For creativity, hit the pause button

By Natalie Turner, Author, Yes You Can Innovate

Sitting on a balcony overlooking a paddy field, I start to pen this article. I am here in Bali for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. I have wanted to come here ever since I heard about the festival three years ago but, like most things that require ring-fencing time and personal space, I put it off.

I have been reflecting a lot on this recently — the fact of putting things off — particularly in the light of leading innovation and, to be even more precise, being a woman leading innovation.

If innovation is the creation of value out of new ideas, the imperative to take stock and create space, not only for fresh insight and stimulation but also for self-care and wellness, needs to be jealously guarded.

It is easier said than done, as the responsibilities of work, home and family life build up and the pressures to perform or conform crowd in our desire to bring new ideas into the world.

Leading innovation requires strong internal capabilities and skills as we are moving, often, into unknown territory, whether we are entrepreneurs, corporate executives or planning to launch a new venture. Building confidence, having access to networks and the ability to collaborate with others are critical capacities — as innovating can often be lonely, difficult and very hard work.

Having a strong sense of belief — not only in ourselves but also in the vision we want to bring into the world — and the ability to keep picking ourselves up when the going gets tough are entry requirements.

This calls for an extra dose of resilience, probably more so than for normal forms of leadership. For innovation, by its very nature, is about pioneering, and this means that a degree of risk-taking and trail-blazing is required.


Lack of access to skills is often cited as one of the challenges facing women as they aspire to be innovation leaders. So it is exciting to see initiatives in Singapore, with its emphasis on learning and development, helping to bridge this gap.

Last year, for example, Google Singapore, in collaboration with Athena, a network for female entrepreneurs, created a Programme called WeoW — Women Entrepreneurs on the Web — to build up the skills of women business owners in Google technologies and online marketing. I had the privilege of being one of the participants.

I have been impressed, since moving to Singapore four years ago, by just how supportive women are of each other and by the number of networks here, such as Athena and PrimeTime, another equally influential women’s organisation created to build connections and help women to succeed.

I often have the privilege of speaking at women’s networks inside organisations designed to help female executives hone their skills and capabilities. In response to the challenges that I hear about at these sessions and my own reflections about the need to create space to help women make leadership a practice, I formed Women who Lead, a retreat experience for female executives.

In the middle of next month, through a connection I made at Athena, I am partnering the Energy Day Spa in Kuala Lumpur to run our next weekend retreat. Women Who Lead combines two worlds — personal health and wellness with professional leadership development.

“Women often spread themselves too thin and need to know how to take better care of their health,” says Datin Ramona Suleiman, serial entrepreneur and founder of the spa.

However, it is far more than only going to a spa for a massage. It is about learning how to build the critical supports we need in life so we can lead from a place of strength; body, soul and spirit. Lack of sleep, bad nutrition, little exercise and an absence of self-reflection will eventually take their toll not only on our bodies, but our minds and ideas too. We will burn out.

It requires more than going away for a few days on retreat; we need to build supports into our lives that we can take with us wherever we go.


It has been interesting, over the last few days, learning from professional (many of them women) novelists how they master their craft. While there is no one set rule or process, all are reflecting, in some way, on their past and their present, being keen observers of life and its motivations.

And while some spoke of their discipline and focus — two hours writing, break, two hours writing, walk, two hours writing, eat — another spoke of how a character for her book came to her as she breast-fed her baby in a dreamlike state in the middle of the night.

Creating a rhythm that combines, and cultivates, creativity and discipline is what helps them to succeed. So often we want things to just appear, or we are left in that place of ever desiring but never quite materialising. Their words of wisdom: Just start.

Closer to home, Singapore has its own Writers Festival coming up next month. It, too, is full of what will no doubt be insightful talks, workshops and creative inspiration.

Whatever your gender, see if you can hit the pause button, take a breather from day-to-day pressures and learn from another world unlike your own. You might just be pleasantly surprised.


This article was written by Natalie Turner and originally published in Today Online on October 16th, 2013