Is An Inner Argument Holding Back Your Productivity? from The 99 Percent


Have you ever received the opportunity of your dreams and sabotaged it by not responding? Maybe you got an email about a possible book deal, or an invitation to play an incredible gig, or an inquiry from a mega-client. The dream invitation came – and to your own surprise, you ignored it. Why do we behave in such a clearly counter-productive manner?I would argue that we often do this because we’ve brought the wrong part of ourselves to the table. As creatives governing our own careers, we have to bring many different skillsets — many different selves, even — to the diverse activities we do on a daily basis. When we bring the wrong self to the table, we can get paralyzed.

That’s what happened to me. After I’d been blogging for a couple of years, literary agents began contacting me to ask, “Was I interested in a book project?” I certainly was. 

We’d meet for tea, and they’d ask me a series of questions: “Who is the target customer for this book? How would you say you differ from say, a Martha Beck, or a Deepak Chopra? Are you doing any major corporate speaking?”

When we bring the wrong self to the table, we can get paralyzed.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but what happened next was this: I ignored their follow-up emails. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, thinking “Seriously, what kind of writer who wants to do a book doesn’t respond to a literary agent’s enthusiastic note?” I wasn’t sure why I was stuck. 

Months later, I saw the problem: My inner artist had gotten spooked. Thinking these meetings were about my writing, I brought my writer-self, my super-sensitive inner artist, to the meetings. And guess what? My inner artist is terrified and paralyzed by conversations about how to market her work.

That’s when I realized that there were other selves, other advocates, that I could bring to the table.

There are three voices within every creator:

  • The Inner Artist
  • The Inner Editor
  • The Inner Agent

To have a successful career, we must all learn how to deploy each of them at particular times, and keep them from stepping on each other’s toes. 

I would argue that most of the problems in our creative lives stem from bringing the wrong part of ourselves to the task at hand. Most of us under-utilize at least one of the three roles and over-use one of the other roles. A thriving creative career requires consciously shifting between the three voices, utilizing each at the right time.  

In the early stage of the creative process, we need the inner artist. The artist’s domain is drafting, receiving ideas and inspiration, fleshing them out. The artist thrives in an atmosphere of curiosity, safety, and play. She needs shelter from others’ opinions and respite from even thinking about what the judgments of others might be. 

In the second stage of the creative process, the inner editor leads. The editor’s domain is revising, trimming, structuring. Whereas the artist must forget about what other people might think, the editor brings the audience back into the process, ensuring that the work effectively communicates the artist’s intent. 

Then the inner agent takes the baton. The agent’s domain is developing marketing messages for the work, communicating about the work to external stakeholders, and finding distribution. The agent is thick-skinned, brave, and wise about the market.

Most of the problems in our creative lives stem from bringing the wrong part of ourselves to the task at hand.

Of course, the process is not entirely linear. A late-stage problem that requires a highly creative solution might require the inner artist, for example. 

Each inner archetype has a wholly different way of being. The artist explores what he doesn’t know. The editor brings to bear what he does know. The agent advocates for what he wants.

If the inner agent shows up in the early stage of idea conception or fleshing out a first draft? Disaster. The agent will impoverish the artist’s ideas by worrying too early on about what will sell. She’ll unknowingly push the work in a conformist direction. She’ll mute the muse. 

The inner editor can also disrupt the work of the inner artist — evaluating the work or creating structure prematurely. 

Bring the sensitive inner artist into the agent’s domain — into, for example, a business meeting about how to market a piece of creative work? She can become so turned off that she’ll run for the hills, resulting in months of creative stagnation.

To find more ease and productivity in your creative process, I suggest taking these steps:

1. Take a look at what’s been happening in your creative life by answering these questions: 

  • Which of these roles is my default/comfort zone?
  • When do I fall into this role even though it’s really not the best fit for the task at hand?
  • Which role is underutilized? Which role or roles do I avoid stepping into? 
  • Where do I have “trust issues” between the three roles? Does the inner artist trust the agent to bring her work to market without selling out? Does the inner agent think that the artist is never going to produce anything with commercial appeal? Notice what resentments, conflicts or issues of trust are happening between the three parts of you. Just observing and naming the issues will reduce their intensity.

2. Get to know your three inner creative roles. Write down a list of words or phrases you associate with each. Give each one a theme song. Identify a color that expresses the personality of each one. 

3. Next, look over your calendar for the coming week, and notice which part of you is best suited for the various tasks, meetings, and work periods you have ahead. 

4. As you move through the week, consciously shift into the appropriate mode as you do the work. Thinking of the color or song you identified can help you quickly access that part of yourself.  Notice when your default role shows up where it’s not helpful, and mindfully move into the mode that’s best suited for the task. 

What’s Your Creative Identity?

What have you learned about your different internal personalities? Has your creative work suffered because you brought the wrong self to your creative work? 

Tara Sophia Mohr is a writer and the creator of the global Playing Big leadership program. She is also a regular columnist for the Huffington Post. Visit her website to learn more about wise living, or follow her on Twitter @tarasophia.



Janusian Thinking by Michael Michalko at The Creativity Post

Janusian Thinking

By Michael Michalko | Jun 12, 20120 comments –>


Get creative ideas by imagining two opposites or two contradictory ideas.

Albert Rothenberg, a noted researcher on the creative process, has extensively studied the use of opposites in the creative process. He identified a process he terms ???Janusian thinking,??? a process named after Janus, a Roman God who has two faces, each looking in the opposite direction. Janusian thinking is the ability to imagine two opposites or contradictory ideas, concepts, or images existing simultaneously. Imagine, if you will, your mother existing as a young baby and old woman simultaneously, or your pet existing and not existing at the same time.

Rothenberg found that geniuses resorted to this mode of thinking quite often in the act of achieving original insights. Einstein, Mozart, Edison, Van Gogh, Pasteur, Joseph Conrad and Picasso all demonstrated this ability. It was Vincent Van Gogh who showed in Bedroom at Arles how one might see two different points of view at the same time. Pablo Picasso achieved his cubist perspective by mentally tearing objects apart and rearranging the elements so as to present them from a dozen points of view simultaneously. Looking back at his masterpiece, Demoiselles d??? Avignon, it seems to have been the first painting in Western art to have been painted from all sides at once. The viewer who wishes to appreciate it has to reconstruct all of the original points of view simultaneously. In other words, you have to treat the subject exactly as Picasso had treated it in order to see the beauty of the simultaneity.

In physics, Einstein was able to imagine an object in motion and at rest at the same time. To better understand the nature of this paradox, he constructed an analogy that reflected the essence of the paradox. An observer, Einstein posited, who jumps off a house roof and releases any object at the same time, will discover that the object will remain, relative to the observer, in a state of rest. The unique feature of this analogy was that the apparent absence of a gravitational field arises even though gravitation causes the observer???s accelerating plunge. This analogy and its unique feature inspired his insight that led him to arrive at the general theory of relativity.

Einstein realized that an observer who jumps off a house roof will not, in his or her immediate vicinity, find any evidence of a gravitational field. This apparent absence arises even though gravitation causes the observer???s accelerating plunge. This was the analogy that Einstein said was his happiest thought in life because it pertains to the larger principle of general relativity. (He was looking for an analogy in nature that would allow him to bring Newton???s theory of gravitation into the theory of relativity, the step making it a general theory.

Louis Pasteur discovered the principle of immunology by discovering the paradox. Some infected chickens survived a cholera bacillus. When they and uninfected chickens were inoculated with a new virulent culture, the uninfected chickens died and the infected chickens survived. In seeing the unexpected event of the chickens??? survival as a manifestation of a principle, Pasteur needed to formulate the concept that the surviving animals were both diseased and not-diseased at the same time. This prior undetected infection had therefore kept them free from disease and protected them from further infection. This paradoxical idea that disease could function to prevent disease was the original basis for the science of immunology.

Rothenberg found another illustration in Niels Bohr???s thinking. Bohr believed that if you hold opposites together, then you suspend your thought and your mind moves to a new level. The suspension of thought allows an intelligence beyond thought to act and create a new form. The swirling of opposites creates the conditions for a new point of view to bubble free from your mind. This ability to hold two opposites together led to Bohr???s conception of the principle of complementarity. The very claim that light is both a particle and a wave is inextricably self-contradictory.


To think in terms of simultaneous opposites, convert your subject into a paradox and then find a useful analogy. Foundries clean forged metal parts by sandblasting them. The sand cleans the parts but the sand gets into the cavities and is time consuming and expensive to clean. The paradox is that the particles must be ???hard??? in order to clean the parts and at the same time ???not hard??? in order to be removed easily. An analogue of particles which are ???hard??? and ???not hard??? is ice. One solution is to make the particles out of dry ice. The hard particles will clean the parts and later turn into gas and evaporate.
Following are specific guidelines for solving problems based on this thinking strategy which include creating a paradox, finding an analogue and using the unique feature of the analogue to trigger original ideas.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. A CEO noted that when his high-tech company was small, people would often meet spontaneously and informally. Out of these meetings came their best ideas. With the company???s rapid growth, these informal meetings (and the number of good ideas) declined. He tried the usual ways to stimulate creativity (meetings, dinners, parties, roundtables, etc.), but they did not generate novel ideas. He wanted to re-create the spontaneous creative environment.

1. PARADOX. Convert the problem into a paradox. One of the things that distinguishes the vision of genius is its curious relationship to contraries. Niels Bohr, for example, was fascinated with the contrary dimensions of reality. Once in a heated debate over how electrons can appear in one place and then in another without any traveling in between, he declared how wonderful it was that they have met with a paradox. For now they can make intellectual progress. The question to ask is: What is the opposite or contradiction of the problem? And then imagine both existing at the same time.
EXAMPLE: The paradox of the company???s situation was that unless the gatherings were unorganized they wouldn???t produce novel ideas.

2. BOOK TITLE. Summarize the paradox into a book title that captures the essence and paradox of the problem. The book title should be two words, usually an adjective and a noun. Some examples of book titles are:
Sales target??? Focused Desire
Different level employees??? Balanced Confusion
Seasonal sales cycles??? Connected Pauses
Birth control??? Dependable Intermittency
Nature??? Rational Impetuousness
Reducing the paradox into a book title makes it easier to work with and comprehend.
EXAMPLE: In our example, the CEO summarized his paradox into the book title ???Unorganized Gatherings.???

3. ANALOGUE. Find an analogy that reflects the essence of the paradox. Think of as many analogies as you can and select the most suitable.
EXAMPLE: Our CEO found a suitable analogy in nature. He thought of herring gulls who are very unorganized scavengers but effective survivors.

4. UNIQUE FEATURE. What is the unique feature or activity of the analogue? Creative ideas often involve taking unique features from one subject and applying them to another. John Hopfield was a physicist who knew a lot about spin glass, which are magnetic substances in which the atoms have a spin and interact in either a positive or negative way with each other. Hopfield discovered that the brain is composed of neurons that are either on or off and either excite or inhibit one another. He took a set of unique features from spin glass and applied them to the brain thereby creating his famous neural network theory.
EXAMPLE: In our example, the CEO determined that the unique feature of his analogy is ???scavenging.??? The gulls gather for an easy meal when fishermen throw unwanted fish and fish parts back into the sea.

5. EQUIVALENT. Use an equivalent of the ???unique??? feature to trigger new ideas.
EXAMPLE: The equivalent of this unique feature might be to have people come together for convenient meals at attractive prices.

6. BUILD INTO A NEW IDEA. The company will serve inexpensive gourmet food in the company cafeteria. By subsidizing the cost of the gourmet food, the CEO encourages employees to gather there (much like the herring gulls drawn to the fishermen???s free food) to meet informally, mingle and exchange ideas.

Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.




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Observation and Permission: The Handmaidens of Curiosity? Jonathan Rowson at RSA blogs

Observation and Permission: The Handmaidens of Curiosity?

July 5, 2012 by
Filed under: Education Matters, Social Brain 

The Power of Curiosity ??? some thoughts by Dennis Sherwood*

 There is no doubt, as highlighted in the RSA???s recent report The Power of Curiosity, that it is curiosity, not necessity, that is the mother of invention ??? or rather, innovation. I wonder, though, if curiosity has two handmaidens: observation and permission.

Curiosity begs a question ??? curious about what? To which I suggest the answer is ???what I observe???, for curiosity is to ask questions about the world around me; in the first instance, to seek knowledge, and in the second, to stimulate my imagination about how what I see around me might be different  ??? from which creativity and innovation spring.

Curiosity is triggered by careful observation; and curiosity can bear its wonderful fruit of creativity only in a climate of permission.

I would argue that observation has a good track record as underpinning curiosity, and hence creativity and innovation: what was Darwin, for example, but arguably the greatest ever observer of the natural world, who not only observed, but also remembered, made connections, and perceived wonderful patterns? Dickens too, with his heritage as a perceptive journalist, observed his world, and used that observation as an inspiration for his characters and plots. More recently, David Hockney appeared on many broadcasts in connection with his exhibition at the Royal Academy. I lost count of the number of times he mentioned the word ???observe???, from observing the colour of the road surfaces to the intricate arrangements of leaf, branch and trunk is his beloved East Yorkshire woodlands.

Curiosity about acquiring knowledge is, in general, regarded as a ???good thing???. But, regrettably, curiosity as a trigger to asking ???how might this be different????, so spurring creativity and innovation, can get you into big trouble. Curiosity may indeed have killed the proverbial cat; but it???s lack of permission that kills ideas.

Take a young would-be Hockney, for example, who might at this moment observe a touch of purple in a road, and paint the tarmac in her picture a vivid purple. And suppose that a teacher comes along and says, ???Roads aren???t purple, they???re grey. Got it, grey!???. The pupil learns, very fast, that roads are grey, not purple. And learns even faster that success in the educational system is to regurgitate what-the-teacher-has-thought-of-first, rather than to follow her curiosity, to imagine how what-I-observe-about-me might be different, to create.

So I applaud the recognition of curiosity as being central to innovation, but curiosity alone is not enough. Curiosity is triggered by careful observation; and curiosity can bear its wonderful fruit of creativity only in a climate of permission. The report argues strongly that schools should encourage children to be curious. May I also urge that schools (and families, and society) should also encourage ??? and indeed teach ??? children how to observe, and how to express that observation in all sorts of different ways, from art to writing, from music to mathematical formulae, from clearly articulated speech to dance. And to do this all in a climate of permission, so that the sense of wonder, excitement and huge creativity that we all see in a 6 year-old is not crushed by the time that child becomes 16.


*Dennis Sherwood is the MD of Silver Bullet, a consultancy specialising in organisational creativity and innovation.



Related posts:

  1. New Report! The Power of Curiosity
  2. Permission to smile at something serious????