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Dinosaur FeetIn honor of the premier of “Terra Nova” last night, I thought it was a good time to post the second part of my interview with Elizabeth Lalli-Reese, or Lalli as you know her by now. We talk about creativity, human resources and, most importantly, dinosaurs.

I recently found out that you play violin, and that was something I never knew about you.

(laughs)

I was shocked when I read that. I would have thought that was something that would have come up more because it’s not exactly an easy instrument to play. How long have you been playing the violin?

I’ve played since I was 5 years old, so for 25 years now. Yeah… it’s not something that I mention very often, but I’ve been really involved in an orchestra group ever since I was a little girl. Now I don’t play as much as I like, but it’s certainly something that I keep up with. I believe that all children should learn music from a young age, because it stimulates part of your brain that isn’t stimulated otherwise.

Do you play with any string quartets or just noodle around on it with yourself?

You know what…  I kind of play around with it myself. When I was in school, I would play in a group for weddings and things like that. That was a function of having the ability and knowing there was a market for it. But now, it’s mainly just for my own relaxation and to make sure I don’t lose that skill or let that skill become diminished through the years. I actually have the violin that my great-grandfather played, and it was passed down to me when I was old enough not to break it or be a jerk with it. When I was about 5, I had a little half-size violin that I would like hit the dog with (laughs). So, once I was deemed mature enough not to break it or play with it in a destructive way, it was given to me. It’s really cool, because it’s in the same case, and there’s old resin that he used. I don’t use that anymore, but they kept it in the case, and it’s really neat for me. He really enjoyed playing it, and it was expensive for him to buy it at the time as someone who had just come to this country. It was one of his prized possessions.

Well, I know that Charlie Daniels was a fiddle player, which isn’t the same style, but which solo do you think was better, Charlie’s or the Devil’s?

I think it was the Devil’s, but I also think it’s because I know too much about Charlie Daniels’ politics. There may be a bias there. So, I don’t think it’s fair, but I think the Devil’s was better. You know, technically, I think it was.

I thought the devil’s sounded better.

I think you’re always supposed to not like things the devil does. (laughs) Yeah, I think by definition “The devil did that really well” probably is not what you’re supposed to say. (laughs)

Would you consider yourself to be a creative introvert or creative extrovert?

I think that I’m probably a creative extrovert, and I think that I’ve always chosen a profession that allowed me to have a lot of face time with people and to engage with people as a recruiter. The compensation that I would receive would be based on the people that I would be able to connect with and with the companies that I was hiring for. And, my husband is definitely an introvert and will sometimes hear me on the phone in the evening, and he’s like “I’m exhausted just watching you do that. I would hate doing that.” Like, if we order pizza, my husband will not use the phone. He’ll be like “Will you call for the pizza?” (laughs) I think that I’m definitely an extrovert, and it’s why I’ve been able to throw myself into recruiting. Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to call somebody that doesn’t know you and try to convince them that there’s an opportunity out there that’s better for them.

Did you find that playing a violin at an early age helped you become an extrovert?

I think it did, and I think it kind of reduced my anxiety around making mistakes. When you’re in that setting, you’re listening to other people play, and you can kind of tell when somebody misses a note or messes up. You understand that it’s just part of the job of being a performer. Things aren’t always going to be perfect. I’ve worked as a recruiter in open settings where everyone can hear everything I say, and you know, if you get too self-conscience about flipping out or saying something kind of silly or maybe not having the best conversation, then you know you’re not going want to get back on the phone and make another call. So, I’m thinking that maybe it’s okay to mess up, and some days you do a great job and some days you don’t have the best concert. It’s all in getting back to it and being consistent.

Knowing that you’ve met with a lot of people because of the industry that you’re in, do you think that there are people out there that are truly uncreative?

I don’t think so. I think a lot of it is confidence. I think everybody has the ability, and I think it’s even in the things people daydream. They may not think of it as creative, but it is. When I first started working in HR within a marketing company, I always felt like maybe I realized that I could be creative in spite of myselfmy ideas wouldn’t have as much value because I’m not a marketer for a living. I realize that I would have ideas that may be outside of what marketers would think, or maybe I had some unique perspective being in HR. I realized that I could be creative in spite of myself. So, I think it’s about confidence. You know, and it’s about being open-minded on how you define what creativity is.

Were you ever involved in any kind brainstorming on projects early on in the marketing places where you’ve worked?

I have been. And, I think that a lot of times, I was kind of the good lab rat for “Hey would this be something you would be interested in?” or “If you just saw this on a mailer, what would you think?” I was able to give an every woman’s unbiased view of what I thought. Then, once I saw more of the process of being in marketing and doing things like branding, I became more and more amazed at how somebody can sit down with a couple of ideas and put out a product that’s eye-catching and engaging. It gave me more confidence to give more suggestions on what I like.

You told me an interesting story involving you husband teaching your bird to whistle the Imperial March from Star Wars.

(laughs)

He probably spent an embarrassing amount of time on it. The male cockatiel we have, Spike, never liked any man that I ever had around him. He didn’t like my father and didn’t like my brother, but something about my husband just clicked. Like, he knew that he was going to have to live with this man a very long time. (laughs) And so, my husband would go up to his cage, and he would whistle silly little things like the Andy Griffith theme, which I’m so glad the bird didn’t learn because that’s really annoying. So, he would try different little tunes. When he found out the bird really got into Imperial March, he would just do it over and over again. And, I don’t think there’s anything more ominous than hearing a cockatiel at 5:30 in the morning whistling the Imperial March. My husband thinks it’s the best thing ever, and he loves the birds though at first he was not impressed. And now, I think the Star Wars thing totally sealed the deal on the relationship.

So was the bird attracted to the Imperial March?

Oddly enough, yes. I mean, my husband whistled the Indiana Jones theme —no interest. As soon as he heard the Imperial March, he turned his little head to the side and tried to copy it. So, I think that he’s probably evil because it’s the only song he’s every liked. I should have him listen to some Charlie Daniel’s and see if that peaks his interest. (laughs)

So have you become a Star Wars fan?

You know as much as I can see that my husband enjoys it. I have. When they had the Star Wars experience at the Las Vegas Hilton. I bought the tickets, and I went with him. When they had the music of Star Wars here in Dallas, I surprised him with the tickets, and he was in heaven. He was just so excited. I get into it because when I see him like that, it makes me think of what he was probably like as a little boy. Being able to see a grown man get that excited over a movie to me is just awesome. Everybody should have that in their life — where they can feel childlike and not be embarrassed by it. That’s how I am with dinosaurs. I’m ridiculously excited about dinosaurs and my husband totally indulges that. He buys me dinosaur figurines and sends me pictures of dinosaurs. It seems kind of silly but it’s something new and it makes me happy. There’s not enough of that in the world.

Have you been to Dinosaur Valley in Glen Rose, Texas?

I have. And I’ve seen pretty much every dinosaur exhibit even the animatronics dinosaurs that came here. And I was pretty much the only 30 year old woman who was screaming with excitement about the dinosaurs. I even got to take a picture next to one of the animatronics dinosaurs.

Do you think creativity is something that somebody is just born with, or is it something that you develop and nurture?

I think it’s something that everyone is born with. When you watch the way that children play, they can take inanimate objects and create stories in their minds. I think it’s something that we’re all born with, but I think that some parents and some people nurture that piece more. Now I can say that I would love more than anything to be able to draw, because I think it’s an amazing skill to have. I’m horrible at drawing. I would get books at the book store when I was a kid that help you trace things, and I would still mess it up. So, I think my creativity may be musical. I’ve seen small children be able to draw far better than I can. But, I think everybody’s creative. I think you’re born with it.

My previous guest Nicole Dobbs has a question for you. Looking back on your life, what was one of the defining moments where you came to a fork in the road, and you had to either choose A or B?

I think the defining moment for me was my first day of law school, because I went into it thinking it was going to be an experience much like my undergraduate experience which was very sheltered and very friendly. I was thrown in law school with a bunch of people that I considered adults, and I wasn’t really sure if it’s what I wanted to do. But, I’ve always been of the mind that when you start something, you finish it. So, I went and talked the dean of students, and I was like, “I really don’t’ know if I want to do this.” She said, “If you decide to leave, you know we will give you 75% of your money back, and you can figure out what you want to do in life. You have until the end of this week.” And every night that I thought about it, I had a different answer for what I was going to do. Walking into the school that Friday morning and having to go to the dean of students, I made the decision to stay and stick it through. And, you know, those were really hard years in my life. I didn’t have the money. I was working full time and going to school full time, but it’s something I’m really grateful I did. I think that if I would have given up, I would have regretted it. And, I would have always wondered what I could have accomplished if I would have stuck it out. So, that was probably the biggest turning point in my life. You know, up to this point in life.

Do you feel like you needed to go through that so that you left the field on you terms rather than the field kicking you out?

I felt like I was going to be — and I don’t like this word — kind of a loser if I didn’t finish. It was certainly parental expectations (laughs) that I finish law school. So, I think somebody else would have been pretty angry at me, but I think that it was, “I can either let this beat me, or I can beat it.”

Do you feel like you made the right decision?

I think I did. Now when I look at my student loan payments, I might tell you something different. (laughs) They suck. (LAUGHS)

I think I did, because I’ve been able to utilize things that I’ve learned and really have a growing career based on the education that I have behind me, so I’m really glad I did it.

Be sure to follow Lalli on twitter @TXStrategicHR, LinkedIn and like her on facebook. You can also find out more about her at Talentculture. Check back soon for when I interview Lynda Campbell and we talk about the good side of creativity in accounting. In the meantime, be sure to check out my interviews with Jeni Herberger and Nicole Dobbs.

Like what you see feel free to email me at tad@creativesquall.com and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Be Forceful. Be CreativeLegislation with Brains - Zombie Uncle Sam Poster

In my interview with Nicole Dobbs, she explained a lot of her approach to life, education and science through seemingly unrelated topics. Whether that be zombies or The Lord of the Rings, her ability to relate the things she enjoys to the things she does represents one of the basic building blocks of creativity — forced connections. By forcing relationships between two things that are unrelated we make our brains reevaluate our percepetion of both.

For the second creative exercise we’ll explore the idea of forced connections, and how that can help power your brainstorms. To make this exercise a little easier I’ve included a list of the supernatural and professions to pair up, though you can come up with your own list.

Supernatural

  • Zombie
  • Vampire
  • Werewolf
  • Witch
  • Alien
  • Ghost

Professions

  • Politician
  • Hairdresser
  • Banker
  • Scientist
  • Musician
  • Teacher

Step 1: Pick a topic from the supernatural and profession columns.

Step 2: Draw two overlapping circles to create a Venn diagram

Step 3: Write the supernatural in one circle, the profession in the other.

Step 4: In the overlapping area write phrases and words that they have in common.

Step 5: Create a slogan to be used in an advertisement for the supernatural profession based off the common words or phrases.

The funnier connections seem to work the best, so make sure to laugh and have fun while completing this exercise. I chose to combine a zombie with a politician in honor of Nicole’s strange fascination with zombies.

Zombies vs. Politicians DiagramBe sure to read part 1 and part 2 of my interview with Nicole Dobbs, and check back soon for my next interview with  Elizabeth Lalli-Reese the head of Human Resources at Ace Cash Express for Untapped Creativity.

Like what you see feel free to email me at tad@creativesquall.com and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Previously on Untapped Creativity…

I sat down to talk with my wife Nicole Dobbs, about creativity in the science field. The second part of the interview shows exactly how nerdy research scientists can get. You can check out part 1 here.

Getting back to you not thinking that you’re smart enough. Smartness is relative depending on what you’re talking about. I look at that as more of an inner critic. If you had to characterize your inner critic as being a character from a movie, novel or famous person who would it be?

I go back to, especially girls, you have body image issues. I think in that case, it’s probably the stupid valley girl that everybody wants to punch in the face. “Like, oh my gawd! Look at yer big butt!” (laughs) It’s stuff like that.

And there’s always going to be days like yesterday. I was doing an experiment, and the spazzy little critic started freaking out. “There’s never going to be enough time! There’s never going to be enough time!” I started freaking out, because I’m not sure if I did this experiment right. I don’t know that I did the best design for this, and I could have screwed up the whole thing. I had to tell myself, “You need to shut up.” (laughs) And this is probably the same one that when I was going on my interviews for post-doc positions made me start freaking out. “You don’t know anything. The simplest question will get you much further.You don’t anything.” You saw me that morning before I went to that interview, and I had to realize that I’m my own worst enemy. I need to just stop, take a deep breath, and remember that I listen. I listen a lot, and I retain a lot of information. I know a lot of basic stuff. A lot of times when you’re solving problems you start with the simplest solution. Because the simplest question you can ask will get you much further.

I think I have a lot of critics. I think they all look different. I think the most descriptive one is the self-image one who’s the valley girl that I just want to punch in the face.

So that’s the one that you’re most familiar with, but I imagine that one has been there a long time.

Yeah, but you know what? I will agree with you, and this is going on record. The older that I’ve gotten, you’re going to get uglier as you get older…

I don’t think that’s what I said, but we’ll go with it.

(laughs hard) but one of the things that I’ve realized is that I don’t care as much. It’s not as important. We’re all at different stages of our life. I’m never going to be perfect, but it’s the imperfections that make me ME. If I looked perfect, or I looked like I was in a magazine, I would be Barbie. And Barbie is pretty plastic. I’m me. I have a lot of imperfections. I’m not afraid of getting a scar. Those will define me. If I do get a really cool scar, I’m going to come up with a really cool story about how I got it. It’s probably going to involve zombies and robots.

Zombies have come up twice now.

I said Resident Evil. I didn’t say zombies!

We all now what you meant. You clearly have this obsession with zombies. Knowing that you feel so strongly about zombies, do you think zombies should be allowed to vote?

Okay, to answer your question, because I don’t know if I’ve answered any of your questions. (laughs hard) I would say no, because their vote is probably easily swayed with some brains. Then I really do think that everybody deserves the right to vote, but then I went totally the other way with it. They do deserve the right to vote, because you never know the zombies may actually elect a good zombie senator that may actually do better than the ones we have now.

So you would back a zombie-based platform.

I might back a zombie-based platform. I might be a part of a zombie platform, oh, unless project Alice is going to come kill me. But then I’d get to meet one of my heroes.

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering a PhD?

My first piece of advice for people getting a PhD would be, don’t have a fulltime job. Don’t work fulltime. It’s easier said than done, especially if you live on your own. You can’t do science and a fulltime job. It’s just too much, because then you’re never home. You might as well just live in the lab.

Your going to have days where you feel like everything you touch turns to shitDon’t give up. If you really love it, you’re going to have bad days. Everybody knows that if you love something that you do there’s always a downside. I think that the careers we end up in have more of an upside than a downside. The upsides are so much better that we can get through the downside of it. You’re going to have days where you feel like everything you touch turns to shit. (laughs) You need to step away from it, and go for a walk. Take the dog for a walk. You’re going to have hard times, but it’s worth it if you really want to do this. You’re going to have to be able to get through those hard things. You going to have to learn things that you don’t want to learn.

The best advice that I ever received was from Dr. Simecka. “What is the question your trying to answer?” Take that and make it into a story that you can follow. You can explain to people what it is that you’re trying to study.

Just remember if you’re going to do this, it’s not easy. It’s going to take a chunk of your life. Most people will not understand why it’s taken you seven years to get through this, and you can’t really describe it to them because they don’t know unless they’ve been there. Just stick with it, because in the end it will be worth it.

So do you find that getting out of your normal routine or going outside rejuvenates your creativity?

I think so. I have several friends that were freaking out about taking their medical boards, and I understand because I am SO not a test taker. They were doing the same thing that everybody does — locking themselves in the house and studying. I told them, “Okay, you need to go outside, and you need to take a thirty minute walk. I know you’re freaking out, because you’re thinking oh my god, oh my god. You’re brain will thank you.” Exercise I think is probably the best thing in the world. I think it’s almost the cure-all for a lot of diseases. You know if people actually got out and exercised more their body would thank them, but your brain I think really resets. There’s something about it. I don’t know if it’s getting away from what you were doing, but you’re outside, you’re walking, you’re exercising and for me, if you can’t already tell, I talk 15 miles an hour. I’m a little bit of a spaz.

You’re a little calm this morning.

That’s a five mile run, baby!

I am a spaz. My brain goes a million miles an hour. I think we’ve joked about this, that I’m probably a little ADD. What I’ve noticed is that when I get out there my brain is all over the place. It’s thinking about everything. It’s playing back scenarios. It’s playing back conversations. It’s thinking about what I watched on TV. It’s thinking about what I’m going to do next week, in a year, in 12 years. And it’s going all over the place, which I think is kind of good, but then at some point it starts to slow down. And then it reorders itself.

If you have a problem that’s on your mind that you’re going around 50 million ways, sometimes when you comeback from that walk you have that solution. Or you have a place to start, or new way of looking at it.

My previous guest Jeni Herberger has a question for you. Was there ever a moment during your PhD that you wanted to throw in the towel? How did you end up overcoming it?

Yes! (laughs) There’s been a number of occasions where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel. Every step of the way was scary. You were there with me going up in the elevator when I was going to my oral exam. It felt like going to the guillotine.

For those of you that don’t know, I have a 45 minute commute to get to the school. Tad had to drive me on that day, because I was so freaked out. I was going up in the elevator, and I’m pretty sure I was having a panic attack. I ran into the chair of my committee, and he looked at me, which I’m sure I looked horrible. I said, “Dr. Easom, I don’t think I can do this.” He said, “Take a deep breath. All we want to know is what you know. That’s it.” So, that helped me get past it.

Then for my grant writing exam, I was able to drive myself. But it once again felt like I was going to the guillotine. It was weird though. I don’t what happened, but I relaxed more. I gave my presentation, and I guess I realized that I was really doing it, that I actually am a scientist.

I think during grant writing there was a point where I thought I was having a panic attack, too.

That’s the one that I most vividly remember. You were just so upset on my office floor, and you couldn’t put together a sentence. You were just hysterical. I’ve never seen you that stressed out.

It’s because when you go for many days without sleep, or with only little bits of sleep you really can’t focus.

Sleep is really important everyone.

I’m really good at not getting sleep, but you really should make sure that you get sleep. That’s probably where a lot of that came from, and the stress of everything. It was crazy. Me and Sheetal, my good friend, talk about grant writing as if it was the Vietnam War. Like we’re veterans. (laughs) It was a really important step in our career, and we got past it. I really feel like once you get past it you should get some kind of girl scout badge or boy scout badge for that.

It was even worse towards the end. Not so much writing my thesis as much as doing the experiments, because I think we were still going in one direction in March, and I couldn’t prove what I thought I was trying to prove. I was so unhappy. “Why is this not working?” I even made Dr. Simecka miss his poker game, because I was like “This is not working!” He said, “We can try this.” And I was like, “THAT’S GOING TO TAKE ME ANOTHER MONTH!” That was the day that I walked to my car and I put on one of my anthems — Broken Social Scene’s “It’s All Gonna Break.” I cried walking all the way to my car. I cried all the way in my car on the drive home. I think I got home at 8 o’clock that night. When I came in, you looked at me, and I had big puffy eyes. You were like, “It’s gonna be okay.” I guess it looks like a funeral when I come in like that.

Sometimes you’re going to get to the point where you just have to let it out. You can’t be tough all the time. When you’re in the car and nobody else is around, you can cry all the way home. And go to sleep, because the next day is going to be another day. Today is the day you’re going to figure it out. The story still came out good.

How did I overcome it? I think it’s a life lesson that my parents taught me a long time ago. You’re going to get knocked down, and you have to get yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going. Ultimately, at the end of it, just like with Frodo’s journey, although it did result in Frodo’s death… STOP LAUGHING!

I’m just laughing at how much of a nerd you are, because you brought up The Lord of the Rings and Resident Evil in the same interview.

Oh, my god. That was a long journey. I was like, “Oh my god. Are you going to get to Mordor? Would you just throw the damn ring!” (LAUGHS)

The longest journeys, the stuff that is the hardest to do is the stuff that’s worth doing. That’s really what I believe. That’s probably what’s kept me going. I think I’m going to get to the end, and at the end I’m going to figure it out. I hope that when I die that I get to go to heaven, and they’re going to tell me all the reasons why those experiments didn’t work like they were supposed to. (LAUGHS) They’re going to go, “Okay. Here it is, and here’s the book.” Or as my mom always tells me, it’ll be all the things that you’ve ever done wrong. (LAUGHS) It’s going to be the library of black books. And I told her one day when she told me that, that there are volumes on me. (LAUGHS)

Be sure to check back soon from Creative Exercise 2.

Like what you see feel free to email me at tad@creativesquall.com and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Believe it or not, it’s actually pretty hard to schedule time to sit down and interview your spouse. My wife, Nicole Dobbs, has been one of the biggest influences behind the topic of this blog series. When people first meet us and discover what we do for a living, they often assume since Nicole is a scientist, more specifically an immunologist, that she isn’t the creative one. We almost always respond by explaining how similar the thought process is for designing experiments and designing brands. I know that she’s just as passionate about the creativity in everyone as I am, so I’m thrilled that she gets to talk about her own approach to science in my next couple of posts. If you know her, it’ll come as no surprise that Nicole had a lot to say. It’s all great stuff, so I’ve split the interview into 2 posts.

Tell us a little bit about your background and your journey to get to where you are today.

I think I was always a weird kid. It goes back to what you talked about, you exhibit certain signs at an early age. And I think that I was always a great observer of small things like realizing that plants are actually living, and they move. But I think what really tipped my parents off more than anything else was in 6thgrade when we learned about the cell. You’re a mosaic of different kinds of cells. So your heart cells, your liver cells, your skin cells, they all work together. Within each one of those cells there are components that keep them running. We had to do a model of a cell, and it had to have all of the components that make a cell work. I was really into music, so I made mine like a little punk rocker cell. I ended up making a 98 or a 100 on that test just because I just found it so interesting.

I think my parents always knew I liked science, and before I went off to the University of North Texas they made me pick a major. (laughs) So, they sat down — actually it was just my mom that sat down — and started reading majors to me. It was so funny, because she got to Biology and said, “You’ve always been good at science.” So, she read the description for biology. “It’s the study of life, but it’s also classifying things in their kingdom, phylum, class, order, blah, blah, blah.” And I found that really boring, but when she got to biochemistry, which talked about the components of the cell, RNA and DNA, I was like “Okay, that sounds cool!” And then I just started down that path. The further I went down the path the more interesting it got. At UNT there were a lot of people working with micro-organisms — manipulating their DNA, which I thought was just the coolest thing on the planet.

So, I got into that, but ultimately I arrived at where I am now which is studying cellular immunology. Micro-organisms are awesome, but pathogens are even cooler! If you get infected by a few pathogens, they can make you sick and kill you. That’s pretty crazy! On the other side, your body has these awesome mechanisms to fight them off.

That’s how I got to where I am. I love immunology, and I love pathogens. And I love them both equally.

Recently you finished graduate school. What was your degree in specifically?

Well, on my actual GIGANTIC diploma, I believe, it’s a PhD in Bio-Medical Sciences which sounds SO generic. But it’s actually the study of immunology, particularly micro-biology and immunology. That’s what I study.

What are you planning to do now that you’ve got your PhD?

Well, I find that I’m most interested in staying in academia. You pretty much get to a point, at least as a scientist, in your career where you have to decide, “Do I want to go into industry, where I work for a company? Or do I want to stay in academia?”

I decided I wanted to stay in academia, and I came to that conclusion, most importantly, because to me, it is actually more creative. You may be doing your studies, but then you come across a weird idea, and maybe you can follow that for a little while. You never know where that’s going to lead. So, that’s the route I’m going.

You’ve touched on an interesting idea that academia is a little more creative. People generally are not going to think of science as creative. What is it specifically that you find creative in science?

It’s so funny, because I just had a conversation with one of my colleagues who was insistent that she wasn’t creative even though she’s a bio-physicist. She insisted that creativity is like a Van Gogh or a Francis Bacon where you physically look at the products they come up with, and you have a strong emotional reaction. I was telling her “No, you don’t understand. We’re just as creative.” It’s just we’re creative in more of a “Hey! Here’s a bunch of Legos, why don’t you start putting them together and see what you can make out of it or see what comes out of it.” We’re creative, just differently. (laughs)

How would you define creativity in its most basic terms? What to you is creativity?

I’ve thought about it, and that’s a really interesting question. It’s difficult to answer, because everybody thinks creativity is like a Jackson Pollock painting. You look at it and you’re like “Wow! That guy really knew what he was doing, but I could never come up with that. Or I could never paint that.” I think in the science field, it’s more about… So this is how I described it to the lady I was talking to. I said, “Haven’t you ever been in the Creativity is figuring out what you can do to answer your question.middle of an experiment and something goes terribly wrong?” because you weren’t paying attention or because you just didn’t expect it. So, literally, you’re jogging down the path, and BOOM something goes wrong. What are you going to do? You can’t scrap this entire experiment that you spent 2 months working on. All you can do is come up with some solution on the fly to figure out how to salvage whatever kind of data you can salvage. That’s on immediate terms, but in the long-term it’s, “We’re thinking about our problem, and we’re thinking about what kind of question we want to ask about this problem that could lead us down a path to the answer for something.” The problem is we don’t know how to answer it, so we have to design experiments to answer a question. I mean there are some basic experiments that have already been designed, or have been put through the mill. Everybody does those. Flo-cytometry. Oh yeah, that’s great! Everybody believes it. But sometimes you have to be more creative than that. You have to figure out what you can do to answer your question. That involves a lot of design of the experiment and creativity in and of itself.

Do you think creativity defines you, or do you define your creativity?

I think that you define your own version of creativity. I think it fits whatever solution. You use it how you use it. You just don’t realize you’re doing it. And when you realize you’re doing it you’re like “Oh!”

Would you say it’s a trait that has to be taught or is it a talent you’re born with?

I think it’s a little bit of both. Some people are more gifted. Thelonius Monk was clearly musically gifted. Now, we can also say that maybe some of that was enhanced by drugs just like Coltrain, but some people are just naturally talented. Some people can draw better than others. You can learn to draw, but some people don’t have to sit down and think about it. They can just do it. I think that everybody to a certain degree is born with it, but I think you learn to use it. In other cases, like the person I was talking to, when you point out to them “You know you’re being creative.” They kind of freak out “No, I’m not!” and then the magic’s gone. The magic that they used to answer whatever the question is gone.

Were you born with creativity or did it develop? Do you think hard about what you do or does it come naturally?

It’s both. I think where I’m probably most creative, and I think a lot of people would agree with this, is probably where I’m not trying. I LOVE to make people laugh, especially in awkward situations or when weird stuff happens. I love to tell stories. I might embellish my stories a little bit and do people’s voices. The wit comes to me. It just kind of happens, but it’s because I LOVE to make people laugh. I get on a roll, and I start telling stories.

When I use what I consider my creativity for my experiments, I spend a lot of time thinking about them. I think about them on paper, and I write them out. A lot of times I find when I sleep at night that I probably spent most of the night thinking about whatever problem that I’ve been focusing on. It almost overwhelms me to where I stop paying attention to conversations, because I’m thinking so hard about this one problem.

So it’s kind of both. I think when I’m relaxed and making people laugh, it just kind of rolls out of me. But when I’m applying it to science, it’s actually something that I’m using, and I have to think really hard about.

Do you consider yourself to be living an outwardly creative life?

No, I don’t think I necessarily live an outwardly creative life, because I think in general if you put you and I side by side everyone will go “Oh yeah! He’s the creative one.” Especially with my mom. My whole family thinks that you’re Jackson Pollock and you throw paint at a canvas. (laughs)

And we both know that’s not true at all.

NO! I do find it really nice, because a lot of times when we’re decorating I get so overwhelmed. Even when I shop for clothes, because there are too many choices and too many colors. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what to do and where to go. A lot of times I have to rely on you to go “Okay, well what do you think about this.” You can find something that I think sticks out, or that you know I’ll like. Then we can start there. When we start there, it’s like “Okay! Now I understand.” So, that kind of stuff I like doing, and I don’t like doing.

I guess most people wouldn’t say that I live an outwardly creative life. But I think living with a graphic designer has made my life much easier and much more interesting.

How does it feel to have recently completed your PhD?

It feels like I climbed Mt. Everest. (chuckles) It’s so weird, because this is really only the beginning of my career. I’ve been in school for seven years, but about ten years ago was when I was seriously thinking about going back to get a PhD.  When you get an undergraduate degree in something like BioChemistry, and you’re like “All right! Now I’m going to go and get a job!” You get paid very little to be a technician. Though that was probably the smartest thing that I ever did, because the two years being a technician allowed me to understand how to work in a lab which is really important. But I have to be honest with you, and maybe you know this, I really didn’t think that I was ever going to be able to do it.

Why?

I didn’t think that I was smart enough. I thought to be a scientist that you had to be a super-genius, maybe a mad scientist. That you had to understand what a flux capacitor was. (chuckles)

Why would you pursue something that you didn’t think you could accomplish? Are you that glutton for punishment or is that just what you told yourself?

Yes! (laughs)

There was that little glint that was like “You don’t know if you don’t try.” I still love it. It’s kind of hard to describe.

90% of the time our experiments are going to fail. It’s not the failure of the experiment. You shouldn’t be upset by that. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just the experiment and the data telling you that is NOT the answer. You need to try something else. I did a bunch of experiments. I got a bunch of data. But the day that you do the simplest experiment, and then everything you’ve ever done comes together that feeling will top no other feeling in the world. When you do little accomplishments, little experiments that work, it’s like solving a mystery. It’s very much like when we were in college, and we had the Salvador Dali poster on the wall. I don’t even remember what it was, but it was the craziest picture in the world. It had the elephants with the stretched out legs. It had the melted clocks. It had the baseball player with the baseball for a face. It used to aggrevate me. Every morning I’d wake up, and I’d sit up and look at that poster. And I would think, “Today is the day I’m going to figure out what this poster means.” By the way, I have never figured out what that poster means. One day I came up with a good theory (chuckles) as to what it was.

I remember you had several “theories” which you explained quite often, but I don’t know that there is an explanation.

There probably isn’t, but I was going to make sense of it. (laughs) Because it AGGREVATED me, and I think that’s what drives me. Somewhere there’s a little voice in my head that everyday says, “Today is the day I’m going to figure it out.” For me, life is one giant detective mystery, and today is the day that I’m going to figure it out. I hope that I never lose that, because I think that’s what keeps me going.

Be sure to check out the exciting conclusion of my interview with Nicole Dobbs.

Like what you see feel free to email me at tad@creativesquall.com and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

Cultivate Your Creativity

My first interview with Jeni Herberger brought up the idea that creativity is making something, and that we have to give people the room to be creative in the way that they want. Jeni and her husband have made creativity a part of their life through organic avocado farming. I’ve noticed with all of the interviews that I’ve done so far, that everyone has a point that they light up. It’s finding that passion that gets their energy going. Often that passion reveals their secret creativity, or the thing that brings them the most joy. For Jeni, the excitement and energy level went through the roof when she spoke about her avocado farm. Considering how energetic she is “through the roof” may be an understatement.

The first of the creativity exercises captures that very spirit of hidden passion through the use of an idea tree.

Step 1: Draw a line in the middle of a sheet of paper.

Step 2: Write a single or two word topic that means a lot to you centered under the line. (This is the idea seed)

Step 3: Write a word that you immediately associate with the idea seed. (This is the trunk)

Step 4: Write a word that you associate with the trunk. (These are the branches)

Step 5: Write a word that you associate with the branches.

Step 6: Continue writing associations and creating branches.

The key to the exercise is to not think too hard about the words, and to jump around to different branches. You don’t want to think too linearly. Here’s what I did for this exercise.

Idea Tree Example for Music

A lot of times I’ll use an exercise similar to this to get my brain juiced up at the start of a new project. In the case of logo design, I’ll do a visual idea tree or mind map of around 100 ideas before I begin refining. Be sure to read part 1 and part 2 of my interview with Jeni Herberger, and check back soon for my next interview with immunologist Nicole Dobbs for Untapped Creativity.

Like what you see feel free to email me at tad@creativesquall.com and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve put imagination in action.

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