Friday, June 25, 2010

The Cowardly Lion's Guide to Cultivating a Courageous Creative Spirit

Creativity isn’t about what you create – it’s about how you create it.

It’s about the mindset. The process. The posture.

Those are the non-negotiable elements comprise your courageous creative spirit.

Which fuels your creative process.
Which accelerates your creative output.
Which solidifies your creative success.

Here’s a list of ideas to cultivate that spirit, even if you're not a lion:

1. Live in an atmosphere of encouragement. Where people don’t ask you to edit yourself. Where support flows uninhibited. And where you’re enabled to be the best, highest version of yourself. That’s the foundation – the support system – from which courageous creativity grows.

Personally, I was cut from the cloth of artists. From painters to musicians to dancers to writers to wood carvers – everyone in my family creates something. As such, there’s never been a shortage of artistic encouragement in my life. And I give thanks for that every day.

Your challenge (even if you don’t come from a creative bloodline) is to figure out which people your support structure can best contribute to your foundation. How many creative people are you having lunch with this month?

2. Testicles for everybody! A courageous creative spirit is someone who has balls. Cujones. Moxie. Whatever. The willingness to stick himself out there and risk looking like an idiot on the road to immortality.

Because it’s not about gender – it’s about guts. Creating from the core. And sustaining that level of risk indefinitely.

My suggestion is to constantly ask yourself the following two questions as you create each day: “What do I risk in presenting this material?” and “What would courage do in this situation?” Think of them as litmus tests to hold your work accountable to a minimum level of artistic risk. Are you a model of intellectual bravery?

3. Follow your unintentionals. Don’t overlook fringe thoughts. And don’t be afraid to take a mental detour and find yourself in a different place from where you started. That’s the fun part about creativity: The detour is the path. And it’s those offhand, unintentional suggestions that mature into ideas that end up putting a dent the world.

The cool part is, once you learn to go where your unintentionals take you – and learn to celebrate once you get there – fresh new music starts to make its way into your life regularly. All because you affirmed it.

After all, gratitude is the great gravitator. Courageous artists are the ones who let ideas happen to them. Are you creating what you feel like creating, or listening to what wants to be created?

4. Practice cognitive diversity. It takes a courageous person to observe an idea, word, phrase or premise – that scares the hell out of him – then use that piece to make his art better. It’s all depends on your level of internal agility, or mental flexibility.

Personally, practicing yoga has been a huge help in cultivating my courageous sprit. Not just because I can touch my head to my knees – but also because I’ve deepened my capacity to respond flexibly to what the world hurls at me. For example, during class we occasionally hear car alarms from the adjacent parking lot.

However, instead of tensing up and contracting our muscles at the sound of the horn, we just breathe deeper. And that annoying noise becomes a meditation. The unlikely impetus for reaching a fuller expression of the posture. Lesson learned: You can breathe through – and use – everything that happens to you.

But only if you treat what you observe with deep democracy. Are you brave enough to keep your creative gears in neutral?

5. Risk being unpopular. If you don’t risk turning some people off, you’ll never turn anybody on. That’s the secret of courageous creativity: Foregoing popularity for the sake of the work that matters.

The question is: Will you marshal the willingness to be booed? Are you an equal opportunity pisser offer that polarizes people purposely? I hope so. Because although it’s tough at the beginning of your career – especially when you really need money and don’t want to risk missing the rent (again!) – taking this risk pays off.

Remember: Audiences gladly get behind the artists who gladly go beyond what is comfortable. Where in your work are you playing it too safe?

6. Enlarge your courage to fail. Let’s go back to testicles for a minute. Because the irony of the whole thing is: You need balls to strike out. Interesting. My suggestion is to find a place where you can fail safely.

Take the Actor’s Studio in New York City, for example. For over fifty years, this venue has invited actors, directors and writers to work together to develop their skills in a private environment. And the best part: It’s a space where they can take risks as performers without the pressure of commercial roles. Whew.

What about you? Is there a local venue in which you can safely try out your latest work? If not, maybe you could start one. Have you made losing a regular part of your experience?

7. Let craziness be the inspiration – not the brakes – behind your ideas. I call this profitable insanity: The most underrated weapon in your creative arsenal. Sadly, the world is lightning-quick to confuse crazy with dangerous. Or stupid. Or unprofitable. Or mentally unstable.

Almost like a reverse halo effect. As if being called crazy was a dangerous thing. But the reality of creativity is: Success requires crazy. You don’t have to pull a Van Gough and resort to self-mutilation. But the courage to keep your work singular, unexpected and expeditiously non-conforming will always serve you well.

Remember: If you’re not at least (a little) nuts, you’re a putz. How do you respond when people tell you that you’re out of your mind?

REMEMBER: As a creative professional, the art you make isn’t as important as the approach with which you make it.

I challenge you to cultivate a courageous creative spirit. To assume a bolder posture and invent with abandon.

Do so, and your work will be remembered as fearless.

Either that, or people will think you’re just plain crazy.

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* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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