The other day I walked past a flip-chart paper box and the way it was standing there, with the flaps half open, it seems to tell me: “In my next life, I want to be the stage of a puppet theatre.” So this weekend my toddler daughter learned how to perform Elmo’s song for an audience of one, in her newly constructed, made out of leftover stuff, puppet theatre.
And that made me think of this brief moment, when you look at something and see something else. You might look at something from work and see a game. Or turn some toys into a tool for change management (see Net-Map), something you are about to throw away looks like an object of pure beauty waiting for a frame, a sentence you have said a million times takes on a different meaning. It’s this beautiful sacred split-second, when a door opens in your mind and you see the unexpected opportunities in something familiar, that’s when creativity happens.
I once read of an Austrian poet who said that she developed the practice of conciously mishearing and misreading words and that this often led to her best poems. I like the idea for two reasons. One: It shows that mistakes are not just something negative to be avoided at all cost but can actually be the step into something new and amazing and open the doors to new possibilities that your concious mind would have never come up with. Two: It speaks to the belief that you can counsciously train yourself to become more creative by allowing your mind to stray and challenging it to find different interpretations beyond the obvious.
I believe that you can develop your mental capacity like you would train a muscle and if you develop the ability to look at something and see something else in one aspect of your life, it will seep into the rest as well. So if I entertain my 2 1/2 year old with a pen and an empty note book for most of an 8 hour flight, I am sure that kind of hard core training will also help me become more creative in my professional life. It’s nearly as if I could feel a physical shift in my brain…
And there is something else to misappropriating words and things, using them for something that is not their intended purpose: It gives you a great sense of freedom. If you use Legos to build a representation of your professional self (as I saw at the Agile Coach Camp), you don’t quite know what the rules are (are there rules for this???) so you make them up as you go along. You can become more playful, you can express the true meaning of what you want to say instead of following convention and you might realize things you never thought were there.
So, look around in your office, on your desk, outside your window or in your dustbin and take in what is there and try to see something else. Silly as it may be, even a cloud that looks like an elephant counts – then you can feel proud of yourself because you visited your mental gym.