Titrating Creativity

I’m going to start this one with the lesson to be learned, and it follows.

Sometimes, when you’re working on a creative project, you don’t feel like you’re making any progress. You feel like throwing your hands up and walking away. But then, one tiny thing gets added, and it all falls into place.

It’s like when you’re titrating chemicals in your high school chemistry class. Mine was so long ago that I don’t remember what the precise chemicals were (and hopefully someone will re-educate me). But I remember doing an experiment where we had a beaker of a clear liquid, and suspended above the beaker was a titration tube. “Titration” is science talk for being able to add one substance to another a tiny bit at a time. You’re adding one clear liquid to another one, drop by tiny drop, until suddenly… bam. You’ve added just enough liquid that a chain reaction occurs, and there’s an explosion of color in the beaker. It boils out like an angry storm cloud, until about a second later, the entire beaker is dark blue. I think it was blue.

Creativity can be just like that.

 

One time I was volunteering at a kids’ summer camp. At this camp, I was part of the programming team, which meant I worked with two other guys to put on two hour-long shows for the kids every day. We didn’t recycle old material… everything was new and created from scratch. And usually at the last minute, because we were creative and therefore procrastinators.

Our shows had a sci-fi theme that year, and featured two main characters: Astrogator, or ‘Gator for short, played by yours truly, and a puppet named Galactic Gecko.

Well, Galactic Gecko needed a theme song, and it just was not happening.

Vince, our music guy, and I kept hammering away at it. We’d be working on building sets, or setting up lights, or making costumes, and we’d keep kicking the theme song idea around in our heads to no avail. Well, we actually had something. We had a chorus that went like this:

“Gecko. Galactic Gecko.”

Super awesome. The kids were going to LOOOOVE that.

Actually, the kids were arriving the next day, and we still didn’t have a theme song. Panic mode was starting to set in.

That night, Vince and I worked on it until late in the evening, to no avail. We finally decided to throw in the towel and call it a night. We went back to the programming team’s cabin and turned off the lights.

In the darkness, I tried one more time. I sang “Gecko. Galactic Gecko.”

Vince chimed in with a new verse: “He’s got big eyes and a funny nose…”

And then, like a bolt out of the blue, like the last drop of titrated chemicals, it hit me. “He walks on my face with those suction cup toes.”

Vince yelled. He turned on the light and started jumping up and down on his cot in his pajamas. (Well, actually he was in his tighty whiteys, but since he wound up being the manager for his daughters’ pop group that got super famous, I’m not going to share that detail with you.) We cranked out the rest of the song in about ten minutes. The next morning, we got up and made a music video of the song which we introduced to the kids when they arrived that night. They did, in fact, love it.

Crisis averted. We had just needed that one drop of inspiration.

 

So when you’re struggling with creativity, sometimes the best thing to do is abandon the idea you’re working on. Maybe that’s a darling you need to slay.

But maybe… just maybe… the idea is lurking in there somewhere and you just need that one last drop. You just need to put the idea away for a moment, and let your subconscious keep working on it. And then, maybe… just maybe… you’ll find yourself with an explosion of color.

Let’s Pretend (or, The Void is Really Awesome)

On Friday, I finally took a shot at Darth Vader.

This was an event that I had imagined since I was ten years old. And now, it was finally happening.

There I was, across a chasm from the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, his breathing apparatus wheezing in my ears. I could smell the sulfurous fumes coming from the chasm, and I could feel the heat pulsing from below.

Fortunately, I had a blaster in my hands. I took careful aim at his black helmet, just like Leia did in Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a book that I guarantee you haven’t read unless you are a super Star Wars nerd like me. I squeezed the trigger.

Dude had his lightsaber on. With grace and ease, he deflected the blaster bolt right at me. It hit me on my left side. It hurt.

 

This really happened. Well, mostly. But in this post-truth society, what is real anymore, anyway?

 

Okay, let’s get a little more pragmatic. The experience I am describing here happened inside a storefront at Downtown Disney, near Disneyland. The place is called The Void, and it’s a location-based virtual reality entertainment center. I went with my family and friends to play/experience/consume/do an interactive narrative called Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire.

We arrived at The Void and checked in. With a bit of Disney cast member creativity and immersion (as in “Greetings, Rebels, are you prepared for your mission?”), we were escorted into an equipment room. There we were outfitted with heavy vests, which we just knew were loaded with electronics stuff, and a helmet with a flip-up visor.

Once we were suited up, we entered the briefing room and either, depending on how immersed we really were at this point, a) received a briefing from Captain Cassian Andor about the top secret, undercover mission we were about to undertake disguised as Imperial stormtroopers, or b) watched an intro video featuring Diego Luna, the star of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, that set up the story we were about to view/take in/experience.

After the transmission/video, we were moved into a plain, grey, small room with a plain, grey doorway on the opposite side. The cast member asked us to flip down our visors…

The plain, grey, small room was now a loading bay on an Imperial shuttle. The plain, grey door was now an electronics-ridden hatchway. And we were stormtroopers. (Well, Rebel spies undercover as stormtroopers.)

I stuck out my hand. I saw my gloved, armored stormtrooper hand right where it should be. I said “High Five!” to Jackson, and he high fived me. I did the same to Sherri (who, by the way, was SERIOUSLY a little short for a stormtrooper, and you could see her short little stormtrooper armor), and this time I saw her hand hit mine a little after I felt it. It’s not quite perfect yet.

The door opened up, and we walked through. I’m not saying that we moved a game controller to change our view. We literally walked through the door. I put my hand on the door jamb to feel it, and sure enough, I could feel the edge of the doorway right where I could see it.

We were now we were in the cargo bay of the shuttle, and K-2SO was right there. (If you don’t remember him, he’s the reprogrammed Imperial security droid from Rogue One.) He pointed to a bench and told us to sat down. We sat down, with a little trepidation… was there really a bench there? There was. I shoved Jackson over to make some more room for me.

K-2SO gave us a little briefing. We went into hyperspace and we saw the stars streaking by us through the window.

We were in a galaxy far, far away.

 

I’m not going to go into any more details, because I don’t want to spoil it for any of you. But here are just a few highlights of the experience:

  • We wound up on a lava planet. When we stepped out onto the catwalk above the molten surface, we could feel the metallic rattling of the catwalk under our feet. And it was hot. And we could smell the sulfur.
  • When we took a lift down to an island in the middle of the lava, we felt it getting hotter.
  • When we got shot by blaster bolts, we could feel it. It wasn’t like PAIN pain, but it was enough of a jolt you wanted to avoid it. Of course, I was able to blast my sons. That was fun.
  • We found something very cool, which to my understanding is now part of Star Wars canon.
  • Darth Vader is much scarier in real life, especially when he has his lightsaber on, and is wielding it like he did at the end of Rogue One.
  • When an R2 unit rolled up to us and started showing us a hologram, I reached out and patted his dome. I could feel it. It was really, actually there. (A cast member told us afterwards that we should have felt K-2SO, too. Next time.)

This experience is going to rattle my cage for a bit. Because it was the most realistic simulation I have ever experienced. We didn’t play a game. We. Were. There.

 

What impact will this type of experience have on learning? What if the simulation was set a little closer to home, and we were a rapid response team dealing with a disaster? What if it was set in a boardroom, and we were making a pitch to clients?

Let me tell you this… it would be nigh impossible not to engage in the experience, and not to get full, 100% directly applicable practice. Because it’s that good.

There’s the part of me that tells me that I was just playing a game; just going through a simulation. But there is also the part of me now that has memories of being part of this Star Wars mission.

When I compare the memories of this experience to the memories of pretending to be stormtroopers running around my backyard in fifth grade, there’s a distinct difference. That felt like pretending. This feels like it was real.

And when I compare the memories of this experience to the memories of, say, climbing through the Great Pyramid of Cheops like I did in 2007… I really don’t feel a difference.

My brain tells me I really did this.

I can’t wait to go back. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Il Pleut

It’s raining in Los Angeles.

You’d think the world was coming to an end. Cars are driving at about 5 mph. I hear the splashing of water and the screeching of brakes.

I’m not complaining. First off, we need the rain. Second, it’s nice to have a little variety in the weather. Third, the rest of the United States is basically frozen tundra, so a little rain is okay when it’s in the mid-50s F in January.

But it’s interesting how much a little change from the norm can disrupt your day. Humans really are creatures of habit. When something happens that disrupts your habits, it can really throw a wrench in.

This is particularly true when you trying to actually build those habits, such as at the beginning of a year that you intend to be Breathtaking. You can start building the habit of running every other day, and lifting on alternate days, and resting on Sunday, and start feeling good about yourself. But then a little rain comes and messes up your run.

What do you do?

For me… well, first acknowledge the discomfort and the disappointment. No, I won’t be able to run on the beach today, and that’s a bummer.

Second, think of a backup plan. I really don’t like running on treadmills anymore, but since I joined the gym, I now have access to one. I can do that.

Third… just be grateful. And whatever you do, don’t let a little rain dampen your mojo.

2018: Some Breathtaking Observations

A few years ago, my team was all in town. One of my teammates, who is an accomplished yoga practitioner, offered to lead our team (and my family, since we were meeting at our house) in a yoga session.

We all piled into my basement with our makeshift yoga mats and started… yoga-ing. Or whatever you call it. Let’s just say that we were poor at it. Our “yogi” showed us an exercise and said “we will do this one hundred times.” After watching us do it twice, and hearing our groans and bodies creaking, he said “okay, maybe we’ll go for twenty.” I think we ended at seven.

Anyway, one of the things he had us do was breathe through alternating nostrils. We closed one nostril (I believe it was the right) and breathed in through the left nostril, and then we shifted our fingers to close the left nostril and breathe out through the right.

I asked him why we did this. He just told me it helps.

I said “how can this really matter? I mean, the air is going into the same airway no matter which nostril you use.”

He said, “I don’t know. It just helps.”

 

Fast forward a few years. Last year, I was seeing a sleep therapist. My sleep has not been great for a long time, and after trying all sorts of methods and pills (bad idea) and C-PAP machines (awful), my doctor recommended a sleep therapist. “She gets results,” he said, “but she can be a little woo-woo.” I told him I was all-in for woo-woo at this point.

So I started seeing this sleep therapist, and one thing she taught me was about heart rate variance. Your heart is not only beating all the time, your heart rate varies all the time. And if that variance is calm and predictable, well, you are calm and predictable too. So you sleep better.

She wanted to teach me how to get my heart rate variance under control, so she hooked me up to a little biofeedback machine. It showed that my heart rate variance was all over the place. The chart looked like the seismograph reading they show on disaster movies as the big earthquake was hitting.

Then she told me to breathe into my heart.

“Um, what?”

“Breathe into your heart. Here, just start. Breathe slowly and deeply.”

I did, and my heart rate variance started to calm down. Now the seismograph just looked like a little Southern California trembler.

“All right, now imagine that the breath you are taking in is going right into your heart.”

“How can this possibly help?” I asked.

She said “I don’t know. It just helps.”

So I did, and I’ll be darned if my heart rate variance graph didn’t turn into smooth, predictable, rolling hills. An almost perfect sine wave. Exactly what I was going for.

And while I was doing it, I got so relaxed I almost drifted off in her office.

 

And so we come to the theme of my year, 2018. It’s the realization that there’s something about breathing.

I’m learning more and more that I can and will share as this goes along. But the key thing is that there is something about the simple act of breathing that is more than just a biological exchange of gases. There’s something in the neuroscience of breathing, and something in the spirituality of it, that takes it deeper than simple biology.

 

Over all, there is a lot I want to accomplish this year. I have a lot of goals in every area of my life. I typically strive for two or three. This year I have about sixteen. As I was making the list, I thought “isn’t this too much? Doesn’t this fly in the face of all the ‘don’t push yourself too hard in New Year’s Resolutions’ advice I have heard throughout the years?”

And yes. Yes, it does. But I think it can be done. I think the key is taking the basics and looking at them differently. What are the things I take for granted? What are the assumptions I don’t challenge? What are the untested areas where I can really push myself?

And one of those areas is simply about how I breathe. There are reasons that you follow your breath when you do mindfulness meditation. There are reasons you take a deep breath before you try something hard. There are reasons you have a hard time breathing when you’re scared.

So wouldn’t it be great if I can harness that? If I can accomplish more hard things and be less scared doing it? Wouldn’t it be amazing? Wouldn’t it be… breathtaking?

Welcome to 2018: The Breathtaking Year. Take a deep breath, and let’s jump in.

2018- The Year Of…

I just got back from the gym.

There are two important nuggets of truth wrapped up in that fact.

The first is that I work for a company that is cool with you working out in the middle of the day, and, in fact, encourages it if that’s what you need to do. It’s all about performing your best and bringing your best self to work and etcetera etcetera.

So if I want to wake up at 5 am (well, I wouldn’t say I want to wake out at 5 am, but I’m a natural early riser) and start working at 6 am, so I can work for several hours and then hit the gym when it’s not so crowded, so I can go back to work for a few hours and round out my day energized and exercised… hey, it’s cool. So… thanks Accenture; you’re pretty awesome.

The second nugget of truth is that part of my job is to bring what I just talked about to life for Accenture folks, to evangelize it, and quite frankly, I have kind of sucked at it for a long time.

Do as I say, not as I do. That always wins ‘em over, right?

Well, if you aren’t concerned about authenticity, transparency, or downright honesty, you can probably pull it off. The problem is that all three of those things are important to me. So I better get on the snide.

And therefore, today is January 3rd, and I just got back from the gym. It’s key to note that I didn’t want to go to the gym. The cold that knocked me low for much of December is still bugging me, and for some reason my back was really hurting last night. But I went anyway.

There are two reasons I went, and therein lie today’s insight.

First, I went because I decided to go.

As I mentioned earlier, my end-of-year break highlighted for me that I wasn’t exactly living the life that I wished for other people, let alone myself. I made a conscious decision to make some shifts headed into this new year, and I’ll be talking about some of those planned shifts in my coming blogs. But because I had already decided that I would exercise every day (except Sunday), I was able to keep that promise to myself today even though I didn’t feel like it.

Second, I went because I had already established the foundations of the good habit.

I believe in New Year’s resolutions. I know a lot of people don’t, for various good reasons, but for me the beginning of a new year is a powerful symbol of renewal. Committing to new habits starting January 1 is a good thing for me.

But, like most other people, I tend to fall off the wagon pretty early. I have a lot of intention going into January 1st, but then that turns into a sleepy, lazy holiday, and there’s still a lot of food around, and the gym is closed, and it’s soooo easy to go back to bed.

This year, I tried something different. I started some of my resolutions early, right after Christmas day. I decided to lay the groundwork and build a foundation, so that the habit would already be forming by the time January 1st rolled around.

And it worked! I worked out every day last week (except Sunday), so now it already feels like something I do, not just something I think about. And that made it all the easier to go today even though I kind of didn’t want to.

You might think that’s advice that you now have to wait 51 weeks to use. Sorry about that. But hey, even though January 1st is a great day to start new habits, so is January 8th. So get on board.

That’s enough for today. On my next post, I’ll complete the title of this post and tell you about my theme for the year. And then I’ll start talking about some of the other habits I intend to build.

I hope you’ll join me!