Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking

Aspects of creative thinking that are not usually taught.

  1. You are creative. The artist is not a special person, each one of us is a special kind of artist. Every one of us is born a creative, spontaneous thinker. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief. Creative people believe they are creative. People who believe they are not creative, are not. Once you have a particular identity and set of beliefs about yourself, you become interested in seeking out the skills needed to express your identity and beliefs. This is why people who believe they are creative become creative. If you believe you are not creative, then there is no need to learn how to become creative and you don’t. The reality is that believing you are not creative excuses you from trying or attempting anything new. When someone tells you that they are not creative, you are talking to someone who has no interest and will make no effort to be a creative thinker.
  2. Creative thinking is work. You must have passion and the determination to immerse yourself in the process of creating new and different ideas. Then you must have patience to persevere against all adversity. All creative geniuses work passionately hard and produce incredible numbers of ideas, most of which are bad. In fact, more bad poems were written by the major poets than by minor poets. Thomas Edison created 3000 different ideas for lighting systems before he evaluated them for practicality and profitability. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart produced more than six hundred pieces of music, including forty-one symphonies and some forty-odd operas and masses, during his short creative life. Rembrandt produced around 650 paintings and 2,000 drawings and Picasso executed more than 20,000 works. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets. Some were masterpieces, while others were no better than his contemporaries could have written, and some were simply bad.
  3. You must go through the motions of being creative. When you are producing ideas, you are replenishing neurotransmitters linked to genes that are being turned on and off in response to what your brain is doing, which in turn is responding to challenges. When you go through the motions of trying to come up with new ideas, you are energizing your brain by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times you try to get ideas, the more active your brain becomes and the more creative you become. If you want to become an artist and all you did was paint a picture every day, you will become an artist. You may not become another Vincent Van Gogh, but you will become more of an artist than someone who has never tried.
  4. Your brain is not a computer. Your brain is a dynamic system that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences real or fictional. You can synthesize experience; literally create it in your own imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail. This discovery is what enabled Albert Einstein to create his thought experiments with imaginary scenarios that led to his revolutionary ideas about space and time. One day, for example, he imagined falling in love. Then he imagined meeting the woman he fell in love with two weeks after he fell in love. This led to his theory of acausality. The same process of synthesizing experience allowed Walt Disney to bring his fantasies to life.
  5. There is no one right answer. Reality is ambiguous. Aristotle said it is either A or not-A. It cannot be both. The sky is either blue or not blue. This is black and white thinking as the sky is a billion different shades of blue. A beam of light is either a wave or not a wave (A or not-A). Physicists discovered that light can be either a wave or particle depending on the viewpoint of the observer. The only certainty in life is uncertainty. When trying to get ideas,  do not censor or evaluate them as they occur. Nothing kills creativity faster than self-censorship of ideas while generating them. Think of all your ideas as possibilities and generate as many as you can before you decide which ones to select. The world is not black or white. It is grey.
  6. Never stop with your first good idea. Always strive to find a better one and continue until you have one that is still better. In 1862, Phillip Reis demonstrated his invention which could transmit music over the wires. He was days away from improving it into a telephone that could transmit speech. Every communication expert in Germany dissuaded him from making improvements, as  they said the telegraph is good enough. No one would buy or use a telephone. Ten years later, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. Spencer Silver developed a new adhesive for 3M that stuck to objects but could easily be lifted off. It was first marketed as a bulletin board adhesive so the boards could be moved easily from place to place. There was no market for it. Silver didn’t discard it. One day Arthur Fry, another 3M employee, was singing in the church’s choir when his page marker fell out of his hymnal. Fry coated his page markers with Silver’s adhesive and discovered the markers stayed in place, yet lifted off without damaging the page. Hence the Post-it Notes were born. Thomas Edison was always trying to spring board from one idea to another in his work. He spring boarded his work from the telephone (sounds transmitted) to the phonograph (sounds recorded) and, finally, to motion pictures (images recorded).
  7. Expect the experts to be negative. The more expert and specialized a person becomes,  the more their mindset becomes narrowed and the more fixated they become on confirming what they believe to be absolute. Consequently, when confronted with new and different ideas,  their focus will be on conformity. Does it conform with what I know is right? If not, experts will spend all their time showing and explaining why it can’t be done and why it can’t work. They will not look for ways to make it work or get it done because this might demonstrate that what they regarded as absolute is not absolute at all. This is why when Fred Smith created Federal Express, every delivery expert in the U.S. predicted its certain doom. After all, they said, if this delivery concept was doable, the Post Office or UPS would have done it long ago.
  8. Trust your instincts. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged. Albert Einstein was expelled from school because his attitude had a negative effect on serious students; he failed his university entrance exam and had to attend a trade school for one year before finally being admitted; and was the only one in his graduating class who did not get a teaching position because no professor would recommend him. One professor said Einstein was “the laziest dog” the university ever had. Beethoven’s parents were told he was too stupid to be a music composer. Charles Darwin’s colleagues called him a fool and what he was doing “fool’s experiments” when he worked on his theory of biological evolution. Walt Disney was fired from his first job on a newspaper because “he lacked imagination.” Thomas Edison had only two years of formal schooling, was totally deaf in one ear and was hard of hearing in the other, was fired from his first job as a newsboy and later fired from his job as a telegrapher; and still he became the most famous inventor in the history of the U.S.
  9. There is no such thing as failure. Whenever you try to do something and do not succeed, you do not fail. You have learned something that does not work. Always ask “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?” Whenever someone tells you that they have never made a  mistake, you are talking to someone who has never tried anything new.
  10. You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are. Interpret your own experiences. All experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. You give them meaning by the way you choose to interpret them. If you are a priest, you see evidence of God everywhere. If you are an atheist, you see the absence of God everywhere. IBM observed that no one in the world had a personal computer. IBM interpreted this to mean there was no market. College dropouts, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, looked at the same absence of personal computers and saw a massive opportunity. Once Thomas Edison was approached by an assistant while working on the filament for the light bulb. The assistant asked Edison why he didn’t give up. “After all,” he said, “you have failed 5000 times.” Edison looked at him and told him that he didn’t understand what the assistant meant by failure, because, Edison said, “I have discovered 5000 things that don’t work.” You construct your own reality by how you choose to interpret your experiences.
  11. Always approach a problem on its own terms. Do not trust your first perspective of a problem as it will be too biased toward your usual way of thinking. Always look at your problem from multiple perspectives. Always remember that genius is finding a perspective no one else has taken. Look for different ways to look at the problem. Write the problem statement several times using different words. Take another role, for example, how would someone else see it, how would Jay Leno, Pablo Picasso, George Patton see it? Draw a picture of the problem, make a model, or mold a sculpture. Take a walk and look for things that metaphorically represent the problem and force connections between those things and the problem (How is a broken store window like my communications problem with my students?) Ask your friends and strangers how they see the problem. Ask a child. How would a ten year old solve it? Ask a grandparent. Imagine you are the problem. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
  12. Learn to think unconventionally. Creative geniuses do not think analytically and logically. Conventional, logical, analytical thinkers are exclusive thinkers which means they exclude all information that is not related to the problem. They look for ways to eliminate possibilities. Creative geniuses are inclusive thinkers which mean they look for ways to include everything, including things that are dissimilar and totally unrelated. Generating associations and connections between unrelated or dissimilar subjects is how they provoke different thinking patterns in their brain.  These new patterns lead to new connections which give them a different way to focus on the information and different ways to interpret what they are focusing on. This is how original and truly novel ideas are created. Albert Einstein once famously remarked “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

And, finally, Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.


Originally published on December 2, 2011 by Michael Michalko in Creative Thinkering


Michael Michalko

Michael Michalko

Michael Michalko is the author of Creative ThinkeringThinkertoys (A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques)Cracking Creativity, and ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck). While an army officer, he organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and international academics to find and collect the best inventive thinking methods and techniques in the world. He has expanded and taught these techniques to numerous Fortune 500 companies, associations, government agencies and organizations around the world. He lives in Rochester, New York and Naples, Florida. His website is:

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The Black Dress

Photo by Roz Morris / Photo editing by Terrabyte Graphics

Photo by Roz Morris / Photo editing by Terrabyte Graphics

Deleted Scene from “My Memories of a Future Life,” by Roz Morris

This is a scene I wanted to include in my novel My Memories of a Future Life. Briefly, the narrator is a musician who is injured, and is clinging to the hope that rest will cure her. In the early part of the novel she is making bargains with fate—if she rests, the universe will give her back her playing and her life.

I didn’t want to delete this from the book, but I had other scenes that made the same point. When I’m in final revisions I cut ruthlessly. I frequently ditch material that is perfectly good, and that includes scenes that I’m in love with. It takes discipline and soul-searching, but by that stage the story has a will of its own that overrides my ego. It doesn’t listen to me wail that I liked a scene. It is ruled by an overall rhythm of event, event, event; onwards, onwards, onwards. If a scene circles over already trodden ground, something must go.

So this is a scene I cut reluctantly. I liked its simplicity, the tiny slice it showed of a musician’s life and the totemic responsibility Carol put into one garment. In real life it was inspired by a family heirloom—another tug for the heartstrings, although that matters to no one but me. Even though it didn’t make it to the page, I like to think she still did it, off screen in the moments we didn’t see.


The house was quiet. On the coat rack next to the door was a dress in dry-cleaner’s wrappers. A Post-it note was stuck to the cellophane, scrawled with Jerry’s flamboyant script.

Picked this up for you. The dry cleaners were about to give it to Oxfam.

The dress was black velvet, three-quarter length. A performance dress. Classical musicians have a bizarre working wardrobe; you wear what you like for rehearsals, but performances demand formal wear. For the women it had to be black, with a modest neckline, a skirt at least nine inches below the knee. It was a constant battle to find clothes that obeyed those rules and weren’t funereal.

I’d found this dress in Camden Lock market three weeks ago. I wouldn’t have been there if I’d been playing, but I was out roaming London on another tour of nothing. The dress was on a rail between pseudo-Victorian nightgowns and mangy fur tippets. It was unloved—the seam split on one side; the other side fastened only by ancient press studs which left an alarming glimpse of flesh underneath. But the other seams were tough enough for a performance. The velvet was silk and the pile so fine it hung from my shoulders like liquid. I took it to the cleaners and discussed repairing it and putting in a zip. They warned me it would take a few weeks. That was fine, I said.

I left it there. It would count the days for me. I imagined picking it up on my way back from the hospital and carrying it over the threshold. I’d try it on; we’d nod at each other in the mirror. New start.

Now I didn’t even lift the cellophane to see if they’d done a good job. I threw it straight in the wardrobe and shut the door.


Keys to the Future (Compliments of Q2 Music)

Live from Abrons Arts Center on May 25th, 2011



Roz Morris

Roz Morris

Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris. She has a second blog, where she runs The Undercover Soundtrack – a regular feature about writers who use music in their creative process.

My Memories of a Future Life AudioMy Memories Of A Future Life


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PSI and Forced Association

Atomic Collision

Image by mynameishalo

PSI (Problem + Stimulus = Idea)

When to use it

PSI is a simple approach that can be used in several ways.

As a simple thinking tool, it can trigger an effective thinking process.

As a framework for a whole approach, it can accommodate a number of methods of stimulating ideas.

It is a good tool to use when you are stuck, as it gives a logical structure.

As a quick tool it sets a direction. More serious use requires effort to define the problem and experiment with stimuli.


X  Long



X  Psychological



X  Group


How to use it

Define the Problem

The P of PSI stands for Problem. The first step is thus to clarify the problem that you are seeking to solve. If you are not clear on the problem, you will have difficulty in finding a good solution! Some thoughts for this:

  • Try writing it down in several ways.
  • Say the same thing in different words.
  • Describe it from different viewpoints.
  • Think about what ‘success’ means.
  • Think backwards: what is ‘not success’.

For example, if you are seeking to stop a window leaking, you can define the problem as staying dry or keeping out water, it can be about sealant or surfaces, materials or coatings, corners or the entire frame. You can even look at it from the viewpoint of the rain or the window.

Find a Stimulus

The S of PSI stands for Stimulus. It is amazing the number of stimuli you can find around you. Almost anything will do, although something evocative is better, as it will trigger more ideas. The bottom line with stimuli is that if they work, then fine, but if they do not work or run out, then there are plenty more lying around.

For example, a stimulus for the leaky window could be found by looking through the window. Can you see a tree, a car, a running child?

Bang them together

The magic equation of PSI is:

P + S = I

or, more fully:

Problem + Stimulus + Idea

In other words, you bang the Problem and the Stimulus together and see what Ideas this creates. It sound simple, and is. But that does not mean it is not effective. As in much creativity, it’s the simple things that work best.

Thus, for example, when you look at the tree, you could wonder how the inside of the tree stays dry. Could you apply some bark? It has fibres in it. Could you pack the area with waterproof fibre? Or what about the car. That has windows – how does it keep out the water, especially at speed in the driving rain. It uses rubber seals that fit closely over the window and flex with any movement.


Problem: How to get plants to grow in contaminated soil.

Stimulus: Fire

Idea: Have a bonfire in a pit to burn away the contamination, then root the plant in the ashes.

How it works

PSI uses the principle of forced association, which gets your brain out a rut by bringing together things that have not previously been combined. In its flight from the discomfort of this, the subconscious brain will give you whatever you want, including useful ideas.

PSI takes this a step further by deliberately using the problem as one part of the combinatory equation.

A very simple principle that is at the heart of much creativity is Bisociation can be used both as an understanding and even as a stand-alone creativity tool.

Forced Association

Moon Collision Dust

Moon Collision Dust by Steve Spangler

The simple principle of forced association is of ‘banging things together’ that have not previously been brought together, or at least not recently.


Bisociation, a term coined by Arthur Koestler in his book, ‘The Act of Creation’, where he discusses the principle of forced association, amongst others. It is a quite a nice term, combining ‘bi’ for two ideas and ‘association’.

A + B = C

A simple ‘calculus’ of forced association is the equation A + B = C, where A and B are two things being brought together that result in the idea, C.

The lever of Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the term used by social psychologist Leon Festinger to describe the state of discomfort created when we hold two opposing thoughts in the mind at the same time. In social psychology, this classically happens in such situations when a person who thinks of them as being kind and thoughtful does something like walk past a beggar on the street without giving them anything. They typically react by trying to get away from this discomfort, for example by walking faster or pretending the beggar is not there.

In creative forced association, the act of verbal vandalism in bringing together two words or thoughts that do not go together is enough to shock the subconscious brain into giving you whatever you want, including good ideas, just to get away from the discomfort of holding together words that it does not think should go together.



How To Invent Almost Anything

How To Invent Almost Anything

David Straker is a creative professional who has spent many years in R&D (hardware and software), won a few patents for his employers, and since the 90s, has been a business consultant—training people in blue-chip companies around the world. He has written a number of books, including two on problem-solving and one on inventing.


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Can You Be Too Passionate About Music?

“Why some performers’ attitudes may hurt them.”

Photo by Danil Kalinin

Photo by Danil Kalinin (

Becoming a professional musician requires an incredible amount of work, and having a passion for music can help motivate the many required hours of practice. But can a passion for music also be destructive? In Somerset Maugham’s haunting short story “The Alien Corn,” a young man who is heir to a vast family fortune commits suicide when he realizes that he will never be more than a talented amateur pianist. Clearly, his passion for music proved to be dysfunctional.

Recently, some psychologists have made a distinction between “harmonious” and “obsessive” passion. Someone with a “harmonious” passion for an activity engages in that activity freely, without internal or external pressure. He or she leaves room for other activities in life. An “obsessive” passion, in contrast, results in an uncontainable desire to engage in a particular activity. Someone with an obsessive passion will continue to practice an instrument or play a sport even when doing so will exacerbate an injury. He or she will engage in the chosen activity to the point where health deteriorates, relationships are strained, and finances suffer.

Someone with a “harmonious” passion for an activity engages in that activity freely, without internal or external pressure.

A recent study by Canadian researchers examined these different types of passion in expert musicians. They found that musicians with these two different orientations set different kinds of goals, with different results. The harmoniously passionate musicians set “mastery” goals. This means that they set goals to learn and master difficult tasks, such as playing a tricky passage at its proper tempo, or being able to play a challenging piece from memory by a specific date. Having set these kinds of goals, the harmoniously passionate musicians tended to practice in specific and deliberate ways. The obsessively passionate musicians were more apt to set performance-approach or performance-avoidance goals, which refer rather to comparisons with other musicians than to mastery of specific tasks. For example, an obsessively passionate music student might set a goal to play better than others in her class, or to avoid getting the lowest standing in a competition. Because the harmoniously passionate musicians played their instruments freely, they did not feel the need to compare themselves with others. The tendency of the obsessively passionate to compare themselves to others seems related to the internal pressure they put upon themselves to do well.

An “obsessive” passion, in contrast, results in an uncontainable desire to engage in a particular activity.

The researchers found that performance levels could be predicted by the type of goals the musicians set, which in turn was related to the type of passion they displayed. Having a harmonious passion for music was linked to higher levels of performance achievement than was having an obsessive passion. In fact, as the authors write, “setting goals to outperform others seems to undermine musical performance.” Having a harmonious passion for music was also positively linked with life satisfaction, while there was no connection found between obsessive passion and life satisfaction. This is perhaps related to the tendency of obsessively passionate musicians to experience guilt and anger when they are prevented from playing.

A passion for music, and a passion for playing an instrument well, can be a source of great pleasure and well-being in life. But as Maugham’s story hints and as research seems to show, not all forms of passion will necessarily lead to excellence or to happiness.



Jeanette Bicknell

Jeanette Bicknell

Jeanette Bicknell, Ph.D is the author of Why Music Moves Us. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from York University, and has taught in universities in the U.S. and Canada. She is the author of academic articles on the philosophy of music, aesthetics, ethics, and the history of philosophy, and is currently working on a book about singing. She also works as a mediator and business consultant.

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Why Music Moves Us

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Why Music Moves Us

by Jeanette Bicknell, Ph.D
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Stupidity Rules for Creative Professionals

To be innovative, enter the Zone of Productive Stupidity.

Japanese Maple

Steve Aldous (Gigapic)

I’m having trouble being stupid. Productively stupid, that is. I have infinite reserves of unproductive stupidity—ignoring my car’s oil light, losing my wallet, hiring the wrong person. That’s the variety of a presidential candidate forgetting during a national debate which federal agencies he wants to eliminate (“Oops”).

Productive stupidity is something else. Productive stupidity pushes us beyond merely executing ideas and can lure us to extraordinary productivity. But I’m getting ahead of myself with that know-it-all assertion. See my problem?

1. Throwing Out the Creative Baby with the Theoretical Bathwater

A lot of popular advice being doled out about creative productivity has its catchy truisms: Get things done. Make ideas happen. Cultivate grit and sweat more than imagination. I admire and respect Scott Belsky’s Make Ideas Happen team & work (@scottbelsky) and David Allen’s Get Things Done team & work (@gtdguy).   These imperatives can shake aspiring creatives and professionals out of their daydreaming stupor. And they’re consistent with the interventions I suggest for clients and organizations as well as my own adages of “Show up and shape time” and “Stoke the creative fire.” They’re also consistent with some social psychologists’ research in creativity. I consider myself among these creative activists, to a point.

Creative activists’ advice stems in part from a deep-rooted backlash to previous creativity theorists. These previous trends, from Edward DeBono’s lateral thinking and parallel thinking (@Edward_deBono) to J.P. Guilford’s divergent thinking, emphasized how to rewire an individual’s “creative thinking.” These theories are useful but limited. I’m admittedly oversimplifying them for the sake of space here, but in the 1960s and 1950s respectively they generally could not take advantage of more current evidence that shows how social creativity is.

Creativity is Social

Creativity is Social

Creativity is social. In part. Our coming up with great ideas might depend less on being a lone genius holed up in a cave-like study or lab lost in reverie—the current stream of creative activist and social psychologist thought goes—than on our shaping an optimal environment, building social networks, leveraging luck (Thank you, Jim Collins and Dr. Richard Wiseman), and organizing routines. I evangelize about these matters to my clients in meetings and my tribes at events.

“If you want to help people cultivate their creativity, don’t give them more wonder.” That’s what one social psychologist whose work I respect recently told me. “Give them more opportunities to be connected with other people.”

So here’s where I question and take exception. Are wonder and being social mutually exclusive, as he assumes? Is wonder solely the province of the mythical lone genius, as he assumes? As someone accustomed to stake out his intellectual turf in the sciences, was he and are other experts ready to diminish previous theories of creativity outside this field and trend? Is there, as I think he assumed, less value in solitude, deeply felt imagination, and the workings of the individual’s creative mind than in a creative person’s social life and environment?

Must we choose between creative thinking and creative doing?

Are we throwing out the creative baby with the theoretical bathwater? I don’t know.

 2. Back to Stupidity

Do you see how much trouble I have being productively stupid? I question a lot. But behind those questions I assume I have some deeper answers. And this is where those of us who have been working as creatives, who have been refining our métier, who have been thinking about and researching creativity for decades get into trouble. Our expertise and desire to know or appear to know traps us.

From what? From the deeply felt imagination and the nuanced mind of not-knowing that in fact does stem from hours of silence so you can hear thinking in colors as you compose and as you witness stray goldfish that flutter on your imagination’s margins as you write or theorize. So you can let the present moment of language and lines (for writers) or light and lines (for artists) or logos and lines (for designers) or movement and lines (for dancers) guide you more than your assumptions. You can let the troubling questions that fascinate you guide you more than preconceived answers.

Microbiologist Martin A. Schwartz knows something about this nuanced state of not-knowing. He writes,

Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time.

Andre Dubus III has written one of the most compelling and exceptionally well written stories I’ve read in years—the memoir Townie. It explores how he as a young boy became hell bent on becoming tough enough to plow down the neighborhood bullies, how the passion of bloody violence overcomes him through much of his young adulthood, how he takes an unlikely journey to becoming a writer, and what all of this has to do with his father Andre Dubus II—one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated short story writers.

So how did he pull it off?

“I was cultivating stupidity.” That might seem like an odd claim for this skilled author whose novel  A House of Sand and Fog has been an Oprah’s Book Club pick and made into a film starring Ben Kingsley. Taking a cue from poet William Stafford, Dubus says he tried to be a receiving vessel, to accept anything that came, and was willing to fail.

Schwartz told me of his scientific experiments, “Much of the time I don’t know what I’m doing.” Of writing his first memoir, Dubus said essentially the same thing.

A creative director of an innovative advertising agency recently contacted me about speaking to his agency’s members. He mentioned that in an employee review he tried to encourage the person to be more stupid. I knew what he meant, and at that moment, I knew I wanted to work with this guy.

It’s that kind of stupidity I admire.


Solitude and silence can help you excise the "stuff" that your mind has accumulated.

And doesn’t that level of confident productive stupidity often require the opposite of what some social psychologists and productivity experts champion? Doesn’t it require solitude and silence? Solitude and silence can help you excise the “stuff” that your mind has accumulated. Solitude and silence helps you empty the branded messages and signature designs and trademark styles you’ve constructed to present your recognizable public creative self.

Solitude and silence, even long walks and long showers, can help dismantle enough of our conscious reality to let breakthroughs emerge.

3. The Productive Stupidity Zone at the Perimeters of a Creative Field

Every creative field—be it architecture, design, dance, science, writing, consulting—and every industry has an understood circle of convention. These conventions might include principles or protocols, elements of craft or choreography.

This circle’s boundaries encompass the industry’s or field’s accepted conventions. Most successful and extraordinary creatives and creative enterprisers understand and even master some of these conventions. They dance confidently within the circle.

And most creative professionals and professional creatives have their own personal field-circle, their own assumptions not just of what to create but of how to create it. Over years of practice, they’ve refined and revised this circle. Perhaps they’ve become maestros of such personal field-circles.

We construct our own perceptual circles within the social circle.

Usually the exceptional creatives and enterprisers find ways to take their minds and actions to a field’s perimeters. They stalk those boundaries between the known and unknown, the rational and irrational, the accepted and the derided. They become creative shaman.

At that perimeter, that boundary, we come to the Productive Stupidity Zone.

Zone of Productive Stupidity

Zone of Productive Stupidity

Productive stupidity births breakthroughs by dismantling our own assumptions within an industry field circle or our personal field circle. Here we question the hows. How to create a business (Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Nonconformity @chrisguillebeau). How to cure a disease (any number of scientists). How to publish a book (Seth Godin’s The Domino Project@ThisIsSethsBlog, @ProjectDomino). How to write and promote a book and reach #2 on Amazon on launch day (Michael Bungay Stanier’s End Malaria). How to develop an economy in another country (Paul Romer’s Charter Cities).

“The more comfortable we become with being stupid,” Schwartz writes, “the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.”

How do you get there?

You do connect and interact with others within your field. Mentoring, networking, idea combining, conference attending, Creative Wild Packs (other creatives who will “run” with you and your ideas) – all of these social facets are essential at the foundation.

You do honor your field. You do study your field. You pursue mastery. You honor the craft of whatever you do whether it’s microbiology or consulting or blogging or publishing.

You do sweat. You do your Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours.

And then you dismantle. You question to the edge of insanity. You break down the assumptions. You turn them upside down and sideways. You go to West Texas or Walden Pond or some other strange territory within to remove yourself from the familiar and safe and comfortable. You overlap one field with another and create a hybrid field.

You take risks.

You stop caring what unimportant people or strangers think. You let yourself feel incompetent or heretical or utterly, defiantly stupid. This isn’t high school. This is your one wild creative life.

Go there. Live it.


Wonder is an emotional experience . . .

4. Wonder is the Holy Sh*t Window.

Wonder is an emotional experience of utter receptivity and openness, of boundary dissolution. But openness to what? To the unknown. To the discomfort of shifting boundaries. To the rational ground on which your intellect has stood for years falling out from underneath you.

To learning to fly.

The world is utterly more beautiful than we admit.

We have the power to craft extraordinary stories of who we are and who we might become.

From our unrest, we dismantle and re-create. Over and over again. Like the earth that keeps repeating itself sun cycle after sun cycle not to get it right but to keep playing the day the best it can.

Holy sh*t!

It is that window that wants to open in this know-it-all house.

What About You?

Do you value productive stupidity? How do you cultivate it? Anything I’ve said that you question? Tell me your stories. I love the company.

See you in the woods,

P.S. Shameless promotion moment: Come to the Bahamas or to Taos with me in the winter of 2012, and we’ll cultivate some productive stupidity together.


Jeffrey Davis

Jeffrey Davis | Tracking Wonder

Jeffrey Davis is a creativity consultant and author of The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing (Penguin 2004; Monkfish 2008). He helps creative professionals, authors, and small organizations around the world flourish amidst the vagaries of creative work. He writes the Tracking Wonder blog for Psychology Today and A Hut of Questions blog for creatives at his website He lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with his wife and daughter.

Connect with Jeffrey Davis | Twitter: @JeffreyDavis108


Books by Jeffrey Davis, M.A.:

The Journey from the Center to the Page

The Journey from the Center to the Page

The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing

by Jeff Davis
Monkfish Book Publishing
Buy now


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When Desperate, Flip


Shifting perspective on a challenge, the framing of it, can lead to some great insights and ideas.

When truly desperate to get out of the box, one creative tool is to turn the challenge upside down, inside out, or “flip it.”

A former business partner of mine saved our medical software start-up from disaster using this technique. He said “if we can’t sell software to doctors, why don’t we buy the doctors?” Of course we all thought he’d had something to smoke on the way into the office, and we all slammed the idea the instant it came out of his mouth. On further reflection, it was brilliant, and we changed course rather dramatically. His idea, his flip of the problem frame, led directly to our IPO in 1996.

For real world examples, check out Marelisa Fábrega‘s posts, on the Abundance Blog.

A fellow blogger in the creativity space posted a great piece on this concept with several real world examples, check out the Abundance Blog. I like a lot of Marelisa Fábrega‘s posts, this one related to the concept of reversals, or flips, is a particularly good one. She talks about reversals in the context of the TRIZ methodology (and TRIZ is a lot more than just reversals or flips). Now, you can do a flip without knowing TRIZ, but her short intro on the method is worth the read.

Think of a current challenge and try to turn it on its head. It’s a great way to stretch your thinking.

TRIZ is “a problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature”. 
It was developed by the Soviet inventor and science fiction author Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues, beginning in 1946. In English the name is typically rendered as “the theory of inventive problem solving“, and occasionally goes by the English acronym TIPS.



Gregg Fraley

Gregg Fraley

Gregg Fraley is an author, speaker, and Chief Solver of London based KILN. KILN offers innovation services, including IdeaKeg, a subscription service for innovation teams. Gregg is an experienced innovation process facilitator; his customers include prominent brands like American Crew, Budweiser, and Nestlé Purina. He’s the author of “Jack’s Notebook,” a well-reviewed business fable related to innovation and structured creative problem solving. Jack’s Notebook is used by business schools like U of C Berkeley and St. John’s University, but more importantly it’s been used by thousands of people form all walks of life to amplify their own creativity. Gregg had a 20 year career in the software industry. His earlier experiences included work in advertising, journalism, and interactive television. Avocations include stand-up comedy, cartooning, and improvisation.

Connect with Gregg
Blog | Twitter: @greggfraley

About Kiln Ideas, Ltd.
Kiln is an innovation products and services company that “fires up corporate innovation.” Kiln is part cultural scanning, part self-drive creative idea generation, complimented by hands-on facilitation and innovation training services. Kiln allows companies to stay tuned to trends, while speeding up the front end of innovation. IdeaKeg™ is their new subscription service than offers innovation teams a kinesthetic experience where objects related to current trends are mashed up with business objectives. This stimulates better questions and generates better, more breakthrough, ideas for new business concepts.

Connect with Gregg at Kiln Ideas, Ltd.
Web Site | Twitter: @kilnco | LinkdIn



Jack's Notebook

Jack's Notebook

If you want to start into more advanced creativity practice, you might consider my book – Jack’s Notebook, a business novel about creative problem solving. It’s done in story form, this is not your typical didactic business book!


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Being Prepared to Be Wrong

Ornithopter and creator George R. White

Ornithopter and creator George R. White at St. Augustine. Photographed September 21, 1927.

Whilst thinking about how to approach writing this piece on creativity, I happened to mention the subject on Twitter. When I introduce particular themes to my followers, it’s quite often a deliberate attempt to get ideas bouncing back and forth, in order that I might discover a new angle. On this occasion, however, it was just a passing mention. I mean, I’ve been writing for over twenty years—what could anyone out there really tell me about creativity?

Well, quite a lot, it would appear. One of my followers immediately mentioned Sir Ken Robinson—leader in education, creativity and innovation—and I dutifully trotted along to YouTube to check out his talks. (Incidentally, I highly recommend you take a look; apart from his lectures being very informative, he’s also a very amusing chap.)

Robinson’s focus in the first video I watched was on the way in which we “[educate] people out of their creative capacities”. This struck an immediate chord but, more than this, it was his focus on being prepared to be wrong that particularly hit home. Admittedly, this was in part because it flattered my own creative philosophy, supporting thoughts I’ve had for some time but never really examined (for fear that looking too closely might steal away the magic!), but, also, it struck me as eminently sensible and something that isn’t addressed often enough.

So today I want to discuss being prepared to be “wrong” (please note the quotation marks!)

One of the first things anyone working in any creative field discovers is just how diverse opinion is (and, following on quickly from this, just how willing the majority of people are—whether qualified or not—to share that opinion). Generally, this is a positive. Ideas, opinions, suggestions, these are the things that can, with the right attitude, spark creativity. They can also, however, utterly and completely stifle it.

Peer pressure. We all remember that, I’m sure. A phrase much used when speaking of children. That essentially human need to fit in and be accepted, to not stick your head above the parapet (because we all know what happens when we do that, right?) A folly we recognise very early on, if we are lucky, but, actually—if we are truthful with ourselves—one that the majority of us never completely shake.

Fear of being wrong . . . is the number one inhibitor amongst the many aspiring writers I know.

Fear of being wrong—of doing something somehow “unacceptable”, of producing a too far-out piece of work, of sharing an opinion that might be misconstrued—is the number one inhibitor amongst the many aspiring writers I know. They understand the value of original ideas, but they, as Ken Robinson would quite rightly insist, have been to varying degrees educated out of the risk-taking process that leads to those original ideas. With some, even the very idea of letting other people know that they are writing at all is something they aren’t comfortable with. Why? Well, because, I suppose, they are afraid that they’ll be laughed at—that their spouses, family and friends might somehow think that they are getting above themselves or just living in cloud cuckoo land. (I still very clearly remember some of the looks I used to get when I first “came out” as a writer—so these fears most certainly are not groundless!)

So what to do?

It’s important to look at the terms we are dealing in, first of all. “Wrong”. Just what does that mean? Well, among the Oxford Dictionaries definitions we have “not correct or true” and “unjust, dishonest or immoral”—which pretty much covers it, I suppose. Except that it doesn’t, does it? The terms used to define the original term are actually rather vague and open to interpretation themselves. In order to know what is not correct or true, we have to first decide what is correct and true, and in my experience there are few absolutes in the world of creativity.

This realisation was the real starting point for me. Creativity requires a certain amount of self-confidence—or, rather, confidence in one’s own creative ability, in one’s own capacity to develop those creative skills. This simply isn’t possible if you are constantly asking yourself “what will so-and-so think of this?”, “will my editor like it?” or even “what will the neighbours think?” The first part of the creative process is an awareness that “wrong” is, like much in life, highly subjective—and that hearing that particular word from certain people is the biggest thumbs up you could ever wish for. Understanding this goes at least some way towards creating the necessary fearlessness that anyone working within any creative industry requires . . . that anyone aspiring towards creativity requires.

Risk-taking . . . this is at the heart of any creative endeavour . . .

This isn’t to say that the opinions of others don’t matter. It’s an extremely fine line between taking on board criticism, filtering/disregarding it and using it effectively, and being a prima donna. Who to listen to, what advice to take—these are things that probably can’t be taught in the classroom or workshop environment. Experience, however, is a great educator in this particular arena. As soon as people whose work and track record you respect start picking up on the aspects of your work that you feel particularly original and worthwhile, you start to develop benchmarks to measure by. Before being published, I would often rely upon fellow writers and the few agents and editors who would actually take the time to comment on my submissions to help me gain this vital sense of what was working and what wasn’t. Today, I listen to my readers (though never too much—because that would be creatively fatal!)

Risk-taking . . . this is at the heart of any creative endeavour—however large or small (and, don’t forget, even those terms are relative!) The willingness to embrace that, to be prepared to be “wrong”, is so often the difference between “success” and “failure”. The worst kind of creative failure, however, is to not even try. Simply bowing to that residual sense of peer pressure and never raising your hand to offer your input, never putting pen to paper, never picking up the paintbrush or the palette knife, never telling your boss about your ideas for creatively solving a specific administrative problem because you are afraid of being “wrong” —that is creative failure of the worst kind . . . or, I would even go so far as to say, the only kind.



Gary Murning

Gary Murning

Gary Murning is a novelist living in the northeast of England. His work, largely mainstream fiction, focuses on themes that touch us all — love, death, loss and aspiration — but always with an eye to finding an unusual angle or viewpoint. Quirky and highly readable, his writing aims to entertain first and foremost. If he can also offer a previously unfamiliar perspective or insight, all the better.

His first novel, If I Never, is published by Legend Press and is now available from all major bookstores. Click here to buy If I Never.

His second novel, Children of the Resolution, was published early in 2011. For more information please visit Gary’s Amazon page.

Late in 2011, Gary also set up his own micropublishing company, GWM Publications, with the intention of publishing his own work not considered a good fit for his current publisher. The experience of having full creative control, whilst daunting, is something he relishes. The first GWM Publications release is The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts and is available now for pre-order.

Connect with Gary

Web Site | Facebook | Twitter: @garymurning


Purchase Gary’s Books

Children of the Resolution

Children of the Resolution

If I Never

If I Never

The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts

The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts



Please join the discussion below.


Muse (Photo by Marisa Ross)

Muse (Photo by Marisa Ross)

“Apply the oxygen mask to yourself before assisting your child.” The flight attendant’s instructions never fail to unnerve me. I understand the logic, but the words smack of selfishness. We celebrate individualism. The ubiquitous devices of our time—the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad—begin with a letter that doubles as a personal pronoun.

Parenting should never be self-indulgent. As a father, I have assisted my children by fostering their embrace of creative muses. Whatever tools they needed, they had. Crayons. LEGOs. Cameras. My daughter knows she needn’t ask permission to borrow my laptop if her muse is demanding she write a short story. I know what that feels like, to have words pounding inside your skull in an attempt to escape.

As a toddler my daughter would occasionally awaken, alone and distressed. I would sing her troubled spirit back to sleep, and then, being already awake, enjoy her gentle breathing while releasing those skull-pounding words onto paper. I would write my pre-dawn musings—from serious examinations of the challenges of parenthood to whimsical reflections on how “why” was my daughter’s favorite word—and then put them away. At some point she began sleeping through the night. I put down my pen.

Apply the oxygen mask to yourself before assisting your child.

And now, years later, my daughter and I find ourselves on the campus of an art school for a pre-college visit. I take her hand. I’m so happy for you, I say. You’ll thrive here, surrounded by creative people just like you, passionate spirits who draw, paint, photograph, write. I share my pride, but I mask my envy. She has an artist’s observational eye, however. She sees the truth in my face, hears it in my voice, feels it in my grip. “Why don’t you write anymore, Dad?”

For sixteen years I have instructed my children to live a life of truth. But have I modeled that life? I told my muse that the demands of parenthood forced me to choose my children over her. But that is a lie. I did not have to choose, yet I took the easy path. One day not writing became two, then four, then a year, then a decade.

I hear in my daughter’s question that to her I am a fellow artist. Perhaps her artistic inspiration stemmed not solely from my provision of tools but from her witnessing my stolen moments of creative writing. She views me as having applied the mask to myself first, and she is grateful. But at some point I removed the mask. As I stand with her on that campus, I know her mask is secure. I know as well that it is time for me to return to my muse, and embrace the intake of purified air.



Patrick Ross

Patrick Ross

Patrick Ross is an award-winning journalist in northern Virginia. He is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction with the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and blogs about living an art-committed life at The Artist’s Road. He loves antique maps, historical biographies, and bacon.

Connect with Patrick Ross
The Artist’s Road | @PatrickRwrites

Photo by Lisa Helfert



Patrick Ross Recommends:

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, selected by Phillip Lopate

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, selected by Phillip Lopate

The Next American Essay, Edited and Introduced by John D'Agata

The Next American Essay, Edited and Introduced by John D'Agata

What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better, by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth

What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better, by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth


Please join the discussion below

You Hate to Love Them, But You Can’t Help Yourself

"Swim with sharks long enough . . ."

"Swim with sharks long enough . . ."

Did you know that ‘monster’ and ‘demonstrate’ come from the same root word?
A monster is nothing if not an example, a reverse role model. Outlaws and monsters move in dangerous circles and they can see just fine in the dark, thank you very much.

Sometimes books and TV shows get you to side with pariahs. That’s one hell of a trick. Slowly but surely, they chip away at stereotypes (mob boss, outlaw biker, drug dealer) to paint a finer picture of the person behind the mask.

I’d like to think that we are growing as a civilization when we move away from absolutes and recognize that people are capable of love and hate in equal amounts. No-one is a caricature. Even freaks have morals.

We’re going to take a brief look at three fictional characters, two of which play a very popular role, that of the villain-protagonist. The third one is a madman with the law on his side.

Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)

Tony Soprano

Tony Soprano

Tony Soprano is a two-family man. Not only does he look after a wife and two children, he is also de facto leader of the DiMeo crime family. If you’re looking for an object lesson in character development, spend some time with Tony. The show delves deep into his attachments and foibles: a domineering mother, recurring panic attacks, an overpowering sexual appetite… and a twisted relationship with his psychiatrist.

The Mafioso loves his wife and children. He only wants the best for them. Like you, he harbors self-doubt and finds it difficult to control his impulses.

Things go awry, the veneer cracks and the beast comes out. A strange sense of honor compels him. When associates become inconvenient he has them killed. Nothing personal. But when a dear cousin and childhood friend stirs up the muck, Tony’s got to off the man himself. Families take care of their own.

Jackson “Jax” Teller (Sons of Anarchy)

Jax Teller

Jax Teller

Jax Teller is the vice-president of a motorcycle club, the Sons of Anarchy, a.k.a. SAMCRO, who operate out of the fictional town of Charming, California. The club deals in illegal firearms – and they’ve got the Chief of Police’s blessing.

Jax’s dead father, John Teller, envisioned a utopian destiny for the Sons, which he describes in a journal, The Life and Death of Sam Crow: How the Sons of Anarchy Lost their Way. Said journal finds its way to Jax’s hands. John’s ‘complications’ infect the young SOA vice-president.

Time and again, Jax butts heads with Clay Morrow, his stepdad, over the nature and purpose of the motorcycle club. Morrow is OK with gun-running while Jax wants to steer SAMCRO away from crime and violence.

Necessity drives Jackson Teller, not bloodlust. Sometimes he kills people for love. At one point, his mother Gemma confesses to Jax’s girlfriend, Tara, that “God wants her to be a fierce mother.” Jax Teller has the same kind of intensity. He engages in acts of violence, but he does not revel in them. Contrast that with Alex Trager, the club’s Sergeant-at-arms: when he and Clay Morrow suspect another club member, Opie, is collaborating with the FBI, Trager practically begs to be the one who takes Opie out. Is the safety of the club his only concern? (Trager is a venal character, but by no means one-dimensional. You should see him on mushrooms when all his guilt bubbles up to the surface.)

At the end of season 2, Jax’s baby boy, Abel, is kidnapped by a True IRA operative. The Irishman abducts the child as retribution for the death of his own son, allegedly shot by Jax’s mother. Jackson will stop at nothing to get his baby back. He’s more than a soldier in a gangland war, he’s a father. And a wounded one at that.

Nelson Van Alden (Boardwalk Empire)

Nelson Van Alden

Nelson Van Alden

Nelson Van Alden, a Federal Prohibition agent, is a religious fanatic. His back is covered in welts and bruises, because he flagellates himself on a regular basis. When his barren wife finds out about a new surgical procedure that might solve her fertility woes, Van Alden states that God has seen fit to make her sterile – end of discussion. Nelson murders his Jewish partner, Agent Sebso, on suspicion that he is in cahoots with the criminal elite of Atlantic City. “Thou hast fulfilled the judgment of the wicked,” Van Alden bellows over the body of his dead partner.

What truly separates Van Alden from Tony and Jax is not the badge. It’s his lack of empathy for his family and his tyrannical devotion to principle. Nelson Van Alden is a fanatic in a position of authority.

Pleasure is inextricable from guilt. Joy is unthinkable. Only duty, prayer and penitence are legitimate. More than Tony Soprano and Jax Teller, Nelson Van Alden lives in a prison of his own making.


Looking at these three characters, I ask myself: what makes a good villain or a good anti-hero?

What Tony, Jax and Nelson have in common is the conflict between law and justice, past and future, tradition and change. The three men court the abyss and it responds.

They live with ambiguity because they don’t have a choice. The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire make a compelling case for “hell is other people.”

Corrupted beyond hope, they still cling to a moral code. They face monstrous pressures. Does that mean they’re monsters? What does it say about you and me if we empathize with them?

Outcasts in fiction demonstrate the dangers of crossing the line between civilization and savagery. Swim with sharks long enough and you might become one.



John Magnet Bell is a translator, photographer and blogger with an MA in Comparative Literature. He intends to write 5,000 copyright-free story prompts and post them on his blog, Start Your Novel.

Connect with John Magnet Bell

Start Your Novel Blog | Twitter: @StartYourNovel


John Magnet Bell Recommends:

The Writer’s Journey

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler

Three Uses of the Knife

Three Uses of the Knife, by David Mamet

How Not to Write a Novel

How Not to Write a Novel, by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark




Please join the discussion below

Dimensions of Creativity

You may have to be a little crazy but you don’t have to be unsystematic and unstructured to be creative: it’s more accessible than that.

Gaudi's Arches In Parc Gruell

Gaudi's Arches In Parc Gruell

Scientists and engineers are creative—the successful ones—the ones who take risks and have their Eureka moments. Tiny specks of matter, immersed in life-supporting fluids in a Petri dish flourish into cultures, new forms: how is this different to generating a story? Architects, too, for all the technical knowledge and meticulous measurement needed for their drawings, can create functioning works of art. Gaudi was a master of structure, what he didn’t already know about the calculus of weight-bearing forms he discovered by observing nature and trying-out his ideas on working models. His precise and methodical mind didn’t stop his flights of fancy; his buildings work—he created spaces for living in.

Shafts of light through an old mosque in Luxor, Egypt

Shafts of light through an old mosque in Luxor, Egypt

So this essay has a bit of structure—spaces for thinking in.

I will write first about the creative environment—‘nurturing matrix’ is a more up-market phrase but is misleading, it is not always ‘nurturing’ that provides the Petri dish for creativity. Second, I will write about the creative process.

Both environment and process are entirely individual, there is no blueprint, but that also means my views, and yours, are as valid as any other and that should give us the courage not only to create in our own way, but to share as much of it as we find comfortable.

You probably expect me to say I was brought up with a love of stories from my grandmother’s knee, but this was not the case. My childhood was a disruptive period of always moving somewhere else and never having enough of anything; bedtime stories were not part of that existence, life was too hard.

Nor do I recall being given books of my own. But there was always a motley assortment of old volumes on a shelf or in a cupboard. They were boxed-up with the plates, clothes and bedding, trundled along to each new address and unpacked again with all the other detritus of family life that defines our homes. As a result, they were mostly invalids with broken spines, cracked covers and a page or two missing, but I was free to do what I liked with them. And yes, I confess to drawing in them sometimes, or weaving doodles between the lines of long incomprehensible words that looked to me like magic formulae.

Gaudi's Casa Vicens

Gaudi's Casa Vicens

It wasn’t that I had no respect for these books. I did. Though my private playground, they were special: their leaf-mould smell was like my secret den under the bushes; their hard, rough covers made the silky pages within all the more enticing. I loved them. Although the reason for it escapes me now, I remember being so angry and frustrated one day that I slunk off to retaliate with the wickedest deed of my young imagination: grabbing the only book that still had a loose jacket, I tore it right across the front, slowly, deliberately. I burn again with shame as I write this. Acts of violence are invariably self destructive.

As the years passed, I unravelled the magic formulae and found out that all those words were hidden doors into amazing worlds. Illustrations were a bonus but it was just as much fun ‘seeing’ my own pictures. Three books in particular have left indelible ink stains in that absorbent part of my brain where creativity lurks: a traveller’s account of Spain with a photograph of one of Gaudi’s grand houses—a fairy castle I peopled with my own characters; the discovery of the White Nile—if such things can be found, what might I find myself?; and a lonely volume 1 of an illustrated book on exotic birds—exquisite beauty I didn’t believe was real until years later.

Crested Crane, Kilimanjaro

Crested Crane, Kilimanjaro

This was my environment; it forms what I call the space-time dimension of creativity. Not necessarily a nurturing environment—more a ‘healthy neglect’—but it gave me the space to make discoveries for myself, and the time to respond in ways appropriate to my own development, from scribbling around the letters to deciphering the words, and finally writing my own sentences.

And this brings us to process.

Probably the greatest impact on anyone’s creativity is formal education and it’s often negative. Indignation still rumbles inside me when I remember my brilliant story of adventure and discovery in darkest Africa being savaged by the geography teacher because it wasn’t an essay. And that lightly veiled autobiographical account of family life—a little cynical perhaps from a 12-year-old but undoubtedly funny—marked down in English class as failing to be a composition. Schooling for me was a slow, persistent compression into subject categories and time slots; I spent my time tunnelling under fences—a desperate prisoner of conscience. My ink-smudged brain cells refused to ‘get in line’ and ignore their neighbours. I still get muddled with genre: life is not divided into romance, horror, or fantasy—real lives find it hard to keep them apart.

Gaudi: mirror reflection of funicular model in the roof space of La Pedrera (Casa Mila)

Gaudi: mirror reflection of funicular model in the roof space of La Pedrera (Casa Mila)

For me, the process of creativity requires connectedness—without strings attached. I am currently working on a book about storytelling which is interdisciplinary. What genre?—Every aspect of life. Which market segment?—Anyone who can read. For these reasons it is unlikely to attract a literary agent but I can’t do anything about that: my brain is a synthesiser, it’s just the way it works, that’s how I learnt to sense the world—buildings, birds and river banks collaborating in a unique creation of their own.

This, then, is the third dimension—connectedness. Tweeting recently on the wonder of communicating with anyone, anywhere on the planet—not even knowing where people are when they email or tweet—I described the internet population as moats of dust floating in the atmosphere. Our attention drawn first to one amorphous group then another as a search or a tweet throws a beam of light across their path. We are all connected but not anchored—no strings.

Ergo, my dimensions of creativity are space—to fill from the inside; time—to inhabit that space in different ways as we grow, and connectedness—freedom from other people’s conceptual boundaries.



Trish Nicholson

Trish Nicholson

Trish Nicholson is a non-fiction author and writer of some award-winning short stories. Four of her stories have been accepted for publication in anthologies. She is a keen photographer and uses only her own pictures on her website. Trish likes to vary her weekly blogs, which include book reviews, stories and writing tips among other topics.

In between writing she runs her Relaxation Therapy clinic and plants trees. Her background is in social anthropology and management training. Together they led her to spend 12 years working on aid and development projects and research in the Asia Pacific region before settling on a hillside in New Zealand. She lives in the ‘winterless’ Far North, just inside the sub-tropics where the sun shines even in winter and they pick oranges between showers.

Trish is currently working on two writing projects: a book on storytelling, and an illustrated e-book—a ‘bite-size’ travel book on a spectacular religious pageant in the Philippines, released by Collca later this year.

Connect with Trish

Blog | Twitter: @trishanicholson


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