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Four Ways to Boost Creativity…Naturally

Earl Middleton No Comments

Are you facing a seemingly impossible challenge? Need answers to a question that’s been stumping everyone in your organization? Painted yourself into a corner and desperate to find the way out? You don’t have an information problem. Your solution lies in a jolt of creativity.

Companies turn around, teams succeed, schools achieve, families heal, and neighborhoods change when creativity is unleashed in them. Our society has long been defaulting to left-brain logic to broker change. It’s time to overthrow the tyranny of the left and also begin to engage the wonders of right-brain creative approaches. But how? How do we introduce creativity to a previously sterile void? By thinking counterintuitively.

1. Ramp-up Restrictions. I know the culture’s company line is, “We need more freedom to spur creativity.” It sounds good, but it’s just not true. Creativity ignites in narrow spaces, in confinement, through struggle against one’s environment. In sports it’s a response to pressure and hostility, and the need to get out of a tight squeeze, a jam, an impossible trap. Skilled players in football, offensive players in basketball exhibit creativity when the defense closes in on them and shuts down the lanes to the end zone or basket. Pressure spawns creativity, and pressure is just another term for building, growing restrictions. The human fetus is birthed through the painful contractions of a narrow passageway. Restriction is necessary for creation to happen. This is why many artists have to starve before they ‘make it.’ To spike creative solutions in your organization, whether it be a company, team, school, family, or neighborhood, artificially pump up the pressure by ramping up environmental restrictions for a season.

2. Cultivate Conflict. Most of us think conflict is bad and try to stamp it out as soon as it rears its head. But the earth was created in the midst of conflict, rising out of chaos to become organized. And continued conflict in the atmosphere produces the rain that maintains it. Big Bang theorists posit that creation is the explosion that takes place when two opposing, powerful forces collide. Inside the petri dish of creativity what’s really going on is a lot of chaos and conflict. Collisions, explosions, and life spurting everywhere. When God wants to birth something out of you He has to put chaos inside of you to activate it, then He has to put you in chaos to draw it out of you. The creative process is often loud and ugly and messy and sometimes bloody, but what it produces is undeniably unique, and beautiful, and transformative. Confine the strongest polar opposites you have in your organization in the same space for structured seasons and enjoy the fireworks. The clean up afterwards will be significant, but so will be the overflow of useful ideas.

3. Prioritize Pain. The US healthcare systems pumps billions of dollars annually into pain management. The entertainment industry is itself a multibillion dollar behemoth that feeds off the country’s growing need for pain avoidance and management through distraction. Human beings would much rather avoid pain that confront it, process it, and benefit from it. But pain is a pre-requisite for creativity and a co-requisite for birthing. Creating and birthing anything is painful because the passageway out of us is always much narrower than the size of the created thing inside of us. If we’re going to be creative we’re going to need pain and pressure, conflict and chaos in our lives. Creation can’t happen without them. Introduce a new perspective on pain in your organization. Reward those who show a capacity for enduring it, and help others to embrace it, even for short seasons at a time. Teach those experiencing the birth pangs of creative ideas to scream if they have to, and help them to surrender to the fact that they can’t control the delivery. The baby, the ideas, will come when they come and all one can do is recognize and endure the process. Weeping will endure for the night but joy does and will come in the morning.

4. Deliver Drama. Creation is a drama. The most creative people seem to be the most chaotic and carry with them a load of drama. It’s almost as if they provoke drama because they are most comfortable in the midst of chaos and conflict. That is the right-brainer’s plight. This is the reason why artists are always chosen by their art, they never choose it. Who in their right mind would choose a life of chaos and conflict and dramatic tension? But these are precisely the people you need in your company, team, school, family, or neighborhood to break the creative spigot and let the ideas that bring solutions gush out.

Lebron James has mastered the preject skill of silence

Earl Middleton No Comments

A preject is a person who has been rejected by one or both parents, and as a result lives with a cracked, broken or shattered soul. To cope with and compensate for the damage visited on his soul by the absence of his father and the inconsistent presence of his mother in his life, LeBron James has mastered one of the first tools of soul protection: silence.

Man, he’s really good at it, too.

So good, in fact, that it has inspired a culture of silence around his free agency from a group of professionals paid to put their thoughts and words in print, and render a verdict. Yup, the basketball writers of America, in spite of all the rhetoric, verbiage, and text spewing from every sports news outlet on the continent, have been curiously silent on some pretty important stuff. Like seasoned prejects, they’ve been throwing up a fence of words that has effectively obscured the truth.

With all of the hoopla and carefully crafted misinformation swirling around Lebron James and the rest of the holy trinity of the 2010 free agent class, the most important and compelling bits of news has been what is not being said:

It’s astonishing how everyone has been silent about Tracy McGrady, a top 10 player just two years ago, on the mend from microfracture surgery, and who at 75% of his former self would still be an appealing running mate for an insouciant superstar who only wants to win. That T-Mac vowed to stay with the Knicks (who still own his yet unrenounced rights) if they managed to sign two max free agents ratchets up the stakes in this surreal game of basketball monolopy being presided over by a stakeholder in Akron and a powerbroker at Penn Plaza. A lineup with James, Stoudemire, a healthier McGrady, and two other nondescript dudes (more on this later) would certainly cause the rest of the league to take notice, and resurrect visions of Boston, 2008. Remember that when the original Post-Modern Big Three were united three summers ago there were whispers about Ray Allen’s ankles (he’d just come off ankle surgery and no one knew how productive he could still be, which is one of the reasons he was made available in a trade), and Paul Pierce’s elbow. Not appreciably different than the recent, in-season chatter about McGrady’s knee and the current yammering about Stoudemire’s health.

It’s astonishing how everyone has been silent about Eddy Curry, a behemoth of a center just two years removed from serious all-star consideration, who is capable of giving a revamped Knick team at least the inside presence of a Luke Longely with the champion Bulls of the 90s or a Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and later a weakened Shaq, with an underachieving Cavalier squad. It’s easy to suspect that there was more to that sit down between Lebron and Curry in Ohio this past May (reported by the NY Daily News on May 18th, but curiously taken down from the website today) than just shooting the breeze about Curry’s future. If this meeting was indeed initiated by James it smacks more of shrewd investigatory assessment by James than just two ballers hanging out. With no history to speak of (other than sharing the same agent), the James-Curry pow wow was as odd and incongruous a spectacle as Russian spies meeting with White House aids in the dining hall of the Capital building.

It’s astonishing how everyone has been silent about Mike D’Antoni’s coaching appeal to Lebron James specifically. While Lebron has never blatantly called out his former coach, Mike Brown, for unimaginative offense schema and poor decision-making in big playoff games, anyone who’s played the game or watched it a lot could feel Lebron’s thoughts during the press conferences after deflating, unfathomable losses to teams with lesser talent, but better coaching. It is a player’s game, but James has always been a loyal, obedient soldier who would never show up his coach. He is the consummate warrior committed to executing the game plan given; and in this context, coaching matters. Byron Scott is cool and decorated and all, but James has never seen him coach uptempo, while he has successful history with D’Antoni, even if it was only for three summers of fun on the way to an Olympic gold medal.

It’s astonishing how everyone has been silent about the immediate impact of a potential lineup of Monta Ellis (from a possible sign-and-trade for David Lee, to which the Golden State Warriors are reportedly open), Tracy McGrady, Lebron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Eddy Curry, with Wilson Chandler, Bill Walker, Danilo Gallinari, and possibly Mike Miller coming off the bench. Replace James with Miller and that lineup is still formidable, but with James it’s an NBA finals lock.

Boston has shown that three future hall of famers near the end of their careers, one speedy point guard on the way up, and one marginally talented behemoth with a heart as huge as his scowl, can run into battle and slay any Goliath if they have the right inspiration on the sideline to guide them. As astute a student of the game as Lebron claims to be, it would be astonishing if he didn’t see that a projected five of Ellis, McGrady, James, Stoudemire and Curry would send the Big Three into retirement, Beantown into reconstruction, and Doc Rivers back into broadcasting and increased family face time.

Now, I’m not saying Lebron is headed for New York (even if he is scheduled to announce his decision from the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, CT, a stone’s throw away from Madison Square Garden). He’s been too preject silent for anyone to take more than an educated guess. All I’m saying is…it’s astonishing what’s not being said.

Kobe Bryant’s battle with parental rejection – heading into overtime?

Earl Middleton No Comments

Kobe Bean Bryant is basketball’s equivalent of an assassin. At least 41 times a year, on a well light corner of Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles, you can find the self-proclaimed black mamba poised to strike with speed and precision at game’s end, sending visiting teams out of Staples Center snakebitten and twice shy. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard for Mr. Bryant to get the benefit of the doubt in the national media afforded to his countepart atop the basketball tell, Lebron James. It’s pretty hard to write something nice about a black snake.

But if ever there was a moment when Mr. Bryant deserved our sympathy it was in the shower at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia a decade ago, holding the repeat NBA championship trophy with tears streaming down in his elfin face. Crying not because of what he’d just won, but because of what he’d lost: his father. No, Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant had not passed away, but it sure must have felt like it to Mr. Bryant.

It’s no secret that Mr. Bryant’s parents rejected him, and his timing and choice of a bride, a short ten years ago. Given the nature of humans, as we watched Mr. Bryant’s parents sit courtside for the first time at a Staples Center playoff game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, one had to wonder if full forgiveness and reconciliation had taken place after the infliction of such a deep wound. Bullies don’t like to be bullied, ergo snakes don’t like to be bitten; and in this case the mamba was bitten badly. His parents were no shows at his wedding, his new house, the birth of his first child, and his greatest professional achievement to date, a back-to-back championship practically right down the street from their five bedroom Lower Merion home.

Examining the lives of public figures can be such voodoo science, because there’s often so much withheld from view. But in this case Mr Bryant’s celebrity, and to a lesser extent that of his dad, helped to place in plain view for a global audience a silent, invisible and overlooked problem: prejection. Parental rejection is more common than one might think. And in this case common doesn’t mean less significant. There are some 100 million people battling the problem in the United States, and as many as 1 billion globally.

Whether the courtside playoff photo op was authentic, or just shrewdly engineered ‘branding’ for a rehabbed icon on the corporate endorsement comeback trail may only be known later, through the lives of Mr. Bryant’s daughters, Natalia & Gianna, because children are windows into the spiritual, relational, and emotional dynamic of a household. And what we don’t forgive we pass on. If Mr. Bryant hasn’t fully forgiven, it will be evident in his own rejection of his kids.

We are a society that spends increasingly more of our leisure and entertainment dollars on the escape from and management of pain. Psychic pain. The pain of prejection. And like Grimaldi the clown, who had no one to cheer him up when he was down, to whom do supreme entertainers like Mr. Bryant turn to help manage their pain and nurse their wounds? One can only hope, for the sake of his family, that Mr. Bryant has fully sealed the deal, as befits his legend; that this battle is over, with no chance for overtime.

NBA player rejected by city fathers

Earl Middleton No Comments

If you didn’t know, I’m telling now before it becomes front page news, so you’ll be in the know. Kevin Garnett is a preject.

You say, “What’s a preject?”

A parental reject. Someone who has been rejected by one or both parents, and is living with a cracked, broken, or shattered soul. Kevin Garnett is a preject.

A recent Boston Globe article about Garnett tells of his racially tinged arrest as a high school junior in South Carolina, and its impact on his life today; namely, his inability and/or unwillingness to trust others. His former teammate, Leon Powe, offers that Garnett trusts no one. This is classic preject behavior, although in this case the rejecting parent is the City-Fathers-Complex, the civic power structure, the only father he’d known growing up–the local father institution better known as the city government, which he thought was there to help, protect, and provide for him; but instead, in his experience, hurt, violated and rejected him.


Rejection by parents for who we are (or are not), or what we have done (or wouldn’t or couldn’t do); for our being and/or behavior beyond our control or choice, is both painful and common prejection. This occurs often in counter culture children (boys who are not athletic, girls who are not sweet), homosexual children, and children born with mental and/or physical deficits and challenges. And when you’re 6’11” and black in in some parts of South Carolina a generation ago, you’re as counter culture and physically challenged as it gets.

The key to overcoming this kind of soul breaking rejection is perspective and perception. Prejection is really not about parental intent, but about child perception. When a child accepts the ‘truth’ offered through a parent’s behavior that s/he is not worthy of love, respect and applause just by virtue of his/her presence on the planet, but is instead faulty and unworthy and deserving of poor treatment, that child lives the rest of his/her life guarding against what s/he fears s/he deserves, and will get from other parental figures in life.

Learning how to open up and trust again is a true sign that healing has begun. And for Kevin Garnett, the doctor is still not in.