Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Stress. And Creativity.

04 Jun

Let’s talk a moment about stress.  We all have it in our lives.  The endless to-do lists, the demands of job, family, bills.  You know the drill.  For most of us, stress is a familiar part of everyday life.  A day without it is, well, vacation.  Stress and creativity have a tricky relationship.  It takes a fair amount of comfort to foster creative ideas.  I don’t necessarily mean feet-up, chocolate-nearby sort of comfort, but rather a lack of stress.  The best ideas come when we are least stressed; when taking a shower or driving for example.  And yet the pressure to perform is a constant.

An interesting report on NPR the other day spoke to this phenomenon.   Dan Ariely, author of “The Upside of Irrationality” says:

“… when it comes to creativity and problem solving and thinking and memory and concentration, it turns out you can’t will yourself to a higher level of performance. … instead, the high bonus actually got people to be very stressed.”

In his behavioral experiments, the higher the reward stakes (i.e. performance bonus), the less performance he got from his participants.  This caught my attention and I began to think how it could apply to the work we do at Drawing Down the Vision.

Businesses who want the most creative work from their employees, entrepreneurs seeking to see their ideas come to fruition, anyone who wants to get the most from their creative thinking, all are under a fair amount of stress to get things done.  But concentrating on this stress will only make it more acute.  Instead, relaxing a bit will let the ideas come in through the back door…via your sketchbook.

By tracking your thoughts in your sketchbook and putting ideas down on paper, you can simply and cheaply activate the creative thinking that is harboring your next big idea.  Drawing Down the Vision can get your team working together and drumming up new and innovative ways to solve problems to grow your business.

Give drawing a try.  It’s a whole lot less stressful than the traditional approach and you might get some amazing new ideas out of it!

Related reading: The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People
Related video: Dan Pink, The surprising truth about what really motivates us

Popularity: 6% [?]


Making the most of your sketchpads.

02 Jun

I don’t use digital notetaking tools. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve noticed that some of the most innovative techies in Silicon Valley do the same, whether with day-planner calendars, memo pads, or just simple notecards with a binder clip.“  – Tim Ferriss, How to take notes like an alpha geek (author of 4 Hour Work Week)

Examples of Adam's Sketchpad covers for 'Pay attention to what you pay attention to'

As readers here know… I’m an advocate of pocket sketching, a source of success for many. I use my pocket sketchpad for sporadic notes, collecting random thoughts & experiences, thinking through a problem, life-reviews, and more.

Today, I have a variety of sketchpads. They’re filled to the brim, sometimes wrapping around the back cover with content when I didn’t have a blank one handy. I can revisit them whenever I’d like, however, I often have difficulty finding certain notes from months back…

Tim Ferriss’ quote above inspired me to create the following simple organization system to help maximize the value of thoughts that arise in a sketchpad, to find what you need, when you need it.

Track the date and context for entries.

When did I draw this? Tracking the date allows you to play anthropologist when you’re going back through your journal. To see how thoughts overlapped, and how they related to emails, events on your calendar, or loose notes you’ve taken outside your sketchpad. (Old habits die hard.)

Where did I draw this? By summarizing the location or experience that created the entry… you’ll be better able to take yourself back to the moment you created the entry. Just the act of drawing aids memory by 29%.

Create a graphic summary on the cover. (See image above.)

I have so many notebooks… which one was it? The graphic takes me back to the times when I was carrying that specific sketchpad. I can remember creating the cover or seeing it each time I was drawing an entry. This allows me to more quickly flip through a pile of sketchpads and find the right entry.

You can create this summary with a new sketchpad, or once it is complete. Whatever suits you or the work you’re doing. Creating it early serves as a focus, a guide for what content you’ll strive to include. Creating it later allows you to summarize your work. In a recent post after creating a late summary, I wrote about how I realized I was very unfocused.

Create a list of recurring topics, not a table of contents.

A table of contents works for something you’ve edited… something you had the opportunity to organize into neat categories. Pocket sketching doesn’t work that way. Track a list of recurring topics instead of a table of contents. (This was inspired by Basecamp, a fantastic project collaboration tool Amy and I use to work on Drawing Down the Vision.)

As a topic comes up, add it to the inside front cover of your sketchpad. (It’s more difficult to lose than the inside first page.) As it comes up again in the future, just note the date which it was entered. (If you backfill old pages with newer notes, use the date on which you started the page to maintain chronology.) Slowly, you’ll build a list of topics and dates on which you wrote about them, to track the evolution of a thread over time.

Cream rises to the top.

Even if you create the best system… and you still can’t find what you’re looking for… don’t fret. Maybe you don’t need it.The cream always rises to the top. You’ll repeat a thought that is valuable to you.Throughout my time sketching, I’ve learned to respect every entry as a potential new starting point or tangent in my career. By reviewing enough sketchpads, you see that important ideas come to you before you even know they were important. (See a previous entry on how Dan Wallace generated valuable business ideas.)

Go try it out… let us know how it works for you!

Popularity: 13% [?]


Create, don’t consume.

28 May

Reading and writing are the primary methods we’ve been taught to evaluate and create information.  Both allow us to explore how to solve problems in business and life. However, there is one major difference… writing forces you to produce while reading only asks you to consume.

When reading, we kick the problem bucket down the road. We hope we’ll be better able to solve the problem in the future, once we become well-read in the current thinking on subject. With HUGE problems, that doesn’t work. HUGE problems are HUGE because they don’t have existing solutions. They demand we produce new solutions.

So, we must practice to stop consuming and start producing. But how?

Well, in addition to writing, you can practice drawing. Through drawing, you leverage a combination of experience and naivete to start solving huge problems! If you’ve begun exploring a problem through drawing, you’ll have collected your experience in a nest of ideas. If you’re still new to a problem, you’re naive look on things will allow you to profit from mistakes and find alternate solutions which an expert may glance over.

Here are some more practical ways to stop producing and start consuming:

  1. Start reading 20% of what you traditionally do.
    1. Focus on applying and absorbing what you read by producing related materials.
  2. Get a piece of paper and a pen, and start drawing ideas out…
    1. Try to draw the ‘landscape’ of a problem.
      1. What are the key obstacles?
      2. How would you lay them out in a landscape painting?
    2. Try to draw the characters interacting in the problem.
      1. Who or what, does what and why?
      2. Where would they/it sit in the landscape?
    3. Try to draw a picture of today, and tomorrow.
      1. What would it take to get you to the tomorrow you want or need?
  3. Carry that pen and paper everywhere you go.

Don’t overthink it. When you get stumped, drawing doesn’t do its purpose anymore. So, go find some inspiration, get out in the world. Or, go read a book.

More on how to stop producing, and start consuming: Practicing to be concise,, Inside Higher Ed

Popularity: 10% [?]


Score one for creativity

26 May

In a recent article in Fast Company Magazine, creativity was touted as the most important quality for business leaders today.  It seems this is a bit of a sea change in the world of business.  In the past, especially during economic hard times, business leaders would have buckled down with tried and true practices and hoped to weather the storm.  This is not the case however as CEO’s navigate an increasingly global and challenging marketplace.  They are instead developing creativity in themselves and their employees to find innovative ways to keep their ideas flowing and their companies growing.

How can business professionals develop their own creativity?  Getting outside of the normal routine of the day to day, drawing in a sketchbook, taking a different route to work are all small ways to create a big impact in thinking.  Team building workshops such as Drawing Down the Vision can get a group of people excited to approach a new project with the freshest ideas they can muster.  Encourage your team to develop their creativity.  Practice some creativity enhancing ideas yourself.  It’s the best thing you can bring to the table.

Popularity: 4% [?]


The value of ‘mistakes’

14 May

When we all start drawing, the lines don’t seem to come together as neatly as we often hope. In Drawing Down the Vision, that’s a great thing. Artists have a term for those moments where something gone awry turns into a silent tug in the right direction: The Happy Accident.

In Creativity Studies, the terms convergent and divergent thinking represent the alternative manners by which we come up with novel, new and exciting ideas… by combining or separating existing ones. Drawing can help us look at the world in this recombinatory manner. As we try to create a representation of what we’re thinking or seeing, the lines and patterns slowly come together. Mismarking can trigger a new connection between objects on the page, new ways to look at something we thought we understood completely, and couldn’t be done any other way.

Here is an example of experimentation done by Brad Norr of Brad Norr Design: Lines, leading to more lines, more thoughts, and ultimately, an answer.

So get out there and start putting pen to paper, thinking through that stubborn problem or just enjoying the landscape surrounding you. A ‘mistake’ may just trigger a whole new way of looking at things. A happy accident.

Thanks to Brad Norr of Brad Norr Design for contributing his work in this example!

Popularity: 19% [?]


Make your marks in the world.

08 May

We’ve created a world where the future is more valuable than the present.

We’re at the Louvre… rather than focusing on the artwork, we’re photographing it to view at home, on our laptop.

We’re at the Etienne de Crecy concert in London… rather then enjoying the show, we’re recording it to share on Facebook, with people who weren’t there.

We’re at a conference… rather than listening to the speaker’s message, we’re tweeting misleading summaries of the introduction.

By drawing, we can we slow down and harness the present moment.

Searching for ideas around you, you’re forced to see, rather than just look. You’re more closely observing the myriad styles of the people on the street, the design of the office awning, or the bird perched on a skinny branch; things you’d breeze by in your typical routine. As your pen moves slowly, tracing the lines of an object yet to be realized, your care-free view of the world becomes an opportunity to put things in perspective.

The process of sketching in a journal allows you to declutter your mind and still maintain a record for posterity. As you gather these experiences in one location, you begin cultivating a nest which fosters connections between seemingly disconnected ideas. Practicing creatively documenting your life opens your mind to whole brain thinking, allowing you to form new skills to connect with the world around you, seeing things in a new light. Beyond revisiting the journal, research shows that doodling aids memory by 29%.

So, next time you’ve got a problem at work or home, rather than commiserate with yourself, get out in the world and find an interesting place, person, or thing. Try to get it down on the page. You’ll appreciate the time away and a chance to clear your mind.

Just as a bird gathers disparate materials to make its dent in the universe, you must gather the present moments you uniquely experience to make your mark on the world.

Popularity: 6% [?]


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