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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Moments of Conception 057 -- The Running Scene from Forrest Gump

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.


And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the running scene in Forrest Gump:




What can we learn?

Necessity carries a whip. This scene reads like a page out of Woodrow Wilson’s inspiring book, When a Man Comes to Himself. It’s about wholesome regenerating change. A full realization of a person’s powers. A man’s discovery of the way in which his faculties are to be made to fit into the world’s affairs. Forrest, as the president wrote, learned his own paces and found his footing. He initiated the process of disillusionment. Clearing his eyes so he could soberly see the world as it is, and his own true place and function in it. Had the bullies never thrown dirt clods at his head in the first place, his leg braces never would have broken apart, and he never would have discovered that he could run like the wind. And so, in this moment, necessity isn’t so much the mother of invention as it is the illuminator of identity. Gump’s difficult situation didn’t prompt an new innovation, it destroyed an old one. His magic shoes, as he called them, were only magic insofar as they housed and nurtured an immense spirit that ultimately broke free and helped create a truly charmed life. Is your current life situation going to limit you or liberate you?

Punch windows in the wall of the self. First he hobbles. Then he gains speed. But when the braces shatter, sending steel and plastic flying into the air, the boy looks down at his legs in surprise. Well I’ll be a squirrel in a skirt. Guess he never realized how fast he could run until running was his only choice. Yet another case of trial by fire. What a potent illustration for the creators of the world. Artists, after all, have a set of preexisting beliefs about their talents. But unless they’re tested in the crucible of everyday life, they never expand to their full capacity. Forrest spontaneously did something he didn’t realize he could do, and the experience sent him on a trajectory of fame, success and adventure. In the same way that a virus can lie dormant in your body for so long that you forget you were ever infected, a talent can also lie undernurtured in your life for so long that you don’t realize you have it. That’s when it’s useful to have someone you love whispering, or in Jenny’s case, shouting, words of encouragement to keep your legs in motion. Who do you have in your life to make sure your potential doesn't go to waste?

Tie a rope around your heart. Gump’s legs were as strong as any the doctor had ever seen. His spine, on the other hand, was as crooked as politician. And so, he was forced to wear the orthopedic shoes and metal leg braces for three years. But despite constant ridicule, name calling, even getting his legs caught in gutter grates, the braces turn out to be a blessing in disguise. In my book on creativity, One Smoking Hot Piece of Brain Candy, I introduced a technique called tourniquetting. This is when an artist creates a healthy sense of distance from their work by damming up the creative flow, compressing the circulation and applying enough pressure so there’s an explosion waiting for them when they’re ready to return. Gump’s braces were the tourniquets. They blocked the flow. The constricted his power. And after a few years, once the pressure reached its threshold level, there was no stopping that train. Momma said those magic shoes would take him anywhere, and she was right. That’s the power of creative tourniquetting. It requires a significant amount of delayed gratification. And it requires having enough discipline not to have discipline. But it's a hell of a way to get things moving. Are you willing to tie a rope around your heart just to let the blood build up?

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Moments of Conception 056 -- The Construction Scene from Good Will Hunting

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.


And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the construction scene in Good Will Hunting:




What can we learn?

Love people enough to upset them. Will is has a genius level intellect, a gift for mathematics and a rare eidetic memory. And yet, he insists on wasting his time working mindless manual labor jobs and drinking with his buddies. Chuckie refuses to accept this reality. He might be boisterous, but he’s not blind. Will’s failure to find a home for any of his talents is an insult to his friends, his community, his identity and his potential. And that’s the beauty of this moment. Because every artist needs someone in their life to initiate the shove, meaning, a delightfully disturbing moment that compels you make a massive change in your creative life. Will doesn’t realize it, but this conversation is his moment of conception. There may be a brief incubation period to follow, but it’s only a matter of time before he cashes in that winning lottery ticket and steps into the light. Do you have a figure in your creative life who’s willing to shake up your situation and keeps things in proportion?

Creativity exists at the intersection of belief and alienation. It’s the strangest thing. On one hand, you have to trust that there is a place for your gifts in the world. That you’ve been given your own plot of soil to cultivate, and there’s only so much available light to grow something meaningful. That’s belief. On the other hand, if someone feels fully at home in the world, they don’t need to make art. Life has to generate a certain amount discomfort and hunger and ache to get the pen moving. Without that thick layer of outofstepness, of feeling unhoused in a sense, what’s the point? That’s alienation. Andrea Barrett, the award winning historical fiction novelist, famously said that she writes about the world because it doesn’t make sense to her. That through writing, maybe she can penetrate it, elucidate it and somehow make it comprehensible. Will has the alienation part down pat, but he doesn’t realize there’s a missing piece of belief. He’s almost too smart. Too proud to realize the opportunity right in front of him. Chuckie simply holds up the mirror. What will you channel your contradictory feelings into?

Let the city crumble, but come home together. Creative personalities are hypersensitive to geography. Consider the lyrics of Angeles, the song playing the background of this scene. “I could make you satisfied in everything you do, all your secret wishes could right now be coming true, and be forever with my poison arms around you.” Elliot Smith wasn’t singing about a beautiful woman making love to him, he was singing about a big city making promises to him. That’s a different kind of relationship. One in which the physical landscape influences the mental landscape. I remember when wife and I first moved to a big city. Our friend who grew up here said, this city will feed you things that make you feel bigger than you are. She was right. Over the next few years, we saw firsthand how easy it was to fall into those kinds of identity traps. It could happen to anybody. Geography is seductive in that way. But the secret, I suppose, is setting boundaries. Deciding which parts of the culture are worth participating in, and which parts aren’t. What expectations are you precariously surrounded by?

What can we learn?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Moments of Conception 055 -- The Bathroom Scene from Opportunity Knocks

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.


And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the bathroom scene in Opportunity Knocks:




What can we learn?

Shift your body, shift your brain. I remember watching this movie in my high school marketing class. I loved it. Most of the other students else were either sleeping or doodling in their notebooks, but for some reason, I actually paid attention that day. Twenty years later, this scene is still one of my favorites. The boardroom, after all, has massive conceptual, contextual and cultural implications. It’s iconic. It’s a staple of modern business. It’s where deals happen and decisions are made. But the boardroom is also where creativity goes to die. And so, if we seek inspiration to help us think about our work differently, we have to practice a little physical displacement. It takes the pressure off, transfers the locus of brain energy and allows the mind to focus. That’s why we’re able to see patterns we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Creativity is fed by emotion, emotion is fed through experience, and experience is created through movement. What setting would be most inspirational if you were asked to come up with a really creative idea?

Don’t just inform, form. Jonathan knows he can’t make people listen to him, but he can raise their receptivity so his ideas have the highest probability of getting through. His strategy, then, is to be a sleeper. To come in under the radar and disturb the people’s worldview. That’s the only way to shift their position on the receptivity continuum from opposition to acceptance. And so, he introduces surprise into the equation. Because surprise creates anxiety in the air, and that’s the best time to give people new ideas. Forcing a group of stuffy corporate executives to hold their board meeting the bathroom might have made them uncomfortable, but it also made them more open to what he was trying to communicate. Whether or not this would work in real life is doubtful. But the general principle is indisputable. The theater of presenting the idea is just as important as the idea itself. How are you making your ideas more accessible?

Communication as a relaxing experience. Jonathan’s strategy of moving the meeting from the boardroom to the bathroom is a stalling maneuver, pardon the pun. It’s a way of buying yourself time in group meetings, auditions, interviews and presentations, so that you can collect your thoughts and build anticipation around your message. It’s a powerful way to let the room breathe. The problem is, as creators of ideas, our instinct is to go for speed and volume. To overwhelm the audience with our genius. To fill every second of dead air with words, lest we lose people’s interest. But communication can be a relaxing experience. It can feel more like a bathroom than a boardroom. It all depends on the leader in the room. Jonathan appears stifled and confused in the beginning of the scene, but once he finds his groove and gets the blood flowing, we see him start to have fun and smile and relax and enjoy the experience. He’s entirely present. The audience can’t help by follow his lead. And from this point on, they’ll never look at a bathroom stall the same again. How are people changed after having a conversation with you?

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Moments of Conception 054 -- The Finkle Scene from Ace Ventura

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.


And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the Finkle scene in Ace Ventura:



What can we learn?

Prolific thinkers are prodigious linkers. Ventura may have overdue rent, a battered clunker of a car and an eccentric sense of style, but when it comes to the skill of bridging, he’s undeniable. The art of making connections and noticing natural relationships between seemingly unrelated ideas is what makes him successful as a detective. And so, he executes every strategy in his playbook to solve the case. Gazing out the window, replaying voicemail messages, staring at the clues, jumping up and down, pacing around the room, talking out loud to himself, even having conversations with his pets. Anything to get blood to the brain and get the intuitive juices flowing. But as the night progresses, he’s still firing blanks. And by the time morning breaks, he’s totally spent and on the verge of tears. Of course, that’s precisely when the muse shows up. She makes herself known at just the right time to give him just the right insight. Inspiration is a tease like that. Only making herself known when we’ve reach the end of our creative rope. Frustrating, but inevitable. How will you beguile inspiration?

We need you to be you. Wiggles is the hero of the final act. Thanks to his dark haired floppy ears, we get a vision of the killer in a transgender disguise. We realize that the football player and the missing hiker are actually the same person. Finkle is a man. Einhorn is a woman. It all makes sense now. This is the eureka moment that changes everything. Coincidence? Not at all. The pet detective was simply doing what he did best: Looking to animals for answers. As he states early in the movie, he feels a kinship with animals. He understands them. And if that makes him the laughing stock of the police department, so be it. That’s how he’s wired, that’s how he works. And so, it’s a gentle reminder to all the creators out there. We need you to be you. To know your flow. To have an exquisite understanding of what sends you into that accelerated, highly spiritual state of creative awareness when you do what you do best. Are you currently operating out of your passion?

Sounding board, sounding boredom. Ventura is an independent contractor. A freelancer. An artist and entrepreneur who runs his own business. And with the exception of his pets, jungle friends and other four legged companions, the man is essentially an island. This an occupational hazard. Because no matter how adept you are at problem solving, it’s hard to play basketball without a backboard. Solitude is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. And so, in a time where loneliness has become the most common ailment of the modern world, we ought to be careful to avoid prolonged isolation. In fact, if I were starting my business from scratch today, one of the first things I would do is secure a desk at a coworking space. I was just reading a global study about how the number of coworking facilities has more than doubled in the last two years. Turns out, those people are actually more creative and productive and satisfied compared to working from home. It's the energized environment and added accountability of having people around. Artists and creators and entrepreneurs are finally getting the message. It’s hard to be creative alone. What interactions give you confidence?

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Moments of Conception 053 -- The Manuscript Scene from Wonder Boys

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.


And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the car scene in Wonder Boys:



What can we learn?

Matching footprints with heartspace. Grady teaches creative writing at the university level. But in the process of trying to repeat the critical acclaim of his first novel, he becomes sidelined by a severe case of writer’s block. Shocking. It’s a classic case of the cobbler’s kid syndrome. We neglect those closest to us. Due to our utter dedication to wider market demands, we fail to note the needs of our intimate ecosystem. Because nobody wants to hire outside help in something they’re supposedly experts in. There’s too much cognitive dissonance. And so, the kids go barefoot. What’s interesting is, this phenomenon of operational farsightedness is extremely common. Especially with creative types. It’s almost comical. You don’t need a supreme sense of irony to see the humor in the blocked creative writing professor. But it is a pointed reminder that what we’re good at, we’re bad at. Nobody is impervious to the peril they advise others against. Are you smoking what you’re selling?
Recognize when life is giving you a gift. Grady just watched two thousand pages of his latest manuscript flutter out of the window like a flock of white doves. Seven years of work, down the tube. What a profoundly sad, sinking and searing pain that is. It’s like Hemingway’s wife, who famously misplaced and lost a suitcase filled with her husband’s manuscripts. Ouch. If you’ve never had the pleasure of losing everything, of laboring in vain, wait a while. It’s only a matter of time before the delete button depresses. But as the book agent suggests, it’s for the best. It’s a sign. In fact, the benefit of burning everything to the ground is, you get to salt the earth and see if you can do it again. You get to test how much faith you have in yourself. And you get to start from scratch, letting go of everything except the person you’ve become, and reinvest that into something new and better. Grady’s loss of the manuscript, devastating as it is, forces him to rework his second novel into something even better. At the end of the movie, we watch as he finishes typing his new book, now using a computer rather than a typewriter, of course. What’s your secret for finding the silver lining in every situation?

Practice aggressive pondering. Crabtree suggests that subconsciously, a person will put themselves in a situation, perhaps even create that situation, in order to have an arena in which to work out an unresolved issue. It’s a covert way of addressing a problem. Love this idea. In fact, the process can even be more deliberate. Often times when I exercise, right before I step into the gym or the yoga studio or the running trail, I set an intention. I plant a seed in my brain. I take a particular thought or problem or issue that I’m currently struggling with and use that as a framing device to guide my experience. And by the time I’m done, the mental prompt I’ve layered on top of the rhythmic, repetitive action will produce an insight I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. It’s the same reasoning behind traveling with your romantic partner within the first three months of the relationship. The road, after all, is the ultimate testing ground. The arena where the truth surfaces. The wringer through which successful relationships endure. How will you use your situation as a catalyst to grow and evolve?

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Moments of Conception 050 -- The Dracula Scene from Forgetting Sarah Marshall

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.


And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the Dracula scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall:




What can we learn?


Paint yourself into an accountable corner. Rachel forces her lovelorn friend to perform a song from his unfinished rock opera, right there, on the spot, in front of dozens of strangers. Peter is given no choice. He has to get up there. There’s too much build up and too much social pressure to back down now. You can see it in his eyes. He just wants to run away. It’s an awful feeling. But what he doesn’t realize is that having an audience changes the way you experience your art. He’s been working on his musical for five years, but now he’s finally given the chance to see it through other people’s eyes. Even if it’s just scattered applause or sporadic laughter or a few heads nodding in the distance, he’s still receiving witness to his work. And that’s all he really needs. Rachel, the real hero of this scene, has createD something called a momentum device. It’s an elegant excuse, physical tool or memorable experience that builds confidence, reinstates commitment and reinforces competence. It’s a powerful practice for any artist looking to generate real movement in their work. Where do you need to plant the seeds of momentum?

Art is subordinate to life. Peter has been on a downward spiral ever since he met his last girlfriend. And now that they’ve broken up after five years, he’s really hit rock bottom. His apartment has become disgusting, his diet has become pathetic, his attitude has become hopeless and his personal appearance has reached an all time low. For god’s sake, the man wore sweatpants every day for a week. Is it any surprise, then, that his creativity has plummeted too? Of course not. Every artist draws a line from their life to their art. Whether they know it or not. And so, the real job is working on the project of building a life. Otherwise there will never be a self to express. This situation, known as artist debt, is a common struggle among creators. It’s when we become disconnected from our primary creative joys, failing to achieve our quota of artistic usefulness. And unless we start depositing credits back into our account, creativity atrophies. What does it take for you to be optimally creative?

Be a surprise, not an expectation.  Peter has an idea for a rock opera. It features sad vampires who smother the women they care about with love, and it’s performed with puppets. Huh? Even he admits, the idea is dark and weird and emotionally overwhelming for most people. And yet, when he shares it with the patrons in the bar, the audience can’t help from laughing. The song is strange, but also funny and cute. And in this moment, a light switches on inside of him. Peter realizes that his musical is actually comedy. And that opens the whole project up. Who knew eternal love could be so hysterical? It’s a good reminder that the human brain loves surprises. Surprises set off chemical cascades that rearrange our inner landscapes, affecting our view of ourselves and of the world around us. In fact, the word surprise originated six hundred years ago, stemming from the verb surprendre, meaning, overcome with emotion. And so, the element of surprise is an asset. It’s the art of doing what nobody expects, but everybody remembers. What could you do in your work that would be a welcome surprise to your audience?

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?