Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Creativity: Music to My Ears

One of my favorite professors at Stanford, Tina Seelig, is repeating her online course on Creativity, but this time she is using music to complement it and will be working with recording artists from Warner Music such as Linkin Park, Jason Mraz and more. You will learn how to develop creativity skills through music.

“Creativity:  Music to My Ears” is an online course which begins Wednesday, April 2nd.  The class is free.

There is more info in the links below as well as a short clip with Tina and Jason Mraz.



Monday, March 17, 2014

The Notes Without the Music

“The notes without the music.”   I had never heard that phrase until a few weeks ago.

I have been teaching college students for the last two years and, ordinarily, I create the content of my lecture and then present it on my own.  This quarter, I am working with some extraordinary mentors and I was asked to present their material in my lecture.  It was a big moment for me as it was a bit of a test to see how I would teach with this format. I prepped every day for a week.

It was both new to me and difficult to teach someone else’s content. I prepared as best I could, memorizing the material and presenting it the way I thought my mentors wanted.

Ironically, the topic of my presentation was about emotional intelligence and listening to your gut instincts.  I have worked so hard for the last couple of years to follow those gut instincts and listen to my own voice.  I don’t know if it was because I was new in this particular class or I wanted so much to please my mentors, but I made a mistake.  I didn’t follow my gut.  I memorized the materials, hit every point that I was supposed to, and I didn’t even choke.  But, in the end, I felt like a little of my soul had died. I hadn’t taught the lesson the way "I" would teach it.  I taught it like a lawyer and not the new person I had discovered in myself over the last few years, that is, someone who had found great joy and fun interacting with college students as they make important choices going forward with their lives.

I have been teaching that failure is important and that learning from failure and improving the next go around is how you become the best “you”.

So, in my mind, my latest lecture was a failure because I was not me.  I was trying to be someone else.

In the end, my mentor was kind and supportive, but he smiled and said, “It was the notes without the music”.

That phrase caught me by surprise.  That was it.  He had said in just a few words what I have never been able to encapsulate.

It wasn’t just about this experience. It was about all those times in life when it looks like everything is right.  There is nothing from the outside to indicate what is not working...a job, a relationship, or an experience.  I never had those exact words to describe when something is just missing.

The notes are there, but there is no music.  That is what happens when you don’t follow your instincts.  It’s very hard to describe in words, but you know when the music just isn’t there.

How ironic that the topic of my lecture was exactly what I was not doing.

“The notes without the music” in just a few words reminds me when I need to be aware that even with all the checklists marked, it can still be wrong. Even though it may be difficult to describe why there is no music, what is important is recognizing that it’s not there.

Just having that awareness can be a huge step in helping us to go forward.


Friday, January 03, 2014

Rubber Ducky Problem Solving

What if instead of internalizing ideas and thoughts or discussing them with a friend, we periodically explained the problem out loud and talked it through to an inanimate object?

I know it sounds strange, but a friend of mine who is a computer programmer told me about the “Rubber Ducky” debugging idea.  I am about as far from a computer programmer as they come, but I love this concept.

Rubber Ducky debugging is when a software engineer is stuck on a problem with the coding.  To help them work through the issue, they put a rubber ducky on their keyboard and try to describe the problem line-by-line or in great detail.  The idea is to explain to the duck the issue at hand, assuming the duck knows nothing about the problem or coding (which is not too much to assume).

By doing so, the engineer is forced to explain what should be happening (or what he wants to be happening) versus what really is happening.

I tried this a couple of times and I found it to be very fun.  Of course, it’s like talking to yourself, but when you are forced to explain a problem you are struggling with to an object that has no background on the issue or your past emotional baggage, it’s quite illuminating and extremely productive.  You have to like to play games and not be concerned about how silly you look.  It does force you to closely analyze what is really happening.

I love the idea and the image of the rubber ducky sitting on my keyboard listening to me is pretty silly, but it has worked wonders.

Having immersed myself in design thinking for most of 2013, I find myself being quite a bit more creative and a lot less judgmental of all sorts of ways to be a more grounded person.

I’ll be writing more about Creative Confidence in my next post.

Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Make It Up As You Go

Make it up 
As you go 
Future's wide open 
Nothing's written in stone 

I can't tell you what's best 
I don't know what comes next 
All I know is that I don't know anything 
All I got is today, and I prefer it that way 
Make a plan, but I know it's gonna change 
And that's okay 

Lyrics by the Plain White T’s

I have been at war with the concept of “uncertainty” for most of my life.  I like the lyrics in the song above because it helps me on my journey of trying to make peace with wanting to know what is next or feeling the need to make things black or white.

There are a number of reasons why I am slowly, very slowly coming to see uncertainty as my acquaintance, not yet my friend, but at least not my enemy.

When I want certainty so badly, I shortcut life’s lessons.  Most of the time, it takes a while to let things play out.  When I do that, I have more information with which to work.  I have more clarity because decisions I think I need to make don’t even come to pass because things change as life unravels at its own pace.

It helps if I take things more slowly and not jump to a decision. It tends to feel more in alignment with who I am.  By not rushing things just to have that feeling of certainty, it allows my internal voice to speak more loudly and stand out against the noise of other’s advice and even my own inner critic. 

Also, I find that if I don’t feel such a desperate need for certainty, I don’t make assumptions that aren’t necessarily true or miss red flags all in the hopes of shortening the process and feeling I am in control.

So, I am trying the motto, “Make It Up as You Go”.  It’s not easy, but I have to admit I am beginning to enjoy it.  

I ask myself what experiences over the last couple of years have been most meaningful and most in alignment with who I am.  They have been those I didn’t see coming and that had no certainty in them.  In fact, I just made it up as I went along and stayed open to opportunities.  I let things take their time and I didn’t rush just so I would feel certain.

As 2013 comes to a close and the new year is around the corner, it seems to me interesting questions to ask ourselves are: “What if you were really comfortable with uncertainty?  How would that change your life?  What would you do differently?”

Happy Holidays!


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ask for 100% of What You Want 100% of the Time

“Ask for 100% of what you want 100% of the time.”

I heard a friend of mine say he was living by that motto.  I have great respect for this individual and I was struck by this concept.

It seemed selfish to me and it didn’t seem as if it took the other person’s needs into account.

I asked him about that and he said, “This has nothing to do with ignoring other's needs or not being empathetic.  In my version of the idea, this is all about aligning your objectives and your heart with the future that you are trying to manifest.  My experience is that I "get" exactly what I imagine my future will be.  When I'm fuzzy about what I want, I get a "fuzzy" future.  

It is also a personal challenge to myself - I have a hard time believing that I deserve what I want.   I've come to realize that I pretend that it's all about the "other’s needs" when it's really just managing some fear and self-worth issues.”

I had a better understanding after he explained his thoughts on the idea. I have wanted to write about this concept, but I was still thinking hard about how I felt about it.

Now, I feel more comfortable for two reasons.  One, I think not demanding, but letting another person know what you are looking for is helpful.  It doesn’t mean you expect it, but it does put it out there and you never know what kind of compromise is possible.  You certainly don’t know if you don’t communicate it.

Second,  I agree with my friend who first mentioned the statement to me.  It is important to really ask yourself: “what do I want?”.  I think we are “fuzzy” sometimes about what it is we really want and taking the time to seriously consider that question leads to clarity.

It’s not so much about clarity in the details as clarity of the vision.  I wrote about this a few years ago regarding putting the emphasis on the “whats”, not the “hows” of your life.

Anyway, it’s a starting point and not a specific path.  

Asking for 100% of what you want 100% of the time is a way of being clear with yourself and others.

Let me know your thoughts.


Friday, September 06, 2013

Attitude is Everything

Lately, I have found myself being  “slightly more down” than I would like to be.  I know so much of life is how we think about it and what we tell ourselves.

I know that “attitude is everything”.  I have heard it a million times.  I also believe there is a higher authority that reminds us of what is important, especially when we are not paying attention the way we should.

Many times, I find there are signs that I have no choice but to notice and heed.

This morning, I went for a walk up into the hills behind where I live.  It was just me walking out on the trail.  It was early so there was no one around.  Then, kind of out of nowhere, this young girl walked by me and then stayed in front of me for at least 20 minutes.

On the back of her T-shirt, the words read, “ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING”.

She remained walking in front of me with those words yelling at me and then she ran off and I didn’t see her again.

Somehow, my walk was not only a good physical outing, but I couldn’t help but incorporate the advice that someone thought I should live by more deeply.


Saturday, August 03, 2013

Attached to Outcome

“Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” ~Dalai Lama

I have spent much of the last couple of years reading, writing, and thinking about how I live my life and how to be a better and more content person.  Throughout those years, one particular concept constantly comes up for me:  being attached to outcome.
It means that much of our suffering and pain comes from feeling that only one ending or only one thing will make us happy.
That concept can permeate our lives, but lately I have watched myself in a pattern on a very small scale that reminded me of what I do on a much larger scale.
I am a creature of habit.  I like to try new things, but there are areas of my life that make me feel secure and give me a sense of control (not that it’s really true, but it feels that way).
Every morning, I have a cup of coffee in a very particular cup.  I love it.  It is shaped and painted in a way that is “perfect”.   A few months ago, I dropped it.  I looked everywhere for a cup just like it.  It was a hunt.  The replacement cup had to be shaped the same and look the same.
I felt lost without my old cup and the tradition of drinking from it every morning. I finally found something that looked fairly similar, but it wasn’t exactly the same.  I noticed when I was searching for the replacement that I looked only for that identical type of cup.  I couldn’t see anything else.  No variation of the cup would enter my view regardless of what store I was in.  I literally blocked out anything that could have been a new style or pattern.
Then, one day, I saw this amazing, clear, glass cup that had double walls (I know you have seen them) and it was beautiful and clean and it kept the coffee hot while the outer shell stayed cool.
I loved it!  I loved the shape, the feel, the look...it felt awesome and new!   I enjoyed it for months and then, I can’t believe this, but I broke it.  So, again, I looked. But, this time, I found a cup that was similar, but the shape was slightly different.  It was wonderful, but in the back of my mind, I missed the one I had broken and I looked everywhere for it.
Finally, a few days ago, I found the exact one I had broken.  I was so excited!  But, when I used it, I didn’t love it nearly as much as the newest cup I had been using.
OK, very long story, for a very simple point.  I was so stuck, so attached to my outcome of that original cup that I didn’t see anything around me.  It wasn’t until a new cup “spoke” to me that I opened up and let it in.  
I have seen this in my life over and over again.  Attaching to only one outcome is the end of creativity and peace and it does cause suffering, at least for me.
When I open my eyes and allow good things to come that don’t fit with my expectations or very specific goals, life changes. It isn’t exactly the same as I thought it would be, but it is beautiful and special in its own way.
I am so glad my first cup broke because if it hadn’t, I would never know how much joy is possible.  Obviously, this is not just about coffee cups.  It’s about life and what we make of it.
I feel grateful that we are never too old to change, never too old to grow, and that there are a myriad of “cups” that will make us happy.