Tony Schwarts, founder and CEO of The Energy Project, takes the stage to explain and expand on the creative process. His main mission is to identify the counterintuitive yet critical steps of creative thinking and to demonstrate how, if executed correctly, we can use the process together to tackle large-scale issues in the world (climate change, clean water, poverty…the list goes on.)
You’re probably familiar with the definition of insanity: The act of doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Well, that same principle can be applied to the creative thinking process. As Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve our problems at the same level of thinking that created them.” But what actual actions are Einstein and Schwartz challenging us to take? They are luring us towards one web of ideals: change, progress, evolution. All interrelated and interconnected.
Schwartz aims to attack the global issues he’s referring to through a prism of creativity…”because creativity, after all, is about seeing the new. Isn’t it?” Why yes Mr. Schwartz, as a matter of fact it is. There’s a lot more to creativity than knowing where to put that perfect paint stroke, writing the most ambiguous alliteration, or coming up with an elaborately abstract scheme. There is an intricate system of steps behind the curtains of every great creative idea. But before the actual stages of creativity are introduced, there are a few facts Tony Schwartz thinks we should know:
- Creativity is not magical. It’s not a unicorn that can only be caught by the imagination.
- The creative process is less subjective than you’d think; it’s a process that can be learned.
- Researchers have come to a consensus for the creative process: it moves in and out of 2 opposite ways of thinking.
- Right hemisphere thinking: intuitive, spacial, metaphorical, non-verbal, big picture.
- Left hemisphere thinking: verbal, logical, rational, deductive.
- Problem: when a person has been taught to choose sides (left or right), they lose or never attain the ability to move freely between the two sides of thinking.
- Being able to move between the two hemispheres gives the immeasurable advantage of utilizing the entire brain.
With those facts in mind, you’re ready for Schwartz’s 5 Stages of Creativity:
- First Insight: Finding and defining the problem. Sometimes you may find you weren’t even addressing the right problem in the first place. (right hemisphere lean)
- Saturation: Gathering Information. Concentrate on creating a strong foundation, immersing yourself (paradoxically) in the known and understanding the knowledge that came before you. Recognize that knowledge and skills are power. It may seem like a dull task, but it’s utterly vital to the creative process. (left hemisphere lean)
- Incubation: Thinking aside. Ask yourself this question: Where are you when you get your best ideas? More often than not, you get your best ideas when you’re not trying to get your best ideas. When you’re not thinking actively about a problem, it allows your brain to move from the left hemisphere back to the right.
- Illumination: The ‘ah ha’ experience. This is the breakthrough moment, which again depends on that paradox. “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind and still retain the ability to function.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Verification: Making it real. Translating the insight that you’ve had, that breakthrough, into something that’s accessible, usable, practical, and understandable. (shifting back into the left hemisphere)
Here’s the important part, what you may not yet realize about the creative process: Verification allows not only for you to be successful, but to also adds value to other people at the same time. “Profitability and service to others sound like opposites, but they don’t need to be; we don’t need to treat them that way. There is such a thing as conscious capitalism.” By taking advantage of the verification process, you’re able to avoid a zero sum game or an “I win, you lose” psyche. Living with an “I’m right, so you’re wrong” attitude is the driving force of constructing either/or, dog-eat-dog situations…which aren’t fun for anyone.
Giving into the ‘survival of the fittest’ instinct leads to a pivotal question: What do you do when you think your value is at risk? Because, in that moment, you lose the capacity to value and retain enduring principles of other world views, ones that you should be embracing. In other words, you’re stoutly ignoring the Saturation step and inherently losing the ability to value what is valuable. You will begin to perceive those ‘other things’ as ignorant, unenlightened, reactionary or squishy.
Okay, point taken. So how can this undesirable result be prevented? You can start by meeting people where they live, not where you live. By being more flexible and less stubborn with the way in which you approach different people, ideas, and perspectives. Making this work means practicing empathy, substituting curiosity for certainty, resisting stereotypes, and recognizing that we are all in this together. (Who knew the soundtrack of High School Musical was home to such creative wisdom?) To expand on this idea of unity, Schwartz says this:
“In an inter-dependent world, which we increasingly are, for better or for worst, whether we want to or not, all in this together. We rise or fall together. And the greatest leaders have recognized that addressing people at the level in which they operate, addressing people in a language that they understand, is critical to building a shared space.”
So there it is, the orbiting organism that is the creative process: knowledge>thinking, thinking>ideas, ideas>action, action>perspective, perspective>leadership, leadership>creativity, and creativity>knowledge. It’s all connected. Shwartz proves his point even further by referencing Nelson Mandela, who made negotiations with the South African Prime Minister for an end to apartheid while he sat in a prison cell…”How spacious a consciousness did you need to be able to do that?” Schwartz also demonstrates his point through the actions of Martin Luther King, who continued to preach nonviolence to his followers as their adversaries simultaneously inflicted violence on them…”How much ability to hold opposites do you need for that to be possible? That’s what great leadership is and it reflects a consciousness shift.”
The consciousness shift is key. Schwartz defines consciousness as seeing more deeply, widely and inclusively. Opening your eyes to this type of cognizance means seeing the world as you never have before, with endless possibilities, and you’ll immediately be glad you did. Before the world reveals to you it’s great creative myriad, take a good, long, and hard think to answer one question:
“If you’re not for yourself, then who will be for you? And if you are only for yourself, then what are you? And if not now, when? –Rabbi Hillel
It’s a heavy question to take on in one sitting, and even harder to remember in everyday life, so try to think of with a more relative orientation. Embrace this mantra by focusing not on revolution, which sweeps away what has come before it, but by instead concentrating on evolution, which transcends the existing limitations and includes the value of the stages that came before it. AND, whaddya know, it’s creativity that fuels evolution!
To see the full “Tony Schwartz: To Solve Big Problems, Change Your Process” video below:
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