Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creativity Journal Entry 3: The race

Race ya to the next bite

During my trip to Baltimore, I got the chance to spend a few days with my sister, mother of three boys. Her middle child is 5, and he expends as much energy being cute as he does creating mischief.

Being around children of this age is not something I normally do. Ironic as it is considering I work at a children's hospital, I don't really spend a lot of time with kids. And since I don't have kids, I certainly don't spend any concentrated amount of time with children if and when I come into contact with them.

But I did happen to pick something up at work, which is that boys around age 5 love to be TIMED. So whether it's a race up the stairs ("I'm gonna beat you!") or a request to be timed doing a certain activity, they want to know who did it the fastest.

I was able to put this principle into play when I noticed that my nephew spends most of his mealtime playing, and very little of it actually eating. He will bug his brother, jump up from his chair or even bust out into spontaneous dancing and singing...essentially anything to avoid eating his food.

So when dinner had already been dragging on without any food leaving his plate, I tried an experiment: I told him that he only had 10 seconds to take his next bite, and I started counting down from 10. He perked up. To add drama, I stared at my wrist as I counted. Note that I did not have on a watch, but it seemed like I did and it made the countdown that much more intense. He started to get nervous. As I approached counting down to the number 1, he quickly took a bite. I acted very relieved. And 2 minutes later, I did it again.

This turned out to be a regular routine at mealtime. While his parents would plead with him to "just sit down and eat," the only thing that truly motivated him was the countdown. Now I'm not claiming to be a parenting expert. Perhaps the novelty would have worn off eventually and he'd go back to avoiding his food. But I think that experiences like these are sort of the essence of creativity. You try something that you are not sure will work, or even if it does, how long it will work. But it doesn't seem to hurt to try, and short-term success is still considered a success. And so is a clean plate.

Creativity Journal Entry 2: Land, Sea and Air

Getting from BWI to the Baltimore Marriott via cab and water taxi

I needed a creative idea. When I landed at the Baltimore airport, I knew there would be difficulties in traveling to my hotel. The children's hospital conference organizers informed all the attendees that a St. Patrick's Day might add a delay to our journey. I figured that meant some slower traffic. I was wrong.

It turns out that the parade, which was being held the Sunday before Thursday's holiday, was a traffic nightmare. It blocked the main road that provided access to the hotel, and its participants would be celebrating until 5 p.m. I had arrived at the airport at 1:30 p.m. And I needed to have my display ready to go before 5 p.m. I was in a pickle.

I approached the Super Shuttle service provided from the airport. The informed me that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for them to take me to my hotel. IMPOSSIBLE. As in, no roads would ever take me to this hotel...until 5 p.m. Not being familiar with the area, I took them at their word.

So I needed another route to the hotel. I noticed another woman asking similar questions to mine. It turns out she was going to the same conference as me, so I asked her if she wanted to team up and find a creative solution. After much plotting and questioning of the information desk volunteer, we decided to take a cab to the inner harbor of Baltimore, and take a watertaxi to our destination.

So, luggage in tow, we took a cab to one side of the harbor with little problem. Taking a watertaxi was a different story. This wasn't just any watertaxi. Passengers could not just stand at the shore and hail the next boat that drove by. This was a sightseeing taxi, and it had several stops around the harbor before it came anywhere near our hotel. However, it did come, we did board, and we did make it to our hotel, with about 30 minutes before I had to be ready for my presentation.

In hindsight, I probably could have chartered a taxi and just paid the driver to take the long way around the parade. Being from Arizona, water travel is not my usual means of transportation. But it sounded, well, a little romantic. Very "Italian Job." And I loved the idea that I could tell people that I traveled by land, air and sea just to make it to the conference.

I liked this creative solution that arose by collaborating with people I didn't know, and rejecting the narrow-minded solution provided by the airport shuttle folks, who should have been better informed.

Who knows? It may have taken just as long and maybe less money to take a regular cab ride, but the new experience was definitely worth the wait.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Creativity Journal Entry 1: Ash Wednesday

Today I tried something new. I attended Ash Wednesday services with my co-worker, who is Catholic. I have attended Catholic Mass before as a visitor, but never to watch the ceremonies associated with certain holidays, such as Ash Wednesday.

We got there a little late, but found a seat with an excellent view of the proceedings. The first feeling I had was that of respect. Here is a religion that is centuries old, governed by sacred rites and rituals that have their roots in Biblical times. This is a religion that is home to millions of followers. And I was watching one of their most basic rituals.

I marveled as I watched the throngs of people line up in front of the ministers to have the ashes of burned palm fronds wiped on their foreheads, for all to see. Each person, including very small children, were told to turn away from sin. Then they returned to their seats, the mark clearly upon their heads, the ponder about the implications of the day. I researched later and found that the mark on the forehead was to remind the believers to be humble, that the mark itself might remind them of their insignificance and spiritual debt.

The sermon that followed focused on the ensuing 40-day Lent, where believers choose a personal habit or sin to give up for 40 days. The priest encouraged the crowd to eschew gossip and passing judgment on other people. I thought this extremely appropriate as I pondered this week's "Live With" rule to silence the voice of judgment.

It occurred to me that when we are spending time criticizing others or ourselves, we are losing time to develop new ideas or solutions. Adding to this lost time is the death spiral that can occur when you beat yourself up over an idea or an event. Negativity begets negativity, which leaves the mind barren and scorched...hardly a fertile ground for creativity.

So perhaps I should give something up for Lent, even though I'm not Catholic. Maybe I will take the priest's advice to let go of judgment. And allow this unique experience to make some room in my thoughts for positive idea creation.