5 Essential Ingredients for Creativity — ABCDE — Acceptance, Boldness, Chaos, Discernment, and Exploration
What conditions must be set in place to catalyze creativity?
I recently listened to an interview of the author Eric Weiner, who wrote the book “the Geography of Genius” on the #181 podcast episode from the Art of Manliness. Weiner travelled through time and space to learn about the “clusters of genius” that resulted in an explosion of creative energy. He explored Vienna of 1900, Renaissance Florence, ancient Athens, Song Dynasty Hangzhou, and Silicon Valley to understand what makes these places flourish as creative centers.
Similarly in the book, “Elements of Wit: Mastering the Art of Being Interesting”, the author Benjamin Errett described how Prime Minister Winston Churchill and rapper Jay-Z improvise witty retorts by mixing creative linguistic constructs. Both authors ask the questions of “How does creativity happen? and “Can we stimulate it?”
First, what is creativity?
Creativity is often viewed as the creation of something completely new and never-been-seen before. However, creativity can also be the application of imagination and skills to combine existing ideas and traditions in novel and original ways.
What conditions must be set in place to catalyze creativity? The ABCDE System
Acceptance: Creativity spontaneously sparks in an environment that welcomes creative forms of expression. In Ancient Greece, philosophers met at the “agoras” to discuss ideas among Great Minds like Aristotles and Platos. In this marketplace exchange, philosophers indulged in lengthy intellectual ruminations.
In the Renaissance period, artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were commissioned by wealthy patrons to paint elaborate oil paintings. Money fueled artistic talents. Novice artists studied under master artists in the apprenticeship systems.
Similarly, modern time actors and actresses flock to Los Angeles, country musicians migrate toward Nashville, Tennessee, and fashionistas converge in London, Paris, and New York.
The culture and society surrounding these creatives nurture and support their talents with mentors, resources, and freedom that allow creativity to flourish.
The extent of our creative radiance often lies inside the space of someone else’s attention. When we feel appreciated and valued, the quality of our growth accelerate exponentially. Similarly, to stimulate others’ creative spirits, be attentive and pay attention to their gifts of genius for it is in their brilliance that we recognize our own.
Action: Surround yourself with people who cherish and appreciate your talents and create together in synergy. Stimulate others’ creativity with your attentiveness and appreciation of their greatness.
Boldness: Creativity emerges when creatives are willing to engage in projects with beginners’ mind, which says “This is new. I’m creating inside a container of learning. Mistakes are welcomed.” Failures, weaknesses, and mistakes are embraced as part of the process. Any fear about failure is dimmed under the radiance of possibility.
There is a sense of boldness and courageousness in the expression of the soul. There is a sense of enthusiastic aliveness that is contagious to passer-bys. There is a sense of strength and power in the authenticity of quality sharing. There is a sense of carefree wonder and exploration that children embody in their effortless way of being. Boldness is easy in the absence of judgement.
Action: Follow your curiosity with vivacity, undaunted by the fear of failure or mediocrity. The joy lives in the process of learning not the end-product.
Chaos: The act of creating something new often originate from the collection of disparate ideas, destruction of wholes, and re-integration of diverse key fractions that when combined together create a beautiful mosaic works of art.
Chaos and disorders often work in sync to stimulate new paradigms of thoughts. The disruption of stability and rituals propels the desperate need to find solutions to new problems. Oftentimes during and after periods of chaos, the creative world emerges out of necessity. For example, the Dark Ages led the way to the emergence of the Renaissance Period when art and literature blossomed.
In modern day, rapper Jay-Z is known in the music industry as having an uncanny ability to improvise lyrics to new rhythms on the spot. He has been collecting words and phrases throughout his life. Inside the space of creative chaos, his mind reorders turns of phrases into catchy lyrics that mirror modern life.
Action: Collect ideas from as many sources as possible. Let them play in the chaotic recess of your mind. Be ok with the disorder — it’s part of the process of creation.
Discernment: Like birds that fly around the world and pick up seeds along the way, creatives often amass ideas from all sources of inspirations. Steve Jobs learned calligraphy and incorporated this art form into the development of tech company Apple. Winston Churchill read widely and distilled his knowledge into witty repartee in political debates.
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, Sherlock Holmes said “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that this little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it, there comes a time when for any addition of knowledge, you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
It is important not only to collect information but also to discriminately filter knowledge into applicable forms. Like a strainer, knowledge must be collated inside a funnel where it is distilled into wisdom.
Action: Learn to filter information into usable form for your own creations.
Exploration: Creativity requires constant exploration of the internal mind and the external world through sensations: see, touch, smell, taste, and hear. Eric Weiner states that the main toxin that kills creativity, most notably seen with the ancient Greeks, is “hubris,” which means excessive pride or confidence. When the Greeks stopped importing new ideas, their creativity subsided.
The automobile, tech, and military industries often import new engineering designs, sometimes from foreign countries, and tweak them to create new improved models. Chefs often import new culinary ingredients from around the world to concoct decadent dishes that excite the palates.
Oftentimes, in our explorations, we find that things can exist in paradoxes. Two contradicting things can co-exist in the same space at the same time. For example, we can be happy with the promotion to a new job AND unhappy with the uncertainties ahead. When we are sick, our bodies can be warm AND we can feel cold.
In the book Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, a forest firefighter was running uphill away from a fire that was chasing him behind his heels. In an act of instinct, he started a fire in front of him, which consumed the flammable grass ahead. After the grass burned, he ducked inside the ashes while the fire behind him circled around the “ash island,” sparing his life. The forest firefighter escaped fire by starting a fire.
We need to learn to observe and “be” with the incongruences of life. We need to suspend our need to label things as True/False, Good/Bad, Like me/Unlike me, etc. and instead view them as possibilities. When we can hold these contradictions without accepting or agreeing with them, we can observe from a space of objectivity and arrive at new creative spaces.
Action: Constantly learn and seek knowledge from as wide variety of sources as possible. Learn to hold paradoxes and contradictions and just “be” with them.
Creativity can be cultivated and inspired. Like a fire that needs oxygen, fuel, and heat to ignite, creativity needs Acceptance, Boldness, Chaos, Discernment, and Exploration to blossom.
Thao Do is a female entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, CA, USA. She is starting a company called Ideation Catalyst. The mission of the organization is to support students and adults of all ages to fully engage in meaningful lives of services for themselves and others.
She inspires everyone to discover their zones of genius by bringing into awareness their intellectual, emotional, and physical intelligences. She encourages a lifelong love of learning with a profound appreciation, genuine curiosity, and compassionate wonder at the beauty of the world. She teaches, mentors, and coaches students from 5th grades to university levels in core subjects like Math, Science, and Writing by applying Multiple Intelligences. She believes that a well-balanced life celebrates 9 types of intelligences: musical/rhythmic, visual/spatial, language, logic/mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, and existential. She supports budding entrepreneurs with their businesses to develop marketing strategies, write articles, design websites and promotional products.