Tales from Dragon Slayers: How to apply creative thinking for results

The crumble of black seeds I hold in my palm are supposed to produce the best granadillas in the country. Large, juicy, and sweet with the perfect amount of tanginess. I’m eager to propagate my favourite fruit.

Yet, a year later, I have nothing.

So many seeds but no fruit. Not even a leafy vine.

Was I swindled by the kindly nursery worker at the garden centre?

No. The seeds were truly fantastic.

The problem is… I didn’t water my seeds.

Simple science.

Stuck in the same patterns of thinking and behaviour?

Not experiencing the growth you desire?

You may have a watering issue.

I can relate!

Like with my seeds, the desire for fruit is just wishful thinking unless I water my learning with action.

Learning new things but doing nothing about it is like putting seeds in a pot in your room and forgetting about them. The seeds may draw some water out of the soil, or perhaps someone else may water them, if you’re lucky. The most likely scenario is your seeds will dry out and not grow.

You give life (‘water’) to your learning by putting it into action.

 Watering a plant, enables it to grow. | Putting learning into action, enables behaviour change

Real life lessons to inspire you

Celia and I recently travelled to India to work with My Choices Foundation (MCF). MCF is an NGO that aims to give women, children and families choices to live lives free from violence, abuse and exploitation. Their programmes focus on stopping domestic violence and ending human-trafficking in India. (Watch this incredible video about their courageous fight against violence and trafficking.) 

It is estimated that 15 million women are victims of sex trafficking in India each year. 40% are adolescents and children, some as young as nine years old*. MCF is the biggest anti-human trafficking organisation in India, with programmes in 10 states.

We first worked with MCF in 2022 when we trained 60 leaders in creative thinking and creative problem-solving during a two-day retreat.

Two years later, we were thrilled to see how these creative-thinking, eager learners, committed to their growth have watered their learning with action and have seen great results.

Here are some of their stories to inspire you to do the same.


Lesson 1: Santanu

Santanu Sarkar | Villagers receive training at a Safe Village Programme

Santanu Sarkar is based in West Bengal and heads up a team who conduct Safe Village Programmes (SVPs.) Their job is to reach as many villages as possible, educating fathers, mothers, children, and teachers with the awareness of the methods, movements, tricks and traps of human traffickers. The traffickers spin their webs in many forms and use everything from marriage proposals, wedding match-makers, lucrative job offers to lure unsuspecting women and children into slavery.

It is estimated that of the 15 million women that are victims of sex trafficking in India each year, 40% are adolescents and children, some as young as nine years old*.


Santanu’s challenge: How can I find creative ways for continuous improvement?

Santanu told us that he applied his learning about the attitude of a creative thinker and actively worked at developing this attitude. In particular, he developed curiosity with a positive, possibility mindset. He started asking himself daily:

“How might we deliver more effective programmes?”

“How might we reach more villages without burning out as a team?”

“Is there a more creative way of doing this?”

Using our imagination to change our perspective is a powerful creative tool which impacts our brain chemistry. At a neurological level, we react very differently to the words: “Now I am going to test your knowledge,” versus “Let’s play a fun game,” even though the activity which follows may be exactly the same quiz.

In addition to stretching his imagination with curious questions, Shantanu also began to ask these questions with his team. Together, they began to look at what they do through different lenses. They started seeing and then implementing many small tweaks as  well as some bigger changes to improve their impact and effectiveness.

Through pushing himself outside of his comfort zone and watering his learning with consistent action (asking ‘how might we’ questions), Santanu grew his small team’s output from 10 to 40 Safe Village Programmes per month. They're distributing more education comics than ever before and are seeing a drop in incidents reported in their districts. 

One of the creative solutions the team has found is to partner with a successful national school tutoring program which will take on the SVP program and deliver it themselves through an enormous network of implementation partners. Santanu explained,

"The creative thinking exercises that we did during the retreat in 2022 showed me that when we work together, a beautiful pattern emerges. I recognised that when My Choices Foundation works alone as an organisation, our work is not as effective. I decided to focus on partnering with other smaller NGOs. This caused our impact to explode."


Copy Santanu's action steps:

  • Reframe your issues into positive, challenges (e.g. from “My team is stressed by the huge need for our programmes” to “How might we reach more villages without burning out as a team?”)
  • Stay curious and keep asking yourself and your team questions which inspire and challenge you.


Lesson 2: Pearl 

Pearl Choragudi | Leaders from MCF at our recent retreat

Pearl Choragudi is the head of Operation PeaceMaker. Her job is to lead the team of 60+ counsellors in their work of providing support to victims of domestic violence. She also coordinates the teams who take calls from their 24/7 helpline and a police-parntering network which reaches into 10 states in India. In addition Pearl manages teams who operate safe houses, provide medical care and perform legal services.

Pearl’s challenge: How do I find time to think creatively with my extremely demanding schedule?

Pearl told us that a key learning for her from our 2022 Retreat was the power of unfocus. She watered her learning by starting to take mini breaks in nature.

As a busy executive in a hectic and emotionally draining job, she hardly has time to drink tea, let alone invest chunks of time on 'creative thinking' or 'creative pursuits.' However, Pearl was now convinced of the fact that time spent on creative thinking would not only save her time down the line, but also help her to maintain her intensive pace of work. She decided she would take 5-10 minutes a few times a week to go into the street outside her office in Hyderabad and interact with nature. She began carefully observing trees in the street or paying more attention to the pretty leaves on the pavement.

One day she noticed some beautifully patterned pebbles and absentmindedly began to collect a few. Turning the stones over her hands, her racing and anxious thoughts began to subside. She began to focus intently on the stones blocking the world and her to-do list out of her mind. Before she knew it she was balancing the stones on another. Her curiosity led her to wonder: how many stones could I balance in a single tower?

As she balanced the stones (and calmed her body and mind in the process) many lessons occurred to her which provoked helpful, reflective questions about concerns at work. For example,

  1. The bottom stone must be strong and firm (How strong are the foundations of my programs?)
  2. Too much ambition/ trying to make my stone tower too high results in the whole thing tumbling down (Where might I be trying to take on more than I can handle? Am I causing my team to burn out by setting unrealistic deadlines?)
  3. I need to hold my breath when placing a stone or my breath can cause the stone to wobble and fall (Where do I need more control/ withholding / stillness in each day to prevent everything else from toppling down?)

When Pearl showed us the pictures of her stone towers, we were delighted and asked if she had learned to do this from popular Rock Balancing art. She was surprised it was done by anyone else and had never heard of rock balancing before!


Copy Pearl's action steps:

  • Take a mini-break in nature TODAY.
  • 5-10 minutes. Start with 5 minutes, you can always extend it. But rather start small, than not trying this at all.
  • Go out into a garden, up onto a roof or find an indoor plant. If you’re still stuck, you can examine your own hand.
  • Sit quietly. Notice your breathing. In particular, try to pause and be still after your exhalation.
  • Observe carefully the natural object in front of you (a tree, flowing water, a leaf, your hand)
  • Notice your PFC (director mind) quietening down. Simply observe every detail you can as if you are seeing this object for the first time.
  • Afterwards, note down your thoughts. Does anything you noticed in this mini-nature break relate to a problem you need to solve in your work or life in general?


Lesson 3: Amrita 

 Amrita Grace Manmohan | Leaders from MCF at our recent retreat

Amrita Grace Manmohan is a senior counsellor and project leader at My Choices Foundation. Besides her counselling work, she trains local woman, called Dragon Slayers, to work within her own community providing in-field support to survivors of abuse and running awareness workshops for her community groups and schools.


Amrita’s challenges: How do I move my ideas to action? and How can my team get better at problem solving?

 Amrita found the practice of morning journaling, that she learned on our last retreat, to be a very useful and impactful tool. This is a daily practice of stream-of-consciousness writing. She now journals regularly and she said that it helps her to move her ideas into action. She explains, “When you put down a thought on paper, it grows wings. The thought becomes more concrete when you see it in black and white. You can think more deeply about it and build upon it. It helps you to imagine, visualise and create.”

Another tool that Amrita found helpful is the Creative Problem Solving techniques that we shared with her. She told us that she and her team have become adept at seeing problems from different perspectives. They have learned to welcome input from people outside the team. This has helped to amplify their work.

She said, “The training we received has benefitted the programmes. We have begun to look at things differently. We have begun to brainstorm in a different way. We ask, ‘How we do this differently? How can we get a better audience or get the programme to be more effective?’ We are not so rigid in our thinking anymore. We are more flexible in terms of taking more ideas from the team and, in fact, taking ideas from outside the team. We are looking at thinking from various angles now.”


Copy Amrita's action steps: 

  • Write as soon as you wake up each morning. The Morning Journal is a powerful way to develop you creative thinking. It is a daily practice of writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness thought. This is ideally done first thing in the morning by hand.  Morning Journals are not to be shared with anyone. They help clear the mind of ‘clutter’, uncover new ideas, silence the inner critic and combat fear, anxiety and other negative emotions. Find out more about this incredibly powerful practice here
  • Actively seek out new perspectives and experiences to open up new ways of thinking
    • Try a new route to work
    • Travel with a colleague
    • Try mixing up your team meetings with a new process, e.g. ask different team members to lead the meeting or to run a check-in or ice-breaker
    • Experiment with different food
    • Try new types of exercise
    • Read or listen to something way out of your normal sphere


Closing thoughts

I am so grateful to be alive in this information age, with the means to access such a vast array of learning. From clever kitchen hacks (@creative_explained, Armen Adamjan – my favourite) to quick how-to videos (such as how to de-lice your child’s hair, a recent learning of mine), to AI for creativity courses (Dave Birss you rock) to full on degrees. There is so much we can learn.

Seeds are everywhere.

Don’t be a person full of dry seeds.

Water them.

Put your learning into action.

When it comes to growing your creative intelligence, I’m constantly amazed at how much growth I see from the tiniest of regular actions.


Over to you.

Like the creative thinking team of Dragon Slayers at My Choices Foundation, grow your creative intelligence with brave, tiny actions that make a big difference.


*Source:  My Choices Foundation Impact Report #9, 2022


To find out about creative thinking and/or creative problem-solving workshops for your team, contact us at [email protected]



Get regular creative inspiration

Sign up to CREATIVE CAFFEINE to receive free tools, resources and inspiration to help grow your creative intelligence. It's your steaming cup of creativity stimulation!

We hate spam and promise to safeguard your information.