How is an artist like a high-level researcher?

How is a quilter like a team of creatives working at a marketing agency?

How is a playwright like a Head of Customer Experience & Engagement?

Let’s come back to that in a moment.

First, some pictures:



In case you’re wondering what these pics are all about, last week I led my annual creativity offsite, Creative Sandbox Retreat.

Five days in a beautiful setting (most assuredly NOT on Zoom), where each participant had dedicated table space — and dedicated time — to work on the creative project(s) of their choosing.

(I confess, much as I love to design and lead virtual workshops (and I do!), my Creative Sandbox Retreat is absolutely my favorite week of the year. There is simply nothing that compares to gathering and sharing experiences together in-person.)

As creatives, we battle an army of inner voices constantly trying to keep us from making our art.

Sometimes those voices say things like, “You’re not good enough,” or, “You’re not as good as So-and-So,” or, “You’ll never be good enough, so why bother!”

Other times those voices say things like, “You don’t have time to do this!” Or, “This is a waste of time — you should be doing something important!

Other times those voices say things like, “I can’t decide what to do, so I’ll just do nothing.”

There’s really no end to what those inner voices will say, all to keep us from taking any risks.

I like to call those inner voices gremlins. 👹👿👺

Gremlin Training

Gremlins will disguise themselves as the Voice of Truth, the Voice of Wisdom, and the Voice of Reason, to keep you from stepping outside your comfort zone.

They’re just trying to keep you safe, those gremlins. 🧯

It’s kind of sweet, actually, if it weren’t so damn destructive. ☣️

Because of course, the problem is, all creativity happens in the zone of uncertainty, outside your comfort zone.

So in order to make art — in order to be creative, in order to innovate, in order to grow — you must learn how to not take direction from your gremlins.

You can’t kill them or get rid of them, but you can learn to manage them. 

This is a 3-step process, that goes like this:

The 3-Step Gremlin-Training Process

1) Recognize gremlins when they appear (“Aha — you’re a gremlin. I see you. You’re not the Voice of Reason.”)

2) Thank them for their concern (because after all, they’re simply trying to protect you and keep you safe!). You may wish to name your gremlin. (“Thank you for your concern, Perfectionist Patty, but I’ve got this one covered.”)

3) Remove your gremlin from the scene. I like to send mine off to get pedicures, because it makes me laugh, and humor has a way of helping to dissipate gremlin energy. 💅

Every time I run my Creative Sandbox Retreat, at the opening circle, I pass around a bag filled with gremlin finger puppets. Everyone gets to choose a gremlin to keep as a reminder through the week (and after they get home) to watch out for those gremlin voices.

Here’s Josiah’s six-armed gremlin, overseeing his workspace with a trio of paintbrushes:

Getting Gremlins Out of Our Heads

After breakfast every morning I lead everyone through a “creative catalyzing session,” in which we play improv games that get us moving and laughing.

Though playing games may seem frivolous, in fact, these sessions are critical. 

The movement and laughter get us out of our heads — where our gremlins live — and into our bodies. When we’re stuck in our heads, too often it’s the gremlins driving the bus.

But when we can get out of our heads, then we’re in charge, and it’s so much easier to stop taking direction from those voices and get to our art.

What This Has to Do with Business

Many of the games I lead during our creative catalyzing sessions at the retreat are similar to activities I lead with my business clients, when I use my F.U.N. Method™ to create transformation for teams and organizations.

So let’s go back to those questions I asked earlier:

How is an artist like a high-level researcher?

Often the high-level researchers I work with come from intensely competitive academic backgrounds, and can get stuck in their heads about trying new things and “getting it right,” just the same as the artists do.

It’s hard to take risks and lean into uncertainty when gremlin voices are telling you it’s not okay to make mistakes.

How is a quilter like a team of creatives working at a marketing agency?

It’s easy for creatives working at a marketing agency to get repetitive in the way they present pitches to clients, because it feels safer to do what they know worked in the past, rather than trying something new and untested.

The quilters at my retreat have the exact same challenge when designing their quilts!

In both cases, the ultimate goal is creativity and innovation. And in both cases the tendency is to fall into a rut, because taking the risk to try something new and untested is scary.

How is a playwright like a Head of Customer Experience & Engagement?

I have a playwright who’s attended every single one of my Creative Sandbox Retreats since I started leading them in 2013.

Including the years I ran multiple retreats in a year.

Including 2020, when I had to run our 5-day retreat on Zoom!

FIFTEEN retreats, this playwright has attended with me.

She credits my retreat with enabling her to complete two plays, do staged readings of both, and stage and fully produce one of them.

Similarly, I helped a Head of Customer Experience & Engagement make breakthrough progress on her company’s customer learning program.

How? By creating an environment where people have ideas they wouldn’t have had on their own, and making those ideas reality in a fun way.

Whether I’m working with groups of artists, or corporate teams, when people work with me they get from point A to point B faster and more joyfully, and are energized with their newly discovered capabilities.

And seriously, wouldn’t you rather get where you going faster and more joyfully?

I love helping leaders and teams make breakthrough progress and feel energized in their newly discovered capabilities. If you or your team could use help getting somewhere faster and more joyfully, let’s talk!


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