Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Few 'Lies' & the Truth About Creativity

I have more than enough work to keep me busy 24 hours day for the next several months, but if there's one thing I learned last semester, it's this:  A little time to reflect, relax, and simply think renews my enthusiasm for my work and sends my productivity skyrocketing.

Jon Acuff
So before I start the two papers I will write this afternoon, I want to share a few words of wisdom that I
heard yesterday during Jon Acuff's visit to Belmont.  Jon is the guy who started a blog called Stuff Christians Like - a hilarious spin-off of the comical Stuff White People Like blog.  But beyond making a name for himself in the blog world (Belmont's write-up of the event stated that Jon's blog is read by "2 million people in over 97 percent of the countries in the world"), Jon has authored a few books and honed his talent for public speaking. He was brought to campus this week by Belmont's Center for Entrepreneurship to speak on Five Lies Entrepreneurs Should Ignore for Success.

I was laughing too hard to write down or remember all five of the "lies", but there were certainly a few points that stuck out for me.


First, Jon redefined creativity for me.  I know that I fall prey to one of the "lies" which people tell themselves and which eventually hold them back, this one being: "I'm not creative enough."  Belmont is an incredible bubble, teeming with creative individuals in all disciplines.  From songwriters to performers to painters and poets, I'm constantly awestruck and inspired by my friends' and classmates'.  The passion and creativity embodied in their artistic pursuits is one of reasons I came to Belmont, but I must admit that sometimes I look around and think, "How can I compete with this?" I've never seen myself as a source of raw creativity -- at least not in the sense of artistic talent -- so while it's inspiring to immerse myself in an imaginative college environment, it's also a bit intimidating.  Which brings me to another "lie" Jon talked about: one he calls the "lie of comparison."  We look around and see people who are accomplished, creatives, and successful by our standards, and then look back at ourselves and think, "Who am I to do this? What makes me think I can do it as well as any of these great people?"  It's not something I dwell on, but I've certainly had thoughts like these before.

The way Jon talked about creativity was really encouraging for people like me.  He used the definition of creativity written by a well-known female author whom I can't name, but the implications behind her perspective on creativity definitely stuck. 

Creativity comes from a wild mind with a disciplined eye.

I might not have a wildest mind, but I think I have developed a somewhat disciplined eye, and when I find an idea I like, I'm crazy enough to believe I can make it work - no matter how wild it might seem.  Steve Jobs once said, "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."  And while I'm not so sure how wide-reaching the impact of my work and ideas will be, I guess I'm crazy enough to think that I can change some things, starting with myself.  I've set off on grand adventures more than a few times with the intention of growing myself and serving my new neighbors, and I have been amazed at just how much has been changed in the process -- not only in my own life, but in the lives of the people I've met and interacted with along the way.  

Jon outlined three parts to creativity. You can remember them with the acronym ICE: Imagine, Capture, Execute. I'm going to work on the Imagine phase, but I think I've got Execute down.  My mom will tell you that my first word was "door" -- not "mom," not "dad", but "door." I go, I do, I see, I plan, I execute. That's how I seem to consistently find myself in countries, jobs, hobbies, and friendships which, to some, are unfathomable. [Speaking of which, my summer plans aren't quite blog-ready, but when the big reveal happens, I think you'll like it!]

As stereotypical as it might sound, one of the ways I've matured the most during college is in learning the true value of working in teams. I used to abhor group work because in every single group to which I had been assigned throughout my academic career I had been the one that cared the most about the final product.  Therefore I worked the hardest, and many of my teammates morphed into social loafers.  But coming into Belmont's Honors Program changed that.  For the first time, I found people who cared about their work just as much as I, and together we've produced some great papers, projects, and presentations during the past four years.  The best part of this process has been learning each others' strengths and weaknesses, likes, and interests.  The Honor's Program's emphasis on turning each student into an expert in his or her field helped my classmates and I to zero in on our individual, unique skills and talents; once those had been identified, we didn't hold back in using them to the advantage of our group and our grades. I've learned that my natural strengths are in strategy, organization, planning, and integrating all the components of a project into a cohesive whole. I'm able to "make war against distractions," as Jon said we must in order to successfully Execute. That being said, it's been such a neat opportunity to partner with people who have "wild minds" - the dreamers, artists, inventors and innovators.  Our ability to collectively Imagine, Capture, and Execute has impressed all of us. 

Having narrowed down the part of the creativity equation that needs some work for me personally (i.e. imagination), I latched onto something Jon said a little later: "Make thinking time valuable time. Be deliberate and put a value on thinking. We expect to do amazing things without thinking about them."  How true it is!  I blogged about my time crisis and over-packed schedule at the height of my collegiate insanity last semester, and I am glad to report that since then I've resigned from a few jobs and positions in an attempt to escape from being a slave to my schedule. Now my calendar works for me - not the other way around! 

I was invited to join a round table lunch discussion with Jon and ten other students & faculty after Jon's talk. It was a neat time to learn a little bit more about him, as well as my classmates' projects and Jon's insight and advice in that regard. 

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