Chapter 7 of the The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry entitled “Stimuli: What Goes In Must Come Out” discusses how the information we choose to consume, what he calls “stimuli”, determines the ideas and connections of ideas that we can come up with when being creative.
I couldn’t agree more and think that the old programming adage “garbage in, garbage out” does apply when it comes to creativity. If you want to have new ideas that drive your creativity, you should consume new, creative material.
My top three takeaways from this chapter were:
1. Make Time for It – Too often we find the time to watch our favorite tv show(s) or sporting event(s). Maybe we DVR it and watch it late at night before bed. However, the question is when was the last time a tv show or sporting event helped you solve a work-related problem? This isn’t to say we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves, but just as we make time for entertainment we must make the time in our schedule to fill our brain with ideas and information that helps us grow. Like most change I recommend starting small, 15 minutes reading here, 30 minutes watching informative videos there. The key is to make the time to find and consume educational stimuli.
2. Organize and Review It – once you have made this time and found these sources of knowledge don’t just read or watch it and forget it. Have a way to capture it. Henry talks about carrying around index cards to jot down information from conversations, meetings and books he is reading. He also briefly discusses using an indexed notebook to store your knowledge. For a more in-depth and detailed system try Mindhacker by Ron Hale-Evans & Marty Hale-Evans, specifically the chapter on Information Processing. Either way, use either system or come up with your own, but at a minimum have a system in place that is easy to update, easy to use and holds all the learning you are doing through your reading, writing, discussing and viewing.
3. Be an Active Learner – “He treated books as a conversation rather than a monologue” – I love this quote from David McCullough’s biography of John Adams that Henry highlighted in this chapter.
Too often I used to fall into this cycle: This author wrote a book. I’ve never written a book. Therefore, they must know what they are talking about and I should accept what they are saying as true.
However, if we are going to truly learn something we must make it part of our knowledge base. And the first step in doing that is determining whether we agree with the author or whether we feel the author is wrong and the reasons why. This back and forth with the author is a great way to read and our learning and memory will be better served by doing it.
In an information age that is constantly changing we are judged by the ideas we bring to our jobs. Now more than ever we should give ourselves every opportunity to make sure those ideas are actionable, original and well thought out. Taking the simple steps outlined above will go a long way to setting ourselves apart in the area of creativity and guaranteeing that our ideas will be heard and respected.
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