work. think. live.
IN COLOUR

We provide the creative thinking tools for individuals and businesses to switch from black & white to colour. Whether you are a large or small business looking for fresh inspiration, or an individual seeking a creative look at your career, a Work In Colour creative thinking program is your edge.

Loading tweets…

From the Blog

Gratitude Can (Really) Change Your Life



Today’s blog is about gratitude. I have been into gratitude for years, but used to feel a bit squeamish about blogging about it. Silly, really, but I felt it was a bit hippie-herbal and not at all workplace or corporate. But actually it is a really simple practice that can have a profound effect on your work time capability, so we should all be sitting up and taking notice. And I have recently gotten back into reading Marchs Aurelius, and found that gratitude is a pillar of stoicism, too.

So here goes...

Did you know you can feel up to 25% happier, get better sleep and improve your mood for days, just by counting your blessings? It’s true - there have been a number of serious scientific studies  recently that show the power of being grateful.

All it takes is a regular practice of listing 3 to 5 things you are grateful for in your life, most days. It sounds really trivial, but I have been doing it for years, and it makes a real and measurable difference,

They don’t have to be big things, either. Recent things on my lists have included:

A sunny day
Seeing a puppy out walking
Getting a phone call from an old friend (and having a friend in the 
                first place...)
Having light and heat at home
Finding an interesting new book to read

I do my practice every night in bed, as soon as I turn the light off. Many people write their blessings into a journal, and sometimes I do that, too. When my son was younger, we would do ‘the three blessings game’ as I tucked him into bed. You can also do lists for work things as well as general life blessings. I keep a (somewhat sporadic) work journal that includes wins, challenges and gratitude.

Other ways to bring the quality of gratitude into your life include:

Writing ‘thank you’ notes
Saying thank you to at least one person a day
Stop every now and then and appreciate the present moment
Showing appreciation for a kind word from a friend, or good 
                service, or a helping hand

Try this: Every day for the next week (or two) make a list of at least three things you are grateful for, three blessings. Remember, small is fine!

What are you grateful for?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Need A Fresh Idea? Find Three…



It's a great technique: Whenever you have a problem to solve, or need to come up with a fresh idea, challenge yourself to come up with at least three ideas, not just one. Or if you are a team leader, challenge your team to find three ways of doing something, not just settling for their first plan.

I had a client who has been landed with the job of liaising with his company's European offices by phone, which from Sydney means late night phone calls, often for two or three hours, sometimes more. He gets limited time off in lieu, but the main problem is that he has a young family who miss out on his company at night, and he is left feeling both tired and resentful. When I quizzed him, it turns out this has gone on for over four years, up to four nights each week!

I challenged him to find a way of stopping it, and soon. His first solution was to write an email suggesting they find someone in Europe to give this support (though he already knows there is no budget for this). His second solution was simply to refuse to do it any more, effectively threatening to resign. A high risk strategy, that one.


When I explained that I always ask for three solutions, he thought for a few minutes and said, with a look of dawning possibility on his face, 'I could tell them I am not available after next week for phone discussions outside Sydney business hours, but if they summarise the top three (there's that magic number again) challenges or concerns at the end of their phone meeting and email it to me, I will respond by email within 24 hours'. He left soon afterwards, already drafting his memo in his head...


That was a few years ago now, but I have never forgotten the speed with which he solved his problem one he was introduced to this tool - or the profound effect the solution had on his life.

The thinking behind this most excellent technique is that we often settle for the first halfway decent idea, either because of time pressure, laziness, or lack of belief in our ability to come up with a really innovative winner. By being 'forced' to have at least three ideas, we give ourselves a fighting chance of digging deeper to something really fresh. 


The trick is not to edit yourself at this early phase, to be as wild as you can. It's not as if every idea has to be practical, a proven winner, or even cheap or legal - those considerations kick in later. For now, the wildest idea is likely to be the one that contains the seed of the really brilliant solution.

Of course, we don't always need to dig this deep; often, what you did last time, or a small variation on that, is just fine. But when you do need some fresh thinking, this is one of the speediest and most effective tools I know.

So, what are your three ideas?


Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

How Do You Plan Your Projects?



If you want to implement a change in your life, it takes more than just making a decision in your head. (Nothing new there...)

I’m developing some new programs at the moment, including an online course and new workshops. It's exciting, but needs plenty of planning, time juggling and very clear goals.

Whenever you want to do anything new, it takes planning and determination and a belief that this change is possible for you - be it a new career, getting organised, removing a bad habit, aiming for the moon or learning to make a soufflé.

Because I like playing with both logical and possibility thinking, my plan is a mixture of mindmaps, flowcharts, narrative, lists and tables. It’s been developed on scrap paper, Post-its, my mindmapping software and through the Notability app on my iPad. While the resulting business plan is probably not in a format that would appeal to a bank, it makes perfect sense to me, and the process has allowed me to maximise all my thinking skills, and choose the right technique for each task. (And if I did want to turn it into a formal report for a bank, that could be done, too.)

One section is a bit unusual, but really helpful. It’s an inventory of my resources for these new projects. I use resource inventories quite often, and they typically include useful strengths or skills, qualifications, knowledge I have (or can access), memories of past successes in making changes, sources of support and qualities of mind (such as persistence).

It’s a good place to start if you’re planning a change - have a think about your personal resources, in areas such as:

strengths (what am I good at, what qualities do I have, what do I 
                enjoy doing?)
skills (what have I mastered, do really well?)
knowledge or sources of knowledge (what do I know, what 
                knowledge do I have access to?)
past experiences that may help you this time (I've done a big 
                project before, I have dealt with deadlines or pressure)
time (I have X amount of time, I can create X amount of time 
                by…)
support (technical help, or just good friends)
beliefs (about your abilities, success, getting help or whatever)
other useful stuff...

Think about this, and take the time to actually write down your inventory - it will help you plan the best strategy. Consider which resources are critical to your success, which will make it easier to get where you want to go. Also important is to identify any areas you need to shore up, get help with or outsource altogether. What resources are missing from your list? What can you do about that?

What does your resources list look like?

Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Your Career Story



One of my favourite quotes is from American poet Muriel Rukeyser:

The world is made of stories, not atoms.

Stories aren't just for children, or indulgent afternoons on the sofa. They are are equally important in the world of work.

Lately I've been working with my Escape Hatch career change clients on their personal career stories - looking at the ways in which their training, passions, jobs and interests weave into a timeline or tell a tale.

It's proved to be really useful, in seeing patterns and making sense of what might have previously seemed to be a hodge-podge of work experiences. It's a great preparation for serious career change work.

Here are three different ways of playing with your story - you can pick one, all three, or forge a story by combining the elements from different techniques that appeal to you.

The Story Map
Draw a map of your jobs, education, training, talents, skills, passions and interests, from childhood to the present day. First, draw a road or path (a timeline) to represent your life from birth to the present. Mark off the years by drawing, say, 5 year milestones at the side of the path.

Next, moving along the path, draw symbols or pictures or jot down words to represent the birth of a particular talent, skill, passions or interest. Record your jobs, education, training. Find a way to mark changes in direction (a fork in the road, maybe?) and any 'aha' moments or other significant events.

For each milestone, jot down the age you were as close as you can - if you don't know exactly when it first emerged, make a guess.

Journalling
If you keep a journal, or enjoy 'free form' writing, you can try telling your career story as a narrative, either a first person ('I') story, or as if it was a tale told by another person ('he' or 'she'). Are you a hero(ine), a victim or a hapless traveller on storm-tossed seas? You can tell it in a particular style, such as melodrama, comedy, serious philosophical rave, whatever seems right. Start when you were young and move chronologically through your life, or write a series of episodes focusing on milestones or turning points.

Your Other Hand
Psychologically, it seems the non-dominant hand (whether right or left) carries a lot of the disowned, buried, rejected, vulnerable parts of us. This 'other hand' expresses things that you may have judged as wrong...awkward, child like, vulnerable, raw emotions perhaps. It often expresses what you really feel and think (not what the 'socialised' you thinks you feel...). It can be a great relief to express these things safely (to yourself), it can be extremely liberating and creative.

Find a quiet place and some uninterrupted time. Grab some paper and pens (try a few, e.g. texta, crayon, pencils, whatever) and play with writing / drawing with your non-dominant hand (if you are right handed, this is your left hand, and vice versa).

Now, ask yourself about the story of your working life, and write what comes, using your non-dominant hand. You can also do the journalling narrative in the section above, in your other hand. Or do it in your usual hand, then comment on it while writing with the non-dominant hand.

Reflections
After you've written your story, have a look at it to see if you can find any patterns, clues or common threads. Were you always interested in clothes, or self-sufficient, or into learning about stuff?

Four great questions to ask as you reflect:

     1.   Are there any skills, talents or strengths that keep cropping up?
     2.   What gets you up in the morning? What parts of your working life 
           have you really loved?
     3.   What challenges have you overcome?
     4.   What have you learned about yourself in the years you have been in 
           the workforce?

So, what's your career story?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

How To Encourage 'Aha' Moments



The other day I woke up with the answer to a problem that had been chasing me around in circles for several days. It felt great to finally have it resolved. Isn't it a relief when it all falls into place, when the elegant solution just appears, when the spaghetti in your brain unravels to reveal the way forward? So, what are 'aha' moments (and how can you have more of them)?

Several recent scientific studies have shown that brain activity is different while someone is solving a problem requiring creative insight than when doing linear or 'trial and error' problem solving.

Both during the 'aha' moment and before it, EEGs (electroencephalograms) show a sudden burst of high energy gamma brain waves in the right temporal lobe, which is the part of the brain that makes associations, 'gets' a joke and uses metaphor. Interestingly, at the same time, other right brain changes happen, in order to block excess stimuli so you can focus all your brain energy on the problem. This process begins before you are consciously aware of the answer or insight - in some studies, a mere one-third of one second before, but in another study, it was up to eight seconds before awareness. How clever is that…

What does all this technospeak mean for your creativity? How can you encourage the fireworks in your brain?

As the right brain is not a linear processor, but works in more pattern-seeking and lateral ways, working longer and harder doesn't always mean insight will come (but you knew that already, yes?). So, next time you're tearing your hair out trying to see your way through a difficult problem, first do the pre-work (set out the problem, check the facts, do some logical thinking about it) and then let it go, put it out of your head, and instead try one of these:

Do something with your body. Go for a walk, dance, clean out a 
cupboard or do the gardening. 
Even if you can't exercise, at least think about something quite 
different - phone a friend for a chat, spend time on a quite 
different work task, make a cup of tea or talk to a colleague 
about something else. This gives the right brain a rest and a 
chance to roam free, doing what it does best, without pushing 
from you. Have a quiet cuppa, run a bath (subject to water restrictions of 
course), or take granny's advice and just 'sleep on it'. It's 
                amazing how often the solution to last night's overwhelming 
                dilemma just pops into your head early next morning. Keep a pad 
                and pen by the bed so you don't miss anything...
Slow down, relax, have some fun. This is of course generally a 
                good idea, but it also stimulates the brain in helpful ways and 
                allows new possibilities to become apparent.

Happy snoozing!
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Talk Doesn’t Cook Rice



In my community microbusiness class a while back, we were discussing the things that get in the way of making time to think creatively about your business. A popular topic was procrastination, another was perfectionism (no surprises here...). One of my students summed it all up with an expression from India, her home country: Talk doesn’t cook rice.

I love it. Talk doesn’t cook rice. When I googled it later, turns out it’s a big mantra in China, too. I think maybe it’s time it entered the Australian vernacular...

The expression resonated with me because I love colourful expressions and use metaphor  all the time. But it also connected because I am an expert at procrastination, at putting off the actions I know I need to do to grow my business. I love researching, thinking and discussing possibilities, coming up with endless ideas. There’s nothing wrong with this as such, it is an essential part of thinking creatively. But there is a stage where the idea is ‘good enough’ to put into action, and yet there I am, doing yet more lovely research, thinking and discussion. 

I know myself pretty well though, so I have developed all sorts of strategies that work for me in moving past this unproductive state of mind, including:

Doing very little steps towards my goal, every day
Rewarding myself after making that difficult call, or finalising that 
pitch, or whatever...
Telling myself I am stronger than my excuses
Working with my coach to keep me focused and accountable
Looking at my cash flow (this works a treat...)
Having a daily list of my top three priorities for that day
Asking myself whether something is ‘good enough’ to be put into 
action
Outsourcing the really tricky stuff (bookkeeping, IT, some 
marketing activities)

What about you? What stops you cooking your rice? How do you deal with it?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Is Slow And Steady Best After All?



I used to be an ‘all or nothing’ type. I would only take on the all-consuming challenge. I would leave my bedroom until it was so messy that it took a whole day to clean up. If I needed to diet I would fast for a week. I believed there was no point doing something unless you gave it all your energy and attention. I never understood the hare and tortoise story - where was the fun in plodding on and on, a bit at a time? My school pencil case was adorned with the John Keats quote, ‘I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest’ and I had a T-shirt that said ‘No guts, no glory.’ 

Not any more.

It started when I became a mother, and my ‘free’ time was snatched in 5- or 10-minute chunks, often with no warning. Slowly, I discovered that you can in fact achieve a great deal in 5 minutes. And I discovered that ‘good enough’ is generally good enough. Now my son is almost grown, but I still use my 5-minute principle to get things (good enough) done.

In fact, I have come to realise that just doing a little bit each day towards your goal is much better than waiting until you can divert huge chunks of time to one project. It’s much less disruptive, and much more sustainable. It is also manageable, and much harder to procrastinate about.

I was reminded of all this now that it’s week eight of my gym program. Little by little, my fitness is growing. Little by little I am introducing new habits of exercise, eating and drinking. Little by little, I am meditating again. Little by little, I can see the changes. I like it. Tortoise is good.

And then I came across a couple of articles about continuous improvement at work, about how you only have to improve something by one-half of one percent each week, to achieve 26% improvement in a year. These articles then went on to do very clever things with maths and compounding and stuff, and conclude that this means you would double your performance or skill or productivity or whatever every 2.7 years. And apparently this also means (thanks to those very clever things with maths and compounding and stuff) that you would increase by more than ten times in ten years. It’s amazing, really...

So, what can you do just 1/2% better this week?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Do You Know Too Much?



A while ago, Scientific American Mind magazine had a cover story on the latest research and insights into unleashing creativity. One of the research results shows that creative people are less likely to filter out peripheral information or irrelevant data from their minds than the rest of us are. (As you are reading this, you are probably not aware of the contents of the room you are in, the feeling of your bottom on the chair, the temperature... until I draw your attention to them, of course!)

We all rely on our brain's ability to screen the volumes of data that reaches us every second through our eyes, ears, taste, touch and so on. If not, we would be paralysed into inaction by overwhelm or, in extreme cases, descend into psychosis. However, those who are highly efficient at this screening may also, it seems, be missing the anomalies and curiosities that can lead to creative breakthroughs.

Related to this is the sometime drawback of being an expert, of internalising a body of knowledge and ways of thinking and dealing with the world, so you lose the opportunity to see things differently - you become stuck in your paradigm. You stop searching the world for new ideas or stimuli - often, you set yourself up to block them from your environment altogether.

This can limit your ability to find creative and innovative approaches to old problems... one of the reasons for the trend towards cross-discipline teams these days.

So, what to do about this?

1 Bring your awareness to your surroundings at least every now 
and then. Focus on the information from one of your senses for 
say 5 minutes... notice colours, or smells, or sounds.
2 Cultivate what Zen practitioners call beginner's mind - imagine 
how you might solve the problem if you knew nothing of the 
subject matter (or ask someone who does know nothing, such 
as a friend from another discipline or even a child).
3 Ask 'What would the Dalai Lama do here? Or Einstein? Or Paris 
Hilton? Or Luke Skywalker? Or Harry Potter? Or…?

Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The One Thing That Makes All The Difference To Success



In many circles it is considered old-fashioned to be fully 'committed' in work or life...

But in the creative life, a fierce commitment to your work may be your most effective strategy to ensure you finish your project, or create that new career, or come up with a winning idea at work.

For any project that is challenging or involves you going outside your known universe, you'll need a fierce commitment to get through the obstacles - if you don't champion your work, who will?

A good model here is Robert Fritz's 'fundamental choice’. Fritz talks about serious commitment as a life orientation, not just making a decision or coming up with a new goal. A fierce commitment (or a fundamental choice) is not the kind of choice that is based on external circumstances, or moods or whatever and it's not about willpower. It's a much deeper choice to re-orient your life.

If you just 'decide' to give up smoking, it is really hard, no matter what system you choose; but make a deep, well thought-out, conscious choice to live a healthy life (including as a non-smoker) no matter the day-to-day challenges and temptations, & almost any system for quitting will work.

A fierce commitment is more important than the obstacles. It is something to hold you on course when doubts surface at 3am, the inner critic pops up inside your head, or other priorities intrude (be they sleep, socialising or that new TV program), or it just all seems to hard.

A fierce commitment or fundamental choice for creativity may be to orient yourself around the creative life, & use this as a litmus test for everything else of importance in your life. Once you have made the commitment, you can ask: 'Will this goal or decision or project move me towards a more creative life, or not? And if not, why do it?'

It's a way to reorient your life, to actually create your own life. It might take the form of a fierce commitment to your ideal career, to becoming a better problem-solver, to incorporating creative thinking into your life...or to getting your physical and mental health back on track.

It is a big shift - from reacting or responding, moving away from what you don't want, being dictated to by the circumstances of your life, to making a fundamental choice, moving towards what you do want.

A related idea that works well for particular projects (rather than a whole re-orientation of your life) is Eric Maisel’s 'provisional belligerent commitment'.

Maisel says it needs to be 'belligerent' because you must champion your project absolutely and full-heartedly; go into it with enthusiasm and determination and complete commitment.

But it must also be 'provisional' because your idea may not pan out the way you think; you may come to the difficult realisation that the painting or the novel you started is not going to work in its present form, or the great new idea you had at work is not of interest to your market - then, you must have the courage to abandon it and find another project to which you can give your full provisional belligerent commitment.

I found this concept very useful when I hit overlapping roadblocks in two projects a while ago - both hit rough patches at the same time, both needed long hours rethinking the work, dealing with difficult feedback or mismatches between my ideas & others. I asked myself: 'Do I have a fierce commitment, enough to justify the hours and emotional work to see these projects to the finish?' The answer was 'Yes' for one of the projects, but the other project (although it made rational sense) was not connected to my deeper values and not something I cared enough about. Although it took some time, I managed to extricate myself (with grace, I hope) from one and pour all my energy into the other.

I like 'fierce (provisional) commitment' for projects (as 'belligerent' was my mother's describing of my less than polished teenage behaviour) and fundamental choice for life changes, but whichever concept appeals, the idea is very sound and can make the difference between giving up and seeing it through to the end.

It is important that the choice, the commitment, be a conscious and deliberate act. It will only then form the bedrock of your work. So, how do you make a fierce commitment, a belligerent provisional commitment or a fundamental choice?

First, decide if you truly want this change, deep down. This may require some thinking, reflection journal writing or a walk along a quiet beach.

Second, know what you want. You'll need to get really clear on the vision and absolutely know how the end result will look, feel, sound etc.

Third, choose it, make a deep and conscious decision about where to place your energies. This may call for candles and a glass of wine, or it might happen on a walk, or just a shift inside that says, 'Yes'. Whatever, do it as a conscious process, make the time to think, then choose.


Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

How to Make Brainstorming Work For You



Whenever I'm running a creative thinking workshop and introduce the idea of brainstorming, at least one person will tell me that 'brainstorming doesn't work'. I always agree, because in fact 'traditional' brainstorming often goes awry, either because everyone shouts and it all gets chaotic (fun but not always useful) or because people feel inhibited form speaking up with their ideas, for a range of reasons (not fun and not useful, either). 

So, whenever I use brainstorming I make sure the guidelines are very clear - and I use a very nifty idea called 'shifting' from a guy called Robert Epstein. He has long been a fan of having groups work together for a while, then shift out of the group to work on the problem individually, then come back together again for another group round, then shift out again, and on it goes.

His research and experience over many years tells him that if you have two groups working for 15 minutes on brainstorming names for a new soft drink, say, and in one group they stay together for the whole time and in the other they work together for 5 minutes then shift out for 5 minutes and keep working solo, then come back together for 5 minutes, the shifting group will on average come up with twice as many names as the togetherness group.

Why is it so?

Epstein sees 2 things at work here. Firstly, creativity is always an individual spark, although it can be stimulated in a group. Secondly, groups, while a positive creative force in many ways, can stifle creativity - dominant people control proceedings, junior people tend to edit themselves in front of those higher up, a maverick can hijack proceedings for their own agenda...the list goes on and on.

So when you shift in and out, you get the benefits of group stimulation and minimise the downside of group process. It could be worth a try next time you are planning an idea-generating meeting. As Epstein said in a recent interview for Scientific American Mind magazine: 'When people shift, everybody ends up working on the problem.’



Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

News & Events

Dangerous Minds

Check out Dangerous Minds, an article I wrote for BOSS on corporate culture and creativity. Do some cultures encourage creative thought and innovation? Do other cultures kill it stone dead?

Taking Charge of Your Work. 
Joanna is speaking at the Network Central breakfast in Sydney on 20 September on Taking Charge of Your Work. Do you have a strategic plan for your working life (or even for 2012)? Whether you run your own business, or work for someone else, you need to take charge of your career development. If you'd like to find out more, why not come along? Use this link for the discount rate:

http://joannamaxwell.eventbrite.com.au/