combinatorial creativity & why it matters

combinatorial creativity

Stop the Insanity

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” – Albert Einstein

Though there are dozens of quotes similar to this attributed to Albert Einstein and others, the core thought is something we can’t be reminded of enough. We too easily fall into the same patterns of thinking, even as we are confronted with new problems and challenges.

I recently learned a term that has helped me to process through this age old paradox and encourage me toward healthier problem solving. I wanted to share it…

Combinatorial Creativity


The basic principle is that, nothing is truly original and all newly created things are put forth by innovators borrowing from a variety of thoughts, perspectives, and designs to create something new from the COMBINATION of those influences.

Even this statement has the tendency to come across as elementary or cliche, but how often do we think “harder work” will allow us to solve new problems? In fact, the more we consciously dwell on a problem that requires an innovative solution, the more likely we are to corner ourselves into the nooks of the familiar, entrenched in habitual patterns of thought that lead where they always have.

If we believe this to be true we need to stop reading more business books to find our solutions. We need to stop adding more meetings to gain the necessary perspective on the problem we’re trying to solve. What we must do instead is pursue our interests outside of work as fervently as we do the success of our vocation. It’s very possible (dare I say probable) that the solution you’re looking for is within your next visit to the museum, or when you’re playing your guitar and trying to write a song.

If you want proof, read biographies (or watch them on Netflix) that cover someone you truly respect. What you invariably will find is that this person took a very winding and circuitous path to arrive at the point of their prestige. They were able to borrow ideas from their broad array of experiences and interests to create something we all view as new or revolutionary.

Go do something different. Go do something that inspires you.

{NOTE: If you’re interested in reading further about combinatorial creativity, you can read this great article on Smithsonian Magazine’s website}

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less social media, more connection

Lessons learned when logged out.

I started off the year taking a break from social media. It proved to be a really positive and simple way to recalibrate priorities for the year ahead. I wanted to share a few thoughts on how it was helpful for me and to encourage you to consider taking a break yourself. 

1) It challenged my default habits.

How often do you turn on your phone and before you even realize it you have opened Instagram and you’re mindlessly scrolling through your feed? Muscle memory takes over and by default you have trained yourself to know exactly where your favorite apps are. You open them. You waste time. You’re mad at yourself. 

Even as I vowed to not use social media and logged out of all my accounts, I still clicked on the apps. However, I was quickly reminded this wasn’t an option and it forced me to engage with my surroundings (in a good way) or think about what I actually needed to be doing. 

2) I stopped thinking in tweet size thoughts. 

I am constantly taking in my surroundings and trying to think how to distill thoughts or funny anecdotes into 140 characters. I didn’t fully realize how much I did this until I stopped using social media, and I was not proud of it. 

Spending less energy crafting witty sentences in my head allowed me to do one of two things: a) realize the subject matter wasn’t important and more quickly move on, or b) allow me to spend more time digesting the concept instead of trying to shrink it to down to two sentences. 

3) I spent more time with my wife. 

My wife did the social media fast with me and simply put, we were able to spend more time together. We are very guilty of laying in bed and catching up on the lives of our friends, as opposed to diving deeper into how the day went for one another. 

It was a healthy and very important reminder for us. 

4) I did more important work online. 

I filled the time I would normally spend crafting an Instagram caption in much more important ways. There were a handful of things that I always meant to do (research college savings options for our son, researching a new camera I wanted to buy, read that one article, etc.), but inevitably those activities I wanted to do fell by the wayside when I opened my phone and got wrapped up in incessant scrolling. 

I had an extremely productive January and felt good about how I set a solid foundation for the new year. There wasn’t drastically less screentime for me but I was definitely more productive 

All in all, there were some great personal realizations that came from this exercise. Mind you, I only stopped using social media for TWO WEEKS. One of my biggest realizations is that this needs to happen frequently. Checking out and recalibrating your activities is a vital life practice. 

Now, go log out of all your social media accounts and engage the world around you. 

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how to lead a more conscious life with what you own

a more conscious life

Don’t let what you own, own you.

It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “conscious consumerism” is some sort of new phenomenon, brought into the public eye in recent years by organizations blending business and purpose. That would be the first lie. The second lie in this notion of living a more conscious life with your possessions is that it starts with what you purchase today. The consumer culture we’ve been brought up in has trained us to buy our way into the lifestyle we want, even if that is a purposeful one.

At the root of it all everyone knows that this line of thinking is false. As a result, I wanted to share with you all a few simple ways (as well as some resources) to help you think about how you can be more mindful with what you own.

1) The most conscious / ethical / environmentally-friendly thing you can do today is to cherish the possessions you already own and love.

As tempting as it is to toss everything to the curb and start from scratch with a thoughtful curation of clothes, accessories and home goods, what you would be doing in that process is creating more waste. Cherishing items that we love and doing what we can to repair and maintain their longevity is vitally important, and honestly counter-cultural in a society that says “just get a new one”.

Have you heard of “repair cafes”? The New York Times recently wrote an article sharing about the rise in pop-up gatherings where people are bringing their broken or worn possessions to be fixed and repaired by hobbyists and peers. It’s such a beautiful community expression and as the article states “there is a lot of gratification on both sides of the table”, for those who are helping repair and those who are leaving with a fixed item.

2) If you must buy something, try to purchase it second hand.

I recently posted this photo on Instagram and I was impressed by the dialogue and appetite for the conversation. I have been a thrift shopper for years, and aside from the environmental benefits of purchasing what has already been made and used, as well as the economic value, I love the fact that you can find unique pieces.

I will say, however, that it’s all the more important to ask yourself whether it is an item (even from a thrift store) that you truly need. I’m the first to admit I have made thrift store purchases that are never worn or used, that get returned to Goodwill. I’m glad to have supported a local thrift store in the process, but it served as wasted energy on my end.

If you are needing to remove clutter from your home our closet, Amazon and Goodwill have teamed up to make it as easy as possible to donate your gently worn/used items to Goodwill. You don’t even have to leave your home with the Give Back Box.

**Side Note: Did you know the song “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis from 2012 has been viewed over a BILLION times?

3) If you do purchase new items, do your best to make sure they are ethically produced.

We live in exciting times. Thanks to the internet and a growing number of businesses working to blend better ethics and positive impact into their business models, many of the items we need for our wardrobe or homes can be purchased in good conscious. It’s not as fast as purchasing “with 1-Click” on Amazon, however, there is an abundance of resources that can get you caught up to speed. One of my personal favorites is The Good Trade.

One last note on ethical purchasing… be aware of brands touting “social good”, as there has also been a lot of people who have jumped on the band wagon to capitalize on the rise in cause marketing (which is a phrase I detest). My simple litmus test to gauge whether I would consider purchasing from a brand is this: do they lead with their impact or is does their “social good” begin after a purchase is made? Or said another way, are they prioritizing their impact regardless of whether a sale takes place? Clothing brands that are sourcing environmentally materials, or employing underserved communities in the process are a positive example of what it means to lead with impact.

To lead a more conscious life, is to be aware of the impact your personal footprint has on this earth and you do what you can to minimize that. And in my opinion, this isn’t a responsibility that we all share, it’s actually a lot more fun. You will cherish the items that you own, you will seek out unique pieces when you purchase something new, and you will support great causes in the process.

Thanks for reading along, feel free to comment with any questions or reach out to me on twitter or instagram — @kohlgreyson.

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infinite hope from mlk jr.

martin luther king infinite hope

Hope Rooted in Action

The older I get the more appreciation and reverence I have for our national holidays. It can be hard to move past the social media onslaught of quotes from people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the cynical thinking of that being the extent to our engagement with the issues. Regardless, I appreciate the pause placed into our society’s calendar to slow down and reflect.

Today, like every year, I find myself reading up on MLK Jr. and being inspired by the movement he lead, the oppression he faced, and the ongoing conversation around equality today. One soundbite that stood out to me this morning was the following…

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I don’t read this as a passive admittance, or a “come what may” kind of mentality. My belief is that infinite hope cannot be separated from action. If we are to hope infinitely in the possibility of a better tomorrow, or of a more just world, that hope has no choice but to inform and influence our actions.

It is that kind of hope that leads us to act courageously and contrarily to the status quo, in the same way that Mr. King’s like was marked by organizing, convening, and speaking truthfully. We act because we believe that things can be changed, otherwise we wouldn’t have the gumption to step out in faith at all.

My hope is that we can all find ways to live with an infinite hope and to actively pursue the causes that are close to our hearts. For this is the only way we’ll see and experience justice. Or as MLK Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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2017 word of the year: empathy

Empathy

We Get What We Give

If 2016 did anything exceedingly well it was showing us that though we have made so much beautiful progress as humanity, we still have a long way to go. Globally, we saw individuals, communities, and governments wrestling with polarizing issues and grave divisions with imminent consequences. How are we to respond to global immigration issues? How does that change with the refugee crisis our world is experiencing? Can anyone truly feel safe amongst the outpouring of shootings occurring immediately around us? How do I love and/or attempt to understand someone with drastically different political views than my own?

If you’re anything like me, you seek answers and new learning in a variety of ways, but most of all you like listening to podcasts. 🙂 It seemed to me that nearly every podcast I listened to over the last part of 2016 addressed the palpable division felt by all and explored what we are to do about it. One consistent theme I heard, and that which resonated with me the most (or perhaps the one I simply want to believe in)… EMPATHY.

No example represented this concept more clearly than a segment on the TED Radio Hour show titled “Reconciliation” (listen to the whole thing, but you can fast forward to 45 min. if you want to hear this specific part). It hit me so hard, that I found myself crying while I was commuting to work on my bicycle. I will pose the same question the interviewee — Elizabeth Lesser — asked during the show, “Have you ever heard of Antoinette Tuff?”

Antoinette worked the front desk at an elementary where a 20 year old man came toting a AK-47 and vocal ambitions to cause harm. She immediately called 9-1-1, but what happened next was extraordinary. While on the phone with emergency response she entered the room where the man was holding students hostage, and she began talking with him. She shared how she was recently struggling and had considered taking her own life. She reminded him that he wasn’t alone in the struggle. She met him with love and she empathized with all that he must have been going through. He eventually gave up his gun when the authorities came.

Though this story took place in 2013, the message it shares couldn’t be more relevant. We’re not called to fix the situation or change someone’s mind, but we need to hear them out and do what we can to understand their position or their perspective. That is what breaks down walls and allows for a dialogue. However, it’s incredibly important to note that it does require one person to take the first step, to hold out the olive branch and offer their sincere interest.

This is my hope for 2017. That we can start to lead with empathy, so that our perspective as a society can expand and so that when (read “if”) we do have the opportunity to speak our words will be heard.

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{Note: You can read more about Antoinette Tuff’s story HERE.}

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