Developing The Creative Mindset

How does one who doesn’t consider themselves to be creative, develop their mind to think creatively?

I’m an Adjunct Professor at Bentley University.

Teaching is something I love to do and hope to do much more of it in the future. I care intensely about making sure each of my students succeeds and go out of my way to take the time to help them out in any way I can.

So when I receieved an email from a student in my online marketing course asking:

“I realize I am having trouble with the class. I read the work assigned and even look up things online but I guess I am not sure how to get a creative mindset. This is my first marketing class, so maybe that is why I am struggling.”

I knew I had to do something.

How DO you develop a creative mindset? Even harder, how do you teach someone else to develop one?

Knowing that if one student has a question, others have the same one I decided to dedicate a chunk of my class last night to that topic. It was so well received that I decided to share my advice with a larger audience than only my class.

This is the lecture I gave last night in class.

It would be impossible to speak for everyone and cover everything, but here is how I keep my creative mindset fresh and ongoing and I hope it helps you.

Consume Variety Daily

Every great artist, no matter their medium, needs to consume.

By reading, watching, listening and appreciating what others create is where a spark of creativity might spring from.

Since we were talking about marketing I told them they should be scanning AdWeek, Mashable, Digiday and BuzzFeed on a regular basis.

But, if that is all they were to consume, they’d be left with a stagnant guru aftertaste, that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

Yes, you should pay attention to your industry so that you know what others are doing, but you need to consume outside of your own backyard as well.

I showed them my Feedly front page, my Rebel Mouse and my Vimeo likes to showcase the variety of content I consume and share. If they were going to consume in a cave, they’d never get to see the sunrise.

I encouraged them to set up a Medium account and follow a diverse group of people and publications so that there was a constant stream of exposure. It has become the first thing I scroll through in the morning with my coffee and if it works for me, it would work for some of them.

Find Artists That Resonate With You

I chose the word ‘artists’ very carefully because it is a term too many are afraid of and it gets limited to painters and poets and in today’s reality it is about so much more.

There is an endless list of people I could have mentioned, but in forcing myself to limit it to a single slide I chose four.

Chase Jarvis
This Seattle based photographer and entrepreneur has been a long time inspiration to me. He is constantly creating and sharing. He approaches life head on and I’ve been lucky to get to know him better over the years.

If you’ve never watched Chase Jarvis Live or taken a class on CreativeLive you are missing out.

Karen Walrond
There is a short list of dear Friends in my world and Karen is one of them. Her images, words and voice is something I truly cherish. Her weekly notes always gives me a nudge to do something new and her heart is giving and kind.

Take a moment to read her words and look at her photos and you’ll be hooked.

Chuck Wendig
He might hide in his writing shed and throw NSFW rants in every direction, but when it comes to writing advice his is the best. His blog posts, writing books and fiction has inspired me in ways I can’t even fully comprehend yet.

If you can’t handle naughty words, you can’t handle Chuck, but you don’t want to miss out on his gems.

Austin Kleon
You should have a copy of Steal Like An Artist always near you for an instant pick up. I put off buying this book for years because I hated the title, but once I embraced the concept I was fully on board.

Austin’s digital and analog desks in his office alone made me love his work, but his constant stream of curated creativity is what keeps me coming back.

I also reminded them that they would never know when something might spark their creative juices and used Beyonce’s Lemonade as a recent example that rocked my world and sparked a round of creativity in myself even though I wouldn’t classify myself as a fan of her music. (I’m quickly becoming one. )

Always Be Creating

For a room full of business students, I’m sure this was the scariest bit of advice I gave them last night. But, I firmly believe that you can’t be creative only in your mind. You must create.

You need to find the medium and platforms that work for you.

In my world, photography is my go to choice when I’m creating and I used my Instagram account to showcase how it is a mix of snapshots and photographs.

It is an outlet that allows me to spill out creative juices without making too much of a mess.

You need to set up place to write. An account to share your photos on. Start a journal to collect your thoughts.

It doesn’t matter where or how you create, as long as you are creating.

The mind is a muscle that needs to be stretched, worked and walked on a regular basis or the saw will never get sharpened.

I told the story of the morning after the Boston Marathon Bombing when my friend Clarence and I were scheduled to shoot photos around the city.

We instead opted to head to the White Mountains and I wanted some way to share the peace I found there with others.

Video isn’t my usual platform, but I have a history in it, so I created A Minute of Peace as a way to share and perhaps help a few people deal with the tragedy my beloved city was going through.

I’m a creative, so I had to create.

It wasn’t perfect, but I created something and that is what mattered most to me.

Perfection is the enemy of creativity.


It doesn’t matter if it is on a Kindle, in printed form or listened through headphones, you can’t exclude books from your world if you want to be creative.

My rule is to switch back and forth between fiction and non fiction so that I don’t grow stagnant.

I just finished Disrupted and am currently reading Trusting the Currents. Who knows what will be next?

But, what books would help inspire a creative mindset in my students?

I wanted to narrow it down to four books I could give them as a foundation. Do you have any idea how hard that is?

I opted to trust my gut and go with a few on my shelves that instantly came to mind.

Made to Stick is the best book ever written on how our brains grasp things and whenever someone asks for my favorite marketing book this is what I suggest even though it is far from ‘a marketing book.’

Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work are two sides to the creative coin that I believe show anyone that they can and should be creative. If after reading these you don’t find yourself with an urge to create something than I don’t think you can be helped.

Purple Cow was an obvious choice for a marketing class. Seth Godin is a genius in the fishbowl of gurus and I appreciate all that he ships.

Unlabel was the wild card for this group because it is certainly the one none of them had heard of. It was also the one book that I told them they had to buy in hardcover because an ebook version of it just wasn’t the same.

Less than twelve hours after completing the lecture there has been a slew of other books that popped in my head, but my slide and your nightstand is only so big.

Have Real Interactions

Society has become too dependent on our screens.

The connectivity we have through social media is amazing, but nothing compares with face-to-face interactions. Handshakes and hugs will always trump likes and shares.

You need to get away from your computers and phones and go to actual events in the real world where the exposure is guaranteed to help your creative mind get going.

For my students I encouraged them to start attending Creative Mornings events and subscribe to The Boston Calendar to keep up to date on things happening around them.

Attending industry events is important to keep up to date on what is going on in your world, but I really wished more people would attend events completely outside of their industry.

I shared the importance of Misfit Con to recharge my creative juices every year and how I’ll schedule everything around my yearly pilgrimage to Fargo to be part of this special tribe.

You Never Know Where Connections Will Take You

I wanted to leave the class with another reminder of how important relationships are to every corner of their lives going forward.

We constantly document our lives and yet how often do we take the time to look back and remember?

This slide shows six photos of creative moments in my life that came about from a seemingly random interaction at one point.

It shows:

Six amazing experiences that all had direct connections to all the advice I had given thus far.

These opportunities came about because I created something, said hi to someone or attended an event.

You need to realize that while it may be years after the fact, what you create, do and share does effect and connect with people.

Developing a creative mindset is a life long process, but I hope this lecture helps you if you are struggling a bit.

As I was writing this up, I received an update from my student who inspired the class:

Yesterday’s class was amazing. And it is so crazy because the person who was sitting next to me was like “I am so glad someone said something, because sometimes I feel like I am not being creative enough or don’t have the creative eye since I am not a marketing major and don’t understand everything.” And I just smiled because it made me feel like I wasn’t the only one.

You are never the only one.


Now get out there and get creating.