A comfort zone is a beautiful place (but nothing ever grows there)

What is at the heart of creativity?  In practical terms creativity means thinking what you haven’t thought before. Or another way to say that is stepping into the unknown.

Beyond your familiar comfort zone. Outside of what you already know. But how do you navigate the unknown? That is what we explored at our recent Creative Power of the Mind talk with Jamie Brooker Co-Founder of Kahoot! An extraordinary award winning start-up who in just 4 years created a learning platform with a monthly reach of 50 million users.

When they first started out, although they had an inkling of the direction they wanted to go in – they had absolutely no idea of exactly what it would look like.

They had to step into the unknown.

Closeup of wooden desktop with cactus placed on laptop, notepad, smartphone and keyboard

Reasons to be fearful

What comes up for many of us when we think about going into the unknown is fear, risk and uncertainty – what might go wrong and reasons not to.  We worry. And to accommodate all that worry we try to control and make certainties out of this imagined fear filled future.  As if somehow worrying about the uncertainties will help us navigate them or make them go away. The main problem with that approach is that catastrophizing future problems can be endless and it always feels bad. And it stops the action.

‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.’ – Mark Twain

Our minds are so naturally imaginative that they can easily come up with a continuous stream of possible problems and scenarios that might happen. And when we do think them up – the nature of thought is to make them look and feel like they are real right now and will need A LOT of activity to deal with them. All of which seems to add more anxiety and is exhausting – and that’s before we’ve even left the couch. Worry is the enemy of inspired action.

And yet, if you take a clear-eyed look you will see that in real life – we are constantly being thrown head first into unfamiliar situations and not only have we been perfectly fine – but they have brought us blessings and at the very least new opportunities and learning.  We learn and grow through experiencing the new and being in the unknown.

As human beings we are designed to thrive – in the face of all and any circumstances.  We are born resilient and resourceful. In fact, if you look at the evidence – no matter what happens you can handle it.  You have so far right? And even in the worst of times and that thing we fear is actually happening – it is rarely as bad as we thought it would be. And it also came with some unforeseeable gifts, if we were present enough to see them.

A three step plan for the unknown

It was this willingness to just set sail anyway despite not knowing, that took Jamie Brooker and Johan Brand on a journey towards living their dream and establish a business that is today is making a social difference to millions.

So how did Brooker and Brand make that journey into the unknown?

They co-created an inspiring vision (with Lovius as their coach) of what they wanted their future to hold and so they would know how it would feel when they got there. They didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but they knew they wanted to establish new businesses making a social difference.

And after a few intuitive experiments (notably a mechanical rodeo cow designed to unseat your mates) they landed on their core purpose of wanting to use use play to make learning something everyone wants to connect with And when they saw that – they just knew they had to go in that direction.

Brooker says:

“Each experiment was a way for us to improve, learn and survive. We couldn’t have got to the next point without them. We continuously learnt about the behaviours and motivations of our users whilst improving the technical platform to move us forward”.

“Pivoting” is a vital part of lean startup methodology. By being flexible we were able to navigate to a place where we could envisage a scalable business and spark our true passion. Through the journey we found a way to connect our technology and design thinking with our passion and purpose”.

If they had a plan, it was this:

  1. 1. Clarify what will get you out of the harbour (or bed in the morning): Answer the questions truthfully and from the heart – What brings you alive? What is your meaningful purpose?  And how will you know when you get there?
  2. 2. Remember everything’s a prototype and pivot: Accept that you will always be learning and don’t expect anything to be ‘just-so’ before you start. Be willing to continually test, listen to your market and get feedback and adapt. And keep on proto-typing and pivoting. You will never get to perfect.
  3. 3. Just set sail: Start before you’re ready. You can’t possibly know of everything ahead of you – but you can rely on and use your common sense along each step of the journey and trust yourself to navigate any storms.

And looking back Jamie said his biggest learning was  ‘just trust myself’. He realised that the times that he and Johan had ignored their inner wisdom were the only time they ran aground.

You always know what to do – no matter what comes your way. Listen to that inner voice – its the best navigator of wisdom and truth and a more reliable guide into the unknown than any plan can ever be.

The long and winding road

But how do you stay in the zone when it looks like nothing at all is happening? How do you keep your flow and faith in the process no matter what challenges might appear? How do you just love the journey?

Someone who has learned to listen deeply to that still inner voice despite the long and winding road of her own journey is author Tor Udall. Tor had been writing for over 20 years with a desire to share her art with the world and yet it was only last year she secured a publishing deal.

Cover of Tor Udall’s book A Thousand Paper Birds

Udall is now the published author of the novel, A thousand paper birds which has made an incredibly successful debut and is taking the book world by storm. Udall was also judge at the recent Festival of Writing and gave the closing key note speech.

Here’s what people are saying about her book:

‘Masterful. Heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure’ – Observer 

‘A moving story as intricate and elegant as the origami birds that Chloe folds. I loved this whimsical debut novel’ – Red Magazine, 50 Of The Best Summer Reads 

‘This is not just a book, it is the purest of love songs … Without doubt, my book of 2017’ – The Last Word Book Review

Over the next six months Elizabeth is conducting a series of talks about the Creative Power of the Mind at Studio7 in Shoreditch. Each session involves a conversation with someone who makes a living using their creativity. Through our talks we will uncover universal truths about the creative power of the mind that are applicable to all aspects of life.

The next Creative Power of the Mind 3 with Tor Udall on Loving the Journey takes place on October 10th, 7-8:30 p.m. at Studio7 Shoreditch

Limited tickets to all talks in the series available at www.studio7shoreditch.com

Buy tickets

Elizabeth Lovius is a Leadership and Resilience Coach who helps leaders access insight, build relationships and lead real change for good. Elizabeth is an award winning facilitator, a speaker on the power of the mind and author of the creativity workbook: Facilitating Genius. She is also Leadership Coach at NowGoCreate and has contributed as Creative Coach to Claire Bridge’s book In Your Creative Element.

Claire Bridges is facilitator of CR’s Mastering Creativity, CPD accredited six-part online learning programme

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