Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Need to be creative? Get back in the box!

When I was a smaller boy, my dad was a florist and the foreman of a local greenhouse. There was a room where they kept the boxes; huge, heavy, person-sized boxes. This was one of my favorite play places because inside those boxes I could unleash the full power of my tiny imagination. A box could become a spaceship, a fort, a boat, an airplane, and so much more. I once used a few of those boxes to construct one dandy lemonade stand. I loved those boxes.

Sometime in the 60s or 70s the slogan for being creative emerged as “think outside the box!

This was the call to think differently, to shift your paradigm, change your perspective, and reframe your frame of reference.

As a result, all manner of stuff has crawled out of all manner of boxes, often letting loose more Pandora-monium than useful creativity.

Still, today, thinking inside the box is eschewed like the plague.

What a huge mistake!

I say, if you want to unleash the best of your creative energy, you need to get back in the box with your thinking.

Creativity needs boundaries to thrive!

Recently, a friend posted a YouTube video of John Cleese talking about how to be more effectively creative.

[As an aside and completely unrelated to my topic, my favorite quote from the video is, “People who have no idea what they're doing have no idea they have no idea.” Yes! The clueless are clueless to their cluelessness – a topic for another time.]

Central to Cleese’s discussion in this brief video was the concept of creating a “tortoise enclosure” that represented boundaries of space and time; to put yourself in a place free of distractions and set a time limit for developing your idea.

One person commented on the video stating, “Interesting how much structure goes into producing a creative work. On the surface it would appear the opposite.”

Structure can unleash boundless creativity!

Consider poetry. Some of the most beautiful poems are sonnets written by Shakespeare. These consist, essentially, of 14 lines of ten syllables each, in rhyming iambic pentameter, arranged a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g.

Another simple form of poetry is the haiku. A haiku is three lines totaling 17 syllables arranged 5-7-5. Yet these little poems are capable of evincing incredible images and strong emotion.

Structure is the box that allows such amazing creativity.

If there are no boxes, we’ll ask for them or find our own

Among the most herculean of tasks is being asked to speak or write and then given no other parameter other than the deadline. Inevitably, confronted with such an opportunity, you will ask for a topic, as well as how much time you have to speak or how many words are desired from your pen. The most frightening response you can receive is, “Oh, pick whatever topic you want and write or speak as much as you care to.”

Such a response is guaranteed to throw you immediately into the deepest depths of writer’s block. You have no idea where to begin or end. It’s like being abandoned in the middle of a frozen white tundra with no compass or point of reference surrounded by nothing but a flat-lined horizon.

That’s why you see such quotes from writers like the one attributed to Gene Fowler who said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Or Red Smith’s take, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Getting inside a box would be a comfort at this point. And, in order to tackle your assignment, that’s what you need to do: Get into a "box" to relax and let the creative juices flow.

Box it up and let it out

There’s nothing wrong with being creative inside the box of your choosing and design. Or as Cleese calls it, a “tortoise enclosure.”

You tame the blank white sheet of paper by creating boundaries and applying structure.

Most writing or speaking opportunities will come with parameters. You will be given a topic, with which you are usually allowed some flexibility. And you will be told you have 20 minutes or so to speak, or that your article should be around 750 words. If not, then you need to structure your own box.

Sides of the box include time delimits, quiet space, project parameters, and content topic.

Thinking inside the box not only allows you the freedom to be more creative, it also helps you stay focused which yields better, more cohesive results.

Do you like to think "inside" or "outside" the box? Share your tips and insights!

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