Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
—Mahatma Gandhi

It’s 13 years (a baker’s dozen) since I embarked on a career as an educator. It seems fitting then, to take this opportunity – over the course of a year, writing for The Pastry Box – to try and set down some of the ideas I’ve developed through my teaching during this time.

It’s taken me over a decade to get to this point. I still feel like I’m learning, and – of course – I still am. With 13 years under my belt it would be impossible to cover everything I teach; broadly, however, I’ll be exploring the creative process, from start to finish.

My twelve posts will essentially form a creative strategy for: firstly, defining your creative inputs (exploring how what we consume shapes us); and secondly, defining your creative outputs (exploring how what we share shapes us). I hope that, in their totality, they might prove of use to others.

Creativity is messy, it’s intimidating and it can be a difficult path to pursue (it’s almost always fraught with worry and an ever-present sense of self-doubt). I do believe, however, that embracing certain strategies can tip the balance in your favour.

What I’ll be covering is broken into two inter-related series of thoughts, exploring the importance of, and need for, both input and output and how these shape us, both as creatives and as individuals. The new year’s still young, so… let’s get started.

Input

Without constant input we stagnate. The secret to a wealth of ideas is simple: nourish the mind. I often tell my students: “It’s really simple, it just takes hard work.”

Fuelling the mind isn’t easy, it requires rigour and discipline. Put in that discipline, however, and the returns will be considerable. Your ideas will flow and, the more you apply yourself to priming the brain, the more you’ll see connections in the content you encounter.

Understanding this need for inputs, I’ll be exploring the following:

  • Nothing is New
  • Widen the Frame of Reference
  • Join the Dots
  • Syntopically Speaking
  • Purpose Emerges

Briefly: ‘Nothing is New’, everything we encounter in the world is created from new combinations of existing ideas; if we ‘Widen the Frame of Reference’ and look beyond our current specialisms, we can develop richer strategic frameworks; by learning to ‘Join the Dots’ we can build what Charlie Munger calls a ‘latticework of mental models’, a toolset that will serve us, regardless of the problems we face; ‘Syntopically Speaking’, we’ll explore how we read, learning to compare, contrast and think critically; finally, we’ll learn that ‘Purpose Emerges’ – always – prime the brain and the rest will fall into place.

The need for a constant stream of inputs is critical, but input is only half of the equation, output is equally important.

Output

Our outputs define us. What we share shapes us, as both creatives and individuals. The work we do and the work we put out into the world paints a picture of us, it portrays us in others’ eyes. As Trent Walton puts it: ‘You Are What You Eat’.

Output is every bit as important as input. Our outputs can take many forms: words we wrestle, pixels we push, and code we commit. Output, just like input, is hard work (no one said this would be easy), but it’s well worth the effort.

Understanding this need for outputs, I’ll be exploring the following:

  • The Blank Page
  • A Good Writer is a Good Thinker
  • You Are a Channel
  • Make Things, Share Things
  • Process Matters

Briefly: ‘The Blank Page’ can be intimidating, but make the first mark and the rest will follow; ‘A Good Writer is a Good Thinker’ explores the idea that writing is a process through which new ideas are developed, challenged and tested; these ideas are best shared, ‘You Are a Channel’, make the most of the opportunities the web affords us to connect with others; if words aren’t your forté, ‘Make Things, Share Things’, your side projects will shape you (and they’ll act as a vehicle for self-actualisation); finally, we’ll learn that ‘Process Matters’ and that sharing our processes with others is for the benefit of all.

The opportunities we encounter in life are, more often than not, a direct result of the work we share. As Frank Chimero puts it: “Daft Punk got to record the Tron soundtrack because they’d already recorded the Tron soundtrack.” Focus on the outputs and the rest will follow.

Educators Are Designers

One of the benefits of working in academia is the opportunities it affords to learn from others. Far from ivory towers of isolation, universities can, and should, act as meeting places for minds, encouraging creative connections.

Professor Alan Livingston CBE is a Visiting Professor at The Belfast School of Art, he is my mentor (in both an official and unofficial capacity). I’ll never forget a conversation I once had with him about the importance of education and the critical role educators play in designing the minds of the future.

At one point in our discussion, he turned to me and quietly stated: “Christopher, you’re a designer.”

Thinking this was something of a statement of the obvious, I replied, “Of course…” and began to outline some of the projects I was currently working on.

“No, no, you don’t understand,” he countered. “You’re a designer of minds. Never forget that.”

A designer of minds. I’ve never forgotten those words, they resonated with me deeply. The best educators are designers, in the truest sense of the word: they design minds, they build futures.

In Closing…

I hope my thoughts, shared here in 2015, will help others. I believe passionately in creativity and in the power of education to nurture and shape lives. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the secrets I’ve learned about designing a mind. See you in a month for the next step of the journey.