Encouraging Creativity at Work

Last week I participated in a webinar run by NEMA on creativity in the workplace (specifically museums, but hey, most workplaces have at least something in common, generally, coworkers, meetings, and too much paperwork).  Led by Rainey Tisdale and Linda Norris, authors of the new book Creativity in Museum Practice, it was an interesting discussion of ways to shake up the usual run of the workplace to encourage change and risk taking.

Here are a few highlights:

1) Reflect on your own creativity and habits using Twyla Tharp’s ‘creative inventory’ from The Creative Habit.  This includes thinking about your earliest creative efforts, your ‘greatest’ and ‘worst’ ideas, your role models and your fears.  In the week since the workshop, I’ve been considering how useful this method  might be in analyzing things like: How do these shape the way you currently act, and where are you holding yourself back from trying something new?

2) Increase the amount and variety of your organization’s information diet.  As a writer, I’ve come across the advice to read widely and often to improve one’s writing, and it strikes me as part and parcel of the same advice here.  There were some great examples of how to bring in outside viewpoints, including some from the webinar audience.  My favorites were watching TED talks  at department lunches, sharing what people were reading outside of work, and hosting a ‘Curiosity Club’ to talk about other things we are interested in outside our professional expertise.

Stages of Creativity slide from "Creativity in Museum Practice" webinar by Linda Norris and Rainey Tisdale

Stages of Creativity slide from “Creativity in Museum Practice” webinar by Linda Norris and Rainey Tisdale

3) Make space in your daily routine for ‘incubating’ your ideas.  Taking a walk during lunch is pretty much a requirement for me if the weather’s even slightly palatable, but I’ve been trying to make space in the mornings before work to work on my own creative projects, and I find my outlook on the day is better when I do, so I’m definitely behind this concept.

4) Reframe your projects as experiments, and embrace the possibility of failure.  Talk it out-what is the worst that could happen?  And if it’s too big a bad, make your experiment smaller.  Prototype.  This is the way I approach my cooking.  Which is why I eat a lot of sandwiches, but I haven’t died of malnutrition yet, and sometimes I end up with really good stir fry.

creative constraints

Creative constraints to prevent overload, slide by Linda Norris and Rainey Tisdale

5) Create spaces for reflection, collaboration, stimulation, and play.  Rearrange the furniture, change up the lighting, sprinkle the walls liberally with post-its.  We’d all love to have one of Google’s nest-chair isolation pod things, sure, but maybe just taking a perambulatory meeting through a green space would help freshen up the conversation.  (I vote for a ball pit and a slide.  Or maybe an ice cream sundae bar in the meeting room?)

Office slide at M Moser Associates

Office slide at M Moser Associates

6) Start an idea file, or files, personal and collaborative.  I’m already a big fan of Pinterest, so that works for me!

7) Set creative constraints.  “I don’t even know where to start!” is a pretty common block to a creative process, so give yourself a set of restraints, including but not limited to budgets, physical spaces, materials, or themes.  Or try the Scamper method, which looks interesting and was new to me.

What methods do you use to stay creative in your professional life?  Contribute your ideas in the comments!

“Museums are like food-are they part of your diet?” AAM day 3

Another brain-stretching, idea-popping day, with a lot of really packed conference rooms!  I managed to pick several extremely popular sessions today, and fortunately was not one of the folks sitting on the floor.  Nice to see so much determined interest in topics ranging from multi user multimedia interactives to experimental educational programming! Like yesterday, I’m picking my top 3-5 thoughts from each session, but definitely expect to see more from me on some of these topics soon:

Session 1: Learning Together: Developing Multi User Interactives

  • Multi user interactives are more than scaled-up single user kiosks: looking at other kinds of interactives like low-tech tabletops and games can be more useful for developing a digital multi user experience
  • Evaluation from the Field Museum suggests people who work together on an interactive smile 50% of the time, and visitors on their own smile only 10% of the time.
  • Next step in multi-user interactives probably includes motion sensing using elements like the Kinect, which might also help solve design problems like orienting text.

Session 2: Significant Objects

  • Writers recruited to write fiction about yardsale finds, which were then sold on ebay and had a 2700% increase in financial value – what kinds of lessons about storytelling and the perceived value of objects does this hold for museums?  How can we create different entry points for people who might be craving the kinds of stories museums could tell but aren’t telling, or aren’t telling effectively?
  •  Participatory design vs. design for participation — how do you balance it so that content creators enjoy the process and it’s open to a wide range of people, but still end up with a final product that has an appeal to people who weren’t part of its creation?
  • how much can museums play with the truth?  How does this tie in with the conversation from earlier in the conference about real, fake, reproductions, and replicas?

Session 3: Magnificent Masters of Museum Mysteries, Narrative Games in Museum Contexts

  • This panel was full of people I’d really like to spend more time talking to–sadly I had a conflict and couldn’t attend their continued discussion in the hotel bar afterwards, but I’ll be watching their next projects with interest.
  • I’d heard about the Ghosts of a Chance game at the Smithsonian before, but it’s a pretty intimidating example, so hearing about their second attempt that didn’t go so well and their plans for a third was heartening, as was pairing this extreme example with two simpler examples from the Getty and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
  • Getting to play a game during a session on games was a nice touch.


Session 4: Continuing the Conversation, Experimental Projects in Museums

  • Lots of interesting projects going on with inviting community members, particularly creative professionals, into the museum to offer their own spin on programming.  Requires clear guidelines from the museum and a flexible hands-off policy to allow for individuality and fresh ideas.
  • Interesting initiative from Living Arts Center in Mobile where they run a two month intro or ‘pulse’ mini-exhibit to collect community thoughts on the topics of the upcoming featured exhibit- a glorified (and formalized) type of prototyping mixed with marketing that’s really curious.
  • Community involvement in exhibition planning seems to mean much shorter time spans than when working solely with museum professionals–is that an audience based constraint (short attention spans) or a museum one (resource and space commitments)?

Session 5: “Your Brain on Art” sponsored by Reach Advisors

  • There was a fancier more academic title, but the scientists from Johns Hopkins suggested this title instead and it fit well.  It was a great conversation where each side wanted to find out more about what the others were doing–could have easily run for another hour!
  • Fun to hear people outside the field debating the things that museum pros care so much about: is it all about education?  what do museums have that is  unique to that kind of experience?  what about reflection?  is wonder a jolt of quick there-and-gone energy to the brain, or an opportunity for a deeper connection?  what makes for a useful measurement of success at reaching your audience?
  • Is it possible for parents who love museums to pass that love on to their children?  Some studies suggest that culture changes too fast and peers have too much influence, but yet parental modelling is still one of the best ways to convey values to children.  Museums are like food–if you go to museums the way you have family dinner around the kitchen table, make it a regular part of life, have conversations about it, share thoughts and favorites and encourage your kids to do the same, then  yes,  parents can definitely pass the culture of  museum love along.

IMG_20130521_163255.441   Evening enjoyment: The Owl Bar

  • Incredibly cool and beautiful old bar from the days of Prohibition, with fun stories regarding the blinking owl signal lights over the bar (blinking means the cops aren’t around and it’s safe to order from the speak easy!) and quite tasty food.
  • Worth the 2 mile trek up from the convention center and a fun adventure to a different section of the city.  The worst part about a really interesting conference is that there’s too little time for sightseeing.