BTOES Insights Official
April 18, 2020

BTOES - SPEAKER SPOTLIGHT: Unlock the Secrets of Creative Thinking.

Courtesy of Advent Health Innovation Lab, Andy Tilstra a synopsis of his speaking session discussing Creative Passion.

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Ignite Your Creative Potential with the Secret Sauce of Creativity Karen Tilstra, PhD

Creativity is the salvation of us all. Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. I couldn’t have just said that if not for that one hot August afternoon in Chicago back in 2007. I had an encounter with one of the world’s more creative people that changed the way I looked at humanity forever. There I was sitting on the top back row of the Chicago Convention center listening to Dewitt Jones, National Geographic photographer. He held all 16,000 of us spellbound by his tales of photographing the world from Alaska to Zanzibar. Balancing on a tree branch waiting for the perfect lion shot. Crouching in a canoe, legs fast asleep, on an African river knowing a hippopotamus would emerge any moment. “I never noticed the pain.” He said as he continued regaling fantastic stories of bravery, wonder and beauty. “My love for photography drove me forward,” he said. “I have lived a life of creative passion.”

He then paused, and as if knowing the answer, asked the audience, "How many of you would like to live your creative passion, stand up.” In an instant people from all around the stadium jumped to their feet. It was a thundering roar of movement. People looked around as if he had given them a gift. After a few seconds, he said, "Now, how many of you actually live your creative passion? Remain standing." A heartbreaking hush fell over the crowd and people just dropped to their seats.

Maybe there was 10 people standing, maybe 50. We're talking about thousands of people just moments before had jumped to their feet. And now, it was a stadium full of people sitting in silence lost in their own thoughts. What had happened? I believe an unspoken truth became real to each of us in that moment. It was sobering. It was the fact that everyone single one of us in that stadium possessing natural creative talent, and most of us that day that creativity lay dormant and we knew not how to activate it. The loss of potential, happiness and fulfilment overwhelmed me In that moment I knew what I had to do. I stood up and rushed from the stadium. DeWitt spoke on, but I didn’t care. I somehow had to learn what it means to be creative, how to help people tap into this innate gift. A whole stadium of people can’t be wrong.

It was crystal clear to me that moment, every one of us innately knows of this creative passion and is hunting for their own whether we know it or not. A few lucky ones have found it, but for far too many it remains elusive. As an Educational psychologist who’s worked in United States, Asia, and India I’ve learned one thing for sure, we are all the same, possessing a special give to give to the world, and if we fail the world is lost to that gift forever. We are all creative with leadership potential and if given the chance can make the world better with that gift…if we only know how to access this creative potential. The good news is we can through what Michael Ray calls the Magic Sauce of creativity. So why don’t more know about this magic sauce? The grim reality is the world simply isn't in the business of telling you so. Don't believe me? Then consider the results of a longitudinal study on creativity in which researchers asked kindergartners to raise their hands if they thought they were creative. Every single child’s hand shot up. Four years later, researchers asked the same group of children the same question; this time, only half of the fourth graders raised their hands. By the time these students reached their senior year of high school, just two of the them raised their hands when asked the same question—and even they did so apologetically.

What happened? How did a classroom full of energetic students go from believing each of them were creative, to only two of them (nervously) admitting to it? Clearly, somewhere between the time when we’re born and when we become adults, our creativity gets taught out of us. Or at least, creativity gets so radically redefined that we bury it deep within, no longer able to recognize it as a part of us.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Again, we are ALL creative. Or if you like it stated differently, we all have the potential to be creative. Just as important, each of us yearns to be creative. You know it as well as I do: we all become alive when we're creating. Our problem? We've forgotten that WE ARE ALL CREATIVE.

Michael Ray, dubbed the most creative guy in Silicon Valley, taught that we can reawaken our innate creativity through four simple steps. I call it the Secret Sauce of Creativity:

  • Embrace your inner creativity
  • Suspend negative judgment
  • Practice precise observation
  • Ask penetrating questions

It really is that simple! It’s not expensive and you don’t have to learn any big words. I’ve run a Design Thinking lab for the past six years, and I've seen up close and personal how these four mindsets are pure gold. So how can you activate these golden mindsets in your own life, both professionally and personally? Again, it isn’t that hard.

1. Embrace Your Inner Creativity

Admit it already, you're creative! As a human being, your brain is wired for it. You were born that way, so forget what anybody else says. YOU ARE CREATIVE. Say it out loud: “I’M CREATIVE!” If you understood the complexity of your brain, this wouldn’t even be an issue. We take ourselves for granted and underestimate the vast potential that lies within. The next time you find yourself confronted with a problem, challenge or opportunity, take a breath, pause, and say to yourself, “I’m Creative.” Give yourself some space to allow your brain to work its magic . . . and start today. Tell yourself the truth: "I'm creative!"

2. Suspend negative judgment

Adopt a “Yes/And” mindset. “Yes” reminds you to suspend negative judgment, while “And” prompts you to add to whatever’s happening. This is a key step, because typically when we don’t agree with something (or if someone doesn’t agree with us), we shut down, tune out or fight back. A “Yes/And” mindset keeps us in the conversation and creates space for something new to emerge. So, the next time you find yourself facing a challenge, problem or opportunity, try adopting a “Yes/And” mindset. Say, “Yes, that’s good, And we could add this.” Here’s the kicker: a “Yes/And” mindset makes you more popular. Believe it or not, you become the one who ignites creativity in the group!

3. Practice precise observations

How many times every day do you “mis-see” things? The truth would shock you! In fact, we humans “miss-see” all the time—and we like it. We believe we understand what’s happening in front of us, so immediately we assign meaning to it. Really, though, we continue to view the world through the thick prison walls of our own perceptions and assumptions. Creativity is the art of seeing past our own prison walls. It’s the habit of observing a familiar thing from a fresh perspective. Practicing precise observation invites us to first look inward so that we might more clearly see outward. We train our eyes to see what “we” really see. We move past habitual ways of thinking and acting by pausing, breathing and observing with a fresh set of eyes.

4. Ask penetrating questions

The Western world doesn't especially like questions. Have you noticed that? It wants answers. But how can you find the right answers by asking the wrong questions? You can’t, but that’s what we too often try to do. In our rush for answers, we skip right over the real problem. As creative people, however, we don’t have to take this anymore. We are not in the business of giving answers, but rather of asking questions. If you want to make the world better, therefore, then ask better questions. If you want a better life, then ask better questions. You want a better solution? Then ask better questions—and keep in mind that it’s really not as hard as you may think. The next time you face a challenge, problem or opportunity, take a breath, pause, and ask, “What else? What if?" Ask a question of the elephant in the room. You heard me! Address that fear (that elephant). Questions tend to make elephants disappear.

Putting it all together

When you put these four mindsets together, you unlock your inner creativity. While you won’t have all the answers, you will be creating space for creativity to emerge. In the process, you’ll become a sought-out resource, a great conversationalist, and somebody who can infuse energy into any group, inspiring it to change. You can help people move in a new direction or encourage them to be who they really are. You can do a lot through these four simple mindsets, simply by putting them into practice. So, the next time you feel tempted to tell yourself that you’re not creative, Pause, breathe and let the Secret Sauce of Creativity reawaken the creativity that’s been there the entire time.


About the Author


Andy Tilstra,
Chief Information Officer,
Advent Health Innovation Lab


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