Absolutely terrible or a little awkward?
I’ve long been fascinated by creativity. My own creativity, the creativity of others, how creativity is encouraged or suppressed in the corporate world and the effect that this has on the energy, liveliness and hope and ambition of our organisations. I have come to realise that organisational creativity is a psychological and a social conundrum to be explored as opposed to a technical or capability based problem to be solved and I have learnt, through my own personal experimentation, that the very first step in nurturing and unleashing one’s creative spirit is to seek out and gently lean into novel, uncomfortable experiences that we would normally say “no” to.
Whilst I find it much easier nowadays to come up with creative ideas I feel I’ve still a lot of work to do on getting better at actually doing them. Many creative projects or experiments that I’ve initially been excited about have never materialised or have suffered chronic procrastination due to my habit of putting things off. However, I’ve now come to admit to myself that the reason I normally get stuck turning these ideas into action isn’t time, resources or logistics…..but fear!
When I was talking to some friends in early 2013 about my forthcoming book they asked me if I was having a launch party. I responded by saying that I really wanted to avoid a traditional launch party with pomp and ceremony, exclusive invites, champagne and me talking and selling copies. I wanted to do something very different, something that was the antithesis of a traditional book launch and in which I embodied the creative practices I write about. My imagination then kicked in and I found myself telling them that I would be doing a “reverse busking book launch experiment“, playing my guitar and singing improvised songs about the book, with people coming up and taking for free. I told more and more people about the idea and everyone loved it. However, the more people I told, the less love I felt for it and I started to think of safer alternatives (i.e. excuses) that wouldn’t be as terrifying for me. I decided that, rather than procrastinate or modify my idea, the time had come to confront my fears!
Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded in Athens in 308BC that I first came across in Oliver Burkeman’s book “The Antidote – A Bracing detox for the self help junkie.” As I understand it, the Stoic philosophy stresses the fundamental importance of reason in making sense of our moment by moment experience, replacing our irrational judgments with rational ones. I wondered if this philosophy might help me make more rational judgments about my own fears that seemed to continually make me procrastinate. The central idea of the stoic philosophy (that was later adopted by American psychologist Albert Ellis) is that, by intentionally experiencing our fears, we can make more rational judgement as to whether they are as awful as we imagined or just a little awkward. (Or as the Stoic philosopher Seneca describes it “deliberately experiencing those evils so as to grasp that they might not be as bad as you’d irrationally feared.”)
I decided that I needed to see if the actual experience of my “reverse busking book launch experiment” idea was as bad as the anticipated one so, on Monday 31st March 2014 I boarded a train to London Waterloo armed with a case load of books, my guitar, my harmonica, a home made “Book Launch” sign and a stomach full of butterflies! The final hours leading up to the event were horrible as I anticipated how awful the whole experience would be and everything that could go wrong.
What I learnt from this experiment:
Steve is an independent change and creativity consultant, writer and adventurer. If you would like to order your own copy of “Can Scorpions Smoke? Creative Adventures in the Corporate World” you can do so by visiting www.canscorpionssmoke.com
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