Create order in the mess

order

Being well-organized does not need to be in contrast to being creative. On the contrary, most great artists know the place of smallest thing they need for their creative work and the coolest and wildest rock musician may have his sound studio in meticulous order. Keeping track of your things, and not having to spend 10 minutes every morning to find your car keys also frees up a lot of time for other more useful activities, including creative work.

This is easier said than done as we are not genetically programmed to keep track of all of the thousands of gadgets we have in our homes or all the information that pours over us through social media, email and other Internet sources. Our brains have built-in constraints when it comes to attention, focus and keeping several things in the head at the same time.

The American neuropsychologist Daniel Levitin provides in his book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, based on modern research on how our brain works, solid advice on how to better organise yourself in your everyday life for increased creativity and self-fulfilment. The trick is to relieve the brain as much as possible from constantly keeping track of the details of everyday life, which not only saves time but also reduces stress and anxiety. The following tips are handy advice from Levitin’s book.

  • Categorise your things by usage or times / situations when you need them and create a specific space for each category of items. Start with a rough primary sorting, and do a more detailed secondary sorting later on as needed. Keep the things you need most often easily at hand.
  • Each thing / category of things should have its specific place – preferably marked in some way. When using something, take the habit to always put it back in its place. This applies not least to the keys when you get home. Never put anything in a place that is intended for something else.
  • Avoid moving things around the house. If you are in need of reading glasses at different places in your home, get several pairs so you do not have to move around and give them a specific place in each room where you need them.
  • Minimise the things you need to keep track of by systematically eliminating everything that you no longer need.
  • If you have lost something, try to remember where you last know you had it, and then try to mentally follow the trail what you did since.
  • Relieve memory: write memos, use a dispenser for your medication.
  • Practice mindfulness, focusing your full attention on what you are doing right now.

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The amazing ability of self-awarenss

self-awareness

One of the most important abilities that distinguishes us from most animals is our ability of self-awareness. We can, if we so wish, with our imagination place us outside ourselves, and observe ourselves with (partly) independent eyes. Doing this with a combination of self-criticism and self-compassion is a good exercise that can help us grow as human beings.

With this I mean to seek as true an image as possible about who we really are, with our strengths as well as our weaknesses. This should be done with a large amount of self-love. No one is perfect, and if we are unable to love ourselves, we can neither love others on a deeper level, nor allow others to truly love us.

True self-reflection is not easy, and we often fool ourselves based on the emotional state we happen to be in at the moment, but we also tend to create our own narrative of our life that we would like to paint more brightly than all the gray shades of reality.

When we reflect on who we really are, it’s important also to be our own mirror that reflects our inner self. This is not always easy, as we are easily affected by what we constantly hear others say about ourselves. We may hear that we do not strive enough, that we do not listen, that we do not care, that we only think of ourselves. Many times it’s the negative comments that dominate, not least in many failing relationships.

Certainly, there may sometimes be grains of truth in such comments, and if we want to develop and grow as human beings, it may be worth reflecting on whether there is something to learn from the criticism, or maybe it’s even something we are not aware of – our blind spots. We then have the opportunity to decide for ourselves if there is something we need to change.

But more often than not, the criticism we encounter from others is a projection of the other person’s own inner frustrations and feelings of shortcomings, which are off- loaded on us, as it is always easier to blame others than to change your own actions and attitudes.

I have written in a previous blog post that all of our experiences take place within us. Everything begins with our own thoughts that are inner reflections on all the impressions that reach us from the outside.

With self-awareness, imagination, and with the help of our inner ethical and moral compass, it is our own responsibility to draw conclusions from our awareness of who we are and who we want to be and then act upon this with detemination.

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You’ll become a victim only if you choose to be one

Not-vicitim

When we encounter problems and external difficulties, which eventually will happen to all of us, we can choose between two fundamentally different ways of handling the situation.

Firstly, we can see ourselves as victims of the circumstances and cursing the fate or those we consider have caused this miserable situation. This means that we choose to place ourselves in a passive position, where the situation can only change for the better if something or someone else changes.

This is a convenient option because it means that we do not need to take any responsibility for change ourselves. As we enter the victim role, we become passive and reactive and we give up control of our own lives.

The second option is to accept that life has put us in a certain situation, but then looking for inner answers to what we ourselves can do to keep our initiative and dignity and to positively change the situation.

This applies in the small. How many relationships have not crashed because both parties have focused on how the other must change instead of asking what they can do for their partners.

If we want to experience love (a state) then we must start by loving (an action). Believing that love will just descend upon us and then stay forever is to fool ourselves and commit us to the victim role rather than to the role of one who proactively shapes his own life.

But it also applies in the big. Viktor Frankl was a Jewish Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps while his entire family was killed. Frankl was able to create a strong inner conviction that the Nazis could limit his outer freedom, but not affect his inner freedom based on his self-esteem and moral values.

This inner determination not to regard himself as a victim was what ultimately saved him from the same fate as the rest of his family. His nazi prison guards had an outer freedom, but he had a much more important inner freedom. He has described this attitude to life in his highly readable book Man’s search for meaning.

Frankl suggested that in our lives there are three key values – our experiences, what we create and our attitudes to the adversities we encounter. And of these three, it’s the attitudes that are most crucial to how complete and mature human beings we may become.

As long as we do not fully take responsibility for our attitudes and actions, we will always fall back in the victim role.

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Trust your intuition

intuition-einstein

By learning how to better listen to our inner voice and to be aware of the present moment with tuned down filters and with no judgment, we will also more easily access our intuition. You have probably been in a situation where you intuitively knew how to act without really knowing why. You have simply listened to your “gut feeling” and strikingly often it has turned out you were right. The late professor at the University of California, Berkely, George L Turin, has attempted to characterize the intuitive ability of problem solving as:

  • To know how to approach the problem without quite being sure how you know.
  • To recognize what is peripheral and what is central, without having fully understood the problem.
  • To perceive in advance the general nature of the solution.
  • To instantly connect a problem in one field to analogous problems in other fields and import the analogous knowledge into the problem at hand.
  • To sense when a solution mustbe right, just because “it feels right,” and to suspect a solution that feels wrong and continue to gnaw at it.

Albert Einstein has described this intuitive feeling like this: “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it Intuition or what you will, the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why. ”

Intuition is founded on a solid knowledge base, but sometimes this is not enough. Just as the artist can create intuitively without knowing in advance what the end-result will be, the scientist can develop an “intuitive knowledge” that guides her without knowing how or why, based on her imagination and association skills.

Einstein received his intuitive revelations like mental pictures or music. He first worked intuitively, and then expressed himself in logical terms only in a second step, as he translated his images and his music into mathematical terms. Intuition can also appear in other forms, not rarely as an indescribable feeling that does not come from the head – hence the term “gut feelings “.

The intuition as described above, is closely related to the insight or “aha experience”, since the solution to a problem may seem to arise from nowhere. It is also related to the ability our brain has to create patterns, fill out voids and create complete pictures based on only partial information.

Knowledge, logic and mathematics are easy to define and are taught at school. It is based on our slow, conscious thinking and underlies rational and well-considered decisions. It is harder to explain the intuition. It is linked to our rapid associative thinking and is thus more evasive. We know it “feels” right (or wrong), but we cannot really explain why. This intuitive feeling can therefore be perceived as coming from within as a divine or mystical inspiration or understanding. In our rational and technologically dominated society, the intuition is sometimes seen as superstition.

Neuro researcher Richard Restak highlights this in his book The naked brain: How the emerging neurosociety is changing how we live, work, and love. When people are forced to make decisions, they tend to think too much. The process is slow and often not of optimal quality. Our associative, automatic thinking is faster and often more correct. The more we think, the greater is the risk that we will mess things up and that in the end it will be wrong. That’s why students who answer multiple choice questions often get the advice to go on their first intuitive feel for what answer is right.

Because our language ability is linked to our consciously controlled thinking, while the associative thinking takes place in deeper brain structures that are not directly linked to the brain’s language centre, we often find it difficult to verbalise the intuitive feeling, and when we try, it often becomes a hollow rationalisation. Relying on people’s explanations for their various decisions can therefore lead very wrong.

Thoughts about the relationship between analytical and intuitive thinking have a long history. The traditional Eastern idea tradition distinguishes between yin (the passive, female and intuitive) and yang (the active, male and rational). The Taoist philosophy behind these concepts emphasizes that they are complementary, equivalent, transient, and together they form a whole. When there is a balance between yin and yang, harmony occurs, while the opposite occurs when one dominates the other.

The circular waves that occur when dropping a stone in a quiet pond have crests and troughs of the same amplitude and both eventually die out in exact harmony. Similarly, we can consider our rational analytical and intuitive thinking. Both are needed, both are equally important and both work best in harmony with each other. Together, they create harmony and the optimum relationship for creative thinking, and if we allow one to dominate over the other, we simultaneously limit our full creative potential.

Einstein was not the only great scientist who realized this. His contemporary physics colleague, Danish Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, was on the same line. In his own composite coat of arms, he included the famous Taoist yin / yang symbol Tajitu and the Latin version Contraria sunt complementa (the opposites complement each other).

tajitu

But it is not only the Eastern idea tradition that emphasised the intuitive as a contrast to the rational. Plato glorifies in his famous dialogue Phaedrus the divine madness that has great ideas similar to the intuitive thinking. He exemplified this with the gifts received by the Hellenic people from the intuitive abilities of the oracle in Delphi, the priestess of Dodona, the Sibyl and other inspired persons.

Sigmund Freud’s teachings are based on the interplay between the conscious and subconscious and his disciple Carl G Jung has postulated four cognitive functions of the psyche; thinking, sensing, feeling and intuition, the two of which are in opposition to the latter two (thinking vs. feeling and sensing vs. intuition).

As the understanding of how our brain works is expanded and refined, the neurophysiological evidence is becoming increasingly strong that the intuitive ability is both real and could be practiced. Experimental studies have shown that the intuition works best when we are in a positive mood and a prerequisite for its function is to believe in our intuitive ability. Exercising affirmations could therefore be a tool to better access our intuition.

The fuel for intuition is our knowledge and experience and the engine, like for many of the other creative processes, our amazing subconscious association ability. Whether this ability is then linked to a spiritual dimension with a divine inspiration becomes more a metaphysical question that anyone can take a stand on based on his own beliefs.

Jonas Salk, the researcher who developed the first polio vaccine, said in an interview: “I’m saying that we should trust our intuition. I believe that the principles of universal evolution are revealed to us through intuition. And I think that if we combine our intuition and our reason, we can respond in an evolutionary sound way to our problems”.

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10,000+ blog visits from all over the world

10000-visits

Almost on the day five months ago, I was contemplating to start writing a blog, sharing my views on creativity and personal growth. From the very start I have seen this mainly as my own personal development journey. I have as a person always found it challenging to quickly express my views orally. I have envied those being able to eloquently and seamlessly without any efforts come up with coherent views on just about anything. This is not me.

My way of thinking has always been through writing. I have a basic idea of the topic, but it is in the process of writing my thoughts down on paper (in the later years on the computer) that I manage to formulate my views more coherently.

Of course, I was curious whether anyone would be interested in my thoughts, and if so that would be a great bonus, and also a confirmation that I was not totally off in my views and my thinking.

The past five months have been a great learning experience for myself, especially as my writing goes hand in hand with my reading. I read a lot about the topics I’m covering in my blog, and this is where I get my ideas and inspiration. Then I try to see how that input relates to my own views and experiences, and eventually a blog post may come out of it.

But when starting out with the blog, I couldn’t imagine that so many persons would be interested in reading what I write. So, 10,000+ visits to my blog makes me humble and grateful and it will inspire me to continue on this journey.

What gives me even more pleasure is that the interest in the topics I write about seem to be global. Some 70% of the visits have been from my home country Sweden, and second the US, but there are now also visits from 104 other countries  from all continents of the world (see map).

I’d like to sincerely thank everyone that has visited, and especially those that have come back, liked the posts and commented. You are my true inspiration. Thank you!

For those curious, the top ten visited posts in English are:

  1. Twelve strategies to increase your happiness
  2. Test your out-of-the-box thinking skills with the nine-dot problem
  3. Five steps for effective problem-solving (and 3 more)
  4. How the right diet could increase your creativity
  5. Six thinking hats
  6. Leonardo da Vinci’s curiosity
  7. The importance of a good night’s sleep
  8. The traditional vs the creative leadership
  9. Eight ways to boost your creative life energy
  10. To find your Ithaka

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Creative leadership: The importance of the creative team

CreativeTeam

I have in a previous blog post, written about the differences between traditional and creative leadership. An important task for the creative leader is to take care of the staff and give them “inner nourishment” by creating a creative working environment. This is done by encouraging and strengthening the creative team.

Team spirit is the bond of mutual appreciation, trust and sometimes deep friendship that is the glue in the working interactions between co-workers. In today’s working life with project employments, teleworking and temporary project groups, the need to feel cohesion and a sense of belonging with the colleagues does not disappear, and can even become bigger. Creating a sense of belonging within a team is therefore one of the most effective ways to increase commitment and satisfaction with the work.

In today’s complex world, it is very rare that a new idea or product is the result of a single individual’s mind efforts and work. Instead, there is almost inevitably a team effort behind the achievement. Some of the individuals in the team may be more important and more influential than others, but everyone’s efforts are essential.

It is important for several reasons to encourage and celebrate the team rather than the individuals. In a system that focuses on individual performance, knowledge and own ideas become hard currency in the competition within the group. This means that the employees become hesitant of sharing their ideas, knowledge and experience for fear that someone else will gain the honour and the opportunity of higher pay and perhaps the possibility to advance to a higher position.

It is not about stopping giving each individual feedback about his or her ideas and achievements, but an important part of the feedback should also focus on how much they have contributed to the team. Give special attention to those individuals who try to take credit for the work of others without contributing to the very best of their own ability.

Feel free to celebrate often, but always focusing on what the team has achieved. This stimulates the team spirit while encouraging everyone in the team regardless of the role to do their best. The more the ideas stay in the team the more the team will thrive.

But there are also other benefits of identifying ideas and products with team efforts rather than individuals. Different people have different roles in the process from the first idea to finished product. If the first idea is largely linked to an individual, this person can easily get a too influential role in the continuing process, which can easily lead to conflicts and to a suboptimal end result if other employees having refined the first idea feel that their work efforts were not valued.

It is also better for the company that the ideas and products are associated with the organisation rather than with any specific individual.

A strong team spirit where everyone feels safe and accepted is also a good foundation for everyone daring to convey their views even when they oppose others. Conflicts and disagreements may be helpful if they are about an issue rather than a person. In the creative team, these conflicts are not hidden under the carpet, but the conflicts that arise are becoming constructive instead of destructive.

But how will these teams look like to maximise their creative potential? In a team where the members have about the same age, background, education and maybe even the same sex, there are good chances for a homogeneous environment that is characterised by a sense of safety and a minimum of conflicts. This does not have to stand in contrast to many new ideas if other conditions are favourable, but the ideas are likely quite similar.

To get real diversity among the ideas, you will first need to create diversity among your staff members. When it comes to original and innovative ideas and problem solving, it is an advantage to create mixed teams, where employees have different education and experience, both sexes are represented and, if possible, also with elements of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The different team members should always complement each other so that the whole becomes larger than the sum of the parts. The best results will be achieved if you consistently aim to put together interdisciplinary teams of people with “T-skills” (broad overview combined with deep skills in a specific field).

Such teams may preferably be truly interdisciplinary. Mixed teams, however, require a much larger investment from the group and management side to get a sensible communication and the risk of misunderstanding that can have negative consequences is significantly greater than in the homogeneous work environment.

The team’s composition can then vary over the life cycle of the project, where the broadest competence is most important in the first stage when the project is to be defined and the outer frames are set. At this stage, the team is also relatively small and only when the direction is properly clear, it is time to call in the armies to realise the ideas.

In this situation, it may be tempting to keep the original team but add more and more persons. For complex problems, this is often a bad strategy, and the skills and creativity of individual employees are more efficiently utilised by creating a network of smaller teams each responsible for a subproject, but constantly interacting with and fertilising the work of the other teams. Physically sitting close together and inspired by the activity in the surrounding rooms can be a big advantage, but if this is impossible, there are more and more virtual ways to communicate – not least different wiki systems.

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Loneliness and the three steps to maturity

interdependence

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the importance of solitude for creativity. The voluntary solitude is important for inner reflection, self-exploration and creativity, but is inherently different from the involuntary loneliness.

Loneliness is linked to a number of negative health effects. It raises the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, and triggers inflammation in the body, and is thus causing a number of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, not to mention the risk for psychosocial effects such as unhappiness, depression and even suicide.

The problems with involuntary loneliness are so serious that the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has recently appointed a special minister for loneliness. This very worthy initiative made me reflect on the three steps to maturity.

Step 1. Dependence (you). When we are born, we are totally dependent on our parents and other adults to cater for all our physical and emotional needs. This period of dependency is significantly longer than for any other animal species, mainly due to the slow maturation of our bodies and brains.

The interactions between the child and the care-takers is absolutely crucial for a healthy development and the possibility of the child to later reach the full potential as an intelligent, caring and mature adult.

Step 2. Independence (I). In the teens starts the, sometimes painful, process towards independence. The child needs to find his/her own paths, testing acquired skills, and learning from mistakes. During this period, the understanding parents should slowly let go, while still try to create a safe environment for their teens.

In our Western society, independence has been seen as the societal and desirable norm. It has been linked to individual freedom, the right to always choose your own paths, and endless possibilities for self-fulfilment. This is of course largely good, and we should cherish these possibilities that are not-self-evident in all parts of the world – but it is not the ultimate goal of life.

The backside of this coin is also the risk of loneliness, if for some reasons you would fall outside the social networks that glue society together (and here I don’t refer to the Internet). This is especially a risk for our elders, but also for many young people that have not yet found their place in life.

Step 3. Interdependence (we). This brings me to the third step of maturity, interdependence, where we are acting together in a social context, where everyone can contribute with something and everyone can learn and grow from others. Together we could make miracles.

But the interdependence, needs to be combined with independence. It should be the free choice of mature human beings that participate, knowing that helping and supporting others, is not only the right thing to do, but is also important for your own self-realisation, personal growth and happiness.

… and it will prevent loneliness.

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