Think You’re Not Creative? Guess Again…

I enjoy creative endeavors. I draw, paint, sculpt a little and dabble in computer graphic art.

I’m a musician, song writer, photographer, writer, and speaker.

I’ve done radio, television and theater and I’ve even dabbled in stand up comedy a time or two.

I’m the guy that gets the “creative” tag. I’m the guy that is expected to think outside the box. (Truth be told I lost the box years ago.)

More and more regularly I find myself coming across people who say, “I’m just not creative” as though they’re leaving that bit up to me. They always say it with a hint of sadness in their voice as though they WISH they were creative but, it just isn’t their bag.

If you’re one of those people who think you just aren’t creative let me let you in on a little secret…that’s crap. Let me provide three proofs:

Proof 1: The first man
As a Christian I believe man was created by God, in God’s image. When we’re told that in the Bible the only “image” of God we have is that of a creator. If man is created in the image of God then man is created, all of us not just Adam and Eve, to be creators…to be creative.

Proof 2: The foundational job
Pastors tell us, and the Biblical record supports this, that the first thing God gave Adam was a job.

Genesis 2:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

Now we know Adam didn’t have to tend the ground for food, that comes later, he was a vegetarian at this point, he was naked and unashamed so he didn’t have to make clothes,  so what were his jobs again? Decorative gardening, ornamental horticulture is you will, and coming up with creative names for the animals. HIS JOB WAS TO BE CREATIVE!

Proof 3: The forgotten tree
We always remember the tree of the knowledge of good and evil being in the garden. You know, the apple tree? But we too often forget the tree of life was there too. Supposedly eating from the tree of life made it possible for Adam and Eve to LIVE FOREVER. That was why they were kicked to the curb by the way, so they wouldn’t live forever in their post apple eating state.

So in other words…

God created man as a creative being, gave man a creative job, and gave it to him in a place where he was supposed to be forever. That means we’re all BUILT to be creative!!!! If you think you’re not it is only because you’ve forgotten how!!!

I hate the fact that there is a growing trend, in churches and beyond, to refer to a certain select group of people as “creatives” Yes, I know it easier than saying: musicians and artists and writers and painters and, and, and…

But if we call one group the creatives then the other group is the “not creatives”. I really do believe this subtly reinforces the notion in many people that they are not creative.

But if God created all of us to BE creative, and we start to tell one group of folks they’re not, whose message are we spreading there?

What is one creative activity you can engage in today that will produce a tangible result?



And Now a Word from Our Founding Fathers

I generally try to stay away from political topics as a rule but I thought I might have some fun with the Fourth of July. Please take this as tongue in cheek and have a GREAT fourth!

James Madison, our fourth President and “Father of the Constitution”, might have had a little something to say about the whole notion of affordable health care… Of course he was a rich Virginia aristocrat so he could afford it.

Not to be outdone Thomas Jefferson, our third President and slightly more radical thinker…who was known to cavort with the French from time to time…probably would have made a more all encompassing observation. Love how their expressions seem to fit the quote…

Ol’ Ben Franklin would probably have let that whole hot issue go but he certainly couldn’t ignore the spectacle of the Occupy Movement could he?

Or was he talking about Tea Parties? At least perhaps those not in Boston?

George Washington, our first President, may have taken the high ground on the political conversation and chosen instead to provide his two cents on the spiritual state of the union.

What do you think of his choice in rouge? I’d say he’s more of a winter really..

John Adams, our second President, would have followed suit with George I suppose. No need to rock the boat too early on.

Of course we might never agree on what “moral and religious” means so we’d have to enlist the aid of one last patriot…

Samuel Adams, who was NOT President but who made quite a name for himself in beer would probably have chosen to make comment on a much more comical period in our recent political history…assuming of course he had read Bill’s quote:

“It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the—if he—if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement”
-Bill Clinton

Ahhh…don’t you just love politics?

Enjoy the day, don’t take politics too seriously, speak up for what you believe in but not at the expense of the other person in the conversation, and  celebrate this great country in which we get to live.

To my friends in other countries, feel free to have a chuckle at our expense. We probably deserve it!

When Your Brain Hurts: Reflect, Laugh, Create

I’ve been under a ton of self imposed stress the last couple weeks. Several deliverables due all around the same time for work, teenage boys with traffic court appearances to wrangle, trying to sort out multiple schedules between now and August, booking flights, canceling flights…

It’s made my brain hurt.

One of the things I find happens when we get under stress is that our focus, our thoughts, tend toward the negative: “I can’t do this”, “I can’t possibly get this all done”, “This is killing me”, “I just need a break”…and it can start to spiral downward from there.

A lot of time I’ll exercise when I hit that kind of stress level. Endorphins are our friend and they can really help. But it was over 100 degrees yesterday and there is a LOT of smoke in the air from wildfires in Colorado just now so exercise wasn’t a great option.

Thus requiring an indoor pursuit, after completing one of the major chunks I needed to get finished, I took some time to “goof-off” in Photoshop. I’ll confess this is one of my favorite pass-times, but I stumbled across a combination that relieved stress incredibly well.

I randomly decided to create a series of pictures based on the theme, “The music I grew up with.” This resulted in several things happening all at once:

1. I had to think through music genres. Music ALWAYS sparks memories so while listening to some of the music I grew up to I was taken back through some great memories. Taking that time to reflect on memories from my younger days helped me to relax greatly.

2. I had to go through pictures to find head shots I could cut out and use. This meant finding funnier facial expressions which meant I was looking at pictures of fun times. Looking at the pictures reminded me of those good times and pretty soon picture after picture caused me to laugh out loud. Fortunately no one was home to wonder which deep end I’d gone off.

3. Once I had the raw material I started to create the pictures, one of which is above, and found myself in a cycle of reflecting on good memories and laughing at past adventures. Suddenly life didn’t seem so stressful or negative, suddenly thing were going to be ok.

Is this a prescription for 100% stress relief? Not sure, but I do know I’ll try it again because it worked so well this time!

What do you do to relieve stress and the negative spiral that often times comes with it?

Elements of a Good Corporate Story

My Family tree has it’s roots somewhere back in Scotland, or so we’ve come to believe. The Scottish clans, way back in the day, were not only identified by their tartans, those color full patterns seen on their kilts, but also by there clan motto.

The Fletcher clan, at least the branch to which I belong , has as it’s motto: Alta Pete which is translated as “Aim at High Things.”

Good words for folks who made arrows for a living. But a little lean in terms of a story.

Corporate mission statements and marketing tag lines are similar to clan mottoes. They look good on a letterhead but they can fall a little short in terms of really identifying, and differentiating, a company.

In my last post I looked at some reasons why it is important for any corporate entity, and by corporate I mean any group, too understand and articulate its story. Today I want to suggest three of elements that make up a good corporate story.

Southwest Airlines is a model company having maintained profitability and growth consistently for more than 30 years. Their mission statement, boiled down to it’s simplest form is “We’re the low cost carrier.” But, go a step further and look at how they expand that statement into a kind of story:

“If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline”

Not THAT starts to have meat on the bones.

Michael Hyatt, who is the chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers…and all round good guy, was kind enough to send me a link to a piece of the Thomas Nelson story.  If you read the article you’ll find mention a kind of vision statement originally articulated by their founder:

“honor God and serve people.”

Go a little further back though and you’ll find a sentence that, in a very short story, puts meat on those bones as well:

Unlike other publishers who catered to the wealthy, Thomas Nelson had a vision to make the world’s greatest books affordable to “common folk.”

These two example, and there are hundreds more, provide some insight into the make up of a solid corporate story.

1. It needs to tap into why you exist. 
This sounds simple enough really but too often the story starts off muddy. For example a company that claims they are the “leading provider of enterprise software” isn’t really telling a story so much a providing a descriptor. Words like “leading” and “enterprise” and fine but they lack personality.

Thomas Nelson’s version of the same type of statement might have been something like: “We’re the people who make the classics available to the common folks”. There already seems to be a story in the making there.

2. It needs to have a customer focused element.
Both the Nelson example and the Southwest example are clearly pointed in the direction of their customers. It is this customer element that makes the corporate story start to tick as a differentiator.  This is where you are able to begin setting customer expectations.

What would you have expected from Thomas Nelson? Affordable classic literature. What would you expect from Southwest Airlines? Affordable FUN travel.

(Point to note here, your story doesn’t ALWAYS have to include “affordable” Apple has a great story but “affordable” isn’t a part of it!)

3. It must be something that influences decisions
Southwest can always bump new ideas against the question: How does this make us the low cost carrier? Thomas Nelson can run new ideas up against: How does this honor God or serve people?

Your corporate story, the story of your committee, company, church, or clan helps set you apart. It helps defines you. It helps people understand what to expect from you. It helps guide decisions and influences direction.

Stories help us interpret the world around us and your corporate story helps you create the space in which you fit rather than allowing others to fit you into the place they want you to be.

Think about your team at work. Your running group. Your family. What is the story that defines your purpose, focuses externally, and helps guide decisions?

What is Your Corporate Story?

Image courtesy of ButterflyPromQueen at DeviantArt.comI’ve been doing a LOT of work lately on the “how-to’s” of creating better customer experiences. Well, I really shouldn’t say “lately” as it has been a part of my work for more than a decade.

What has struck me afresh though is the notion of context. Customers have experiences in a context of some sort and that context typically is derived from expectations which are majorly influenced by story. Your story.

Which got me thinking…

The idea of a “corporate story” applies to ANY group. It applies to the company from which you receive a paycheck. It applies to the group within that company where you do your daily labor. It applies to churches. It applies to teams. It even applies to families!

Far too often though we allow those stories to be created by circumstances.

  • “Oh you guys are that company that acquired so and so.”
  • “Oh yeah, that’s that church that does the big Easter drama.”
  • “Your group is the one that did the cool power point at last years annual meeting.”
  • “You guys live over by the school right? Friends with the Jones?”

Let me suggest a couple of reasons why you ought to be intentional about creating your corporate story:

  • If you let others create your story you allow them to define you.
  • Because the world LOVES story, if you don’t have one, one WILL be created for you.
  • Circumstances will often act as an introduction to your story. It is up to you to be sure there are chapters to follow.
  • Creating your story helps you define your place in your industry, your company or your community and serves as a filter for circumstance.

By way of experiment let me suggest four NFL teams. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see each name:

  • Denver Broncos
  • New York Giants
  • Oakland Raiders
  • Dallas Cowboys

Now, unless you’re a fan of one of those teams or a storied NFL aficionado  you probably thought something like:

Broncos: John Elway, the team that got Manning, the team that traded Tebow” Circustances
Giants: Won the Super Bowl, Manning’s brother” Circumstances
Raiders: Man I hate those guys, bad boys of the NFL, use to be good, now just thugs” and THAT is a carefully crafted story. A mythos that Al Davis built around his team for years.
Cowboys: America’s team, Romo, Super Bowl, Big BIG screen” Circumstances in there for sure but this is another “storied franchise” we think of them as perennial winners.

Let me ask you this. Who was more recently in a Super Bowl, the Cowboys or the Raiders? Funny, we tend to think of the Cowboys, America’s team (and I am NOT a Cowboy’s fan) as being the one who had to be there more recently right? Nope, the Raiders played in the big game in 2003. The last time the Cowboys were there was 1996.  But their stories tend to make us believe otherwise!!

There is an interesting philosophical exercise that is right in the ballpark of what we’re talking about. The prof asks the student: “Who are you?” The student answers, “Curtis Fletcher”.  The prof replies, “No, that is your name. Who are you?”  The student tries again, “I’m the guy sitting in this seat”. The prof replies, “No, that is your location. Who are you?” Fletch takes another go, “The guy getting frustrated by these questions who’d really rather be outside drinking a beer?” The prof, “Nope. That is your current circumstance. Who are you?”

The exercise typically creates frustration for the students. If you’ve ever seen it done you understand that the frustration comes because the students answer with descriptors and circumstances rather than story.

Later this week I’m going to talk about the elements that make up a good corporate story but for now let me ask you this:

If you were allowed a max of two paragraphs how would you tell YOUR story? The story of your company, your team, your church, your family?

Church Movements, Evangelism, and ol’ Jacques

In the center of town around High Street and Main
five churches were started in 2010.
Two bought out old chapels, one met in a bar
one met at the Bijou and one in the park.

Each sought for a word to distinguish their flock
from the other four gatherings there on the block.
Community, Village and Friendly all worked
some called it a Meeting, still others a Kirk.

But when names weren’t enough to set each one apart
each sought to distinguish the core or the heart
of their groups unique style of spiritual improvement
by coining a term to inspire a movement.

One said, “We’re Emergent and by that we mean
something new coming out from the old Christian scene.”
Another said, “Close but that’s not quite the thing
instead of emergent we are Emerging

One tied to their heritage lit on Resurgent.
While the ones on the narrow path, they chose Divergent.
The fifth and last church sadly took a long time
Before choosing “Mosturgent” because they liked the rhyme.

Well one fine summer morning ol’ Jacques came to town
to check on the doings and have a look ‘round.
He saw all the churches ensconced at the center
and tried to determine which one he should enter.

Each one’s vinyl banner puffed up by the breeze
declared why their own was far better than these.
The MOSTurgent, Emergent, Resurgent all cried
Divergent, Emerging said, “Please, come inside”

‘Ol Jacques chuckled because he had heard each ones claims
as he took the first letter from each of their names
saying, “I’ve listened to all of you now and I’ve heard
your irregular movements combined into MERDE.”

So ol’ Jacques left the town satisfied in his search
Having never once darkened the door of a church
For he thought, “Now if that is the best they can offer to me
then perhaps I’ll just watch politics on t.v.”


No hard feeling towards any particular movement, just the competitive nature they’ve all seem to have taken on. What does it say about being “in but not of” and “striving for unity”?

An Exercise in Obedience

Stop, read no further. Do not carry on.
The words on this page are not meant to be read
so leave them alone and be gone.

Do you not understand? You’re here so you don’t.
The following lines are not for you to read,
I’m hoping you’ll stop but you won’t.

Ok, I have asked and I’ll ask once again.
You’ve come all this way without manners or shame
but please do not read to the end.

I know you can read you are doing so now.
So turn your attention and your comprehension
to ending this folly somehow.

How long will you batter proprieties bounds?
A last opportunity, cease and desist
your arrogance simply astounds!

Alas here you are come to sample the fruits.
Can it be that your life is an endless parade
of such stubborn and foolish pursuits?

I wrote this as an experiment in what I sometimes refer to as “visceral poetry”. By that I mean poetry designed specifically to elicit a visceral reaction…intentional provocation. Did I succeed?  🙂

If you made it to the end please leave a comment so that others will know they weren’t the only ones not to follow instructions.

Leadership 101: Pronoun Guidelines

It’s funny how powerful mere words can be in shaping reality. From the Little Engine that Could, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”, to God’s opening line in the Bible, “Let there be light!”, words shape not only our understanding of the world around us but in just as many cases the world around us as well.

It’s become a bit of a nitpick of mine lately to catch myself on pronoun use and as a result I find myself checking other folks around me as well. Pronoun use can be a HUGE indicator of insecurity or confidence, risk or reward, credit or blame. Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely NOT the pronoun police whistle blowing and yellow carding my way through meetings. I just listen and make mental notes…copious mental notes.

Allow me then to suggest some simple guidelines for leaders who find themselves choosing which pronoun to use when communicating publicly.

Credit or Blame: Credit should always be “we”. Even if your team did nothing bringing them in on the credit speaks of confidence and, IF they did nothing, puts pressure on them perform next time.In the case where all you did was supervise and the team did all the work turning that “we” into a “they” also speaks volumes.

Blame should always be “I”. One of my greatest leadership memories of all time was being at a CU Miami football game that literally came down CU being a foot short on the last play. A bench clearing NASTY brawl ensued with players and coaches from both sides attacking viciously across 30 yars of mindless melee.

In the post game interview, before the first question was asked, coach Bill McCartney stepped to the mic and addressed the press by saying that he took full responsibility for the actions of his team, players and coaches alike, that it was HIS fault that they behaved that way and that while their would be internal discipline for some specific actions the bulk of the blame should be laid at his feet.


Risk or Reward: This one is easy to remember: When the risk is high use “I”. You can see you’ve talked it over with the team but that the decision, the risk, the iffy proposition, is your call.

Reward I tend to go straight to “they” if I can…at least in my good moments.

I’ve told my teams for a long time that when we succeed they get the credit, when we fail I take the blame, at least publicly…we WILL have a private conversation.  From experience I can tell you that that one has come back to bite me a time or two. But in the end it still made me a better leader of people.

A few more examples:

  • Innovation: They, or you
  • Difficult change: I, or me
  • Challenging authority: I…do it probably too often.

I adopted a leadership mantra from my good buddy Kurt who always says, “Listen, if I make everyone of my people successful then I’ll be successful by accident.”

The words you choose to use, even down to the smallest pronoun, have profound effect on how successful those people can become. It is also a great barometer of a leaders level of confidence, security, or ego. Who was it that once said, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”?  Listen to the leaders you’re around on a daily basis and see where they land in pronoun use. It’s an interesting pastime to be sure.

What other examples can you come up with where pronoun use can effect team performance?

What will make today different?

For those who missed it I’d like to briefly share the history lesson from the 15th:

It is a little known fact that the term “March Madness” is borrowed from the madness that ensued when Julius Caesar was murdered by a group of senators, including his friend Marcus Brutus, (Et tu Brute?) on March 15, 44BC. This is also the reason the tournament starts on the Ides of March, “the day the madness began.”

In another interesting twist, the first time the term “March Madness” was used to describe the spring basketball classic, the tournament had a corporate sponsor: Brute aftershave.

Feel free to amaze the entire bar with your knowledge of these facts as you watch the tournament, just don’t bet any money on them. 😉

This was an insane week.

My iPhone all but died Wednesday. I had to do a factory reset. Took multiple attempts. Thought I’d lost everything. Fortunately my contacts and pictures were saved even if my ringtones and apps have to all be reloaded.

My work laptop died today. This is the second laptop death in a month. Fortunately I am scheduled to get a new one in a few days anyway…but several urgent documents are now trapped in a digital no fly zone ensconced in heartless black plastic.

On top of it all I feel like I’ve been stuck in about a 4 week rut. Been sick for most of that. You ever have a stretch like that?

Tomorrow it all changes.

Why? Because I decided it will.

You see today I set the stage. I edited about 100 photos that were sitting on my home computer while on a conference call. I finished the rough draft of a white paper for work. I created about 6 ringtones from songs I’ve had stored forever. And that was just the warm up act.

In short, I created.

When we create…anything…we tap into that bit inside us which desperately wants to stay out of ruts. When we accomplish, even small feats like creating a ringtone, we put a notch in the creativity belt.

The picture above is from an all day meeting. Oh MAN do I dislike all day meetings. We had the table full of “creativity” goodies, silly putty, colored pens, pipe cleaners. Some people get into that sort of thing. I tend to immerse myself in it. Why? Because if you want to “think outside the box” on the work stuff you can do it by moving WAY beyond with the creative goodies. It’s funny too how far other people started taking their creations after I had “given them permission” by being so oddly out there.

So if you’re stuck in a rut, or feel one coming on, what will you do TODAY to get out of it? Not later, not when (fill in the blank) happens, not when you get time…today, now.

Drive a different way to work, go without socks, create a fake history lesson, ANYTHING different and moderately creative will tap the keg on your creative juices.

Don’t wait, do something different today. The first thing that comes to mind? That thing you just dismissed? Do THAT one.

What will you do different today that will spark your creative energy?

Why I Love Picasa 3, Google’s Image Management Tool

One of the things I absolutely loved about using a MAC at my last job was iPhoto. It was such a great tool for managing digital photos, uploading albums, facial recognition etc that I found myself managing a ton of personal photos on my work computer. I knew that probably wasn’t a great idea so…

A year or so ago I started looking around for something akin to iPhoto that I could use on my Windows machine at home and landed on Picasa 3 from Google. For the past year or so I’ve been managing my photos in Picasa and enjoying it, until today. Today I discovered I love it.

I take a ton of pictures. The photo above, from my son’s rugby game last Saturday,  is one of about 500 I took at the game. Obviously I need an easy way to manage that many pictures. So why do I love Picasa? Let me tell you…

1. Organization
Picasa imports my photos into folders grouped by when the pictures were taken. Even if my memory card has several events still on it Picasa separates them into unique folders. It even groups folders by year. This makes is easy for me to either allow Picasa to give the folders names by date, or for me to create unique folder names based on event. Downloading from my cameras memory card into multiple folders takes all of about four clicks.

Not only that, Picasa will also look for images folders already on your computer and index those for you as well. Taking pictures with your iPhone? No worries. Picasa easily imports those too.

2. Editing
Now don’t get ahead of yourself here. I love Photoshop and will always use that for precision creative stuff. But Picasa has some quick editing tools that are pretty powerful.

I got this shot as part of a series when my son had a breakaway run through the opposing team. I’m still earning the customs setting on my new camera so some of the series were under-exposed. Bummer…

With a couple of clicks and some sliders bar adjustment in Picasa I was able to crop and correct to get a half way decent edit of the same image.

What is GOLDEN about this though is that while I could do the same thing in Photoshop I would have to save it as a separate image, doubling the space taken up on my hard drive.

With Picasa I do the edits in the software digitally. Picasa shows me my edited version, which I can export as I did for this post, but it doesn’t change the original. That means I can fiddle with edits all I want without doubling up on memory OR losing the original.

3. Sharing
Obviously photo sharing is a huge deal these days. For the rugby parents I created a group room on Walgreens Photo so that anyone could easily order pictures of their son without having to get hold of me to provide it.

Picasa has a share button that connects you to multiple options, Walgreens Photo being one of them, which allows me to, with only about three clicks, upload my edited album to the web.

I was able to crop, color correct, and edit around 85 photos today in just under two hours, including uploading the album to the web. I didn’t lose ANY of my originals and I didn’t have to create multiple folders on my image hard drive.

I thought I just needed Picasa as a viewing tool. Now it is a central piece of my work flow and I think I have probably only just scratched the surface. What more can you ask for for free?

What do you use to manage images on your computer?