The ritual for me of a Sunday late afternoon walk is the perfect way to generate creativity. All you writers out there know what I’m talking about, right? The ability to unplug, listen to the birds, and regenerate from stress while burning a few calories helps us become more creative. I do some of my best creative thinking and strategizing during this time.
Late afternoon is my favorite time of day…and I love walking in my neighborhood.
Who else is a walker and does his or her best thinking on your feet? 👟👟
When I came home from my walk, I was inspired to grab my camera and take a picture of my three books. I sometimes run out of ideas, but this one came to me, and I’m happy that the walk brought me this little creative whim. Next, I need to tackle my characters in the sequel I’m writing to Inn Significant. I’m already on Chapter 4 and getting more excited by the day to bring the characters to life again and have them experience some new situations. I got a couple of new ideas about them on my Sunday walk as well.
Here’s the scenario: Your inbox is overflowing. You have tons of emails to respond to, in addition to answering social media inquiries, answering texts, and making phone calls. You arrive at work and you already feel overwhelmed with what you must accomplish. You are all set to be productive, and then your balloon slowly begins to deflate as you sit sipping your morning coffee being totally reactionary and not proactive about what you need to accomplish. You know you have things you need to get done, and hope you can squeeze that in during the day.
While the book focuses on creative types primarily, it is perfect for anyone who feels overwhelmed by technology’s ability to creep into our lives and not leave us alone—not even for an hour or two while we work on something important.
The idea of “chunking” or “blocking out time” on your own calendar to be productive is at the heart of this book. As worker bees, we need to be productive and we need to answer emails. This is true. However, that should not come at the expense of our creative endeavors. They have to be in conjunction with each other.
The book’s brilliant suggestion is to make that morning time YOUR time. Get in early to work when you are fresh and block out the first hour or hour and a half that is YOUR time to do YOUR projects. This makes you less reactionary. Now you are working on things that make your heart sing and make you happy to get to work. Sure, some people may say you didn’t respond to their email fast enough, but you’ll respond in the afternoon (unless it’s absolutely pressing, then I’d get that one done and move on).
It’s so true that we don’t make time for our projects because our day tends to spiral out of control. We lose it to putting out fires, responding to the deluge of emails, or attending meetings that take inordinate amounts of time away from our true productive tasks.
If you’re someone who likes structure during his or her day while also being as productive as possible, I would suggest reading this book. It also has some good examples, like the one I read last night about how someone like Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, blocks out time for his creative endeavors each morning. It provided a lot of inspiration as to how to use your time wisely.
It’s the question people like to ask me about my recently released novel entitled Inn Significant. It seems to be the question people have on their minds as the marker that indicates how successful the book has been thus far.
The funny thing is, I liken the question to someone asking me about my age, how much I make, or how robust my sex life is.
Sometimes we are focused too much on the results and not on the process. At least that’s what my husband and I try to teach our kids. The most important aspect revolves around the process that helps us achieve our goals; the results are often secondary (and yes, at times, can be quite important).
As for Inn Significant, I didn’t set out to write a bestseller. That thought is not based in reality; I like to think more realistically. When I began writing the novel, I set out to start the process, see the process through, and complete a project. A writing project. Do you know how many people start something and never finish it? My goal is always to complete it. Writing has been in my blood since I was about 13 years old. I feel compelled to tell stories, and I’m more concerned with the process of that storytelling journey than I am with the results of that journey.
Moreover, I find myself echoing the sentiments of writer Elizabeth Gilbert when she says, “…if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).”Well said, Ms. Gilbert.
If you have the creative inspiration to redecorate a room, you do it, don’t you? If you have the urge to build a spectacular garden with a fountain in your back yard, you take it on, right? If you sit at a blank canvas and paint something that moves you, you don’t tell your inspiration to run away and hide, do you?
No, you don’t; nor do I. If I have the inspiration—if it happens to bless me with a story I think I can piece together in a meaningful way—I write it. Why would I tell my creativity to take a flying leap?
As for book sales, I do my best to try to promote the book, talk up the book, market the book, and sell the book where I can. Just this week, I entered two independent author book contests, and I’m about to enter more. I sent my book off to people who may be able to help promote it. I mailed out press releases. I was booked to talk at a library and a book signing is in the works at a bookstore. I do what I can.
But this is not why I write.
I write, once again, to quote Elizabeth Gilbert, because of this one, main reason: “…at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.”
To put it simply, I just like to be able to say that I welcomed inspiration and “I did it.”
I also love the fact that my kids see their mom be fearless about putting her creativity out there.
So, last night I posed a writing challenge to see who wanted to try and write a short piece of flash fiction (300-400 words) around a prompt. I posted three. I got no takers. But I did it.
I chose the third. I love writing prompts because they force you to immerse yourself in a scene, setting, or situation right away. They force you to be creative, and to use your creative juices in the best possible way. The challenge was to write approximately 300-400 words.
Here’s my result of Prompt #3.
The Young King
The young King’s hair was a rumpled mess, his clothes strewn across the floor, his crown askew and hanging off of the chair. The lingering smell of liquor plagued the room as the gold goblet next to his bed sat empty. He had banished everyone from the castle after an evening of dancing and celebrating at two in the morning—rather earlier than his typical four o’clock dismissal. It was nearly eleven, and the sun had risen high in the sky, the morning dew long dissipated from the lawn.
His mother had married his father, the former King, when she was younger than he was now. She had not been pleased with his antics last night. She publicly reprimanded him in front of a few of the guests, and he in turn, had caused a scene. He was twenty-three, and he had become King two years prior upon his father’s passing. She blamed him for the current state of affairs in the Kingdom, for his lack of leadership and foresight, and for his relentless pursuit of young women. She had fought him privately, but last night she could no longer hold her tongue, and she had, in his estimation, embarrassed him beyond reproach.
She stood looking at him now, he squinting at her through the hazel eyes that so often had reminded her of her dear, departed husband. The blinding sunlight, which she had allowed to stream into the room after pulling open the heavy curtains, was causing him to sit up in bed and acknowledge her presence.
“There were vial words said between us last night, most of which, I would like not to remember or repeat,” she said in a tone he fully recognized as one in which you do not offer a response. She was his mother, after all, and while he was by all means a man, she would always be his most trusted advisor and confidante. He felt a sense of regret at what he must have said last evening, but he offered no reply at present. “It’s your choice,” she shrugged. “You can continue with your worthless life, or you can become someone who matters.”
With that, she turned on her heels and began the walk toward the gilded double doors that shielded and separated his room from the rest of the castle. He was not one to apologize freely as his pride and defensive demeanor almost always got in the way of salvaging his relations, but as she crossed the threshold, she heard him call, “Mother—“
It’s a challenging endeavor. I’ve done it twice now with fiction, and twice with nonfiction books. And I’m about to do it again when I release my latest, third fictional novel.
There will always be anxieties that manifest themselves into insecurities about putting our work out there. The tendency to feel nervous about it is normal. We’ve invested a lot of time and energy into our stories, and we hope people will appreciate that time and energy regarding our work, too.
But there are no guarantees. Some people will love it, some will think it’s just okay, and some will downright dislike it.
It’s the way of the world, people. We all can’t like everything.
Nevertheless, I have to quell my fears. I’m more nervous about this book than I have been about the other two simply because it is my third. And as a natural course of progression and as someone who puts undue pressure on herself, I hope this one will be received as well, if not better than, the previous two I’ve written. “Whether you think you’re brilliant or think you’re a loser, just make whatever you need to make and toss it out there,” Elizabeth Gilbert tells us in Big Magic. “And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.” It’s great in theory, but tough to put into practice.
However, I think it’s important to adhere to this advice when you are making any kind of art.
Gilbert further goes on to say this:
“If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest—as politely as you possibly can—that they go and make their own f—ing art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
Recently, I watched the Oprah one-hour interview with J.K. Rowling that was filmed during Oprah’s last year of her show. I have to admit, I’m sort of obsessed with this interview. In it, we hear Jo Rowling tell stories of the backlash she took from writing Harry Potter, from those who thought writing about Black Magic was horrible for children, and from those who think children’s imaginations should be limited. It made me further understand what someone told me months ago, and honestly, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. She said,
People are entitled to their own opinions, but that doesn’t make them right.
And so, I’ve decided that despite my nervousness about reaction to my own storytelling, it’s what I have always wanted to do, and so I do it. I’ve always had this passion deep down inside of me. Ever since I was in middle school, I knew I wanted to write and tell stories. So all I can offer readers is my authentic self as I tell these stories that brew in my head. That’s what I’ve got.
As Gilbert says, “Just say what you want to say, then, and say it with all your heart. Share what you want to share. If it’s authentic enough, believe me—it will feel original.”
I can’t tell you how many times in my advertising and writing classes I teach at the university that I hear students tell me that they are not creative, or that they just don’t have a lot of creativity in their bones. As someone who has been teaching for over 25 years, I think I can safely say at this point that people underestimate their power to be creative, and that more often than not, they are quite capable of creating something that is better than they expected.
All they need is a push and someone to convincingly tell them that they’ve got creativity brewing inside them.
I’m currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I’ve wanted to write a book about creativity for years, and in fact, have presented ideas on creativity at conferences for several years. Truthfully, it has become a big fascination of mine. Gilbert’s book is so spot on and insightful; within the text, grants us permission to be creative and put our talents to work, just in case no one else ever gave us room to do so. She carefully, humorously, and convincingly builds the argument that we, as humans, have always made things. So, if we wants to be writers, painters, or any other type of artists or inventors, why do we feel the need not to put that dream at the forefront of our endeavors? As she states on page 85, “If you’re supporting yourself financially and you’re not bothering anyone else, then you’re free to do whatever you want with your life.” She further states on page 89 that “creativity is the hallmark of our species.”
So why do so many people believe they are not creative? We must believe we are.
A writer myself, especially when I am writing fiction, I must go to that deep place of creativity often, and I have to rely on empathy to be able to feel or understand what a certain character might be going through. This kind of writing requires you to be inspired—by place, person, or thing. But we cannot even get to this place if we don’t believe we are creative. Believing we are creative is half the battle.
Bloggers understand this, too. If you are to be a consistent blogger, it requires consistent creativity to come up with article ideas and then implement them for readers. Even sitting here now, I feel as if I’m in my creative zone drafting this piece for you to read.
I highly recommend Big Magic to anyone who works in a creative field, for students who have to make things or write things in classes, for moms who have an idea to make something that will simplify life at home or with kids, and for any other folks who have a strong yearning to break out of the everyday drudgery of what they do and tackle that creative thing that will make your heart sing.
Mystical fairies looking after us, guiding us, keeping watch over us—it’s not a bad idea, really. We could all use a fairy godmother or godfather every once in a while. Think about how many of us wish Harry was real and there was a place called Hogwarts; why not want to cling to the idea of fantasy? Sometimes the fantastical life is far more interesting and engaging than real life. At least, I think so sometimes, which is why I make up characters and stories and plot lines and write fiction. It’s just so much more fun to believe, I think. My husband and father think the idea of ghosts are just ridiculous, but I say…why not believe in them? And if you refuse to believe in them in real life, at least humor them in fiction.
The little fairy garden my daughter and I created a few months back is thriving. We put plants in the container, and they have taken off. I had to clip them back today because they were growing all over the space. And in this minute, magical, mystical, marvelous, mysterious fairy garden, you never know what happens when we turn our backs, or why the frog leaped off the lily pad. Who knows what they get up to in the middle of the night in there?
That, my friends, is called having an imagination. It’s called being creative. Do you think J.K. Rowling could have invented that amazing Harry Potter series had she not had one? Do you think Steve Jobs would have built the empire he built without utilizing his imagination and creativity? What would Einstein have done without his unique ability to think creatively in any situation? Would any author write if he or she were lacking in imagination? Would songwriters succeed if they didn’t listen to the music that came to them as they created it?
I encourage my daughter to have an imagination, whether it comes in the form of this little fairy garden we grow or in the articles and stories and music I encourage her to write.
Using your imagination…inside and outside the garden…is an important key to life.
It’s 1:35 p.m. on a sunny, gorgeous Friday here in Maryland where the temps are a stunning 79 degrees, and I’ve just returned from an hour-long walk. There are no excuses when the weather is this spectacular. As someone who admittedly has not taken very good care of herself over the last few years and has put other things and other people first, I’ve committed the summer to my overall physical and mental well-being. From reading to writing to exercising daily and eating better, it’s time for me to get serious about my lifestyle.
I’m not hear to preach about your health; Weight Watchers, your doctor, and your own family do that for you. But what I can attest to is that walking helps clear the mind, especially if you walk by yourself. Doing it for one hour allows you the time to just reset your brain, reflect on things, and put some distance between you, work, family, and friends. There’s nothing wrong with a little alone time.
It’s amazing how revitalized you can feel after strutting your stuff for one hour at a good pace. I love walking in my neighborhood–there’s so much to see. Many neighbors are in the midst of home renovations, the golf course sits in the middle of the neighborhood, and the trees, flowers, and landscaping of the homes provide an excellent landscape to entertain me. There’s always something new to see.
In the textbook I co-authored with Dr. Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse about Event Planning, we have an entire chapter dedicated to creativity. This is one of my absolute favorite topics to discuss—with friends, with fellow writers, with students, with my children, and with colleagues. Maintaining a sense of creativity is important in so many careers; in fact, there are very few careers that do not value some sort of creativity and innovation.
However, the tricky part comes in when we, as people who can often be stretched balancing work and family/friends life, find ourselves zapped of creative impulses and notions. If this describes you right now, don’t despair. It has described me countless times before as well. Luckily, your creativity will find it’s way to you in good time. It’s cyclical—it comes back around. But how can we foster it and encourage it to return?
For years, I’ve been reading articles on creativity, from one of my favorite articles called Creativity and the Role of the Leader from the Harvard Business School to writers who discuss fostering creativity. There is so much still to learn about creativity and how to nurture it and develop it, but over the years, I’ve found several things that work for me and I thought I’d share them with you today.
#1: Read a Lot
No matter what career field you find yourself in presently, you should always be reading up on innovations within your area of work. If you are a teacher, read publications, blogs, books, and websites that could offer you information and help spark your creativity. For example, just the other day, I read a fascinating article from The Chronicle of Higher Education about how to end the last few minutes of class and help students remember the key points that were made during that lecture. As a college professor, I never quite thought about ending my course in this manner; however, now that I’ve read that piece, I am keen on giving that particular tip a try. Ideas are shared everywhere, and it’s your job to tap into those readings that can help you with your creativity. As an author, I read a lot of other writers—reading their work helps me spark ideas for my own fictional writing as I observe plot, characters, dialogue, setting, and more as I delve into each particular novel I read.
#2: Get Out of the House
When you are sitting at a computer or trying to create a project and things are not going the way you planned or you are staring at a blinking cursor, get your butt out of the chair and go for a walk or run, visit a museum, have lunch in a sidewalk café, stroll the aisles of a library—do whatever it takes to change the scenery. I know that frustration can sometimes get the better of me, so just moving my body away from it for a few minutes invites clarity and perspective to return and helps me continue along with my project.
Brainstorming started back in 1953, and the idea was coined by Alex Osborn (we have a whole section on this in our textbook). Brainstorming is a great way to start a project when you feel stuck. Putting a lot of ideas to paper, putting them on a chalkboard, writing them in your journal, or creating a mind map are all ways to begin the brainstorming process. The best part about brainstorming? At this early stage of creativity, the best part about brainstorming is that NO IDEA IS A BAD IDEA. Sometimes the craziest notions become the strongest contenders. Push yourself to facilitate some quality brainstorming—you may just come up with the most innovative idea you’ve ever had.
#4: Believe in Your Own Creativity
As an educator, I cannot tell you how many times I hear students say, “I’m just not that creative.” I’ve even heard people who are writers say, “I just don’t know if I can finish this thing—I’m really not that creative.” While it’s true some people are just naturally gifted with creativity, it doesn’t mean that you are not. It’s like anything else in life: if you believe you can achieve it, you probably will. Shoo those demons out of your head that tell you that you aren’t creative; ignore the comments you may hear from others; dig down deep within yourself and believe that you not only can be creative, but that you already ARE creative. This belief will carry you through any project that requires a great deal of creativity.
#5: Have Fun with Creativity
Way too often, we put pressure on ourselves that everything we create must be perfect. Good Grief—if I thought everything I created had to be perfect, I never would have published my two novels (trust me, I could still be editing Novel #1 if I didn’t finally say to myself, “It’s done. Put the sucker out there.” At some point I had to let it go.) Creativity is not an end-all-be-all. It’s a continuum, a circuitous path we must embrace. Sometimes our creativity will be at an all-time high; at other times, it may not be as stellar. But guess what? It’s all okay. We are mean to have fun with it. Keep going, keep having fun.
I hope these ideas help you embrace creativity, when it comes, when it doesn’t, when it’s frustrating, and when it’s amazingly stellar. We’ve all had bouts of highs and lows with our creativity.
The important thing is to persevere. Creativity is meant for you, after all.
I published Beneath the Mimosa Tree in 2012. Baseball Girl followed three years later, and this week I am celebrating it’s one-year anniversary as it launched last March 6. At the time I began writing my first novel, I had simultaneously started writing another bit of fiction. When I had to make the choice between the two in which to fully invest my time, I picked Beneath the Mimosa Tree because it had been a story that had lodged itself in my brain for 20 years. I have no regrets about publishing it, and I always feel a sort of sentimental sweetness about that book.
After Beneath the Mimosa Tree was published, I went back to the “other” piece of writing. Standing at about 43,000 words (which pretty much equates to almost half of a novel), I stopped writing. Something wasn’t working for me. That is when my dear friend, Julie, said to me quite frankly: “I don’t know why you don’t write a book about baseball.” You see, Julie and I worked in baseball together for many years at the Baltimore Orioles and were both directors of departments. The idea whet my appetite, and I found myself abandoning the other 43,000-word work in favor of what became Baseball Girl, a multi-layered love story about a female professional who secures a job in professional baseball in the front office of a baseball team after the loss of her father. I was thrilled to write this storyline because I could base some of the characters’ stories on real-life work experiences that my friends and I had while working in the sport while fictionalizing much of it as well. It was great fun, and I’m pleased with the result of that work.
But now, finally, all these years later, something has clicked, and I have dusted off that neglected manuscript that I put aside twice. I know exactly what I want this story to be, how I want the characters’ lives to unfold, and I feel a real sense of purpose for this project. I attribute this light bulb’s illumination to the fact that I’ve been reading a lot again for pleasure, and this breadth of exposure and interpretation has helped me form clearer ideas for the arc of the story, the depth of the characters, the humor I want to infuse into their situations, and the picturesque quality I want to bring to the storyline. I am not afraid of deleting much of what I have already written and blowing it up and starting all over again.
Ideally, this should be the life of a fearless writer–and a good editor. Get rid of shit that is not working and start all over again. And so, the job is in front of me, and I welcome it with open arms.
As writers, sometimes we sit and wonder when the big “ah-ha” moment will come to pass. If we sweat about it too much, it may never flutter down from the creative hemisphere and grab us and shake us and say, “Um…hello! There’s a big idea here and you better grab it before it goes off searching for someone else to write it.”
You want to write. Writing is in your blood. You bloggers know this is true. You novelists know this is true. Magazine writers, newspaper writers, nonfiction writers, script writers—it’s part of who you are; it makes up your very existence. You can’t imagine life without it.
And yet, some days it’s difficult to find inspiration.
Some weeks, it’s difficult to find inspiration.
Some years, well, you get the point.
The problem is, if it’s part of who you are, you can’t let inspiration fall by the wayside. You need constant inspiration. These little pieces of inspiration are vital to your success; they help you nurture your creative side, but that creative side yearns to be inspired.
So how do we find inspiration? When does the epiphany hit us and tell us what to do?
I wish I had a stock answer for you that would help make your life easier. I wish I could tell you that at exactly 9 p.m. your creative genius is going to wake up and tell you it has a brilliant idea for you and you will smile and shake its hand and be ready for a new adventure with your writing. But it doesn’t work that way. In fact, that’s exactly the word we are searching for: work. Inspiration takes work.
You become a seeker…someone who needs to seek out ideas and foster them and help them grow. You have a responsibility to nurture them and use your intelligence to make sense of it all.
And, fellow writers, while I may not have the answers—no one does—all I can do is share what’s been working for me lately. These few ideas have helped me get out of the weeds and blow up a project I was working on and start all over again with it.
Don’t do negative talk. The intrapersonal communication we have going on inside our head should be positive. We do not need to bash ourselves, speak negatively internally, or question our creativity. We are supposed to be our own biggest supporters, and in doing so, tell yourself you can do it. You can write something meaningful. You will come up with something good to write about…it will come soon. I recently showed my sports communication students a Ted Talk by Brett Ledbetter called Finding Your Inner Coach. While it is geared a bit toward athletics, there are good ideas from which we can all learn. One of his ideas involves your innermost thoughts. He asks the audience to consider this: what if you’re an athlete playing in a game and your innermost thoughts scrolled across a scoreboard for everyone to see? Would they be positive thoughts or negative thoughts? Consider this notion with your writing. If your innermost thoughts were to scroll across the top of your blog or the Paperblog site, would they be positive ones or negative ones?
Find inspiration in the little things.Sometimes it’s just a phrase or sentence someone says to me; other times it’s a quote I see or the way a child holds her mother’s hand. Sometimes innocent things make me stop and wonder and yearn for simpler things. If someone tells you a story, you may be inclined to talk about it or research it for your blog or book. When I mentioned that the character I am writing in my new novel suffers from depression brought on by a traumatic event in her life, a friend of mine said she was glad I was tackling depression. We can’t deny there are stories all around us if we just open our eyes.
Let a photograph take you away. Sometimes when I see exotic photos, pictures of beautiful scenery or cities, or homes and home improvements that people post on Instagram or Pinterest, I am immediately drawn to a particular subject. Let that photograph take you places, expand your imagination, and give you wings to fly.
Don’t allow yourself to feel stifled.One of the criticisms I have received regarding my blog is that it “is not focused enough”—that I don’t just write about one subject area such as writing or decorating or relationships. I have intended my blog to be more of a lifestyle blog, despite the fact that I write books. I am a teacher who teaches writing; I also have a lot of interests. If I had to teach writing during the day and then only write about writing at night, I could possibly go insane. I want to write about things I am interested in—books, movies, writing, fashion, television shows, relationships, children, etc. By expanding your creativity and subject matter base, you may feel more liberated.
Find inspiration in other writer’s work. I just finished The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag. It was fun, creative, and a little magical. Presently, I am reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. Both of these books are well written and both authors have vivid imaginations. Reading books helps you consider your own storytelling and makes you want to write better. I am always energized after reading a book, dissecting the techniques used, and paying attention to style, diction, description and dialogue. As Jack Nicholson said in As Good As It Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.” As for me, other writers make me want to be a better writer.
Put yourself in the shoes of your readers. What would entertain them? Would a short blog post do for the day, or should it be longer? What type of novel are you ready to attack next, and what type of novel do you think your best friend would want to read? Asking yourself direct questions about your reader and their demographics may help pull you toward a subject matter.
Find the prettiest or most attractive journal you can and carry it with you always. There is nothing worse than finding inspiration and not knowing what to do with it. At the very least, you should write it down. Immediately. Before you forget—before that brilliant idea your creative genius helped you think up drifts back up into the sky looking for another creative genius to pass it off to. Cultivate your ideas. Foster them. They are yours, and you owe it to yourself to act upon them.
Keep up with current events, entertainment news, social media, and bestseller lists. Do your homework. What are the hottest topics? What’s trending? What seems to be most interesting to folks? Can you find an interesting story and then put your own spin on it? Can you make something that seems like old news become new again?
I hope I’ve helped a little bit. Maybe the biggest help of all is knowing we all go through it. We all have those moments where nothing is coming. And then—BOOM—the best idea comes to you and you’re off and running.
For a few years now, I’ve become interested in creativity and leadership in today’s ever-changing business world. Last spring, I presented a paper on the topic at our university’s conference whereby I used Malcolm Knowles’s book on the topic and helped relay what makes successful creative leaders. Knowles’s findings and suggestions state that creative leaders inspire others in business. There are many ways you can get members or your organization or team to become more vested in their jobs, but one particular notion that is propelling companies to—as Steve Jobs suggested in his Apple ads, “think different,”—is to allow intrinsic motivators to set the stage for business today.
In 2010, Coon & Mitterer defined instrinsic motivation as “occurring when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials.” Brown (2007) defined it as “the reason why we perform certain activities for inherent satisfaction or pleasure; you might say performing one of these activities is reinforcing in and of itself.” In both business and education, allowing folks to engage for their own sake helps them find ways to express their creativity and contribute to an organization. Sometimes students or employees will define work as interesting, engaging, enjoyable, and just plain fun; if they do this, they have found some sort of intrinsic reward. They are satisfied with the work.
There are five factors that can lead to intrinsic motivation, and they have the potential to make people feel good about the work they do. These five factors include (1) a challenge: people become more connected to things that boost self-esteem or provide satisfaction when reaching a goal; (2) curiosity: if people are interested in things, they tend to become more stimulated by them; (3) control: people want control over their own lives and choices; they don’t want to be told what to do and how to do it all the time; (4) cooperation and competition: cooperating with others to solve problems and create things builds camaraderie. Likewise, a little healthy competition can push us to work better to complete certain tasks; and finally, (5) recognition: few people turn down a compliment, accolade, or general praise.
To better understand intrinsic motivation, look at each of the five categories and ask yourself what motivates you to do certain things. What motivates you at work, and do you find job satisfaction because of any of the intrinsic factors? What motivates you to pursue outside activities, such as a craft, a hobby, sports, etc? Why do you continue to participate in these activities?
When we are not forced to do things, but rather feel that we have some control over our own satisfaction, we typically become more vested in the tasks at hand. Look at creative companies such as Apple, Zappos, Google, Amazon and Starbucks. These companies did not get where they are today because they didn’t value their employees’ creativity; they got where they are because innovation and a willingness to allow time for creativity was important.
Whether you work independently or in a larger group, you still need to understand your own intrinsic motivators. What motivates me as an educator? I can answer that: seeing students secure internships; watching them present their ad pitches well at the end of the semester; seeing students grow into confident writers. As well, personally, I am motivated by time spent writing and researching to fulfill that side of my personality and professional goal. Now, as an independent author, different things motivate me than perhaps would do so as a professor. Being a writer is an autonomous job, but at the end of the day, a reward I get is satisfaction, especially if someone reads one of my books and enjoys it. I also enjoy the challenge. I like the control I have over my own project (which is why I enjoy being an independent author so much).
If you don’t already know what motivates you, make a list. I had my students in internship preparation class today make a list of what will motivate them one day when they get a full time job. For some, it was money; others said flexibility; others said working in teams with others and enjoying a team spirit. These are all good motivators, and for each of us they are different.