Education vs. Creativity

For some time I’ve followed Sir Ken Robinson and his crusade to reform our current education system. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, here is a short RSA version:

One of his main points is that the school system was designed for a post-agrarian industrial system. That is, schools are designed to crank out workers in a factory assembly line fashion. Some rise to the top and become office workers. Others who can’t hack the academic standards become laborers.

Traditionally, it was the artists that suffered. There is no room for creativity in a system that values conformity and mass produced results.


In fact, Sir Ken talks about a girl who is brought in to see a psychiatrist about her learning disorder. Luckily, the perceptive doctor said the problem wasn’t with learning; she needed to be sent to dance school.

But here’s an even bigger problem. As James Altucher points out in Choose Yourself, the days of go to school, earn your degree, get a job and retire are long gone. Yet many still cling to the belief that this is the way to go.

Here’s some of what I believe schools should teach –

1) how to prioritize & time management – Stephen Covey’s 7 habits should be mandatory reading! But more important is learning how to develop your own sense of what you value – not based on what you’re told; again, following others is a factory mindset

2) how to sell – no matter what you do in life you need to learn how to be persuasive or get across your view, whether it’s applying for college or getting a raise (not even talking about your own business)

3) how to connect – social media is now a fact of life; understanding how to play well with others isn’t just a maxim – it’s now life & death!

4) how to collaborate – it’s only in the traditional school system that teaches working together is “cheating”; in the real world this is essential to success

5) how to be creative – as mentioned.. even Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

6) most of all, how to learn – this may seem to be simply a meta idea but it goes beyond an academic idea; pass / fail is an industrial concept; today’s economy needs more entrepreneurs, and the essence of the entrepreneur’s mindset is try, learn, repeat

No wonder we have a hard time figuring out what we want out of life. Recently, I read Jeff Goins’ Art of Work. He shares not only his own journey but also that of several other ordinary folks who made extraordinary choices.

Basically, Jeff offers that you can live a life of not only with passion, but also with purpose. But it takes the courage to ask some difficult questions – made more challenging by the fact that your current friends not only don’t know the answers but wouldn’t dare ask themselves.Luckily, there’s a community of like-minded folks willing to support you on your journey.

For some time I’ve wondered about this disparity between what we’re taught and what need to learn. It’s been a long road to fill a lot of the gaps on my own. And I wouldn’t say that I have all the answers on what my purpose is.

But I do feel that I have more sense of the direction of my path. And that makes all the difference. So if you’re ready to ask some of these questions, you can grab your copy here.

What do you believe is missing in today’s school systems?

[Post-note: This blog post inspired me to launch a new blog dedicated to creative entrepreneurs on their hero’s journey –

You can also follow some of my thoughts on Quora here –]

Here’s what tango taught me about creativity.

Sunday Thoughts (03/22/15) – Grateful Selfishness

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
Alanis Morrissette, “Ironic”

So, we realize having the blessing mindset of “seeing the glass half full” is the way to go. But easier said than done, right?

It’s much easier to fall into the familiar territory of “why me?”

Certainly old habits die hard.

So, what habits do we need to adopt?

Listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast where he interviews Michele Cushatt, author of Undone, they talked about how the inspiration came from a chapter of her life where everything seemed to be settled into a comfortable, predictable pattern.

Then everything got turned upside down. It began with news just before one Thanksgiving that she had cancer on her tongue (speaking was one of the key ways she made her living). Her plans for enjoying a quiet empty nest life after raising her own kids are suddenly canceled by adopting not just one child, but three.

What struck me was how she simply realized that you can resist and curse your luck, accept things and treat it as fate, or be open to the blessing and unexpected miracle.

Recently, I watched the film version of The Fault in Our Stars based on the book by John Green. It’s a very realistic look at young cancer patients who have a star-crossed love that resonates as a modern Romeo and Juliet.

But these young, intelligent adults Gus and Hazel are neither delusional about their situation, nor are they willing to just give up on life. Moments like sitting in support groups where the leader sings on about “the heart of Jesus” highlight this.

The real tragedy comes when they discover their feelings for each other, only to find that their time will be cut short by Gus’ relapse. Rather than curse this loss, Hazel tells him, “You gave me a forever within the numbered days and I’m grateful.”

“Forever within the Numbered Days – Grateful” Fault in Our Stars John Green

I recalled Cushatt saying the same thing as one of the main “aha” moments she experienced. She realized “gratitude in many ways is my lifeline, because when you’re in a position where you’ve lost so much, where every time you turn around you’re losing something else, it can be very easy to focus on all that’s gone.”

“..The only way to push through grief really is to eventually come to some place where you see what you still have left. So I can either focus on all that I’ve lost or start to identify and recognize what I still have.”

Debbie Ford talks about how when we live within our stories, we are small and fail to see what is possible. But when we live outside and provide some distance, we see things as they are – blessing or curse is a choice.

To be honest right now I’ve struggled with some big setbacks. Even friends and loved ones have simply said why don’t you just get a job. There have been plenty of moments that I want to just take what I can get and accept it.

Yet, something keeps me going. I know that I’m here for a purpose more than filling out budget reports or making sure widgets are delivered on time.

It’s not because I think I’m too good for these things. It’s just this sense that life has been preparing me all along for a purpose beyond these tasks.

And to be honest I’ve fought this and wondered why can’t I just live a pedestrian 9 to 5 life going to the movies on weekends and sipping frappucinos with the family.

That’s the life that I had envisioned for myself. But life is what happens while you make plans, as I often say. We’re not always presented with what we want, but life constantly delivers what we need to grow.

So, in this moment of struggling financially without a car it’s up to me to be grateful that I have two hands that can type, two eyes that can read, two ears that can listen to inspiring music, and a voice to share this message that I seem meant to deliver.

It would be much easier to write this, if I was looking back at my life – “connecting the dots..” – after a prosperous career and successful achievements. The challenge is to live in this moment with gratitude – here. Now.

In the midst of the mess that was dealing with cancer recovery and raising three small children, Cushatt connects to this moment where one of the kids colors the white walls of their house to an article about the age of impressionism, where artists discovered how to create art best viewed from a little bit of distance.

She says she “realized, ‘That’s what I need to do. I’m standing too close to my canvas. I have to step back, and then I’m going to see it differently.’”

Dr. Wayne Dyer talks about how he “was deeply honored to be on a panel with Viktor Frankl in 1978 in Vienna, Austria.. [who] shared with me and the audience his assertion that it’s the ability to see beauty in all of life’s circumstances that gives our lives meaning.  In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes a bowl of filthy water with a fish head floating in it, given to him by his Nazi captors in a concentration camp during WWII.  He trained himself to see beauty in this meal, rather than focus on the horror of it.”

Some can only make themselves feel better by knowing that others are worse off. I find comfort in knowing that we’re each facing life’s call in our own way.

Most of all gratitude is a state of allowing – if we are focused on what we lack or what isn’t working, there can’t be room for anything else. We simply can’t see past that and be open to what is possible.

“Sometimes you have to make room for what’s unexpected because there’s a miracle there,” said Michele Cushatt.

Maybe in the end that’s the ultimate irony – that only by being grateful do we meet our selfish desires and letting the beauty hidden in each moment reveal itself to us.

Sunday Thoughts (03/15/15) – Blessing or Curse

Listening to a podcast of Entrepreneur on Fire, an inventor shared her story where she went to a trade show that was totally the wrong venue for her product. Thinking she had wasted her precious few start up dollars, this woman left in tears.

But, as she was leaving, the woman bumped into a man who had reached the same conclusion. It turned out that this man not only introduced her to the promotional products industry, which turned to be the ideal market for her product, but would end up being her mentor.

This reminded me of a classic old Chinese fable of a farmer who found some wild horses one day.

“What good fortune!” his neighbors declared. To which the farmer’s only response was “Sometimes what seems like a blessing is a curse.”

The next day his son tried to help tame the horses but ended up falling off one and broke his leg.

“What bad luck!” the farmer’s wife lamented.

“Sometimes what seems like a curse is really a blessing” was the farmer’s only response.

Not long afterwards the kingdom went to war, and all able-bodied males were drafted. But because the son was injured he was passed over.

Too often we fall into the trap of reacting instead of responding. What’s the difference?

In reacting we merely do what it seems like we’re “supposed to do” or “the way it’s always been done.”

To respond is to consciously make a choice. And sometimes the hard choice is to endure when we’d rather avoid all this with any number of strategies – hiding in busyness, running away and seeking escape, or simply numbing ourselves with food or alchohol.

But here’s an interesting aspect of willpower. In this TED talk the speaker shares how  success and delayed gratification are really closely connected –

So often, the very thing that we see as obstacle to having what we want in a moment may in fact help us to succeed later on.

In The Obstacle is the Way the author shares story after story of how history’s greatest leaders have turned some of their biggest failures into success. Lincoln himself not only faced early challenges – losing his mother as a child, a wife as a young man, and numerous elections until finally winning key offices that led to the presidency.

Little did Lincoln know that life was preparing him for the ultimate test of his character – the Civil War itself. Had he backed down from earlier challenges or given up, Lincoln would not be the man that ultimately led this nation to victory and finally end slavery once and for all.

We Can't Connect the Dots Looking Forward – We Can Only Connect Them Looking Back – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires



Sunday Thoughts (03/08/15) – Master the Dance of Creativity

Ok, I’m realizing that procrastination has been masking itself as a desire to get this blog post “just right.” Normally, I believe in launching just before you feel totally ready, because that’s likely to be your best work. But I think this time I’ve gotten caught up in fear disguised as perfectionism.

Sure, tweaks later on always improve things but over-editing can happen as well. We’ve all heard that it really pays in the end to “go with your gut,” because it’s true.

Part of my motivation is joining this challenge of Live Your Legend.  Check it out. If you’ve been putting off sharing your voice and joining the online conversation, then maybe it’s time to take your own first steps into a larger universe!

Well, here goes nothing..

Recently, I joined a Google Hangout to discuss how we want to have more creativity in our lives. Whether your work is already considered creative like graphic design or freelance content marketing, we still want more freedom to work on our own creative projects. (These can be for personal, business or some combination of both, of course.)

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (affiliate link – thanks for your support!) the Heath brothers start with the analogy set out in The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt which points out how our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider.

Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be in charge.
But their control is shaky at best, because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Let’s face it. Anytime a six-ton Elephant and its Rider disagree about which direction to
go, the Rider is going to lose.

creativity, success

Unless we master dance between Elephant and Rider..

creativity, success, entrepreneur

the Rider is at the Mercy of the Elephant!


We’ve all given up on new year’s resolutions – year after year. In fact, the road to hell is really paved with ANALYZE THINK CHANGE.

Instead choose SEEFEELCHANGE.

In short, using the Heath brothers’ approach to bring more creativity into our lives, we have to:

  • Direct the Rider
  • Motivate the Elephant
  • Shape the Path

Direct the Rider

1. Follow the Bright Spots

As the Heath brothers tell us: “Investigate what’s working and clone it.”

We all want to be more creative, but don’t feel like we have time for our personal creative projects.

What are you currently doing where you feel creative? When do you feel more creative? Who do you feel creative around?

Are there places or spaces that feel inspiring? How can you get more of this without
feeling guilty? ..then how can you take what appears to be a negative and turn this around?

Maybe you feel like your work is uninspiring. How can you find ways to do it more
creatively? or more efficiently so that you get to a creative task?

2. Script the Critical Moves

“Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behavior.” Saying “Be creative!” – is about as useful as “drive safe!”. Give yourself specific steps you can take to start on the path of change – turn on your alarm clock for an earlier time, plan a trip to an inspiring spot, create the space for yourself to be more creative.

Michele Alise first inspired the Hangout event by inviting others to have their own Creative Friday – a chance to practice allowing more creativity into our lives.

In the Artist’s Way Julia Cameron suggests having Artist’s Date – a weekly solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The key is to woo your Inner Muse the way you would date a potential mate.

3. Point to the Destination

“Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.” Rather than talk in the abstract (“creativity,” “art,” “success”) be clear what these mean to you. For example, right now completing this blog post is one way I plan to be creative today. Later, I plan to do at least one sketch. This week I may dance some tango.

Philomena Timberlake:
“Since new year I’ve been trying to get up very early.. and I have initial time for
prayer and affirmation, trying to visualize as well. Then I have 1 or 2 hours set aside –
this is before any business or email.. I find it very encouraging because in the past I
tried to do everything else first, and I’d get to the end of the day.. and I’m tired. I
don’t want to sit down and learn or do something creative at that point.”

Willpower is a limited resource. If we don’t tackle the Big Rocks first, we’ll never get
to them.

B. Motivate the Elephant

1. Find the Feeling

“Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.”

Too often we set goals like “write 1000 words” or worse yet something vague like “spend more time being creative” But as the Heaths point out – the Rider has very little real control over the Elephant.

This is the key – what you put energy and intention only grows. Whether you use some of these strategies or continue to get frustrated and beat yourself up about it, you will
only get more of either.

One of the other Hangout participant, Philomena remarked, “..every day I manage to achieve this, I feel better for it.. there’s a snowball effect.”

Finally, she noted: “Every day I manage to achieve this I feel better for it!”

2. Shrink the Change

“Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant.” This is a key lesson from the book!

One of the challenges echoed by everyone on the Hangout was that we all want to be creative but don’t feel there is enough time. By taking baby steps we get the Elephant moving in the direction we want, rather than running amok and exhausting the Rider in struggling to steer Her!

Too often we end up feeling guilty and discouraged. “I *should* have it more together,” or I *should* be better at this.” Beating ourselves up is not only discouraging, it can be more
than counterproductive. After a while, beating up the poor Elephant does nothing.

If you can’t do a whole Creative Friday, start with an hour or so. In the words of Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”


3. Grow Your People

By getting ourselves to make the small changes – we begin to think of ourselves as someone who’s capable of bigger changes..  Through seeing our new identity, rather than “that’s for creative people,” we start to see ourselves as creative.

That’s why the guy on the street yelling at the top of his lungs rarely works, while the born again sinner gladly surrenders to transformation in front of the congregation. Identifying with our peers and feeling a part of the group helps us to go with the flow.

Surround yourself with like-minded people – others interested in being more creative. ”
When we associate ourselves with creative people, rather than think of them as “weird artist types,” we learn to identify ourselves as a creative.

“A rising tide raises all ships,” is the phrase that John Lee Dumas has popularized.

A Rising Tide Raises All Ships

(photo courtesy of Norma Davey)

Shape the Path

1. Tweak the Environment

Once you have the intention to have more creativity in your life, it really is the little things that count. Smokers have been known to quit more easily on vacation than at home where they’re surrounded by all their usual cues.

By making adjustments and tweaks you can make it easier to build more moment. By far the best thing you can do is to clear your calendar for that block of time to practice your craft or go on that Artist’s Date that Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist Way.

Michele Alise: “I set email notifications and turn off social media.. I even scheduled a
coffee break with a friend.. That helps me set the tone for the rest of my Creative Friday.”

2. Build Habits

“When behavior is habitual, it’s ‘free’ – it doesn’t tax the Rider.”

We’ve already talked about willpower being a finite resource. [Success begets success.] Achieving a snowball effect in the direction you want to go is getting the Elephant on your side.

“Can we slim down with time tasks? look at our habits – unsubscribe some emails..” suggest Philomena.

Once friends, family, even colleagues and clients see that you’re committed to your creative time and space, it will no longer be a question whether you are willing to make an exception “just this one time.”

3. Rally the Herd

“Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.” Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi told us. Without being a Creative Nazi or Jehovah’s Witness of Creativity preaching in the streets, show people that it can be done, allow anyone interested to ask their questions, and support those who are open to your ideas.

Surround yourself with people who are not only inspiring but encourage your creativity.
Avoid those who want to rain on your parade by suggesting that you are being selfish.
They are probably either closet creatives or those who feel inadequate in your light.


So, here’s a Quick Recap –


  • Follow the Bright Spots
    Find out what’s working and build on that. Big rocks crumble after the steady drip over time, not the waves crashing on the shore.
  • Script the Critical Moves
    Identify what new steps are going to where you want to go. Your current way got you here. It’s time to figure out a better way.
  • Point to the Destination
    Don’t pick some uninspiring big goal like “Be creative” that’s bound to leave the Elephant sitting in front of the T.V. with a bucket of rocky road, perfectly pleased with its “creativity.”


  • Shrink the Change
    Contrary to popular self-improvement wisdom, LOWER the bar. Make it impossible to fail. Small changes followed by small successes build on each other and ultimately lead to BIG successes.
  • Script the Critical Moves
    Identify what new steps are going to where you want to go. Your current way got you here. It’s time to figure out a better way.
  • Grow Your People
    By cultivating a new sense of identity, you stop thinking of being creative as something that others do and begin to see yourself as someone creative.


  • Tweak the Environment
    Again willpower is a limited resource. Make it easy on the Rider by greasing the treads so the Elephant starts down the path you want.
  • Build Habits
    Slowly but surely you’ll gain momentum with the small wins. Taking a moment to work on a personal project may lead to a Creative Friday. This may encourage to finally take that sculpting or dance class.
  • Rally the Herd
    Behavior is contagious. Spreading the message will to listen will not only help your cause but before you know it, your baby steps become the start of a movement.


Sunday Ponderings – 03/01/15: Religion vs Spirituality

Out of my 10 years in the Navy I’ve learned that there is no great conspiracy – when you discover that even one of the world’s greatest superpowers is made up of very flawed, very human individuals, you suddenly realize that there is no Illuminati or grand poobah cult. It just simply takes too much organization and coordination!

Are there secret fraternities and closed door meetings where decisions are being made that may affect millions and possibly impact billons of lives and dollars? Sure. Just pick any night in Hollywood and board rooms in Manhattan, and if you had a fly on the wall, you can hear how Google, Facebook, and whatever the next startup will be made.

Here’s the epiphany I’ve recently had.. Christianity is a spiritual practice based on the mind. While it frowns and fears the emotional intelligence of pagan beliefs (call it satanic, wiccan, druid whatever) it feels threatened by these challenges to its tent pole – worship of mental wisdom.

But even Einstein himself said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

No matter what you believe here’s my main takeaway from all this – as long as religions (Christianity, Moslem, Jewish) use bad marketing, they will lose to the rising tide of spiritual practices that recognize the need for connecting with people’s emotional needs.

Call it the seductiveness of the devil or what you will. There is no evil – only the absence of this binding power called love. And unless religions learn to speak to these needs, others will. (some churches considered “new agey” are at least taking steps in the right direction.)

It’s just bad salesmanship – like trying to chop down a tree with a hammer. Sharpen your ax, and pick it up!

Otherwise, others are going to cut down the souls you’re trying to save. (That’s why pseudo-Christian religions (“Scientology”? “Church of Christ Scientist”?) are growing in ranks.)

Blame it on “the devil” or whatever you want – but that’s like the many businesses I’ve seen over the years who lament “customers don’t get how we have a great product..” No, they don’t – and you can keep crying this to the broke house, or you can learn from your competitors.