Saturday, May 28, 2011


In my book “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing” I wrote about mindfulness, or paying attention to your surroundings. Writers who pay attention to their environment learn a lot just by looking around. But there is another step to mindfulness that writers must embrace for it to be beneficial. Writers need to examine their environment in new ways to make connections and draw conclusions from the information gleaned.

Artists must open up and look at things from another point of view. Good artists usually collect ideas, and instead of just taking the first good one and running with it, mull it over and compare it to others and turn it around and upside down before putting it into action. That way, the idea has had a chance to develop and mature and become something solid and useful.

Using this method, quality (idea, or communication or method) is derived from quantity, or honed from a variety of ideas. Some great thinkers got their best ideas after developing many good ones. The best part about this way of thinking is that the more ideas we seek out and think about, the more creative we become. Ideas can come from anywhere, and should be taken seriously.

In a receptive phase of problem solving, when ideas may come and go, it is important to keep your mind from forming negative thoughts and concerning yourself with specifics and details. Let them go and encourage your mind to consider every aspect of a possibility. Let these ideas be the seeds that may or may not grow flowers

Artists should not hesitate to use the resources of others. Keep your mind open and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to people who are doing something similar to what you are doing, and then talk to those who are doing something completely different. Even the most successful artists must still learn in order to stay fresh and in control of his or her craft. Businesses and governments spend time and money on research and consults, which can provide unexpected benefits through the process of looking at a problem from a different viewpoint.

The reason this is so successful is that people on the inside often forget to take a new look at what is going on in their own space. Looking at the same thing in the same way day after day does dull your sense and sensibility to a problem. What’s really fun is to try to find someone with absolutely no experience in your business or with your problem, and find out what that person has to say. Ask a child, or an older relative. The ideas may not be presented in finished form and ready to implement, but some solutions may be found by listening and combining and connecting or prompting other ideas.

Edison believed that “Ideas are in the air,” and if he hadn’t thought of a particular solution to a problem, someone else would have. But in order to catch these airborne ideas we do need to observe and be open to them. Kids go to major league baseball games with their gloves in hopes of catching a fly ball. They are ready and prepared to do just that. They look for them and seek them out. Sometimes they catch one. Often they don’t. But if they do catch one, they hold on to it much more successfully than if they had forgotten to be prepared. If we go to work prepared to challenge old ways of thinking by looking at our environment with fresh eyes, then we are prepared when an idea presents itself.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mary,
    The other day I finished reading your book--I even took notes.
    Your quote from Edison "Ideas are in the air" is a good one. It reminds me of another memorable quote, I think from Pasteur, is "Chance favors the prepared mind."
    Good post!