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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Creative Individuals and Creative Environments

While searching for information on creativity, I ran across a two-hour lecture by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Exploratorium Video (A). He is the author of the book, Flow (1991). He lectures on creativity, and begins with a point many of us might find difficult to accept. Attention plays a crucial role in creativity. We all have pictures of the “Mad Scientist” or “Crazy Artist” as stereotypes of creative people, but it really starts with paying attention to something. Something catches our eye, and we begin to wonder. That wonder turns to fascination and we are hooked on creating something. As many writers know, it is impossible to be productive if you can’t focus for a long time. Creativity may drive one to start a creation, but actually sustaining that creative process is much more rare. Multitasking is actually very inefficient. (B)

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi claims
 “small c” creativity enriches everyday life, and can lead to “big C” creativity or the work of geniuses. Only 5% of the people in any field do the best work. Price’s Law says that the square root of those contributing to a field will produce half of the work of the entire group, but as the percent of people goes up, the number of contributors goes down. (A)

Certain aspects of interaction in a social system determine whether a person’s ideas will be accepted by our cultures:

Domains, “…which make up a culture, are ways of doing things, recipes, laws, belief systems, values that, taken together, create a symbolic environment.” A person must immerse the self in one domain to refine abilities. For example, the great chefs in Chicago first have become focused on cooking and learned everything they could about it. Then they were able to take those skills to create new combinations of food.

Ninety nine percent of people are glad to learn how things are done, and just reproduce it. “There is a small subset of people” who try to do something new that is a transformation of a domain.

The second aspect of the interactions is the field. There is a gatekeeper who insures that the good ideas are transmitted. A firm’s management transmits ideas to the industry culture which is picked up by the individual workers. The selection mechanism is very important. In  industry, management hasn’t always been trained in how to select good ideas. If there are too many people doing this, it is easy to become overwhelmed; i.e., one of five hundred new patents get approved.

The domain or field may stagnate because it doesn’t accept new ideas. Csikszentmihalyi used the example of the movie industry and twelve thousand people who worked on films. If half of the creators came from the center of the field and half came from the periphery, the movies were better quality. Those who have a vested interest in avoiding change can inhibit new ideas.

Creative people have the ability to lose themselves in their work, whether they are poets, cell biologists, or professors. Csikszentmihalyi calls this process flow, because creative people have described it to him as being carried along. “Flow is necessary for creativity, but it is not sufficient.” 

They also have the ability to switch to convergent thinking easily. They may organize their time differently to accommodate their need to work. The drive to create takes precedence over other commitments. 

While the characteristics of creative people were discussed, I found a simpler list on the web page:The Second Principle The work of Leslie Owen Wilson, Ed. D.(C)
    1. Genuinely values intellectual and cognitive matters.
    2. Values own independence and autonomy.
    3. Is verbally fluent; can express ideas well.
    4. Enjoys aesthetic impressions; is aesthetically reactive.
    5. Is productive; gets things done.
    6. Is concerned with philosophical problems, for example, religion, values, the meaning of life.
    7. Has high aspiration level for self.
    8. Has wide range of interests.
    9. Thinks and associates ideas in unusual ways; has unconventional thought processes; can make unusual connections to unrelated ideas or things.
    10. Is an interesting, arresting person.
    11. Appears straightforward, forthright and candid in dealings with others.
    12. Behaves in an ethically consistent manner; has consistent personal standards.

They can also move from one end of characteristics easily to another.

What kind of environment fosters creativity? I found another list on this web site: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, by Steven Aitchison (E)

  1. Creative environments celebrate risk.
  2. Creative environments tolerate uncertainty and leave space for the unexpected.
  3. Creative environments embrace failure and leave plenty of room for mistakes.
  4. Creative environments are chaotic.
  5. Creative environments are diverse and interdisciplinary.
  6. Creative environments are active.
  7. Creative environments are comprised of weak ties.
  8. Creative environments have high levels of trust and intimacy.
  9. Creative environments offer attentive, discerning audiences.
  10. Creative environments strike a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

If your creativity is being stifled, perhaps it is your environment.

  1. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Creative Person and The Creative Context, Lecture of 2008-3-12, Exploratorium Video,, accessed 2/16/18.
  2. The average human is able to process 114 bits of info per second. Processing language is 60 bits per second. Half of all we process is taken up by one person talking. 
  3. Wilson, Leslie Owen, Ed.D., Characteristics of Highly Creative People, The Second Principle,, accessed 4/11/18
  4. Aitchison, Steve, Ten Characteristics of Highly Creative Environments, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life,, accessed 4/12/18
  5. Anthony, Whitney,

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Where does creativity come from? Where do ideas come from?

When I sat down to write this month’s blog, I was really stumped for a topic. I had attempted to define creativity and show how writing is affected by it in previous posts. Where did I go from there? A week went by and I had no answer. Then, a good friend talked about Pinterest. She said that while some people say it’s a waste of time, she gets ideas there. That was the inspiration for the topic this month: inspiration.

Most writers know that you may have an idea of what you are going to write about, but once you sit down to write, ideas come to you unbidden. Is there a pot somewhere inside of you where ideas are stored, or is the idea bubbling up from all human consciousness? Or some other source that no one really knows about?

One of my quilts used a pattern I had gotten in 2002, when visiting my daughter at Lawrence University. I began cutting the background squares in January, several years ago. I put it away when spring came, and inadvertently put the pattern between the pages of a book. The next January, I got the squares out, but could not find the pattern. I decided to go to Pinterest to create my own snowmen. I was amazed at the number of different snowmen available. A snowman is from one to three white balls and some odds and ends, yet I saved 31 distinct links, ignoring hundreds of others. I then found the original pattern and used it instead of creating my own. Halfway through the quilt I decided it was boring, so I added more interesting fabric and changed half of the snowmen's orientation and facial features.

Inspiration can be trivial, as with the snowmen, or vital, as with great thinkers of our time. Some of my favorites are Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Muhammad, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and many poets and writers. It can come from friends discussing fart spray in a book group (The Righteous Mind), or strangers on the train.

Inspiration can come from outside. In my annual examination for prevention of melanoma, my dermatologist told me I have a normal geography of the skin, listing the bumps and moles as she examined them. This is a great idea for a poem, which would be different for each person who chose to write about it.

In my summer school classes, gifted children are taught a basic skill such as programming or sewing. They seldom need encouragement to come up with ideas for projects. In fact, their ideas are usually far beyond their ability. They all love Strandbeests and art quilts. 

I once wrote a poem using a dream. I was living on a farm, and in the dream I was driving on a dirt road in the country near the ocean. Ahead was a shining city, and a traveler stood by the side of the road. I said, “That’s where I’m going.” The reply was, “Don’t forget to enjoy yourself along the way.” I have since found my way to the big city, but that dream is a fond memory.

Great music, conversations overheard, and hooves on pavement create powerful stimuli to open our minds. Christine Swanberg recently reminded Poets and Patrons that a simple phrase, such as, “Whenever I hear…” can take us out of our routine and open our minds to new ideas.

Perhaps the strongest sense for memories is smell. When I moved back to the Chicago area, I went into my mother’s bedroom for something. I opened the bottle of Wind Song perfume and smelled it. I was instantly taken back in memory to my childhood. The bushes in the back yard were smaller and there was no fence as I stood there, transported back decades. I will always associate that smell with her, just as I will always associate Chanel No. 5 with my first husband. I had never had such expensive perfume.

Inspiration can be visual, auditory, or intrapersonal in nature, Where does creativity originate? I don’t think anyone really knows. That may take another blog post. Meanwhile, pay attention to the inspiration in your life. It’s free and abundant.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Creativity in Writing

Since writing is my new career (very part time), I have really become interested in creativity in writing. When I woke up this morning, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to write except for the topic. I knew that I would have ideas and that I would write something of value, to me if to no one else. I was singing a beautiful arrangement of  "True Light" which reminded me that I don’t have to solve all of the problems of the world today. My mom used to say, “Just be yourself,” as if I could be something other than self,  as if I could figure out which self to be. You can see how busy it is in my head most of the time.

I don’t usually have trouble thinking of things to write about (see first paragraph) but I do have trouble writing freely while the “editor” in my head has a day off. I missed “whole language” in school. Ours was the time of diagramming sentences and correcting spelling and grammar. Logical, clear, but not especially creative. I began writing term papers in high school and got pretty good at it in college. In graduate school, I was blessed with education projects for the classroom which were much more interesting to me. I did write lesson plans which were published in a curriculum my program director copyrighted. My Certificate in Technology in Education required classroom technology projects. Lots of fun! Creativity consisted of needlework projects and craft projects that decorated my house, but were not especially valued by society. It was not until I began to keep a journal that I began to accrue poems. If you told me you were a poet, I would have considered you pompous. Poetry began to sneak into my life unbeknownst to me. It wasn’t until my oldest left the nest and struggled with life, that I began to find solace in poetry. My first poem, written at 5 in the morning over a period of 6 months, won a prize in a local contest (Poets & Patrons) and I was hooked. 

Last month, I posted why we need creativity in the world today. Years ago, I read The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability by James Gustave Speth, that pointed out how limited our search for solutions is. We frequently only choose from ideas which are available in our culture at the present time. Reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt I am reminded how much our culture influences our choices. Creativity is the ability to alter the perceptions which have been inculcated throughout our lifetime. Writing with creativity we can show others our viewpoint without insisting they change theirs. We can exhibit the emotions we feel in certain circumstances which may lead them to better understand another person’s viewpoint. 

According to Education World (1), January is Creativity Month, and they had some suggestions for creative writing for teachers.

Daily Writing Prompts are easy to find on the Internet, open a book and choose a word or sentence, or just choose objects around the room and start writing.
More Than Meets the Eye means using visual images to stimulate your mind. Optical illusions or word webs can help stimulate and/or organize.
Video Projects are a way to create short skits or plays and show them to the world on YouTube.
In the News suggests finding an interesting news item/s, such as news from the country of your ancestors, a new development in technology or an art exhibit. 
"What If?" This can go anywhere, from what if you could talk to anyone past or present, to what if you could travel for free?

For those of you who are closet writers, please do take the time to send your writing out into the world, even if it is only on a lowly blog. The world needs your ideas and you are the only one in the world that has your viewpoint. Show us worlds we haven’t thought of, like Ursula LeGuin or Madeleine L’Engle. Share your solutions to sustainability, global warming or income inequality. Tell us how we can lift our spirits to think about possibilities when we are depressed or oppressed. Help us find a way to feed, water and care for the population of the earth. Let’s put an end to poverty and war!

(1) Five Ways to Celebrate Creativity Month,, accessed 1/12/18.
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Friday, December 29, 2017

We Can All Use Creativity

Creativity is an ability we have to see things in new ways, imagine things that don't exist yet, "to bring into existence." (1) At a time when our entire civilization is on the cusp of yet another shift into a radically different existence, we can all use creative leaders who will find the way through the confusing mass of daily opinions we see and hear. Thousands of truck drivers may soon be obsolete, brick and mortar stores will have to learn how to use the Internet if they are to survive, and our governments are struggling with changes in climate, a rise in populism, and shifting currents of power. An entire generation jumped onto the computer bandwagon, only to have India move into the field and compete for every job. Advances in medicine and artificial intelligence are making our lives easier even as they eliminate the need for some of our jobs.

When I feel overwhelmed, I have learned to take some time out for myself each day, do yoga and eliminate the outside world for a few moments each day. I can tell what my state of mind is by the number of times I have to bring it back to observe just my breathing and whatever body parts I am using at that moment. I also learned from years of migraines, that the time immediately following a migraine was full of creative ideas. Being stuck in bed for a day was no fun, but my mind was busy while I was unaware of it. In my experience, creativity arises out of my mind and can't be coerced. It can be coaxed, however. Meeting with other poets and contemplating a poem one of us has brought has led to wonderful discussions and award-winning poems.

This year I will be studying creativity more than usual. In my life, I find creativity in quilting, writing, and gardening. I will be looking into what creativity is, how to measure it, how to encourage it, and how to prevent others from squelching it. I hope you will join me in the journey.

(1) Definition of the word "create" by Merriam-Webster. December 29, 2017