A New Painting Inspired Me
In planning a furniture rearrangement, I opened up space for a new painting. I bought Chris Rogers‘ piece, Through a Broken Fence, the featured image for this post. Chris is an amazingly creative woman. First, a graphic designer, then a successful novelist and writing instructor, she later added painting to her repertoire.
To me, the beautifully evocative work I bought suggests that the fence may be broken, the garden may have been neglected, wild plants may have volunteered themselves among the domestic flowers. One might view these conditions as unfortunate. I saw the broken fence and the volunteers combining with the original manicured garden to create a unique and enchanting combination with a beauty all its own.
Finding Creative Solutions
Looking past defects to find good things to develop became part of my thinking through years of using the skills I teach. I advise trainees and clients, when brainstorming for ways to satisfy their interests and/or those of another person, to make note of every idea that flits through their minds. We tend to censor ourselves. A thought occurs, and before you can fully grasp it. You find something wrong with it. Then you dismiss the thought without consideration.
Don’t censor the bad ideas. They can inspire good ones. If we temporarily ignore the problems with a bad idea and look for what’s good about it, we can often modify the idea so it retains the good part without the problem–like fairytale Rapunzel spinning straw into gold. But if you leave it out of your notes, you might lose sight of it forever.
As I wrote in Bridges to consensus:
[Idea] modification is like altering a food preparation method to improve an unpalatable buffet item, say peeled raw cloves of garlic. They’re healthy (the kernel of goodness), but too sharp. We can retain garlic’s health benefits and turn it into a tasty treat by slow roasting it in terra cotta and serving it with French bread to spread it on.
A Classroom Example
In my very first training course I taught a group of intellectual property attorneys. We were working on a hypothetical problem involving a dispute between two ski shop owners with similar business names. I asked the trainees to think of some nutty ideas, unworkable ideas, for resolving their differences. One trainee said, “Let the two business owners fight a duel.”
I told her, “That’s a great example–not merely unworkable, but illegal. But there’s also something good about that idea. Can you take the kernel of goodness and insert it into a more workable context?”
She replied, “How about a ski-off contest?”
My group then worked together to develop that idea: Publicize the event. Include food and door prizes. Use it as an opportunity to not only award the desired business name to the winning skier, but also to announce a new name for the other.
One might say this is still unworkable, that the two business owners would never agree to it. But it’s much better than the original idea of a duel. It could be further improved, again by temporarily ignoring the possible flaw in the plan–that one or both parties might refuse to participate in a ski contest–and ask, “Where is the kernel of goodness in this idea? How can we retain the kernel of goodness even if one or both parties refuse to ski?”
Perhaps they will see the goodness in the element of good-natured competition, with opportunities for both ski shops to display their wares and speak to customers.
But what if one party doesn’t like the idea of one-on-one competition? There is still a kernel of goodness in creating an event in which both could participate and show their wares. They could organize a small trade fair and invite other sporting goods vendors. Beforehand, the two ski shop owners would agree which one will get to keep the current name and how much, if any, that party will pay to the one who agrees to change their name. The one who agrees to change can use the trade fair to hype the new name, present the change as a positive step, perhaps include a new color scheme for their shop, a “new look” sale.
You will think to yourself, if I were one of those ski shop owners, I wouldn’t agree to anything of those plans. That’s fine, because the point is not what decision a ski shop owner should make. Rather, the the point is the process by which two people may come to an agreement by not dismissing unworkable ideas out of hand, and rather, looking for the kernels of goodness and developing from there. And if you were one of the shop owners, you could use that very process to come to a totally different agreement, one that is satisfactory to you. Remember, when brainstorming, fighting a duel would not be the only nutty idea on the list. You could work on all the nutty ideas and choose the most appealing to you that is also agreeable to the other person.
Try This for Yourself
You don’t have to wait for a disagreement to practice this process, in fact, you shouldn’t wait. Use it to make a good idea even better. Purchasing Chris Rogers’ Through a Broken Fence was a wonderful idea for me. But I improved it by looking beyond the obvious and using it as inspiration for this very blog post.
If you use this process to make a bad idea workable, or to make a good idea better, write it up and send it to me. I love real-life success stories.
I love this idea of spinning bad ideas into good ones. For many years, I was an avid gardener, but eventually my vigor for yard work declined. I’m picky about how my shrubs are trimmed, so hiring a local yard person hasn’t worked out.
Teaching is a skill I enjoy, and I’ve thought of teaching novel writing in my area. What usually stops me is the amount of preparation and the amount of “homework” it creates for me – hours I could spend painting or watching reruns.
Every time I’ve mentioned a writing class, one man welcomes the idea with enthusiasm. He’s eager, but has difficulty putting words on paper. He also, however, has excellent gardening skills.
With all these thoughts in my head, I read this blog post and a great idea whirled into view. I suggested we trade a few hours each week. I will help him capture his stories and he will help me keep my yard looking good.
Thank you, Margaret. for showing me how to spin a pile of straw into golden nuggets.
Thanks for sharing this, Chris. There’s nothing I love more than knowing people are actually using something I wrote about or taught in a class. By the way, I have gotten nice commentary on your beautiful painting when I shared this post on Facebook.
Beautiful painting by Chris Rogers. It’s a window to her soul. I can see how it helped inspire you to make this great post, Margaret. Thanks for sharing it.
My band, The Citykings, is in limbo at this time. Our bass player has been in hospice care for 9 months now. MD Anderson sent him home last May. They told him there was nothing more they could do for him, and he was not expected to last 2 weeks. Well, here he is in February. But he is deteriorating at a rapid pace now, and we all know these current times are his last days.
It ain’t about the music anymore. We still go over his house, hang out with him and play. He tries, but he really can’t play anymore. He can’t find the notes, the arrangements, or the beat. We just play on and act cool with him like we always did. We just love him.
He told us he wants to make a second album and we all agreed. We will do it, but not until after he’s laid to rest. I will play his parts uncredited on the album and list him as the bass player. I know all his parts.
I’m gradually getting to the point. He told us he wanted an acoustic guitar so he can play it just to have something to do. Our other guitar player and I ordered a new acoustic guitar for him online. It arrived yesterday. It was a beautiful guitar at a very low price. Only one problem: It didn’t work. Something was wrong with the neck, bridge, frets, etc. My guitar player has a musical instrument repair business, and he couldn’t figure out what the problem was, The dang thing just didn’t make any notes! Very frustrating!
I went online and found that I could return it at any of the seller’s retail locations, so I took the guitar over there this afternoon and they cheerfully refunded my purchase. I took the refund and applied it to another guitar (a different brand) and ended up paying $11 more for a much better instrument, and they gave me a 15% discount on it.
We took it over to the bass player’s house this evening and although he couldn’t see it (besides terminal bone cancer, he also has glaucoma), he cradled it and thanked us. Then he fell asleep.
We don’t expect him to be around much longer, but his final time will be spent enjoying his guitar. This was a bad situation that I was able to turn into a good one by 1: Not losing my cool over being sold a lemon, and 2: Taking advantage of the system when at first it looked like the system was taking advantage of me.
Thanks for reading! JB
Your story brings tears to my eyes. I admire your empathy, knowing what will help the guy, and doing it whether it “makes sense” or no. Do you have surely helped him along his final days on eatrh.
Great blog post, and such enlightening comments from Chris and John! Keep up the outstanding work Margaret, it is helping people SO much!
Thanks, Ellen. Hearing things like this gives me such a lift.