Will, Skill, Drill

Being more creative is all about will, skill and drill.

First, you have to want to. That’s the will. You have to have the attitude that there’s always a better way. You have to be dissatisfied.

What that means is that every itch is an opportunity. You don’t have to look far to find something ripe for improvement, whether a product or a service, a relationship, or the way your life is unfolding. Opportunities for creative and productive thinking are everywhere.

Once you have the will, you need to develop a set of skills. One of my favorite quotes is by Jerry Hirschberg, former CEO of Nissan Design. He said, “Creativity is not an escape from disciplined thinking. It’s an escape with disciplined thinking.” In other words, you have to learn how. A very few people learn that by themselves, but most of us need help.

We start with creative heuristics developed by others — thinkers from Leonardo to Edison to Torrance to Parnes — and make our lives a path of continuous development, learning from every source possible.

Finally, you have to drill. In other words, you have to practice. No one becomes a first-rate golfer or tennis player or musician overnight. And no one becomes a first-rate creative thinker overnight. It takes work and mistakes and corrections and more work again.

Eventually you start to make a few minor breakthroughs. In time you have something to build on. And you keep going until you’ve got something that works, that’s really new, that really makes a difference.

One of the most important things we at ThinkX tell our clients is, “Stop thinking there are magic bullets that will make your people more creative in an instant.” The notion of quick fixes and instant creativity is actually one of the biggest barriers to developing creative capacity.

Posted by Tim Hurson, 2 comments

A Little on the Fence

Every September, ThinkX sponsors Mindcamp, a not-for-profit creativity retreat. We do it to offer other not-for-profits and individuals a plunge into the world of creativity. Most people come away from it with a renewed sense of themselves and their potential.

A few days ago, we received an email from a woman who was considering coming to Mindcamp 2011, but had some reservations. She wrote, “I am not entirely sure this is something for me, and so am a little on the fence. I have never participated in anything like this and don’t consider myself to be the most creative person.”

She’s not alone. Many people tell me they don’t think of themselves as creative.

In our society, we’re taught that creativity is about art or music or poetry. And of course it is. But it’s much more than that.

Creativity is about thinking beyond the obvious to solve problems. Sometimes these are art problems, sometimes music problems, sometimes poetry problems. But more often they are business problems, family problems, or practical problems.

The truth is that all of us have creative potential. Anyone who’s ever been flooded with ideas while in the shower knows that. There are a wealth of well-documented techniques for applying “shower thinking” to more practical settings. But most of us either don’t know them or don’t use them, relying instead on the old patterns of thought that caused our problems in the first place.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could learn to adapt your natural shower thinking ability to the practical world – to tame, develop, and refine those crazy shower ideas to address your real-world problems?

That’s what the work my colleagues and I do is all about – introducing people to proven ways to expand their capacity to think more creatively and more productively. That’s what ThinkX does for its commercial clients, and that’s what Mindcamp has been doing, as a not-for-profit, for nine years now.

All human beings have innate creative capacity. It’s just that not all of us have discovered that yet. Once you do, watch out. Your world (and the world of those around you) will never be the same.

By the way, the woman who wrote the email above did sign up for Mindcamp. And although we’re almost full, you’re welcome to apply as well. Check it out at

“Creativity is not an escape from disciplined thinking. It is an escape with disciplined thinking.” – JERRY HIRSCHBERG

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Fishing with Ghost Nets

Earlier this month, my wife and I took the trip of a lifetime — to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The archipelago is one of the world’s special places, where animals and humans can and do share the environment in harmony. The experience of sitting on a beach within arm’s length of sea lions and penguins, or swimming with giant sea turtles and reef sharks is an amazing and humbling gift.

That the Galapagos remain almost as pristine as they were when Darwin visited in 1835 is a testament to the government of Ecuador and the work of hundreds of passionately dedicated naturalists who devote their lives to study and conservation.

One of these special people is Juan Carlos Avila, who guided several of our out trips. Juan Carlos told us about the many human threats — some systemic and some mindless — to marine wildlife. One such threat comes from fishing vessels operating hundreds or even thousands of miles from the Galapagos. Some operators, when their nets become damaged or frayed, simply dump them into the sea since they are cheaper to replace than to repair. Unfortunately, these discarded nets keep fishing, trapping and killing thousands of creatures, sometimes for years — a phenomenon known as “ghost fishing”.

Juan Carlos’ story made me think of our own “ghost nets” — the many outdated thinking patterns (some personal, some organizational) that we unconsciously harbor. These old habits of thought may once have served a purpose, but now they trap us in unproductive ways of thinking. Often we assume we’ve thrown them away. But they’re there. And they keep fishing, controlling our responses to new ideas and new people, limiting our ability to embrace change.

One useful way to recognize our own ghost thinking nets is to pay attention to those instant reactions we all have when confronted with “different” ideas. Whenever you feel uncomfortable about a new idea, ask yourself why. Is it because the idea really is a non-starter, or is it because your ghost nets are still fishing?


The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

John Maynard Keynes

photo by Rick Gunn
Posted by Tim Hurson, 1 comment