Capturing the “big magic” with creativity

By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial

By all accounts, Elizabeth Gilbert is a media pro. She’s given a gazillion interviews about her 2006 memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” which sold more than 12 million copies. Tens of millions of viewers have watched her pitch-perfect TED talks. Yet, 15 minutes before it was time to take the stage at Philips Arena in Atlanta to give her first presentation as part of Oprah Winfrey’s “The Life You Want Weekend” tour last fall, Elizabeth found herself shaking.

She had been billed as Oprah’s “special guest,” one of a few “trailblazers” hand-picked to dispense life-changing wisdom at the sold-out events.

“I’m not used to speaking in a place where Bon Jovi plays!” Elizabeth told author and television host Marie Forleo in a recent interview. “It’s scary! It’s Oprah Winfrey. She’s sitting in the front row, like: ‘I invited you. I trusted you with my audience, who trusts me with their lives. Go ahead. What do you got?’”

Though professional speaking now makes up a bigger portion of her career, Elizabeth insists she is a writer first and foremost. Typing at a keyboard, with a patient, soundless cursor and the all-forgiving delete button, comes more naturally than speaking on a hot mic, she says.

The first time she gave a speech, after “Eat, Pray, Love” was released, Elizabeth stood and read her prepared text verbatim. Even as she was reciting it, she could sense that was not what the audience had bargained for, and she resolved to never approach a speech that way again.

She made three changes: she lightened up her delivery style, she created an outline and she prepared a set of stories. These steps are among the core concepts we break down in our presentation seminars. The roadmap we train clients to use is crucial. Like Elizabeth’s outline, it is both comforting and freeing.

No matter how much fairy dust Oprah had sprinkled on her, Elizabeth still had to do the heavy lifting of any great speech: preparation.

“When Oprah Winfrey invites you to speak at a stadium tour, you prepare!” she said in the interview. “I worked on that speech for six months.”

Once she had shaped her message – including enough material for a 50-minute presentation – she found a method to get deeply acquainted with it.

“The only way I can learn a speech is to walk it into my bones, so I was walking like five miles a day on the side of the road, giving that speech for four months,” she recalled.

The result: She moved her audience to tears and is still getting rave reviews a year later now that she’s out promoting her new book, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” The premise is simple: Each of us is creative, and when we embrace our creativity, we forge richer, more interesting lives.

The concept upends the right brain-left brain delineation that assigns you to either the world of imagination and intuition, excelling at the arts and holistic thinking, or the world of the linear and the logical, churning out computations and sequencing. It also challenges the perception of corporate America as a place of sterile conformity, where procedure strips personality, where “what if” and “why not” are trumped by “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Encouraging creativity in the workplace can come from the top, with policies like Google’s 20 percent time – one day a week when employees can explore side projects and curiosities – and 3M’s lesser-known but longstanding 15 percent program, which gave birth to products like the Post-It Note.

You can also spark creativity on an individual basis with smaller steps. Brighten up your wardrobe with a bold new tie or statement necklace. Kick off a meeting with an ice-breaker question to start the conversation on a personal note: “What’s something your dad taught you how to do? What was your best vacation?” Reconsider your office or cubicle: Would a new piece of art or a whiteboard regenerate your creative juices?

Creative people remember there’s always another way to skin the cat. If a fresh approach doesn’t occur to you because you’ve stared at it too long, ask someone else. What other option exists? What aren’t I taking into account? How would you do it?

So take a page from the bestseller’s book and inject more creativity into your workplace. You might end up with big magic.

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit