Genius. It is just attention to something specific. That’s all it is. And so anyone who gives attention to any subject for a period of time will evolve in the direction of that understanding.
I just returned from teaching a day-long creativity workshop for leaders in the federal government. I’m contracted to teach this every two months. (Sometimes more often.) I designed the morning session myself, and it’s geared towards creating a very real right-brain hands-on creative experience. (No small task when you consider the job descriptions of these participants.)
Until this most recent workshop, I led the afternoon session, but I didn’t design it. I had merely followed the instructions written by The Center for Creative Leadership. The activity is called “The Visual Explorer.” In this activity, hundreds of 8×10 images – beautiful, rich, and evocative photos and paintings – are placed all around the room and hallways. Each participant is told to think of a “problem” in his or her life. S/he then walks around the room looking at all the images, until s/he finds an image that represents that “problem.”
The participants get into groups of three, and they take turns sharing their images and problems with the other two people. The two observers then tell the person with the problem (PWP) what solutions they see in the image. Often the two outside observers find solutions that help the PWP to see new opportunities.
Here’s the thing, though. In past workshops, I noticed that the group energy got really low during the Visual Explorer. I blamed it on the “after lunch” energy crash. But still, it frustrated me. I didn’t want to be too aggressive with the supervisors who had chosen this activity, but I was uncomfortable with the level of attention that was given to the “problem.” I even suspected that this was the cause for the energy crash. I checked in with the program director and told her I wanted to change this activity around. Because I’ve had great success in my teaching so far, she gave the reigns over to me.
So, I did three things differently.
1 – I told the participants to pick a “challenge.” The word “challenge” contains the slightest bit of opportunity in it. It also shifts the person with the challenge into an active participant. A “problem,” on the other hand, is more permanent and heavy. Someone with a “problem” is stuck and passive. Someone with a “challenge” might actually benefit in the end. (I then corrected anyone who used the word “problem” after this distinction was made!)
2 – I told them to pick out not one, but two images. The first image would represent their challenge. The second would be a solution. They would still break down into small groups, but the discussion would be about both images. The two observers would add to the solutions that the person with the challenge had found.
3 – Before they jumped up to find their images, I had them sit quietly. They had the choice of closing their eyes, or of writing down notes as I spoke. I then guided them through their challenge, and I included a reflection on how they might be a contributing factor to this challenge. (This helps to avoid dead-end challenges like – “My boss is an idiot!”) I also included a reflection about opportunity: “What might I learn from this particular challenge? In what ways could I grow? Are there opportunities here?”
They got up and began the exercise. The results were staggering. The energy of the group not only rose, but the emotions and depth that each group experienced was life-changing for some. (There were many “a-ha!” moments.) After each group had finished, several volunteers stood up and shared their experiences. (Some even cried at the relief of the new knowlege of their new-found solution.) I got goose bumps over and over at the new levels of wisdom that were shared.
So, what happened?
I believe it’s about attention. When the group had been told to focus their attention on their “problems,” the energy got stuck and stale. (And sad too!) When the PWP talked only about the “problem,” then all of his/her attention stayed right there – on the problem. The two observers were the ones who presented solutions. This did result in a few solutions, of course. But the solutions were coming from the outside of the PWP. S/he had spent all that time talking only about that problem. Then s/he sat and waited while other people came up with the solution. It wasn’t a very empowering model.
When the attention shifted, the group dynamic shifted. When the participants were told to find their own images of solutions, they were forced to tap in to a deeper part of themselves that had the wisdom. That part is always there. We just forget to place our attention on it sometimes! The small group discussion then elevated from a complaint session (“Yea, my boss is an idiot too!”) into something more exciting, as each person shared her own wisdom with the other two people, who then added to that wisdom with more attention on it.
So, where is your attention?
Oprah says, “Intention rules the earth.” I believe that. I’ve written blogs about it. I also believe that the daily practice of intention is the hourly practice of attention. Attention is the discipline. In our conversations with friends, in our time spent on various activites, in our thoughts, and in our choices of what to focus on.
So, how and where are you choosing to focus your very precious and very powerful attention?