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:

Connect with Michael Michalko
Web Site | Twitter: @MichaelMichalko


Books Michael Michalko:

Creative Thinkering

Creative Thinkering



Cracking Creativity

Cracking Creativity


Happy New Year and Thank You!

Happy New Year 2012

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.

Thank you

I would like to express my gratitude to all the Creative Flux contributors for their high caliber work and stimulating insights, with my greatest appreciation to Terri Long who launched the site with her brilliant piece, “How Gender Roles Crush Creativity.” These thanks are also extended to all of you avid readers and savvy commenters.

Special thanks to: Rich Weatherly, for the use of his beautiful quote; Q2 Music, for their outstanding repertoire and service, and for graciously sharing their audio clips; and to all the StoryWorld zealots, for calling out into the wilderness with such eye-opening and engaging information that Transmedia-disciples, like myself, might be led to the (real) Truth.

Thank you, all, for making 2011 a terrific success!

In the upcoming year, I look forward to discovering and discussing your innovations and inspirations, I invite you all into the conversation and to contact me if you have an idea you would like to share on Creative Flux, and I wish you all the courage to continue jumping into the void!

And if your vision ever gets clouded in 2012, let Wordsworth be your beacon . . .


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth


Please join the discussion below.

A Sweet & Sour Christmas

The Christmas Story

I don’t know about you, but I’ve already placed my order for a custom-fit sheep costume.


And now, my personal favorite…

Christ Came Down

CHRIST climbed down
from His bare Tree this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings



Please join the discussion below.

Calling on the Muse

Even when you think nothing is happening, the creative process is always working.

Thelonious Monk Quartet

Thelonious Monk Quartet

I’m going to state the obvious: The creative process is not the same for everyone. Each of us come to the page, the canvas, the instrument, the marble, the clay, with something we feel we need to express. For some, it may be merely esthetic, for others, it will have a message, either social, political or deeply personal. In the end, though, what drives us to create anything is this insatiable desire, this need to express ourselves. It is part of what makes us human beings, after all. Something drove those Cro-Magnon people living in the caves of southern France to wander all the way to the back of their cave to merely blow some red ochre over their hand, an image left for us to see tens of thousands of years later. This urge to create has been with us since the dawn of humanity.

I began as a musician, having played in rock bands well into my thirties. Writing was something I came to much later in life, although I had always written, but it always took a back seat to the music. It wasn’t until I was thirty years old that I seriously began to pursue the art of writing. It began with poetry, then eventually moved towards fiction, essays, articles and all sorts of things. But there is one poem from my book “Existential Labyrinths” (Black Spring Press, 2003) that I feel captures the essence of the creative process—or at least my own creative process.

When I was writing poetry exclusively, I had a routine. I would often write at night, sitting alone in my one room hovel in New York City and the goal would be to write at least five poems a night, no matter how awful some of them may be. The idea was to just “get it out”, whatever thoughts, feelings or ideas I may have had. Some nights went along swimmingly, others, not so much. I found myself literally staring at the computer screen, and absolutely nothing would happen. During one of these bouts of not feeling the muse, I just began to type, and this poem seemed to magically appear:

A Sort of Mirage

Shadows in ink.

On such evenings I’m

too tired to applaud the maestro

but a fresh maté soothes nevertheless.

War has not been declared

and there is not one fraction

of my life left behind.

There are a lot of commas

and etceteras lying about the hallway

waiting to be used, waiting to be set free

to dance across the page.

They seem to comfort each other

after these outbursts;

a sort of mirage

these words I cannot grasp.


A little obscure, sure, but after reading it over a couple of times, it dawned on me that I had written something about trying to come up with something to write about. Sometimes one never knows when inspiration will strike and when the muse (or the “maestro” in this particular case) will offer her hand to you and tell you to just get on with it.

I’ve since moved away from poetry into the realm of fiction, most likely because I needed a larger canvas so to speak in order to get across what I wanted to say. Just following wherever the muse leads me. She may be beautiful but she’s not always cooperative and I suspect that these bouts of writer’s block that occur at times is her way of saying that she will only lead me there, not do the work for me. There’s got to be some effort, some actual work involved. To create any form of art is often very hard work. It rarely comes easy. But if you are committed and you are serious you can achieve some amazing things and the proof of this is all the amazingly talented people that are out there doing some amazing things (whether independently or traditionally); and life is much richer because of it.



Julian Gallo

Julian Gallo

Julian Gallo is a musician/writer/painter who has poems and short stories published in about 40 magazines and journals throughout the United States, Canada and Europe and also has 10 books under his belt: “Standing On Lorimer Street Awaiting Crucifixion” (Alpha Beat Press, 1996), “The Terror of Your Cunt is The Beauty of Your Face” (Black Spring Press, 1999), “Street Gospel Mystical Intellectual Survival Codes” (Budget Press, 2000), “Scrape That Violin More Darkly Then Hover Like Smoke In The Air” (Black Spring Press, 2001), “Existential Labyrinths” (Black Spring Press, 2003), “Window Shopping For A New Crown of Thorns” (Lulu Press, 2007), “November Rust” (Lulu Press, 2007), “My Arrival Is Marked By Illuminating Stains” (Lulu Press 2007), “A Symphony of Olives” (Propaganda Press, 2009) and “Divertimiento” (Propaganda Press, 2009). His second novel “Naderia” (Beat Corrida) was released in January 2011 and his third, “Be Still and Know That I Am” (Beat Corrida) was released in September 2011. He is also currently playing guitar and bass for NYC singer/songwriter Linda La Porte.

Connect with Julian
Web Site | Twitter: @JulianGallo66



November Rust

November Rust



Be Still and Know That I Am

Be Still and Know That I Am


Please join the discussion below.

Imagine You’re On A Ship

Imagine you’re on a ship."Imagine You're on a Ship"

Without warning, unknown sailors—or pirates, or your family, or your friends, it doesn’t really matter—tie you up. You can’t move your hands and feet. They toss you overboard. You sink. Air abandons you. Your sun sets unnaturally quick and it gets darker as you sink.


Try to move your hands and feet again. Your wrists and ankles hurt from the rubbing rope. But if you struggle enough, maybe you can loosen the ties that bind you and survive. To give up means death.

So you struggle. And struggle. And struggle some more. Your chest tightens. Your ears hurt.
You feel the water pressing your eyeballs inward.

And then it happens. Your ropes loosen and you free yourself. You rush to the surface, explode into the world, and gulp precious air.

Then another boat finds you. You’re safe. With your two feet firmly planted on the deck, they throw a celebration in your honor.

“You deserved better,” says one. “You’ll be famous,” says the Captain. “I don’t know how you did it,” exclaims a third.

Then, in a flash of inspiration, you wobble atop the waves on your table in the middle of the dining room, crystal chandelier swaying above your head, and you recite the poem you were forced to learn in grade school—“The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—“I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

The next day it happens all over again. You’re tied up, thrown in, you struggle, then you celebrate. Knowing this, would you choose to continue this cycle? Listen to what the Greek poet Homer and the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson thought before you answer.

Here’s the thing. Accepting the reality of what you just imagined is the key to your life. You are your own happiness because your art–and life–is the sum of what you accept and the difference you create while on your voyage.

To struggle is your destiny; to take from your life is your privilege; and to give back your uniqueness is your responsibility.

Like any committed artist, you’ll struggle to represent your reality, your big ideas, to others in ways that enhance their perspective and yours. Still, your voyage is to create a lens that brings beauty into focus, allows for meaningful change, and heals real and perceived pain.

Don’t believe me? Don’t think it matters? Try this:

  1. Think about this phrase: “nude descending a staircase”. Jot down your reactions and images that come to mind. Pay attention to what your inner critic tells you.
  2. Now, look at this painting and jot down your reactions:

    Marcel Duchamp. ''Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2'' 1912

    (Marcel Duchamp. ''Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2'' 1912. Oil on canvas. 57 7/8" x 35 1/8". Philadelphia Museum of Art. From: {{art}} Category:Images of art)

  3. Then, read this poem:
    Nude Descending a Staircase

    by X. J. Kennedy

    Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
    A gold of lemon, root and rind,
    She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
    With nothing on. Nor on her mind.
    We spy beneath the banister
    A constant thresh of thigh on thigh–
    Her lips imprint the swinging air
    That parts to let her parts go by.

    One-woman waterfall, she wears
    Her slow descent like a long cape
    And pausing, on the final stair
    Collects her motions into shape.

  4. Now, think about the phrase “Nude descending a staircase” again.

Did anything change? That’s why it matters. Your big ideas, your creativity, your art matter more than you know. Sharing them is what I call “doing great things.”

Now go do great things . . . and let me know how to help.



Sean Giorgianni is the curator of, a blog that asks readers to improve their lives through the art of reading. He’s also known to lead Twitter discussions on writing and literature.

Connect with Sean
ReadHeavily | Facebook | Twitter: @ReadHeavily