I teach Creativity + Innovation to university business students.
“Is that actually a thing?” you ask.
It is. Creativity + Innovation is an actual class I teach to actual business students for actual dollas.
They are so smart, these college freshman. Accomplished, high performers. Give them a test with bubbles, and they can fill it out with aplomb. Tell them your rubric, and they’ll follow it perfectly. They can write a mean college essay. They can tell you exactly what you want to hear. But ask them to tell you something new? They don’t know how to start. Ask them to complete an assignment without parameters? They don’t know how to start. Ask them to solve a problem without Google? To set their own standards of excellence? To chase something down for curiosity instead of gain? They don’t know to start.
And so I spend all semester teaching them a new start: how to diverge.
Now before you bemoan how public education and technology are destroying our youth, answer this: Is your mind free? When you wake up in the morning, do you think about the possibility of the day or do you think about its requirements? Before you go to bed, do you worry or do you dream? When faced with a problem, do you go the shortest road to solve it as quickly as possible? Do you go the same road as everyone else to solve it like they did? Or do you take the road less traveled by and solve it like only you can?
Time, pressure, judgment, expectation, doubt, failure – there’s so much that binds our minds from musing, Playing.
To think creatively we don’t remove boundaries; we set new ones to permit it. And we permit our thoughts to happen when we move them to paper – quickly and without wondering whether they’re valid or feasible. We don’t care whether they’re “okay” because the only bad thought is the one we don’t write down. And the goal is to write down as many of our thoughts as possible.
Sound familiar? It’s called brainstorming. We know about it, but we rarely do it well. It’s a skill born of urgency; it requires focus. We’re so stinking distracted, but thinking creatively begins with divergence, and brainstorming is a great technique to get us to the fringes of thought.
I never run my class the same way twice, but in every class, we brainstorm. I tell my students to remove everything from their tables, save a pad of Post-Its and a pen. I ask them to explore a problem, a prompt, a possibility, a presumption. I give them a time frame – usually two minutes. I tell them to write down their thoughts as they come and at a 1:1 ratio. One thought per Post-It. Don’t judge your thoughts, I remind them. The only bad one is the one you don’t write down. Now, go! It’s a game of quantity. Whoever generates the most Post-Its wins.
So it was no surprise that for our last class this week, I told my students to take out their pen and Post-Its.
“Whose job do you want?” I asked (Remember, they’re business school students. They’re here because they want someone’s job).
“In two minutes, tell me all the reasons why.”
The winner totaled at 46.
“Great. Two more minutes.”
He got to 67.
“Last two minutes. Go!”
He got to 94. I was hoping that he and the rest of them would get to 100 – partly because I’d been training them to brainstorm all semester. Six minutes was plenty of time for a hundred. But mostly because I’d pushed on this why – the intrinsic – all semester. Why are you here? Why do you do what you do? Why do you want what you want?
Advice is a tricky thing – meant to help us along, but sometimes it can paralyze. This is how I feel every time I read the “write every day” advice. I mean, I get it. On all the levels. Writing is a skill that benefits from daily discipline like any other. There’s the momentum, too. It’s a lot easier to pick up where you left off if you left off yesterday.
But has anyone run this advice by my boys? My husband? My boss? My life? Me?
So, no. I’ll never give that advice. But a hundred? Yes. 100 reasons for why you are here, why you do what you do, why you want what you want. Not to justify, but to sustain. It’s easy to start something. It’s easy to stop something. But to continue on with something is an entirely different level of play.
You probably need more than 100, but let’s start with that baseline. We’ve talked about big things on this blog before – put yours at the center of your mind. Write it down. And write 100 reasons why. Remember, it’s 1:1 – one reason per Post-It, per line, per cell, per whatever increment makes sense for the medium you’re using so long as you’re putting it down. Put each why down without judgment. Plausibility and reasonability are for later. Now is the time for freeing your mind, for permitting your thoughts to happen – to be – by writing them down. It’s okay if it takes you longer than 6 minutes so long as you commit to 100 reasons. Now, Go!
*Disclaimer: I can’t type Free Your Mind without thinking, … and the rest will follow. En Vogue 4-Ever.