Where do good ideas come from? Myths about creativity and the creative process

the creative process

A diving whale!

When it comes to human relationships, and the most effective ways to improve them, a large number of people resort to self-help books .

It’s reasonable. In fact, given the hectic times we live in, most of these people hope to find some quick and dirty tricks. Something to solve their problems with a minimal amount of time and effort on their part.

Unfortunately, the truth is that such tricks rarely solve anything at all.

Just think about it for a moment. Many self-help books tell us to smile and repeat over and over again the name of the people we’re talking with. These books also suggest that we ask the people we’re talking with about their jobs and hobbies.

These I just mentioned, are just some of the most banal examples. However if we follow these suggestions in a mechanical and opportunistic way the people we are interacting with will soon realize what we’re up to.

As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Instead, if we have cultivated our character in such a way that it comes natural to us to care about the people around us, we don’t need to be reminded to smile and call the people we’re speaking with with their names.

Consider. In the first scenario we have a dry list of rules that to some extent work, though only for a short period of time. Besides, we don’t grow as a person. We just learn to be manipulative.

Instead, in the second scenario we don’t have any rules to follow. Rather, we have a series of guiding principles that help us both create deeper relationships and grow as individuals.

Creative process–the hacks

Something pretty similar goes on with the creative process. I mean, we can deploy a lot of different techniques to be more creative when we need to.

As it is the case for the quick and dirty tricks of self-help books, also these techniques work, at least to some extent.

For example we can apply them on a sentence as simple as,  When I woke up it was snowing, to come up with many different and hopefully creative variations.


I don’t know why, but I thought it was raining. Then the noise, or rather the lack of it, broke the news to me. Winter was here. And with it the first snow.


When you’re as cold as a body laying in its coffin for a whole month, even snow can kindle a small fire in your heart. Especially if you’ve seen your last snow fifty years previously, on the opposite pole of your life.


They weren’t snowflakes. Rather, they were rocks. Falling on us in volleys and killing us off one after the other. The trees offered no shelter. Only vain hope.


The snow was gone. In its place only remained damp spots on the grounds. And white snowdrops. One for every snowflake that over the winter had ever settled on the earth.


I blinked my eyes open and looked around in confusion. Snow and mud. Everywhere. Four men were speaking next to the roadside. They wore coats. And uniforms. An ambulance pulled away, its sirens muted. The forest loomed dark on my left, across the road. Dark as a bad dream. Dark as the bottom of an empty bottle of wine.


I woke up to a world of muffled noises and redefined borders. It wasn’t night yet, but the lampposts cast pale shadows on the powdery ground. And white vagrants fell from the sky.


When I woke up, thirty centimeters of immaculate snow covered the ground. And puffy flakes sailed through the cold morning air.

The process of creativity

These are just some examples. However, it has to be noted that while these techniques can work wonders and can be taught to pretty much everybody, the results can vary wildly.

In fact, it isn’t just that some people are naturally more creative than others. It’s also the fact that, irrespective of how much naturally talented we are, we have to train daily to hone our creativity and keep it as sharp as possible.

It’s like training for a marathon. Even if only a relatively small percentage of people can run it in less than three hours, pretty much everybody can go the whole distance.

The key idea is that the more we work on a skill the more we can improve it. Of course, up to a certain extent.

As for being a creative genius, I wouldn’t give a shit about that. The reason is simple. Creativity is also a function of the society one lives in. What is considered creative in a society or period can be just as easily considered outrageous in another society or time.

Myths about creativity

Only artists are really creative

This is outright false. Creative people are everywhere. Some programmers are incredibly creative. The way the NASA scientists of the Apollo 13 mission worked to bring back on earth the crew is another example of extraordinary creativity.

Creative people have the right side of their brain particularly powerful

Complete nonsense. Although the brain is divided into two halves, and some functional areas are located only in one hemisphere, the brain works as a whole. It’s like with legs. One can be the dominant one. But it alone can do little by itself. The two hemispheres need to communicate efficiently the one with the other. Period.

The aha moment is ineffable

Sheer bullshit. There’s mounting evidence that the aha moment is nothing else than the natural result of long hours of study, preparation, and research.

In short, we can work on a problem for months and then, when we’re about to give up, we come up with a solution that seems to appear out of the blue.

In reality, the solution hasn’t appeared so magically at all. In fact, without the months of study and research we’ve already put in, we wouldn’t have experienced any aha moment.

Experts are more creative

Not necessarily. As a matter of fact, experts can become fossilized in what they do. A well prepared and hard working newbie can often come up with brilliant ideas whose true potential experts have failed to grasp.

People is more creative if incentivized

Bonuses can help at times. But creativity requires a good degree of lateral thinking, a sort of cerebral loafing about, and serendipity too. And often if we have a big bonus waiting for us, we’re going to find it more difficult to be really creative. Sticks apart, probably it isn’t by chance that a dangling carrot is often put in front of a mule…

Brainstorming favors idea generation

Simply put, it doesn’t. We are social animals who come up with the most creative ideas in isolation. Social gatherings and the exchange of information are important, of course. But when all is done and said, it seems that creative people need to think by themselves to make the most of the data they have collected.


We all have heard that money can buy everything but happiness. Well, money can’t buy creative breakthroughs either. Having at your disposal plenty of resources is a surefire way to come up empty-handed in the creative field.

Indeed, it’s constrains that tend to foster creativity. It seems strange at first blush, but it makes sense. After all, when you have a problem you often find a way to overcome it. You keep thinking and studying about it to find a solution.

Instead if you have everything you need, your intrinsic motivation goes down and creativity follows suit.

By the way, the use of parallelism, contrast, exaggeration and so on to improve one’s creative output is just that–a sort of constraint.

The role of Integrity

Irrespective of our potential for creativity, of our successes and failures and pretty much everything we do, there’s only one thing that really matters.


I mean, if even after the biggest fuck-up in our personal history we can look at our reflection in the mirror and tell ourselves we really tried to do our best, then we’re good to go and try a different approach.

Pictures: 4924546OpenClipart-VectorsHypnoArt –  Schmid-Reportagen

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