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I just finished reading Holly Witchey’s account of How Fiction Saved My Museum Mojo and her return to fiction writing. Some of her descriptions of what happens in the real world of museum administration and the fictional world of museum murders takes me to my own fanciful world of make believe. As Holly describes her excitement “at the thought of describing a museum that functions, a staff that works well together, and an environment that is constantly challenging (particularly when a murder or two is thrown in),” I’ve often imagined an organization (not just in the museum world, but in many different worlds) that operates in a similar fashion.

Like Holly, coffee in hand and sitting on my back porch this morning, I could imagine an organization that has a mix of new and experienced staff members working in concert to create and develop wonderful and effective exhibitions and educational programs. I can imagine an organization that collaborates ‘across the aisle’ and is committed to the same mission and ideals to strive for excellence for our in-person and virtual visitors. I can also imagine working in an environment where we are surrounded by beautiful art, working historic kitchens, or living collections (I’m often inspired by pandas and wild cats and anything that comes from the ground).

Who doesn’t love John Cleese? In Creativity as Explained by John Cleese, the blogger, Richard Darell, suggests that creativity is a term that is hard to define or explain to someone else.  It just can’t be explained…but there are examples everywhere. I’ve always thought Cleese was one of the most brilliant guys in the creative arts. Yes, I’m a Python from way back.  I wonder though, if we show enough examples of creativity and imagination, if there isn’t something to be said for teaching the creative process, even if the process is individual and different for each of us. Rae Ann Fera wrote a piece for Fast Company just last week citing the 4 Lessons in Creativity From John Cleese.  Fera writes, “Cleese spoke of the importance of succumbing to the unconscious mind, two key traits possessed by highly successful creative people, the necessity of allowing for contemplative thinking, and why all of these together result in creative breakthroughs.” The bottom line for much of his philosophy is that it all boils down to a willingness to play!

Last week I had an opportunity to assist a talented jewelry designer and creative teacher, Sara Silvio, at the Memorial Art Gallery summer camp.  The course, Coolest Jewels, covers basic jewelry design and techniques.  We had 15 girls between the ages of 10 and 14. It was interesting to see how this age group (and gender) approached creativity and play.  We weren’t always sure what drove some of their decisions (or color combinations for that matter) but it was interesting to watch their process. Some jumped right in and let the selection of beads drive their design. Some drew pictures first (we also encouraged this practice). Some came with ideas from outside the classroom (it would have been interesting to explore where those ideas were hatched). Well, after five days in class, they all had several bracelets, sets of earrings, and necklaces to wear home and I couldn’t wait to get back into my own studio because I was inspired to ‘create’ something new. The sparks of creativity, imagination, fearlessness, inspired me and set my mind spinning on my own creations.

Jonah Lehrer’s book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, has been on my reading list for several months. Take three minutes and watch his video on Amazon because he does believe that imagination is a process…and a process can be taught. Perhaps what we teach to our fellow colleagues is the idea of play and inspiration. Perhaps we lead by example. As my husband so often says, “You get what you manage for” and that is so often the case. Through research for this post, I stumbled onto this article, Monet and the Art of Intent and a book, (now also on my must read list) Every Leader Is An Artist: How the World’s Greatest Artists Can Make You a More Creative Leader, both by Michael O’Malley.  He writes,”People really do get better if they have in their minds the kind of workplaces they want and the types of leaders they wish to be.” Maybe our responsibility as managers and leaders is to provide an environment where people can imagine a different outcome, a different way of thinking, a different approach than has been attempted in the past.

So, you might be wondering where the garden gnome figures into this equation. I love that Travelocity uses a garden gnome as their iconic mascot.  Travel can often bring on fits of creativity – we imagine new places, new people, new art, new conversations. We move away from daily rituals to experience familiar things in new ways. Like those I’ve mentioned in this post, whether it’s the side porch, the coffee, the garden, a humorous video from a talented comedian, a jewelry designer, or a garden gnome, by letting our imagination soar, we can write fiction, design jewelry, create fabulous meals, paint masterpieces, and lead organizations.  By using just a bit of that mojo to solve not only the problems within our museum world, hopefully, we’ll also create something that invites creativity and imagination all around.

What will you imagine today? What inspires you?