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Turning Limits into Creative Inspiration with Phil Hansen

When Phil Hansen’s dedication to his art led to permanent nerve damage and a shaking hand, he turned a limitation into a creative catalyst that took his art to new heights. Hansen’s skillful use of unconventional materials – from matches to hamburger grease – has attracted the attention of high-end clients such as Disney, the Grammy Awards and the Rockefeller Foundation. A gifted communicator, his interactive programs have invigorated creative spirits across several corporate sectors.

Creativity is not just coming up with new ideas, but meaningful new ideas.

SPEAKING.COM: Why are limitations important to creativity?

HANSEN: Have you tried to be creative by just letting your imagination run free but either you come up with nothing or a bunch of unusable ideas? There’s a deep misconception about creativity – that it comes out of having complete freedom, that all we have to do is let ourselves go. Freedom is important, yet creativity is not just coming up with new ideas, but meaningful new ideas. Limitations provide us with valuable context in which we can focus on coming up with useful ideas. Creativity needs just as many boundaries as the freedom to wander across those boundaries.

SPEAKING.COM: Many times people can get stuck on a single way of viewing something or approaching a problem. What steps can organizations take to broaden their leaders’ and teams’ minds to see more possibilities?

HANSEN: Instead of jumping into ways to improve our ability to approach a problem differently, I find it more effective to identify all the barriers that block people from widening their perspectives. In my talk, I refer to these as self-limiting beliefs: our projected beliefs about how a problem will limit us.

To help employees transform their self-limiting beliefs, a leader can take stock of the pressures and rewards that are in place. Do they incentivize efficiency over all else? Or is there room for trial and error, without having to worry about financial penalty or other repercussions? Are small, steady improvements expected and appreciated? Or are risks acceptable?

If the fear of failing is too great, rarely will an employee venture away from the single path before them, in search of other possible ways to do things. There needs to be a balance between “process vs. results” so that employees can feel safe enough to explore the possibilities.

SPEAKING.COM: How can people recognize and deal with creative burnout?

HANSEN: When the drive to innovate overshadows the pressures I face, I know I’m getting burned out. I find it extremely helpful to be curious about why I feel burned out: is it a lack of ideas, or a lack of motivation? I actually have been just writing about this in my new creativity book. There are different tactics for different reasons.

For example, one way to combat lack of ideas is to keep an idea journal. This way, you can take advantage of times when ideas are flowing, and have a place to reference when you are in a low. You can try an idea from your list or sometimes seeing the list could inspire new ideas. Either way, you can still have creative output even if you don’t have any fresh ideas.

When we get derailed, we need to take a step back and look openly at the essence of where we are headed.

SPEAKING.COM: You thought your art career was over when you developed nerve damage in your hand. What actions can people take to reinvent themselves after their goals have been unexpectedly derailed?

HANSEN: When we get derailed, we need to take a step back and look openly at the essence of where we are headed. For me, the essence of doing art is I love to create. I realized it didn’t need to be a specific kind of art; I just wanted to fulfill my desire to create, which can happen in a million different ways, art or otherwise. For this to happen though, we need to peel back the layers of self-limiting beliefs and be willing to let go of expectations.

SPEAKING.COM: You’ve stated that you’ve had projects that you put a great deal of energy and me into only to end up with embarrassing results. What would you recommend to people in any industry who are midway into a project that in their eyes is starting to look like a failure?

HANSEN: It’s cliché to say that we always gain something whether we succeed or fail. One truth that may be harder to swallow is that we can learn more from failure than success. Success often times just confirms what we already know. Failure forces us to rethink and try something else, thus creating more possibilities.

As for a project that is not looking so hot midway through, the tactic is to hold the success or failure of a project in one hand and our emotional selves in the other. If we can do that, then we’ll always feel like we have something to gain by becoming more internally resourced.

I keep my opinions of art fluid, allowing it to change from moment to moment.

SPEAKING.COM: How do you define art?

HANSEN: I find defining art can often pigeonhole artists. I want to keep my mind open to possibilities. So I keep my opinions of art fluid, allowing it to change from moment to moment.

SPEAKING.COM: Are artists born or made?

HANSEN: I believe we are all born creative, but artists are made by cultivating their creativity through desire, effort, and discipline.

SPEAKING.COM: How can art education prepare people for success in life?

HANSEN: Art is one of the only places in education that encourages divergent thinking, which is critical to achieving success in today’s environment where problems are complex.

I believe by making art education engaging and personalized, students will gain the kind of creative confidence that will help them expand creatively in whatever direction their talent and interests take them.

SPEAKING.COM: What is the Goodbye Art Academy and what inspired you to start it?

HANSEN: Building a creative mindset is the inspiration behind Goodbye-Art Academy. As many art educators have incorporated my work into their curricula over the years, one of the biggest challenges I hear about is inspiring creativity in the classroom. At Goodbye-Art Academy, we offer a series of short and punchy educational videos. I believe by making art education engaging and personalized, students will gain the kind of creative confidence that will help them expand creatively in whatever direction their talent and interests take them.

SPEAKING.COM: What other projects are you currently working on?

HANSEN: I’m quite excited to launch a new art series. In this series, for each piece I create, people will get to vote whether I preserve or destroy it. I’m actually working on my first piece right now that will be finished at an upcoming World 50 event I’m speaking at. The series will start this summer and if anyone wants to make a vote to keep or destroy art, they can go to my website philinthecircle.com and sign up for email updates. I’m also writing a creativity book in between traveling for speaking and preparing for my upcoming art series.

To bring Phil Hansen to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com

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  • Phil Hansen Internationally Recognized Multimedia Artist, Author, and Innovator Referred to by his fans as “the Artist for the People”, Phil Hansen is an internationally recognized multimedia artist, speaker, author and innovator — at the forefront of bringing art to a wider audience. Crashing irreverently through conventional boundaries, Phil works at the intersection of traditional art, electronic ... more

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