Choosing to Stretch for Creativity’s Sake

In my opening keynote at last month’s HOW Design Live, I talked about creativity being a choice — a catalytic choice available to everybody.

Of course, not everyone doles out their creative powers in the same ways or at the same levels. And millions of folks don’t seem to display the slightest smidgen of imagination.

So why the differences? I believe creative fulfillment comes down to choices. Our day-to-day choices determine whether we boost or bury our creativity.

 Catalytic Choices

In my keynote, I urged HOW attendees to seek and spark “catalytic choices” — specific, everyday choices that become catalysts for creative energy and idea generation. One such catalytic choice is to stretch out of comfort zones and reach beyond those “OK plateaus” where we settle for good rather than great.

During that talk, I tossed out a few examples of personal stretching. But today I want to tell you about two designers who used the 2012 HOW Conference itself to help stretch their creativity and visibility.

Melissa Morris Ivone is a Philadelphia designer who has attended HOW conferences since 2004. And she vividly remembers her shyness at that very first conference.

“At the 2004 conference, I didn’t meet one person or make one friend,” says Melissa. “During the final party, I stood against a wall for 15 minutes, then retreated to my hotel room feeling like a loser.”

On her trip home, Melissa vowed never to shrink into the shadows again. At subsequent conferences, she chose to stretch out of her comfort zone, getting to know fellow attendees at events and in hallway. And through the years, she’s developed a wide circle of designer buddies.

But Melissa’s ultimate stretch came this year, with her choice to try speaking on stage at the 2012 HOW Conference.

“At the closing party of the 2011 conference, a friend asked, ‘Mel, when are you gonna speak at this thing?’” says Melissa. “I laughed it off. I was no industry expert by any means. And my portfolio of work was paltry in comparison to the big shots typically on the agenda.”

But the possibility of speaking kept itching inside Melissa’s brain. “With encouragement from friends, I eventually chose to submit a proposal to speak,” she said. “And imagine my surprise when I received an email saying my proposal was accepted.”

A Vomit-Free Experience

Melissa‘s “How to Survive Your Soul-Crushing day Job” got strong attendance and rave reviews. It was “a vomit-free experience,” she said in a follow-up on her blog.

“I’m so thrilled my friends pushed me and that I chose to do it,” she recently wrote me. “I never thought I’d be one of those people standing on a stage, telling my story. Now I want to do it again next year.

“The more I choose to stretch, the more confident I get. And the more confidence I have, the more I want to stretch.”

Another HOW attendee I saw stretch at this year’s conference is Crystal Reynolds, a designer from Calgary, AB.

Crystal went to her first HOW Conference in 2001. “I was intimidated by the number of creative professionals,” she says, “so I stayed in my shell and connected with a grand total of three other attendees.”

But like Melissa, Crystal chose to stretch out of shyness at her next HOW outing. “The 2011 conference in Chicago was a completely different experience,” she says. “I met over 50 people that I still keep in touch with via Twitter, Facebook and weekly Google Plus hangouts.”

From “Now what?” to “Why not?”

Crystal credits the 2011 HOW Conference with igniting the extrovert in her. But leaving that conference, she asked herself, “Now what?”

Her answer became the iNote notebook she created for 2012 attendees. This spiral-bound book is loaded with speaker interviews, tips from veteran attendees, a handy agenda and dozens of pages for notes and insights.

Because of the initiative she showed in creating the notebook and her enthusiastic buzz on social media, Crystal was selected as a HOW Design Ambassador. And she has also launched a Creatives’ Cupboard website. (Go there to download a copy of the iNote notebook.)

“Stretching myself from ‘Now what?’ to ‘Why the hell not?’ has opened amazing doors,” she says. “When I choose to dismiss the naysayers — including the one in my own head — I see endless creative possibilities.”

Melissa and Crystal are sparkling examples of designers who have chosen to stretch for the sake of their creativity. They happened to use HOW Design Live as their catalyst, but you can choose to stretch in a variety of ways.

Here are three stretching starters:

  1. Look at what you’re doing. Are you residing in routines and confusing motion with action? Are you stuck in ruts? Are you playing it way too safe? Are you settling for OK? If so, surprise yourself. Choose to stretch out of zombie zones and into zing zones.
  2. Look at what you’re reading. Does it inspire and inform? Or you just mindlessly wading through materials? Stick with stuff that works and slough off the rest. Then choose to stretch yourself into new territory. Find new blogs and websites. Read unfamiliar magazines. Discover different books. Feed yourself fresh fuel.
  3. Look at how you’re connecting. Are those around you friends of your creativity? Choose to associate with people who have positive, supportive energy. Nurture relationships where you share ideas and inspiration. Stretch your connectivity


Being brilliant doesn’t happen by accident—it takes work, lots of work. Some days you need a pick-me-up to get the ideas flowing. In this collection you will find exercises, examples, and experiences to help you be brilliant on demand. Get the Jumpstart Your Creative Ideas Collection.