Creative Inspiration

When Old Is New Again - Rekindling The Magic Of Family Heirlooms

Every object or artifact has a story. What brings an otherwise meaningless object from the mundane world into a treasured and nostalgic family heirloom is the story behind it.

Mankind has been interested in artifacts for centuries. Just look at the popularity of museums and TV shows highlighting antique and vintage items.

Artifacts can invoke either good or bad memories depending on the owner’s experience and interaction with the object. What might be a rather unremarkable piece of jewellery to some is a beloved family treasure to another. A cherished piece that can be passed on from generation to generation.

What’s even more unique about objects and artifacts is that they have the amazing ability to transcend time and space. When an object is passed on to another generation, that generation bears the weight and responsibility of keeping its memories alive. It's as if the original owner passes his or her story down to future generations through a particular object of great personal importance.

New York City based photographer Shana Novak turns family objects and heirlooms into remarkable works of modern art. Having established her reputation as a commercial still life photographer, her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Time and The New Yorker.

I first saw her story on CBS This Morning Saturday and was intrigued by her ability to take otherwise everyday objects and find a way to celebrate the incredible stories behind them.

To prep the photo shoots, no detail is spared. A teddy bear gets the ‘right’ expression. Combat boots are set up still showing their blood soaked battle scars. An old crumbling notebook is propped up inviting you into the harrowing world of a Holocaust survivor. After a Mom’s passing, a well-loved family recipe book highlighting her mouth-watering fried chicken recipe is propped up beside her favourite cooking utensil. In these photoshoots, the object is always the star of the show.

Throughout her creative work, Novak realizes that our artifacts define us. They represent our stories and history through our own eyes and personal experiences. She gives objects the personalities they need to shine. The ability to take centre stage. After all, in a frenzied world so often filled with chaos and confusion, doesn’t everyone want to hang on to objects and memories that truly matter? Sometimes, in order to reconnect with our roots, we all need to dig deep into our past and make the old new again.




Searching For Meaning at 102 - The Timeless Appeal of Stories

Mark Twain once said that “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Just as family artifacts are passed down from generation to generation, people too can be a vessel for all sorts of stories that are passed on to future generations. Older people (let’s call them “seasoned” due to their wealth of world experience) can be an infinite source of wisdom and guidance in a world often full of conflict and chaos. Even making it to your senior years in this day and age is a source of inspiration!

Listening to stories from members of the older generation can be a fascinating glimpse into the past – and offer hope for the future. A well told honest story coming from the heart can even convince us that, in spite of all the advances, perhaps nothing much has changed in the world over the years.

One of my most recent writing projects (outside of my usual corporate work) is to help a 102 year old lady write her memoirs through a series of short stories – perhaps even adding in a novel or play. At 102, she still has all her “faculties” and is sharp as a whip. So much so that (as many seniors do), she still manages to find a way to correct me at several points throughout the dictation process. Her life could have been plucked straight from a Hollywood movie. A strong and independent thinker, she ran her own adventure travel company for over 40 years offering tours throughout the world. During that time, she also acted as an agent of sorts and recruited speakers and celebrities from around the world to speak at various locations in Toronto. One of her most famous speakers was Sir Edmund Hillary. Yes, the Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame. At the height of her career, she also hosted dignitaries and made the rounds to numerous celebrity parties and events.

She was married to an engineer and moved many times as her husband was offered jobs in different cities. My point is this. Stories often help us find meaning in our sometimes confused and chaotic lives. They offer a temporary means of escape. A good story engages us, draws us in – and in the best case scenario can also teach us something.

And what better way to help us understand our place in the world, than to listen to someone who has experienced just about everything life has to offer?

In life, we’re often told to take “time out” to smell the roses. Yet it’s just as important to take time out of our busy schedules and really listen to the stories that encapsulate our world.

I hope my story sessions will continue and very much look forward to my visits. In a way, I feel as if I’m talking to a sage of sorts. A sort of human search engine plucked from the ages whose goal it is to ensure her experience, wisdom and adventures don’t go unnoticed.

So far, she has been able to weather just about every storm life could throw at her. Yet somehow, looking ahead, I get the feeling that the best part of her story is yet to be written.




"Oh Mama! Please Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Writers and Directors!"

Like many, I had an average middle-class upbringing. My parent's professional lives and beliefs were submersed in academia. My father was a teacher, and my mother worked in a University. For a while it seemed as if our careers were all mapped out. Marks were all-important, as they would be a ticket to University and gainful employment. All four of us kids ended up in one of the professions - Business, Science, Medicine and Engineering.

Looking at our lives now it's easy to say we did well. But I wonder what would have happened had we chosen a different and perhaps more creative path? I had a talent and passion for languages, yet was told that job prospects would be better if I studied business. My brother had a passion for writing and acting, yet there was no way he would be allowed to follow that dream - at least until he finished the requisite degree.

Many families have the seemingly universal thought that a career in the Arts is just not "acceptable." We still see the scenes in movies and television where distraught parents utter the words..."Agh! He/she wants to be an actor!" Why is there still the stigma that a career in the Arts is an automatic ticket to a life of virtual poverty?

When I see what's happening in the world, I feel what's needed are more people who are able to inspire us through film, theatre and writing. We need more people like Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Capra and Jim Henson. Actors, directors, writers, playwrights - they all have a story to tell, and their words are of just as much value as those used in the more traditional and "noble" professions. They are valuable because they move people and, in some cases, are able to motivate people to change their lives in a positive way.

We need to motivate and inspire more young people to consider the Arts as a career. If we move to think outside the box, an artist doesn't even have to be an 'artist' in the traditional sense. A businessperson with a visionary idea can build a company with the same talent and passion as a painter who strives to communicate an idea through a paintbrush. A public speaker who is able to inspire an audience to action is a true artist.

It's time to place more value on people's ideas and abilities to inspire and motive others. If you have a passion early on in life, follow that dream - and don't let anyone tell you it's impossible.

What stories can you share on a similar subject? How many of you are sitting in jobs right now wondering what would have happened, had you followed your instincts and gone against the advice of others?

Walt Disney On Why It's Not Good To Grow Up

As a child growing up in Ottawa, I was exposed to a world of imagination through music, reading and stories. My parents were originally from Europe and I was quickly introduced to fables and folklore from the "old country." An outgoing child, I would often take the outdoor stage at our favourite lake in the Gatineau Park and put on a show for my family. Acting, singing, writing - they were all part of who I was as a young child.

Unfortunately as I grew older and responsibilities started to take over, I lost my sense of imagination and some of my creativity. My life took a different direction, and I ended up in the world of the "practical" having to deal with deadlines, commitments and pleasing "stakeholders."

Once in a while, my sense of imagination and creativity make a re-appearance. It happens when I browse through antique markets, check out the dusty corner of a guitar store - or see a movie like Wes Anderson's recent Moonrise Kingdom - the story of rediscovering youth and imagination in the remoteness of small town America.

Walt Disney once said "Too many people grow up. That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. Well, I won't do that." Words on which to build a marketing empire.

In a world full of complex ideas, quick fix hits and information measured in gigabytes - it's up to marketers to reinspire their audience to encourage them to act. More than storytelling, this requires the ability to "hit us" where it will have most impact. Find some way to connect your product with our youth. It's a powerful selling tool. Tom Peters said that a "brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience." It's almost a primeval way of hitting us at the gut level to re-ignite something that has been lost for so many years.

Being an adult is definitely a wonderful experience. Yet the success of movies and books that cater to the imagination and one's inherent creativity tell me that there's a void in the lives of many adults. It's a void that makes people long for a simpler time - a time when being a child held all the magic and wonder of life - and the thought of growing up was a story yet about to unfold.


What Is It About The Working World That Makes Us Lose Our Sense Of Wonder?

Whatever happened to our sense of childhood wonder? Why is it that, as soon as we get entrenched in the working world, we lose all sense of play?

A week ago or so, I watched the movie "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium."  The movie was enchanting, had some great special effects - and dealt with topics that related to both kids - as well as to the "kid" within us. Topics such as "believe in yourself", "finding your passion", and "uncovering the lost 'sparkle' within us" are handled with such craft, that I found myself asking myself why it was that I felt I lost that "sparkle" and passion for play and imagination.


I grew up in a family that was keen on storytelling. My mother used to read tales from the Brothers Grimm to us. She recited stories from Germany and Czechoslovakia that left us spellbound. My childhood was full of play, and I spent most of my time outside finding useful ways to feed my imagination.

Years passed, and as I studied business and entered the working world, I found that creativity and imagination weren't always held in high regard. In fact, the world of business could be quite ruthless, and its tendency to play by the old rules left little room for someone with creative sense and a strong imagination. I began to feel stifled and frustrated that my creative ideas weren't being met with the respect they deserved. As much as companies said they wanted change, what they wanted was a way to justify their already outdated and ineffective ways of operating and thinking. 

It's no secret that the most innovative and successful companies are also entrenched with a strong sense of play. Look at Google and Herman Miller. These are companies with a strong flair for innovation that encourage employees to think and act "differently."

What will it take for companies to rediscover how a sense of play can add to productivity and profits? If employees are having fun at what they do, doesn't this go a long way in reducing turnover and absenteeism in the workplace? Why are so many companies still stuck in the middle ages in their thinking? How can they better hone the "sparkle" that would make most employees shine in their careers?

Narrative Assets Heads to Chicago!

It's vacation time and I'm heading to Chicago tomorrow! I've never been to the windy city, so it's pretty exciting. The bags are packed, and I'm ready to explore the town.

Everyone tells me it's a great city to visit. From the Magnificent Mile, to the Art Institute of Chicago, to tours of the city's architecture, to world renowned blues bars...Chicago seems to have it all. Not to be outdone are the hundreds of great restaurants serving everything from deep dish pizzas, to Hawaiian fusion more solid and traditional fare like mouth watering steaks!

Of course, what would a trip to Chicago be without a visit to the Signature Lounge on top of the John Hancock center? (check out the great martini menu!)

I'm sure I will have stories to tell. I'd love to hear about any of your adventures exploring the city as well.

Have a great week everyone!



Business Is A Stage: How Hollywood Icons Can Inspire Business Leaders

2387_2When B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore wrote their groundbreaking book called "The Experience Economy," they concluded that "Work is Theatre - and Every Business a Stage."

It's easy to draw comparisons between the worlds of business and entertainment, and the challenges and successes faced by the Hollywood elite are often similar to those faced by executives and other players in the business world.

Here are some quotes from leading Hollywood icons taken from a book called "Inspirational Hollywood" by Ronald Warren Deutsch. See if you can draw similarities to challenges faced by business leaders today, and apply their advice to solving these challenges.

1) Sir Laurence Olivier (on connecting with your audience) - "If you can reveal to an audience what lies within them, you can be as important as a philosopher, a psychiatrist, a doctor, a minister or whatever. You have to feel and love not only your own role - or some element of it - but also feel and love the audience. Sounds sentimental, I'm afraid, but there you have it."

2) John Wayne (on perspective) - "Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and puts itself in our hands. It hopes we learned something from yesterday."

3) Katharine Hepburn (on attitude and life) - "Life can be wildly tragic at times, and I've had my share. But whatever happens to you, you have to keep a slightly comic attitude. In the final analysis, you have got not to forget to laugh."

4) Louis B. Mayer (on work strategy) - "You know why I'm smart? I got people around me who know more than I do."

5) Samuel Goldwyn (on how to do things) - "I don't want yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs."

Who are your favourite Hollywood icons, and what could they have taught you about life - or about how to run a business? Do you think that the business world contains elements traditionally found in theatre or moviemaking?

What Business Could Learn from Yoga

643845694_theme_yogaI'm the last person in the world who thought that I would enjoy yoga. My sports were of the more "extreme" variety - competitive downhill ski racing, slalom skateboard racing, horseback riding, biking and roller blading. When it was suggested to me that I try yoga as another means of physical and mental activity, I have to admit I was skeptical.

One year later, I'm still enjoying yoga and am looking forward to more advanced classes. Yoga is fun, and reminds me of my early days in school - when it was OK to experiment and play a little.

The more I practice yoga, the more I realize that its key principles and benefits can be adapted to the business world. Here are some of my key insights:

1) Sometimes, when things aren't going as planned, you have to sit still for a moment to figure it out. When things get chaotic, the answers can sometimes be found in stillness. Stop, regroup, re-strategize - and take a moment to breathe. Things always have a way of working out in the end.

2) At times, you just have to turn everything you know on its head. Success and advancement don't come by doing the same things the same old way. To be innovative and creative, you have to take the time to look at things a little differently. You might gain a new perspective on the world by seeing things from another angle.

3) It never hurts to have a little support. To succeed in business and in life, we all need support. Whether it's from a trusted friend or business mentor, that extra little push may be all we need to get to the next milestone.

Do you practice a sport or activity that has helped you succeed in business? How has exercise helped you grow as an individual? What are the physical and mental benefits of playing sports?

A Thanksgiving "Thank You" to My Readers!

Cornucopia_2As things wind down for the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend, I would like to thank my readers for taking the time to read and comment on my blog.

I started my blog in June with absolutely no idea as to what might happen. I've enjoyed every minute in the blogosphere, and find that every day is a learning experience. I also learned that the best way to learn about technology, is to dive right in and do it! It's interesting to learn about new blogs, and share ideas with fellow bloggers.

A few "honourable mentions" to some of my readers: Valeria Maltoni for helping to keep the intellectual side of me alive, Lewis Green for his inspirational real-world examples of how to do (and not to do things) in the business world, Kathryn Lagden for nudging me to start blogging in the first place, and Quentin Evans for his visionary thoughts on experience design.

Thank you to everyone both inside and outside of North America for being there and caring enough to read my blog!

I'm signing out until next Wednesday and am taking an extra long weekend to spend time with friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian friends - and a "pre" Thanksgiving wish to my American friends.


New York City Kids Transform Cabs into Moving Gardens

Bloomberg_home_2New York City is being transformed into a moving garden thanks to what is perhaps one of the largest and most ambitious public art projects ever undertaken in its history.

The program, Garden in Transit, is the brainchild of brothers Ed and Bernie Massey whose original program, Portraits of Hope, was launched as a creative therapy program for seriously ill and physically disabled children in 1995.

The idea is to give children a voice using art as a way of transforming high profile public landscapes. To date, thousands of kids have left their mark on everything from blimps, buildings, boats and airplanes - to that most famous of NYC institutions, the taxi. For those children who are unable to use a conventional paintbrush, special brushes are designed to help them paint with their mouths or feet.

Rtnav_git_cabThe symbol of the Portraits of Hope program is a flower - an icon universally known for its reference to life, hope, inspiration and healing.

In addition to its benefits in teaching the value of teamwork and community, what's most inspiring about this program is its ability to give meaning and hope to children who might not otherwise have a voice in society. By participating in the project, kids gain a sense of empowerment and pride by leaving their mark on some very high profile projects. The real value is the sense of ownership that kids feel by leaving a little bit of themselves on the city.

For a child faced with cancer, burn trauma, spinal injuries, HIV and other serious conditions, the ability to say "I did that!" is a gift that brings true joy and meaning to their existence.  Flower by flower, paintbrush by paintbrush, each child is empowered in a way that makes them feel as if what they have to say is valued.

The project also holds sessions in schools throughout the city where students are able to collaborate on ideas, and discuss issues of social significance such as the environment, ethnic relations, poverty and animal rights. The students then design art projects representing the issues they choose to be of utmost importance.

Starting September 2007, New York City cabs will have colourful waterproof panels applied to their hoods, trunks and/or roofs. The whole city will be transformed into a colourful mobile floral canvas - a monument to the hopes, dreams and inspiration of kids who remind us that in spite of its battles, life is still there to be savoured.

What an amazing inspiration, and what a monumental honour to the ability of the human spirit to surpass all odds!

Congratulations New York City, and congratulations to the Massey brothers for having the courage and vision to take on this project. May this serve as an inspiration for cities around the world who are looking for creative ways to address social challenges.

In a world so often fraught with chaos and violence, Garden in Transit is a true beacon for those struggling to find a voice and meaning in a society that so often forgets its disadvantaged.

What are you doing today to help provide meaning to someone else's life?