Creativity

When we witness the creativity of children we also internally register the level of energy at play in what they are doing. The adult universe, filled with consequences and limitations on energy, sets itself apart from the child’s universe so that it can function predictably and reliably. For many adults the creativity of children is a direct challenge to their very being, and subsequently the strategies with which they go about their day to day lives. The energy inherent within child-like creativity is vibrant, unpredictable and somewhat susceptible to volatility as it can only be steered or influenced, never fully controlled.

Therefore, it is not hard to understand why it is that creativity is so carefully compartmentalised within the adult world. We have ‘creatives’, ‘arty’ types or ‘conceptual’ types that have a distinct role in the adult spheres of politics, business or education. Then there are entire domains of ‘The Arts’ where the cultural signifiers of their adherents are rooted in emotion, play and creativity. Wherever we see a new direction emerge in human interest we can be certain that a burst of creative energy has been the animating factor. The tendency towards conserving existing structures is as strong in adults as it is to reserve the use of energy for only those objectives for which there will be a clear return on investment. Whereas children, to a large degree, have very little idea of what they could possibly lose; or never regain.

Therefore, it is entirely probable that as useful as human memory has clearly been to date, it is a substantial factor in subduing the thrust forward towards the new. Arguably one the predominant factors of the new, right across the span of human culture, is the representation of difference and otherness. Across the globe we have a cacophony of voices that fall upon a spectrum of perspectives that have never existed together previously in history with such potential for connection and inter-relatedness. Therefore, there could also be an argument that as mankind is getting older there are elements within our collective and individual psyche that are, in a sense, becoming younger.

It is precisely within this youth of mankind’s psyche that we find the energy with which to make new sense of the world, and in doing so to apply this new sense-making to the generation of ways to validate a multitude of perspectives.  Seeing the bigger picture and the broader purpose of our ability to be conscious and self-reflexive beings has begun to form a new wave of human development. With heightened creative energies in the mid to late 20th Century we saw post-modernity begin the project of deconstructing even our living memory, releasing huge potential for mankind’s future endeavors.

The cradle of the emergence of creativity within the adult spheres in the 20th Century can be connected to the reduced levels of scarcity and heightened levels of security. Both are important factors in aiding a child’s playful self to emerge. So too, it can be argued, has it influenced humanity’s second childhood in the 21st Century. Whether this second childhood is ameliorated and made anemic by potential social engineering projects such as universal credit is a risk we can neither mitigate nor take lightly.

However, there is a tantalising possibility that we may yet give life to an era and a global wave of creative beings, wherein there is no limit to what could be envisaged, engineered or inhabited. We can only be certain of one thing and that is the vital importance of creativity as a vital factor in the ongoing success of the human race.

“It take’s a long time to become young”. Pablo Picasso

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The double-edged sword of mindfulness

 

The classic perception of mindfulness is as a relaxing and grounding way of finding our centre and bringing greater attention to our sense of being. It is generally pursued through a variety of meditation approaches, most of which are usually experienced in short order as being quite other than relaxing or grounding. Meditation mats and cushions largely end up in a cupboard, Reiki CD’s in the attic and occasional yoga classes recede into distant memory like the flexibility of youth.

Ironically, people engage in mindfulness more often than they are aware. The main way that people engage in mindfulness is not even meditation. Mindfulness is most often experienced when beginning to learn something. Those first few steps of feeling off balance, falling out of ones’ comfort zone and into an array of confusing new information can turn up the volume and brightness on the world around them. Sometimes overwhelmingly. As a temporary member of the Consciously Incompetent we face our greatest challenge. The challenge to our own sense of self both internally and socially.

In fact, the whole experience is often compounded by the social element; as if the volume and brightness of our discomfort were not already turned up high enough. We unavoidably see our maladaptation multiplied in the eyes others around us. As adults, we must run the gauntlet of potentially being stigmatised, classified as unfit for certain levels of social sign off and approval if we fail in public. Yet at no other time are we so exquisitely attuned to learning. Our senses are never so keen or our processing powers as super-charged as when we are immersed in a learning rich environment. And a learning environment is grounded in failure and crowned on reflection with layers of consolidation and emergent capabilities. Put simply we cannot learn deeply and meaningfully without making mistakes and mistakes, as adults, are socially taboo.

However, it is the deep power of this newly unresolved and confused sense of reality that can help us to open up our mental models and make room for new data. The practice of meditation or mindfulness for most of us can be an exercise in self-torture as it is a pure pathway to heightening our awareness. Anything going on in our psyche at that moment in time will immediately become brighter, louder and generally enhanced in every way possible. Mindfulness therefore is one of the last things a troubled mind should look to for escapism, but entirely the way forward for engaging meaningfully and purposefully with life. No discomfort = no gain.

Therefore the double edged sword of mindfulness is that, as it cuts new ground ahead for us, it also cuts us open in the process. If we are not prepared to be open we will resist most of the new and strange information and experiences that want to rush in and become a part of us. My argument therefore is that the stuff deep inside us, that mindfulness raises so powerfully to the surface, is best dealt with through active learning and using the entirety of our being. It needs a purpose, in order for it to become repurposed within the context of our ongoing personal development. And personal development should always be ongoing.

In particular it is in the processing of our demons through creative endeavours that we knit ourselves larger and more encompassing, such that we are increasingly less frightened by our own shadows. These shadows can be reduced as our attention and our being grow and occupy the dark spaces, and it is from these dark spaces that we draw energy and insight for where we can go and who we can grow into being next. It is in this newly grounded and open space, with all of our demons put to work, that we can luxuriate into the quality of being we generally associate with meditation or mindfulness. As our attention begins to know no reason to flinch back from foreign boundaries our sense of self can know its true radius and in doing so find that there is truly no boundary.

Triggers Broom & My Aikido (reflections on learning and unlearning)

 

Triggers Broom & My Aikido

 

I was recently reminded of a wonderful scene in the TV show Only Fools and Horses. The scene in mind featured the character called Trigger talking about getting an award for having the same broom for 20 years. For those who don’t know the scene this is what happens:

Trigger, Del, Rodders, Sid and Boycie chatting in Sid’s cafe.

Trigger has just been presented with an award for saving the council money.

Trigger: “And that’s what I’ve done. Maintained it for 20 years. This old broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”

Sid: “How the hell can it be the same bloody broom then?”

Trigger: “There’s the picture. What more proof do you need?” (Trigger proudly shows a photo of his broom to the others).

Whilst this is clearly a gag that derives its humour from the deadpan straight guy persona of Trigger. He clearly identifies so closely with the ‘idea’ of his broom that he doesn’t get that with all the changes he has made to it, it has long since ceased to be the same broom.

Something about this stuck in my mind. It reminded me of what continuous learning feels like. The constant making and unmaking of mind and body over time. Generally experienced as a sense of being continually crap at what you do, triggered by criticism from a mentor or senior, or our own internal voice.

In Aikido, every stage of the way from white belt to black belt is a lot like the process of sketching with a pencil; you start with the broader outlines then work towards finding greater accuracy and a clearer representation of the thing you are working on. It’s all still Aikido and it’s all still you, but with every iteration subtle adjustments are made and newer versions of both you and your Aikido emerge.

Even at the point of achieving a black belt in Aikido the mountain that had been ascended turned out to be a hill with several higher peaks ahead. A year and a bit since my own 1st Dan grading and I am only now starting to get comfortable with being a continually corrected and changing being. I count this as the most tangible and valuable achievement on my Aikido journey to date.

In the areas of my life in business and when training others in the working environment this piece of awareness has really helped. I have had a greater appreciation for how other people experience feedback and why the learning experience is tough at times for everyone.

The main thing is that whilst the broom is always changing, it survives the changes refreshed and ready for the tasks ahead. The key difference for us is that, with every unmaking we are remade with greater potential for mastery and self-knowledge than ever before.

The take away then is that we should be content with the ‘idea’ of our best version of ourselves as being the thing that is continuous even as we let go of our old sketches of our previous selves. Becoming less defensive, and in doing so becoming more open to becoming the very best version of ourselves that we can. At whatever stage of the journey we are at along the way.

More Than > The Empowerment Mindset

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One of the classic problems that most people struggle with is that they experience bumps in the road or difficulties in general as being unnecessary or unfair. When we were children so much of the world was handled for us by our primary care-givers, parents etc. At some point in our later teens/early adulthood we went through a time where the bumps that our parents smoothed over now gave us stubbed toes, headaches or even anxiety when we failed to adjust to these changes.

Growing up and growing out of smaller sized clothes as children and teenagers can be a template for the ongoing development of our minds as adults. As we grew larger or taller as children we accepted the feedback and moved to new clothes that would include more of our bodies; failure to do this meant wearing very tight clothes, restricted movement and teasing by our peers.

As adults, our ongoing development is no longer delivered automatically from the inside. Instead we have a choice. We either choose to grow through ongoing acceptance and utilisation of feedback, or we opt to find a level at which to maintain our sense of self, seeking a kind of stability focused more on investing in a ‘steady-normal’ state than a learning one. The steady normal state creates a comfort zone, but ironically it leads us to invest even more energy on not learning anything new.

And comfort zones without ongoing learning always get smaller and smaller, limiting what is possible; painting ourselves into a corner. One reason for not learning anything new is that learning always leads us to change what we believe. If we change our beliefs we are setting ourselves up to change who we are. Most people have invested a lot of energy in being who they are as it is how they have always known how to be safe in the world, how to belong, how to manage their memories, experiences, emotions and relationships with others.

It’s not surprising then that when we have an experience that challenges our sense of identity that we sometimes push back, resist and for some they feel the need to fight it. One thing that is always true when we accept the challenges, bumps, tough feedback as learning experiences is that we become more than both the person we were before the difficult experience and more than the difficult experience itself.

What we become is both what we were and what we learn from the experience. We become whatever we are prepared to receive from the learning experience i.e. resilient, adaptive, confident, capable, stable, flexible and invariably: smarter and wiser. My argument here is that whoever of whatever you think you are right now you are also a part of a much bigger jigsaw puzzle; the awesome and magnificent life that we have been given.

Every new experience is therefore both an opportunity to add new pieces to our existing picture of reality, and also to be included into a much bigger one. And in every moment, by engaging in life in this way, we are always becoming:

More Than.

 

The Day of the Zombie Executive

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Over the last 18 years of living in London I have watched people crossing the bridges across the Thames or shuffling into, through and out of tube stations in the mornings. If you take the time it is impossible not to notice the way many people not only drag their brief cases and laptop bags with them, they seem to drag their bodies along too. It’s like watching a bad B movie called ‘The day of the Zombie Executive’. People have picked up the habit of living in their heads and forcing their bodies to comply, treating their physical selves like their car; you drive it like an extension of yourself, have it serviced occasionally but have absolutely no idea how it works let alone have a clue how to maintain it or fix it.

The main reason for this is virtually nothing most business people are required to do on a daily basis asks very much of the body – we even avoid stairs in favour of escalators and lifts. We spend most of our days sitting down, using mostly our finger tips to make a living. Utterly disconnected from the vital yet silent majority of ourselves. The sad fact is that most people only hear what the body has to say when they take a holiday and then it’s quite common for it to tell you how badly you have ignored it and how unhappy it is. Before I took up Aikido just over six years ago I had been doing the sporadic gym session here and there and some running in the mornings. I even took lessons in the Alexander Technique to try and get my body to behave how I wanted it to

All of those things were fine but they didn’t have a purpose, discipline or a set of benchmarks to be tested against. Mostly they just perpetuated the problem of treating the body like a rented car and not a valued loved one and the only home most of us will ever own mortgage free. I would of course experience periods of improvement, better wellbeing etc but then always a slip back into being a business-mind dragging a body around with me. Gravity consistently winning the battle until, at the end of each day, I would crumple into bed and have less than enough sleep to face another day without my body fully on my side.

Six years later I found myself in Japan doing an intensive 16 day training program with a possible black belt grading ahead of me. I had to maintain my body and fix it in order to make it to the next days’ training sessions, let alone those scheduled for the following week. After about four days I found myself moving with my body and not ‘dragging’ it. My body started to regularly give me more than I could have asked for. It got me up in the morning and told me what it needed in order to be sustained, really clearly. It prompted me to stretch and to practice when not in the dojo. I found it easier to manage more than one thing at a time in my life than ever before, as I did not experience a conflict or dissonance between them.

I also just stopped focusing on a bunch of stuff that isn’t really important, like what people might be thinking about me. Believe it or not I actually took up Aikido to get this from it and had seen glimmers of it along the way. Do I think you have to take up a martial art for 6 years then travel to the other side of the planet to immerse yourself in a full time training program and be tested at the end in order to get this? Essentially no. I have however learned some things that I strongly advocate – here are 5 of them that I think could be very helpful if this article has connected with you.

  1. Take up a practice in a martial art or some kind of physical endeavour that requires you to use both your mind and your body, and that can be pursued weekly over the course of your life; even into old age.
  2. Choose an activity that has both a program of measuring your development by an instructor but also agree with yourself why you are doing it and have one of those reasons to become a better person (I.e. fewer of your decisions are influence by fear).
  3. Check in with yourself regularly and contrast how your relationship with your body is changing and if your relationships with others are being affected in any way, good or bad.
  4. When you experience positive changes along the way look at how they can be of benefit to others and spend time applying what you are learning in the working and home environments. This can serve to further integrate developments in the body and yourself as a whole in the training space and with who you are becoming in other areas of your life.
  5. Enjoy the new developments and insights when they come whilst also taking the plateaus as a reassuring investment into the quality of your future life and the lives of those closest to you. This kind of ongoing personal development cannot fail to improve the quality of your own life without having positive effects on everyone around you.

Black Belt NLP

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Firing on all neurological levels..

In my end note to the 50th Edition of Rapport Magazine entitled ‘Plan to surprise yourself’ I had one goal still outstanding from my 5 year plan. This was to attain my Black Belt in Shodokan Aikido. 2016 started with a few low points, some of which affected my regular training in Aikido. Work and family commitments increasingly conflicted with training. Catching up the missed hours so that I could join my peers at the July Black Belt Grading in Edinburgh became impossible.

A number of factors started to bubble to the surface. Questions about my environment, motivation, identity and purpose. Just about everything in our family’s little world was changing. With our daughter about to go to school in a different part of London we needed to move house, prepare for the new school and secure a new nanny for afternoon pick-ups (to name but a few). Two new businesses I had been developing for a while were starting to move from embryonic to needing bank accounts, trading agreements and staff. My Telecommunications business (NSN) was still growing and, although my business partner in his new role as MD largely managed the business, there was still plenty there to occupy my time (including NSN winning a national sales and marketing award!).

My Coaching Company Brighter Lives, which represents my long term purpose, had just taken on corporate clients for the first time and was also testing my time management and prioritisation. So how important really was this Black Belt? Why couldn’t I just accept that it might not happen until 2017? One answer was that so much of my new coaching methodology (Neuro-Somatic Coaching) that I have been developing from my Masters Degree in Applied Coaching focuses on the body, movement, proprioception and reducing fear in the body and raising conscious choice.

The Black Belt would give me the ability to create a space in which to experiment and continue my coaching research. Without it my research would suffer; and so would my mission and purpose. Admittedly my sense of identity struggled with this. Mid-May I set up a dojo space for an Instructor to support them in exchange for Black Belt coaching. They backed out from active Instruction at the last minute due to financial issues. Left with a two month commitment to the owner of the training studios, and no extra Black Belt training I asked a senior training colleague to be my co-instructor. I was nicely surprised when not only did she agree but my reasons for doing it going forward as a space for experimentation and development worked for her too.

One evening mid-April I reviewed my options, priorities and core drivers and came to the conclusion that I had to go to Japan and train daily towards grading. If I was to still meet or even beat the July deadline I would have to seriously play full out, modelling fiercely on all the excellence I could find and put myself out there without guarantee of being offered a grading. Gathering my resources, the support of family, friends and reaching out well beyond my comfort zone saw me landing at Osaka airport on May 29th at 10am in the morning. I was welcomed by my mentor Michael Mccavish, a 6th Dan Instructor in Osaka who had become a friend during my 6 years in Aikido.

I was on the mat in the Shodokan HQ at 12pm for private tuition with him, followed by a class lesson. I did approx. 50hrs of training, closing in on my return date, when during a private lesson kindly given by Nariyama Shihan suddenly the word ‘Shinsa’ (examination) was announced. An hour later he was congratulating me on attaining my Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt). At every stage of the journey I drew on my NLP training, leaning heavily on the Neurological Levels laid out by Robert Dilts, Values work from Tad James, my own developing work on Authoring the Self by awakening the body and aligning deep drives with conscious purpose.

I don’t think it is a gross exaggeration to call this application of NLP methodologies and principles – Black Belt NLP.

Adults Without Leadership

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If you want to develop your business, develop yourself and others

Having worked in lots of different company types and environments my own business environment is the product of various influences. As we at NSN grow in size and move on from being a youthful start-up, now in our 6th year of trading, the influence of some of the larger corporate structures are starting to emerge. Processes, metrics and the management of a larger body of human resource are coming into play. The key employees of today are the middle managers of tomorrow, and this presents both immediate challenges and benefits. In some ways, as a business and life coach, and a business professional I am in my element and have the ground nicely covered. In others I find myself with gaps in my awareness and skill-sets, with lots of ground ahead of me to cover in my own personal and professional development.

An environment of openness supports development

As a mature adult it is in my experience more important than ever it was before to be open to learning, and I work hard to create an environment where people can openly learn together, sharing information and questions quickly and easily. We still reach the limits of individual comfort zones from time to time, which is always a journey into the next stages of someone’s person and professional development; all the richer for being shared as a community within a business. Sometimes we hit bumps along the way and some adults handle these better than others. In my experience it is those who are open to leadership in these times that handle it the best.

Find leadership where you can and provide it in return

Over the years many different leaders and mentors have emerged in my life, some of them chosen by me, many not so much. The ones that stand out as I look back are the ones who didn’t have to provide insights or take the lead – they just did it, whether I enjoyed the experience at the time or not. As I look back I am grateful to all of them, they all had passion and the best of intentions. The ones that took extra time to help confusion turn into understanding are of course the ones that shine the most in memory. But it’s not necessarily the case that the ones who were abrupt and hard on me were any less helpful. In some cases leadership comes in the form of a perpetual relay race. For example, when people ask me how I have managed to work so successfully as equal owners in NSN with my business partner, who works thousands of miles away, the answer varies according to experience to date. What is always true is that we somehow manage to take turns in taking the lead as and when required – not perfectly, but well enough to keep moving forward.

Put yourself in situations where you have no alternative but to model, learn and apply the learning

One of the benefits of being younger is that the ego is a little less set in its ways. As time goes by and we occupy positions of responsibility both at home and work it gets harder for adults to get the feedback they really need to keep changing and developing into the next stage of their potential. This is one of the reasons that around 5 years ago I took up a martial art called Aikido. Subscribing to a fairly merciless feedback space like a dojo is hard for an adult to do as they get older. Picture the white belt on an older body with high grades zipping around at almost half your age; it’s a never ending identity crisis unless the adult accepts that this is a space in which the journey is more important than the journey markers, seniority or pecking order. These things exist in a dojo – they just matter so much less than the learning process itself.

Unlearning and relearning are key in the pursuit of mastery

In Aikido this is a perpetual process; you will always be outclassed by someone who came before you and there will always be another insight that will make you stop and consider everything you have learned to date in a whole new light. Sometimes taking you all the way back to the beginning in some way or another. The outcome being that you come to understand your chosen endeavor, be it Aikido, or anything in the working environment, at a deeper or more fundamental level. This experience is as invaluable as it is challenging; we as adults so often marry our progression in life with our sense of self – this can make us driven but it can also severely limit our ability to unlearn and relearn. Both of these things are essential in achieving new levels of development and indispensable in the pursuit of mastery.

Choose a space in which to stretch yourself.. and make mistakes!

It is something I encourage in all of the adults that I coach, train or manage in the working space – find a space in which you can be a beginner and submit to it fully. This for me brings great degrees of flexibility in learning and ensures that at least in one space I get the luxury of clear and consistent leadership. It has taken me a long time to appreciate the value of those who continuously stretch my capabilities. If you can find a space like a dojo or a diligent mentor who will give you space to find the understandings you need then you really are in a good place to make mistakes. Mistakes are fundamental in learning and achieving a working body of knowledge that will support you when times are hard and nothing comes easily.

In my experience it is this attitude to making mistakes that will help you to stay flexible in your mind and body, generating the best kinds of learning as you work to achieve your potential.. however old you are.