Creativity in a Box

Have you ever heard of Odyssey of the Mind? Perhaps you participated as a student or perhaps you have a student in your home who is a participant. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this international program, it is self described as:

an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics.

This weekend was one of the Georgia regional competitions, and my son participated on am elementary level team that built a moving tank. At his school, you have to be at least third grade, so he was one of the newbies in the group. These children had to work through a very specific problem as a team, though there was a span of ages and a variety of personalities involved, and they did so successfully. (How many adults do you know who could accomplish such a feat?)

Telling a story using boxes, paint and youthful ingenuity.

To say that the host facility literally vibrated with intellectual and creative energy on Saturday would be to understate the reality of what happened in this place. The next time I start to fret about my business, the economy, or where our country is headed, I will put some faith in the intellect and persistence shown by these kids.

The participants are challenged to solve a problem creatively. Big whoop. Lots of challenges require creative thinking. What makes this exercise valuable to their lives (and warrants this thought process), is that the teams are limited by dozens of rules and stipulations that restrict their strategies and tactics, and require them to be analytical before they can get creative.

Ironic. Constrained by rules, they push their minds farther into the creative.

What a difficult thing it is to use our whole mind. How often do you have the need (opportunity?) to think and work both analytically and creatively? As adults, we are so oriented by the tactical – the things required by our careers and personal lives. And as we get older, we seem to get increasingly pigeonholed into the analytical or the creative. There isn’t time or capacity for both. (I will say that WAHM moms are especially lucky in this – we may be one of the only groups afforded the opportunity to be both creative and analytical on many levels every day.)

Creativity in a box.

My husband is a finance guy. He’s good at numbers and provides valuable counsel to companies in need of strategic financial guidance. Yet, he loves music, can play the piano, can draw, loves art, cooks wonderfully…he has tremendous creative strengths. They just stay closeted for the 10+ hours each day that he’s working. On numbers. Analytically. (Nobody likes a creative accountant, right?)

Me, not so much. For instance, today is a writing day. A press release, a blog post, a script at the very minimum. No numbers there! Then the kids will be home and we’ll work together on book reports and how-to presentations…and maybe a little economics study, but not much. The most black and white my day will probably get is converting a recipe tonight so I can use fresh tomatoes rather than canned. Brilliant stuff. Tomorrow will probably be very different.

In college, we were a study in the dichotomy of analytical and creative…and look where it got us.

Many nights, I would come from a symphony practice to his dorm where I’d park on his floor to study poetry or some esoteric collegiate-style novel, and he’d be elbow-deep into business law or accounting. More often than not, I didn’t understand what he was learning. More often than not, he couldn’t comprehend why I would spend my college years learning something potentially unmarketable (in all fairness, I couldn’t either, but the lure of the creative was just too powerful).

As we have ultimately discovered in our middle-aged wisdom (she says with a sardonic chuckle), there was value in both. We are both now entrepreneurs.

Maybe that’s our intersection of analytical and creative. To be an entrepreneur, you have the constraints of the market, business strategy, and a plethora of other black and white details that keep gas in the tank. Yet you also have the freedom to create the car. To give life to your idea on an everyday basis. Constrained by the demands of the market, we push our minds farther into the what-if and the how.

It’s probably a good thing that our son is involved in a program like Odyssey of the mind…with two entrepreneurs as parents, neither of our kids stand much of a chance of escaping the lure of both sides of the brain.

And you? Are you a what-if kind of person or a how kind of person?


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