Thursday, July 30, 2015

Minimalism, Materialism & Creativity

“Money does not buy happiness,” we implicitly agree and explicitly enact to varying degrees. Psychological research has found this claim to be both true and false; a more accurate phrase would be, “Money doesn’t buy happiness... after a certain point.” According to research by Daniel Kahneman, behavioral economist (a term coined by Kahneman himself) and author of the fascinating Thinking Fast and Slow, happiness does increase as income increases but only up to an annual income of $75,000. In other words, below $75,000, income and happiness mutually increase and beyond $75,000 the correlation ceases to exist. 

In a sense, Kahneman’s threshold is a re-expression of Maslow’s seminal hierarchy of needs. Both Kahneman’s research and Maslow’s hierarchy function upon the correlation that as certain strains decrease, other, higher values flourish. In Kahneman’s research, as stress, worry, and feelings of sadness decrease (and income rises), positive affect increases. In Maslow’s theory, similarly, as our biological needs and our need for safety are met, we can then turn to pursuits such as self-actualization and creativity.

As mentioned, creativity sits atop Maslow’s pyramid, and comes into play only after basic needs have been met which, in certain respects, makes total sense. Take our environment, for instance, often the product of financial status. Many of us inherently sense that our environment deeply impacts how we feel and act, and there is plenty of research to support this: Natural settings decrease stress and refresh the mind; color, light and space affect productivity and emotion; clutter can both stimulate inspiration or reduce focus according to different studies. Environment has a huge effect on how and what we create, as well as affecting our emotions overall.

Creative individuals and companies understand the importance of a creative workspace, or a creative “oasis” as John Cleese calls it in his funny yet insightful and informative talk on creativity. Having the resources to cater to one’s creative preferences, whether that means practically or aesthetically, or both, can enhance creative work. Often cultivating ritualistic tendencies within their life structure, the creative person applies the same seriousness to refining an environment that nourishes these rituals. For instance, children’s author Maurice Sendak
“has a... working studio that contains a huge unit with flat pullout drawers in which he keeps sketches, reference materials, notes articles. He works on several projects at a time, and he likes to keep the overlapping materials out of sight when he’s tackling any one of them.”
It might be said, then, that money does buy creativity (or at least enhances it) when one has greater access and freedom in choosing and customizing a work environment.
Having the freedom and the means to secure a pleasing environment may, however, evade our reach regardless of salary. Perhaps we have no choice but to work out of a cubicle daily, or whether we work from home or in the office. On the other hand, those lucky enough to choose where they work can access a pleasing environment regardless of income with the growth of co-op spaces and the existence of wonderful public spaces.

Apart from low-cost creative spaces, financial security and creativity diverge in the case for simplicity and its ability to bolster rather than block one’s creativity. As Tharp states in her lovely book, The Creative Habit,
“Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources."
In other words, limits often help us be creative by providing a framework to innovate within. Without the means to accomplish something in a traditional manner, scarcity often necessitates creativity. Furthermore, a minimalist workspace has been shown to increase focus in certain studies.
“When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.” 
Subscribing to the notion that “money does not buy happiness,” may be virtuous, but also a bit foolish. As demonstrated by Kahneman, money does buy happiness-- at least to an extent. Furthermore, minimalism and materialism are not necessarily exclusive values: after all, the minimalist must first be able to afford a space to assert their minimalist tendencies within.

John Cleese on Creativity

Bio:  Molly Holinger is a graduate student and Graduate Assistant at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. Before coming to Buffalo, she co-taught Creativity, Innovation and Vision at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. With her colleagues at the University of Illinois, she co-authored the textbook Building Your Creative Toolbox.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mind Full of Creativity

By: Jennifer Quarrie

True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of ones self; but the point is not only to get out - you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.
- Henry James

Being creative can seem like a tremendous task.  Solving the biggest problems in our lives is no small thing.  Generating large volumes of ideas, we can get carried away.  Facing the task of implementing our grand solutions can seem overwhelming.  But is it really creativity that is so massive, or is it the accumulation of all the other things on our minds?

When our minds are full, we are not free to give our creative goals the attention they need.  Creativity needs special types of attention, many of which relate to the practice of being mindful being aware of what we are doing with an attitude of open curiosity and compassionate acceptance.  So how do we transition from being mind full to mindful?  Here are a couple of tips that may bring those preoccupations down to size.

Slow It Down
Nothing brings attention to the present moment like significantly slowing down what we are doing.  Not only does it increase focus and awareness, but it also calms the stress hormones responsible for keeping that endless, urgent to-do list from constantly disrupting productive thought.

Notice the Obvious
We are built to ignore the familiar; it saves incredible mental resources.  Yet as the familiar begins to change, we may fail to notice.  Using mindfulness to perceive what is in front of us helps make the world new while maintaining presence and focus.

Rock the Routine
Stepping out of our own rhythms can bring remarkable perspective.  It also requires significant attention to navigate new terrain.  Inviting circumstances that demand focus can build mental levels of attention.

Embrace Ambiguity
Ambiguous situations can feel disorienting.  When faced with ambiguity we have a tendency to focus on the small details we can control and ignore the big picture.  Mindfulness helps us accept that ambiguity for what it is and use focused attention to face it.  Once the ambiguous feels more comfortable, it becomes easier to keep the big picture in mind and devise true strategy for change.

Balance Acceptance & Hope
Hope is one of the most potent forms of motivation.  Much of creativity relies on hope.  We project potential futures and set out to materialize them.  Yet to do so we must be clear about the present.  Mindfulness helps us recognize the current state of things.  Yet just because we accept the present does not mean we cannot have hope for the future.  Juxtaposing our current and ideal states empowers us to identify and pursue the paths to reach it.

Use Intuition
The better we know ourselves, the better decisions we can make.  Using mindfulness to connect with ourselves increases self-awareness and self-knowledge in a non-judgmental way.  Using intuition to connect with the heart empowers the head.

Make a Choice
We choose how we react to everything in life.  By setting an intention and focusing on it, we are better able to act in accordance with our intentions.  Mindfulness helps to transform our behaviors from unthinking reactions to deliberate responses.

When our minds are overflowing with preoccupations, we can use deliberate actions to change gears.  Opening space to experience the present brings perspective, and those big tasks dont seem so daunting anymore.  By being more mindful we can open space to have a mind full of creativity.

 Honoré, C. (2004). In praise of slowness: Challenging the cult of speed. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
 Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion.
 Puccio, G. J., Mance, M., & Murdock, M. C. (2011). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
 Van Bilsen, H. (2009). Zee Beatty and the Socks of Doom. Herford: IAPT Consulting.  Retrieved from
 Cartoon source:

Bio: Jennifer Quarrie is a dynamic innovation strategist and creativity expert with a visionary outlook and a knack for metacognition, facilitation and listening. With a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of Virginia and an MSc in Creative Studies from the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at SUNY Buffalo State, she incorporates budding areas of mind and creativity research into all of her work. As a leader and speaker she inspires wellness, fosters transformation and emboldens self-actualization.


 By: Jennifer Quarrie

Are you a powerhouse at Creative Problem Solving?  Always at the ready to save the day?  Its an amazing feeling to implement a solution after a lot of hard work.  But what about those other challenges lurking in the shadows?  You know the ones 

:::Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to face the Unsolvables:::

Its tough to admit, but some problems dont have solutions.  Luckily there are tools that can help manage challenges and improve circumstances. 

Polarity Thinking
Polarity thinking is just such a tool. It works to balance pairs of needs that depend on each other to achieve a positive result (inhaling and exhaling, for example).  When faced with a situation where you need two polarities in your life, yet are seeking to avoid both of their downsides, polarity thinking can help diminish the amount of time you spend in each negative pole.  The trick is recognizing that youve moved into the negative and directing energy towards moving out of it quickly to the opposite, positive pole.

Combine & Synthesize
In complex problem solving, using only one approach or tool often wont cut it.  E. Paul Torrance said it best as part of his Torrance Incubation Model: combine and synthesize.  Leveraging multiple approaches to include Creative Problem Solving and Polarity Thinking when addressing complex challenges results in a more holistic approach to confronting problems.  The fact that such a combination is feasible is a testament to the flexibility of these tools.  It also highlights that, when combined, the tools are more than the sum of their parts.

:::You may choose any two team members but for Unsolvable challenges, one must be polarity thinking:::

Reframing Success
It is easy to assume that solving a problem equates to simply identifying a solution, implementing it and checking it off the list. 

:::These assumptions will self-destruct in five seconds:::

In reality, solutions are impermanent because circumstances are always changing.  While solving a problem may work in the short term, learning how to manage ongoing polarities is a skill that enables a lifetime of progress.  Moving between poles while learning and iterating builds a useful portfolio of experience and knowledge (which can come in handy during problem solving).  At the end of the day, the ultimate goal of problem solving often centers on improving quality of life, which polarity thinking facilitates in a continuous cycle.  Glad you have a new partner in crime, Polarity Thinking, with whom to face the Unsolvables?

:::Mission accomplished:::

 Cruise, T. & Wagner, P. (Producers), & De Palma, B. (Director). (May 22, 1996). Mission: Impossible. [Motion picture]. United States of America: Paramount Pictures.
 Johnson, B. (1992). Polarity management: Identifying and managing unsolvable problems. Amherst, MA: HRD Press.
 Johnson, B. (2014). Reflections a perspective on paradox and its application to modern management. Polarity Partnerships. Retrieved from
 Puccio, G., Mance, M., Switalski, L.B., & Reali, P. D. (2012). Creativity rising: Creative thinking and creative problem solving in the 21st century. Buffalo, NY: ICSC Press.
 Torrance, E. P. (1979). An instructional model for enhancing incubation. Journal of Creative Behavior, 13(1), pp. 23-35.
 Torrance & Safter, H. T. (1990). The incubation model of learning and teaching: Getting beyond aha. Buffalo, NY: Bearly Limited.

Bio: Jennifer Quarrie is a dynamic innovation strategist and creativity expert with a visionary outlook and a knack for metacognition, facilitation and listening. With a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of Virginia and an MSc in Creative Studies from the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at SUNY Buffalo State, she incorporates budding areas of mind and creativity research into all of her work. As a leader and speaker she inspires wellness, fosters transformation and emboldens self-actualization.