Put Your Phone Away And Look Up

That’s what I wanted to say to several hundred people in Florida last week. They had paid to enjoy Universal Orlando, but their eyes were glued to tiny screens.

Some visitors even had both hands occupied — tablet in one and selfie stick in the other.

They posed in front of various attractions, held up the selfie stick, clicked, studied the tablet screen, and moved on. They never even turned around to look at the attraction thoroughly. The best details were behind them.

To me, the selfie stick is a metaphor for Corporate America’s creativity dilemma. Organizations seek ways to boost creativity. But myopia is an enemy of creativity, and what is more myopic than a selfie and a tiny screen?

Think of the details you miss. Your eyes give you a panoramic view of the big picture and the smallest details. The camera lens gives you only subset – and even a smaller subset if your self-portrait is featured prominently in the foreground.

What you see in that subset depends on the quality of your photography and size of your monitor. The end result? You are only getting a fraction of the available visual input. And your self-portrait quite possibly keeps you from noticing the surrounding details.

Look Up. Look Out. Be Curious.

While the phone clan was posting Facebook updates, I was reveling in Universal’s attention to detail. What creative process do they use to envision and actualize their themed areas? How do they get from the big picture concept to the tiniest implementation details, such as size and label for the Essence of Dittany apothecary bottle?

What leads a college graduate to apply for hourly work managing the queue of Ollivander’s Wand Shop?

How do the marketing folks attract mammoth crowds on a weekday in early November? How are visitors from the United Kingdom flying here so inexpensively when I can’t find an affordable fare to Heathrow?

Questions lead to conversations lead to more questions and eventually to insights.

Observe. Absorb. Create.

Feeling stuck in a creative rut? Try these steps:

  1. Turn your phone off. Better yet, leave it behind so you are not tempted to check it. Visit someplace new - either in your own city or elsewhere. Be completely present in your surroundings. Notice everything. Listen carefully. Pay attention to your feelings throughout the day.
  2. At the end of the day, ask yourself: “What did I notice today that I do not typically pay attention to? What keeps me from seeing details like these on a day-to-day basis?”
  3. Also ask: “What new questions do I have as a result of my day trip that I would like to explore? How will I explore these questions?” Commit to one follow-up action.
  4. Start a conversation with someone new - perhaps someone on the bus or while waiting in line. You may learn something; you may not. But you are adding data from which to draw during future problem-solving efforts.

People laugh at me. I go on vacation and end up with random information on commercial pool/spa management, the day-to-day work of a CDC epidemiologist, being a U.S. expat in Japan, crime scene investigation techniques, shopping habits based on currency exchange rates, and continuing education options in Manitoba.

Why do I care? Years ago, I read that an idea is two or more known pieces of information assembled in a new way. The more information I absorb, the more contexts I explore, the more fodder I have for idea generation.

If my eyes are glued to a phone, I’m missing out.