What is your creative process?

You know those days when you have been working on a project for such a long time that nothing looks right? Your frustration is apparent in the chewed pen caps strewn about your desk. There are probably a few empty coffee mugs by your laptop and a half-eaten bag of M&Ms hidden in your top drawer. You sit staring at the ceiling (or at your friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s facebook page because at this point, you are looking for ANY kind of distraction). You have hit a wall and a solution seems unreachable. But then your phone rings, and a friend convinces you to take a coffee break. You grab a fresh pair of pants and head down the street to JavaCity to chat about your friend’s relationship troubles. When you return to your desk an hour later with a clear mind and a stomach full of chai and biscotti, you are able to look at your project in a different light. The main obstacle is suddenly an opportunity. You know the solution!

That moment of clarity is often called the “Aha! Moment.” Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, in his book, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, says that the “Aha! Moment” is stage 3 in the 5 stages of the creative process.

Here are Mihalyi’s 5 stages:

  1. Preparation. This is the pen chewing, coffee drinking stage. During this stage we immerse our self in a problem that we find intriguing. Sometimes we do not even realize that we surround our self with the issue, but somehow we are making observations or learning about something of interest to us.
  2. Incubation. The problem or issue quietly sits in our subconscious (it is simmering on the back burner). The incubation period is important because we are not thinking about the problem directly and therefore, we do not apply our normal linear thought processes. Instead, our mind sorts through the problem in an unstructured manner and we make unexpected connections. This stage can take place over a few hours (long enough for a visit to the coffee shop) or a number of years. There is not a limit to how long the problem simmers.
  3. Insight. This stage is often called the “Aha! Moment.” It is that moment when the solution appears and we understand what must be done to reach the goal or solve the problem.
  4. Evaluation. During the evaluation stage we ask whether or not the insight is worth pursuing. Is the insight worth the time and effort it will take to explore? This stage can be emotionally difficult because we must self-criticize and trust our own judgment.
  5. Elaboration. This is the stage where the work begins and we translate the idea into action.

These five stages are only a skeleton for the creative process. In reality, your process may skip stages, repeat stages, or cycle from stage 1 to 5 and back numerous times. Regardless, it is important to familiarize yourself with the creative process in order to understand your stages and the factors that influence them. You may want to take a look at Tony Schwartz’s creative process in this Harvard Business Review blog post, How to Think Creatively. Tony uses 4 rather than 5 stages. They are 1) Saturation 2) Incubation 3) Illumination and 4) Verification. Decide which set of stages works for you and evaluate your process. What helps your process of discovery?


Updated About Page!

Hi Everyone,

I finally updated the About Page! Look out for a new post on the creative process later today. Until then, here is some food for thought.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”                    -Mark Twain

What does your office say about you?

A few weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to explore the art storage area of the Katzen Arts Museum. My boss had solicited my help to find a large painting for his office. (Well, I may have insinuated that I would be a serious asset in the decision-making process. Regardless of how it happened, I was needed 😉 ) Anyway, we walked over to Katzen to meet with the museum curator and director, Jack Rasmussen, and the museum’s chief preparator, Bruce Wick. Bruce indulged our childish excitement and revealed painting after painting as we pointed to this one and that one….and that one. “Wait, maybe this one with the green?” said my boss. “What technique did this artist use?” I asked. I think the two of us could have stayed down in the storage area all morning.

At one point my boss was set on a giant painting with stark lines of striking greens, yellows, and reds. “The students will think I am a happening dean,” he smirked. I was slightly turned off by the loudness of the painting. I was concerned that the painting would not add to the atmosphere of the office, it would BE the office. No one would be able to take their eyes away from it. Fortunately, Bruce pulled out an unnamed painting by Willem de Looper. The painting is predominantly blue with soft green and purple touches. It is an oil painting, but De Looper’s paint application technique gives the feel of a watercolor. We ended up settling on the De Looper with the hope of creating a calm and welcoming atmosphere for the dean himself and the numerous students, staff, and faculty that enter his office. (I promised my boss that the students would still think he was happening.)

After the painting was hung, I stood in his office thinking about the piece’s impact on the room and what his office reveals about him as a leader. My eyes wandered to his bookshelf filled with travel souvenirs,  the seating area where he meets with all of his visitors, and the wall of student photos.

What does the art in your office reveal about you and how does it make your visitors feel? Can the furniture arrangement in your office impact meeting outcomes? Should you hang awards on the wall or keep them in your desk? I decided to google the idea and I came up with a few interesting articles.

Barbara Salfani of AOL offers 4 categories of leaders and the characteristics of their office in What Does Your Office Say About Your Work Style?

Jared Brox of Refresh Leadership works backwards by describing various office types, like the Hall of Fame office and the Yard Sale office, to diagnose leadership style in, Ulterior Motifs: hat Does Your Office Decor Say About Your Leadership Style?

Be sure to check out some of Washington’s Most Impressive Offices here. The photo below is my fave. It is the office of Mark Leithauser, Senior Curator at the National Gallery of Art.

I am certainly going to think twice before decorating my office.

The Ultimate Arts Manager

Michael Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, is a prime example of a leader that utilizes cross-cultural communication, business skills, and knowledge of the arts.  Kaiser coordinates all of the programming for the nation’s premiere performing arts center. “We attempt very challenging programming and surprising programming. And that programming is very broad and very diverse,” says Kaiser. In addition to his unending responsibilities at the Kennedy Center, Kaiser is considered the cultural ambassador for the State Department’s Cultural Connection Program. He has worked with arts leaders all over the country and in more than 70 nations to promote artistic planning and form cultural exchanges. And at the end of the day, Kaiser is a business man. Washingtonian calls Kaiser the “Turnaround Artist” for his ability to drastically enhance the status of struggling arts organizations. During Kaiser’s ten-year reign at the Kennedy Center, fundraising has more than doubled and the budget has increased by 60 percent. He also secured a $22.5 million grant to begin the DeVos Institute for Arts Management. Needless to say, his record is impressive. It is no wonder the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees chose to extend his contract by three years.

(All of the information in this post was from the Washingtonian article on Kaiser called Turnaround Artist. Be sure to check it out!)

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks

Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper, is one of my favorite paintings. This fall, I was able to view the original work at the Art Institute of Chicago. I like to ponder whether these three night owls knew one another and gathered at the diner regularly or if they were perfect strangers that barely spoke. Below, I have added Gottfried Helwein’s popular version of the painting which replaces Hopper’s characters with James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis. Which do you prefer?

Old Theaters and New Ideas

On a cold and rainy afternoon in October, my friend and I decided to visit the Uptown movie theater in Cleveland Park. The Uptown was opened by Warner Bros. on October 29, 1936. The one-screen theater was designed by John Zink, considered to be among the top designers of Art Deco and Art Moderne style movie houses at the time. The theater has undergone many renovations so it is difficult to examine Zink’s original vision, but it is fun to imagine the initial decor and its evolution over the years

The first architectural feature that I noted was the small front box office sitting below a sign with lettering that had been changed by hand. The single box office attendant struggled to shorten the line of people who ran the length of the block. The main entryway of the theater has marble floors, mirrored walls, and a large chandelier hanging from the ceiling. (The chandelier once hung in Loew’s Capital Theater in Manhattan, NY and Loew’s Cheri Theater in Boston, Massachusetts. It was moved to the Uptown to celebrate the 100thanniversary of Loew’s Cineplex.) The “old school” feel of the concession stand is ironic since it holds a large variety of modern candies and snacks. Red-carpeted stairs lead to the “Women’s Lounge” on the second floor. The restroom is far too small to accommodate the size of the crowd and the beautiful vanity area outside is probably rarely used. A second concession sits quietly beside the lounge, probably closed until the night-time rush. As I entered the balcony, I was amazed by the grandeur of the enormous screen and the large amount of additional seating held in the balcony. I choose a plush velvet seat towards the back.

While waiting for the movie to begin, I surveyed the crowd. It seemed that older customers are partial to the theater, but there was definitely a mix of young and old attendees whispering softly and munching on popcorn and nonpareils.  I tried to envision the audience in the 1930s. Would it look similar? What if I were at the Uptown during one of the famous movie premieres? The Uptown seems to be very in-tune with its community and I would imagine that the audience has reflected the surrounding community’s culture over time.

I find movie-going to be fascinating because you can go alone, but you are experiencing something with all of the strangers that sit next to you. At the end of the movie, you have shared gasps of suspense, laughs of joy, or cries of emotion.  A group of strangers leaves the theater with a bond that previously did not exist. The Uptown is special because it has been fostering those bonds for years. The theater decor reminds us of old Hollywood magic and the generations of people who have sat in those plush velvet seats.

When I came across photographs by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffree of abandoned theaters, I immediately thought of the Uptown. Each photograph of a broken down,obsolete, theater, actually portrays a new opportunity. The vintage architecture, intricate molding, and large balconies are just waiting to be restored and appreciated. Take a look at these photos. What would you do with those spaces? Recreate the old theater to foster movie magic like the Uptown? Or maybe build a new set of artist lofts? (One of the photos shows an old theater turned into a basketball court. Who would have thought?!)