Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Personal Strength of Creativity - Magical Zulu Bowls and Cups Made from Telephone Wire

One Saturday not too long ago I got to do three really cool things, which is pretty good for one day.

First, I got to pet an alpaca. 

We went to the Old Oaks Ranch, which is about five miles north of Wimberley, Texas. The ranch raises alpacas; sells fleece, yarn and woven products; and has one of the best outdoor sculpture gardens in Texas. A typical alpaca is bigger than a large dog and smaller than a pony. They're a little skittish, but if you let them sniff you, you can stroke their backs (not their heads). They don't bite and they make a funny little purring sound. Pretty neat!

The second cool thing was Market Days at Wimberley, the second-largest outdoor market in Texas (check the photo gallery). It's a monthly event on a dedicated 20-acre site with over 400 stalls. It's like a massive combo flea market and arts and crafts show. It features an unprecedented variety of really good stuff! I thought, "This is the place to come when you need to buy a gift." It's worth traveling 100 miles to do some shopping.

One of the stalls featured beautiful cups and bowls made by Zulu tribesmen out of scrap telephone wire. Yes, you may have to read that sentence again, because the idea is so outside the box. The quality of workmanship is phenomenal. 

It all started when a few men decided to wrap their walking sticks in the colored wire. They discovered they could make wonderful patterns, and they moved on to cups and bowls. Soon they were making so much money doing this that they quit their day jobs.

I was wowed by the creativity of it. About 30 years ago I used to co-train a course called "Targeted Innovation" at the Center for Creative Leadership. One of the skills we taught was "outside-the-box thinking." In one exercise we showed participants an ordinary brick and ask them to list other creative uses for the brick. The trick was to realize there are three levels of creative thinking:
Level 1 - Other uses of a brick as a construction resource 
Level 2 - Non-construction uses of the brick in its current form
Level 3 - Uses of the brick's materials when you change the brick's form

I think the Zulu tribesmen were operating somewhere at Level 2 with their creative thinking: What are some non-telephonic uses of the materials in this telephone cable?
The solution they came up with is magical, because you can look at that gorgeous cup as long as you want, and you still can't figure out how they did it!

Of course, this kind of creativity is possible for anyone. But it takes extra effort to see beyond the obvious to "what could be." That's why creativity is a form of personal strength.

Oh yeah, there was that third cool thing. I got to see my favorite basketball team give their best effort to beat West Virginia by 21 points to advance to the NCAA Finals against Butler. And as you may know, the Blue Devils won a close, hard-fought game against the Bulldogs to become the 2010 NCAA National Champions. I know most spectators were cheering for underdog Butler, but I have strong Duke loyalties and as a fan, this is as cool as it gets.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., , Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Photos by my wife, Kathleen Scott. Used with permission.)

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Haven't been to Wimberly Market days in FOREVER. Thanks for the reminder :)