Thinking out of the box… but how did we get in it?


Commodore VIC 20

This can’t break its programming. You can.

Society has such an outmoded view of creativity. At best it’s a necessary evil, at worst it’s a waste of time.

If you don’t believe me, go and have a look at your primary national curriculum for schools and do a text search for creative thinking and see what comes up.

It’s a rhetorical question: why do we hold back from our creative potential? Because we were trained to. We were programmed to think we were good or bad at this or that and we’ve been running those programmes ever since.

Here’s proof. If someone asked you to do a drawing today, would your first reaction be, ‘whoopee!’? Or would it be one of fear and embarrassment? Ok, maybe you’re the exception, but most people would react in fear. Let’s remind ourselves why.

Let’s go back to being age 6, 7, 8 or 9. The teacher says we’re going to do a drawing. Can you think of anything more exciting? A drawing! It’s pure joy. We’re going to draw… an elephant. So we get going. Mine’s looking ok. But I’m not sure, so I look over at someone else’s which prompts a line of executable programming code from the teacher:

“Don’t copy!” the teacher barks.

So we’re programmed not to look at other people’s ideas. We don’t look to see what other people are up to. We don’t know what our competitors are up to so we can’t do better than them. We fear our ideas will be stolen so we hide them and never improve them. But paradoxically we fear that everyone else is better than us which undermines our confidence, but we can never look to see the truth because our programme stops us from finding out.

John turns to me to ask me something. This prompts the second line of code:

“Stop taking! Do your own work!” .

So we’re programmed not to discuss our ideas to brainstorm them with others. From now on we work in isolation and waste time re-inventing the wheel. We waste time making the same mistakes that others could have helped us with. We get stuck and don’t ask for help. We think that originality is better than collaboration and elaboration and never fully develop our ideas. We begin to doubt ourselves and what we’re capable of. We turn into perfectionists who never finish anything.

Then the teacher comes over and looks at my drawing. “That’s pretty good” she says.

Suddenly I’m programmed with a positive mind virus. It takes over my subroutine, re-calibrating my system with this logical argument.

Teacher is correct.
Teacher says I am good at drawing.
I am good at drawing.

Because she’s the authority figure, what she says must be true. Fast forward from that moment, a year, a decade, thirty years, and the programme is still running. Here I am. I can draw and I know it.

Then she looks at John’s. “Ha ha! What’s that supposed to be? It hasn’t even got a trunk.” She shows it to the class and they all laugh.

Teacher is correct.
Teacher says I am no good at drawing.
I am no good at drawing.

“She’s right. I can’t draw.” thinks John and he runs the further algorithm:

I cannot draw.
Drawing results in embarrassment.
Do not draw.

If we fast forward thirty years, not only does John actively avoid drawing, to avoid further embarrassment, he’s re-calibrated it as frivolous and irrelevant. Just to be safe, he’s lumped in all creativity with it, his software now labelling himself as ‘not a creative person.’

When I was seven I won a painting competition. The best in the village. I won £4.50. I bought a toy telescope with it. But was my painting really that great? If I showed it to you now would it really be that good today? Was it noticeably better than the 2nd place painting? Probably not much better. It probably wasn’t that much better than the worst painting. The painting is of course irrelevant. It’s the fact that I was programmed as a painter that counts.

Can we take credit for what we’re good at (or think we’re good at) today? We can certainly take credit for what we’re not good at.

Did we have talent that was encouraged and developed? Or were were programmed, sometimes randomly, sometimes arbitrarily? Have those programmes stuck, making us think we’re good at (or not good at) something?

The reason so many of us can’t ‘think outside the box’ is because we were forced into that air-tight box all those years ago and we’ve remained there ever since. That’s not really  ood enough. We need to do better. We need to break that programming.

I dare you to do it.

Make a list of the ordinary things you’re not good at. My guess is it will include some of the following: drawing, writing essays, maths, mental arithmetic, memory, sport, geography, finance, cooking, DIY, public speaking, selling…

These are all base-level skills that require little or no talent. They just require confidence and practice.

Pick one, and practice it. Seek the extra bit of training if needed to crack it, and break your programming.

You are not a color home computer loaded with a Beginners All Symbolic Instruction Code operating system and a flashing cursor awaiting instruction on what to do. You are a self-determining creative being. You need to start acting like one. We all do.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

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Do you still have potential?


Beatles Twist and Shout 1963 by Ayd Instone

The Beatles 1963: A representation of youthful energy and creative power

Can one person really be of more worth than another?

And if that person is a teenager, do they have more worth than someone who is 29? Is a seven year old more deserving of our support and love than a teenager, or an unborn something, or a 50 year old man?

The moral reaction is that all have the same worth and value, that is what the law states, that is what all religions state, but it’s not quite how society behaves.

When a baby is born, the universal emotion is one of joy. When one dies, it is with great sadness, but not always quite as great as when a child, who has lived for a short number of years, dies. Perhaps it’s because their personality is more tangible than a baby. Usually only the immediate family mourn a baby who dies in childbirth. A teenagers death is tragic, but once we move into being adults, the tragedy of our untimely deaths grows less and less important to other with our age. Why?

Is it to do with potential? Perhaps there’s perceived greater unfulfilled potential in a child, which by the time that child has become an adult has either become manifest, or not, revealing an adult who has achieved, or has not. Is it therefore to do with what value an individual human contributes, or could potentially contribute?

People certainly mourn famous celebrities as much as members of their own immediate family. Is it connection that deserves our attention? We feel connected to actors, musicians and royalty so we mourn their passing? If a child dies of an illness or incident at home, no-one apart from the immediate family and friends cares. If one dies on the road, strangers may leave flowers. If one dies as a result of murder, thousands may take to the streets in mourning. If the victim of the murder was a 40 year old man, no-one would bother taking to the streets. The end result is the same in each case: we’ve lost a human life too early. But why the difference in reaction?

A celebrity expert, let’s say a famous author, is often quite willing to lend their expertise to support and help a young writer under 16. They would not be so willing to help a 50 year old. Is it that the 50 year old should have figured it all out themselves by that age. They clearly should simply have tried harder in their life and having blown all the chances and opportunities that must have come their way, don’t deserve any help… No-one would argue that children deserve help more than an adult. But why? The 50 year old clearly has more experience, of something, as they have had a longer life than the teenager, but do they have less potential, less to contribute? Or more? Potential to do what exactly?

In most societies, throughout history, age meant wisdom. Today though it seems less so. There have been many examples in the media where a greater age has been perceived to be a disadvantage and some have observed that television presenters appear to be biased towards more youthful ones. Do we value youth (and beauty) more than age and experience?

In some disciplines, the optimum level of youth does have a clear advantage. There is an average peak age where a sportsperson can perform at the highest level. It is said that mathematicians perform at their optimum between the age of 19 and 26 when our brains are said to be at their peak before cells start to die off.

But recent research has shown that brain cells may well die off, but new ones do grow. And it is the connections between the cells in the brain that are more relevant than the actual number of cells.

Because of a number of high profile successes in various creative endeavors by quite young people, the focus of the media is that creativity peaks when we are in our mid to late 20s.

The Beatles are the perfect manifestation of this rule. By the time they’d competed their final recordings together (on Abbey Road in 1969), George Harrison was still just 26. Ringo was the oldest at 29 (John Lennon was 28 and Paul McCartney had just turned 27).

Just a few years earlier, the four Beatles who wrote, played and sang on their first number one record were aged just 20, 21, 23 and 23. Their manager, Brian Epstein was only 27 and George Martin, their recording producer, 37.

In almost every creative avenue in the 1960s it seemed that youth had the creative power and it’s something we seem to have stuck with ever since. But is that actually true, or are the results somewhat skewed? Can people still be creative in their 30s, their 40s, their 50s and beyond?

Anyone of you who knows my age may well be thinking, “oh you’re just bitter and twisted because no-one spotted your ‘genius’ when you were 26.”

That may well be true, but it’s not the point. Or rather it is part of the point because I may well write off part of my creativity in the same way that you have, by thinking that we must have been no good at a certain thing or it would certainly have led somewhere by now, or we’ve missed the opportunity, and that we’re just past it.

If we ignore the negative impact of the media we’ll notice that many successful painters and authors only began their craft close to ‘retirement’ age.

We ALL have potential and we always will have that potential right up until our very last productive day on this Earth, irrespective of our age.

Drawing by Ayd Instone.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


The 10,000 hour rule: can we trust it?


It’s been said* that if you constructively practice anything well for around 10,000 hours you will have become world class at it. The argument is that talent is less relevant than effort. What do you think? Is this the case?

The Beatles 1964 and 1966 RevolverLet’s try to make it simple and compare like with like. Take a dozen or so rock ‘n’ roll bands from Liverpool in 1960 and send them to Hamburg in Germany to perform 8 hours a night or more in various nightclubs for two to three years. They all have the same background. They all have the same exposure to influences. They all start with similar ability (they’re all aged between 17 and 19 so have been playing music for the same amount of time, between 1 and 3 years).

They are all the same, and yet only one of those acts becomes the phenomenon known as The Beatles.

I’ve been talking about, researching and training creativity overtly for 8 years. (Yes, before that I was doing it covertly).

Creativity is still a dirty word. By dirty I mean messy. It almost doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes when I’ve been talking about it I’ve had to keep it so broad, to encompass so many things that it can become almost meaningless. I make a great point that it has to be practical, that it’s not just to do with a particular artistic discipline, that it’s about making connections, problem solving, intuitive leaps, experimentation and so on. There are different facets to it, like a diamond, and so many differing ways to engage it, express it and use it. It’s what makes us human (as opposed to animal). It’s what forms our beliefs, it’s what allows us to explore the universe and ourselves. It IS science. It IS civilisation.

Here’s a new definition for you: creativity is a human’s ability to imagine a future in the minds and then use the hands to manifest it.

But even with this glorious definition there is still a misnomer that exists. So many people still believe that some people are more creative than others. We’ve got to admit, the evidence is compelling. But it is really true?

I think it comes from a misinterpretation of what creativity is and what it does. People believe in ‘talent’ and often think that talent = ability = gifts = creativity. It doesn’t.

There are many observers who report that talent is a myth. They believe that any concerted effort into consistent constructed practice will deliver exceptional performance. They cite examples in sport, mathematics, performance, art, business, chess, science and so on. Almost everything in fact.

Are they right? If you practice, practice, practice in a constructive way, learning and growing, learning and growing for 10,000 hours or 10 years, you will become a world class expert? Really?

I think the answer is yes, and no.

The 10,000 hour rule works with certain activities. It works with activities that have their basis in pattern recognition. Any sport that is based on pattern recognition will improve with practice. This is true for tennis, football, motor racing and chess. If you want to know more on why those activities are pattern recognition and not reflexes or memory then you need to read these books: Bounce and Talent is Overrated. I’m not going to be going down that route here.

Any sport that relies on endurance, motor skills or strength will not improve with 10,000 hours practice past the limitations of a particular person’s body. We can all get fitter and stronger, but not without limit. Those limits are set by our particular skeleton, muscle arrangement etc. So we’ve found one hole in the practice theory.

It’s said that the Beatles did their ‘10,000 hours’** of practice in the night clubs of Hamburg, playing, as they did, 8 hours a night. To be able to do that, to play and sing for that length of time they needed a few things or they would have collapsed. They needed youthful energy and endurance (this was enhanced by them ingesting Preludin, a drug that increases metabolic rate, then a freely available diet pill, now known as speed), they needed to be able to sing correctly so they didn’t damage their voice boxes. They needed a large repertoire of songs so that they or their audiences didn’t get bored.

So their time in Hamburg made them world class rock ‘n’ roll performers. So the story goes, there was their 10,000 hours, and that’s what made them musical geniuses, right? Is that it?

The time in Hamburg made all those bands blumn’ good at playing Twist and Shout. But the Beatles version is undeniably better than all of them.

There were plenty of bands that performed to the same schedule as the Beatles and who came from the same starting point. Many of them we know about, you can get hold of their record and you can compare. Many of them were also signed by Brian Epstein to EMI’s Parlaphone label. Many of them were produced by George Martin and many of them had a few number one records. But only the Beatles went on to write amazing hits like She Loves You or I Want to Hold Your Hand within a year of coming back from Hamburg. Only the Beatles came up with groundbraking songs outside the rock ‘n’ roll genre of Hamburg like Yesterday or Eleanor Rigby. Out of all the Merseybeat groups that had exactly the same background and experience, only the Beatles re-defined rock music with Strawberry Fields Forever, Tomorrow Never Knows and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Cub Band.

So what did the Beatles and specifically Lennon McCartney have that the others lacked?

Can we really say that it was ‘talent’? And if so, where was that talent located and how did it emerge? Were they born brilliant? When did they become genius songwriters and how?

There’s even more to this question because if you looked at the Beatles in 1963 you would already recognise (as many comentators did) the genius songwriting skills of Lennon and McCartney, but you would have ignored George Harrison’s songwriting ability. You’d have pricked your ears up in 1966 to his contributions to Revolver but it wasn’t until  1969 with his songs Something and Here Comes the Sun and his triple solo LP All Things Must Pass in 1970 that made comentators place Harrison’s songwriting on an equal par to Lennon and McCartney (some would even place it higher).

So when did George become a genius? Was it with him all along? Was it innate talent, or was it developed by hanging around with the century’s greatest songsmiths? If it was environment, why don’t we value Ringo’s songwriting skills as highly? He was there all the time too?

Their story does point to something else, some other mechanism. But what? Were they born with the talent and potential to write Sgt. Pepper? Were they unique in that respect? If so what DOES that say for the rest of us? Is 10,000 hours spent a waste on time for mere mortals? We’ll no doubt get pretty good at singing Twist and Shout but will we ever be able to transform the experience into A Hard Days Night, never mind a Hey Jude?

Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that the Beatles really, really really wanted to write the greatest songs. They certainly had a driving passion for their chosen field. But just being super keen isn’t enough either, otherwise all the contestants on those talent shows who ‘I’ll shrivel up and die if I don’t make it as a star’ would eventually shine. We know that they don’t.

Perhaps the teenager living next door to you, playing Wild Thing or Stairway to Heaven very badly on his out-of-tune electric guitar at all hours, may well be a future George Harrison, if only he had the chance to perform and/or hang out with some serious masters for enough time? How can we know?

There STILL are too many questions when it comes to creativity and the weird, obfuscated

world of talent (whatever that is) and still not enough answers.

So for now we’ll have to just keep practicing, crank up our 10,000 hours in our chosen field after all, and make sure we do our best to follow our own passion in the best way we can.

* Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
** It was more likely 2500 hours, but that’s actually no less impressive.
Drawing by Ayd Instone. 

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


The Curse of the Zero Sum Game


There are so many examples in our society of win or lose, black or white, right or wrong, right or left as if everything has to be one thing or another. There can only be one winner, one gold medal, one number one hit single. The danger with this is that it can stop people reaching their potential as they think, if I can’t be the best, the number one, then there’s no point in taking part.

What is a number one hit single? It’s the music track that sold the most from a select number of outlets in seven days. There can only be one, the rest of the chart is full of singles that are not number one and yet many more music acts have had wonderful success without it having to be confined to such arbitrary measures of sales.

What is an Olympic gold medal? It’s an award given to someone who performed the best at one task on one particular day. The rest of the participants were also-rans, they lost.

Because these type of successes are so visible we can make the mistake that the concepts should apply to our everyday potential. We fall into the trap of thinking that we need external verification for success instead of internal satisfaction and that for us to win, others must lose. The bigger slice of the pie I can get, the less there is for you. This is the Zero Sum Game, the ZSG.

There’s nothing wrong with being, or aiming for being, the absolute best in the world but if you feel that no other place counts then you’re doing yourself a disservice.

I’ve seen this time and time again with aspects of people’s creativity. “I can’t draw” is the classic. Of course they can draw, everybody can draw. And like everything else, if you practice you get better. But people notice that they can’t draw like Leonardo so they label themselves within the ZSG: Leonardo can, I can’t. Leonardo wins, I lose or more seriously, they refuse to take part so that I avoid being labeled as a loser.

Being the ‘best in the world’ would be a wonderful thing to be, but a short lived and arbitary thing to be. Chasing the ZSG is a battle you can only temporarily win. But being the best you can be is different. Getting as far as you can get compared to what you’re capable of, compared to your own personal best is different. It isn’t a ZSG but a continuous journey to excellence and one where others can win with you along the way.

The most damaging thing anyone can do to their potential is to compare themselves with someone else. There is always someone who appears more successful, better looking, cleverer, richer, happier, funnier or whatever. Creating a secret ZSG competition like this between yourself and another person leads to stress. Such a race can never be won because unlike all sports competitions, the players will never have an equal starting position on all attributes except the one that is being tested.

If you’re on a racetrack aiming to take home the gold medal then you need to compare your performance with others to reach and snatch that discreet ZSG victory. You’ll know you’ve achieved it due to the brief externally verified reward. You know you’ll have won because others will have lost.

In almost every other endeavor we engage in this is not the case. Competition has its place, but when it comes to your talent, your goals, your desires, a much better idea is for us to aim to be our best, our personal best, every single day. Do that instead, aiming for internal satisfaction, and we can continually take the gold home every single day. And so too can everybody else. Decide not to play the Zero Sum Game.

Book Ayd to speak at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com


How I was labelled ‘sick’ by some school kids



boba fett star wars comics

My comics from aged 10 (left) to age 13 (right)

(click on any of the drawings to make them bigger)

“But they’re amazing”

“Totally sick”*

I’d shown a group of fifty 14 years olds my comic strip drawings from when I was 12 from Doctor Who and Star Wars (more here). I delivered four sessions that day, to batches of fifty pupils each time and got the same reaction from each.

They seemed to think the drawings were pretty good even before I told them they were done by a 12 year old. I then told them that by the time I was their age I’d given up on wanting to be a comic strip artist. You can see my final drawings, done aged 15, below.

“But why? You’re really good.” they said.

Daleks Cyberman

Drawings of a Dalek and a Cyberman, by me aged 13

I told them it was because I didn’t think I was good enough. I’d compared myself with the professionals and felt I obviously didn’t have the talent so I gave up. I told them how I’d gone down a different route that was less frowned on by parents and teachers but was not my real passion. (For the full story, click here.)

“But all you had to do was keep at it.”

“You just needed to keep practicing” they said.

They had got the message. The previous exercise I’d done with them to write down what they really enjoyed doing, just three things they were passionate about suddenly made more sense.

Dalek Masterplan

My drawing of a Dalek, done aged 15

“But I like horseriding. How can I make a living from horseriding without doing racing?” said one girl. The girls next to her reeled off a list of horse related ways she could live a life of horseriding and make money.

That’s what my session is really about. Getting the students to realise that there already is something they can be inspired about. That their creativity can help them imagine a better, more worthwhile future right now, even when they’re constrained in the restriction of having to keep their heads down and focus on GCSEs.

In fact, a student who is inspired about their worth, about future plans and understands that the life they might like to lead can actually be theirs with application of time and energy (rather than abstract talent they may think they don’t have) does better in school right now, getting better grades as a result.

K9 from Doctor Who

My last drawing, of K9, my me aged 15. I didn't draw again until I was 23.

Unprompted, two students separately gave me a great testimonial (which I’ve actually had before a number of times):

“You’re like Willy Wonka. Not the new one, the original one.”

I’m very happy with that. It’s spot on. Do you remember the song?

“Come with me and you’ll see a world of pure imagination. Living there you’ll be free, if you truly want to be.”


For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk

Do you have contacts in schools who may like to bring in external speakers to inspire the students and get better results from them? If you do, please let me know.

In addition to me and my creative thinking sessions I have some great colleagues who cover a range of topics that inspire, improve and educate students in topics that schools don’t have the resources to tackle internally.

Please do pass this list onto the schools you’re in touch with.

Dave Hyner

Dave Hyner

Dave Hyner is the Rhino man of massive goal setting and personal achievement in schools. He runs teacher and parent workshops too to get the messages of how to achieve more and better get embedded. www.stretchdevelopment.com

Angela Whitlock

Angela Whitlock

Best-selling author Peter Roper delivers sessions on ‘natural’ presentations skills, how to speak in public with confidence in your own style. Best suited for 16-18 year olds. www.positiveground.co.uk

Angela Whitlock is an expert coach in communication skills, improving students, teachers and parents emotional resilience, often working one-to-one with parents and children to help connect them to their future. www.angelawhitlock.com

Miguel Dean unlocks learning potential for disadvantaged youngsters, especially those experiencing homelessness. www.migueldean.co.uk

Chris Matthewman

Chris Matthewman

Chris Matthewman is a comedian and self-proclaimed expert at all things to do with love and relationships which he presents as a highly entertaining and thought provoking ‘stand up comedy for schools’ show. Especially suited for PSHE and 6th forms. www.chrismattewman.com

James Burch inspires 15-19 year olds after overcoming challenges and adversity developed from been knocked down by a hit and run drunk driver to now creating the best out of every situation and help teenagers reach new levels in life.

Nigel Vardy

Nigel Vardy

Nigel Vardy survived temperatures of -60C in 1999, losing his fingers, toes and nose to severe frostbite on Mt. McKinley in Alaska.  Regardless of that, he still climbs internationally and has tackled some if the worlds toughest mountains. He talks about overcoming adversity and project management, guaranteeing to give pupils a huge dose of reality. www.nigelvardy.com

Paul Kerfoot, aka ‘The Bulletman’ is a creative director and award winning designer who has a session where the pupils (usually aged 14-16) create their own comic-book style superhero exploring themes of imagination and confidence. www.paulthebulletman.com

Michael-Don Smith helps pupils create a success mind style using his NLP for Young Mind s programmes. www.mindstyle.co.uk

Barry Jackson gives pupils interview skills to prepare them for the world of work and help them to be memorable in front of an employer.

Penny Mallory

Penny Mallory

Penny Mallory delivers a knockout 2 hour workshop to Year 9-11 students based on her experience as a homeless teenager turned rally driver and TV presenter – a high impact presentation that inspires students to achieve their maximum potential. www.motivatingstudents.co.uk

Lee Jackson talks about motivation and relationships at school. His fantastic and original new book ‘How to be Sick at School’ written for pupils, taps into what makes the children want to listen to the message to achieve more. www.howtobesickatschool.com

* I’d only recently learnt from Lee Jackson that this word is used where previous generations would have used ‘wicked’, ‘bad’, ‘skill’ or ‘cool’.

Talent: How we were ripped off and gave up on our dreams


There’s a 52 year old man who claims he invented a character called Davros, creator of the Daleks in BBC TV’s Doctor Who, for a magazine competition in 1972, when he was 13. He said he was shocked to see his ‘idea’ appear on television in 1975. You can read the unlikely story here.

Ayd Instone comic strip Daleks K9 Quarks Doctor Who

Dalek comic strip, drawn by me, aged 12

It reminded me that when I was 12, I too was drawing pictures of characters from Doctor Who and in one comic strip I envisaged Davros being given Emperor of the Daleks status and having a spherical top mounted on his base. This was in 1983 and yet it’s exactly what the BBC did on television in 1988. I won’t be making a fuss.

But for a bit of fun I posted the page of my comic strip on the Doctor Who forum.

A couple of people on the forum said it was a pretty good effort. It was only then that I realised that that was the first time anyone had said anything complimentary about my drawings. That was not surprising since this was the first moment I’d actually showed them to anyone. Why hadn’t I showed anyone before? Because of the killer reason that people don’t reach their potential.

Because I didn’t really think they were really any good.

It was one of my early dreams: to be a comic book artist. But I abandoned it aged 14. Why? Because looking at my drawings I was frustrated that they didn’t look as good as my heroes Ron Turner, Dave Gibbons and Frank Hampson.

I didn’t have much encouragement. Part of the reason for that is linked to what John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi said to him when he started the Beatles, “A guitar’s all right John, but you can’t make a living out of it”. The understanding of career options by those who offered it to us then and even more so those who offer it to the children of today is frighteningly narrow, short sighted and past-focused. My parents knew you could make a living from being Constable or Lowry – that was proper art. But comic books? Graphic design? That was childish nonsense. And in my case the working class ethic coupled with St Paul (I Corinthians 13 v11), “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” meant that I had to grow up and do something sensible.

Reluctantly I did, for a while. Did you?

Those two comments on the forum made me think, 18 years later, that compared to the average 12 year old’s drawings, mine were pretty good. The actual story was a pretty good idea too, re-reading it now without the self criticism of the past.

Davros Daleks comic strip Doctor Who Emperor

My vision for Davros, from 1983

So why did I give up? Because when I was 12 I thought that it was talent that counted. I thought that if I was a truly talented illustrator I should be able to do it better than I this. I didn’t know that it was actually practice that made a great comic book artist. I’d been doing it since I was at nursery (and still have the drawings to prove it). I already had hundreds of hours of practice which is why I was pretty good by 1983.

If I’d continued with the same intensity from aged 12 for ten years by the time I was 22 I would have been pretty good, if not world class. That’s not a boast, that is just how it works. If you continually work at a process, constantly failing and improving, making mistakes and modifying, you get better and better. Instead, I’m not really much better now than I was then, which was just above average for a 12 year old but just about average for my age now.

You just look at someone you know who is good at something, be it writing, football, debating, maths, cooking, whatever. You study them and see how much time they have spend doing the thing that they are good at.

Someone once said to Yehudi Menuhi, “I’d give my life to be able to play like you”. “I did” was the maestro’s reply.

Here’s the formula for talent (also called more accurately ‘excellence’):

Talent = desire + intense practice

When it comes to our children we have to realise we can’t make them interested in something they’re not. They have to choose what excites them. And if it’s something we have no knowledge or interest in we have to accept it.

We can’t make them practice. If we do they will grow resentful or burn out and lose interest.

But there is something big that we can do. That formula is not compete. There are two further conditions that we need to add that are in our remit:

Talent = desire + intense practice + opportunity + encouragement

Our job is to make sure we provide the opportunity to try and explore different interests. Our job is to encourage effort when we see an interest developing.

Our job is to make sure that we prevent the child from self criticism of failure as an end and instead help them understand how to modify it into improvement.

Through a series of misunderstandings about talent, how the brain works and what motivates people, our society is set up to manufacture regret, resentment, guilt and self-loathing.

What was your desire when you were much younger?

What did you give up on because of criticism or lack of encouragement?

Perhaps it’s not too late for you to pick up the paintbrush again, to kick the ball again, to write that book, to take that course, or to pick up that ‘how to’ book. Perhaps you can re-ignite your passion and build it into your life today?

By thinking over what you did right and where you went wrong, who could you inspire today to follow their dreams?

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk

Do you use your talents at work?


There’s a Monty Python sketch where Michael Palin’s character is an accountant who’s gone to a careers advisor played by John Cleese. The accountant says he’s fed up with being an accountant. He wants to be a lion tamer. The careers advisor says he doesn’t suit such a career. Couldn’t he work his way towards lion-taming via say, banking.

I had the misfortune of going to a careers advisor once. They asked me some dumb questions about exam subjects and then asked what I wanted to be as they had lots of pamphlets on various career paths. Well the answer to that was obvious to this 16 year old. I wanted to be a rock star. So I told her. She shook her head and said I should take this seriously. I was taking it seriously and I asked her where the relevant pamphlet was. There wasn’t one. She advised instead that I join the YTS (the Youth Training Scheme designed for non-academic pupils a bit like an apprenticeship). I said no thanks.

That careers advisor is in our heads, holding us back from what we really should be doing and being ‘realistic’ and pushing us into mediocrity. Think of the jobs that you’ve done and that most people do. They all have job titles, but let’s be honest, most of them mean absolutely nothing. When you or people around you were children I bet you wanted to be a clear-cut interesting profession like an astronaut, doctor, film star, or vet. No-one wanted to be a marketing assistant or sales manager. How did they become them? There’s nothing wrong with any particular job, unless the person doing it isn’t satisfied and is capable of doing more. Then it’s a cage.

Most workplaces don’t know how to deal with talent, it gets in the way. They can’t reward it or promote it and it doesn’t fit into a neat box. That’s why you can’t rely on your job or others to give you satisfaction without you doing something about it yourself. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you got paid for doing what you loved doing? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we found the courage to find a way to make that happen?

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk

What Makes a Genius?


When I’m doing my creativity workshops the biggest hurdle to overcome is people’s belief that only certain people can be creative and only certain people can become genii. In fact people believe that certain babies are born genii. Unfortunately for this belief there is no evidence to back it up. There is no evidence that ‘genius’ is genetic. Certain tendencies are genetic but that’s a very different thing. A tendency does not make a genius.

Look at children. They are rubbish at everything. They are no good at maths, they can’t draw properly, they can’t play cricket or football very well and they certainly can’t sing. I’ve even come across people who are shocked at that statement. But it’s obvious! Children are rubbish at everything…. compared to adult standards.

I was the best artist in my primary school. I could draw better than the whole school. But that didn’t make me a creative genius. If you were to look at my drawings from then they look rubbish. Good for an eight year old but appalling by adult standards. For some reason, when I first picked up a pencil I had a ‘tendency’ to be a tiny bit better at it than the other kids. Other kids had a tendency to be a tiny bit better at football than me. I am useless at football today but I’m a better player than the best kid in the school back then.

By having this tendency of being good at drawing and bad at football meant that I focused my attention on improving the thing I got praise for and avoiding the thing I got laughed at for. I knew I was good at art and I knew I was rubbish at football. That type of strong belief is powerful. Whether you think you’re good at something or think you’re bad at something you’re always right.

We all agree Mozart was a genius. His father Leopold was one of Europe’s leading musical teachers and a prolific and successful composer of instrumental music. When Wolfgang was about three years old Leopold gave him intensive musical training, including instruction in clavier, violin, and organ. Wolfgang had learned several pieces at the age of four and started composing at age five. Mozart clearly had a tendency, but not necessarily a ‘talent’ for music. He had a talent for concentration and learning. The environment was right and Mozart got better and better. So was Mozart born a music genius? We’ve no way of knowing. Had another baby been substituted without Leopold knowing would that baby have become a musical genius because of that training? Perhaps.

In the early 1970s in an underground bunker near San Diego, Robert Klark Graham set up a genius sperm bank. He collected samples from donor genii of the day and the women of America could pay up and then conceive a baby with half its DNA coming from a recognised genius. 217 children were conceived in this way. Now how many of those children, now in their 30s, are recognised as genii? The answer is the same amount that you’d find in any random sample of 217 people. Just having DNA isn’t good enough. It may help you to be tall but it won’t make you a basketball player.

Dedication and training is what makes a genius. Einstein said so. Leonardo Da Vinci said so. Since they are the people our society holds up to be genii in the first place we have no option but to believe them. We can all be genii. It’s only our belief that we can’t that prevents us.

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk