Baby steps to creative recovery

‘Creativity is something you practise, not just a talent you are born with’

Wise words from IDEO design gurus David and Tom Kelley. In their last contribution to the Harvard Business Review (February 2013) they talk about four fears that hinder most people from accessing ‘creative confidence’.

They blame creative blocks on four core fears: the fear of the ‘messy’ unknown, the fear of being judged, the fear of taking the first step and the fear of letting go.

They liken these fears to serious phobias and point to the work of renowned psychiatrist Dr. Albert Bandura and his groundbreaking work in helping people overcome their greatest fears. Dr. Bandura increases his patient’s ability to deal with the feared object step by step, for example, take the fear of snakes.
The first step is looking at it in a two-way mirror, then looking at it through a doorway, then touching it with a big industrial glove and finally touching it bare handed. The key to over coming these fears?

Small, baby steps.

Simple, isn’t it? Well, yes, with a little bit of help.

Since 2002 I have been running creativity workshops in some form or other. In the first couple of years the workshops were inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  I organised small groups of about 6 – 8 people for a series of workshops over 12 weeks. We came together, did some activities and tasks aimed at reconnecting with our creative power and shared and supported each other through the journey of creative recovery.
It was great fun and everyone reconnected with their creativity and completed creative projects that to that date had only been a dream.

Vanessa, who was interested in interior design and had started to delve into tiles and ceramics, followed the techniques and began by doing some mosaics, then got a job at an exclusive tile showroom, a few years later she is now running her own interior design company in Sydney.

Another lady in her late sixties, finally got around to clearing out her studio by the river and began a series of watercolours which she turned into postcards to send her friends. One man, Peter, loved to write but was so afraid that if he put pen to paper it would all be rubbish, he began a gentle writing practice that freed him up to express himself authentically and discover what he really wanted which was to begin his own consulting business in alternative medicine and martial arts.

At the time I was sincerely taken aback by the effect that the workshops were having on people… and on myself, I wrote, directed and received funding for a short play, received funding for a novel and most importantly, planted the seeds that would a few years later grow into what is now Act Out.

What I was unwittingly but effectively doing was not just cautiously guiding individuals along their journey of creative recovery but I was also letting myself take the first steps and overcome the incredible fear of the messy unknown that working for myself presented. Those small, safe and simple creativity workshops were my way of crawling before standing up; toddling before walking. I learnt one workshop at a time, a few clients at a time; learnt by gently doing what needs to be learnt to establish a new business based on creative approaches.

That was 11 years ago. Now at Act Out our creativity does not scare us!! I am still guiding people through small baby steps in the use creative approaches in all the work we do, whether we are conducting creativity workshops to generate ideas for work or recover our creative expression. Whether we are tackling wicked social problems like violence or social exclusion with communities or improving the communication between teams in organisations, all our activities, techniques and approaches are a form of creativity and play.

‘I’m going to look like a fool!’ one client said to me as we played a game to enhance his self-awareness. He was part of a groups being coached in assertive communication. Yes! That’s what I thought too when I thought about approaching clients with these ‘airy-fairy’ arts-based approaches, ‘they’re going to laugh at me and tell me to go work with kids!’. But they didn’t. They hired me, and to my delight, what we did was not only fun, it was helpful!

Now as I write this I am approaching another fear, letting go. Act Out will very soon be a social entreprise company with a board of directors and a constitution. I will no longer be the only one making decisions and that is super scary. Just like a team leader we worked with a couple of years ago at a health organisation, I have held on to my knowledge and felt safe having tight control over our activities. Well, just like that team leader stepped aside (first in a rehearsed, playful way) and stopped limiting the potential of her team to increase their effectiveness and grow, I am stepping aside (just a tad) to let Act Out grow!

What messy unknown are you scared of? What are you fearful of being judged about? What are you frightened to take your fist step in? What are you holding on to?

Remember what the creativity gurus said: small, baby steps!

For Act Out though, the toddling is over, it’s time for striding.