When Every Problem Looks like a Camel

When every problem looks like a hammer.

When every problem looks like a hammer.

Has this happened to you? Half asleep, starting breakfast and opening the kitchen cabinet, the door fell off its hinges and narrowly missed my bare toes. Bits of metal flew across the floor and my first thought was who is going to be able to fix this? And then sweeping up the pieces, I wondered, where am I going to find replacement parts? There are plenty of problems I know how to solve but when it comes to attempting home repair – either I cause more damaged or it results in running cold water and finding band-aids – and sometimes both happen.

Do you have a growing list of things that need to be fixed? I try to get help from plumbers, repair people, electricians, neighbors, fedex drivers, anyone who seems good with tools. Some items get quickly crossed off my list but others are added to the permanent record. When asking for help, I get to hear some clever stories with plenty of arm waving and head shaking of why these problems are simply ridicules, one of a kind, nonstandard, impractical, not cost effective, and would require an out of date, oversized, metric, no longer manufactured, rare alloy that has been banned in 43 states. Did I ask a camel to cross the desert with no food or water? “Impossible!” And even if it could be done, it would be dangerous to install and harmful to have in a place where people occasionally gather to listen to jazz. Some repair persons, with their years of experience have honed their technical ability and use their imagination to craft the perfect anecdote of why they don’t have an antidote.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me—
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

― Shel Silverstein in Where The Sidewalk Ends

Then yesterday, a handyman breezed in and problem-after-problem was met with a low-key “sure I can do that.” Some troubles dating from the 1990s didn’t even yield more than: “Yeah I could just make a part… next, what else you got… just glue and some clamps — anything else?” And suddenly with the right attitude anything is possible.

Back in a world where every home maintenance problem can have a creative solution, even thought I don’t have a clean room and zero gravity to attempt the repair, now fully awake and inspired to try, I made a closer inspection of the hinge crumbs in my dust tray. Nothing appeared damaged and with a simple screwdriver, I reconstructed the cabinet door mechanism without drawing any blood. Today, anything is possible – by thinking positively and trying. What seemingly impossible problem are you going to solve?


Do You Know Where You’re Going To?

The Last Mile

The Last Mile

Slightly ruffled the female sounding voice said: “YOU FINAL DESTINATION IS NOT ON A DIGITIZED MAP” – as if asked, how do you get to Santa’s house? Then, with a second thought, the GPS reluctantly gave a route to follow. When reaching the end of the paved roads, she naively said: “YOU HAVE ARRIVED!” Wishful thinking and self proclaimed success – but not worth celebrating and not exactly true — since I’m standing about a mile from the destination.

While we once unfolded our maps and plotted our courses, now our navigation systems handle all the unfolding and plotting and even re-routes us when the odd reindeer is blocking our path. And this is fine for ordinary destinations, but for those less traveled mountains, remote beaches, or arctic expeditions — we don’t exactly know how we will get there or what we will find — and that’s part of the point of going.

Creativity treks far into the less traveled, the out-of-the ordinary, and uncharted. Creating is often messy, and the muddy footprints we leave show that our path isn’t always a straight one. If we do have a map and neatly follow the path to the end, it may leave us blind to some opportunities along the way – however, on the other hand, with no general direction, we may never leave the grid — And we can’t rely on others to unfold our map and plot our course. Whether we start by planning or not, we often don’t know our final destination until we get there.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” We can make resolutions and plan for the year ahead but our final destination is not on a digitized map. I’m thankful for all your support and wishing you a creative and wonderful New Year!


Who are the Geniuses in Your Neighborhood? Take a Neighbor to Work day!

Otto Kroeger

Otto Kroeger

Do you remember the song on Sesame Street “Who are the People in Your Neighborhood?” How much better would it be if we changed the words to “Who are the Geniuses in Your Neighborhood?”

My book CREATIVE YOU launches today and it wouldn’t have been possible without a genius in my neighborhood. About 15 years ago, I met Otto Kroeger my co-author at a neighborhood gathering. It was clear that he was the life-of-the-party and I was surprised to learn that he was also a foremost leader in the field of personality type. Soon after he sized me up he said: “I don’t have enough time, and you don’t have enough money for me to fix you.” We became friends anyway.

Otto spent most of his career teaching people to work together and collaborating on our book was a natural. New ideas often spark when wires cross and this happens when people meet too. We all have specialized knowledge in certain areas and as neighbors we shovel snow side-by-side, wave while taking out the trash, and chat about our cars — running in parallel like the overhead power lines but unfortunately without ever touching on our neighbor’s real knowledge.

It takes some kind of crossing for us to exchange and generate sparks and these sparks are where innovation happens.

In our case our wires got tangle up when, Otto, invited me to a Myers-Briggs seminar he was

crossed wires

crossed wires

giving. As an artist, I connected what he was teaching about personality type with what I knew about creativity. Of course Otto is one-of-a-kind – but it’s the cross-disciplinary concept itself that is repeatable. The best thing we could do is get to know our neighbors and ask them to teach us about what they know – about what their work is like – and in return to share what we know – I propose a:

Take a Neighbor to Work day
1) Find a neighbor who is knowledge in a field that you know little about.
2) Ask if they could use some help and if they are willing to put up with you for an afternoon.
3) Ask yourself: How does their work intersects with your work?

Widely known, charismatic, always surrounded by people, socially Otto threw huge parties, and professionally he was invited to speak all over the world — I’m extremely grateful and fortunate that he took the time to collaborate with a friend. As our book is now complete we are hoping to show a wide audience how to use their natural creativity. My suggestion is to find the genius in YOUR neighborhood and find a way to work with them – it will benefit you both!


Finding Courage to be Yourself from Looking at Flowers

Late to Bloom

Tulip Envy?

Jogging past the Boathouse, the XM radio app on my iphone lost its satellite signal so without music to escape into, I was forced to start paying attention to my actual environment.

Opening my eyes, the first thing I noticed were the flowering Magnolias in full bloom. As they grabbed the spotlight, I started thinking about the contrast with the other plants that were refusing to participate. The evergreens remained green as ever, the oaks barely sprouting any buds and many of the tulips were waiting their turn to be next.

Those purple buds won’t open before they’re ready and the inevitable truth is: they will never become red tulips like their flashy neighbors no matter how much they may want to or how hard they try. Similarly, our own power comes without comparing ourselves to others but instead from knowing ourselves – our uniqueness is our strength. After those red tulips have gone to seed, the purple blooms may have their day and we will too.

cenralparkcontrasttreesSMJust as the plants cycle, we develop in harmony with nature and we all shine at our own times – we can make contrasts without making a comparison. This is so important with different stages of creativity, as we  are developing our talents, trying new things,  sometimes we shine and other times we see others shining.

Just as I was thinking that nature reminds us to avoid comparing ourselves to others who may be in different stages of their life-cycle – at that moment a woman pushing twins in her stroller – jogged  past me as if I was  standing still. What differences do you have that you have found to be your unique super powers? or what are your favorite flowers?


Inspired by Allergies

lime-parfaitDo you ever feel like you are practically the only one facing some real challenges that don’t seem to affect many others? When I think of difficult limits from our environment, the line

it was bye-bye for Shanghai – I’m even allergic to rice

from Doris Day’s old song comes to mind. Whether you suffer from allergies or not, there are lessons to be learned about finding creative solutions within limits from JD Simone as she discusses her new book: Allergy Safe Cuisine; Cooking Without the Top 8 Food Allergens, Plus Corn, Gluten and MSG Like exit polls before memories fade, a great time to see the inside of the creative process is to ask people immediately after they complete a work. While often creativity is thought to be inspired by infinite possibilities, Simone’s inventiveness came through experimenting within strict limits.

What inspired you to write this book?
I have several family members with severe food allergies. The summer before last was a perfect storm of eating disasters and that experience spurred me on to write this cookbook. The whole family went away on vacation together and, no matter what we made for food, there was always somebody who couldn’t eat it. Compound that with the fact that there were so many people in one kitchen that keeping “safe” food for one person separated from the “safe” food for the other was nearly impossible, especially with a houseful of kids running around. The final straw was when we had a birthday party and one of my granddaughters could not eat the birthday cake. Can you imagine being a child, and having never eaten a single slice of birthday cake? Normally she takes it well, but her tears that time did me in. I decided that from now on, any food I make would be safe for everyone to enjoy. What is your favorite recipe? Lime Parfait. This was one of my own inventions. It tastes surprisingly like custard, is very easy to make, and is very decorative. Great to serve for company! How did you come up with the recipes you used?
I adapted some recipes, and invented others. Since life is complicated enough with multiple food allergies, I decided that every single one of my recipes would be free of the 8 major food allergens, plus corn, gluten and MSG. For people with multiple food allergies, flavorful, mixed dishes and seasonings are usually off limits. That was why I spent a lot of time on spice mixes, dressings, gravies and sauces. My mock Worcestershire sauce took months of experimenting to come up with, but it was well worth the effort. I also included a wide variety of meals and deserts, from the most basic of dishes to a small handful of more complicated ones for adventurous cooks.

I’ve always been involved in something creative. Right now I’m illustrating “Mommy’s First Picture Book: What Nobody Told You About Parenting,” which should be done by mid-summer.

Have you ever found yourself with some real limits and a need to find solutions for yourself or your family? Like the situation that spurred the idea for this cookbook. Please pass this on to anyone you know with food allergies!


Can Your Final Thoughts Spark Fresh Inspiration?

Red or white?

Pleasant surprise!

Have you ever discovered one last piece of candy in a bag that you thought was empty? Or found a five dollar bill in your jacket pocket left over from last winter? In a way this happened to me when thinking I was completely done with my book CREATIVE YOU. The final manuscript is submitted, the Facebook page is up and I even noticed it’s already listed for preorder on Amazon when the publisher surprised me by asking for 5 more words to balance out a page. If you were given one last chance to write or speak about something you cared about what would you say?

What would you say?

What would you say?

While first impressions are very powerful, so are our last thoughts. Do you ever sense something is going to be the last time? I still remember 16 years ago: knowing the moving van would be coming in the morning and instead of packing, I was standing in the dark, squinting at a stopwatch, scooping my test strip from the developer and submerging it into stop bath. I wanted to get the exposure right since I knew this was going to be one of the last black & white prints I would ever make before boxing up my enlarger and trays.

Sometimes we see the end approaching like the final episodes of a sitcom or the last sip of wine and other times we are taken by surprise – as we unknowingly have a last casual conversation with a friend before they unexpectedly disappear from our lives. Foreseen or not, ends can produce strong memories and provoke powerful inspirations. finishdictionary

Our final impressions are often the cumulative of our experiences – like learning just the right place to watch the last sunset while on an island vacation or just the right meal to order in a favorite restaurant that is going to close. When things end we are left with our memories – and for some people memories become sources for inspirations.

They did for Edvard Munch, most know for “The Scream” who was inspired by his intense childhood memories. He said “I don’t paint what I see but what I saw.” While, there are many ways to be creative – reminiscing isn’t what inspires everyone. Picasso said “All I have ever made was made for the present and with the hope that it will always remain in the present.” And he continued: “I have done it without thinking of the past or of the future.”

When you are aware a chapter will inevitably end, do you try to preserve your memories? What do you keep? And how do you plan to use them for future inspiration? Or do you prefer to let go of the past and gain your inspirations from what is happening now? What will you do with the very last piece of candy?


Creative Risks: Mistakes That You Can Smell

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re making a mistake? As I write this, I’ve the nauseous feeling something is wrong and this morning I can smell the mistake and it’s coming from the kitchen. Like anyone going out on a limb to be creative who finds themselves in the midst of a potential error, I’m wondering if I should stop the madness or continue and see where it leads.

It all started earlier this week when I spotted an “out-of-the-ordinary fish” special while browsing the pages of my online grocery. Choosing fish over the internet has its risks but that didn’t stop me from adding “Salt Cod” to my shopping cart. It was not as much my bravery and willingness to take a chance to explore possibilities as much as it was that I wasn’t really paying enough attention.

The next day the fish was delivered in a plain marked pine box. Before even sliding the lid to exhume the contents, I could smell the “aroma.” It reminded me of strolls through the dried food markets in Hong Kong or like the beach at low tide on a hot day. I’ve learned that to some, the smell of dried fish is like the freshness of baked bread; however, I’ve not acquired this sense and beginning to wonder if even a splash of wine or a squeeze of lime could provide enough cover. The instructions say to rehydrate the fish in a series of water baths for a day and some Google searching revealed testimonials predicting a full transformation into something worthwhile and wonderful.

At the moment, it’s been soaking for 12 hours and the smell is …a little less fishy. Halfway through when trying something creative, when your hopes and your visions aren’t materializing, do you ask yourself: “What am I doing?” Should I go on?? Is it worth my effort? And will this one-pot meal disappoint my hungry audience and lead to the inevitable pepperoni pizza?

At times, our plowing through the chaos and uncertainty is rewarded with an incredible final product. Other times, simply giving up can provide freedom, like playing with the food you no longer intend to eat, or splashing and dripping paint over a landscape you don’t expect to complete – when you have nothing to lose – you have the freedom to start to really experiment.
Is it Portuguese Fish stew or New York pizza tonight? when you get the feeling things are going wrong, what do you do?


Since crayons don’t come with spell check: INNOVember – Your opportunity to invent


out of the fire and into the frying pan

We don’t often have the chance to really look at the imaginative artwork created by children. Quickly walking past bulletin boards of preschool artwork, I recently saw written in day-glow orange crayon the word Innovember” and this got my attention.

With my brain preloaded for all things creative, I mistakenly took this to mean: “Innovation in November,” and thought: what a great theme! Then, looking more carefully, the word accompanied an illustration of a Thanksgiving scene and I realized the little typographer who created this amazing idea had actually left out the spacing between words and meant to say: “In November.”

Well, it’s not exactly Rocktober but still a great theme and InNovember we have a built-in opportunity to be innovative. Our harvest festivals around the northern hemisphere and Thanksgiving in the United States in particular are steeped in traditional foods that are ripe for shaking up. However, as we are giving thanks and reflecting on our good fortunes, many people come to expect their stuffing and cranberry sauce cooked a certain way — and many families have traditional dishes that even the most courageous of us won’t dare to mess with.

Our opportunity doesn’t come from reinventing the whole meal or redefining a treasured side dish but from bringing an entirely different creation to the table. Whether it’s your favorite everyday food that you’ve perfected and want to share or a wholly new experiment involving bat’s wings, eye of newt, or the nearly forgotten sun dried tomatoes — either have the potential to become next year’s tradition. Assuming you use ingredients that don’t exceed their expiration dates and are fully cooked, there is little risk in serving a new dish since a singular disaster in a vast feast won’t leave anyone hungry — and mistakes provide the best leftovers that can be warmed up into stories for next year – and some even may even become legends. Try something new! And if you can, please December to help the less fortunate.

What was your biggest holiday food disaster or your greatest success? What will you cook this year?


Is the City Mouse a Creative Mouse?

city mouse

City mouse

Have you ever gotten a great new idea through randomly running into someone and having an unexpected conversation? Do you think crowded cities where people bump into each other breed creativity?

In his recent book Imagine, Jonah Lehrer points to studies showing that patents more often build on the ideas from inventors that live nearby. He also discusses the idea that in cities people walk through multi-use and crowded places like Hudson Street in Greenwich Village and literally bump into each other and share ideas.

This seems to be only part of the story. I’ve unscientifically walked down Hudson Street many times and have been bumped into plenty! Although words are sometimes exchanged, for me it hasn’t been the start of any fruitful exchange of ideas. For some reason while walking around the streets in Asia, it seems I was bumped into even more frequently. My only creative result was defensive. To avoid bumps, I started to wear bright “caution” orange shirts to become more visible and it worked – a little. With all the narrow spaces and crowded cities in Asia and all those collisions, I wonder why they haven’t developed a reputation for creativity? (With the obvious exception of Japan)

test It seems when it’s too crowded, people don’t talk with their neighbors, with people in elevators or subway cars and this gives a sense of privacy. On the other hand, with too much space, it becomes out-of-the-way to walk down a long driveway to causally say hello to your neighbors. Have you noticed there is seems to be some magically in between distance that sparks conversation?

Perhaps, it’s not the physical space as much as the people who are drawn to the cities. From my experience, people who are interested in using their creativity are open to change and new experiences and they move to cities in search of opportunities for whatever their specialty. Masses of people in cities support masses of creativity that fill every niche.

If you’re a city mouse, have you noticed the real estate brokers are musicians and actors, and the babysitters are culinary chefs and choreographers? Everyone you bump into is a conductor, actor, artist, or has at least one degree of separation away from the arts. In cities, the only people who don’t call themselves artists are the people we find in our art and music classes since most of them are busy being doctors and accountants.

Of course creative ideas are randomly shared in cities, but not as efficiently and relevantly as they are shared electronically. Maybe it’s like when you find an interesting article while flipping through a magazine that you didn’t know you were looking for. Do you think it’s the layout of the city or the people who are drawn to cities that contribute to creativity? Or do you think the best ideas come from the country mouse?


Save the Economy with More Exercise, More Showers, Longer Commutes

Banking Hours?

Do you have certain hours of the day when you are most creative? People always say they get ideas while showering, exercising, or commuting. If these are indicators for creativity, I wonder which countries have the great environment for generating ideas?

I don’t know who takes the longest showers, and does the most exercising but there are numbers available for longest commute. According to Worldmapper The world average commute is an hours and twenty minutes each day and the nation with the greatest commute time is Thailand with over 2 hours. In fact, Southeast Asia, on averaged commutes almost twice as long as workers in North America. Bad for fuel consumption, pollution, and productivity but is it good for generating ideas?

Do you think urban or suburban commuting makes a difference and which is more conducent for generating new ideas: Mindless driving? Or being a passenger in a taxi and letting your mind wander?
Here is an innovation: for Fashion Week, A fleet of 50 taxis in New York City are providing free rides to test a new service. The already equipped in-taxi TV screens will be used for this experiment to allow passengers to view advertisements and make direct purchases of items, like lipstick, by scanning a code with their mobile phones.

Apparently, a supermarket has tested this idea in Seoul allowing passengers to buy groceries (for delivery) directly from billboards in their wifi enabled subways. This could certainly revolutionized and expand the concept of what is a store, if anything printed with a barcode becomes an opportunity to buy and sell. But will it give us more to do during our commute and take away our precision time to daydream?