Beyond the Obvious

Look beyond the obvious for creative solutions to difficult problems.

A friend noticed the lamp in the guest bedroom was missing. She found it in her daughter’s room. The thing was, she already had a lamp. So why did she need another one?

Any guesses?

To read? Perhaps she was making shadow puppets? Some sort of light show?

All good, legitimate, even obvious answers. 

And all wrong. 

She was using it as a wig stand. 

Bet you didn’t see that one coming!

The ability to see beyond the obvious is a remarkable creative trait.

Before anything becomes popular or mainstream it starts off as an outrageous idea, dreamt up by someone who can see beyond the obvious to create something new or develop an innovative solution to a problem.

When Is a Lamp, Not a Lamp?

Here is an object. In this case, a lamp.

What is it? What does it do? What could it be? What could it be used for?

This is the basis for a very popular creative thinking exercise. One used to elicit ideas beyond the obvious. 

And that’s because, by and large, we struggle to see past the obvious, sensible applications for an object, item, or process. Because we’re so used to using them as they were intended. 

However, once we get past the intended use or application, that’s when we get to the good stuff. The real creative thinking. The best solutions to the most complex problems. 

Think Apollo 13.

How to Fit a Square Peg Into a Round Hole

After an explosion caused the oxygen tanks to rupture and start leaking air into space, the astronauts on board Apollo 13 were faced with a fight for survival. And it would take every ounce of ingenuity and creative thinking to get them safely back to Earth.

Their first step towards survival was to move into the landing module and use it as a sort of ‘space lifeboat’. But this brought its own problems. Namely, difficulties with removing carbon dioxide. 

In a cruel twist of fate, the square lithium hydroxide canisters were not compatible with the round openings in the landing module system. 

Effectively, they had to figure out how to make a square peg fit a round hole.

This scenario was way beyond the obvious possible scenarios that had been simulated and worked through during NASA training prior to the mission’s launch. Therefore, it needed a solution that itself was beyond the obvious.

Limited by the equipment they could find on board the landing module, mission control back on Earth and the crew of Apollo 13 out in space had to come up with a creative solution to a perilous problem. And there wasn’t much time to execute it successfully.

A Successful Failure 

Eventually, they managed to cobble together a device made from a bag, a hose from a spacesuit, and plenty of duct tape, to ensure they could breathe safely.

The result is perhaps the most famous example of creative problem-solving ever.

Certainly, the extraterrestrial location, the jeopardy, and the drama unfolding to a worldwide audience may have played a significant role in its acclaim. However, it’s the ability to think and see beyond the obvious that won the day.

Seeing more to everyday items than their usual or standard applications. Imagining what else they could become. How else they could be used. And to what effect. That is the definition of creative thinking.

So, next time you see a lamp, put a wig on it.

Embracing Chaos

Nurturing creativity means embracing chaos.

You’ve been kidnapped. Blindfolded. And transported to somewhere completely alien to you. Some deep tropical jungle. Then left to learn to survive and communicate with the local tribe.

How do you feel?

Now imagine being asked to do that with complete amnesia. Having forgotten everything you’d ever learned. No prior knowledge of anything. 

That would be one intense and exhausting experience.

You’d be met with an endless line of problems in need of solutions.

Because everything would be new. And everything would be a problem. And survival would necessitate resilience and adaptability.

You’d need to get creative. And fast.

This isn’t hypothetical.

We’ve all been there. Done that.

Because we all exist. We’re born into this intense and exhausting experience.

It’s probably why we cry a lot. 

But it also suggests that we’re all innately creative. Incredibly resilient. And highly adaptable. By nature.

Regardless of what we may think. Despite what we may tell ourselves. Irrespective of what others may have us believe.

Pseudo-Science

Nurture, therefore, is an experiment. 

Having children is an experiment.

Perhaps the craziest, most extreme scientific exploration a person will ever undergo. And one where it’s impossible to predict the outcome.

For starters, the variables are infinite. 

The only constants are guilt, anguish, tiredness, an overwhelming feeling of immeasurable responsibility, and a strong emotional attachment to the subject – your child. 

It’s impossible to describe. And equally impossible to understand until you have personally experienced it. 

As such, there’s no amount of reading, research, and preparation you can do that will ready you for what’s to come. 

You can gain advice, listen to anecdotes, and observe other parents with their children. And while this all serves to give you some idea of what to expect, it’s impossible to be fully prepared for dealing with the unknown quantity staring up at you from the cot.

There’s no control group.

Actually. There’s no control. And this is what makes it fascinating. 

Children are intensely interesting. They’re intensely interested. In everything. 

Or maybe they’re just intense.

Either way, they’re wonderful to observe, from a creative perspective.

And so It Begins

Because they arrive in this world, swaddled, eyes wide, and with a completely blank slate. 

From birth, they’re immediately subjected to sensory overload. A world of infinite possibilities, challenges, and new experiences. And they have to muddle their way through it. Figuring things out as they go along. 

Because everything they do is a first. It’s both exhausting and exciting. 

And so it begins. The nurture experiment.

From the moment they leave the warm comfort of the womb. Its relative darkness. Where the only significant sound is that of the mother’s heartbeat (and all external sounds are heavily muted). From that moment they get thrust into the bright light of the big wide world, nurture kicks in. Conditioning.

First with colours.

Then with names.

Then with adjectives. 

“Who’s a beautiful baby boy?”

“Who’s a big strong girl?”

We build these preconceptions of what they will become. We have these ideas of what we’d like them to achieve and how we plan to help them get there. And every word uttered. Every action taken slowly begins to shape, mould, and condition them. 

Consequently, that blank slate they arrived with starts to fill up pretty fast.

The experiment, therefore, should be more of a delicate balancing act. One where we seek to nurture what already exists naturally without imposing our own thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, world view, likes, and dislikes. 

And this is next to impossible.

Because behaviours are learned through observation and repetition. 

And we’re constantly under observation. We’re also creatures of habit.

Out of Control

So, we need to step outside of ourselves. Become more self-aware and introspective. Reflecting on our own behaviours, evaluating our choices and actions. And understanding the impact these could have in framing the world for someone desperately trying to make sense of it all and fit in.

We don’t want to influence the experiment too much. But, of course, we want to establish some controls. Given the number of ever-changing variables we have to contend with.

However, defining controls that allow the subject to thrive without significantly influencing their development can be tricky.

Empathy, kindness, generosity, and creativity should be nurtured. Because they are innate. 

We learn to behave otherwise from what we hear and observe in those around us. Because we like to fit in. There’s safety in numbers.

And yet we laud individuals. Risk-takers. Mavericks. Pioneers. The ones who dare to be different and go against the grain. The ones who defy convention and carve their own path regardless of what the majority say, or think, or do.

These are the people we look up to and praise for their bravery, creativity, resilience, determination, and individualism.

But, in order to fit in, we nurture all these qualities we revere out of our children.

There are too many variables involved in this experiment. We can either try desperately to control them. Limit them. Influence them. Or we can embrace the chaos and see what happens.

The universe is a hotbed of havoc. And since it’s out of that cosmic pandemonium that we sprung, perhaps we should strive to nurture creativity, in all its messy madness. Not tame it.

After all, different thinking makes a difference.

 

 

~Thinking in Public~

10 Things Remote Working Has Taught Me About Learning and the Future of Work

Remote working is the future of work

Nursery. Primary school. Middle school. Secondary school. Undergraduate degree. Masters degree. Post-graduate Certificate in Education. Teaching. For thirty years (almost consecutively) I’ve been a cog in the state education machine. And yet, the best learning I have done has been in the first four months since I left full-time teaching/education and embraced the world of remote working as part of a distributed team with Social INK.

Here are the ten things remote working has taught me about learning and the future of work.

1) The Future of Work Is Looking Increasingly Decentralised

Work as we have known it since the Industrial Revolution is finally evolving. There’s no longer a need for conveyor-belt workers performing mechanical tasks. Automation has long taken care of that. Instead, with improved technology, greater global access to the internet and faster connection speeds, employers are now able to recruit from a global talent pool.

International borders, commutes into work, and skills gaps (like the factory line) will also soon be a thing of the past. Being able to potentially cover all time zones with your distributed workforce and offer a worldwide 24/7 service at a fraction of the cost — that’s the way the wind is blowing.

2) People Are Taking Back Ownership of Their Time

In order to work remotely successfully, you need to be a self-starter. You have to self-motivate and be driven to complete your tasks without having someone looking over your shoulder. It won’t work otherwise. Get up. Get dressed. Start work. Manage your day. But, without the commute to “the office” and without the endless and unnecessary meetings, all of a sudden there are extra hours in the day.

If you’re clever with your scheduling, you can even begin to find time to do things you’ve always wanted to do but never had the working flexibility to do so. How you use your time is up to you. So long as what needs to get done, gets done.

3) Knowledge Isn’t as Important as Skills

You don’t need to know what an oxbow lake is or how it is formed. Or what happened to Henry VIII’s wives (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived).

Knowledge is freely and readily available if you are willing to seek it out. Everything you need to know is a mouse-click or tap away. But skills. The ability to do something. To add value. That isn’t so abundant. So take time to learn new skills. You never know when they may come in handy.

4) Resilience Is Key

Never give up. Keep trying. Circumstances change. Change is inevitable. It’s how you deal with it that really matters. Learn from failure. I’ve yet to meet anyone who gets everything right first time. Persistence, stoic stubbornness in finding solutions instead of wallowing in self-pity, will drive you to success.

5) Remote Working Requires Adaptability

This is a bit of a combination of Points 3 and 4.

Change happens. Equip yourself to deal with it. Adapt to the changing needs and demands of society/clients/technology. Embrace it as personal and professional growth. And be ready to adapt again in the near future.

6) Be Open and Receptive to New Ideas

You don’t know it all.

There are many people who know things that you don’t. Be open to this. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried. You may just profit from it in some way.

7) There’s an App for That

Whatever you need, whatever it is you do, there’s an app for that.

Equip yourself with the tools that will make you more efficient. And if you find that there isn’t an app for your specific need, you may just have stumbled across a business idea.

8) The Internet Is Your Office

There’s no need for a physical office space (unless you’re in retail — maybe). Do away with the costs of having one and work from wherever you please. It’s freeing and often inspiring. Change your scenery and reap the rewards.

9) Creativity Does Not Mean Art

The creative subjects at school are the arty ones for arty people: Art, Drama, Music.

Actually, creativity is bigger than that. It’s about problem-solving. Being able to offer solutions to problems is less the domain of the artist and more that of the critical thinker. Scientists are creative. As are writers, mathematicians, chefs, manufacturers. Everyone is creative. Figure out how to tap into that and you’re golden.

10) The Best Learning Happens Outside of the Classroom

‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’ ~ Albert Einstein

Make of that what you will.

There’s More To Wearing Odd Socks Than You Think

Odd socks say more about you than you may think.

Recently I put on a pair of odd socks by mistake. They’d accidentally been coupled together in the wash. I didn’t realise until it was too late, and they were on my feet and in my shoes.

I felt uncomfortable.

Not physically. Psychologically.

Perhaps it’s a streak of OCD. Maybe it’s social conditioning. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my mismatching socks.

I was acutely aware that they looked odd.

And whereas some people wholeheartedly embrace regularly wearing odd socks (even deliberately buying them that way), I was experiencing inner turmoil.

So I took a philosophical approach.

Is There More To Odd Socks Than Meets The Eye?

Wearing odd socks is more than just having a quirky dress sense. It’s more than laziness, or losing items in the wash, or a nonchalant approach to footwear. It says a lot about you as a person.

What?

It begins with a pejorative.

What’s Wrong With Being Odd?

“Ha ha! You’re the odd one out!”

“He’s a bit odd.”

“Oddball!”

It’s strange how “odd” is seen as a negative, almost derogatory, term.

What’s wrong with being odd? Apart from not being divisible by two?

Well, actually, that could be the likely source of the problem.

The Safety Of Symmetry

We love things that are even. Symmetry is comforting. Just look in the mirror.

Two eyes, ears, arms, legs, etc.

Same number of teeth, toes, fingers, ribs, nostrils, on each side.

And anything singular is bang in the middle. Nose, belly button, naughty bits.

The things we see, day in, day out, are what we guide ourselves by. Symmetry and even numbers represent safety and normality.

That’s why odd is considered unappealing.

It’s safer to conform and be part of the crowd than risk standing out.

After all, isn’t it better to have balance?

A world where people know their place — in line with everyone else.

Easier to control.

We can’t have hordes of freethinking, free spirited individuals running wild in society now, can we?

That just wouldn’t do. It would be chaos.

Or would it?

Oddity Is Just Another Word For Unshackled Creativity

Take a look at a Picasso painting. Odd.

David Bowie. Odd.

Salvador Dalí. Very odd!

And yet, there’s little doubt that they were masters at their craft. Creative geniuses with a different world view.

It’s this distinctiveness that sets them apart from everyone else. That’s why they are memorable. Revered.

Because they’re not like everyone else.

They embraced being odd. It allowed creative freedom. And, as a result, it helped them stand out from the crowd and carve their own, unassailable, creative niche.

Stick Out Like A Sore Thumb

Negative idioms like this abound. Conformity is the message. Odd is not good.

Wrong.

Setting yourself apart IS a good thing.

Being the odd one out can be an advantage

Be contrary.

Have confidence.

Don’t be swayed by what other people think or say. It is merely an opinion.

It’s ok for people not to agree with you.

Don’t feel you have to shy away.

Be the odd one out.

Wear odd socks.

You’ll certainly get noticed.

And who knows where that might lead!

Gareth

 

 

Main Image Courtesy of Michael Wright on Unsplash

Don’t Obsess Over The Answer. Obsess Over The Question.

There are plenty of big questions out there in the universe

We want results. And we want them yesterday!

Give me answers.

I want solutions. Not problems.

It’s often the case that we obsess over the answer, the final outcome, the end result. But if we neglect the question, the answer can be rendered irrelevant. And the process of arriving at the solution becomes inefficient and wasteful.

As mentioned in a previous post (Slow Down! Why busy people need to stop and disconnect) the first step is to gain some perspective and objectivity.

Breathe deeply and slow things down. We are all very busy and this can affect our ability to distinguish the wood from the trees.

With this done, it’s time to change the obsession.

The Answer Is In The Question

Knowing how to phrase a question correctly is key to gaining a meaningful solution to the problem.

This is what Adam Morgan and Mark Barden call “A Propelling Question” in their book A Beautiful Constraint.

“A propelling question is one that has both a bold ambition and a significant constraint linked together”

It forces you to think and behave in a different way.

The Audi R10 TDI was the answer to a propelling question

(Image courtesy of http://www.evo.co.uk/audi/7921/audi-diesel-for-le-mans)

Morgan and Barden offer several examples of propelling questions that harness the constraint to the ambition, ensuring the constraint drives the solution:

  • How do we win the race with a car that is no faster than anyone else’s? (Audi, Le Mans 2006)
  • How do we build a well-designed, durable table for five euros? (IKEA)

In this way, questions that exhibit a bold ambition linked to a limiting factor, or constraint, will yield better answers.

The Power Of Why

My two-year old son understands the Power Of Why all too well.

He is a master.

There isn’t a statement or utterance that isn’t met with an instant “why?” in our house.

This will inevitably lead to an explanation. Followed by another “why?” And some further explanation. Then yet another “why?” In a seemingly endless sequence in search of the truth (usually ending in exasperation or throwing the question back at him: “why do you think?” – that’s CIA-level parenting for you).

But there’s a wisdom in this transaction.

As annoying as it can be, it is his way of trying to understand things better. He’s not satisfied with the quick, generic response to his question. He wants to know the detail.

“Why” is the way to a clearer answer.

Especially once you’ve found an initial solution.

Ask yourself, why you should accept it? Or, why it worked? Even, why you arrived at that answer and not a different one?

Do this and your results will improve.

Stretch And Challenge

The grid below is used widely in education.

The language you use in your questions is critical

It teaches the vocabulary of inquiry and how to ask good questions (for both teachers and students).

As you can see, “Why” questions (along with “How”) feature in the higher order Analytical and Application Synthesis sections of the grid.

When coupled together with the verbs across the top of the grid, these form powerful questions that really stretch and challenge your thinking. Inevitably leading you to a better answer.

It’s Ok Not To Have All The Answers

So long as you’re asking the right questions.

Get the question right, and you open the door to an intricate thought process.

You will arrive at the solution. There will be a final outcome. And you will gain results.

But the journey, the twists and turns, the developing sequence of questions that you use to arrive at the answer, may end up being more beneficial and enlightening.

Why?

How?

Over to you.

 

Gareth

 

Sharing Is Caring And Nothing Beats Retweets. How One Minute Briefs Adds Value To Content.

Sharing is caring

Sharing interesting articles, videos, photos, designs even memes is a fundamental digital content transaction we participate in daily. Just scroll through your Facebook news feed. Or Twitter. LinkedIn.

But why bother sharing?

Like. You know. Whatever.

Liking a post is great.

It shows that… You like the post.

And whilst that’s fine, it doesn’t really add any value. It doesn’t really help the content’s creator. At least, not in the same way sharing does.

Sure, a ‘like’ shows appreciation. It lets people know that you enjoyed their content.

But did you really?

Sharing A Post Adds Exponential Value.

Unfortunately, liking posts doesn’t really help the original publisher. It doesn’t move the content along. All it does is stamp a little heart or a thumbs-up on it.

And surely, if you really enjoyed the post, wouldn’t you want others to enjoy it too?

That’s why sharing or retweeting content is infinitely better.

By sharing a post you’re not only giving it your seal of approval, you’re vouching for it.

When you retweet or re-post something, you are effectively sifting through all the content traffic and cherry-picking the interesting bits for the rest of your network to see.

You’ve determined it has value. It is of interest. And it is worth people’s time and attention.

Passing on a piece of content means that you believe the rest of your close network will appreciate it too. And, because it came from you, they are more likely to trust it and engage with it. After all, you are infinitely more trustworthy than an anonymous source of content. Right?

You share it. Then someone else shares it. And all of a sudden the readership has multiplied.

Reach (the number of people who see the content). Impressions (the number of times the content is displayed). Engagement (the number of interactions people have with the content).

This is how retweets and shares add exponential value.

You Are An “Influencer”

This is a term that gets bandied about a lot.

But what does it actually mean?

Simply put, influencer marketing uses the popularity of influential people and their extended network to deliver a message to their followers. Individuals, who may have an influence over potential buyers within a target market, are identified and used to promote a product.

Sharing.

That makes YOU an influencer.

Widening The Net

That’s why sharing content is so important.

One Minute Briefs encourages retweets for this very reason. It expands the audience for the content creator.

One Minute Briefs Logo

If you like an ad created in response to a brief, retweet it.

You’ll gain the creator greater exposure. You’re adding value to their work and ideas. And this is a whole lot more appreciative than just a ‘like’.

So next time you read or see something that you really like and wish to show your appreciation…

Share.

Retweet.

You are influential.

We all are.

 

Gareth

Dink Thifferently: Rules are only the limit of someone else’s imagination.

Blue shoe. Yellow shoe. Break the rules. Live a life without limits.

There’s a lot we can learn about creative problem solving from pioneers like Carol Dweck, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Avis. They know how to push beyond the limits of what is believed possible.

No. No Limits.

For every time someone has said “it can’t be done” there’s always been someone else thinking “how can I do it?”

If history teaches us anything, it is that things that were once believed to be impossible, can be achieved.

Just watch any science fiction TV show from the 60s!

Pioneers are those who shun “can’t” and embrace “can’t yet”. They embrace challenges. Persist in the face of setbacks. Acknowledge that effort leads to mastery. Learn from criticism. Find lessons in the success of others.

In short, they don’t put a limit on what they can achieve.

Or, as Carol Dweck explains, they have a Growth Mindset.

The difference between a Growth Mindset and a Fixed Mindset

Finding Lessons In The Success Of Others

When something is considered to be unreachable, it becomes the benchmark.

For some, it’s the limit.

For others, it’s a glass ceiling waiting to be shattered.

This is especially relevant to the three rule breakers below. They defied the norm successfully. They didn’t accept limitations. Instead, they transformed the sense of what was possible.

Afford A Ford

These days it’s hard to imagine a world without automation.

When Ford started building cars he did it in exactly the same way that every other car manufacturer did. One at a time.

This was the norm.

The car was built from the ground up by a team of mechanics. They would have to source parts, then return to the vehicle in order to assemble it.

Not a very efficient process. And very expensive.

Perfecting the assembly line concept turned the process on its head. Ford changed the game.

Henry Ford's legendary Mode T

(Image courtesy of https://hymanltd.com/vehicles/6028-1921-ford-model-t-center-door-sedan/)

He wanted to mass-produce affordable vehicles. Increase efficiency and reduce costs. He wanted to push beyond the limits of what convention dictated at the time.

Instead of having mechanics going back and forth to fetch parts, Ford had the parts brought to the mechanics at appointed stations. The chassis was then moved between each station, stopping along the way to have parts fitted, until the car was completed. (https://www.ford.co.uk/experience-ford/history-and-heritage#assemblyline)

Ford was able to reduce the assembly time of a Model T from twelve and a half hours to under six.

When everyone else was limited to building one car at a time, Ford found a way to push beyond what was conventionally accepted.

Cost-efficient, affordable vehicles for the masses became a reality.

A small change in thinking, made a big difference.

White Headphones

Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod on 23rd October 2001. A revolutionary device. It pushed beyond the limits of the portable audio technology available at the time.

An entire music library that fit inside your pocket!

This was the coolest, sleekest and most exciting new tech accessory ever invented. Everybody wanted one. And everybody who had one, wanted everyone else to know it.

But there was a problem.

It couldn’t be seen if it was in your pocket!

So, how would people be able to show off this cool new music device?

Before the iPod, headphone cables were black.

No one had ever had a reason to make them a different colour.

Want stand out from the crowd?

Go from black to white.

“As psychologists and business experts have acknowledged since iPod’s release, the decision to make its earbuds all-white sent Apple’s cache as an uber-cool company into the stratosphere.” (http://uk.businessinsider.com/why-are-apple-headphones-white-2016-5?r=US&IR=T)

From Second Best, To Second Is Best.

No one ever remembers who came second in a race. (Apart from the person who came second.)

That all changed in 1962.

Advertising agency DDB helped Avis turn being ‘second best’ into a strength.

Hertz had historically dominated the American car rental market. DDB turned this to Avis’ advantage. They devised a campaign celebrating the company’s customer service. Because “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder.”

Avis' famous disruptive "We try harder" campaign by DDB

“Within a year, Avis went from losing $3.2 million to earning $1.2 million[…] From 1963 to 1966, as Hertz ignored the Avis campaign, the market-share percentage gap between the two brands shrunk from 61–29 to 49–36. Terrified Hertz executives projected that by 1968 Avis might need a new ad campaign—because it would no longer be No. 2.”

(http://www.slate.com/articles/business/rivalries/2013/08/hertz_vs_avis_advertising_wars_how_an_ad_firm_made_a_virtue_out_of_second.html)

Suddenly, being the best wasn’t as good as being second best.

That’s how you tear up the rulebook!

Sometimes,  you need to openly acknowledge your limitations. It might just be the kind of thinking that sets you apart from everyone else.

Break Through The Glass Ceiling

Rules and perceived limits can act as psychological barriers.

They can make something seem daunting and unreachable. However, changing your mindset can transform a limiting factor into a target for success.

Conventional wisdom is the general and unquestioning acceptance of the limitations of someone else’s capacity and imagination.

Don’t be defined by what someone else said can or can’t be done.

Break the rules.

Embrace challenges.

Persist in the face of setbacks.

Acknowledge that effort leads to mastery.

Learn from criticism.

Find lessons in the success of others.

Dink Thifferently.

 

Gareth

 

The Alphabet Writing Challenge (It’s Not As Easy As It Sounds!)

The alphabet is there to be played with.

A while back I started setting myself short writing challenges. By doing so, I hoped to inject some fun into my blog whilst also providing ideas for anyone whose writing might be stagnating.

Creative writing should be just that: creative.

Doing something a little bit different can shake things up and help break you out of any rut you may find yourself in.

Experimenting and playing with language by imposing constraints and limitations means you have to take time to think imaginatively in order to find a solution. Find ways to focus your thinking and force yourself to pay attention to your craft. Give yourself time to play with written forms and you’ll soon see the benefits.

Here’s an example.

In this post I have set myself the alphabet writing challenge. Just in case you hadn’t noticed thus far, having started this post with the letter ‘a’, I have continued every subsequent sentence with the proceeding letter of the alphabet. Knitting it all together is where the creative wordplay comes into its own.

Let’s consider the uses for an exercise like the alphabet writing challenge.

Most would agree that, on the face of it, this is little more than a contrived piece of writing that serves no obvious purpose.

Nevertheless, by restricting the way you start your sentences in order to structure your writing, however contrived it may seem, demands creative thinking and considerable attention to detail.

Originally I set out to write twenty-six paragraphs, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, but I didn’t think this would amount to much of a challenge. Perhaps I was a bit hasty in changing my parameters down to twenty-six sentences, but there you go.

Quick as you like, my change of approach made writing this post infinitely more challenging – a problem with an ambitious outcome bound by a significant constraint.

Really, when compared to the other challenges I’ve set myself in the past, this one has required the most thought and creativity. Some letters of the alphabet do not naturally lend themselves to a starting berth in a sentence.

This is when you need to get really creative.

Up until this point it hasn’t been too bad. Varying sentence structures has been essential. When you get to the end of the alphabet though, it gets pretty tough.

Xylographs are engravings on wood, apparently.

Yes, that last sentence was extremely contrived, but this approach to writing is a great way to expand your vocabulary, and it’s a necessary evil if you are to stick to the form (just don’t do it too often, otherwise you risk entering the realms of nonsense).

Zenith achieved!

26 sentences, each beginning with consecutive letters of the alphabet. Not as easy as I first thought. But an enjoyable lexical challenge nonetheless.

Give it a go.

Share your efforts with me in the comments section below, or via my social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).

Happy writings!

 

Gareth

Slow Down! Why busy people need to stop and disconnect.

Slow down and watch the world fly past - Train rushing past long exposure

Have you noticed how push notifications actually SHOVE their way loudly into your day? How instant messaging requires INSTANT REPLIES? Otherwise you end up having to scroll through a whole list of posts in the group chat to find out what the hell is going on! If you recognise these tell-tale signs you need to slow down. Breathe. Disconnect. Gain some perspective.

When Push Turns To Shove

Likes, shares and retweets are the new currency of approval and measures of success. We’re infinitely more connected, globally. Everything and everyone is pushing its way onto our phones and into our lives. Notifying us that we are indeed connected. And reminding us that we need to remain connected.

Yet, we’ve become totally disconnected. From real life.

We’re so busy chasing after faster broadband or super fast fibre optic connections. Moaning that 3G is too slow. Groaning because 4G just about manages to buffer a feature length film in full HD.

When are we getting 5G?

Everything is speeding up.

We need to slow it down. Stop. Disconnect. Unplug.

And let our natural creativity flow.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” ~ Ferris Bueller

Speed Limit

Here’s an interesting anecdote from someone I know who had to go to Speed School:

“If you drive above the speed limit you might arrive a few minutes earlier at your destination. But you greatly increase your chances of not getting there at all.”

This isn’t exactly revelatory.

Better late than never?

Life’s a marathon, not a sprint?

Slow and steady wins the race?

We’ve all heard these idioms, or variants of them, more often than we’d care to mention. Usually delivered with the gravitas of a sage by a parent. Or grandparent!

Beautifully cliché. Eye-roll inducing. Yet with their basis in a very simple truth.

As old and wrinkly as they may sound (not your parents/grandparents), there’s wisdom behind these idioms.

What’s the big rush?

Stop And Look Around

You only get to appreciate the pace, and fleetingness, of life once you’ve experienced enough of it to look back and wonder where it all went.

So, yes. What’s the big rush?

It’s amazing what you miss when you’re not looking. Ever bumped into someone or something whilst staring at your phone as you walk through town?

Look around you.

Children (especially children who cannot yet read) are highly observant. They don’t miss a thing.

They’re not distracted by the words and symbols that bombard us daily. These things hold no meaning for them. So they take in their surroundings. Completely.

Young children will notice the smallest detail.

Something that may have been there all along. Staring you in the face. But, as a busy adult, you fail to see. Overlook it because there are so many other things drawing your attention. Too much on your mind. Far too many distractions.

All too often, you can find yourself looking at the wrong thing.

Disconnect. Stop viewing the world through a phone.

And these things are getting in the way.

Reducing your productivity. Curtailing your creativity.

This Is Your Life

Rob Dial offers an interesting assessment of our Life Timeline.

With the best years of our life spent as a working adult it’s probably wise to seek enjoyment in what we do. But more importantly is to take time to actually live.

Nobody on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” ~ Senator Paul Tsongas

Shove those push notifications away!

They can wait.

Disconnect To Reconnect

We may all be infinitely more connected. So civilised and modern. Extremely knowledgeable and advanced. Yet detached from reality and our surroundings.

Everyone is always busy.

It’s as if we need to fill our lives with things to keep us occupied.

But actually, it’s ok to do nothing.

It’s ok to be bored.

And it’s perfectly fine to allow yourself to look out the window and daydream.

Disconnect. Then reconnect. With reality.

Take Time

You can’t make time.

Don’t try to find time.

Take your time instead.

Slow it all down. Take a good look around. Don’t just hear, actually listen.

Observe the world and all its subtleties.

Notice things.

Your capacity for creative thinking will increase.

As will your productivity.

 

Gareth

 

The Reason You Haven’t Done It Is Because No One Told You To: The Secret To Becoming Immediately More Creative And Productive.

Cardboard robot thinking about how to become more creative and productive

You have lived on a conveyor belt most of your life. It’s time to jump off and be more productive.

Some Assembly Required

The success behind mass production factory lines is they offer consistency. Sameness. A standardised product.

The raw materials are shaped and moulded as per a preconceived design. They are then sent along a conveyor belt and pieced together. By the end of the line you have your product. Fully assembled. And looking the same as every other product on the line.

Industry at its efficient best.

Unpicking The Metaphor

Now imagine the same scenario, but this time change the factory setting to a classroom. The conveyor belt is your compulsory education. And the different parts added along the production line are your subjects and predefined curriculum.

Everybody gets the same. Expectations are that we all learn exactly the same and need the same content in order to be fully functioning human beings.

We all sit the same exams. Because we all need to be standardised.

And any deviation from the expected norm is seen as a defect and steps are taken to fix it back into the standardised shape.

Square pegs are sanded down to fit into round holes.

Told what to think. How to think. When to think. And even what to do with these thoughts and what the expected outcome should be. Which is why you’re not as productive as you could be.

Education Dumbs You Down

There’s an interesting study by NASA which boldly suggests that “We are born creative geniuses and the education system dumbs us down”.

In this study 98% of children tested, between 4 and 5 years old, fell in the genius category of imagination.

And the adults tested?

Only 2%.

The researchers revisited their subjects every five years and found that at age 10, only 30% remained in the genius category of imagination.

A drop of 68% in only five years!

When tested again at age 15, the figure had dropped even further to 12%.

The outcome?

The longer you receive a conventional education the less likely you are to hold on to the creative problem solving and free thinking skills you had as a child.

Why Haven’t You Done It Yet?

Ask yourself this: “If someone tells me to do something, am I more likely to do it?”

Do you do things independently because you know there’s a value in being proactive?

Or are you more likely to put things off? Usually to the last minute? Until someone comes along and tells you it needs to get done? Urgently!

Sounds like the student approach to homework and revision to me!

Compliance At What Cost?

As much as educational establishments would like to think that they are equipping students with the knowledge and skills they need for the future, they are sadly doing the opposite.

Self-motivated, Resilient, Independent Thinkers with a propensity for creative problem-solving. They are in steady decline from the age of 4 – school age.

Cartoon of a teacher squaring children's thoughts

Instead we find a preconditioned majority.

Spoon fed. Hand held. Dependent. Passive. With a disdain for an education that they don’t value. Only completing tasks they are told to do, because they are told to do them. Not out of any genuine interest.

And as soon as they are no longer told what to do, they find themselves at a loose end. They can’t cope. Without approval and an imposed direction they lack the skills, confidence and motivation to self-start.

They don’t really want to do what they’re being told to do. But they don’t really know what it is they want to do instead.

So they comply.

Because that’s what everyone else is doing. It’s easier than having to figure things out for yourself. And it gets people off your back.

Turning The 2% Back Into The 98%

Recognising that we are all products straight off a factory assembly line, with an inherent fear of failure, is important if we are to rewire our thinking.

“You must do this if you are to be successful in your exams! You want to get good results right? If you don’t do this in exactly the way you’ve been told, you will fail!”

Sound familiar? Near enough?

We need to stop fearing failure and start embracing it. Start by trying some of these creative exercises.

Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do something. Recognise the value in being proactive.

Do it for yourself.

Not for approval.

Certainly not just because there’s an exam at the end!

There are few standardised tests once you leave education.

The most successful people don’t conform. And they certainly don’t wait around for someone to tell them to do something about it.

Five Steps Towards A More Productive And Creative You

These are easier said than done. But they are fundamental to breaking free from the assembly line mentality of passive acceptance and conformity.

  1. Teach yourself to do things. Don’t wait for someone to teach you.
  2. Learn what you want to learn, how you want to learn.
  3. Ask questions. Don’t expect immediate answers.
  4. Don’t seek approval, but also don’t fear disapproval.
  5. Celebrate difference. Embrace divergent thinking. Forget everything you’ve ever been told you can or cannot do.

Throw yourself into everything you do with the same reckless abandon as a five year old.

Who cares what anyone thinks? Who cares whether you succeed or fail? Get out of your own way.

Break the mould.

Free yourself of conventional thinking. Jump off that conveyor belt and be more productive. Not a product.

What are you waiting for?

Gareth