Steven F. Freeman

You at Your Best Stories

page created: 11/13/2013
page last modified: 01/18/2016

Think of a time in your life when you were at your best. It may have been in response to a particular challenge, or it may have been your own initiative. Tell “You at Your Best” as a story as concretely as you can, allowing the facts of the story to illustrate what you consider to be you at your best. Identify the motivations, interests and personal strengths that characterize this peak performance. Explain the conditions that allowed you to be your best.

You at Your Best in our Creativity/Innovation Class

One would probably relate a different story for different settings, but for this class the purpose is to examine the conditions under which creativity might flourish or innovation might occur; one that suggests career choices and changes, and educational program choices, including the choice of a course project. One might tell of work that brought particular satisfaction or that was particularly successful. In my own case, writing about election fraud in the aftermath of the 2004 election with unusual focus and productivity. If I could understand how and why, I could try to redirect or reframe my efforts and/or replicate conducive conditions to again write this efficiently and effectively.

In particular, I’m trying to identify the operative drives, interests, personal strengths and conditions – “the DISC  of the story.”

A central role of intrinsic motivation in fostering creativity has been well documented (e.g., Amabile, Gryskiewicz 1987; Forbes, Domm 2004), but in order to identify and tap into the full range of intrinsic motivation, it may be useful to distinguish some qualitatively different types. By drives, I mean the powerful, unconscious or semi-conscious gut motivations that emerge from emotions (same root word). Interests, in contrast, are the long term, relatively rational pursuits that one can steadfastly pursue over a long haul, sometimes for a lifetime.

To be most useful in a context of work, including impactful creativity (what Csikszentmi­halyi (1996) refers to as “Creativity with a capital ‘C’”), I suggest that we think of strengths more specifically as personal "strategic advantages" similar to how businesses conceive them, i.e., (uniquely) valuable talents, knowledge and connections (Watters 2001) and things we do relatively easy that others might consider hard (Rao 2011).

Finally, recognizing the power of the situation not only in achieving some measure of “Creativity with a capital ‘C’”, but with respect to its influcence on human behavior and outcomes in general, I suggest we consider deeply the particular conditions which enabled or facilitated our being our best. These conditions include organizational factors (Amabile, Gryskiewicz 1987; Forbes, Domm 2004), culture (Westwood, Low 2003; Schein 1990) and the operative “field” (Csikszentmihalyi 1996).

I don’t expect that identifying any of these elements will come easily; nor even that we should easily be able to identify when we were at our best, or what “best” means. So I have included an array of questions designed to probe and help, as well as a few resources on how to tell a personal story, which also serves as a reminder of the assignment to tell a simple story of you at your best – not to answer the questions, nor provide a verbal CV, list of accomplishments or whole life story.

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