erudite definition of creativity: “The combination of previously
unrelated structures in such a way that you get more out of the emergent
whole than you put in.” —Arthur Koestler
Todd’s cool theory and helpful diagram of creativity: “Creativity
is being able to look at things and see the points where the lines
intersect. And the lines are everything you’re working with:
knowledge, influences, problems, skills, stolen ideas, panic, brainstorming,
humor, ad infinitum. The intersections are where the cool ideas and
solutions hide.” I have no idea what the hell any of that means.
But I do know that this is the kind of stuff where if I was a consultant
I could be making big dough. Big, big dough.
There’s creativity, then there’s what I do—there’s
Creativity with the big “C,” and then there’s creativity
with the little “c.” Creativity is the big EUREKA moment
where Einstein realizes space is curved. In contrast, creativity is
the Tuesday afternoon when someone tells Todd they need a brochure
to make people donate money to the Parkinson’s Research Center.
And Todd, knowing that space is curved and knowing something about
Parkinson’s and knowing something about the way people look
at brochures, comes up with the idea that the first page of the brochure
should ask the reader to open it very slowly, counting to twenty while
they do it—because that is a little sample of what having Parkinson’s
is like. This is not brain science or rocket surgery. It’s just
throwing together a couple of unrelated concepts into something new.
Haven’t you read that somewhere before? Which leads me to…
Don’t borrow other people’s ideas. Steal them. Or, as
Ernest Hemingway said, “Bad writers borrow, great writers steal.”
What he probably meant by that, and what I mean, is that creativity
is all about taking other people’s ideas and making them new
through your own attitudes and talents. That’s what makes it
so cool: it’s OK to cheat! But of course it isn’t cheating
at all if you take the ideas and do something new and different with
them. They are just the raw materials. It’s all just a process,
just a continuum. Every good idea turns into more good ideas after
being stolen by the right people. And you are the right people. Everything
you’ve ever experienced is grist for the mill. But remember:
Borrow and you’re a dweeb. Steal and make it your own and you’ll
be like Ernest. Well, he’s dead—bad example. But you’ll
Much as I hate to blow my cover, I don’t know anything more
about being creative than anyone else. I just have a bigger mouth.
Creativity isn’t a thing, it’s a process. It’s an
attitude. It’s a belief. It’s confidence. It’s humor.
It’s being amazed. It’s being tuned in.
I don’t know what the hell it is. But I know you have as much
of it as me. Have you ever played a game? Told a joke? Lied to someone?
Arranged your living room? Dressed yourself? Pitched woo? Cooked without
a recipe? That’s it.
I just get paid to go through the process and think of something cool
and useful to do whatever it is they want it to do. It’s not
that I was born with some extra lobe or something. I just have the
gift of gab. The people who pay me to do it really could do it themselves.
Thank God they don’t. You could do it yourself.
If you have money to spend, though, call me.
Just so you won’t feel like this session was a total waste,
here are step-by-step instructions on how to be creative: Step 1:
Believe you are creative. Step 2: Be creative. Step 3: Repeat as necessary.
That’s it. Am I just being glib? Or, to put it as my girlfriend
would: “You are such a jerk.” But that’s another
But no, I’m serious. That’s all there is to it. More or
less. Let’s break down the steps:
Believe you are creative. That’s the key to the whole gig. Have
confidence, have brio, have fun. Think of something then do it. Hang
your self-esteem out there. Life is short. Works for me.
Be creative. You want more detail? OK, first pay attention to everything.
Read, watch, listen, observe, absorb. Notice everything. Blend it
all in the back half of your brain. Put the problem or project you
need to work on in the front half. Stir. Let the ideas pour out. Shut
up and listen to them—don’t let your Voice of Judgement
talk you out of something cool just because it’s like totally
insane. Challenge every assumption. Ask “why” about a
million times. Especially when the answers seem the most obvious.
Be stupid. Be wise. If you get stuck and can’t solve the problem,
change the problem. Scribble, doodle, write stuff down. Preferably,
do all of this with other people. The answer, the innovation, the
Big Idea is there. You’re probably sitting on it.
Repeat as necessary. Well, why stop now? Besides, they might not like
the first idea…
Creativity is knowing when you’re done. which, of course, you
never are. Creativity is having the idea. But it’s also doing
it. So that means knowing when to quit tinkering and get on with it.
Because you will never really be finished. The brochure is out, the
campaign is done, the project is finished—it doesn’t matter
what the work was, you will never be completely happy with what you
thought of and the way you did it. You could revise something forever.
Unless you are independently wealthy, don’t.
Never underestimate the value of panic to the process. The good citizens
among us will say that creativity is ten percent inspiration and 90
percent perspiration. Well, maybe—but the reason I’m always
sweatin’ it is because I’m down to the last possible instant
to get something done. Frantic, panicky, freaked-out late…aye,
there’s the fun. The best drug for creativity is definitely
adrenaline. Creativity aint pretty, but it can sure be a rush. Or,
as the eminently quotable Oscar Wilde said: “The anxiety is
unbearable—I hope it lasts forever.”
A universal truth:
I don’t pretend to have all the answers—well, that’s
not true, I do pretend to have all the answers. It’s part of
my unique charm. But here is one inarguable truism: You simply can’t
be creative unless your workspace has a lot of weird stuff in it and
you keep strange unpredictable hours. Sorry, can’t be done.
You can be creative if you are old or young, man or woman, tall or
short, rich or poor. You can even be creative if you are a Republican,
maybe. But the weird hours, weird office correlation is undeniable.
How Thomas Edison was creative:
Edison believed that his most creative time was when he was dozing
off. Modern research shows that drifting into sleep is about the only
time adult brains generate theta waves—which are majority of
the waves produced in the brains of little kids. Maybe he was onto
something. Anyway, he would sit in a comfortable chair, thinking about
what he was working on and holding a ball bearing in each hand. On
the floor below his hands were dinner plates. He would think about
his problem or project until he dozed off, at which point his hands
would relax, the bearings would drop down and clatter on the plates,
waking him back up. He would immediately write down everything he
was thinking about. Worth a shot. Hint: use cheap plates.
Some zen:The Zen metaphor for creativity is water. Think about it.
Finally, creativity summed up in two sentences:
“The time has come to take the bull by the tail and face
the situation.” —W.C. Fields
“To explain is to destroy.” —Goethe