A Scavenger Hunt for Creativity


Have you ever been on a scavenger hunt? You know, you get a list of things to find and you and your team are sent off to collect whatever is on your list. Typically, this requires one to engage with strangers to acquire the desired treasures. You must convince others to give you objects on your list.

This past week I participated in a different type of scavenger hunt. This scavenger hunt required me to engage with myself in new, and at times, challenging ways.

I attended a creativity retreat last week, and the purpose of the hunt was to cause each participant to slow down and truly explore the world around them. To put on the pith helmet of an explorer and explore uncharted lands through focused observation. To really look at the landscape, smell the scents on the morning breeze, and listen to the sounds around me, required that I shift my attention from the cacophony of my thoughts.

I was instructed to stand outside in the air and experience it with undivided attention for a minimum of 15 seconds and create a title for the experience. (Fifteen seconds doesn’t seem like much, however, when you are used to being in constant thought-mode, it can be a challenge.)

I was to pretend I was a radio receiver that can pick-up sounds outside the range of my normal hearing and listen for a message designed just for me. If I didn’t hear one, I was to imagine that I did and to write it down. And I was asked to feel the texture of something new and unfamiliar with undivided attention (that fifteen seconds again) and write a Haiku* about it. That was just the beginning.

For days, I was challenged to let go of my pre-conceived notions of creativity in general, and the view of my creativity specifically.  Each day I battled my inhibitions, Inner Critic, memorized grade school rules, and adult notions of competence. 

It was explained that we each have a “tolerance muscle” that we need to exercise regularly. To begin to develop a tolerance for not being perfect, to allow experimentation without judgment and to see what shows up. To explore having an idea to create something and being surprised and delighted at what developed (whether it met my vision or not).

I searched for variations in color in the world around me, which caused me to look deeply and intently at rocks, plants, trees, buildings, doors, and the sky. And I was asked to take photos of something that brought me to a feeling of bliss. That required I ponder what ‘bliss’ is for me.

One assignment for the scavenger hunt was to take several creative selfies and send in my favorite. That was probably the most challenging task for me to tackle. I don’t like having my picture taken and have never identified with the desire to place my image in the foreground of a location. I don’t know how to pose gracefully against a backdrop or create a scene with an interesting message.

I was disappointed with my results, sent them in anyway and gasped as one of the them was placed on a Facebook page and shared with those in the retreat and beyond. That required an Olympic weight-lifting, cross-fit workout of my tolerance muscle.

You may be thinking “That’s all well and good, Carol. You went to a retreat and experienced new things, so what? Why should I care? What does that have to do with me?”

In our globally connected, always on, technological environment, it is easy to lose sight of the wonders around us. In fact, many of us no longer see what’s in front of us because we are mentally reviewing our ‘to-do’ lists, our schedule for the day, planning future conversations, or reviewing past ones, and/or any small irritation. We arrive at destinations without conscious knowledge of how we navigated there. We no longer ‘see’ things (or people) in our environment.

I went to the creativity retreat because I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I believe in professional development. I read books and journal articles, attend webinars and teleconferences on neuroscience, coaching, mindfulness and more. I also have regular conversations with other coaches to explore ideas, ask advice and receive coaching myself.

This retreat was for my personal development. It was an opportunity to explore in a supportive, yet challenging environment the edges of my creativity, my willingness to engage with other talented, creative people, and be painfully aware as I compared myself to them.

I sat in mindful awareness of my comparisons and appreciated the talent of others, while working to honor my own. I was challenged to be fully present and accepting of whatever I created each day.

I was asked to slow down and experience the world around me in unique ways. I was asked to stretch and breathe, and I did. I was asked to let go and experience myself and my world differently, and I did.

Now my challenge is to bring this new awareness into my daily life, to regularly wear the pith helmet of exploration and exercise my tolerance muscle.

How could you explore your world with a different focus? What would you discover about yourself?

*”Haiku” is a traditional form of Japanese poetry. Haiku poems consist of 3 lines. The first and last lines of a Haiku have 5 syllables and the middle line has 7 syllables. The lines rarely rhyme.”

See you next week.