Curiosity Shouldn’t Kill the Cat

curious roy

I’ll admit it. I’m not the most focused person in the world. Sure, I can stick with a task if I set my mind to it, especially if there’s a deadline attached. But more often than not, if left to my own devices I’ll happily meander in and out the simplest of projects all day long.

My problem is that I’m intensely curious.  About everything.

As a kid it could seriously take me half an hour or more to look up a word in the dictionary.  I’m a terrific speller, so finding the word wasn’t the problem.  On the way to the word I was looking for I would stumble on another one that looked pretty interesting so I’d stop to check it out. Which would remind me of another word I had been meaning to look up. Which made me think of… wait, where was I? Oh yes, looking up that word.

Of course now that I do everything on my computer this is no longer a problem for me. I google the word and — bam! — the definition of one word and one word only appears.  No getting distracted by other fun terms along the way.  But while I’m on the internet, let me just check my email really quick. Cool, that new book I ordered has shipped. Which reminds me, I wanted to check out the author’s website. Maybe I should add him to my RSS feeds…

Okay, so the internet didn’t solve my wandering problem; I just traded up from analog to digital.

Actually I don’t consider my wandering off for a while a real problem at all. (Although I’m sure I could find a few people who would disagree with me there.)  It’s in those meanderings that I find some really nifty usable stuff, and that’s also where some of my best creative ideas start to form.  I’m very much a non-linear thinker – I work a little on this, then think a little on that, and research a little on something else. All the little bits and pieces start to ferment in my brain, and I follow the ideas as they bubble to the top. Makes perfect sense to me, although I’ve noticed this process of mine makes some people terribly uncomfortable. Especially when a deadline is looming near. (By the way, I’ve never missed a deadline yet.  I’ve learned to relax and trust in the muse.  She’ll give me the idea or solution when I need it, and her watch keeps pretty good time. )

I get to the end result sooner or later, and in my experience later often yields a better result. My curiosity is what keeps me informed, and what keeps me creative. So I’ll go ahead and keep indulging it when the urge strikes me.

Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat. It makes her a better mouser.

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Are You Creative?

Image by Myki RoventineIf someone asked you if you were creative, what would you say?

This is a question I posed recently to a bunch of friends and colleagues in various places.  And I was quite surprised at some of the answers I got.

Of course my wildly creative friends belted out and emphatic “YES!” and proceeded to tell me all about the projects they were working on or just finished or had in their head for the future. No surprises there – I already knew what they would say, and it was fun to get an update on where they were going.

A few others said that they were decidedly not creative. The surprising part for me was not that these people didn’t think of themselves as creative, but that they were quite happy with that.  They didn’t want to be creative; they were happy in their little box and didn’t really care to venture outside of it.  Of course, as a creative myself, I had a very hard time wrapping my head around this – not wanting to be creative? To me that would be like not wanting to breathe. But to each his own.

The one that really floored me was an old friend from college.  Probably one of the more creative people I know.  Ever since way-back-when he’s had a very sharp wit and a wicked sense of humor. At college he masterminded quite a bit of creative stuff, although admittedly the campus Powers That Be were usually not as appreciative of his inventiveness as the rest of us were.

So I asked him the no-brainer “are you creative” question and he said…

“No.”

“I might have been once, but now I don’t feel that’s true.”

Totally blind-sided me with that one. What?!?  That’s an answer I may have accepted from some people, but certainly not him. Really?? Just – poof – it’s gone??  It made me kind of sad to think that he had lost such a great part of himself somewhere along the way. (Or at least believed that he did.)  Is it even possible to “lose” creativity, or does it just get beaten into hiding by social conformity and rusty from disuse?

I don’t believe he really lost it, he just thinks he did.  Go find it dude, it’s in there somewhere.  Did you check in the garage…?

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So what would you answer to the question? Are you creative?

“If we think about it, the magic will come.”

This profound statement was handed to me by my 4-year-old yesterday.

We were sitting on the living room floor playing with Legos, talking about what we could build. Then, as our creation took shape, we started figuring out what else it looked like or what else it could be used for.  The boat turned on end and blasted off into outer space. The house became a telephone.  What else could it be?

“If we think about it, the magic will come.”

He’s so right. But as adults, we forget that. We forget what incredible powers of creativity we have, the ability to connect completely unrelated things in innovative ways.  And everyone has it buried in there somewhere – but somewhere in the growing up process we lose that belief in ourselves. We forget how to suspend reality for a while and let our imagination take the reins. As adults we negate the possibility of thinking about things in ways other than what we’re told is appropriate.

An empty paper towel roll isn’t really a telescope or a megaphone.

An empty tissue box isn’t really a shoe.

A shirt stuck on your head isn’t really a cascade of long hair.

Heavens, no! Just imagine where those kinds of thoughts might lead someone!  But that’s my point – imagine where those kinds of thoughts might lead someone…

This very short yet very wise person has helped me open myself back up to the “magic.” To let myself think about things in unconventional ways, and to come up with solutions that go against the rules. To let go of the self-censoring for a while and imagine possibilities rather than focusing so much on why it couldn’t possibly work.

In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin argues that  our society has been structured to churn out “mediocre;” there are set parameters that we must stay within for the factory system to maintain its privilege, and we’re taught from a very young age to stay within them to be accepted, to get a job, to live the “American Dream.” Except that system isn’t working anymore, and those that can think beyond those walls are the ones that have the upper hand now. (I won’t spoil it for you – if you want to find out more you can read the book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? [affiliate link] for yourself.)

My young one will learn soon enough that the outside world is a little uncomfortable with playful thinking, so I’m going to encourage him to keep it going on the home front – as much for my sake as his. Don’t be surprised at anything you see when you walk in our front door. With any luck, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised by what comes out of it.

So go think about it. The magic will come.