Water Waves: Finding your own creative process

WaterWavesThis past week Canadian Water Network’s Students and Young Professionals Committee members from the Waterloo area, Nicole McLellan, Corey Wells, and Matt Miller, put together an amazing event! Water Waves was a blue drinks for the ages! They pulled together a group of wonderful speakers (I’m saying that even though I’m listed and trying not to apologize for it!) to give 5-minute talks, book-ended by a water-photo-themed ice breaker activity and a local band playing some live music.

It was great to hear such a great variety of talks from people so passionate about the topics discussed. The more technical, water-focused talks were presented first, followed by talks on the way we work, encouraging interdisciplinarity, perspectives and priorities.

This event was a reminder to me about how great it is so be part of the strong water community in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. The audience, composed of friends and colleagues, new and old, were attentive and supportive people, making it all an extra special experience. To check out more highlights from this event and other’s like this across the country, check out #CWNSYP on Twitter.


Now, ahead of the event I was experiencing a little inner turmoil over my topic of choice. Nothing says “freak out and panic!” quite like the internal crisis that your presentation on creativity isn’t creative enough (there are so many possibilities, how could it ever be?!). And given a five minute timeline, those feelings were certainly expedited. While I don’t think I accomplished everything I wanted to with this talk on creativity, I think it was good practice, speaking in a non-technical way in front of peers, capturing and sharing ideas that are dear to me, and putting myself out there.

The talk I gave was inspired by many different sources; experiences I’ve had practicing unique facilitation, events I’ve attended in the community, many a Google search, and resources shared via podcasts. If you’ve spoken to me recently, you know that most of what I say is regurgitated from podcasts I listened to while commuting and I feel compelled once again to mention two that had the most distinct impact on this talk:

  • NPR’s Hidden Brain – Originals

This podcast shared the work of Adam Grant, whose book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, investigates who comes up with great ideas, how, and what we can do to have more of them. I listened to this podcast in the middle stages of content development for the talk which helped to narrow the topic of creativity to idea generation and the creative process.

  • Gretchen Rubin’s Happier – A Little Happier: The Best Teacher

The Happier podcast has been very enlightening to me over the last year, from a learning how to better work with people who have different tendencies to practical tips on how to live efficiently and happily at the same time. The morning before the event I just so happened to listened to the first mini-episode from Gretchen which beautifully articulated one of the most true statements there is: enthusiasm is the best teacher. 

As much as I wanted to channel the enthusiasm I had for this topic, I was having a difficult time condensing my thoughts into 5 minutes and felt the need to make the most of the time I had. So, for the first time, I wrote a word-for-word script for my talk. Big mistake – I had a hard time being conversational and I don’t think I engaged with the audience nearly as much as I needed to for the talk to be effective – but it sure lends itself well to being a blog post now? So here are my slides and the words that (verbatim) accompanied them:


“We have heard the terms creativity or innovative so frequently that I think they are on the cusp of buzz word territory. So I am going to start this presentation with a disclaimer: I know that many, if not all of you, are familiar with these ideas so consider this an opportunity to refresh yourselves and hopefully I will present this information in a way that helps you to internalize it. Too often, we hear “creative” or “new” and can’t imagine taking the time to add something seemingly unnecessary to our schedules or change a process that’s working just fine. I am going to take the next 5 minutes to show you how creativity can increase the effectiveness, efficiency, and enjoyment we get from our work in water, through building self awareness and finding your own creative niche.


Essentially, creativity is a way of thinking, encompassing a process or end result, big or small. It means anything new or different.But it can also be something re-purposed, a cool idea you saw somewhere else that you try to implement in a new way. Ultimately, it is any purposeful innovation.Slide3

Joy is so essential in our work and yet it is frequently undervalued. With creative, new ways of doing things, people can find a feeling of personal purpose. In the realization of an idea, you can feel fulfilled, learn more about yourself, and gather new found interest in your work from those around you. Self expression can lead to self discovery. Key to all creative processes is positivity, which will help you to express information and opinions in a way that will allow them to be better received. Slide4

Creativity can help us to tackle challenges in a world of standards and constraints. Innovation and enthusiasm in our thinking processes will make us more receptive to trying new things and allow us to overcome the natural tendency for risk aversion, which can sometimes plague technical fields. Let’s challenge the status quo in safe and constructive ways. Slide5

Everywhere! For many places within out communities, creative methods of meeting and exchanging ideas are possible, from ways to facilitate conversation, networks, or engage the public to more formal educational options. In technical settings, the use of creative thinking processes can inspire brainstorming and profound problem solving. In our volunteer lives or in a professional capacity, the opportunity to infuse fun and new in our work abounds.


There is an entire spectrum of possibility for creative thought. This can include addressing big picture challenges, like climate change, the infrastructure deficit, population growth, or implementing sustainable practices. But it can also mean increasing the everyday efficiency and interest we have in our work, from continually improving processes, to team building and personal discovery. Slide7

There are a terrifyingly huge number of examples I can provide here, so I’ll just mention a few here. Ask me about this sometime though, I have a long list. From an any workplace-perspective, maybe you can change how you structure teleconference to include games or sounds to keep things interesting, or try jazzing up emails with colours and images or the sharing of random facts. In the water sector, the bringing together of Mayors by the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative has allowed for cities to work together on issues like invasive species or the sharing of resources to fix frozen pipes for thousands of people. Bringing people together from different fields can provide its own creative opportunities, like the Waterloo Region Healthy Kids Challenge that aims to encourage exercise, hydration, and a positive message surrounding tap water. Slide8

There are literally millions of ways, so this is in no way an exhaustive list. But here are three key things to keep in mind when trying to find your creative rhythm:

  1. Start limitations, no consideration for capacity and them make your idea into a reality, not necessarily the other way around.
  2. Success can often be achieved through volume. Suggest all ideas and eventually one will be great. Note here to try to be socially aware and ensure that you are being encouraging to those around you. Sometimes we think we are being encouraging but in actuality, our language choices say otherwise. Try taking the improve theater’s “yes and…” approach.
  3. Learn what works best for you. It may be situation specific and remember those situational preferences will be different for everyone in your team so be sure to mix it up.


So when trying to find what works best for you for idea generation, try different creative approaches. Start with a goal! … or none at all. Take your time! … or see what happens under pressure? What about working on your own? Starting off with a team might not be the best way to get the ball rolling for you. Put away the tech! … or try something new, an app or program that you’ve never tried before. Maybe you’ll see a cool, little idea and try to think of where it could be applied? Or what if you attempt to build creativity into something that’s already established? Play around with your idea generation and the creativity will happen.

Now for a challenge! Tomorrow, pick something from your work routine that has gotten stale, like your email signature or the way you generate your daily to do list for example, and think about how to make it fun! Bonus points for roping in a coworker or two. I’m not going to provide a specific list of resources to check out because there is so much that appeals to such a variety of people, disciplines, and applications, but I want to encourage you to explore. There are a variety of mediums for thinking up or finding new ideas and I’m excited for you to find something that works well for you.”

And I’ll just wrap up by taking this opportunity to showcase my own creative attempt from yesterday – I drew spring since this April snow is disheartening and doodles are not! Here’s to the new and different everyone!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: