The four meeting professionals you meet in heaven

essential characteristics meeting professionals

The essential characteristics of meeting professionals

If there is a heaven on earth in the event industry, there are four essential characteristics of successful meeting professionals you’ll meet there.

These four characteristics are essential because event professionals who possess and embrace them have what’s needed to thrive in our industry. And, perhaps even more important, they will love what they do.

Attention to detail

essential characteristics meeting professionals
Every successful meeting involves thinking about, planning for and executing countless details. You can create the most original, beautiful event in the world, but if there’s no coffee available on the first morning, attendees are going to complain and remember. Late buses, missing or confusing signage, poor quality A/V, and a thousand other annoyances will mar an otherwise superb event.

Details matter.

So, good meeting professionals obsess about details. Obviously, we make big detailed lists about things that are supposed to happen. But we also think about details of things that could happen. We even think about circumstances that are very unlikely—but they have happened before, so we keep them in mind. We plan for planned and unexpected eventualities.

Good event professionals are seldom late, because they hate to be late. Our lives are sometimes crazy, but we mostly have things together. (Even when they’re not, we have plans on how we’re going to get back on track.) The one career my parents tentatively suggested to me I might want to consider was…wait for it…accountancy. Because they could see I was a detail person.

We are detail people. Paying attention to details is vital to create and execute successful events. It’s an essential characteristic for meeting professionals. But attention to detail is not enough…

Creativity when things don’t go according to plan

essential characteristics meeting professionals
Any experienced meeting professional will tell you that the chances that everything will go according to plan A — what was supposed to happen — for an event is minuscule.

That’s why good event professionals have plans B, C, D… that cover the things that they know from experience might go wrong.

Many times, when things don’t go according to plan A, a backup plan is put into place, and the event goes on smoothly (at least as far as the participants are concerned).

And then there are the times when something completely unexpected happens. The wrong winner for Best Picture gets announced at the Oscars. A hurricane prevents timely delivery of your beautiful signage. A Thanksgiving Day Parade giant Barney balloon explodes.

A pandemic.

However much we plan, experienced event professionals know that completely unexpected “stuff” will happen.

And that’s why good event professionals need to be creative when things don’t go according to (any) plan.

It’s not a coincidence that a surprising number of folks in the meeting industry have a theatrical background. Live theater, whether you’re on or behind the stage, provides a nightly opportunity for things to go wrong; things that need to be fixed or smoothed over right now. The show must go on.

I am rarely responsible for the logistics of the meetings I design or facilitate. And I have been awed and impressed by the creative solutions devised by the poor souls who are responsible in the moment for fixing something out of kilter. I’ve surprised myself with the creative approaches that popped into my head when a session I was facilitating went wonky. But the brilliant ways I’ve seen event professionals respond when faced with the unexpected — well, I’m glad it wasn’t me in charge.

Attention to detail, and the creative ability to solve unexpected problems get you a long way towards being a great event professional. But there’s more…

Great communication skills


I’m indebted to veteran event professional Dan Cormany for adding “great communication skills” to this set. He was kind enough to tell me I possessed this quality when I spoke to a class he was teaching at the Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. He also said he thought it was essential for good meeting professionals.

I agree.

To have great communication skills, you need to be able to listen well, and have empathy for the people you’re with. You have to pick up on the verbal and non-verbal clues they provide about how your conversation is going. And you need to be able to respond appropriately, in ways they can hear you. People have written books about how to do this. It’s a difficult skill, but one that can always be improved with practice.

And it’s a great skill that will positively impact every aspect of your life.

I’m still working on it.

We’re almost there, but there’s one more characteristic that is, in my opinion, the most important of all…

Love being with people


If you don’t love being with people, all sorts of people, it’s going to be hard to be a great event professional.

Yes, everyone is flawed. We all have personality aspects that are sometimes hard for others to deal with. And there are people around whom it’s best to avoid, if you have a choice.

Although many meeting professionals are extraverts who get energy from interacting with others, there are many who need introvert-style downtime in their lives (including, during meetings). Regardless, both extraverts and introverts can love being with people.

Our industry, by definition, is people-centric. People can be amazing, frustrating, fascinating, challenging, delightful, and, once in a while, frightful. Good event professionals are capable of finding and connecting with the positive aspects of even the most difficult folks they meet. And, yes, loving them as people, even in the midst of turmoil.

I try to do this.

I don’t always succeed, but, nevertheless, my heart is there. And I know many great meeting professionals who strive to wear on their sleeve how they love being with people.

Yay for us!

My journey is our journey

Twenty years ago I was a successful, independent information technology consultant. If you had told me then that I’d leave that career (my fourth) to write a book about meeting design that would catapult me into the heart of the meeting industry, I’d have said you were crazy.

What has surprised me during this journey is meeting so many meeting professionals I like along the way. Those of you who are passionate and committed to this industry will know what I mean. I am like you, and I like you, because we share the fundamental joy of the experience of bringing people together in ways that work.

We don’t usually enjoy all the backbreaking preparation needed to make the meeting happen. It’s the excitement and pleasure we get from creating a great experience for people, in the moment, that makes it all worthwhile.

You folks who share this joy with me are my tribe. We are lucky to be in this heaven on earth community of meeting professionals.

I’m glad I know some of you, and am always happy to meet more. Feel free to reach out to me if you feel the same way.

Do you agree with this set of qualities? Are there other essential characteristics of meeting professionals you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Control versus freedom at meetings

control versus freedom at meetings How can we design the optimum balance between control versus freedom at meetings? First, let’s get one misconception out of the way. As I wrote in 2010:

The reality is that you never had control to begin with, just the myth of control. You’ve been kidding yourself all these years. Unless your constituency is bound to your event via a requirement to earn CEUs, members can withhold their attendance or avoid sessions at will.
The myth of control

Note that I’m not suggesting meeting professionals give up any attempt to control what happens at their events. Maintaining control of vital logistics, and having and executing backup plans when unexpected developments occur are core requirements and responsibilities of our job.

It’s when we try to tightly control every aspect of our meeting that our events suffer. Surprisingly, clinging to control is the easy way out. As Dee W Hock, founder and former CEO of VISA, put it:

“Any idiot can impose and exercise control. It takes genius to elicit freedom and release creativity.”
—@DeeWHock

To “elicit freedom and release creativity”, we need to recognize that participants are stakeholders in the event, rather than “just” an audience.

Why are they event owners?

“…participants are event owners because, to some extent, they control what happens next.”
—Adrian Segar, Who owns your event?

Creating events that truly meet participants’ wants and needs

In order to create events that truly meet participants’ wants and needs, we need to provide three things:

  • Appropriate meeting logistics that meet participants’ bodily and sensory needs.
  • Content and experiences that participants actually want and need.
  • Maximal opportunities for participants to connect around the content and during the experiences.

Our traditional work

The first bullet point describes the traditional work of meeting professionals. Our logistical designs control the environment that participants experience. They include flexible, support (plans B – Z) when the unexpected happens. In this arena we are in control through our careful planning, which includes resources for a wide range of contingencies.

Giving up control where and when it’s not needed

To satisfy the remaining bullet points, we have to give up control. Why? To give participants the freedom to satisfy their wants and needs! To do this, participants need the freedom to choose what they talk about, whom they talk to and connect with, when it suits them. Our job is to support these activities as much as possible by providing appropriate:

  • Structure [participant-driven and participation-rich formats and sessions]; and
  • Resources [flexible physical and/or online spaces, facilitators, and a schedule that can be developed, as needed, at the event].

Notice that providing these improvements over traditional meetings doesn’t mean that your meeting will turn out to be wildly different from what took place before. It’s perfectly possible that your event will include sessions that look very similar to what you might have scheduled for a tightly controlled program. The difference is that your participants will have chosen these sessions and formats themselves, not you.

Instead of control versus freedom, choose control and freedom. Each assigned to the appropriate characteristics of your event.

That makes all the difference.

A bonus

For a discussion of control versus freedom in the context of event leadership, you may find this post useful…

We are biased against truly creative event design

We are biased against truly creative event design We are biased against creativity. Though most people say they admire creativity, research indicates we actually prefer inside-the-box thinking.

“In an article for Slate, Jessica Olien debunks the myth that originality and inventiveness are valued in US society: “This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it.” She cites academic studies indicating that people are biased against creative minds. They crave the success of the result, but shun the process that produces it.”
—Sarah Kendzior, The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America

The meeting industry is no exception. We define creativity as a subset of what is actually possible. A “creative” event design is one with a novel venue and/or decor and lighting and/or food and beverage. Consequently, planners restrict the entire focus of creative event design to novel visual and sensory elements. The meeting industry has redefined novelty as creativity.

Truly creative event design
We are biased against truly creative event design. Watering down creativity biases stakeholders against the value and promise of truly creative event design, which:

  • Starts with the key questions “who’s it for?” and “what’s it for?”
  • Moves to “what should happen?“; and finally
  • Takes a hard look at the process changes needed to develop a more effective event.

Truly creative event design questions, for example, whether we need to have a keynote speaker, relegate significant participant discussions to breaks and socials, or supply entertainment during meals.

I’ve experienced plenty of bias against comprehensive event design since I began developing participant-driven and participation-rich meetings in 1992. Despite over 25 years’ evidence that such designs improve meetings for all stakeholders, most traditional event owners shy away from exploring change that is creatively significant. Even potential clients who are experiencing some combination of falling attendance, evaluations, or profits have a hard time facing changing what happens at their events.

Can we overcome bias against truly creative event design?
Though millions of meetings take place every year, thousands of meeting organizers know how to create truly creative conference designs. The steady rise in popularity of participant-driven and participation-rich designs like Conferences That Work continues.

We can do better than novelty at our meetings. The first step is to acknowledge our bias against creativity, and how we distract stakeholders with novelty instead. The second is to incorporate truly creative design into our events and experience the resulting benefits.

Image attribution Rob Donnelly

Three creative event design tools that all #eventprofs should use

The creative event design tool that all #eventprofs should use

I’m about to share three powerful creative event design tools.

You can use these tools for every aspect of event design. Stylists working on the look and feel of an event often use it to stimulate fresh thinking about the venue, the décor, the lighting, the food and beverage, entertainment, and so on.

Rarely, however, are these tools used to design events that creatively incorporate, illuminate, and support core desires and outcomes for the meeting.

With them, you can generate something truly original — like in 2009, when Jill and Kevin Heinz invented a brand new trope: the wedding entrance dance.

What’s are the tools? Seth Godin gives us a clue.

What does this remind you of?

What does this remind you of?
That’s a much more useful way to get feedback than asking if we like it.

We make first impressions and long-term judgments based on the smallest of clues. We scan before we dive in, we see the surface before we experience the substance.

And while the emotions that are created by your work aren’t exactly like something else, they rhyme.

It could be your business model, your haircut or the vibrato on your guitar.

“What does this remind you of” opens the door for useful conversations that you can actually do something about. Yes, be original, but no, it’s not helpful to be so original that we have no idea what you’re doing.
—Seth Godin, What does this remind you of?

Seth is talking about getting feedback; we’re interested in being creative so let’s flip the focus. The word “remind” is the key; how do we remind ourselves to come up with something new?

Guided visualization
It turns out that guided visualization (aka guided imagery) is one of the most powerful modalities for tapping our creative and unconscious wisdom. A wide variety of visualization techniques exist and they can be customized to provide creative insights into specific challenges — like event design.

Surprisingly, there are few resources available on how to sculpt guided visualizations for exploration of a specific creative challenge. Most books and posts describe how to use guided visualizations for meditation, health, mental state change, and artistic creativity. Once you’re familiar with the basic principles, however, it’s not hard to adapt these methods for creative event design.

So here are three creative event design tools to use guided visualizations to take a fresh look at an existing event or create a vision for a new one.

Resonant imagery

One technique I’ve used is to display to clients a large number of the fantastical cards (sample shown above) from the popular game Dixit and ask them to pick a few that speak to them in some way about their current event and a few that say something about what they would like the event to become. I encourage people to pick cards without trying to analyze the attraction. We then look at the chosen cards in more detail and explore and uncover what the chosen cards reveal about the current and future potential of the event. Invariably, my clients discover powerful and enlightening perspectives and objectives they weren’t aware of: fertile beginnings for a fresh and relevant design.

Drawing

My colleagues Eric de Groot & Mike van der Vijver use another guided visualization approach: they ask a meeting owner to think of the meeting content as some kind of material and describe the “motion” of the meeting content. Clients draw pictures of their answers, which can then be mined for insights. A variant is to ask clients their answer to the question: “If your event had a mouth what would it say?” I’ve used this approach as well and highly recommend it.

Guided journey

Alternatively, an event designer can guide clients on a journey to and through the event in their mind. You can adapt scripts like this one to your needs. Replace traveling to a private garden with a journey to the event venue (if it’s already known and familiar) or an ideal venue that appears in your mind as you walk along the path. Guide your clients through the venue where your future event is in full swing and ask questions. If you are working with a single client, they can answer aloud, which may spark clarifying questions. Multiple clients on the journey mentally note their answers.

What does it look like? What does it sound like? Who is there as you enter the lobby? The meeting rooms? The social areas? What are they doing? How are you feeling? How are the attendees feeling? What are you experiencing that isn’t in your current event? What else are you noticing during your journey?

When the guided journey is over, lead a retrospective to discuss what the clients experienced and learned. In my experience there will be at least one key insight on how to create or improve the event.

Conclusion

Besides the power of creative event design tools to uncover great ideas for an event, another big benefit is that they generate persuasive client buy-in for the ultimate meeting design. Why? Because the clients “dream up” the ideas themselves! Anything that eases the adoption of a fresh approach to event design makes my (and your) job easier.

Why we shouldn’t (but do) play music at conference socials

music at conference socials Should we play music at conference socials?

Even though socials aren’t the best ways to meet new people at conferences, strong cultural pressure makes socials mandatory for most events. And if you want to make socials a maximally effective opportunity for interaction and engagement keep them music free.

Why? Well, you’d be horrified if loud construction noise invaded the ballroom at the beginning of your elegant pre-dinner mixer. Any kind of competing sound makes it harder for people to hear each other, reducing the quantity and quality of interaction. Yet plenty of meeting planners seem to believe that music acts as a kind of obligatory social lubricant when people get together. Jackhammers are not OK, but “background” music is, somehow, mysteriously exempt.

Why is music often inflicted on us during socials? While I don’t know for sure, here are a couple of misconceptions that may be to blame.

Music can improve creativity and enjoyment, so doesn’t it improve social situations?

Research indicates that the right kind of music can improve creativity when working and improve efficiency when performing repetitive tasks. For example, I find that listening to certain music helps me write, and improves my mood while stacking wood. So, some might conclude that playing music at socials could benefit the quality of interaction and engagement.

Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that social interaction is improved when music is introduced. Research findings of creativity improvements are confined to solo work. In addition, research suggests that positive effects of music depend on familiarity—i.e. music heard for the first time is not helpful—so it’s not possible to play one piece of music to a crowd of people and obtain uniformly positive results. Finally, music with lyrics is especially distracting to people trying to converse, and should be avoided.

Bars and restaurants play music while we drink and eat, so shouldn’t we have music during our event socials too?

Have you ever been to a bar where there wasn’t music playing or a TV on? Me neither. In my experience, the majority of restaurants play background music. Bars and restaurants are in business for people to meet socially, so surely they must have found that playing music improves customers’ social experience, or they wouldn’t do it!

Well, actually, no. Bars and restaurants play music, not for their patrons’ benefit but for their own! Background music that’s loud enough to interfere with talking to a friend but not loud enough to drive you out of the establishment increases sales. From a 2008 French study: “high level [sound] volume led to increase alcohol consumption and reduced the average amount of time spent by the patrons to drink their glass”. And 2008 British research concludes that “people do, at least partly, drink because they can’t talk to each other”. So the reason music surrounds us in commercial social spaces is not to increase social interaction, it’s to decrease it and have consumers buy more!

We also need to bear in mind people—typically older folks like me—who have hearing loss that impedes their comprehension of conversations. Anything we can do to provide a better acoustical environment at our events will help the auditory challenged to have a better experience.

When is it OK to play music at events?

Are there times when it’s appropriate to use music during conferences? Sure. Here are some examples, feel free to add more in the comments:

  • Sessions where music is as an important sensory, emotional, or learning component.
  • Parties! (Be sure to provide quiet spaces for folks who don’t like the loud music and/or just want to talk.)
  • Corporate social responsibility and sustainability activities, especially if they involve repetitive activities—e.g. packing toys for needy kids.

In conclusion, avoid reflexively ordering music background for your events. It’s a fundamental distraction that, apart from a few specific situations, reduces communication, connection, and engagement. And, if you cut out the house music during the mixer, you may reduce your food and beverage bill too!

Walking to work: loving my treadmill desk

Walking to work

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to improve my productivity. My latest discovery, which is really working for me, is a treadmill desk (shown above). Here’s why.

I’ve noticed that as I get older, regular exercise is becoming an increasingly important necessity for me to stay sharp and focused. (Here’s a New York Times article on the positive benefits of exercise on the functioning of the brain.) Walking along some of the 60 miles of dirt road in my Vermont town is my preferred exercise activity (as well as stacking wood in the spring) but bad weather can make this onerous, so five years ago I purchased a Sole F80 treadmill and used it when I couldn’t stand the thought of going outside. I didn’t use it much—about 150 miles per year.

Over the last few years I’ve seen a growing number of articles about standing and treadmill desks. Standing desks do not appeal to me; if I’m thinking on my feet I like to be moving (I often pace around the room while on a phone call). But the concept of exercising while working intrigued me. I’m writing my next book, which involves cranking out 600+ words a day until it’s done and I’d been having trouble staying focused on my writing while meeting my daily word count target. I didn’t want to exercise all day, but I thought even an hour walking while writing daily wouldn’t hurt.

Turning my treadmill into a treadmill desk

So a month ago I purchased a SurfShelf Treadmill Desk for the modest sum of $39.95.

Quite simply, this has been one of the best productivity investments I’ve ever made.

Writing while walking has turned out to be a fantastic way for me to maintain focus & creativity. I’m still using the 20+5 work sprint method that works so well for me, but the time on the treadmill flashes by and I’m eager to get back on the treadmill to write more. I have the Sole set at 1.7 miles/hour and an incline of 4%, creating a 2/3-mile walk and 100 calorie burn every twenty minutes according to the who-knows-how-accurate Sole readouts.

Walking to work

Currently, I use the treadmill for 3+ 20-minute sessions a day, equivalent to walking a couple of miles and burning 300 calories each day. Over a week, if I don’t eat more, that translates to a weight loss of about a pound, though that’s not my main objective. It will be interesting to see if I increase the number of sessions over time; I suspect I will.

The SurfShelf fits just about every treadmill, stationary exercise bike, elliptical trainers, and stair masters out there. I didn’t have much problem installing it on my Sole, though I hung it lower than recommended so my keyboard wouldn’t be too high and added a second horizontal strap from an old messenger bag around the vertical straps to cinch it in tight to the F80 faceplate.

Calling the SurfShelf a “desk” could be a little hyperbole as my 17″ laptop completely covers its work surface, leaving no room for anything else. That works for me, since I just want to write. But my large laptop does fit, and is held securely in place by a single Velcro strap that can be installed and removed in seconds. As you can see from the photo, on the Sole I’ve set the keyboard sloping forward; not ideal for typing all day, but perfectly comfortable for a few twenty minute periods with breaks.

Conclusions? As the Gizmodo SurfShelf review and the Amazon reviews indicate, I am not alone admiring this inexpensive gadget. If you have an underutilized treadmill—or can buy an inexpensive used unit—this could be a great way to increase your work productivity through increased focus and exercise. Who knows—maybe you’ll even lose a few pounds too?

How you can learn from personal stories

storyteller -maxpower- 4513002300_81ba70ab6f_b

How can you learn from personal stories?

After I met Glenn Thayer on a warm Colorado evening a couple of months ago, I kept remembering a story that he told me about a celebrity charity event he was emceeing. This puzzled me, because the story had no obvious connection to my life or work.

Recently, I began to understand why his yarn kept popping into my head. I’ll post about Glenn’s story another time, but today I’ll write about how to learn from stories like Glenn’s.

Listening to personal stories

Every day, the people in your life tell you personal stories. They might be a family anecdote, a play-by-play reenactment of last night’s game, a tale of frustration at work, or a child’s outpouring about an incident on the school playground: a unique stream of the tragic, the lighthearted, the passionate, and the mundane. Most of these stories pour through your consciousness, hover there for moments, and are gone. A few resonate in some mysterious way and stay with you for years. All of them influence you. And some of them can teach you valuable lessons—if you pay attention to them.

How can you learn from personal stories?

Some personal stories, have straightforward learning implications. For example, a relative’s harrowing tale of a ruined vacation due to last minute illness may encourage us to take out travel insurance, or a friend’s clear description of diagnosing a car problem may illuminate what a timing belt is and does. And here are some more, often poignant examples of learning from stories.

But what about stories that teach us important lessons in subtler ways? Sometimes we hear stories that touch us, but we don’t really know why. What can we learn when this happens?

If you are interested in exploring what you can learn from such stories, here are the three steps you must take. They may seem strange suggestions, but I vouch for their effectiveness if you are prepared to do the work.

Notice the important story

Unfortunately, there’s no universal metric that can tell us whether a particular story can teach us something that matters, because every story is contextually unique and each of us has unique lessons to learn. So, if you hear so many stories, how do you know which ones are important?

There isn’t a rational way to notice important stories. Instead, you need to cultivate your emotional intelligence, or, if you prefer the term, your intuition.

Important stories affect you at an emotional level. You live in a world that pays lip service to the rational, but, unless you’re a sociopath, you have emotional responses to your life experiences. The trick to noticing that a story is important to you is to detect that you have responded emotionally in a surprising way. An important story evokes an emotional response, and if that response does not make sense to you, there is gold you can mine from it. Glenn’s Colorado story brought up an emotional response that I didn’t understand. Noticing was all I needed to proceed to the next step.

Capture the story

Perhaps it’s my age, but I find that if I don’t capture the essence of the story so I can recall the details, the tale I’ve heard disappears, like smoke, from my memory within a day, never to reappear. So I carry around 3 x 5 cards to jot down stories and ideas I have. (I’ve also started using Simplenote on my iPad for the same purpose.) When I heard Glenn’s story, I wrote “Do you have a handler?” on a card, which was enough for me to remember his story until I got home and added the phrase plus a few notes to a file I keep of potential topics for blog posts. Now the heart of his story was captured in a place where I would see it weekly whenever I was thinking about a blogging topic.

Tease out the meaning

Teasing out the meaning of an important story is a creative exercise. When I came across Glenn’s story in my blog post pile last week, I decided to spend some time musing about it. I’ve found that the two best ways for me to go into a creative place involve either:

  • Performing mindless physical activity, like stacking wood, going for a walk, washing dishes, or taking a shower.
  • Listening to loud music that I like.

while daydreaming about the topic in question.

Your methods for stimulating your creative juices are probably different. When you’re ready, find a time and place when you won’t be interrupted and apply them. Here are some tips for making the most of your creative exploration of the story:

  • Relax, don’t have any preconceptions about what might happen—watch and listen to whatever drifts through your mind.
  • Don’t censor thoughts and images that come up, just make note of them. I like to have a pen and paper available to record what comes up.
  • Concentrate on the non-rational; you can unleash your analytical powers once your daydreaming phase is over.
  • Don’t expect to unlock all the secrets of the important story in one session. You may want to return to it in a few days to see what’s jelled, what seems important, and what now feels superficial.

I’ve learned some important things about myself and my life by examining stories that have power for me. I hope the techniques I’ve described are useful for you too.

How do you make sense of important personal stories you’ve heard? Do you have examples you’d like to share?

Image attribution: Flickr user maxpower

Lessons from improv: Be Average!

Be average!

Thoughts triggered while rereading Patricia Ryan Madson’s delightful, straightforward, and yet profound improv wisdom.

“The poet William Stafford used to rise every morning at four and write a poem. Somebody said to him, “But surely you can’t write a good poem every day, Bill. What happens then?” “Oh,” he said, “then I lower my standards.”
—from Radical Presence by Mary Rose O’Reilley

Patricia Madson’s fifth maxim is be average. Be average? Who wants to be average?! Hear me out.

Back in January I wrote Everyone Makes Mistakes about how many of us were taught while growing up that we had to do things perfectly in order to feel good about ourselves. Eventually I discovered this doesn’t work. The emotional stress incurred in attempting the impossible task of being perfect far outweighs any small increase in the perfection of work, and, most of the time, that same stress leads to a decrease in effectiveness. But there’s more to being average than letting go of perfectionism.

Because being average is a great approach to being creative. Here’s how.

When we’re working on being creative, there’s an assumption that we must try to come up with something that’s different, something that’s “outside the box”. Not necessarily, says Patricia Madson, and she quotes Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” In other words, she suggests that we look more carefully inside the box.

When I was an information technology consultant, clients would often expect a shiny new high-tech answer to their problems. Instead I usually came up with mundane but creative solutions that took best advantage of available resources. My clients were momentarily disappointed—until they heard how inexpensive my proposals would be. (Luckily for them, I just charged for my time rather than the amount of money I saved.)

Think about Magritte’s pipe that isn’t:
pipe

or Duchamp’s Fountain:
Duchamp_Fountain

These artists expressed their creativity through household objects depicted in new ways.

One of the nice things about this kind of creativity is that we can all practice it using the gifts we already have. I find that dreaming up “way out” ideas is hard. It’s simpler for me to concentrate on seeing something familiar in a new way and be open to what pops into my consciousness.

There’s a delight in this kind of relaxed creativity. Be average and focus on the obvious. And, if nothing fantastic occurs to you right away, don’t worry.

Just lower your standards.