Focus, Energy and Flow

Honing creativity in the modern context of uncertainty

Creative Rituals - Finding a Sense of Purpose

As we collectively experience a global pandemic, our systems, structures, and social mores are being put to the test. In this time of shelter and reflection, it has become imperative that we reflect on our processes for creativity and how they are impacted by life’s new uncertainty. What, then, are the New Norms for work, life and creativity?

With the goal of exploring creativity’s new normal, TEALEAVES sparked conversation with world-leading designers for a Nature x Design virtual session in conjunction with Seattle Design Festival. 

Albert Shum, CVP of Design, Experiences & Devices Group at Microsoft and John S. Couch, VP of Product Design at Hulu and author of “The Art of Creative Rebellion: How to champion creativity, change culture and save your soul” were joined by moderator Lana Sutherland, CEO of TEALEAVES. The discussion on creative rituals dove into the importance of focus, energy and methods for connections during times of isolation.

Listen to the podcast or watch below!

Creative Rituals: Designing for the New Normal | Nature x Design

World-leading designers Albert Shum and John S. Couch reveal their rituals for creativity during times of isolation.

Posted by TEALEAVES on Sunday, August 16, 2020


Radical Acceptance & Problem Solving: Flow

The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming how we live and work – Creativity is the way to adapt. How do we create and hone it for a more resilient mindset? 

John S. Couch argues that we are all problem solvers. In the face of a problem, anger is a reaction to the fear and uncertainty associated with it. In the face of this fear, we must get into a problem-solving state of radical acceptance.

In a state of panic or anger, once you move out of the abstraction of the unknown and the unfairness, we can move into addressing the problem. “That is precisely the advantage designers have: How do we take this potential for creative problem solving and activate it?” says John S. Couch.


To foster creative thinking, Albert Shum encourages viewers to Reflect, respond, and rethink. 


“Make time, if you can, to reflect. So much of our world is jumping to reaction, and new patterns emerge when we allow time to reflect.” – Albert Shum


Rethinking and getting different perspectives helps get that creative energy back. John S. Couch argues:

 “There is no such thing as a perfect environment to design, create or write”


One must elevate their thinking to being in a constant state of flow. John S. Couch advocates for consistency in honing this creative flow. “You can have a huge amount of compound interest by doing a little bit every day, consistently.” 

Author Neil Gaiman offers similar advice to aspiring writers and creatives here. 


A Shift in Working Norms

The pandemic has brought changes to life and work. This new digital framework for ideation and collaboration yields a question:

How do we adapt to these new tools (Virtual work) to still be creative, still be collaborative, to solve problems in the projects we work on?

According to John S. Couch, we are all born creative. “Creativity is problem-solving. The challenge we’re in right now is people say I have so much extra time, why am I not being more creative?”

The role of the designer is to empathize with the user. 


“What we can do as creative leaders is help to inspire people to activate what already exists within them, that they have lost contact with.” – John S. Couch


Having diverse teams is having diverse perspectives. Using Zoom, Skype (virtual tools), how do we make sure people can participate?


“There are ways that these new processes have made us more effective. How can we be creative and continue to work collaboratively, to bring focus into our work using these new tools and means of communication?” – Albert Shum


During the discussion, a viewer points us to Japanese ikigai, a sense of purpose and reason to jump out of bed each morning. Ikigai is seen as the convergence of four primary elements:

  • What you love (your passion)
  • What the world needs (your mission)
  • What you are good at (your vocation)
  • What you can get paid for (your profession)


Once a sense of purpose has been found in the work we do, creativity flows. Moving from exhaustion to excitement, finding ikigai can give new meaning to our creative work,


Focus Destroys Fear

Creativity comes out of centering, out of being quiet. “The difficulty we have now, because of the state we’re in due to the pandemic, it doesn’t allow for one to center. It creates a low grade anxiety. It feels like an indulgence to think creatively” – John S. Couch


“The one thing necessary for creativity is focus. Focus is an ability to be in the moment so much that you relax into what it is you’re doing. When you’re in a constant state of fragmentation, or concerned about the state of the world, this makes it difficult to be creative. Creativity at its core is a natural state of human beings, and we just need to reconnect to that state.“ – John S. Couch


“Creativity at its core is a natural state of human beings, and we just need to reconnect to that state.“

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the core how uncertain the world is. John, an advocate of stoicism and influenced heavily by zen philosophy, encourages us to reflect in the present moment. Creativity allows us to be in the moment completely, thus allowing for creative thinking to arise.


“Humans crave consistency. We crave stability. In reality, the only thing for sure is what’s happening in this exact moment. Everything else is a projection of the future or a remembrance of what has happened in the past. The only reality there is is right now.” – John S. Couch


In these uncertain times, many of us are in a constant state of distraction and anxiety. John speaks of Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 tomcat pilot, the importance of focus during moments of fear, such as a fighter pillow landing on an aircraft carrier. The takeaway from such a situation is more accessible to most of us: In moments of anxiety, make a list of things that are bothering us, and a list of what can be done immediately. This, ultimately, is creativity.


Ceremony: Methods to Improve the ‘State of Mind’

The concept of focus has been around for centuries through ritual and ceremony. Focus destroys fear and brews creativity. Albert and John speak of using ceremony as means of being in a state of presence. 

Chado, a Japanese tea ceremony, is a ritual involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha. Chado, among many cultural rituals, requires focus. “Focus is relaxing into the moment. The only way you can do this is to be in the moment.” – John S. Couch

Craftsmanship is an example of being in the moment with our creativity Albert highlights the importance of this tangible craftsmanship.


“Craftsmanship, the act of making, is where creativity comes together; where creativity comes from.” -Albert Shum


Crafts in Japan that are beginning to disappear. From dyes to ceramics, crafts that are part of culture are slowly beginning to fade away. Pieces of Japan, a project exploring multi-generation craftsmanship in Japan, highlights exactly this. 


Working with your hands gives you focus, which digital mediums don’t. How do we bring these processes back so we can reconnect with our craft? – Albert


Through radical problem solving, focus and ritual, we can all hone the creative process we were born with.


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Creative Rituals