"Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order." ~Virginia WoolfRecently I read The Power of Thinking Differently: An Imaginative Guide to Creativity, Change, and the Discovery of New Ideas by Javy W. Galindo, which was published in 2009. I also had the opportunity to interview the author.
Welcome, Javy! Creativity is a fascinating topic, and your book was a pleasure to read. I'm inspired by your ideas, and more appreciative of creativity in all its forms.
JWG: Thanks Susan! My goal was always to make creativity accessible to everyone, and hopefully inspire people to think beyond habit and convention.
I asked Javy eight questions about his book and creativity. Without further ado, here's the interview.
1) You left a ten-year engineering career to start your own company, study creativity, and write this guidebook. Tell us more about your background, and the inspiration behind your new book, The Power of Thinking Differently.
JWG: Music, writing, and the creative arts in general were my passions as a kid. I was even deep into philosophy and music as an undergraduate at UC San Diego. However, something happened as I entered my third year of college. For some reason a voice got stuck in my head that said "you can't make a living in music and philosophy...you have to do something more practical." The result was that I changed my college path and decided to go into engineering. For a while I was able to keep myself involved in music. While I was working full time as an engineer, I spent many years teaching music at night and during the weekend. I taught at local high schools and non-profit youth arts programs. But then, after 9/11, the economy was starting to tank and the engineering job market became a bit turbulent. I had another nagging voice in my head that said I had to concentrate on my engineering career. So I stopped teaching music in 2002.
In 2007, after a few years without exercising my creative side, I became disenchanted with my cubicle-focused life. I decided to make a creative change and go back to graduate school to reinvigorate my brain and spirits. The result was that I found a new passion: wanting to better understand the creative process and the creative brain. On one hand, I was really interested in seeing if there were any connections between the "out-of-the-box" thinking strategies I was taught in the corporate world with the creativity I was familiar with as a musician. On the other hand, I wanted to relate all of this to the creative process a person goes through when making creative changes in their life in general -- whether it be related to their career, relationships, or life purpose.
2) Your book deals with the creative process in many fields, not just the arts. Was it difficult to and write about the abstract concept of creativity?
JWG: Yes and no. When I started doing my research into "thinking differently", I'd often find books that spoke directly to the painter. Or, I'd find books that spoke directly to the entrepreneur. Or, I'd find books that just had a neurological description, or just a psychological description, or just a spiritual description of creativity. What I started to see was that there were tons of commonalities and overlaps. I started to think "if I could paint a picture of the overall map of the creative process, then anybody could use it for any endeavor!" This got me very excited. I became excited about how this information could be applied to help communities deal with community issues, politicians deal with policy issues, and cultures deal with cultural issues. So, once I had this great motivation, difficulties didn't seem so difficult. Of course there are tons of difficulties inherent to the writing process in general. And as you've read, when describing the obstacles of the creative process in the book, I tried my best to refer to the real obstacles I was facing while I was writing the book itself.
3) Tell us about "The Island of Pickles and Doughnuts", featured in your book.
JWG: One of the issues I had with a lot of the creativity books was that they only spoke to one part of our brain. Lots of the arts books seemed to be written to appeal to our creative side, while a lot of the cognitive science books I read on creativity only spoke to our rational side. However, when you really look at the creative process as a whole you see that we use our entire brain and not just half of it. So when I was writing the book, I thought it’d be more complete if made sure to write to both sides of the brain (though I think the usual left/right distinction is often an exaggeration). I do my best to use neuroscience and psychological studies to ground all the assertions made in the book on how we think and we can "think differently." However, to appeal to our creative faculties, I tried to continually use imagery, puzzles, metaphor, myth, humor, and an allegory of an island of pickles and doughnuts.
On the island, there are villagers who believe the whole world consists only of pickles and doughnuts. They are unable to think beyond that paradigm, so they find themselves struggling to deal with their lives in any creative way. However, one day, a few of the villagers run into a beggar claiming to have once been an explorer who ventured outside of the island. This, of course, seemed impossible to villagers, because based off of their limited perception, nothing seemed to exist outside the island. The beggar then proceeds to tell a tale of his past adventure: a search for treasure hidden on another island beyond the horizon. The story is meant to be a metaphor for the creative process; a process of getting beyond habitual thinking and perception, to finding new ideas, and then manifesting those ideas into something tangible -- a piece of art, a solution to a problem, a new business, a new life path, etc... It runs parallel with the more rational descriptions of the creative process I present in the book.
4) You mention "flashes of insight" as well as "the tortoise mind", both of which aid creativity. Could you elaborate on these intriguing ideas?
JWG: Sure. Flashes of insight are those moments when unique ideas seem to come to us from nowhere. They are the eureka moments of inspiration and sudden intuitive awareness. When I began the research for the book, I was really curious to find out how these occurred and if there were ways that we could become more “insight prone.” What I found was that our brain is able to process lots of information beyond our conscious awareness. Our neurons are continually working on stuff (solving problems, exploring new ideas) without us even trying. The problem is that we often fill up our awareness with chatter (worrying about this and that) that we don’t leave room for our unconscious ideas to be heard. The phrase “tortoise mind” is the term professor Guy Claxton uses to describe this state of mind. He specifically uses the term to refer to the contemplative, dreamy, or slow motion mental states we are often in when we receive our creative insights. In a nutshell, when you’re in need of flashes of creative insights, don’t try so hard to find them. Let them come to you. It’s the whole “you’ll find it when you least expect it” phenomenon.
(Isn't this truly remarkable?!)
5) In the book, you say that children see a world of possibilities, allowing them to bask in creativity, whereas adults have many responsibilities. Can you offer a few tips on how adults may reclaim their creativity? Without giving away too much of the book, name some simple ways we can improve our creative faculties.
JWG: No problem. And I’ll try to make these as succinct as possible, because I believe that we all know these principles. We’ve simply forgotten about them.
- Learn to relax. When we are stressed we inhibit our ability to see the world in new ways.
- Flexing your sense of humor is exercises your ability to hold multiple meanings and perspectives. Also, you’re less likely to stress out if you’re laughing at your project, problem, or yourself.
- Take time to have fun. Creativity is almost synonymous with play. Just watch your kids to see how creative they are when they are having fun. All creative geniuses were known to play with ideas in the most childish ways.
- Play games. One, it reminds you how to have fun. But two, many games also work your creative faculties. My favorites are Pictionary, Charades, Taboo, and Cranium.
- Read picture books. OK, maybe not literally. But anytime you use your brain to “imagine” something – like when reading fiction, folktales, myths, and poetry – you’re also exercising your ability to make creative life changes and find unique solutions to complicated predicaments.
(In the book, Oh, the Places You'll Go!, Dr. Seuss says, "If you never have, you should. These things are fun and fun is good." And fun apparently contributes to creativity.)
6) With so many demands on our time, creativity is often put on the back-burner. How does our fast-paced society affect creativity? Do we even have time to be creative?
JWG: This is a good follow-up to the previous question. A good portion of our society has convinced itself that creativity is a luxury, or that it is impractical. A quick look at what's being emphasized in our educational system highlights this point. But the opposite is true. Creativity is a time saver if we only had patience to bear its fruits. Our creative faculties are the most advanced biological mechanisms of the brain. Though parts of the process consist of meandering and seem like a waste of time, the end results are practical solutions to our society’s most pressing problems. Rather than continue ramming our heads against the wall with habitual responses to our dilemmas, why not take a little time to find unconventional approaches that work? We can save ourselves from a lot of wasted time head banging. On an individual level, “thinking differently” can help us live more efficiently. We become conscious of the possibilities in our lives and can make informed decisions rather than living our lives out of habit. There are many stories of people who wake up one day wondering where the last 25 years of their lives went; wondering how they wound up in their particular career, marriage, etc… Do we have a day, month, or even just one year to think creatively if it saved us 25 years of our life in return? So do we have time to be creative? I think so, even with less dramatic aspects of our lives, like planning a birthday party. The problem is that we want immediate gratification. The creative process is sometimes not “immediate enough” to satisfy our faced-paced culture.
7) You link higher creativity to exploration and novelty. What are some everyday ways to escape routine and enhance creativity?
JWG: There’s a lot to say about this, but I’ll give some general advice below. I hope your readers will leave me a comment if they have specific aspects they want me to address. In general, we should try to exercise our ability to act consciously in the world rather than out of habit all of the time. One thing we can do is to identify some parts of our lives that we may take for granted (how we eat, drive to work, organize our day) and make a conscious choice to do it differently. It’s a simple step to opening up our access to creative possibilities.
Secondly, anytime you feel frustrated with some project you’re working on or with a person in your life, take a second and try to ask yourself what is the “story” you are using to make sense of your predicament. What are your underlying assumptions about your project or about your relationship? Then, question these assumptions. You may come to realize that the scary man running towards you isn’t after your money, but is instead in the middle of a charity race. We can all exercise this faculty of mind when we read. For instance, try to look beyond a literal interpretation of text. When reading a story, don’t just settle for a surface understanding of plot. Speculate and brainstorm what different aspects of a story may symbolize. Try to discover metaphorical meanings that go even beyond the author’s intentions. The ability to hold and maintain multiple meanings and perceptions is critical to the creative process.
8) Tell us more about your coaching and workshops.
JWG: I’m trying my best to make myself available to help others who want some guidance through the creative process. Part of this is being a cheerleader and encourager, a brainstorming partner, or a creative tour guide pointing out how to navigate around the obstacles that people are facing. I’m available for personal coaching through the phone or Skype, through email correspondence, or in person in the California Bay Area. I also really enjoy running workshops on the creative process. Here we get to experience all the different stages of the process and attendees can really get a feel for how to apply the techniques and strategies I refer to in the book. I’m a ham, so I usually get pretty animated in my workshops. It’s really entertaining for the participants, though I get really worn out as a result…but I love it, so that’s okay. If anyone is interested in having me lead a workshop for their group, they can feel free to contact me through my website at www.thinking-differently.com.
There's a wealth of information on Javy's website. I "stole" the Virginia Woolf quote above from the collection of creativity quotes on his website, where he shares a multitude of ideas. I enjoyed doing this interview, and learned even more about creativity. Special thanks to Javy W. Galindo and Bostick Communications for sending me this book.