"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Time Magazine and Creativity

Last week Time Magazine’s cover story was entitled Creativity in America: The Science of Innovation and How to Reignite Our Imaginations. The premise: that creative thought is on the decline in the US – especially among children.

I happen to be in my fourth week of a Reading Class (partial fulfillment of the requirements needed to complete a Creativity Coaching Certificate.) The classic books I’ve read so far haven’t grabbed me, but I’ve been at a loss as to why. I thought maybe it was just summertime, or the stress of being on the road with a heavy teaching schedule.

But the Time article included a rather shocking observation concerning my reading material: Not only does the classic creative strategy brainstorming not work, but “according to University of Oklahoma professor Michael Mumford, half of the commonly used techniques intended to spur creativity don’t work, or even have a negative impact. As for most commercially available creativity training, Mumford doesn’t mince words: it’s garbage.”

He added, “Whether for adults or kids, the worst of these programs …pander to an easy, unchallenging notion that all you have to do is let your natural creativity out of its shell.”

Ha! Just as I’ve suspected. Creativity requires intentional effort. It isn’t just going to spring bubbling from my inner well, or burst from the top of my head. Maybe that’s why the books weren’t resonating. The approach was too formulaic. Especially the chapters that proposed methods for tapping the intuitive, serendipitous Self.

It hasn’t been my experience that it’s possible to command serendipity. I may notice intuition at play and practice noticing. I may become better aware of intuitive hits when I get them. But I don’t think calling forth serendipity or intuitive resonance is a command performance.

In defense of the books, which shall remain nameless, each was written more than twenty years ago. As with all things, observations and experience of the creative process continue to evolve. Perhaps those books are losing their relevance. Wouldn’t that be good? It would indicate progress in the field.

The Time article suggested quantifiable activities that have been proven to enhance the quest for your Best Creative Self. Here’s the short list:

1. Never tell someone to be creative or to “think creatively.” Saying it out loud almost always shuts down anything good that was happening. Sort of like demanding great sex instead of letting it unfold. Some things just aren’t available on demand.

2. Quit watching so much TV. Not only does it sap time that could be used creatively, it also saps interest in being creative.

3. Get moving. Every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and this is true of creativity, too. The type of exercise doesn’t matter and the boost lasts for at least two hours.

4. Take a break. I wrote about this a few weeks ago. Not happening creatively? Set the project aside for a while and don’t pursue that interest. Your back burner (the unconscious) will busily work on your behalf. Professors who set aside a writing project when they’re stuck get more papers published than those who labor over one precious document.

5. Explore something new. A new cuisine, a new culture? It doesn’t matter. The effect is the same. The curiosity around something new filters into your creative thinking sphere – and heats it up too.

6. Passion, passion, passion. Studies have proved that kids do best when they are encouraged to pursue a passion. Passion gives meaning and substance to existence. Have you got one? If not, maybe this is a good time to start looking.

As for the coursework I am pursuing? I’m going to stick with it. I know I have some strategies that work when my students need help accessing their best creative selves. And I've seen results. Maybe I’ve got a few ideas that will contribute to the field.

I’ll share my strategies next time.


  1. Yes, absolutely! Ia gree with all of the above & thank you for posting this!
    I had one of those serendipitous "put-it-aside" moments recently. I perusing a big question mark in the piece I will begin next week, I was totally stymied. I decided to stop trying to get my head around it, take the pressure off on needing to begin (though it is a piece with a time frame for delivery) & did some mindless sewing.
    Suddenly from nowhere in my conscious mindm, the answer arose fully formed, from the forehead of Zeus, as it were!
    Time & intention will bring us back to our fertile creative home.

  2. WOW! This is "heavy"... illuminating ... encouraging ... validating ... thought provoking...and I'm SO glad I read today's blog! Thanks again for the inspiration!

  3. great information... one i can attest to...no tv. it is an amazing tool in my life. but the most surprising/not surprising one is exercise! it makes perfect sense. so i think i will go take a walk!

  4. The computer guy was just here doing some things and I asked him to remove Solitaire from my computer. Pity I'm so weak that I couldn't resist, but I'm excited to see how I do facing up to difficulties in my work without that little escape!

  5. I look forward to reading about your strategies. Insights into creativity from a very creative person! Now that's a source I can trust.
    I think practice is an important fuel for creativity. Yes, sometimes you need to walk away. But if you are sewing, sketching, making on a regular basis, even if the projects are not masterpieces, you are in the environment for the muse to speak to you--the perfect storm so to speak.

  6. I enjoyed what you had to say. All of the ideas are important. Maybe we could tattoo them on our foreheads. The #5 always seems to work for me. Even if it isn't something new, maybe just going to do the gardening, the ideas sort of take a different path. The breaking through occurs without noticing. No bells ring but a deep resonance that the answer is arriving. Then when I take up the problem again, I find that my hands have their own knowing.

  7. Terrific post Jane. I have torn my house apart looking for the Time magazine with the creativity cover story to no avail! I just discovered that it was actually Newsweek magazine and you can read the article you reference online here: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/12/forget-brainstorming.html

  8. The original article is in Newsweek, for anyone looking for it! Worth a read, certainly. I thought the "divergent thinking followed by convergent thinking" was an interesting aspect of the process. It's important to do them one at a time, I think and let each run its course.

  9. I just found this blog. Wow and thanks.

    I've had Complex Cloth for years but never thought check if you had a blog. I am so happy it occurred to me today.

  10. This fits well with how I see/feel creativity functions are achieved. Comments back at the turn of the 20th century from Thomas Edison pretty well describe creativity for me: "10% inspiration...90% perspiration". From my own experience most creativity over time was successful when practice, practice, practice with new techniques and ideas was done.

    Funny thing that a related article to this same subject was also in a recent Newsweek magazine, talking about the decline in creativity, especially among the younger generations over the past 20+ years... --Sharon

  11. Dear Terry, Thanks for the link to the Creativity article! very interesting reading.

  12. Wow....this is amazing, all of it so inspiring.
    Thanks for posting it, I will come back to visit your blog, and by the way, Tagore is one of my favorite writers. I hope you don't mind, I linked your blog to my FaceBook page.

    May you always be in the flow of creativity.

  13. Do you have the book "Drive" by Daniel Pink on your list? He says that all the motivational theories used since the last century actually kill creative thought rather than inspire it. Interesting ideas, I'm only half through it. Unfortunately, I'm kind of a half-book reader.