Michelle James has been pioneering Applied Creativity and Applied Improvisation in business in the Washington, DC area since 1994. She is CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence and founder of the Capitol Creativity Network. Recently she was recognized for Visionary Leadership in Fast Company’s blog, Leading Change, for “her commitment to bring creative expression into the work environment in a very deep and meaningful way.” Michelle is a business creativity consultant, facilitator and coach who has designed and delivered hundreds of programs for entrepreneurs, leaders, and organizations. Her original programs have been featured on TV, the radio and in print. Michelle performs full-length improvised plays with Precipice Improv, is an abstract painting artist, and is a CoreSomatics Master Practitioner. In 2009, she put on DC’s first Creativity in Business Conference.
1. What does creativity mean to you?
Life, aliveness, life energy, life trajectory, the core, the source, the natural way of being, the driving force, the unique self, the essence of all living being and systems. It is that energy within all of us and all living things which animates, liberates, and generates. It is the same force that paradoxically expresses our absolute individual uniqueness and connects us in community. It unites things, people, ideas, frameworks, concepts that were previously divided. It is there, ever-flowing, for us all to engage it, shape it, form it, express it and apply it to anything - from expression to solution finding to new structure creating. For me, it is like asking someone to define the essence of life - there are as many different ways to define it as there are people. That is uncomfortable for people who like to think there is one right way. Creativity is not about the one right way.
In my work, I find that I use the definition that resonates most with a particular client or organization to meet them where they are. Once they experience the power of re-igniting their own creative wellspring, they will always be able to come up with their own definitions that are more relevant for them than anything I could come up with - because while creativity is ubiquitous and universal, is is also uniquely personal.
Creativity is living paradox. It contains a balance of left and right brain, cultivating and emergence, thinking and being, reflection and action, receptivity and generativity, improvisation and planning, heart and head, analysis and intuition, and structure and flow.
2. What is your creative process and what tools do you use to stimulate it?
I call my meta-process the Creative Emergence Process (named my business after it), and within that, there are many types of creative processes I use, and that list is always expanding. The creative Emergence Process unfolded in my consciousness over a period of several years, more as a life calling than a creative outlet , and led me to create a whole business around it. It is a whole-brain, whole-person, whole-systems approach to merging creativity, purpose, business and serving the larger good. It is based on the Emergence Principles - natural principles that create conditions for creativity to emerge - and Practices that cultivate and focus creativity. My focus is in the work especially.
I use both left and right brain approaches to engage creativity for myself and with my clients. Some tools I use to engage it are storytelling, improv theater, movement, visual arts, imagery, design thinking, movement, intuition-based techniques, reflection tools, journaling, accelerated learning methods, ritual, insights from psychology/archetypes/mythology and process work, systems thinking, analytical processes and structured creative solution finding approaches, outdoor adventures. I also focus on conversations with people who think differently than me, pattern breaking, trying new things, “yes-anding” both myself and others...and doing things that are fun!
3. What is your most creative time of day?
I do not have a more creative time of day but I do have cycles when I feel more creative, and when possible, I try to follow those, and do the busy work in less inspired moments. It’s connected more to what I am creating than a time of day. When I have a project (work-related, artistic, new structure, etc) that I am excited about, I can create all day and night without getting tired. Time has en entirely different meaning. My energy feels endless. When I am in routine busy work, or work that is predictable, I can lose my creative “mojo” very quickly. I then have to consciously focus on breaking patterns and commitment to get it done. I come alive with newness, so I do what I can to keep creating. But in times where I know everything that needs to be done and still have to do it, I either (1) switch from enthusiasm to discipline mode to keep me going or (2) do something to break my habitual patterns. That usually helps me get the creative juices flowing again. Commitment and pattern breaking help keep me going when I’m not feeling the “flow” as easily.
4. How do you infuse creativity into your daily life and tasks?
It is so integrated into my every day way of thinking and being that is is hard to me to separate it out. My life’s work and business is based on it. Whenever I feel the call for something new to emerge, I seek to find a way to create it.
Because of my belief about the essentialness of making it an explicit part of every day work and life, I started a company called The Center for Creative Emergence, dedicated to integrating creativity, meaning, organizational culture and business for a happier and more productive work life and a richer bottom line. Included in CCE is Quantum Leap Business Improv. I founded and run the Capitol Creativity Network in DC for those interested in creativity for personal and professional development; and I put on DC's first Creativity in Business Conference last year. My mission is to help "mainstream" creativity and engage people into their full humanness for innovative work, positive social change, and consciously creating a life-giving future. That is always at the core of all the choices I make.
Having a purpose and mission larger than yourself, and larger than expression (but including it), is one way to keep creativity infused in your daily life. Another is to make it a priority, and set aside time for your Creative Self - making it your most important appointment of the day. Your Creative Self need space, time and attention, like all living things, to flourish.
5. What creative tip or resource would you like to share with our readers?
Above all else, let go of any voice in you that says you are not creative. That is based on an outdated - and just plain false - definition of what creativity is. Creativity is not reserved for those in the arts. It is in every person and every field and discipline. By expanding your definition or what it mean to be creative, you can become more comfortable with knowing your self as a creator.
One thing I recommend for everyone - and think should be required in all schools, universities, and business training - is taking improvisational theater classes. The transformational power of improv, in my mind, in unparalleled because you learn how to become fully and completely present. You have to leave planning, agendas, judgement, and just be there, in the moment, without any safety net except for the naturally self-organizing creativity that can’t do anything but emerge. It takes you into the present moment - the place where we can really see and feel and get out unlimited creativity. We have just been socialized, educated, and traumatized out of our natural creative selves, and improv is one of the many ways to help us reconnect. It provides you with a set of principles that, when practiced over time, will free you up to be more adaptive, responsive, generative and creative in your life and work. The tip: find an improv class in your area and take it!
- THANKS Michelle!