Monday, June 30, 2008

Creativity Tips: Don't Act Your Age

Turn your week, and your attitude, upside down. Stand on your head. Or your hands. No balance? No problem. Try a somersault. Seriously! Give it a try.

I used to be a somersaulting fool. Attempted one the other day, and ... well ... it was a different story. I'd say I failed, except that my feeble efforts made everyone in the room laugh so hard, we cried.

And, anything that creates belly laughs can hardly be considered a failure ...

P.S. Thanks to Brenda for the post idea and ongoing inspiration!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Fun: Back to Wizards

Since we were talking about wizards earlier this week, let's wrap things up by helping one. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Creativity Tip: Go to a Gallery. Now.

This past weekend, as my husband, daughter and I wandered through the modern art collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I got the urge to paint.

Then, we strolled over to see the Impressionists, and I was awestruck, as always.

Finally, before we could leave, I had to pay homage to the Seated Guanyin Bodhisattva, Liao Dynasty (907-1125). His home at the museum is one of my all-time favorite places in Kansas City. This room feels sacred.

I love the gallery, but it's been so long since we visited it, I had forgotten. Don't forget. If you're in Kansas City, visit the Nelson. If you're not, find a gallery close to you and wander.

It's good for the creative soul.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Creative Query: Who's Your Wizard?

Is that a true story? Pretty damn close.

Mr. O'Neill is what I call a bad wizard. A very bad wizard. When he told me I couldn't draw (or at least, that's what my 9-year-old self heard), I believed him. After all, he was the expert. So I did what any well-behaved, smart child would do. I stopped drawing.

By telling this story over the years in my creativity session, I've discovered something: We all have Mr. O'Neills. We've all been told we can't do something -- and, for whatever reason -- we've believed it. And we let that belief shape who we are, and who we become.

One woman shared a story with me about her mother's elementary school choir teacher. The teacher picked one day, and listened to each child sing -- once. Then, she grouped them as robins or crows. The robins could sing. The crows, very clearly, couldn't.

The woman's mother was banished with the crows. Now, keep in mind, this happened when she was 6 or 7. Yet, she never forgot, and she never sang. She wouldn't even sing Happy Birthday to her children.

Mike Brown and I will be sharing this cartoon/story/lesson in an August presentation on creative instigation. We'd love to have more examples of Mr. O'Neills -- whether it's a dad who said you weren't smart enough to be an attorney, a friend who told you tall girls can't dance, or a boss who let you know you weren't management material.

If you would be willing to share -- even anonymously -- we'd love to hear about your bad wizards, and your advice for dealing with them. I'll share my advice next week. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Giving Credit Where Credit is Du

I recently "introduced" you to my mentor, Duana. Now, as promised, the story of how we met:

In 1986, I had just left an 8-year stint at KUDL/WHB and had started work at the University of Missouri. The academic environment was a real culture shock for me – it was definitely not the wacky world of radio. I was convinced I had made a huge mistake.

As I poked around my basement office, dejectedly considering how I could get my old job back, I heard this humongous laugh echoing through Scofield Hall. I followed the sound upstairs, walked into Duana’s office and asked, “Will you adopt me?” Her first words to me were, “Sure! Who are you?”

And that, as they say, was the start of a beautiful relationship. It was also my first mentoring lesson: If someone asks for help, don't start by determining who they are and if they're worth it. If you can help, just Du it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Creative Inspiration: Site Seeing

I'll start the week with a personal note. While I was on vacation with Mary in Chicago last week, I gave serious consideration to stopping the blog. I've got lots going on in my life, work is insanely busy, it's summertime and the living should be easy.

But, two things stopped me. You, and the book.

You. I love the sense of community this little blog generates. I love your feedback. I love hearing from friends, and from some charming woman I've never met in Italy. I'm old enough to still be astonished and delighted at the power of the Internet.

The book. Remember when I said I was going to use the blog as creative instigation for a book? Well, it's working. And I'll keep you posted on that.

So, it's another week, another post, and another idea. This summer, let's go site seeing together. You send me sites you love, and we'll all go explore.

Here's a great one to start. Thanks for the link and happy birthday, Leslie!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hey Victoria ... I've Got a Secret for You

So, the phone rings today and a charming woman on the other end wants to ask me a few questions about Victoria's Secret, since I shop there. (To the men on the Creative Instigation team: If you've already heard more than enough, leave now.)

I tell her I'm generally ruled out for market surveys, given my profession. (My writing profession. Stop it.) But, apparently, that didn't matter. What did matter became painfully clear with the first survey question: "May I ask your exact age?"

I gave her my exact age, and she immediately asked if there were any Victoria's Secret shoppers in the household between the ages of 18 and 39.

Excuse me? I just spent money in your store, and now you're telling me I'm too old to matter?

Bad marketing. Baaaaaaaaaaaaad marketing. Do yourself a favor, Victoria. Ask us geezer broads a couple of questions before signing off. You don't have to tabulate my answers. Just give me the impression that you care.

In other words, Victoria, fake it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Creativity Tips: How Do You Spell ....

This morning, I used the word "presumptuous" in an email to a friend. (Relax. I wasn't describing my friend. I was describing myself.)

Outlook was good enough to tell me "presumptious" wasn't the way to spell it. When I went to the online dictionary and plugged in the wrong spelling, I got just what I needed from Wiktionary:

Adjective: presumptious
Common misspelling of presumptuous.

It's a great idea we should all remember: When people make a little mistake, don't make a big deal out of it. Let them know others make that mistake too and give them the accurate info. Then, let it go.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Would You Do If You Were Brave?

Words have power.

Years ago, my sister Eva gave me a creative birthday present -- tickets for us to attend the Speaking of Women's Health conference. I'll be honest: I wasn't all that interested in the conference. But, the idea of spending a whole day with Eva was irresistible.

Despite my initial attitude, the conference captured my attention with one recurring theme: What would you do today if you were brave?

I can't explain why, but that simple question opened my eyes. Not long after the conference, I was brave. I launched Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC, and it's been a fun and profitable adventure ever since.

It may not be a life-changing question for you, but I want to ask: What would you do today, if you were brave?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Creativity Tips: Driving Lessons

In Kansas, kids can start driving -- legally -- at the ripe old age of 14. This made sense when the law was enacted and Kansas was one big farm and the vehicles were tractors. It makes less sense now, but ...

I'm teaching 14-year-old Mary to drive. Watching her behind the wheel reminds me of a very important creativity tip: Focus on where you're going. If you're moving ahead, look ahead. If you're backing up, look back.

And if someone starts talking, don't look at them until the car is stopped.

Even if it's your mother. And even if she's screaming.

Focus. It's a good thing.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Fun: Here's One for the Fathers

Well, there's nothing like a good bbq to celebrate Dad's big day ... especially if we can add a little political humor for relish. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Creative Inspiration: Guppy Love

I have reservations for a Chicago hotel where, in addition to free wireless Internet service*, I can enjoy a free goldfish in my room. Yep, I'm leaving puppy love for guppy love.

The hotel staff will bring the fishy in, feed it, and flush it if it dies. All I have to do is name it, and enjoy it. (And I have great hope that it will survive my visit, despite my goldfish history.)

What a great, fun creative strategy. For very little money, this hotel has created a memorable way to set itself apart.

How can you do that?

*P.S. I won't be needing the wireless Internet. Here's your creativity tip for the day: When you go on vacation, leave your computer at home. You really don't have to be connected 24/7. The world will be waiting when you get back.

P.P.S. While looking for goldfish images, I found Two Little Fishes, a Web site development firm in England. I like their ethical policy. It's another example of how you can set yourself apart.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Creativity Tips: Maybe You Don't Love It

Yesterday, I raised a few questions about projects that aren't completed. Here's another one to consider: Do you love what you're doing?

I like knitting, but I haven't started knitting anything else since I finished the infamous Kate scarf. I will ... three people have requested scarves, and I try not to let people down. And, I'll enjoy the process -- and the product. But my creative life would be fine without knitting.

On the other hand, if I couldn't read, write and doodle, I'd be in seriously sad shape. I love reading, writing and doodling. They are part of who I am.

If you're not making progress on a project, remember: It's in your hands. And there's no shame in letting go.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Creativity Tip: Take Stock

OK, creative instigators. Here it is, June. The perfect time to take stock of what you've accomplished so far this year, and where you need to go.

If you're making progress, give yourself a smiley face and keep going! (Yes, I will give myself an actual smiley face. I'm silly. Move on.)

If you haven't made the progress you wanted, we commend you for your honesty. Now, re-evaluate your goal. Is it really important to you? If so, why aren't you making progress? What's stopping you?

There's plenty of year left to succeed.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Creativity Exercise: Beyond Random Acts of Kindness

I was visiting my friend Duana in the hospital last week, and she told me this latest hospital stay had forced her to cancel a visit with a former colleague. She was truly disappointed: The scheduled visit was important to her -- it was part of her plan to "do something nice for someone every single day."

Consider that. Her objective -- as she fights invasive breast cancer and related issues -- isn't to replace random acts of kindness. Her objective is to supplement those with planned actions.

Duana has been my mentor for years. This week, let her be yours. Bring kindness fully forward in your consciousness. Say something nice in the grocery check-out line. Let that car pass you. Grin at someone on the elevator.

My guess is, nice runs in circles.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday Fun: National Accordion Awareness Month

You know how banks post holiday hours on the drive-through cashier's windows? Well, People's Bank posts unusual holidays.

And thank goodness, because otherwise we might miss National Accordion Awareness Month. I defy you to watch this without smiling.

P.S. Yes, I do remember them. Yes, I am extremely old.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Creativity Tips: Residual Pain

When I wrote "Residual Pain," I thought it was hideously obvious that I wasn't really talking about a rotator cuff injury.

Turns out -- and I'm sure this will amaze you, because I know it astonished me -- I was wrong. My first readers didn't get the point of the poem. Matter of fact, they suggested the subtitle, to make sure other people would understand the grief metaphor.

Two creativity tips today:
  1. What you absolutely know is right, may be wrong.
  2. When you're trying to communicate something, bring it home a different way: Consider a metaphor, a simile or one of those other wonderful literary terms that I always have to look up to define because my brain is full.

I hope you like the poem. I think Dad would have.

Residual Pain
In memory of my father on Valentine’s Day

With a torn rotator cuff, the initial stab is just a warning.
The shock echoes down your arm,
takes your breath, and fills your eyes with unexpected tears.

There’s danger every day.
Hug a friend, slip into your coat, close a door,
and you double over. Another stab. A lingering path of pain.

You move differently once it’s torn,
never knowing what will make you wince or make you weep.
Nothing is safe, not even sleep. You can’t lie on that side anymore.

Rubbing your arm won’t help, but you rub anyway.
Time may help, but it won’t heal
this tear.

For now, just catch your breath, close your eyes and wait.
Tell yourself: It’s not really there. Not really. It’s residual.
By the time we feel it, gone.

-- © 2008, Jan Sokoloff Harness

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Creativity Tip: Give Trust a Try

My father had a thoroughly unappreciated talent for picking restaurants.

I was one of the unappreciators. Dad would park the old family car in front of some dive, and my brother and sister and I would start whining from the back seat:

Not again. Not another dump. I'm not going in. I'm not eating here. Why can't we ever go someplace nice? Why can't we be like normal families?

Of course, we did go in. And we ate. At this Stroud's -- which was unappealingly located smackdab on a busy street and under a bridge -- we ate a lot. Scrumptious chicken, mashed potatoes, cinnamon rolls. Then we'd grudgingly toss Dad a "thank you" bone on the way out.

Dad had a talent. We never trusted it and we never appreciated it. Sound familiar? It's easy to judge a restaurant by its doorway. It's harder to trust someone's innate skill.

Today, give trust a try.

And if you ever have a chance to eat at Stroud's, forget your diet. Enjoy the gravy.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Creativity Exercise: The Name Game

This would have been my dad's 90th birthday. I could mark the day by placing a stone on his grave, in keeping with Jewish tradition. And, I may.

But first things first: Fun stuff. Because Dad loved a good time. (And a good pipe. Which, in Missouri, means a corn cob.)

At various times in my life, Dad called me: Jan-Jan (my baby name and family nickname), Janet (my real name), Star (Hey, I was on the radio for a dozen years, he was my dad, he was proud, stop laughing) and Yaffa (my Hebrew name).

Each of those names holds different memories. In many ways, each one addresses a different me.

We did an exercise some time back re: your name. Today, turn it around. Think about the names you call other people. What message are you sending? Does that name make them feel better about themselves -- or not?

In Dad's honor, I promise not to call any of my younger friends "puppies" today. I make no promises for tomorrow ...

Monday, June 2, 2008

If, by Rudyard Kipling

Regular readers of this blog have "met" my mom. This week, I'm introducing you to my dad, Allen Sokoloff.

Dad was a complicated man. The first word I want to use to describe him is "bipolar," but that seems unfair. He was much more than that. He was strong and determined and brilliant, and he had one trait that really set him apart: He always did his best.

Dad would have been 90 this week. In his honor, I'm doing posts that have some connection to him. We'll start with his favorite poem: If, by Rudyard Kipling. The poem -- and the man who loved it -- still inspire me.

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!