This month, more tips and techniques to boost your creativity, exploding an old communication myth, exploring the power of words and how treating a difficult situation as an opportunity to experiment can yield some surprising results.
1: How grass helps creativity
No, not that kind of grass... The Belfast Telegraph reports: "A hotel chain is installing grass floors into some of its conference rooms in a bid to boost the creativity of workers. The living turf floors will become de rigueur in a number of Crowne Plaza hotels across the UK. It is hoped the wacky idea will inspire mental flights of fancy during normally dull conferences... Angela Whitlock, author of Walk on the Grass, said: 'Research has shown that by the age of 25, as much as 98% of our creativity has vanished. The look and feel of the grass is said to remind guests of their childhood and therefore free them of societal barriers that restrict creativity. Crowne Plaza's initiative is perfect because it breaks down the self-imposed rules that prevent us from achieving our full potential.'"
I think this could be more about getting some media attention than actually helping creativity, but one way it could actually help is by having the element of surprise jar users out of their normal routines. If you get them to take off their shoes and wriggle their toes around in the grass it might trip a sensory switch. If nothing else, it will get meetings off to a start with a laugh, which is no bad thing.
ACTION: You don't need to put turf or even Astroturf on your office floor, but do consider making some changes from time to time that wake you up to surroundings that you barely notice anymore. You could use posters or pictures, big plants, flowers, sounds of nature, or anything else that wakes your brain.
2: The communication myth that won't go away
I just read another reference in a recently-published book to a study that supposedly showed that the impact of communication consists of only 7% for the words you say, 38% to the way you say them, and 55% to your facial expression and body language.
The trouble is, this is a myth - and it's one that just won't go away!
The study in question, by Professor Albert Mehrabian, dates back to the 1960s and pertains only to communicating an emotive word. So if you were to say "Fire!" in a theater but you had a blank expression, said it calmly and quietly, and with your arms crossed, the word would have little effect. If you screamed it with a look of horror on your face and waving your arms wildly, people would start streaming to the exits.
Not exactly a major revelation, is it? But as Mehrabian himself has said, the percentages do NOT apply to a typical communication.
In fact, the biggest factor in communication seems to be congruence. That is, what you say should line up with the way you say it. In years of asking Hollywood decision makers what they looked for in a pitch, for instance, the answer I always got was "enthusiasm."
There are a thousand different ways of expressing it, but what these people wanted to see and hear was that you believed in what you were presenting. If that didn't come across, they were unlikely to buy it.
ACTION: When you prepare for a presentation or pitch, practice so you know the material well enough that nervousness doesn't obscure your real feelings about what you're saying.
3: The power of your words
Chris Sickels is an artist who creates brilliant 3D illustrations (combining small figures with painted pictures). In How design magazine he recounts this story:
"Several years ago I was fortunate to have a brief one-on-one conversation with the great illustrator Brad Holland. He wanted to know how many people I had working at Red Nose Studio. When I told him it was just me, he snapped back and said I was making myself seem bigger than I was, like a peacock showing off with my tailfeathers. Needless to say, the conversation took a nose dive after that and my humble bubble was deflated by this hero of mine."
I don't know anything about Brad Holland - maybe he was just having a bad day. But what struck me about this story is the big impact even careless statements can have on somebody's life.
ACTION: What words are you saying that might crush someone? What words would raise them up instead?
4: Make it an experiment
I just read an article by a man who decided to return an item to a store and try to get out of paying the 20% re-stocking fee the store normally charges. He didn't make anything up, he didn't say the item was defective, he told the truth: the item just turned out not to suit his needs.
He made avoiding that fee an experiment. It took a certain amount of calm persistence. He acknowledged that the store had the right to charge the fee, that he had been aware of the fee, and just kept saying he was hoping they'd waive it in this instance. He knew the tide had turned when the manager said, "Well, we normally don't waive the fee..." He succeeded and had a pleasant chat afterward with the manager.
The point here isn't about saving money, it's about how turning something into an experiment changes your relationship to it. If you'd normally be embarrassed about something like asking for a discount, or introducing yourself at a networking event, or asking for a favor - make it an experiment! Even if it doesn't succeed, it will be an interesting experience.
ACTION: What's something you've been avoiding that you can turn into an experiment? Go ahead and do it!
5: The sunk cost problem & solution
In an article, Don Rainey, general partner of Grotech Ventures, shared eight things he wished he'd known before starting a business. I found this one particularly useful:
"Avoid the myth and misery of sunk cost - Don't chain yourself to the anchors you lovingly create in pursuit of success. If it isn't working for you or the business, let it go. Understand that it isn't good money after bad money, it is all bad money. Fire that salesperson, let that manager go, stop selling that product, get used to moving on. You'll make a lot of decisions in running a business. Accept that not all of them will be right."
What strikes me is how right - and how difficult - that is in any realm, not just in business. When we've invested time, money and/or emotions, it's hard to let go even when it's clear it's not working out. But we do ourselves a favour when we do let go.
ACTION: What's one thing you're holding onto that isn't working and that in your heart know isn't going to work? Is this it right time to let go? What would be gained?
6. And a quote to consider
"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them." - Henry David Thoreau