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How To Be More Creative In Work and Life

Notes from the presentation series

· Creativity,Work-Life Balance,Design,Life Design,Creative Confidence

How to Be More Creative in Work + Life – Notes:

This article contains some brief notes and links for the live “How to Be More Creative in Work + Life” presentation series conducted in 2018.

If you’d like to request this presentation at your group or organization, please send an email to

A. Synopsis / Key Take Aways:

  1. Everyone is creative (and everyone can learn to be more creative)
  2. Follow your interest/curiosity
  3. Solve the right problem
  4. Generate at least 3 solutions (different categories) to each major problem
  5. Prototype

B. Event Description (from Eventbrite):

Many of us want the benefits of increased creativity, but don’t consider ourselves to be creative people, or don't know how to go about adapting our creativity in one part of life or work, to another domain, or on a larger scale.

Over coffee and light breakfast, we’ll teach you how to immediately apply practical creative tools and techniques to your own life and work, including advice from three of the key books on creativity:

1. Creative Confidence by Tom & David Kelley (TED)

2. The Business Romantic by Tim Leberecht (TED)

3. Creative Intelligence by Bruce Nussbaum

There will also be giveaways of the highlighted books. Don't miss out!

Presented by Brett Cowell, creative consultant and coach, with Special Guest Jennifer Wester

C. Notes on Individual Slides, and Links

S1 – Introduction (Brett) - March 23rd Presentation

Brett Cowell - How to be more creative in work + life

I’d like to introduce our Special Guest, Artist, Entrepreneur, Skater and Educator, Jennifer Wester. Jennifer’s artistic work will be featured as part of Soluna with Dallas Symphony. Her work has been at burning man, she has developed a range of activity books (ARTb). Jennifer is a former professional ice skater, as part of US skating and has appeared on the primetime TV show Dancing with the Stars. Was part of the Italia Innovation series, with folks from IDEO and Stanford. Jennifer was also my guest in EP19 of the Total Life Complete podcast.

Next I’d like to allow Amy King from Goodwork, a creative entrepreneur in her own right, to introduce herself.

Brett: In my career I’ve been an electronic music DJ and event producer, an international management consultant, a member of a punk band, I wrote The Good Life Book: A Professional’s Guide to Happiness Balance and Meaning, The host of the Total Life Complete podcast, and founder of Total Life Complete.

Our mantra is to have fun, meet people, learn, grow, and make a difference. All of those things are equally as important, and I hope you experience them at this session!

Not to overstate the case but creativity, I’ve found, is the key to changing your life, work and the world. And that the people in this room might be the key to making your dreams come true.

S2 – What we’ll cover

Today we’ll cover the What, Why, Who and How of creativity, then hear from Jennifer about her creative journey.

S3 – Exercise 1: Your creative what/why?

  • What does being more creative mean to you?
  • Describe a picture of what that looks like
  • What are the benefits of living and working this way, to you?

S4 – Why Creativity?

The World Economic Forum says Creativity will be the 3rd required skill for all jobs by 2020 (behind Complex Problem Solving and Critical Thinking).

Adobe’s State of Create 2016 survey says that people identifying as creative also say they’re better leaders and parents, confident, problem solvers and happy.

S5 – Why Creativity (according to the books)?

Three books were selected to illustrate the type of creativity most relevant to those wanting to be more creative in work and life. Here is an illustrative quote from each about "why" be creative.

1. Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley

“[My students] Actually start working on the things really important in their lives, have more choice and make better decisions”

2. The Business Romantic by Tim Leberecht

“I want our organizations to remain human…to become beautiful”

3. Creative Intelligence by Bruce Nussbaum

“My students needed to create their own opportunities and companies to survive”

S6 – Exercise 2: Walk and See

< exercise >

S7 – Exercise 2: Example photos

S8 – What is creativity?

A dictionary definition might include words such as “Imagination, originality (of thought or expression), meaningful, production”

Dr Jonathan Plucker “Creativity is the interaction among aptitude, process, and environment by which an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context” Plucker et al (2004) most creativity definitions revolve around the idea of “unique and useful” (novel and appropriate etc)


Key Take Aways: Firstly, the type of creativity we're talking about here is not limited to artistic creativity (which often includes a focus on aesthetics). We are talking about the creativity that applies to entrepreneurs, business people, moms and dads, everyone.

S9 – The 4 C’s of Creativity

Reference: Kaufman + Beghetto 2009

We used a cooking example to illustrate this idea.

Brett Cowell - Illustration of 4C's of creativity using cooking example

mini-c creativity: a child learning to crack an egg and make an omelet. Small, incremental and personally significant creativity.

little-c creativity: cooking a new meal with leftovers from several earlier meals. Everyday creativity.

pro-c creativity: A well esteemed local chef, or someone serious about their cooking skills (but not necessarily working as a chef). A good understanding of the knowledge of domain and field, and can use that knowledge to create new dishes.

Big-C creativity: A chef who has changed the way we think about and eat food. Genius level creativity.

Take aways: By this framework, we are all creative. There is a link between creativity and learning (by learning more we can be more creative). My (Brett) personal spin on the 4C's are that both beginners and geniuses often work outside some or all of the constraints in a field. Learning comes with taking on board of norms, and expectations of performance related to a domain and field, which might make you blind to disruptive new ideas...

S10 – The Componential Model of Creativity

Reference: Theresa Amabile (HBS)

Four factors affecting creativity:

  1. Domain Expertise
  2. Creative Thinking Skills
  3. Motivation
  4. Environment

The points I wanted to pull out here are (3) and (4). We are more creative when faced with situations that we are motivated about. For example, think of teenage lovers (or lovers of all ages). They are motivated and creative in finding ways to spend as much time together as possible. Amabile found that intrinsic (internal) motivators increase creativity more strongly than extrinsic (external) motivators such as money.

Lastly, a supportive environment is key to maintaining creativity.

Key take aways. The fastest way to be more creative, is to find problems that you’re most motivated to solve, and people that support you.

S11 – What is creativity - Books?

Creative Confidence - A process. (a belief/skill: creative confidence). Design Thinking. Human-Centered Design

The Business Romantic - Meaning (in life and work) is from Purpose, but also Romance (mystery, intimacy, and unexpected beauty)

Creative Intelligence - A set of competencies.. Get better at Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making and Pivoting or Scaling

S12 – Exercise 3 Uses

Thinking outside the box exercise

S13 – What is creativity, according to the book Creative Confidence?

  • The ability to come up with new ideas, and the courage to try them out
  • A process, i.e. Design Thinking, to move from a blank page to a spark of inspiration
  • A bias to action “if you want to make something great you have to start making”

S14 – What is creativity, according to the book The Business Romantic?

  • “The elevation of emotion over reason and of the senses over the intellect”
  • “A belief in imagination and beauty as pathways to spiritual truths”
  • “The desire to engage the whole self in profound experiences”

Key take aways: Again, The Business Romantic is a way of looking at the world, and celebrating the many aspects of human existence that are often overlooked in our modern (working) world

S15 – What is creativity, according to the book Creative Intelligence?

  • A set of competencies to be learned and applied: Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making, Pivoting (i.e. Scaling)
  • Knowledge Mining – start with you and the cultures/tribes you belong to
  • Framing – change up the default story to identify new ideas

S16 – Creative Intelligence Old Dogmas vs New Dogmas

S17 – The Mix Tape Analogy

< creative break >

S18 – Who is creative?

  • There are tests of creativity e.g. Torrance, and Performance/Portfolio (e.g. Julliard)
  • “Creativity isn’t some rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few, it is a natural part of human thinking and behavior” Creative Confidence
  • But Adobe State of Create 2016: 41% of respondents say they are creative, and only 30% are living their (creative) potential

Key Take Aways: We are all creative, but few of us would self-identify as such, and fewer say that they are reaching their creative potential. Creativity is often seen as (always) a mystical thing, or a inborn trait for a separate class of people Creatives/Artists, but that is not the whole story. As you've heard, creativity can be and is a process, a team, habits, and so on...

S19 -21 – Optional Exercise

Nightingale CQ Test

S22 – How to be more creative

“If you want a good idea, start with a lot of ideas.”

- Linus Pauling (Nobel Laureate)

S23 – How to be more creative according to: Creative Confidence?

To answer “how to be more creative” the substance of the book is really about learning techniques such as Design Thinking and Human Centered Design, and having lots of practice doing design challenges of increasing scale and complexity. An example of a simple design challenge: how would you redesign your wallet to be the perfect wallet???

I recommend reading Creative Confidence particularly if you are looking to be more creative in a work or team environment. There are many practically helpful suggestions in the book. Here are just a few that I thought were different from what we’ve discussed so far:

  • Decide to be creative. Decide that you want the benefits and the life of a creative person. Adopt an abundance mentality.
  • Remember that it’s hard to be “best” right away so commit to rapid and continuous improvements
  • Instead of a PowerPoint deck. Use a single image & compelling story. Or create a video. Get better at sketching/mind mapping

To point 1 above, I’d add the painfully simple step of starting to journal (write down in an organized form) your ideas. As Dallas extreme performance artist Erica Felicella says ““just because brain has idea now, it doesn’t mean it will have the idea later”…creative pros, among other things, make time to be creative, and have a system to record (and find) their ideas for later.

S24 – How to be more creative, according to The Business Romantic?

Again, there are many good ideas in The Business Romantic, particularly if you are losing your love of business, and want to ditch any growing cynicism.

  • Be a stranger – put yourself into different groups. I like the idea of playing the "interested question asker” in social situations where you’d otherwise be tempted to stand in the corner!
  • Keep the mystique – keep secrets, maintain possibility and suspense. In this age of full-disclosure and over-exposure, buck the trend by not revealing everything
  • Take the long way home – use nostalgia to connect with people. Use curation as a technique (in your social feeds etc) to add value to those that interact with you

S25 – How to be more creative, according to Creative Intelligence?

  • Follow your own curiosity and immerse yourself in what interests you
  • Make time for creativity. E.g. Google allow 20% of work time for staff to work on their own projects
  • Use your passion to build the emotional capital to connect with others

Key Take Aways: Although Creative Intelligence can sometimes be a tough read, I enjoyed that it reminded us that we already have an immense source of creativity within us, given our own life experience, and the groups/tribes we belong to.

As a parallel, Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It, for example, is a study in how to turn your passion into a business. Vaynerchuk and Nussbaum share a point that creativity starts with your passions, knowledge and experience. Secondly, business development, is an important and complementary role to idea development. Know not only creative folks, but those that might be able to add to or share your idea, if you intend to commercialize it.

S26 – How to be more creative. Exercise.

Write down 3 creative “hows” from what you’ve heard here that help you reach your creative “why”.

S27 – Some Take Aways

(see start of article)

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