Creativity of the Artist: Observe
Welcome to the first in a series of articles about the creativity of the artist. In the series, we will look at how artists use creativity in order to create original art — and we’ll look at how you (assuming you are not an artist. If you are, I apologise) can apply the creativity of the artist in your work and life. For what it’s worth, I am an artist by training and inclination — but I got caught up in the world of business for about 20 years. I am now making a move back towards doing art. Frankly, it’s way more fun!
Probably the biggest way that artists differ from non-artists is in how the former observe things. For instance, on a sunny, windy day in the countryside, have you ever watched the wind blow across the trees? It is fascinating to watch. As the leaves flutter in the wind, they reflect and deflect the sunlight rapidly, causing them to flicker and dance in a flow of changing colour and tone.
The other day, in a wheat field near my home, sat a rusty blue tractor. The faded blue against the rich golden corn and the green trees behind was truly beautiful. Indeed, I went to get my camera. Sadly, the farmer was faster than me! By the time I returned, the tractor was gone.
Wherever you go, make it a point not just to look, but to observe your surroundings. Better still, go out for regular walks and leisurely bike rides in order to observe the world around you.
It is a myth that artists seek out the beautiful. A good artist will look as intently at ugly things as she will at beautiful things. I am as fascinated by an ugly, obese person as I am a slender, beautiful person. Abandoned, dilapidated buildings are incredible to look at. Sometimes the line between beauty and ugly is very fine. A ruined building against a bright blue sky can be stunningly beautiful or a blot on the landscape.
Even when something is unquestionably ugly, it is worth observing in order to understand its ugliness; in order to appreciate the beauty of other things; in order to understand what beauty and ugliness are. And even within the ugliest of ugly, there is often beauty. A soldiers helping his hideously wounded colleagues in a bloody battle is both ugly and beautiful. Of course, that’s not something most of us observe on a regular basis!
Seek Out Incongruity
In particular, watch for incongruity and absurdity. A building with no windows. A woman wearing a winter coat on a warm summer’s day. A man in bright coloured clothes on a train full of men wearing grey business suits. A machine in a cage. Look at these things and question them in your mind. Why does the building have no windows? Was the architect incompetent? Do the owners hate their neighbours? Why is the machine in a cage? Is it a wild machine? Might it attack people if it was not caged? And so on. You get the picture, I hope.
Applying to Business
“This is all well and good,” I can hear the businessperson say, “But how does it apply to me? I’ve got a business to run!”
Assuming creativity and innovation are important to you, there is a lot you to learn here!
Firstly, getting in the habit of viewing your surroundings and looking for the beautiful, the ugly and the incongruous, will provide your brain with more raw material for building unique ideas. Likewise, taking walks while thinking of business problems and observing the scenery you pass, will make it easier for your mind to bring together disparate elements in new ways — and that results in creative ideas.
Observe Your Business in Action
Learning to observe more completely your surroundings will teach you to observe more completely the processes and actions in your business. Indeed, learn to look for the beautiful, the ugly and the incongruous. Admire what is beautiful in your business activities and think about how you can apply that beauty elsewhere. And note, beauty need not be limited to flowers, lovely paintings in the reception area and a nifty view from the CEOs office. Processes that run efficiently and elegantly can be beautiful. Building quality products can be beautiful. Making your customers happy is certainly beautiful!
Look also for the ugly. Poor quality control on finished products, unhappy employees and dangerous working conditions are all ugly and need to be changed. But ugly can sometimes be good. The Volkswagen Beatle and Citroen 2CV are two examples of ugly cars that sold very well, in part because of their ugliness. Ryan Air, a prominent discount airline in Europe, seems almost to emphasise the ugliness of flying with them, presumably because this also emphasises their very low air fairs. Sometimes emphasising the ugliness of one aspect of your business can highlight other qualities that appeal to customers.
Incongruity in your processes and actions often indicates a need for innovation — or at least improvement. For example, Years ago, I worked with a company that had a ridiculously complex process for invoicing their clients. The process was probably designed by a French bureaucrat. Invoices were sent weeks, and sometimes months, after a project was completed. Indeed, clients sometimes called up and begged for their invoices! Needless-to-say, this process meant that cashflow was slowed down and that’s not a good thing for any business.
However, incongruity can also help define special qualities in your product. For instance, making it difficult to buy your product would, in most cases, be considered a negative incongruity that demands innovative action to make your product more widely available. However, if your product is marketed as being exotic and exclusive, making it difficult to buy could help emphasise its exclusivity or specialness.
Peace of Mind
The idea of observing the world around you is also a part of mindfulness and a key notion in Buddhism. Aside from the benefits it brings in terms of enhanced creativity — learning to observe and appreciate the world around you can only be good for your emotional and mental well being.
image credit: magnifying image from bigstock
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Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a radical new approach to achieving goals through creativity — and an alternative to brainstorming.
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