Creativity is a revived currency in business. The New York Times Magazine ran a full feature on the burgeoning field of us creativity consultants and idea leaders. Advances in technology have automated numerous jobs and made follow-instructions-and-gather-information managers almost obsolete.
Yet what do we entrepreneurs, business owners, and business artists do when we make professional plans and goals?
Some of us complain that we’re not analytical or MBA-savvy enough and forfeit our innate creative tools. Yes, rigorous analysis of data and competition and the market are necessary, but analysis alone will not get you to the heart of your professional life and future. And for most of us motivated by meaning more than money, we must get to the core to keep our business’s heart beat thumping through good times and bad.
One oft-forgotten tool, inherent to your creativity, can help you get to your professional heart and envision your professional year accordingly.
What the Lakota Taught an Unlikely Entrepreneur
At 22, fresh out of grad school, I found among Lakota literature a gem of wisdom that has guided my most significant professional decisions. Most of what I wanted then is pretty much what I want now – to live each day with as much gusto with whatever work and play presents itself. My heroes then are who they are today – Thoreau, Zen masters like Dogen, poets whose gaze cracks open the ordinary moment’s quiet splendor, bold yet unassuming innovators in all fields whose love of work for work’s sake far outreaches any survivalist or competitive needs, and the anonymous Native American elders whose words I relished as tracks to a full life worth living.
The Lakota ways particularly interested me. A Lakota man could dream of a rock, and that dream would send him off on a whole new course of life. Like other tribes such as the Cree, the Lakota considered dreams and landscape forms and animals and signs for one’s life direction to be part and parcel of the same language.
The language of imagination and intuition was far, far away from anything I grew up learning or comprehended within conventional learning institutions. I did sense, though, something kindred in making decisions more imaginatively than rationally.
And then I came across this gem from a Lakota elder:
Imagine your life richly.
Granted, that sounds like some New Age bumper sticker. But at the time I took it as part of my personal gospel.
At different times in my life, imagination more than analysis has guided my critical professional decisions.
The Necessary Angel of Creative Innovation
Images are the currency of creative innovation. That capacity to take in an image from our senses, remember it, make meaning of it, and even speak of it is part of what distinguishes our species from Neanderthals, according to at least one prominent archaeologist.
Designers parlay in images. Marketers know images move you to buy. CEOs like Mickey Drexler of J Crew know that images of a way of life influence decisions. Architects build on images and in turn create buildings that create images. Novelists create what John Gardner calls “fictional dreams,” whole continuous worlds that inhabit readers’ imaginations.
The Lakota way strangely reflects what a lot of new science reflects. Psychologist Timothy D. Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, reviews what is at once a whole new way and an ancient way of viewing how we human beings make decisions. We might think we’re rational when we lay out our New Year’s Resolutions and our annual business goals, but our rationality – according to Wilson as well as cognitive scientists such as Mark Johnson – is built on a deep foundation of emotional irrationality, gut feelings, and impulses. Our rational awareness is but the tip of our mind’s iceberg.
This science ties right into other new dream science that suggests that a good night’s sleep of dreaming can help us assimilate what we’re thinking about during the day and even solve creative problems by priming the brain’s associative networks. We just might dream about a rock one night and the next day, boom!, make a decision unconsciously influenced by that dream.
Researcher David Watson discovered that creative people who think in images during the day are more likely to recall dreams vividly, but Watson also discovered these dreamers were more prone to openness, novelty, and different points of view – all essential qualities for the creative problem-trackers successfully innovating in business. The Lakota were onto something.
So why not rally this most essential of all faculties to imagine your year – professionally and personally – richly?
Imagination will help you navigate fertile confusion and periods of deep ambiguity, whether for yourself, your work, or your business or corporation. Imagination helps you learn to live in the space of not-knowing, wonder’s province.
But images also are the currency of how we create our lives. Poet Wallace Stevens called the imagination a “necessary angel.” He explains, “The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.”
3 Ways to Imagine Your Best Year
- Exercise your imagination.
> Every day for the next 15 days, go for a walk, sketchpad in hand, and stop at the first simple sound or sight that startles you into submission. Then, for the sense of it, sketch, draw, doodle, or write in response to what has seized your imagination. It’s imagination exercise.
> Read fiction. Go to WebDelSol and read a short story – not an essay or blog post. Fiction more than any art form absorbs and lights up your imagination. New studies I’m tracking are correlating how reading literary fiction can improve our problem-solving, empathy, and ethics. More imagination exercise.
- Be cracked open by provocateurs. If you hang out with people who always agree with you or if you read only what reinforces what you think you already know to be true, guess what? You’re just reinforcing another year-as-usual.Check your biases. Track your biases. Lean into your biases. Then bust one or two.
- Write and make it richly. Writing into provocative images, ideas, and questions proves to be a profoundly effective alternative or complement to spreadsheet analysis.
I know: This is hard to do on your own. Tens of thousands of people are tired of DIY approaches. Why not influence one another’s year for the greater good?
This week you can join a mounting international movement of people committed to doing business-as-unusual and receive instigations to imagine life richly from influential visionaries such as Jess Lively (Creator and Host of The Lively Show), Charlie Gilkey (CEO of Productive Flourishing), and Jenny Blake (Career & Business Strategist and author of Pivot).
Take the pledge to do business differently in 2017, and you’ll receive free instigations + have the option to join our private forum.