When I was a young man, my home was on Long Island about 30 miles from New York City. We had woods around us, and we enjoyed nature. My father had a large yard with hedges, rock gardens, fish pool, vegetable garden, lawns, and trees. They all required regular care. There were always chores, like cutting the lawn in the summer and raking leaves in the autumn. I thought we worked pretty hard taking care of our yard, but it was nothing like my father’s boyhood on the sugar beet farm in Burton, Idaho.
One day my father said to me, “You’re never going to learn how to work until you go out and work on the ranch with your Uncle Frank.” So I spent that summer in Skull Valley near Tooele, Utah, learning how to work.
The change from the lush greenery of my home in Long Island to Skull Valley’s dusty, stark desert environment was hard for me to believe. It gave me an appreciation of the first impressions that pioneers coming from Europe and the eastern part of the United States must have had when they were told, “This is the place.”
I had grown up near a large city. Ranch life was an education for me. I was impressed to see the cattle and the horses and the hard work necessary to bring about the harvest. I can remember the feelings when I first realized that an enormous amount of preparation was necessary before the crops were brought in. We had to plow, disk, harrow, plant, cultivate, weed, irrigate and then continue to cultivate, weed, and irrigate, endlessly it seemed. That summer was a great lesson to me. It is a cherished part of my heritage, because it was here in this almost desolate, remote corner of the world that I learned the law of the harvest.
The law of the harvest is simply that you don’t get something for nothing in life. The scriptures tell us the law of the harvest is that as ye sow, so shall ye reap (harvest). “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
Since then, I have learned that working out creative solutions to life’s problems uses these same law-of-the-harvest principles. There is so much work that goes unseen. We go to the store and see only the final results of the creativity of a farmer or a dairy man. We see beautiful vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. But unless we have been involved in the creative process we do not realize the amount of time, hard work, heartache, and worry that went into these finished products. The same is true when we hear someone play the piano or sing or when we read what someone has written or when we look at a beautiful painting.
To many, the word creativity simply refers to the cultural, performing, or visual arts. This is a very limiting definition. There are endless ways of applying creative reasoning.
Jesus Christ, the Creator of this earth, has shown us the powerful potential of creativity. As we look about us there are rarely two creations exactly alike, whether they are human, animal, flower, vegetable, or insect. The earth itself, with its seasons, minerals, and different surface appearances of deserts, tropical jungles, oceans, lakes, mountains, valleys, forests, plains, and plateaus offers endless variety of creative expression.
It would seem that our Creator approves of and would encourage us to develop our creative gifts and talents. In section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 46], we are told to “seek … earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; …
“For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
“To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby …
This scripture tells us that it is not wrong to seek earnestly for the best gifts if we do it for the right reasons.
Too often, however, those who possess great talents are selfish and do not use their gifts for the benefit of others. And more importantly, they do not acknowledge that these gifts are God-given. If we properly understood the source of our creative talents, there would be no application of writing, dancing, music, or photography for Satan’s purposes. The prophet Moroni wisely counsels us about using our talents for evil. He exhorts us to “come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing;” (Moro. 10:30). However, we are here in mortal probation to use our free agency and choose good from evil.
In Doctrine and Covenants 52:14–19 [D&C 52:14–19], we are given a guide to follow so that our creative gifts can be used for righteous purposes. We are told that the gift or pattern of discernment is dependent upon prayer, a contrite spirit, obedience to the ordinances and commandments, meek and edifying language, no contention, humble acknowledgement of the Lord’s power, and our bringing forth fruits of praise and wisdom.
Section 46, verse 10 [D&C 46:10] also makes reference to our “minds,” meaning our ability to study, learn, and develop our intelligence, gifts, and talents. We have the responsibility to improve ourselves.
A friend of mine was asked, “Do you play the piano?” He replied, “I don’t know, I haven’t tried yet.” What a great lesson! How many talents we may have hidden that are waiting to emerge if we just try!
Don’t forget, though, that developing our creative talents is not an easy task. Sometimes I catch myself rationalizing about my lack of talents by saying, “All have not every gift given unto them” (D&C 46:11). For example, when we work closely with translators and interpreters, it’s easy to say to them, “How fortunate you are to have the gift of tongues.” On one occasion the direct answer to me was, “My gift of tongues was received after thousands of hours of study and after overcoming many moments of failure and discouragement.”
As I mentioned earlier, creativity is not limited solely to the cultural arts. This definition is too confining. We have the ability to produce creative works in our daily activities. Creativity can also be used to find solutions to everyday problems by developing new ways of approaching the problems. I have seen such creativity during my lifetime association with marketing, sales, advertising, and new product development.
Just after completing graduate school, I was assigned by my new employer to the Marketing Research Department. There, we were presented with a problem: how to quickly identify a new model of a product that was very similar to the old model. Without the correct classification it was impossible for us to assess the impact of the new model on the marketplace. Our field interviewers were confused even after training. It seemed there was no easy way to get the information we needed.
As a new analyst I was invited to a meeting to discuss possible solutions to this problem, which was costing us tens of thousands of dollars. Many alternative ideas were being proposed. In the middle of the meeting I found myself slipping my wedding ring off my finger and onto the handle of one of the products. I found that the handle of the old standard model would barely fit through the ring but the handle of the new adjustable one would not. From there, it was a simple matter to make cards with various sized holes so the interviewers could easily provide accurate information. Market researchers still refer to this simple solution as the Hales Hole Card.
When I was elders quorum president of the Cambridge Ward in Boston, Massachusetts, we found that we often lost track of incoming LDS students during the first few days of their arrival to attend universities in the area. Some of them never did seem to be associated with us in a strong, active way. We developed a program called Project 48. It offered incoming students who would be members of our elders quorum a chance to stay with a quorum member for 48 hours. The quorum member helped the newcomer find a place to live (we kept a list of available apartments). Quorum members offered friendship and brotherhood to the arriving student and made sure he knew his way around.
We bonded many new arrivals to our quorum this way. We didn’t lose them during the first critical hours in a new environment. Twenty-five years later, Project 48 is still being used to welcome students in the Boston area.
Creative approaches are sometimes needed in order to adapt to local conditions. We have general guidelines and principles, but the Lord expects us to help solve our own problems.
In the Book of Mormon, the brother of Jared sets a good example of how the Lord lets us solve our own problems with his guidance.
The brother of Jared had already built barges according to the Lord’s specifications. But the ships had no visible means of propulsion or navigation. There was no way of supplying air or light for the travelers inside. The brother of Jared prayed and was given answers to his problems of propulsion and navigation. The Lord said he would use wind and waves to take the Jaredites to the promised land (see Ether 2:24–25). But what about air and light?
The brother of Jared was told to drill a hole in the top and a hole in the bottom of each barge and to place plugs in the holes. The Lord said to open the holes for air when air was needed. And with a sense of humor, I think, the Lord warned the brother of Jared to replace the plugs quickly if water rushed in (see Ether 2:20).
That still left the problem of providing light for the vessels. “Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether 2:22). Too often in our prayers we only restate our problems. “And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (Ether 2:23). He was told he couldn’t use windows or fire, limiting his options for a solution. In life we are sometimes limited in the possible options we can use to solve problems.
The brother of Jared’s solution was to take 16 transparent stones and ask the Lord to touch them. “Touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness … that we may have light while we shall cross the sea” (Ether 3:4). The Lord made the stones glow, and they worked perfectly throughout the voyage. I’m sure there could have been other acceptable solutions to the same need for light. Once at home evening my son suggested that the brother of Jared should have had the Lord put his finger in a can of paint. The glowing paint could have been applied to the boat’s interior. But the brother of Jared decided to use rocks, and the Lord accepted his solution.
We are thinking, reasoning human beings. We have the ability to identify our needs, to plan, to set goals, and to solve our problems. The characteristics of a creative person can be used to develop solutions for seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We can use originality to overcome opposition. We can develop new ways to help others resolve difficult situations in their lives.
Too often people hold on to ideas, inventions, and approaches to life that will not work. The creative approach is a disciplined approach to meet life’s needs. Creative thinking is not a substitute for education, living the commandments, or integrity. Nor is it a shortcut around the challenges of life. Creative thinking can become a process of inspiration that leads us to decisions.
A creative person must have a constant curiosity. He should be constantly observing and listening to new ideas. He should be willing to admit that someone else’s solution might be better. And he should learn the lessons provided by previous experience—both his own and others.
As I have observed the process of creative thinking, it has reminded me time and again of the work we used to do on my uncle’s ranch. The steps used in growing crops offer a good guideline:
Prepare the soil. Start with prayer to clear your mind and set the proper atmosphere. Research the problem thoroughly. Develop a positive attitude that a solution can be found. Establish an atmosphere of trust in yourself and in others.
Plant the seeds. Investigate what you can do to help. Determine where you may need help. Don’t ask for counsel yet, because you aren’t prepared to take the advice. Don’t ask someone else to make the decision for you. Remember the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7 [D&C 9:7]: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.”
Let the seeds germinate. Don’t uproot your idea before it has a chance to grow. This is the stage of the creative process where a good positive, nonthreatening attitude is vital. Back off and give the idea time to develop. But you must be willing to face failure with a willingness to try again.
Examine your crops. Weed out ideas that don’t belong. Through obedience to the Lord, you are entitled to inspiration. Review Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 [D&C 9:7–9]. Inspiration comes when we ask if we have made a correct decision. “Therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” Remember that your greatest strength will come by keeping the commandments.
Harvest. The most productive farmer in the world would be unsuccessful if he didn’t harvest his crops. Do something about your ideas. Take the initiative to share your thoughts with others and to take action on your own.
Composer Wolfgang Mozart described how he used the creative process: “Those ideas that please me I retain in memory. … All this fires my soul and, provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodised and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance” (in Brewster Ghiselin, The Creative Process, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1952, p. 44).
As Mozart described, the same steps that apply in solving day-to-day problems, also apply in writing, painting, photography, and music. There is a a lot of work done without recognition before the harvest comes. The greatest masterpieces yet to be created will come about through hard work and through inspiration from God. May each of us use our creative reasoning to do all in our power to solve our problems and then look to the Lord for the reassuring, peaceful confirmation that we have made the right decision. Surely then our harvest will be plentiful.