an enviable imagination and a singular sense of confidence. Most of us are not built this way. But this doesn’t mean that creativity is a special gift bestowed only on a select few. In fact, humans are inherently creative, as we have problem-solved everything from mastering the art of fire to identifying the most effective incentive to get a teenager to mow the lawn! Most of us simply need “training” to make creativity a more regular practice in our lives. But we also need courage. We need courage to push ourselves past a number of barriers that we tend to throw up to avoid tapping our creativity more frequently. Why do we do this? Famed psychologist Erich Fromm reportedly said, “Creativity requires courage to let go of certainty.” Creativity is about creating change—and change scares us. Showing our creativity in action can make us stand out in the crowd—and standing out scares us. When we start exploring our creativity on a regular basis, it can be a heady and powerful experience—and power scares us. There are so many benefits to plugging into your inherent creative energy more regularly at home and at work. Researchers have found that creative expression can help resolve conflicts, boost clarity of thoughts and feelings, enhance empathy, improve resilience, reduce stress and anxiety, lessen grief, support problem-solving, provide a sense of control and offer a greater sense of well-being. Don’t you want more of all those things in your life? Let’s take a look at some of the most common barriers we raise to avoid connecting with our creativity and some advice for breaking through old ways of thinking. You have what it takes to bust through the barriers that are holding you back. BARRIER: I’m just not creative. I can’t draw like Maya. I’m not crafty like Yvette. I can’t come up with clever names for menu items like Rick. I’m tone deaf and have no rhythm. BREAKTHROUGH ADVICE First, stop comparing yourself to others. We are all creative in our own ways. Second, don’t think of creativity only in terms of the arts. Engineers are creative. So are gardeners and salespeople and accountants. Anyone who solves a problem does so by using his or her imagination. Creativity is just as much about coming up with ideas and strategies, as it is about the ways those lightbulb opportunities are implemented and communicated. Don’t limit your own creative potential because you’re stuck on a narrow definition. Take it on faith, if you have to: You are creative. BARRIER: I don’t have time to be creative. BREAKTHROUGH ADVICE Well, it’s true that most of us need to create time and space for creative thinking and expression. It’s not going to happen when your to-do list fills every hour of the workday and then your evening is spent relaxing in front of the television. But you can find time for creativity if you make a commitment. Just make one that is practical within the constraints of your average day. If you’ve not made such a resolution in the past and then pledge to dedicate a half-hour or more to creative brainstorming or other activities every day, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Start with baby steps. Begin by focusing on dedicating time for idea generation and problem-solving. If you are disciplined in setting and sticking to a schedule, put this on the daily agenda. Find the atmosphere that works best for you. Some people find inspiration when music plays in the background, while others need meditative silence. Clear your mind of the clutter of the day, so you can open it and stay focused on the task at hand: fresh ideas. Some can do this with deep breathing techniques. Others need a more kinetic activity, such as doodling (or try one of the adult coloring books that are all the rage today) or taking a walk. If your daily agenda is regularly hijacked by unexpected crises and meetings, then you may want to train your brain to make better use of routine, “brainless” activities. For example, you could pledge to use your afternoon commutes for brainstorming solutions to a problem. For some, however, that transition time is too full of a review of the day and reminders about what needs to be done at home or with family. In that case, seek out other opportunities that are ripe for this kind of mental multi-tasking, such as folding laundry, doing the dishes or walking the dog. Do you relax by surfing the Internet? Make that time more productive by surfing for ideas that you might want to try at home or at work. For example, many people browse through favorite web pages to collect new recipes, home décor ideas and party themes. You could do something similar to support an upcoming personal project, as well as for your job. Perhaps you want to compile lists of food puns or fun trivia that you can put on your menu, display boards, website or social media pages. Commit to 10 minutes of surfing time to looking for inspiration for any project and create a Pinterest board to collect the ideas until you are ready to make use of them. If you’re “old school” and find magazines a good source of creative approaches that you’d like to try “one day,” tear out the pages and file them in a “Neat Ideas” folder. Whether your sources of inspiration are digital or print pages, be sure to schedule specific appointments to review that folder/Pinterest board. Maybe it’s once a month or once a quarter. Just commit to following through with a review—it doesn’t commit you to action, but it gets you another step closer and it keeps creativity top of mind. Are you interested in more overt expressions of creativity or trying to reignite a creative pursuit that has taken a back seat in the wake of family and work? You can start small here, too. Want to write? There are plenty of books and apps with simple prompts and you can commit to writing for just 5 minutes each day. Journal each day for a month on one topic: Childhood memories, what life will be like in 2050, memorable students who have made an impression and so on. Soon, you’ll want to write for longer periods. Are visual arts more your thing? Take one “art shot” every day with your camera phone. Look into current popular favorites such as group painting nights or the adult coloring books we mentioned earlier. Commit to give handmade presents to all your family members at Christmas—plan to start now so you can manage this in small bites that fit into your schedule while giving you a creative outlet that has a purpose. BARRIER: Creativity is a solitary pursuit. I prefer to be around people. BREAKTHROUGH ADVICE There’s no rule that says you can only be creative on your own time and in your own mind. In fact, “Teamwork for the Dream Work,” page 30, offers group activities that are specifically focused on encouraging out-of-the-box thinking and innovative ideas among all members of your team. In addition to dedicated team-building sessions, there are several opportunities already built into your personnel management process that are ideal for group brainstorming. These include: • Annual goal setting for individual employees or the entire team • Annual performance reviews • Regular team meetings • Targeted problem-solving meetings • Targeted special projects/new ideas meetings Sometimes, you can kick-start your creative thinking by identifying one other person on your team who is open to trying fresh approaches and strategic thinking. The two of you can bounce ideas off of one another. “Hey, what do you think about this idea I had to change the order of menu components on the serving line? Am I thinking it all the way through or will it cause a problem I’m not anticipating?” “The storage room is driving me crazy. Help me come up with ways to make it more efficient to access what we need when we need it.” “Did you see the National School Lunch Week materials in this issue of School Nutrition ? I think we could tie this into Homecoming celebrations; let’s brainstorm ideas.” BARRIER: My ideas stink. BREAKTHROUGH ADVICE We all have that nasty little voice inside that keeps messing with our confidence. It’s not easy to silence that insidious devil, and many people invest untold counseling hours to that very pursuit. For the purposes of our creative-barrier-busting endeavor, however, the advice is simple: Do it anyway. Feel the fear of speaking up. It won’t kill you. Feel some disappointment if your idea is dismissed by others. It stings, but you can move on. Keep trying. Maybe you don’t have sufficient information about a particular project to suggest a creative approach that others find realistic. That’s okay—you still thought about a new way to address a problem or seize an opportunity rather than just staying stuck in the same ol’, same ol’. Just the process of that kind of creative engagement has benefits. Don’t be deterred. Keep trying. It may be that you have to find your niche. You may never have the design eye that allows you to carve a shark from a watermelon or turn the cafeteria into the Emerald City, but you might have terrific ideas about simple ways to motivate or recognize your team members with morale boosters or sweet talk custodians into supporting breakfast-in-the-classroom service. BARRIER: I just don’t care that much. BREAKTHROUGH ADVICE Apathy may be the most difficult creativity barrier to bust. The “do it anyway” advice we just detailed is a legitimate approach, as the commitment to making a habit of creative thinking alone might be enough to shake you out of that rut. But if you’ve identified this barrier as one that holds you back, you may want to apply some creative self-reflection about why you are apathetic. Why are you stuck? Are you frustrated by not having the authority in your job to make changes? Have you been doing the same thing for too long? Is there an opportunity to cross-train to learn some new skills or take on new responsibilities? Do you have a supervisor who is on the spectrum between disconnected and outright hostile? Maybe you need a heart-to-heart conversation with your boss at your next performance review. Or perhaps, realistically, it’s time for a job change. It’s quite possible that your apathy has nothing to do with work, but is born of grief of a lost loved one, a long physical illness or another form of depression. Recognizing that you are feeling apathetic and disengaged may be a signal to you to seek some professional help. Start with your primary care physician and/or a clergy member. BARRIER: No one else on my team cares. I get pushback from my staff or my boss anytime I want to try something new. Everyone is so focused on why things won’t work, rather than on the opportunities we have. BREAKTHROUGH ADVICE It’s hard enough to address your own apathy—it’s all the more difficult to deal with idea-killers and others who dampen your enthusiasm with their negativity and lethargy! Let’s take this one from a couple different perspectives. First, if you feel that everyone on your team is in a rut and you have some management authority, you can take steps to create a culture of creativity by making new idea brainstorming a regular part of meetings or annual goal setting exercises and so on. Take this a step further, and consider offering incentives for truly creative ideas. Some school districts challenge their school sites to participate in contests for new recipe development or the best NSLW participation or most imaginative serving line display. Others recognize staff creativity with honors and prizes at the end of the year. If the problem is getting buy-in for your creative ideas, you’ll have to take a hard look at how that manifests itself. Is it a micro-managing principal who thinks cafeteria creativity is a hassle and waste of time? There are different strategies for dealing with this, ranging from finding allies among teachers, parents and school administrators (including other principals) to focusing your creative ideas on areas that are not in his or her control. Does resistance come from the staff who must implement the idea? Again, there are different approaches to try, such as engaging conversation (“Why are you resistant to this idea? Let’s see if we can address your concerns”), identifying if the pushback is just from a vocal minority or simply making the new approach a “because I said so” requirement. Don’t give up. The idea may not be right for right now, but is something to put back into a folder and resurrect when personnel, time or budgets have changed. Can you break your big idea into smaller ones and get buy-in one component at a time? Is it something that can be tweaked or reframed slightly and then be more fully embraced? Finally, if you truly find work a non-nurturing environment for creative thinking, then consider focusing your imagination on areas that you can change in your personal life. BARRIER: My ideas never really get past the concept stage. BREAKTHROUGH ADVICE For many of us, coming up with the lightbulb idea is the easy thing—it’s much trickier to put it into action. That’s usually because we haven’t planned for the big idea. Do you have the resources—financial, human, technological, etc.—to put it into action? Have you done a full risk assessment, identifying all the pros and cons associated with this initiative or change? Is there a return on investment or a quantifiable goal or other benefits that you can measure that will help you make the case—and give you potential validation the next time you are proposing a new innovation? Be mindful in your creativity. You risk less chance of having the big idea go bust—along with your own enthusiasm and confidence—when you work out all the steps before getting started. BARRIER: These are great suggestions. I’ll be sure to get started on one of these soon. BREAKTHROUGH ADVICE Don’t procrastinate! How can you avoid this all-too-common creativity barrier? Right now, as you’re reading, get out your smartphone and schedule some kind of follow up on your calendar. Ask someone on your staff or among your friends and family to be a “creative accountability partner” and charge that person with circling back with you in a few days or weeks about the next step in your creativity commitments. Really feeling brave? Send an email to your boss or top lieutenant and ask that person to remind you to follow up on your good intentions. Don’t sacrifice your imagination to apathy or fear. Instead, commit to creativity and discover new energy to power your next lightbulb moments. Courageous Creativity in Action The School Nutrition team has been carving out creativity time over the course of this last year to work on a brand-new look and feel for your favorite professional magazine. The current design was introduced in 2007 and there have been very few changes in the regular departments in well more than a decade! It takes some courage to redesign a magazine, because you, our readers, keep telling us what a great job we’ve been doing all along. Plus, we know that few of us eagerly embrace change, especially in the things that give us comfort. Still, we’re excited to show you the results of many, many hours of creative brainstorming with our June/July 2016 issue. Stay tuned! Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition. Photography by Thinkstock.com.
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