Childlike Curiosity for Discovering Creativity
Watch a small child explore the world around them. Discover a childlike curiosity to shake up stale ideas and keep your point-of-view fluid.
Our household has recently had some young guests. Over the past few days, several young nephews and niece have come to visit. I've been able to watch them, play with them and race around moving objects, which I hadn't previously considered dangerous or fragile, out of reach. To some this would be torture, but we had a blast!
Take in your surroundings with that childlike curiosity
Work the room - This is useful in networking and when visiting new places. My little nephew be-bopped around the house like the ball in a pinball machine. He never stopped, but shot from item to item. He'd hold a toy for a second. Yank on a wire dangling from a table. He'd pump a bottle of lotion onto the couch cushion. Then land and sit quietly for a brief pause in the play tent to catch his breath. As a grown-up, we tend to go to a place in a room and park it there with as little interaction as possible. We are conditioned to avoid the rich detail around us. Think of the stories that are presented by mere observation to a character like Sherlock Holmes. A worn patch on furniture, scratches on a door frame, even a book on a shelf that is heavily dog-eared or riddled with book marks can tell you loads of information. The information is there for the taking, you just have turn your attention and childlike curiosity toward it.
Get down - Consider small details, look closely. When was the last time you really got close to something? You noticed the fiber pattern in some carpet. You appreciated the craft in a wallet or a game box where the materials are overlapped and shaped into a sharp corner. Have you ever picked up a rock and found a fossil? Maybe you found a hidden message or a forgotten note in the back of a cabinet or drawer.
What is this thing? - I love the segment on This Old House where they ask each other to guess what is the purpose of this strange object. The cast intentionally offer humorous, wildly different idea that seem plausible given the shape of the item. To a child, there may be hundreds of unexplained artifacts laying around. That is one of the reasons what makes a visit to grandparent's houses so fun. That is where many of us meet for the first time objects like, shoehorns, enormous wooden forks and spoons, china cabinets and potpourri. When was the last time you wandered through a hardware store and marveled at a thing that you previously hadn't known to exist?
Get into the unexpected discoveries
What is this thing? - What if this living room were another world? Lava, sure. Ocean waves, why not? I had the valuable experience of memorizing a poem in middle school. I don't know how I chose those one, but Robert Louis Stevenson's poem The Land of Counterpane has influenced me greatly in this direction. Pixar's Inside Out and Toy Story movies pay tribute to this as well. It only takes a cushion, a cardboard box or a blanket to form an entire world in the mind of a child.
Juxtaposition - You can also embrace the contrast between an imagined thing brought here into this real and present world. You can also move this environment into another place, like the disrupted comfortable homes in Jumanji or Zathura. How different are soft, comfy couch cushions to rocks floating in molten stone? A startling contrast can be very effective.
Zigzag - Little kids fail a lot and that is a good thing! Today, thanks to Jeff Goins, I learned about another writer in this space of creativity. His name is Keith Sawyer, and he certainly is not new. He has a post and apparently a book on the creative process. In the blog post he describes several failed products that, when reworked or adjusted were eventually very successful. Failures should never been seen as anything but stepping stones on the way to success.
Activate all your senses as you explore
Taste - Little kids stick everything in their mouths, this demonstrates the absolute dedication and automatic nature of their childlike curiosity. Of course there is a negative consequences to orally investigating strange objects. What is it Alice said in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? "If you drink much from a bottle marked poison, it is almost certain to disagree with you sooner or later." What I mean is to inspire you to really get into a new thing, explore it, get your hands dirty. Of course if it is trying something new at a restaurant or during dinner at a friend's house, go for it! It may open up a new world to you.
Smell - Right in line with the tasting is to appreciate the smell and other subtle sensations of a place or thing. This is true for all the senses, I'm only calling out these two. Let an old paperback, the seats of a new car or the air after a summer rain conjure thoughts. Unless that is your normal state, the special or unusual will take you to places that aren't top of mind. It will stir deeper into the sediment in your mind.
Remember - Smell and taste have very strong ties to memory. When I bite a strawberry or a raspberry, my childhood races back into my head. Suddenly it is in the late 1970s and the world is that nostalgic color tones of old Sears catalogs, blue and brown shag carpet and 110 film. You've covered a lot of territory in your life. The things that are most special to you are the things you are best equipped to describe and share with others. If they happen to resonate with your reader or content consumer, you can transport them with that same power that a red raspberry has on me.
Sometimes looking back or reflecting to where you were once before is a big help in seeing your way forward. What was it like watching the world change with the invention and decline of record players, VCRs, Polaroid cameras and Apple II computers with monochrome screens and games which threatened you with dysentery? What is going to fade next and what will come after it? Futurists spend a lot of time with their minds in this arena.
The other aspect to childlike curiosity is that kids are hungry to know, to absorb the world. Kids are like little tape recorders, even when you don't think they are listening, they will often surprise you by reciting some random phrase you said when you had no idea they were aware. If you want to energize your creativity, awaken that hunger for detail around you. It is all still there, grownups often just treat it like fly-over country as they race from the bed to work to the dinner table, to the television and then back to the bed. We pace in our well worn paths like a caged animal in the zoo. Shake things up by being that kid again. Go on, it'll be ok.
>>In the comments below, two options relating to childlike curiosity:
- share your earliest memory
- or share the most recent time you were startled by the thrill a long-forgotten memory suddenly being remembered.
Photo: Public Domain