May 18, 2015
Inside the Notebook

Routines trigger creativity for Maine's innovators

Long before the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in the late 1700s, Beethoven routinely dumped water over his head to inspire beautiful compositions. Charles Dickens slept facing north, partly to aid his creativity.

Dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, in her 2003 book "The Creative Habit," contended that we all have daily rituals that trigger our innovative mode, whether we are writers, chefs, CEOs or scientists. She said being creative "is a full-time job with its own daily patterns."

Patterns, routines and rituals may sound boring, but local innovators admit they rely on them to switch on their inner creative juices.

Some, in fact, get going with juice. Take Kate McAleer, 27, founder of Rockland-based chocolate bar company Bixby & Co., who recently won the U.S. Small Business Administration's Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2015.

"My mom turned me on to chocolate superfood smoothies," McAleer told me. The ingredients sound drinkable only to the person making it: lacuma, maca and ashwagandha mushroom powders in a base that includes almond or hazelnut milk. She downs one a day at 7 a.m.

"It's a healthy, energetic fuel for the mind," she said. "I crave that smoothie. It taps into my energy level and my ability to be creative."

"I also tap into my creativity when I put on the chef's jacket and walk into the kitchen." When she needs inspiration, she looks at Pinterest and Instagram. She quiets her mind with yoga three times a week.

Joel Alex, founder of Blue Ox Malthouse in Lisbon Falls, a 2014 Top Gun program graduate, embraces routine, because he didn't have one for close to two years. He plans to hire his first two employees at the end of June and start regular malt production in July for local brewers.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with a routine," he said. "It makes people incredibly productive."

Now, the man who spent 18 months living out of his car and with family and friends, is trying to establish a routine. "It was hard when I was waking up at a different time and in a different place each day," he said. Last October he got an apartment.

Now, to stimulate his creativity, he drinks tea for 20 minutes in the morning, his time to reflect. He buys it from friends who own the Little Red Cup Tea Co. in Brunswick. "I drink a lot of tea. I go through all I have to do, and once I get a directive, I can handle the day."

He added that he finds a lot of strength and support from friends and family. "I'm drinking my friends' tea, and feel connections," he said. "Being an entrepreneur can be isolating."

It's just that isolation, and a strong connection with nature, that hits deep within Voot Yin, assistant professor of the MDI Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove. With two young girls, his mornings start abruptly.

"A lot of my morning is spent trying to calm my brain," said Yin, a researcher who also co-founded a regenerative medicine company called Novo Biosciences Inc. "There's a recipe I follow. I drop off my youngest daughter at school and then drive with absolute silence. So the first stage is removing a lot of the countless thoughts going through my head."

The second stage: "Staring out the window at work for five or 10 minutes into the woods. I focus on the swaying of the branches and leaves, or when the sun is shining," he said. Other days, he'll drink coffee and stare at the ocean. "I love the salty smell of the ocean and the seaweed. I feel most relaxed and at peace when I'm outdoors or thinking about outdoors."

"Once I've reached this stage, I'm ready to go. The creative juices and actual ideas can find their way through," Yin said.

A clear mind can help him look at data he couldn't grasp before in a new light. Some mid-afternoon tai chi, performed very slowly, also can help when he runs into a roadblock. If he's stumped for a few days, he takes a long bike ride or goes rock climbing.

"It shifts my brain," he said.

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