Orange Explodes—how to exponentially increase your creativity

Orange Fall Leaves

Call me ridiculous, but I must confess childlike delight. On my morning run, I caught first glimpses of seasonal beauty breaking through on the landscape. It’s early October, so I should not be surprised, but I’m still a kid in serious awe each autumn. Slowly descending a hill, there I spied it. Just atop a cluster of trees, an explosion of burnt-orange leaves. Within the next ten hours, I began seeing similar deep hues dusting other tree lines, including a fresh blast of golden mums and pumpkins, now gracing ground level in flowerbeds everywhere. Harvest orange has arrived for the season, in all its amazing glory.

Most of us love fall colors and find ourselves in awe at the creativity that emerges with the season. And it’s not just the leaves and overall fall decor. We experience it via multiple sights, sounds, and flavors. (Did I mention pumpkin spice coffee and salted caramel mochas?)

With such applause for fall creativity, there are moments I wonder . . .

  • How could I personally be more creative in my approach to projects?
  • Are there ways to gather more and better ideas?
  • How do I inspire our team in order to increase our skills in creative thinking?
  • ‘Any chance we can move out of “stuck in a rut” and “bored stiff?”

Here’s an arena where I’m constantly aiming to stretch and grow. Throughout my leadership experiences, I’ve found these ideas are extremely useful in exponentially increasing creativity.

Make time for story time!

I had heard of this practice, but rarely ever actually practiced it. So this past year, I have started to more regularly storyboard. It’s proving to be simple, profound, fun, and amazingly productive. I gather oversized whiteboard paper and various colors of Sharpie markers. At the top of several sheets, I label the various sections, breakdowns, chapters, or pivotal movements. Then, I just start splashing thoughts—somewhat color-coded—and brush stroking ideas under each heading. Along the way, we constantly push the envelope by asking “what if” questions and otherwise challenging assumptions.

I LOVE to use the “what if” question. It opens new doors, breaks through stereotypes, keeps people dreaming, and stretches the boarders in extra-good ways for leaders. When I’m done, I usually have six to ten sheets hanging on a wall, full of fresh ideas from which to choose. Such an exercise can be done either on my own or with our team. This past year, we’ve used storyboarding to deliberately design big initiatives, a fresh series of talks, and other exciting projects.

Go play!

Richard Allen Farmer urges: “The person who would be authentically creative must not despise the power of play. In our fun we see parts of ourselves we do not normally see; we get a different perspective on an old problem. We grab hold of images to which we would otherwise not have access.”[1]

In the 1990’s, Nissan was attempting a fresh breakthrough in design for their popular Pathfinder SUV. Jerry Hirshberg, head of Nissan’s U.S. design studio at the time, sensed one afternoon that his team was bogging down in frustration and blocked conceptual creativity. His solution was nothing short of genius. He led the company’s entire staff, including the shop, secretaries, and maintenance crew in playing hooky to go to the movies for the afternoon. Hirshberg delightfully reported: “Upon returning from the film, there was much chatter among the staff about how delicious it had been to leave . . . knowing we had been ‘baad’ together. As everyone returned to their work . . . tension in the building began to dissipate. Within days the ideas again started flowing, knotty problem areas unraveled, and the design began to lead the designers, a sure sign that a strong concept was emerging.”[2]

Here’s a must-do on a regular basis with your team, especially when you sense you might be stuck in a deep rut, paralyzed by group-think, or otherwise experiencing a serious case of no-new-idea-itus.

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Take big cues from your Creator!

The opening pages of God’s story demonstrate the magnificent collages and cadence of creation (Genesis 1). We are wondrously treated to an encounter where God is the most creative design worker ever. With completion of his oh-so-deliberate, colorful accomplishments each day, he pauses to reflect and celebrate. “And it was good!”

At the culmination of Day Six, humans were created in God’s likeness, his very image. Consider this: the imago Dei included our commission to be “fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth”—to “rule and reign” over it all. ‘No doubt about it, we were called to be creative workers, just like our oh-so-creative God.

When our boys were young, we took them to the circus. One of my favorite features was watching the elephant tricks. The crowd roared in laughter and thunderous applause. You have to admit, an elephant is a sure sign that God possesses a sense of humor as well as one mighty creativity quotient. But then ponder how the humans tamed and trained, “ruled and reigned” over the massive creature, so as to wildly entertain a tent full of other humans!

We can draw abundant motivation by remembering God’s amazing original designs, and then get motivated by the realization: we each possess the imago Dei. His very image and his call have come to you and to me.

What might happen? What if we hear God urging us in fresh ways?

“Create with panache. Work with style. Rule your domain with generous imagination. Make things wonderful. Organize with flair. Be boldly intentional. Design beautiful things. Make life healthier, humorous, holistic, and holy. Above all, mimic me and be lavishly redemptive. And when in doubt, choose orange!”

 

[1]Richard Allen Farmer, It Won’t Fly If You Don’t Try OR How to Let Your Creative Genius Take Flight. (Portland, Multnomah) 1992, p. 68.

[2]Jerry Hirshberg, The Creative Priority: Driving Innovative Business in the Real World. (New York: Harper Business) 1998, p. 87-89.

Busyness and a Missio Christmas

Christmas Cards

It was in my mailbox again this year—a marvelously mysterious Christmas card from a remarkable businessperson. “But why?” I wonder every year.

Most of us feel the strenuous stress, the tug and the tension of these days. This year is no different. You have extra product to push out the door, additional tasks to conquer, reconnections to make with long-term clients, and hopefully a pleasant handful of new relationships to foster. You also have a wish list a mile long, still to conquer, plus the wrapping, maybe a batch of baking, school concerts, the extra-special church services (queue the child-shepherds, clad in bathrobes), as well as the parties to attend (and possibly one or two to host!), and—well, you know, on and on, ad infinitum. As of this morning, there are just nine days ‘til Christmas—so sorry to scare you.

I am still shaking my head over the card. “Where does she find the time to send it?”

We all have a lot to cram into the upcoming hours, and this thought arrests my psyche this morning. If I do not make the time, in all the busyness of my business, I might miss the fuller significance, the blessed connections, and the real joy. I’m struck again: What was the origin, the purpose—the deeper significance, the real business of Christmas?

A dusty Latin phrase sums it up. Missio dei. The mission of God.[1] The babe of Christmas came and lived in light of his Father’s busy business. Whereas God certainly knows how to pause, to rest and reflect, he also seems very at-home with busyness. We first meet God in his story as an uber-creative, hard-working character (AKA, Creator, see Genesis, chapters 1-2). Across God’s story, he is constantly, intentionally planning and tangibly working out his redemptive plans. He’s busy. When he was a middle school kid, Jesus’ parents lost him in Jerusalem. (Yes, I know, how do you lose Jesus? A deep question to ask Mary and Joe, someday.) They finally found him, several days later, talking it up with the leaders in the Temple. Jesus’ response at his parents’ what were you thinking? is profound with intentionality. He replied, “Didn’t you know I would be busy with my Father’s business?” (my paraphrase; but see Luke 2:49, NKJV) When confronted about his Sabbath work, Jesus said, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” (John 5:17 NLT) Years later, one of Jesus’ followers, an early leader in the movement, Saint John, penned these words. “The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” (1 John 4:14 NIV) These words capture the Father’s intentional planning, the busyness of his business, and the full push of the missio dei.

Our mystery card comes from Renae, a phenomenal realtor in Marion, Iowa. She sold our first house for us in 1999, when we were trying to move back to the east coast for a new endeavor. I chuckle now. Renae made a grand windfall of a few hundred dollars on the deal, and she treated us like we were million dollar clients. Every year, we receive the hand-written, personalized Christmas card, and I shake my head in amazement. Call it smart real estate business (you never know whom I might refer her way). Yes, AND we should call it smart mission. She has not forgotten that God’s business places precious, life-changing connections with people right at the forefront!

So, I am compelled to slow down, breathe deep, and remember the WHY behind all of the busyness. I am struck with fresh gratitude for people with whom I can connect, the energy for creativity to produce, and the joyous opportunities to join God in his mission this season and into the New Year.

I pray you make the time to pause and remember the why of this season—and have a very missio Christmas!

 

 


[1]C. Neal Johnson, Business As Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 28 and 49.