Some folks are curious enough, visionary enough, passionate enough, dedicated enough, maybe a little crazy enough, to think way outside the box and then invent things that change our world.
Orville and Wilbur Wright manufactured and sold bicycles in turn of the 20th century Dayton, Ohio. They didn’t have pilot’s licenses because those hadn’t been invented yet until the Wright brothers invented the airplane. By tinkering and experimenting and daring to try, they manufactured and flew the first fixed-wing powered aircraft, opening the door to the entire world of commercial aviation and pilot’s licenses. (Thank you, E.M., for sending me the photo of the poster: Orville Wright Didn’t Have a Pilot’s License that sparked this somewhat irreverent exploration of creativity and courage.)
Benjamin Franklin had only two years of formal education before apprenticing at 10 years of age as a printer, but he had an insatiable passion for ideas and learning (he did later start the first subscription library in the United States even before we were the United States). After he retired as a printer/publisher, he became curious about electricity and with no formal scientific training but the courage to experiment and take risks, he discovered before anyone else did that lightning was electricity and invented the lightning rod (among many, many other useful things) so that thousands of homes, churches, all kinds of buildings, could be saved from burning to the ground.
We don’t have to invent the airplane or the lightning rod or the computer to enjoy our own thinking outside of the box and explore ideas that might change the world we live in. I think a key element for anyone who wants to think outside the box is to have permission to think outside the box. Not permission from the outside but from the inside. Permission to explore, experiment, create, without fear of punishment or failure. So it’s really moving past fear to try things new or unknown that is the key.
Two quotes from previous quotes about creativity (10-19-15) might be relevant here:
[Talking about his first computer] Like all kids we not only fooled around with our toys, we changed them. If you’ve ever watch a child with a cardboard carton and a box of crayons create a spaceship with cool control panels, or listened to their improvised rules, such as “Red cars can jump all others,” then you know that this impulse to make a toy do more is at the heart of innovative childhood play. It is also the essence of creativity.
– Bill Gates
Blaise Pascal used to mark with charcoal the walls of his playroom, seeking a means of making a circle perfectly round and a triangle whose sides and angle were all equal. He discovered these things for himself and then began to seek the relationship which existed between them. He did not know any mathematical terms and so he made up his own. Using these names he made axioms and finally developed perfect demonstrations, until he had come to the thirty-second proposition of Euclid.
– C. M. Cox
When we are without fear, or when we can manage and move beyond our fear, we are free to play, to explore, to experiment, to create, to invent. It takes intention and practice to begin to trust ourselves beyond any fears that might arise anytime we want to explore and experiment. Eleanor Roosevelt made it a practice to do one thing every day that scared her, simply to build that “muscle” of moving beyond fear to do what needed to be done, or to explore what needed to be explored.
I teach Do One Scary Thing a Day in my workshops to likewise train the brain to respond to something new or unknown as an opportunity to grow, learn, explore, create, rather than hesitate or pull back.
Here’s an exercise to help you begin to manage the fear that might derail your explorations and thinking outside the box, beginning to give yourself permission to do what needs to be done, or create what needs to be created.
1. Identify of one scary thing to do today to practice crossing any threshold of anxiety or into doing something new:
– apologize to your teenager for not keeping a promise;
– create an honest budget of income and expenses and then talk with your spouse about it.
– go up into the attic with a flashlight to see what’s scurrying around up there at night.
– drag that persistent cough into the doctor’s office to find out what’s really going on
– ask your boss to make good on a promise of extra time off for the extra time you put in last month.
2. Practice facing the fear today, and then practice doing one new different scary thing a day every day for the next 30 days. Crossing the threshold into action at least once a day builds the perseverance/repetition day after day that re-wires into the brain a new default of “Sure I can” or “Wow! I did it!”
3. As you repeat this practice of doing one scary thing a day for several weeks, notice any shifts in the messages your body is sending you as you prepare for the scary thing and after you’ve done it. Notice any emergence of the sensations “Sure I can!” Facing fear is ultimately easier than constantly navigating around situations that provoke it. We re-set the default to honesty, courage and resilience, and that opens us up to exploration, creativity and play.