This is the fourth interview about staying creative and inspired in a busy world.
Nils Elmark is a futurist helping businesses to make better and braver plans for the future. He lives in Denmark, works in London every month and also has an office in Sweden.
What are some of the secrets of your creativity and what inspires you right now?
Past, present, future
I let go of the past. I remember the past, of course, but I forget my interpretations of it. I live my life looking forwards; it’s a wonderful gift I have. My past is as open as my future.
The world is always new and ready for creation.
I’m constantly inspired. The other day, I saw an old Remington typewriter in a shop window on Portobello Road. I went in and bought it and a whole new world opened up in front of me! Imagine all the stories that are hidden in my new piece of machinery. I am now writing ‘street poetry’ in English – my second language.
Staying curious about the future
I’m a consulting futurist and it is part of the job to be curious about the future. We are always moving into it.
I create adventures and go on expeditions into the unknown, and it’s not that difficult. Even a simple tube ride can be a micro-adventure. You can meet new people (give it a try and talk to people on the tube!), see new posters on the wall, pick up the Standardand read the news and when you get off the train you will have enough material and inspiration to start anything from a new business to a crime series.
Your mind is your capital, what do you fuel it with?
Jazz musician Charles Mingus said, ‘you can improvise on anything but you can’t improvise on nothing’, which is why you have to be interested.
Being interested doesn’t just happen. It’s a personal decision. You decide to be interested. That’s all it takes. And if you just stay interested things start to get mysterious. The more you learn about a subject and get involved the more you realise is hidden beneath the surface. You’ll never know everything about a subject and a whole new universe can reveal itself.
I get inspiration from everything but magazines are great sources of inspiration: I readWIRED magazine (UK edition), Vanity Fair (US edition) and Business Punk (German edition) to mention just a few. These magazines offer three different universes to explore.
The black box
You can’t pursue every exciting idea you run into so I save them on my phone, jot them down in my black notebook or put them in my black box. I have a big black box and whenever I see something that excites me I put it in my filing box: articles I tear out of newspapers, brochures and other artefacts I come across.
Until ten years ago I avoided public speaking; big audiences scared the living daylights out of me. But I’m over that and now I enjoy giving speeches and presentations – which is also a part of the job description of consulting futurist.
I have discovered that only a few things are as dangerous as you think they are – and even if you should fail in your attempt you always get another go at it. Again, it’s about moving out of your comfort zone. Start with a small step in the right direction; do something you haven’t done before and at some point you will be comfortable doing things that others haven’t done before.
Having radical ideas can be scary because if you are too creative people will tell you that your ideas are unrealistic and they’ll try to talk you out of them.
It is a socially isolating process to have ideas others don’t understand. Being creative takes courage, but I accept that now.
You travel a lot in your work, what do you do to relax your mind, soul and body?
I commute between three countries, or rather cities – London, Copenhagen and Helsingborg in Sweden – and one way of relaxing is through writing. I have a blog‘Writers on Wheels’ and when I am full of different impressions I write, which clears my mind completely. The blog is in Danish at the moment so English speakers will have to make do with a Google translation.
I don’t play sports any longer, but I walk an hour or two each day and ride my bike when I can (I’m from Copenhagen, everyone cycles there). Also, I carry my bags rather than roll them and I always take the left lane on the tube escalator so I guess you can say that I travel rather physically. And it keeps me fit enough.
Creativity works in the same way as this joke:
Question: What do you call a murderer with moral fibre?
Answer: A cereal killer!
The moment you hear the answer to the joke you realise that your entire train of thought was totally wrong and in a split second you re-interpret all the information to get to a new result. You create a new meaning for the past.
Check out Nils Elmark’s website here.