Tag Archives: art

The Day my Dog became a Triangle

The Day my Dog became a Triangle

Dogs are not triangles.  Any fool knows this.  They don’t even bother assessing this knowledge when they issue you with a dog license.  So it was very awkward indeed when my dog became a triangle. For a start her name is Chloe. This is less embarrassing to call out at our local dog park compared to “Pythagoras”, even if people called Chloe do get offended when I point out it is a dog’s name.  Equilateral would be a very inappropriate name for a Welsh Springer Spaniel.  Scalene sounds like a skin disease or a song by Dolly Parton.  Isosceles, well now we are getting just a tad pretentious.

triangle dogNow you might be wondering why my dog became a triangle.  Did she decide one day that our social construction of welsh springer spaniels was way too limiting for this pooch?  Had I been at the green chartreuse again?  The answer is simpler and more complex at the same time.  I decided it was time to have a look around me.  And I mean really look.  To look at things in a way I’d never looked at things before.

Looking at things newly is a lot harder than it sounds.  Try telling someone to look at things differently and generally all they will do is look at you in a very familiar and unoriginal questioning manner.  Or they will punch you in the face.  Or both.

The trick is give yourself or another some parameters. Some limits.  Presumably you are reading this blog on some form of screen.  Look at the screen and everything around you in only one of the following ways:

  • as a series of circles
  • as blotches of color
  • as a series of triangles
  • as a swatch of textures
  • as a stormy sea
  • as a part of a basketball
  • as the head of a flower
  • from the front and the side at the same time

 

 

 

 

chloe welsh springer spaniel in trianglesHow did you go?  Could you manage it?  Could you draw what you saw?  For those who managed successfully, you have very probably been creative.  Who knows some might even have been Creative (little c creative is what I term small personal wins, amusements or provocations. Little nudges that prompt our thinking.  Big C creative is the type that Csikzentmihalyi (1996) sees as solving a problem in a new and useful way that is recognized by others.

We could try the same exercise using poetry.  Stephen Fry in the Ode Less Travelled, points out that the limitation of Iambic Pentameter (having five feet to each line of verse followjng a “tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum” structure) actually fosters creativity as one has to fit meaning into this structure.  For instance, he cites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73

“That time of year; thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang”

As Fry points out, it is the limitations that we impose on our attempts at expression and the tension that these create that often lead to great creative expression “Painters paint within a canvas, composers within a structure. It is often the feeling of the human spirit trying to break free of constrictions that gives art its power and its correspondence to our lives, hedged in as ours are by laws and restrictions” (p24).

The idea of Creativity arising from constraints is commonly understood in creative circles and those that study creativity (e.g. Stokes, Creativity from Constraints, 2006). Related to this idea is US painter and jazz musician Larry Rivers, who used a musical metaphor in describing the material we use for the basis of our creativity as the “first chorus”.

I love the idea of the first chorus.  In jazz, the first chorus is often played “straight” to give the audience the structure of the piece, and from there the musicians can improvise (though like Fry’s poetry the improvisation is limited by the chords and chord changes).

The idea of the first chorus is the point at which one has mastered some domain, become familiar or expert.  Rivers says that creativity is the variation on history – on all the stored ideas in ones memory. The first chorus is merely a repetition and is not creative.  This is why experts often get bored because they master the first chorus and then are engaged to endlessly repeat it. They are interested in adding and combining – improvising – and therefore being creative.  This fits well with my model of creativity, creative people want to go beyond mastery, hence the title for my model.

The importance of limitation to creativity is a valuable reminder that when working with individuals looking to change their lives, or looking to change our own, an important first step is to acknowledge the limitations.  Then we we have something tangible to work with, something that allows us to be creative as we look for ways to improvise in our lives, to find solutions by combining the pieces we have or we can obtain, to get a new hand by shuffling the deck of cards we already have or could obtain.

It seems as though everything I am saying here about limitation goes against counseling injunctions to focus on strengths, or to be optimistic but that misses the point.   A true understanding of strengths only comes in the context of knowledge of the limitations, optimism is most powerful when directed at the attainable. Nor does this mean we should overly encourage people to limit themselves, we should not.  Too often people who are looking for solutions in their life are “stuck” (Amundson, 2007).  However in unsticking other people or ourselves, getting people to improvise and strategize using the materials they have and those readily to hand around them is likely to result in more inventive, creative and positive solutions to their own problems than simply asking them to be more creative.  Our limitations are our strengths.

As I’ve said before, each of us is like a beautiful song.  We are limited by the melody and chord structures.  However those limitations are the very things that give us our uniqueness, our identity.  It is those limitations that allows us to strain against them by being creative in rearranging and improvising so our song can be played in an infinite number of ways.   We cannot be anything we want to be, but there are an infinite number of ways of being us.

Often in counseling or coaching for change we encourage others to take a different perspective on a situation.  Changing metaphors, re-writing the story, re-framing, reality checking, skills audits, values lists, interests are all examples of encouraging people to take a new look.

However what I am talking about is fundamentally deeper and that is to see something familiar, something mastered not from a different perspective, but through new eyes.  To hold multiple stories at the same time, to have multiple metaphors simultaneously, to find new solutions using the materials of your history and what is readily available to you in terms of supports, resources, and ideas. Good career development gives you a new perspective. Great career development has you seeing differently.

Sadly for me and my thinking it didn’t stop with the triangular dog.  The cat become a crescent, my kids become trapezoids, trees become oblongs. And this sentence became a full stop.

References

Amundson, N. (2007). Active Engagement 3rd Edition.BC. Canada Ergon Communications.

Csikzentmihalyi M. (1996). Creativity. Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial.

Fry, S. (2005). The Ode Less Travelled.  London. Hutchinson.

Stokes. P. (2006). Creativity from Constraints. New York, NY. Springer.

 

Finding Harmony in work: A strategy to re-soul your career

Harmony: Finding Harmony in work: A strategy to re-soul your career

In my earlier blog Resouling your career I defined harmony in the following terms: “Harmony is a joyful dance through and with life.” Here I want to expand on some practical ideas for finding harmony in your career. In part prompted by Ed Colozzi’s excellent comments on that blog, and in particular because I want to explore the idea of harmony because it has so much to offer to people in their careers.

Harmony is a metaphor derived from music to describe a fundamental aspect of nature where we respond strongly when some things are joined or blended.

In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches (tones, notes), or chords. In some types of music like jazz chords can be altered with “tensions”. A tension is the addition of an element within the chord that sets up dissonance with the bass. Usually in music, this dissonant chord resolves into a consonant chord.  Harmony is the sense of balance between the dissonant and consonant chords – between the tension and the relaxation.

So to my mind, harmony is about a dynamic, an oscillation between tension (I mean this in the mild sense and NOT stress!) and relaxation, a repeating pattern that resonates with us.  It involves the interplay between two or more elements and involves the careful timing to ensure the blends happen at the right time.  In career terms, being “in sync” with others or events may provide a sense of harmony.  Pitching in with contributions or ideas at just the right time, responding intuitively and spontaneously to others – these are all examples of harmony.

Obviously harmony extends beyond music and can be found in all walks of life if we are attuned to seek it out.  Cezanne stated, “When paintings are done right, harmony appears by itself. The more numerous and varied they are, the more the effect is obtained and agreeable to the eye”.  Harmony is an arrangement of the elements or parts of the whole that creates a strong positive aesthetic reaction in us. All the elements seem to work together to create a pleasing order.

Art and music teach us that the common underlying theme of harmony is a sense of connection where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and creates an immediate positive response in us.   It is not only a sense of connection, rather those connections appear to be dictated by a sense of order and belonging – the elements combine in very specific ways – to create that pattern of tension and resolution.  You cannot simply throw any random elements together and expect to get harmony.

In Chaos Theory of Career terms, Harmony can be seen as an emergent property of the dynamic complex interconnected influences in our lives and careers.  It explains why the idea of “fit” between a person and job should not be construed in static terms, but as a dynamic dance.  Harmony is dynamic.

I like to think of harmony in terms of dance because it melds the musical and visual elements of harmony.  In dancing, getting your timing right so that you are in the right place to meet your partner, or doing the the thing that is consonant with the music makes the difference between a satisfying dance and an embarrassing display!

In career terms harmony involves understanding connection, knowing how and when to join in. It involves timing and rhythm.  It involves feeling part of something bigger but at the same time remaining a distinctive element in that bigger thing. Harmony is about blending in AND standing out, it is not about subjugating your voice, rather adding your voice.

Listening carefully, observing, appreciating that you are distinctive and bring unique qualities to work.  This requires acceptance of both your strengths and limitations. It requires respect and close observation of others and nature to understand as much as possible how things go together and to spot opportunities where the addition of your contribution will create harmony.

I also want to clarify my comment in that earlier blog that you can’t do harmony on your own.  What I mean by this, is not that you need other people to achieve harmony necessarily (but often this is where the most obvious or accessible harmony can be found) rather whether it is communing with nature, or meditating, harmony necessarily involves the blending of your self into something greater, something bigger (thanks Ed for making this point in your comments on the Re-souling blog!).

Harmony James

I included album cover for this artist, because I love her name!!

Here are a few suggestions about how you can achieve harmony in your career:

1.  Harmonize with your self. Find time and space in your life to reflect on who you are and what you have to offer

2. Harmonize with your spirit. Try meditation, prayer or silent time (perhaps immerse yourself in a long bath or sauna!) to remove the background noise to listen to the quiet signals and messages

3. Harmonize with others. Immerse yourself in projects and connections – do not expect to find harmony in all of these, but use them as learning opportunities to explore the nature of your strengths and the types of work and people where you experience harmony

4. Harmonize with nature.  Find times to immerse yourself in nature.  This might be a walk or bike ride through the country, a visit to a beach, or it could be appreciating a flower, a flower’s scent or a bird in your back yard. It could be a camping trip, or sitting atop a mountain sipping hot chocolate while taking in the view.  When fully immersed you feel that instantaneous connection as a distinctive part of a vibrant dynamic, complex and inter-connected world.

5. Harmonize with time. Be persistent, harmony requires timing, and in careers timing is not always under your control.  So do not give up if your fail to harmonize in your initial attempts.

6. Harmonize with difference. Seek out friends, colleagues or team members who bring harmony – not people who simply agree with everything you believe – a carbon copy, remember you need that pattern of tension & resolution for harmony – this is why diversity in teams is so essential – without moments of tension you simply have blind agreement – there is no movement, no oscillation, no harmony.

7. Harmonize with change – recognise you are change, are changing like the things around you and harmony needs the constant movement, the warp and weft, the alterations, to be maintained.

 

What is your idea of harmony? How do you find harmony in your work?

 

ps  check out this beautiful video posted via twitter just after I posted this – harmony!