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Getting (Creatively) Unstuck


by Claudia Brogan

“If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”

<Attributed variously to Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Mark Twain, Tony Robbins.
regardless of the origin, what matters is the point this great quote makes.>

One challenge for professional speakers who have varied topics and presentations is the creative act of coming up with new speech topics –or new approaches to topics—that they can use in training for their staffs and audiences. As a matter of fact, getting ourselves into “jams” for new ideas and new approaches can happen to us whether we are speakers, staff trainers, professional development designers, or leaders in a variety of settings.

von OechOne guru in the world of expanding our creativity is the clever Roger Von Oech, http://www.creativethink.com He is the author of A Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, among other great books and resources. Von Oech is a master of helping the reader invent or re-invent the project they are dealing with. He helps to turn on the lightbulb for fresh thinking as the reader wrestles to find some new idea or an approach to the problem that they are trying to puzzle out. With gentle but also inspiring humor, Von Oech offers mental “re-inventions” for us to use such as devising a connection between two seemingly disparate objects or wildly useful approaches like mind-mapping and cherry-picking in order to consider a topic widely first, then be able to narrow down and select useful pieces.

These kinds of techniques can make a world of difference when we are trying to dream up the next topic for a speech to give or a fresh title for our upcoming presentation.

Intrigued about a presentation I needed to do recently, I opened my box and book of von Oech’s newest tool “Ball of Whacks.”  This is an intriguing tool to stimulate our thinking, a small rhombic-shaped ball of magnetic pieces. As the author writes in the opening chapter, our brains operate differently when our fingers and eyes are engaged. So rather than sitting in stupefaction, stuck trying to think up a new thought, I turned to this resource for some active thinking.

Not only does the author describe his own creative epiphanies from using this “hand-y” tool, he also describes that handling this tool is a bit of a meditation tool. Confession: the pun in the preceding sentence is my own: a happy accident once I dipped into using this tool and the list of creativity exercises in the accompanying book. This “hand-y” tool is held in your hand, and like many objects, the hands and fingers start tinkering with it and its configurations within a few seconds. Thinking about new possibilities and coming up with new connections, my brain started re-visiting the challenge at hand.

Not unlike a Rubik’s cube, this piece moves and twists, new combinations form instantaneously.

Von Oech writes about several techniques that one can use for spurring creativity: exercises such as “Find a Pattern,” “Drop an Assumption,” “Make Use of the Random.”  One example of the author’s techniques is “Combine” –Putting together unusual ideas is at the heart of the creativity process, he writes.  Inventors combine components to craft new products: Gutenberg joined together the wine press and the coin punch to create moveable type and the printing press. Joseph Pulitzer added large-scale advertising to high speed printing to create the mass-circulation newspaper.

So, the next time that one finds herself stymied about a presentation, it’s useful to awaken the creative side of one’s brain (using tactile objects nearby such as a ball of yarn, a tennis ball, a rubik’s cube, or even Von Oech ball of magnetic shapes).  Invite the creative neurons to form new combinations, to pull things together then put them into new shapes. For instance, the author asks: “What unusual ideas can you combine with your issue? Pick two of the following professions: chef, soldier, software developer, talk show host, cheerleader, minister, politician, quarter-back, gardener, trial lawyer, test pilot, and florist. Choose two of these from the list, and suppose a member from the two varied professions you selected collaborated to give you suggestions on your next speech title or your challenge at hand.  Based on their interests, their talents, their perspectives on the world, what advice would they give you? What crazy ideas would they offer?

It’s frequent and survivable, this “getting stuck” when preparing for a task at hand: keep in mind that there are great options out there to help get us unstuck and to pop up a new creative idea. Stay alert and awake to the options; re-invent your presentation, its title and its stories often, to breathe life into them. Whether finding a Youtube clip of a juggler, or handling a ball yourself, open yourself to options and find good ways to get unstuck.

Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-­solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you.

 Contact Claudia via email, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-­849-­5182.