The Wisconsin River flows 420 miles from north central Wisconsin southwest to merge with the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. At river’s mouth, she disgorges 12,000 cubic feet of water per second, which is equivalent to the capacity of eight Olympic size swimming pools every minute. The river originates in pine forests and meanders through hardwoods, cities, farmland, sandstone bluffs, and prairies before she reaches her destination. Such a significant river must have flowed in the past as she does today.
We are genetically conditioned to recognize patterns. We know other rivers and associate the pattern of how those rivers flow to form our perceptions about the Wisconsin River. We see the Wisconsin River and assume what is true today must have been similar in the past. As a result of our assumptions, we fail to perceive evidence that is contrary to what we believe. Therefore, we don’t consider if the river could have flowed in the opposite direction. We know that water doesn’t flow uphill, which would be necessary if the river flowed in the other direction, so we don’t see proof that the Wisconsin River did flow in the opposite direction millions of years earlier.
Geologists recently observed tributaries to the Wisconsin River that are not aligned to the river in the direction of the water’s flow (north central to southwest). Normally, tributaries would intersect the river in the same direction as the water’s flow. Scientists made their discovery after study of aerial photographs. An aerial view of the river elevated their point of reference from ground level to bird’s eye perspective. With this new point of view, they observed that tributaries were shaped like fishhooks where they intersected the river. This anomaly changed researchers’ perception about the historic flow of the river and indicated that the Wisconsin River must have flowed in the other direction (southwest to north central) in the distant past. Such water movement would appear to be uphill today although the river earlier flowed downhill to the Lake Superior basin prior to the formation of the Mississippi River.
Each day my creative work flows from origin to destination similar to water in the Wisconsin River. When I write, sing, or compose music, for example, my perspective from where I sit limits my creative efforts. From a static location my perceptions are linear and logical. I am blind to evidence for new ideas for my work until I change my perspective. When I take a break, get up from my chair, and change my point of view (similar to the geologists) I gain a different perception.
John Dufresne, in The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction, urges writers to probe our unconscious mind. He describes the subconscious as our non-verbal mind and consciousness as our verbal realm. Since the source for creativity resides in the non-verbal mind, Dufresne recommends writing prompts, brainstorming, free writing, and similar methods to reach our subconscious mind.
When we take a break from thinking, physically get out of our chair, move, and reposition ourselves in a different physical and mental state our perspective will change. This shift in point of view enables change in perception and ultimately a challenge to our assumptions.
To change my perspective, I grab a smartphone and make photographs. I alter my physical location and mental awareness, therefore opening up to a new perception. I’ll let my camera show me what to photograph. Photographs reveal ideas. Since my images are unplanned (and therefore non-verbal) they enter my conscious mind from a sub-conscious place.
I don’t choose subjects to photograph. That would be based on cognition. Instead, I let objects of my photographs call to me. I’m often confused and wonder why I am drawn to photograph a particular subject. Upon later reflection, I find meaning in an image. As a result, my perspective of what I was previously working on shifts and opens up new ideas. Sometimes these ideas don’t materialize immediately. Most of the time, however, new direction emerges to guide my work. This change of direction provides inspiration for my writing, songs, and music.
To anchor these ideas in my conscious mind, I Tweet new thoughts with the photograph that inspired the idea. Similar to a journal, I do this daily. One-Tweet-A-Day supports my creative platform, and Twitter reports more reader impressions when a photograph accompanies a verbal message. Furthermore, Twitter’s 140-character format forces me to be concise about what I have learned.
When geologists elevated their point of view, they altered their perception of the river. With a new perception scientists changed their beliefs about the historical directional flow of the water. When we change our perspective, we are guided to examine our assumptions and perceptions. With new perceptions we see evidence of emerging ideas, which we were blinded to because of our limited perspective. When we accept the evidence of what we are now able to see, our beliefs are changed and we are now able take our creative work in a new direction.
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Life Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a creativity coach, musician, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.