outdoors

combined

This is the second of a two-part series, both of which are excerpts from my upcoming book, The Endless Creative.

You can find the first one here:

Unexpected

To recap from last week: 

There are two common aspects of creativity I’d like you to keep your eyes peeled for, especially when looking for inspiration.

  1. Creativity is unexpected (yet understandable)

  2. Creativity combines (the unrelated)

Now the second point, creativity combines. It’s about juxtaposition—two different things placed together. Imagine a life-sized sculpture of a man walking his dog made entirely of discarded coffee cups. Common trash has been used to make a piece of art.

This juxtaposition is a hallmark of creativity. It’s unmistakable and easy to identify. It’s one of the qualities that makes the work of the famous UK street artist Banksy so popular (besides their controversial nature, of course). 

Images such as trees growing out of a barcode, a man who appears to be throwing a bomb but is actually holding flowers, the Mona Lisa with a rocket launcher or the painting of a grim reaper in a boat painted over an actual dirty old canal—they all stand out because of their unusual combinations.

But don’t think for a nanosecond this only applies to art. For example, my brother-law, Jonny, needed to find a place to teach his students how to read maps. He found a local frisbee golf course (one with a fairly confusing layout) and printed out a satellite view from Google Maps, with a few discovery points he’d included for the students to chart. Mapping and frisbee aren’t two activities often found together, but it turns out the event was a big success (and I’d wager that the people who owned the course didn’t mind the extra business).

It’s remarkable what you’ll find when you start to look for unusual combinations. I heard about a board game being featured at a convention where the board itself is actually created during the game by a programable sewing machine. The way the game is played determines what sort of board the machine ultimately prints out. Such a game might not have mass appeal, but it’s a clever idea.

You can even find such things during your regular old day-to-day activities. During a visit to the dentist, I noticed an informational poster about gum disease and tooth loss. It had a large picture of a perl necklace with one pearl missing beneath the words, “Each one matters.” The tooth of their message was not lost on me.

Like Banksy’s work, some combinations are more to prove a point. Some, however, are simply made for the novelty. Take the shoebike—a bike where the wheels are made of shoes. It sounds fun at first, but when I saw it in use, it looked like a very uneven ride and I can’t imagine tying all those laces is a pleasure.

Other combinations are actually useful, like a backpack that becomes a tent or a bracelet that’s also a paracord, compass, whistle, and lighter. Yes, I just went on a hike. Why do you ask?

When you stop and gander (but please don’t goose), you’ll find creativity is all around. Whether it’s the unexpected, the combined, or some other aspect of creativity—you will soon have more source material than you know what to do with.

So next time you’re out on the streets (or on the trail), look out for the unexpected and combined—you won’t be disappointed.

naturally

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I generally enjoy being out in nature. 

I wouldn’t call myself a hard-core survivalist, living inside animal carcasses and backpacking through the open country for months on end. But I like being outside, going on moderately demanding hikes, and exploring wild places. 

Our family’s recent Idaho trip definitely fed my love of the outdoors. It’s one of those places where a good number of people are self-sufficient, living off the land sort of folk. I find a romantic appeal to that lifestyle, but, if I’m being honest, I’m still something of a city boy, having lived in San Diego and Los Angeles almost all my life.

I’ve found our new house in Arizona to be a blend of the two. It’s got plenty to offer in the great outdoors. I get to see the sun rise and set over mountains from my own house every day—something I hope never to take for granted. Yet it’s still got just about all the commercial offerings I’ve come to know and love.

My recent time out in the wilds reminded me of something I particularly enjoy about being outdoors: I think a lot less about myself when I’m out there.

I don’t worry so much about how I look and what I’m wearing (provided it’s weather/activity adequate). And, as you’ve probably experienced, most outdoorsy types don’t fret about fashion. That’s a city-person’s game.

But it goes beyond just outer wear. My awareness is turned away from many of my own inner struggles, doubts, anxieties, etc. and instead it’s focused on my immediate surroundings.

On a hike, a good part of my attention is given to just staying aware of the path ahead, taking it one step at a time without falling. After that, I try to enjoy the scenery. Be it trees, rocks, rivers, mountains, or plains—just about any place you go has something nice to look at. Even without a breathtaking view, the observant hiker is usually rewarded by something worth noticing like an animal sighting or particularly nice cloud formations.

Since the dawn of creativity, the outdoors have been a source of inspiration. As I’ve found, they share many similarities. 

The act of creating is also an opportunity for me to lose myself, focus on my next steps, and enjoy the journey.

Whether you’re an axe wielding lumberjack or you prefer to enjoy nature from the safety of an RV or cabin, I hope you take time to experience the outdoors and let them fuel your creative drive.

Besides, sharing s’mores with friends around a campfire still remains one of the best ways to spend an evening, even if it means your clothes will smell like burning the next day.

never normal

A few months back, our family went hiking near a lake in Arizona. It was quite a lovely hike, if I do say so. I got to try out my Christmas present: a backpack in which to carry my little girl. I felt like Kronk from Emperor’s New Groove when he’s carrying Yzma through the wilderness. But that’s not the point of this story.

My brother-in-law brought his dog along: a young but already sizable Boxer. He put these hiking shoes (lets call them booties, because it’s a fun word and probably the more accurate one) on his dog to protect its feet on the ruff trail. Without fail, everyone we passed on the hike had a comment to make about those booties. And we passed a lot of people. Everyone noticed.

We saw a few other dogs on the trail and none of them had hiking booties. I wouldn’t be surprised if the poor pup was a little self-conscious by the end of it, I know I’d be (yet another reason I don’t wear booties).

Here’s the thing: people can’t help but notice when something is not normal. Those dog-booties were definitely not normal, and so people pointed them out.

I’ve noticed the same thing with my daughter. She has exceptionally curly hair and it’s often the first thing people mention when they see her, even if they know her well. Why? Hair that curly isn’t normal—most people don’t have it.

Things that are not normal get noticed

Those who subscribe to my email list know I often encourage them to “never be normal.” I do this for many reasons. Partly because normal is boring but also because when you aren’t normal, you stand out as a creative.

Problem is, not everyone wants to stand out, not everyone wants the attention. And, I’ll admit, not all attention is good. People are prone to laugh at and ridicule the irregular. Perhaps you have been subject to this, I know I have and it ain’t exactly fun.

But here’s the thing: unless you are willing to depart from the world of normal, you will never be exceptional. You will forever be run-of-the mill.

When it comes to opposites, “creativity” has a few, likely because the word itself has more than one meaning. One obvious (and more literal) opposite to “creative” is “destructive.” Though destruction is very different from creation, I still think the strongest opponent to “creative” is “normative.”

Creativity and normalcy never go hand-in-hand. They are like two school kids that fight every time they’re near each other. They are oil and water: they simply don’t mix.

Is normal bad? Not necessarily. In truth, it can be very healthy. But if all you have (and all you are) is normal, you will never stand out from the crowd, you will never know the thrill of creativity, you will remain unmistakably like everyone else.

If, instead, you are creative, you will stand out. Might someone laugh at you? I (along with Men’s Warehouse) guarantee it. But I highly doubt there is a single successful creative on this planet who didn’t endure a few laughs at their expense. Turns out, it’s easier to point and laugh than it is to be the different, to stand apart.

I heard an interesting tale about the history of the pineapple. It used to be the most coveted fruit in the whole world. It was so rare, only the wealthiest could obtain it. Why, it was so prized, people would host exclusive parties where all they did was stand around and admire a pineapple, without even eating it! But today, well, you can hardly find a plain ol' fruit salad without some pineapple tossed in for good measure. You can hardly throw a pineapple these days without hitting a pineapple (don't do that though, they're pointy and could hurt someone's coconut). 

What is extraordinary eventually becomes normal.

That which we now consider safe and expected was once strange and unusual. It helps to keep this in mind: while your daring departures from normal may be mocked today, they could very well become the norm tomorrow.

So go ahead, wear your funny booties with pride and do your hair the way you like, I’ll be cheering you on. And don’t ever be normal.

 

Creatively yours,
A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, do you find being different difficult or easy? Let us know in the comments below.