(Published in the Dallas Business Journal on: Thursday, May 13, 2005)
Creativity is an act of faith, and doing it consistently requires overcoming fear and trusting the creative process.
Those aren’t the kind of ideas you’d expect to hear in the boardroom, but Rex McGee thinks they should be.
If the corporate world wants its employees to do their jobs better and take more satisfaction in doing them, it needs to recognize every person’s spiritual need to create, says McGee, a screenwriter, journalist and creativity coach.
“My greatest hope is that they will take their noses off the grindstone long enough to see the big picture of the creative process,” he says. “They need to loosen up, listen, observe more closely and realize that they can’t strong-arm their muses, no matter how much the boss may demand it. Forcing creativity will shut it down entirely.”
Employees at some of the area’s largest corporations agree. They’ve been introduced to their own creative spirits thanks to McGee, who conducts workshops based on the bestselling book, “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron.
From a management point of view, the workshops teach practical ways of getting people to think about invention and how to solve problems, says Jenifer Ragle, a communications manager who offered the class to her department at Texas Instruments in Dallas.
“It’s not the kind of training you typically see in the corporate world,” Ragle says. “What impressed me was that it really teaches you practical ways to help people be more creative, whether they are artists or engineers.”
Patrick Grady, senior director of events and recognition at RadioShack in Fort Worth, said he’s seen many of his co-workers who took the class giving up their perfectionist tendencies and taking more risks.
“They’ve learned that anything that’s creative is a thing of beauty,” he said. “There is no right way or wrong way to be creative.”
His department includes technical workers as well as graphic artists, writers and other creative types, Grady said. Managers at RadioShack, where communications department employees took the four- to five-hour class, also say they’ve noticed that members of their teams are enjoying their work more and are more willing to take a chance and offer their own ideas to the rest of the team.
“They’re starting to figure out how they can channel what they learned in the class into their own jobs, whatever they are,” said one manager, who asked not to be identified because of company rules about speaking with the press. “It got people to recognize that everybody’s creative in their own way and that you have to adapt that creativity to the environment where you use it.”
The son of a movie projectionist, McGee was born in Cleburne, south of Fort Worth, and started writing seriously while in high school in nearby Burleson.
McGee went on to the University of Southern California, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in cinema. It was a fan letter he wrote as a college student to his idol, six-time Oscar winner Billy Wilder, director of the classic films “Some Like It Hot” and “Sunset Boulevard,” that introduced him to Hollywood, however. Wilder took an interest in the young writer and invited him to visit, and they became friends. McGee soon went to work as Wilder’s assistant.
While working as a studio story analyst, McGee began writing movie scripts, helping to pay the bills by writing articles for magazines like Playboy and American Film. Things didn’t work out as he’d planned, though. His screenplays were being optioned, but not produced.
McGee says he felt like a failure. It was the beginning of a downward spiral. His parents died one by one and then he lost his beloved Aunt Alice. She left him her century-old house in Cleburne and, in 1991, reeling from the loss of his family and the end of a long-time love affair, McGee came home. “I was completely shell-shocked,” he says. “I needed a quiet place, with no pressure, time to think and see what really sparked my creativity, and revive my passions of old. And I couldn’t do it in the cyclone that is Los Angeles.”
Back in Texas, McGee got a call from producer Jerry Weintraub, who was looking for a script he could turn into a vehicle for country music star George Strait. McGee wrote a story about a successful singer who walks away from the spotlight to return to his Texas roots. The film, “Pure Country,” he admits now, was autobiographical.
McGee’s story of coming home currently is being developed into a musical for the stage, and his Aunt Alice has been memorialized in a TV movie, “A Family of Strangers,” starring Marian Ross, Frank Whaley and Keith Carradine, that will run on the Hallmark Channel next January.
Success hasn’t stopped him from needing to reconnect with his creative spirit, however, McGee says. That’s how “The Artist’s Way” came into his life, and four years ago he decided to let others in on the lessons he’s learned through workshops based on the book.
The book’s main lesson is “that no matter what form creativity takes, there is no right or wrong way to do it,” he said. By giving himself permission not to be perfect, he found he was able to sit down at his computer again and write. The writer’s block that had paralyzed him for so long was gone.
“For people in the corporate world, it says to use creativity to think about their jobs in a different way,” McGee said. “We always set goals for ourselves that are too high, too big. This teaches you to make small changes. And, if everyone is contributing small changes, my gosh, nothing is too big.”
Besides holding one-day workshops for businesses that cost $249 per person, McGee also offers nine-week continuing education creativity classes, also based on the book, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
Artists and writers aren’t the only ones who can gain from the experience, said RadioShack’s Grady, one of about 30 employees from RadioShack’s communications department who participated in the workshop there.
“One of the things this class does is make you look inside yourself and ask questions of yourself and do things that will stimulate creative thought,” he says. “I think it already has had an impact here (at RadioShack). Rex is referenced quite a bit.”
Humphrey is a Burleson freelance writer.