Temptation Calling

“This is temptation calling,” is a friend’s way of roping me from work and persuading me to joining him for some boating. Even though it’s not either of our nature to abandon responsibility, on a beautiful workday, we’ll reprioritize our routines and find ourselves the only folks on the water. Pleasant distractions (like blog posts?) help us all to relax, defocus, open our perspective and bring fresh answers upon returning to work.

But even pleasant distractions aren’t always welcome. During some special moments, we find ourselves in the zone with ideas flying like sparks at a pace so quick they can’t all be caught. You may have experienced when your thoughts arrived like a sudden downpour or as flashes of light. We don’t know from what cloud they came and without knowing the steps to a rain dance, we fear that any distraction will bring drought and our hit song, prize winning poem, billion dollar business plan, or masterpiece painting – will be lost.

While deep in our flow, distractions can feel like attacks. Old fashioned defenses such as taking our telephone off the hook, or placing a do not disturb sign on the door will no longer stop our army of digital screens. Our increasingly louder, 24/7 hyper-connected world alerts us – like it or not – each time a butterfly bumps into a lilac and injures its wing.

After my son was born, interruptions became frequent and thoughts were lost down the drain with the bathwater. Then, another dad gave me some surprising advice that made all the difference and it’s something I’d like to share. He suggested welcoming all interruptions, especially at the early stages of our creative process. Since we generate more ideas than we can possibly follow up on, it takes considerable effort to record, sort, select and do. Instead our interruptions become a natural filter. The distractions cause our bad ideas to be forgotten while the great ones like air bubble always float back to the surface.




It wasn’t my idea to get back on the ice,
But I did my best and learned something nice.
In the back of the closet, found old skates hiding,
Fitted them over double socks for proper sizing.

Pulled up the laces, tugged and tied,
Fully expecting to take a graceful slide.
Instead, the lake wasn’t only frozen, so were my skills.
Which became evident from anyone watching and seeing my spills.
Wobbling, skidding, ankles bending, have I declined?
This looked nothing like the promo that played in my mind.

With each glide, the blood started to flow
Having some warmth my confidence started to grow
After the thaw, gone was my fright
With one of my left feet becoming right.

What skills do you want to thaw? We can somehow find the time, space, plus resources but an obstacle we don’t always think about is fear we won’t be any good. Be confident that when starting up again, we will be terrible. So don’t let that stand in your way, rough starts are perfectly natural and to be expected. With a little warming up, our skills quickly thaw and we again begin to flow.

Is there something that you used to enjoy that you’d like to revive? Do your best, expect a few spills, and start something new today by trying something old!


Birthday Call: Your Reason to Connect

Otto Calling

Otto Calling

Are you curious when you receive birthday messages from people who you hardly know? Social media seems to broadcast our special day from the highest mountain for all to hear. In contrast, how do you feel when an influential person in your life remembers and gives you a phone call?

For many people in our community April 15th has meant more than tax day but this year is different. It was Otto Kroeger’s birthday and (using his brother Bob’s expression) sadly Otto is now “on the wrong side of the grass.” Otto’s work on personality type was far reaching and we can still learn much from him. He was a great communicator of ideas and a connector of people and one simple thing he did practically everyday had big impact.

For several hundred people, on our birthdays, wherever Otto was in his travels, he would call us with his wishes. He had an incredible memory for dates supplemented by his little notebook always in his shirt pocket. He was a telephone guy – never embracing email or electronic greetings. Otto was personal and so were his phone calls. For him, birthdays were a reason to joke, to share ideas, and to catch up with friends.

This is something we all can do more of to keep our friendships from tarnishing. While calling people on their birthday is often reserved for family and the closest of friends, Otto considered so many as close friends and his yearly calls became tradition.

One year when Otto called my wife with his best wishes. I answered the phone and pretended to be surprised to learn that it was her birthday. I thanked him for reminding me while I still had time to buy a gift.

I wish I could call him today. When larger than life figures pass, they can no longer do any wrong, they can be idealized for their strengths and with the voices they leave, we can continue to follow their guidance. Otto’s voice remains strong in my mind. If there were ever reasons to celebrate or just about any reason at all, Otto would pick up his phone to call. Something we all can do more often.


STEAM In Action: It’s More Than A Show

Electricians designing the stage lighting

Electricians designing the stage lighting

I’d like to share with you something that few people get to see. I had the chance to visit a… don’t stop reading when I say the words… opera company preparing for a show. It wasn’t particularly striking that the members are writing their own script, composing their own music, building their own set, and promoting their tickets – what’s incredible is that the company is made up of 8 year old third graders in public elementary school.

As I’ve discovered through my work, third grade may be the very time that matters most in determining our creative potential. So what seems to happen around the third grade to discourage us? Many people interviewed for my book had variations of the same story. They once enjoyed singing or dancing, building or drawing — but today, they don’t see themselves as creative. Ask why they stopped and they often confess to something that happened around the third grade.

They were doing something original and exciting — like singing a rhyme they wrote or using a purple crayon for coloring a tree — and were criticized and laughed at for the very achievement they were most proud.

It doesn’t take much for children to give up on being original. In fact the other day a retired teacher who had taught all ages said to me that she enjoyed teaching 2nd graders best because: “You can ask the students to become flowers and they become flowers — they still use their imagination and act creatively.”

Here at this critical junction in our development, in her classroom Mary Ruth McGinn, along with her adult volunteers encourages their third grade Lightning Strike Kids Opera Company to be original. Opera is both the process and the product where creativity is encouraged and academic lessons from the classroom are tried and applied in real ways.

This isn’t art for art’s sake, here every day creativity is practiced, promoted, on a schedule, and has a deliverable. On my visit, with only 10 remaining group meetings before opening day, everything had a purpose. The writers were writing dialog to be read by the performers. The performers watched a video of their scenes and self-critiqued to make adjustments. Composers were deciding where to insert sounds and songs into the script to evoke moods. The public relations team produced a press release to be sent to local school principles, legislators, and media to spread the word. Designers were creating costumes with styles and colors to suit the characters. Set builders and electricians were using tools and technology for building an atmosphere on stage with lights to enhance the storyline. Everyone was using math to count, to time, to measure, and to design. And since everyone is naturally creative in different ways, the production of an opera provides many ways to contribute.

Among some educators, there’s a shift toward STEM which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics which are seen as core subjects essential for student’s success and competitiveness. And within STEM there is a growing movement to integrate Arts. And with the “A” from Arts, STEM becomes STEAM and becomes more powerful. Arts amplify sciences by showing there is often more than one right answer and the arts provide a way to design, experiment, and apply creativity.

Many people talk about instilling creativity into learning and Ms. McGinn’s Opera Kids put on more than a show. The students are using their education and ideas by putting them into practice, learning about leadership, and collaborating with people with diverging ideas.

Studies have shown that most people believe creativity is necessary for economic growth, to remain competitive, and to improve our standard of living. 8 years old seems to be the very time that children need the experiences and encouragement to retain their creativity, whatever the product happens to be in this case a live performance – integration of the arts are essential. As third graders can learn to collaborate to produce an opera they will have the STEAM to grow into the next generation of creators to benefit us all.


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?


Growing Your Creativity


Standing out

Farmers can’t depend on weather but they can control what types of fruit and vegetables they plant. By knowing their soil and plant hardiness zones, they sow the types of seeds most likely to thrive on their land. We can’t control our environment either, but by knowing yourself — you can find conditions you need to grow.

As farmers would be foolish to bet their harvest on crops not suited for their zone, being creative isn’t about leaving your comfort zone, it’s about finding your comfort zone. When you are most comfortable and doing what you prefer – you are most engaged, most willing to take risks, and most creative.

Shopping at your farmer’s market, you may come across a mushroom tent, bakery, stand with organic produce, vendor selling jams — and also stall-after-stall of the same produce: cherry tomatoes, multicolored squash, and peppers. How do you compare apples with apples when they all look the same? Who do you buy from? What can merchants do to stand out?

They can stand out by being creative and so could you. The way for us to do this is to understand how we are unique. We all have unique experiences, special skills, and our own personality type. There is an infinite amount of creativity that can sprout when you find the conditions that are right for you. And, your greatest strengths and most creativity come from being yourself. In what conditions do you find yourself to be most creative?


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?


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?