How Mundane Routines Produce Creative Magic by Mark McGuinness at The 99%


Every day, you take the same route to work. You stop at the same coffee shop and order your coffee exactly the same way. When you get to the office, clutching the same branded cup, you place it in the same place on your desk. You fire up the same computer, tidy the stuff on your desk into the same pattern, settle into the same chair and open the same tabs on your browser.You follow the same routine, sipping your coffee, browsing your email, skimming through the same blogs, the same news pages, the same social networks. As your colleagues arrive, you exchange the same greetings, the same gripes and gossip. As you drain the cup, you get the same itch for the same music, take your headphones out and plug yourself in. You open the same blank document, give it the same hard stare. The music kicks in.

Now you can begin.

If that sounds anything like your morning routine, you’re in good company. Over the years, as a coach and trainer, I’ve heard a similar story from hundreds of creative professionals. Of course, the details will vary – if you’re like me, your trip to work will be the “30 second commute” known to freelancers the world over, and you’ll be making your own coffee. You may incorporate meditation, or other exercise into your morning routine. And you may use a camera, easel, guitar or whatever instead of a computer.

But the chances are you’re living proof of one of the great paradoxes of creativity: that the most extraordinary works of imagination are often created by people working to predictable daily routines. There’s even an entire blog (sadly now on hold) devoted entirely to accounts of the Daily Routines of writers, artists, and other interesting people. 

Here’s the architect Le Corbusier, as described by his colleague Jerzy Soltan: 

During these early August days, I learned quite a bit about Le Corbusier’s daily routine. His schedule was rigidly organized. I remember how touched I was by his Boy Scout earnestness: at 6 AM, gymnastics and . . . painting, a kind of fine-arts calisthenics; at 8 AM, breakfast. Then Le Corbusier entered into probably the most creative part of his day.
Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman

He does not like noise – “Quiet” signs are posted around the Dramaten when he’s at work. He does not like lateness: he positions himself outside the rehearsal hall at 10 each morning in case the cast wants to fraternize, and rehearsals begin promptly at 10:30; lunch is at 12:45; work finishes at 3:30. He does not like meeting new people or people in large groups. He does not like surprises of any kind.
And novelist Haruki Murakami

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.
There are plenty more examples over at Daily Routines, but you can probably start to see the family likeness.

Murakami may have been joking when he mentioned mesmerism, but as a trained hypnotist I can tell you he was bang on the money. By repeating the same routine every day, all these creators are effectively hypnotizing themselves, deliberately altering their state of consciousness in order to access the “deeper state of mind” that allows them to work their creative magic. The different elements of the routine become associated with this creative state of mind, so that they can re-enter it by simply repeating the steps of the routine.

If you want to develop your ability to enter the creative zone at will, you should know that there are three conditions for a really effective hypnotic trigger:

  1. Uniqueness – it should be something (or a combination of things) you don’t associate with other activities, otherwise the effect will be diluted.
  2. Emotional intensity – the kind you experience when you’re really immersed in creative work.
  3. Repetition – the more times you experience the unique trigger in association with the emotions, the stronger the association becomes.
So to fine-tune your daily routine for maximum creative magic, make sure the key triggers have these qualities. For example you might want to save a particular album for listening to while you work, or be careful not to use the same notepad for sketching ideas as for your to-do list. And when you have a particularly good day, make a note of something in your routine for that day, that you can associate with the emotional state – and use the same trigger the r
est of the week. 

And next time you’re waiting in line for your morning coffee, next to people facing a day of mundane toil, think yourself lucky that your daily routine is a springboard to inspiration.

How about You?

Do you have a daily routine that helps you create?

What are the most important triggers for your creative state of mind?

What happens to your creativity if your routine is interrupted?

Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a FREE 26-part guide to forging a remarkable career, sign up for Mark’s creative careers course The Creative Pathfinder.



How to become more creative -by Jessica Holland at The National


No one, not even Shakespeare, became a genius through raw talent alone. Creativity thrives under certain conditions, and we should make sure we replicate them if we want to become the next Steve Jobs or Pablo Picasso. That’s the message delivered by the neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer in his new book Imagine (out on Thursday), and it’s great news for anyone who ever abandoned a creative project, telling themselves that they just don’t have that spark. The human mind, Lehrer writes, “has the creative impulse built into its operating system”. Here’s how he recommends making the most of it:

1. Take long walks

When you’ve hit a wall, sometimes the best thing to do is to stop mainlining coffee and staring at a screen. Taking a stroll in the park or having a warm shower stimulates a certain kind of brain wave in the right hemisphere that aids insight. It’s why people perform better on tests when they are feeling happy. It’s also why Bob Dylan wrote his most groundbreaking album, Highway 61 Revisited, when he decided to quit the music industry and moved to a cabin in Woodstock in 1965. Released from the pressure of trying desperately to come up with a new sound, it suddenly just happened. “I don’t think a song likeRolling Stone could have been done any other way,” he said. “You can’t sit down and write that consciously.”

2. Think in bed

The same year, Keith Richards fell asleep with a tape recorder in his hand and woke up with the first verse of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction recorded in his sleep. Just as our brain can fire in a different way when it is relaxed, it comes up with new connections when dreaming. It’s why one neuroscience researcher suggests setting your alarm clock a few minutes early and thinking about a problem while you’re half asleep. “The drowsy brain is unwound and disorganised, open to all sorts of unconventional ideas,” Lehrer writes.

3. Make up rules

What’s crucial in coming up with a brand-new idea is the feeling of a problem being completely insoluble. Then the “logical” left brain hemisphere gives up and the right hemisphere is forced to come up with strange new concepts. It’s why some of the best poetry is in the form of sonnets or haikus with strict rules about rhythm, rhyme and length. When the most straightforward way of expressing something doesn’t fit, you’re forced to think up something unique. In Lehrer’s words, “You break out of the box by stepping into shackles”.

4. Grit your teeth

Sadly, creativity isn’t all long walks and warm showers. “All great artists and thinkers are great workers,” Nietzsche said, and we need to focus on a project for long, difficult hours before we can have our drowsy moment of insight. Psychologists have found that persistence is one of the most important indicators of success, and a glance at the field – Beethoven experimenting with 70 different versions of a melody before choosing one; WH Auden taking Benzedrine in order to stay up writing all night – shows that even the most gifted artists need grit.

5. Be bold

“All of us contain a vast reservoir of untapped creativity,” Lehrer writes, but “the timid circuits of the prefrontal cortex keep us from risking self-expression”. In other words, we need to be as uninhibited as a child in order to create freely. Take a comedy improv class to learn how to get rid of these inhibitions, or find another way to practise doing things that seem embarrassing at first.

6. Ignore convention

Physicists peak at the age of 30, studies say. For poets, it’s even earlier. The reason for this, according to Lehrer, is that young people rebel against the status quo, and as they age, they get weighed down with orthodox ways of thinking. This doesn’t mean you’re doomed if you’re older; it just means you need to keep your thinking fresh. Leave behind the safety of your expertise and try something new. Forget what you’ve been taught – it’s the only way to innovate.

7. Get on a plane

Travel is a shortcut to cultivating that “outsider perspective” outlined above. It makes our thinking more flexible and creative, and it also helps us to solve problems back home. “Our thoughts are shackled by the familiar,” to summarise using Lehrer’s words. “Problems that feel close get contemplated in a more literal manner. This… inhibits the imagination.” The longer you’re away, and the more exotic the destination, the stronger the effect.

8. Toughen up

Every morning at Pixar Studios, a few dozen animators and computer scientists spend hours analysing each frame produced the day before, and ruthlessly tear it apart. Studies show that brainstorming sessions in which “there is no wrong answer” at the ideas stage are much less effective than honest criticism – especially if it is couched in terms of how the problem can be fixed. Develop a thick skin. The more criticisms you hear, the more new ideas you will generate.

9. Share ideas

Science papers produced by a team are twice as likely to be cited as those written by an individual, and the closer the collaborators live to each other, the better their work is. Lehrer cites this fact to show that (face-to-face) collaboration is key when it comes to solving difficult problems. What’s also important is how well the collaborators know each other. In the world of Broadway musicals, the most successful shows were made by a team that had a mix of innovative newcomers and old hands who had already worked together.

10. Soak up the city

The urban theorist Geoffrey West has spent years crunching data on income levels, education and even the walking speed of pedestrians. He found out that the bigger the city we live in, the more we get done. “Cities are an inexhaustible source of ideas,” he says. “As cities get bigger, everything starts accelerating. Each individual unit becomes more productive and more innovative.” The denser the population, the more “knowledge spillover”: we encounter more people who are different to us, and they stimulate new ideas. So if you’re reading this in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, you already have a head start in coming up with that masterpiece.

‘Inspiration is 80% Mental, 40% Physical’: Your Secrets of Creativity -by Jared Keller at The Atlantic



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‘Inspiration is 80% Mental, 40% Physical’: Your Secrets of Creativity

By Jared Keller

Apr 11 2012, 10:41 AM ET

Earlier this week, I asked Atlantic readers to share how they come up with their best ideas. The feedback was excellent: readers shared responses long and short through our comment section and on our Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr pages. As we suspected, inspiration takes many forms, and everyone has their own particular process for spurring on creativity and inspiration. Below, a sampling of longer responses from our readers.

Inspiration Is “Something Of An Ongoing Disaster”

I struggle with consistency. I think that’s the best way to put it, and it makes talking about “inspiration” almost a laughable endeavor because I don’t feel, I never feel, as if I have enough data points in any given field to make generalizations about where I get inspiration or even what I am inspired to do. I jump back and forth between writing a book to watercoloring to linoleum prints to short stories to blog articles; I work on them in the morning and late and night and at home and outside and in coffee shops; I break and re-arrange my “creative time” again and again to fit around my family and the weather and what kind of mood I am in. The last short story I finished was inspired by a DC comic series I found by way of feminist blog, and it was unusual in that I could pinpoint with some clarity where and when the idea developed.

The story before that was more typical, in that I could list you some influences but not which one was the most important or how they fit together – reading Lord of the Rings as a seventh grader, mentally exploring the Mines of Moria again and again, dreaming not of being one of the Fellowship but instead an orc that could descend like an impervious insect into rock-hidden places; turning corners with neck outstretched in Salamanca as a recent college grad, nervy and terrified by a recent mugging but still desperate to love the gold stones and dry air; babysitting a family friend’s three-year-old son and having long and puzzling conversations during which neither of us was quite sure we were understood by the other.

I sketch a lot, and I do watercolors outside, and I take photos. These images (of nearby hills, of houses I have lived in, of streets I have walked down) show up in my dreams, and I reinterpret the reinterpreted. I spend a lot of time trying to make stories that create some sort of sense or resolution from terrible things I read in the news; many of the inner worlds that I write about come from asking the question, “In what kind of world would this terrible thing never happen?” I read books and I try to include authors I hate. I spend a lot of time on the internet researching architecture and design and social justice and other topics that don’t have any connection to my everyday life. I look at hundreds of pictures every day.

I suppose it would accurate to say that I subscribe to the jumble-box theory of inspiration: if you only absorb enough media, introduce enough diversity of shards of ideas into your brain, they will eventually smash all together and you will develop a original(ish) and authentic language of your own, mosaic of bright and sometimes indistinguishable pieces.

“All You Can Do is Swim in the Problem Until Your Subconscious Finally Forges a Solution.”

I work for an engineering firm that produces wireless products. As engineers, we’re tasked with producing new things with a minimum of new ideas. The latter restriction makes for safer design and brings things to market quickly and efficiently. Even with that limitation, there’s still a place for innovation in this process. That’s the exciting part and every engineer lives to find simple, elegant solutions to difficult problems.

 Many of us take our lead from Thomas Edison and his well-quoted “genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” line. We’ve learned that the 99% perspiration requirement seems to be essential to any creative solution. All my engineering associates said the same thing – you have to totally and painfully immerse yourself in a problem long before a solution becomes obvious.

That immersion process rarely provides an answer by itself – few of us sit at our desks and pound our way to a creative solution through sheer perseverance. It’s only by living with the problem day in and day out that allows you to accumulate the bits and pieces that you’ll ultimately need to find a solution. Only after repeatedly soaking in the problem will you have enough insight to be able to solve it.

Once all that juice is stored up, you are at least prepared for those random moments when inspiration does strike. Inspiration comes to engineers like it comes to everyone else – in the shower, while taking a walk, in dreamland – some time when you aren’t actively thinking of the problem.

As far as I can tell the inspiration part of the process can’t be forced. All you can do is swim in the problem until your subconscious finally joins the disparate pieces together and forges a solution. Conversely, just expecting inspiration to come into play without the necessary work up front doesn’t seem to work very well either. There seems to be no way around Edison’s perspiration edict.  

There’s probably no new insight here but at least it’s useful to put the process into words.  

“I Am Agog With The Power of Serendipity”

I am agog with the power of serendipity.

Serendipity, the happy accident, has driven much of my research and much of my publication. My first book, on the work of police officers and social workers, emerged entirely because a student of mine was a police officer–a sergeant, in fact–who invited me for a ride-a-long one night. In time, after many rides and much observation, I hit on the notion that on the scene, at the spot of an incident that a police officer was working, it is best to consider the police officer in exactly the same terms that we analyze small group leaders: as people exercising power and discretion to achieve some socially approved end. In fact, I can still place myself in the exact spot I was in when this idea hit me: riding in a police car at 2 am one morning, driving under the overpass of a yet-unfinished interstate. It was a “Eureka” moment.

A later book, on the American militia movement, was informed by the entirely happy accident (at least for me) that I moved to Spokane, WA, to take a temporary position at Eastern Washington University at the exact moment that the Randy Weaver standoff took place in neighboring Idaho. My surprise at the sympathy with which Randy Weaver was treated in the local media led me to ask that most important of political questions: why do people like something I find abhorrent? Answering that question took several years and a survey of the militia movement from Ruby Ridge to Homeland Security … but I got to an answer that, at least, satisfied me.

Of course, as Ben Hogan once said of golf, it might be a game of luck but the more I practice the luckier I get. It is one thing to be hit by serendipity and another to be ready for it. An open mind, a big reading list, and a curiosity about the world around me has, I think, put me in a position such that when those serendipitous moments come, I am at least partially prepared to be struck by them.

Then comes the hardest part: making the words come out in a way that makes the thoughts in my head correspond with the squiggles on the page. Which takes a whole lot more inspiration and, indeed, a heck of a lot of mental perspiration.

“Inspiration is 80% Mental, 40% Physical”

Football is 80 percent mental and 40 percent physical.

-Steve Emtman, former NFL defensive lineman, Little Giants

Like many mid to late 20 somethings, I learned most of my life lessons from two sports films: The Sandlot andLittle Giants. I was 9 years old when former overall first pick Steve Emtman hopped off John Madden’s bus to inspire the Little Giants before they took to the field against the Little Cowboys. Even though I knew Emtman never mastered the principle of addition, his sincerity in delivering his signature line left a lasting impression.

At 27 years old, I spend most of my time thinking about how to persuade people to read and engage online content, be it a tweet or a piece of longform journalism. My best ideas are 80% mental and 40% physical. Well, roughly at least. My 9 year old self was much better at arithmetic.

40% Physical

It is not easy to be in a proper physical state. Leaving the office for a leisurely walk outside isn’t enough. When I am struggling to define a problem or am unable to draft a complete answer, I need to wear myself down. For example, I’ll run 5 to 6 miles and then attempt to 3 to 4 sets of push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. This is how I clear my head. I am usually juggling multiple thoughts at once and the best way to prepare myself mentally is to exhaust myself physically. 

Exercise is relaxing, but it can be debilitating if I forget to stretch. I never took to yoga, but I am a fan of spending 20 minutes tugging at my ankles or pulling an elbow. Time permitting, a hot shower can help, but I rarely have a eureka moment in the shower. Showers are more likely to echo shards of previous ideas. I use this time to take a mental nap since I’m functionally on autopilot.

80% Mental

20% pressure + 30% existing knowledge + 10% connecting the dots + 20% feedback = 80% mental.

Eureka moments do not occur in a vacuum. My trigger is pressure. Deadlines motivate. With the threat of impending failure, I think about what I already know and what currently fascinates me. The more I already know, the better caliber ideas I generate. An array of datapoints — anecdotal or statistical — builds the foundation for an idea. If you don’t know anything about a subject, chances are you won’t think of a great idea. Life isn’t Good Will Hunting where strangers stroll into a classroom and complete complex equations.

Do not silo your brain. I find myself at my most creative when I am connecting disparate things. How should I connect this blog post about reality television with a Congressional Budget Office white paper on home foreclosures? I am envious of designers who draw inspiration from a variety of sources: photography, textile patterns, medieval architecture, 1990s Geocities sites and the like. Inspiration needs room to breathe. I create this space by combining what I am working on with what I like. 
For example, if I was tasked with doubling the number of viewers for this blog post about creativity, I would survey my existing knowledge base about promoting digital content in light of where I currently enjoy spending my time. Right now, I’m fascinated by The Verge (tech website), Buzzfeed Politics, the Q&A network Quora, The Atlantic Wire‘s media diets, SBNation‘s YouTube channel, Byliner‘s longform publications, the comedy podcast network Earwolf, Storifies compiled by The New York Times‘ Brian Stelter, Google’s magazine Think Quarterly, the music sharing site ThisIsMyJam and a few others.

Using pen and paper or a whiteboard, I’ll map out what I know with what I like. This process generates workable to occasionally great ideas. Sometimes I’ll use mind maps. Sometimes I’ll write lists. It depends on my mood and the subject matter. It is more important to put forward ideas instead of fretting about the best process to organize thought. Do what comes naturally.

I’ll share these ideas with co-workers, friends, strangers on Twitter and anyone else I think who would be helpful and/or interested. My eureka moment is most likely to occur when I’m defending an idea and someone’s comment reveals that last kernel necessary to complete my thought. Or at least I’ve convinced myself I posses the right question or answer. 

The dirty secret to inspiration is that it great ideas are never complete. Figuring out a solution superior to your previous answer is exhilarating, but it is foolish to think this is the best possible idea imaginable. Pressure is essential to acceptance. It is dangerous to endlessly pursue what we think is genius at the expense of great. I admire the hacker ethic because what society commonly hails as genius is most likely an iteration of a series of good ideas.

The 120% Ethic

Do not take the previous as an excuse to settle for a half baked idea. Deadlines do not justify bad work. The “Emtman equation” is actually kind of beautiful in a cheesy inspirational halftime speech sort of way. Inspiration is tied to effort. Sitting on the couch playing video games will more often than not, fail to produce good ideas, let alone great ideas, on its own. Relaxing is important. Clearing one’s mind is critical. Refusing to put in the effort and expecting genius only works in the movies.

“Creativity Is A Social Phenomenon”

My best ideas come through communicating with others. For me, creativity is a social phenomenon.

I spend a good deal of my time honing my thoughts (alone) – thinking, reading, observing. The goal of this is to clearly define logical relationships between events, which is really just the concept of causality (cause and effect).

The real creative side comes about though social interaction. Interaction required individual thought to be restructured, so that another can clearly understand your conscience. This restructuring process produces a more clear and often enhanced version of the original logical relationships. This has led me to believe that there is significant value for a firm in investing in human capital. When I’m surrounded by smart people, it makes me smarter. This is nothing new, but it works for me!

“The Best Thing I’ve Done Is Create A Little Book of Ideas”

I find that keeping as busy as possible charges my brain for those inevitable times of the day when you can be alone and think- and those times I savour. Not to be crude, but when I’m in the loo is a good one. Or travelling between places on the tube or the train. Driving helps a lot.

As others have said, sleep helps, but I use it more when I’m grappling with an issue or a problem or something really important. Often, when I have an assignment or a job application due, I sleep on it before handing it in, and inevitably wake up with several minor- yet crucial- adjustments that can mean all the difference.

The best thing I’ve done in the past 3-4 years is create a little book of ideas. It now exists both in my tasks list on Gmail and in a hardcover copybook by my bed. I write everything in there- a different way of designing metro systems based on polar coordinates rather than the Cartesian coordinates that have been favoured traditionally; or an innovative new business idea for
hot drinks that are healthy for you. To focus my mind, I used the first page to outline a “bucket list”, so that my ideas matched my life goals. I read it again every so often to centre my thinking and, despite the chatter of normal life, remind myself of what’s truly important for me to achieve.

“How Do You Get To Eureka? I’m Not So Sure You Can Force It”

My earliest memory of this “Eureka Moment” dates back to when I was a child. I must’ve been in the 1st or 2nd grade. I was drawing a figure of some sort… something alien, perhaps from some movie I had seen; it was very organic. In any case I was stuck on the eye, I remember constantly erasing and redrawing, the tooth of the paper all but gone. My classmate Isis unexpectedly bumps my arm. I lose my patience, I yelled at her. Then I looked back down at my paper and alas the perfect stroke was created. A happy accident as they say. 

More than a decade has passed and now my creativity is constantly being challenged. I’m a graphic designer now and often if not most times, my answer comes from some serendipitous moment. My best designs, photos, and yes, illustrative strokes aren’t usually premeditated, but are more-so formed from random quirks in sketches or in visual inspirations that set off a spark, the answer I’ve been looking for.

So to answer the question: How do you get to eureka? I’m not so sure you can force it. At least I’ve never been able to. I’m not saying an outside force needs to motivate your decisions, but you need to be ready and able to accept something as a great idea on a moment’s whim. What’s meant to be will come to pass and hopefully something serendipitous will come by your way.

“How Do You Get to Eureka? You Don’t. You Let It Get to You.”

There’s no formula, equation or repeatable scenario to creativity, to finding that “next big idea.” Ideas are stubborn, strong. They take their time brewing – like all good things – before spewing over, leaving you to pick up the scraps that remain and reassemble the mess. The mess is madness, yes, but part of the beauty comes in creating something out of all those limp lost thoughts, bringing them to life. If your “great idea” dangles just out of reach, eluding you, refusing to be caught, begin again. Start over, with lots of little thoughts. Collect them, everywhere you go. Store them in some dark corner, and wait. Wait and watch. Watch as that corner grows and explodes into light. Watch as the walls crumble, down. Then search through that rubble and build something new – when the wall falls, when you least expect it, you’ll know what to do. 

How do you get to eureka? You don’t. You let it get to you.
Share your creativity secrets in the comment section, submit a post on Tumblr, or tweet your thoughts to us with the hashtag #InnovationWeek. We’ll compile your answers into a post later this week. (The longer and smarter you write, the more likely it is that we’ll publish you.)

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The Creative Thinking Myth by Jeffrey Davis at The Creativity Post

The Creative Thinking Myth

By Jeffrey Davis, M.A. | Apr 06, 20120 comments –>



Being habitually creative requires far more than original thinking.

The right-brained creativity myth isn’t the only limited notion of what creativity is, what it requires, and how it happens. Again, let me be audacious enough to mention another one: the creative thinking myth. And you tell me what you think. (I certainly appreciated every contribution to the previous conversation.)

Myth: being creative means mostly thinking in novel and original ways.

Many creativity studies in the mid-20th century started with this premise. Metaphorical thinking, associative thinking, flexible thinking, divergent thinking. How many uses for a brick can you come up with? What does this grasshopper wing look like? The work of Paul Torrance, Edward de Bono’s Six Hats and Lateral Thinking, the Remote Associates Test, and others have contributed profoundly to our understanding of how people can engage in non-discursive, non-linear thinking that might or might not contribute to being creative.

But being creative requires more than thinking in novel ways. Most of us have much fresher ideas than we give ourselves credit for, and yet we’re not necessarily habitually creative.

Creativity’s unromantic truths
Why not? First, because being creative also requires that an idea actually be produced, that whatever is being produced or exhibited actually works, and that this product is useful, even if that usefulness is limited to a person’s family.

Being creative also means actually executing an idea. Daydreaming is invaluable to ideation, but the world is full of daydreamers whose scripts and inventions never get past the novelty spurt or grand vision. To move from lightning-bolt idea to completing a novel, or a new way to use a room, or starting a business, or a new product design requires far more than the idea itself.  

New Yorker writer and artist biographer Joan Acocella sums up the matter well, “What allows genius to flower is not neurosis, but its opposite, ‘ego strength,’ meaning (among other things) ordinary, Sunday-school virtues such as tenacity, and above all, the ability to survive disappointment.” And even the non-genius creatives among us, what psychologists call the “small c creatives,” must demonstrate more perseverance, physical stamina, focus, organization & time-sculpting, mood monitoring & shifting, and field know-how to surpass original thinking.

Being creative requires meta-awareness???or creative mindfulness. A person who is aware of how her mind works and who trains herself to pay attention to and to capture those flashes of insight, of course, is more likely to follow through on them. The work of Dr. John Kounios (Drexel University) and Dr. Mark Beeman (Northwestern University) have specifically tracked this facet. The rest of us get flashes without that tiny flashlight of awareness, or without the automated habit of capturing those flashes of insight on a napkin or in a notebook.

Creativity’s two elephants
What influences creative ideation and creative idea execution? To jump right in and say, “think creatively” is unfair to a person or a team. To do so betrays the fact that more than will and desire influence what happens in the mind. 

There are two elephants in the room when we talk about creativity. The first elephant of creativity studies is the body. You’d be hard-pressed to convince me that a person’s physical condition, quality and nature of respiration, and even physical movements, do not influence how he or she perceives, computes, and imagines. We know, for instance, that a person’s general physical condition, how he or she breathes, and even moving the body can in some cases lead to greater focus, mood moderation, increased meta-awareness or creative mindfulness, persistence, and even imaginative insight.

Japan’s arguably most celebrated novelist Haruki Murakami reflects on this fact in his memoir-essays, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Many, but not all, researchers and consultants in creativity have overlooked the body or ignore this elephant altogether. We’re uncomfortable talking about this fleshy mobile home. We’re embarrassed we don’t know more about it. And we’d just assume no one look at ours.

On one hand, we agree with most cognitive scientists, psychologists, and even some neuroscientists who now use terms such as “embodied mind” and “embodied consciousness.” On one hand, we agree that, despite his many useful contributions to science, Descartes got it wrong when he said that the mind influences the body but the body has no influence on the mind. And on the other hand, we lack the tools or capacity to “connect the dots” of how the body does influence creative cognition and creative execution.

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff and cognitive scientist Mark Johnson set the tone in their two books, Metaphors We Live By and Philosophy in the Flesh: How the Embodied Mind Challenges Western Thought (1999). And Northwestern University’s Li Huang and Adam Galinsky’s work with mind-body dissonance follows up on this fascinating new path of creativity research. There’s truth to my adage that your “muse” is as near as your body and breath.

The other elephant is the environment. We’re just now beginning to accept that cinder-block classrooms with low ceilings and poor lighting might actually affect the way a teenager can compute mathematical formulas or play music.

Or for that matter the atmosphere for how a marketing team can come up with, collaborate, and execute a whole campaign. Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, as well as author of Creativity in Context and numerous studies, has tracked this facet for over fifteen years.  

Optimal team dynamics and communications, more collaboration thancompetition, optimal leader enthusiasm, optimal amounts of responsibility, and given information each contribute to whether or not people in an organization are habitually creative.

Woe to the team who’s told “be more creative” but who is not given the resources for focus, imagination, stamina, mood moderation, and atmosphere. And woe to the leader or consultant who perpetuates the myth.

Am I out of line here? What insights can you contribute? What other researchers’ work has contributed to debunking this myth? What conditions and habits are you setting up to better assure “creativity happens” for yourself or for your team?

See you in the woods,

Jeffrey Davis is a creativity consultant and author of The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies & Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing (Monkfish Publishing 2008; Penguin Putnam 2004). He mentors creatives, professionals, teams, and solo-preneurs to track wonder and to delight by design.

This article originally appeared at Psychology Today



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non-linear thinking,

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