Creative Something

Is your idea is right or wrong?

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Quickly, three different styles of painting are shown below, tell me which one you think is right:

Cubism, surrealism, and realism. Which one did you guess is right? The question itself isn’t a real one. It’s the equivalent of asking what sound yellow makes.

When it comes to artwork there is no “right” answer. A painting that changes style, color, context, and presentation isn’t more wrong than another painting, it’s simply a different style.

The same is true of creativity. But we’re too easily persuaded that’s not the case.

How often do you wind yourself up fearing that your ideas will be in some way wrong? How many times does that fear leave you stuck or like you’re better off abandoning an idea? We become terrified at the idea of someone critiquing our creative efforts before they have a chance to fully understand them. We don’t want to be wrong. So we stand back, we don’t take a chance, we let the idea float into the back of our minds (or notebook) until a less dangerous idea makes itself known.

But, like art, creativity has no right or wrong.

An idea that is different than others – either by execution or context or some other manner – is merely different, not right or wrong in any sense of the words. The only requirements for creativity are that the idea is original and provides at least some level of value. That’s it, and with that definition the world of possibilities for what our ideas can be or become is vastly larger than I think we allow ourselves to see. Your ideas don’t have to fit in some mold of right or wrong!

When we start to look at our ideas in this context it frees us up to experiment more, to play with our curiosities.

All ideas should be explored. It’s only by exploring ideas – getting them out of our notebooks and certainly out of our heads ” that we can see what they’re really about. Only after we’ve done something with our ideas can we see how appropriate and powerful they may be.

Starting today, Don’t worry about whether or not you’ve got the right idea. Worry about what you’re going to do next with the idea instead.


<p>Sometimes I have to remind myself</p>

Sometimes I have to remind myself


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“Genius, it seems, happens when a seasoned mind sees a problem with fresh eyes.”

Big breakthroughs tend to happen after late 30s.

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Don’t turn the TV off

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Common advice among creative circles is that if you want to be more creative you need to turn off the TV.

Not only the TV, of course. You need to turn off your phone and computer too, step away from the digital world, spend more time being with yourself and your thoughts. Avoid the distractions that television and the Internet bring.

While there is certainly some truth to the notion that creativity can only come when we distance ourselves from distraction and allow ourselves to ruminate, we have to ask about what happens when we distance ourselves and realize we don’t have anything to inspire us or to really think about?

I often wonder where these people who tell us to disengage think the inspiration for ideas comes from exactly.

As Steven Johnson states in his book Where Good Ideas Come From:

“Good ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and, occasionally, contracts) over time.”

Ideas, particularly novel ones, are the result of our brains sorting through existing information put through the ringer.

The information we have to work creatively with is often brought to us by reading, watching television, browsing the web on our phone, having meaningful conversations, and playing video games. Then – only after we’ve absorbed enough to be meaningful in a context – we have to take time to ruminate, to let all of the input blend together like a soup, and experiment with all of the stuff our brains have soaked up.

The question then becomes not whether or not we should turn the TV off, but when to turn it off.

Photo by Anthony Kelly.


What’s the best mood for creativity?

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How you feel throughout the day greatly impacts your creativity.

We know this is true from research that has studied the creative output of participants under certain mood-altering circumstances.

You might be thinking that this is all obvious, that of course you’ll find yourself being most creative when you’re emotionally invoked. Historically creativity has been associated with negative moods, after-all. We have to only look to the romanticism of poets, painters, and musicians to see that heartache and turmoil are evident drivers of creative output.

It’s just too easy to imagine a poet dressed in black, tormented by lost loves or undying dreams any time the word “creativity” is used.

But wait! Believe it or not, the notion that negative or low moods are more likely to make you creative simply isn’t true. At least, not entirely true.

There is ample evidence that indicates positive, elated moods are just as likely to drive creativity as much, if not more, as negative moods.

How exactly can both ends of the mood spectrum possibly drive creativity, particularly when they’re so counter weighted to one-another?

Let’s look at the research together.

How positive moods affect creativity

In 2010, three researchers from The University of Western Ontario wanted to know what impact positive moods have on our mental ability.1

The researchers, John Paul Minda, Ruby Nadler, and Rahel Rabi, looked at various historical studies of moods and a method of learning around what they call “rule-described” categories.

From their initial research, the Minda, Nadler, and Rabi theorized that positive moods are more likely to enable cognitive flexibility. The theory stated that people who are in a positive mood are much more likely to accept what they learn and think due to having an “open mind,” so to speak.

After testing 87 subjects split into three groups, where one group watched positive videos on YouTube, another group watched negative videos, and the third group participated in a neutral mood activity, the researchers discovered that students in the first group were much more likely to score well on the computerized tests of thinking ability than students in either of the other groups.

However, the researchers also learned that the students exposed to negative videos performed comparably just as well as the students who watched neutral videos; not worse or better.

In effect: those in a positive mood were likely to adopt an “open minded” attitude, while the negative moods had no measurable impact on thinking.

So there we have it, a positive mood is more likely to help you be creative because it allows you to open your mind to possibilities, right?

Not quite. Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum too.

How negative moods affect creativity

In a more recent (and often cited) study by Joseph Forgas of University of New South Wales, research showed that being in a negative mood improved memory, removed cognitive biases (clarifying thinking patterns), and improved motivation, amongst other cognitive benefits.2

From the study, Forgas discovered that participants who were labeled as being in a mild, everyday negative mood were much more likely to complete a complex task, even in the face of failure. Whereas those in positive or more neutral moods were much more likely to give-up or ask for help on a daunting task.

What Forgas showed was that you can think of negative moods as being valuable in that they create a feeling of “ever forward” and deep cognitive reflection. It’s from that deep reflection part of the negative state that we often see creative insights emerge, as I’ve previously written about.

So negative moods cause inward reflection and pause, giving us enough time and motivation to evaluate the pieces of a puzzle or particular problem/project. It’s clearly the better bet for creative thinking, right?

Well, there’s more to this story.

Which moods are best for creativity?

If positive moods have been found to benefit cognitive thinking, and negative moods have also shown to have equal benefits, how are we to know which moods are the best for doing creative work?

In a 2007 study by Rice University researchers, scientists looked explicitly at how positive and negative moods impact employees creativity while on the job.3

The hypothesis of this study was that both positive and negative moods improve creativity, under the right, supportive circumstances.

What researchers found was just that: both positive and negative moods influence creative capabilities in their own, unique ways. For each type of mood there are benefits to creative thinking and cons as well, with the defining factor as to whether a particular mood was beneficial being the context of the individual and their work.

The researchers explain: “experiments have found that participants in positive moods demonstrate divergent thinking, fluid ideation, flexible categorization, make unusual associations, and perform well on insight problems, unusual word associations, and heuristic problem solving tasks”

Conversely, for negative moods, there are clear benefits as well. Again from the researchers: “Negative moods are functional in that they alert us to shortfalls, cause us to focus on the current state of affairs rather than our pre- existing assumptions, and motivate us to exert high levels of effort to improve matters”

As the research shows: both positive and negative moods are worthwhile for creative pursuits!

It’s all about how you feel right now

Even though both ends of the mood spectrum provide benefits for creative thinking, almost all of the research I’ve read through indicates that to really reap the most benefits it all comes down to timing and context.

If you’re just starting out on a creative project, you may be better off if you’re in a negative mood.

It’s that negative mood that will help you identify areas where improvements can be made (in terms of innovation at the workplace, for example), as well as motivate you to actually start the creative project (like writing an essay or beginning a painting).

On the other hand, if you’re in the middle of a creative project or reaching the tail-end, being in a positive mood is likely to help you in numerous ways, including not getting deterred when you suddenly realize there’s a better way to do what you’ve been doing the whole time (as an example).

In the end, moods obviously matter for creativity, both positive and negative. It all depends on where you’re at in the process of creativity and what the context or problem is.

Of course, additional research indicates that being in a neutral mood (like feeling content or generally happy) makes you less likely to be creative (since you have no reason to adjust your actions). While being in a more “active” mood (such as angry or euphoric) is going to help you be creative.

The last thing I want to share on this topic comes from researchers Jennifer M. George, Jing Zhou, who wrote:

“Moods provide people with information about situations and the effects of moods on cognitive processes and behavior can be understood in terms of their informative effects. That is, in order to adapt to the environment and function effectively, people’s thought processes and behaviors are tuned to the information provided by their moods.”

Starting today: really pay attention to what your mood is.

No matter what mood you want to be in, pay attention to the mood you are in at any given moment.

Being aware can help you identify which part of a project to work on, where you should be attentive, and why you are or are not feeling motivated.

You may find yourself being more productive with creative results when you’re angry, but you might alternatively be more creatively stimulated when you’re ecstatic. The only way to find out is to pay attention to your moods throughout the day.

In the end, the best advice for creativity remains the same: find what works for you.


“I try to remember that I’m writing all the time—even when I’m not writing. You pick up on things every moment; you’re always having the radar out. You’re always examining things, storing things.”

If you’re an artist, writer, filmmaker, or otherwise creative individual, I cannot emphasize enough how badly you need to read this article: What great artists need: solitude.

Posted at 9:13 am by