Virat Swarup

Trinity blast
Los Alamos National Labs

Today is the 67th anniversary of the first successful atomic explosion, in the in section of the southern New Mexico desert known as Jornada del Muerto, “Journey of the Dead Man,” or more precisely, day’s journey through the landscape of death.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Trinity Project and father of the A-Bomb, is supposed to have quoted the Bhagavad Gita as he witnessed the explosion: “I am become death the destroyer of worlds.” More likely, his actual words on the dead man’s ground were “It worked.” (The Trinity Test Director, physicist Kenneth Bainbridge, is supposed to have remarked, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”)

J Robert Oppenheimer
J. Robert Oppenheimer, public domain.

The quotation from the Gita was a retrospective word-shaping during an interview afterwards, perhaps the only way for this erudite man to express the power of the singular experience. That these words were uttered in the Jornada del Muerto is now a modern-era myth — and an apt one. Making myths is an ongoing human psychic activity, and has a name: mythopoiesis, meaning “myth-making.” The more exact etymology to the Greek words from which the term was coined in the 19th century would be: “mouth-making” — the creation of inspired, memorable and therefore powerful words. All of the ancient Vedas are about powerful word-making, the poetry of creation and, even before eyes were present to see, about the powerful primacy of sound, of vibration, of energy waves.

Virat Swarup is the Sanskrit term meaning, “divine appearance of the god, in unimaginable power.” It appears in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a long dialogue between the hero Arjuna and his charioteer and friend, Krishna, who is an avatar of the supreme god Vishnu, who is both world-creator and destroyer. Arjuna is tired of so much death, and is questioning the ethics of his participation in the continued and seemingly endless killing in the long and bloody family war that is the center of the massive epic Mahabharata. At the climax of their extended dialogue, Krishna reveals himself in his exalted god-form, the Virat Swarup. It is Krishna who speaks the words that Oppenheimer remembered, then or later, as the only words that could express his experience.

The message that Krishna conveys to Arjuna in the Gita is that we all have the responsibility to act in accordance with our gifts  — Arjuna was the best killer — within the context of the unimaginably huge tapestry wherein which each of our destinies is but a single yet significant thread.

Consider too, that mythopoeisis  — the creation of new myths  — is divinely inspired as well. Nor is Arjuna’s story quite so simple as his decision, in that moment, to honor the commitment to kill, for now, and to honor the logic of that particular talent. Arjuna’s story was not complete, and ultimately, he chose a different ending.

Nor is any of our stories quite so simple, nor, for now at least, at an end. And, we can choose how we commit to continue, or alter, it. And, how we wish it to end.

Simurgh by Cheryl De Ciantis
“Simurgh” by Cheryl De Ciantis

Common Misconceptions About Creativity

Here are the most common misconceptions about creativity. If any of these are your own assumptions, you may be limiting your creativity (and that of others around you).

  1. Creativity means being original. Everybody wants “out-of-the-box” thinking, the WOW ideas that come from seemingly nowhere, have never been done before, and change everything. That’s great, when it happens (and if the resources are available to make something happen as a result). So, what about being creative “inside the box”? Especially if budget is limited, people and resources scarce and time is pressing? Re-thinking something we did before with just a tad of thinking differently creates new products and processes every day. Some of us tend by nature toward out-of-the-box thinking; some are the opposite. Very often, one perspective needs the other to get to something new that works. Be on the lookout for both kinds of creative thinkers and get them together, often.
  2. Being creative means what you come up with is useful. Plenty of ideas that eventually lead to ground-breaking innovation sit around for a long time until they find an application. On the other hand, what we expect is what we usually get more of. History is full of examples of creative innovations that were, at first, thought to be useless because they didn’t fit today’s agenda. Look for ways to protect the “useless” ideas and put them away for safe keeping. If they’re not useful now, they might come in handy at just the right time. Sometimes, just stretching the creative muscle for the heck of it by doing something the boss might think is useless frees up mindspace for other, productive things. Sometimes those things can lead to surprising results, now or later. But, creativity is what it is. It doesn’t necessarily lead to anything at all. Frequently it leads to unintended consequences and unimagined benefits. It doesn’t come from directives to be creative. It doesn’t have a use. It just is.
  3. Creativity comes from creative problem solving processes. There are a lot of creative problem solving processes that provide helpful structures for loosening up our thinking, shifting the paradigm, and getting people to step away from negative judgments for a short while and let it all flow. But creativity thrives in the wild, regardless of what kind of creative animal you are, and is fed by passion. Put people on the track of what they are energized by and creativity will flow.
  4. Creativity comes from talent. Often the case, but talent is too often wasted. And the people who assume they can’t be creative use it as an excuse not to try things. Creativity comes far more from people who question their assumptions, about themselves and their abilities and how they add value. True. it’s far easier to learn something when you have natural talent. So, what’s your talent?
  5. Being labeled “creative” is always a compliment. (Isn’t it?) In fact, you may have experienced a time when it wasn’t. Especially if people around you think that creativity always means thinking out of the box, and out of the box can be scary and threatening if a new idea is asking for things to change too much, too quickly. What’s more to the point is discovering not whether (because you are) but how you are creative and how your creative animal likes being fed. You need too to be able to see how people around you are creative and get them the care and feeding they need. The labeling part is not too helpful. Finding out how everyone is creative is helpful. It can take a lot of creativity just to get across a busy street. If we all couldn’t do that in some way or another, we wouldn’t be here.

So, being productive means getting a handle on creativity.

Everyone is creative. It’s up to you to figure out how and get people with different creative styles together.

Creativity is energy. It’s not a product. It can lead to new things in the real world when the right conditions are in place. These conditions can vary depending on who you are want you want to do and what kinds of resources you may have.

The best process for getting creativity juiced up is to get people juiced up. It’s that simple (and that difficult).

There are a lot of hidden talents out there that need discovering. There are all kinds of ways to do it. The most important thing is to find out what kinds of natural talents you, and your people, possess. Start asking questions, find out what turns people on. Almost no matter what it is, there are ways to get some of it.

Go for it. Find ways to feed your own creativity. Find out what you really want to learn and go after it. When you are giving energy to what you really want, creativity is a natural outcome. As natural as breathing.

We all do it.

The Artist is Present

Presence has become a management concept. Otto Scharmer’s Theory-U, otherwise known as Presencing, has grown into a small and vital industry, training organizational practitioners worldwide. The U can be mapped onto the Hero’s Journey – take a look at Ginger Grant’s book, Finding Your Creative Core, to understand more fully what this means.

The psyche of organizational culture is action-oriented. This means doing. Meeting, talking, getting results, reporting, achieving the objective. Too, we think of the Hero’s Journey as a myth, ultimately, of doing: questing, and reaching the objective of the quest, by whatever expected or unexpected means.

But what does it mean have presence? To, simply, be present?

As part of her recent retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the performance artist Marina Abramović sat, each day for the duration, with any visitor who wished, for as long as they wished. The encounters were silent. They lasted as little as about one minute and as long as twenty or more. Each encounter was documented with a single photograph of the visitor’s face, and occasional photographs of the artist’s. These photographic documents are available to view on MoMa’s flickr page, and on the artist’s page. Please visit them (links below). If you choose to look, the photographs reveal a great deal about presence.

Looking at the photographs closely is a way of being present in itself. There are nearly 2,000 images, showing a moment of presence on the part of individuals of all ages and races. You will recognize a few faces, of Lou Reed, Björk, Viggo Mortensen, and these are rather startlingly free of makeup and revealing of wrinkles and natural flaws. One dark-eyed man shows up, again and again. Nearly all the rest are anonymous. Some are tearful. Some seem impassive. Some heads are tilted backward, some forward. Jaws jut or are drawn inward. Lips are relaxed, or compressed, or upturned slightly into a  Mona Lisa smile. Eyes are shining, dull, wide, narrowed, or focused with what seems like perplexity. All mesmerizing. So much information in a collection of moments.

None of these expressions will be unfamiliar. Our brains are exquisitely wired to perceive facial signs. And, these are the kinds of things one can only experience consciously, actually see, when simply looking, closely, for an extended moment. Uninterrupted. Just being there. Just being present.

One may say that the museum is a far safer place for presencing than the workplace. Even sitting in the presence of a recognized master, witnessed by other strangers waiting behind a rope, penetrated by a democratically unforgiving illumination, and risking being revealed in a close-up photograph that will become a public document.

Pause for thought.

MoMa flickr page (selections from the photo documents)

Marina Abramović The Artist is Present (the document in its entirety, showing the length of each sitting)

Feature film, “The Artist is Present,” to be released June 1

Creative Style, Talent and Skill

Creativity? Hey, I’m not an artist. But I would like to be more creative.” We often hear this from people we are about to work with. What’s behind that sort of statement is usually a misconception, mixing and confusing several concepts that psychologists have described very well. Few people are aware of this, so here is a clarification:

Creative style, Skill, Talent: These are different from each other, and they operate independently of each other. Yes, they do interact, and yes, can support and enhance each other. But they are not quite the same.

Creative Style: Everyone is creative (let’s spell that out: EVERYONE). The thing to remember is that each of us has a unique creative style. This ranges along a continuum of styles from “adaptive,” “inside-the-box” (think: process improvement – make what’s ‘in the box’ efficient, and very often, elegant) to “original,” “outside-the-box” (think; create a new box, or better yet, a whole new type of container – which may completely ignore the original problem some people thought was going to be solved). Each of us sits somewhere along this continuum. No matter where we are, those who are more ‘adaptive’ and ‘practical’ than we are perceive us as more ‘out-of-the-box;’ and to those who are more ‘novel’ and ‘original,’ we appear as more ‘in-the-box.’ These perceptions are in fact the result of measurable, cognitive preferences – like being right or left handed. And, and each style has its strengths and limitations. (Just think about a few of the people you work with.)

Talent: Everyone has some. Talents are not restricted to art, of course. And they can lie undiscovered or undeveloped for years. For a broad assessment of major talents, try the Gallop StrengthsFinder assessment. Purchase the book Now Discover Your Strengths http://www.amazon.com/Discover-Your-Strengths-Marcus-Buckingham/dp/0743201140 . Be sure to purchase a new copy, which includes a code for one-time-only access to an online survey. You will receive a list (and definitions) of your top five Strengths, which for all intents and purposes will also identify your unique talents. According to Gallup, “A talent is a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” Having a talent does not imply that you actually have developed skill or flexibility in applying that talent, but at the minimum, you will have the potential for developing that talent. Talent development is possible – and it takes some work. Most of us depend on the same tried and true behaviors or skills which are the applications of our talent(s). The good news is that knowing what your talents are is the first step to developing them into skills.

Skill: Skills are behavior, the things we can really do. Skills can be learned. True, if you have a talent, your potential for excellence in the skills supporting it is greater than if you don’t have that associated talent. But we all are called upon to do things that at first we don’t do well; and we can learn how to achieve mastery. It’s also true that we enjoy doing things most when we can employ our natural talents. And you know that simple memorization will likely not provide you with depth of insight or meaning. You know the drill: practice, practice, practice.

At the Creative Intelligence Lab we help people integrate all three of these important factors, and we throw in a fourth factor:

Values: Values are, really, your highest priorities. When you identify your real priorities, you have the master key to what motivates you. Think of values as packages of energy, which when triggered, are guided by your creative style, enhanced by your own particular talents, and applied through your skills. Then, mountains get moved.

Effective and lasting development requires an integration of all of the above. It also requires a commitment, because true development takes effort. But, when it mixes in the stuff you really are, it’s also fun.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Clayton Christensen is well known as the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma. In this new offering, he has drawn upon his business experience as a consultant and professor to explain how high achievers can often fall into traps that lead to unhappiness. But how to measure happiness? satisfaction? achievement?  How to avoid compromising your integrity in our current economic maelstrom? Christensen provides both wisdom and inspiration for anyone searching for a path to fulfillment. A great summer read!

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Matthew Crawford has written an excellent book on the value of working with your heart as well as your hands – the reality of practical activity. What have we lost in moving away from the art of ‘making’? How does the modern working environment deaden our senses? Is the emphasis on the knowledge worker in our economy missing a valuable resource? Some interesting questions for anyone whose heart lies in ‘making’. The work of skilled ‘builders’ cannot be outsourced and forges a strong bond with the community in which the builder resides. Crawford makes his case for the sheer pleasure of manual labor – emphasizing the skilled artisan of the past and needed as a valuable asset in our future. An interesting addition for any reader who studies the world of work.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work

Working with Images

Depth Psychology challenges orthodox psychological thinking by insisting that the field of psychology must itself revision its ideas. For the student of the imagination, Benjamin Sells has compiled formative articles from the Spring Journal that explore the use and the power of images. Its generative ground for both theory and practice is ‘psyche’ or soul, that is the source of our imagination.

Working With Images provides a method for reaching into the imagination and feeding the creative source. For anyone interested in maximizing creative potential, this work provides an aesthetic foundation from which to build.  A great reference guide!

Working with Images: The Theoretical Base of Archetypal Psychology (Classics in Archetypal Psychology, 4)