Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. -Steve jobs
I love Seinfeld (the TV Show). Many people do not. Regardless of your personal opinion regarding the merits of this American classic, I put forth that there are a few important lessons we can learn from Seinfeld on the road to becoming more creative. If you are a comedian, preacher, teacher, host or any other type of public speaker, you would do well to watch a few episodes and contemplate Seinfeld's brand of humor.
I remember watching a special program about the making of Seinfeld one day. In it, Seinfeld and show creator, Larry David discussed the spark that would later turn into the show. They were walking through the grocery store one day and an idea hit Larry, what if they made a show about nothing? On the surface this sounds ridiculous. What does that even mean to make a show about nothing? I remember they actually used this particular concept in an episode. George tried to sell this idea to a Network. So, a show about nothing huh? Can you imagine what people's reactions to this must have been? What if Larry David and Seinfeld would have listened to their critics?
I don't want to spend a lot of time talking about Larry's creativity and guts to move forward with such an outlandish idea, but want to focus further on Seinfeld's brand of comedy. Each show begins with a snippet showing Seinfeld, who is a stand-up comedian, both in real life and in the show, doing his act. It doesn't take long listening to his act before you realize that he is a different brand of comedian. He is not wild and crazy like Jim Carrey. He is not off the wall clever and multi-personalitied like Robin Williams. Seinfeld stands in front of the audience and begins his act by saying things like “have you ever?” or “you know what it's like?” He connects with the audience not through his vast intellect or wit, but through a special brand of empathy. Seinfeld masterfully focuses on everyday events that everyone has experienced and paints a picture of these events, describing each detail meticulously. This is an excellent method for anyone trying to be a comedian, but is also extremely useful for those of us who want to be more creative.
Sometimes the key to being more creative doesn’t start with lightbulbs, sparks or other forms of “inspiration.” Sometimes looking at everyday situations and thinking about them for a long period of time can breed high levels of creativity. I don't want to veer off into too much of a rabbit trail, but this an integral component to effective communication. Empathy, personal identification and common experience can quickly create an effective atmosphere for a receptive audience.
Not only is this type of observational thinking effective for communicating it is also a highly effective method to nurture creativity. Yes, many great, world-changing ideas have come from a “spark” or “lightbulb” moment out of no where, but many times these sparks are the result of mulling over a particular problem over and over again. Below are some steps to take and questions to ask yourself to try and cultivate your inner creativity. Make sure you keep a notebook, scrap of paper, napkin or computer handy so you can be ready when creativity hits you.
- Look at any object you use every day and think about it for at least 5 minutes. It may seem weird at first, but take about 5 minutes and just think about any, normal object you see or use everyday. Maybe it's a toilet, coffee maker or pencil. Just pick anything. Mull over it for 5 minutes and wrie any observations or ideas you have down.
- Think about routine activities, tasks or errands your perform for at least 5 minutes. Again, it might seem a bit strange but pick anything you do at least 3 times a week and just think about it.
- Think about the purpose of the object or activity you thought about and then do your best to make fun of it. Everything has a purpose. It doesn't matter if an object seems stupid to you, it was still created with a particular purpose in mind. Now that you have grown accustomed to thinking about everyday items and tasks. I want you to take some time and do your best to make fun of that item or task. Don't stop there, make fun of the person who made the object (in your mind of course...not to their face). Even if you like the item or think it is useful, make fun of it anyway. Make sure you write down the observations that begin to come when you start making fun of these things.
- Write down what you would change about the object or task. Now that you've had your fun making fun, put your money where your mouth is. You think you're so smart. You had the nerve to make fun of someone else's creation so now it's time for you to bring out your suggestions for what you would do to change it.
- I don't actually have a step five so feel free to make one up.
Congratulations, you have just been creative. Ok, so maybe you didn't have any world changing ideas, but I'm willing to bet you did have a few meaningful things come to mind on how those objects or activities could be changed or improved.
Bonus: Not only have you just proven to yourself you can be creative, but you have also learned the secret to effectively communicate your ideas to an audience. Next time you need to communicate to a boss, co-worker, or audience, think about Seinfeld and the power of observation.
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