The Creative Mind

How to think like a crazy person to tap into your creative potential

Posted on: October 27th, 2011 by Shaun Hensher 24 Comments


It’s one of the coolest things that make us human. It’s what has allowed us to become what we have become. Creativity is the driving force of innovation. It’s what keeps us moving forward as a society. It’s also bloody hard. In a connected world of nearly 7 billion people, it’s sometimes easy to think that it’s all been done before. How can there possibly be any new ideas? Even if new ideas are possible, how the hell am I supposed to come up with them?

Well, it is possible, and while it’s never easy, with the right mindset and the right tools, it’s not as hard as it might seem. It can also be a lot of fun.

This is the first in a series of articles on the subject of developing and fostering creativity. I’ll be talking about what makes us creative and how we can foster our innate creative abilities. I will also share some processes that will help you unleash your creative potential. I hope you enjoy the series!

The Creative Mind

The Muse

The Ancient Greeks believed in some serious craziness... like that inspiration came from goddesses known as muses.

What makes a person creative? Oddly, creativity is a relatively modern concept. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that it came to be understood as a mental process. Prior to that, creation was believe to be solely of divine provenance. The Greeks didn’t even have a word for it. Plato believed that poetry was given to poets by a spiritual entity, the muse. He also believed that art was only able to imitate. Thankfully, we have moved beyond mystical understandings of creativity and have adopted a more pragmatic approach.

Science has only begun to answer the question of what makes a person creative. Who knows, maybe in 10 or 20 years, we’ll be able answer it with authority. In the meantime, one thing is clear: every single human being has the capacity for creativity. Yes there are some who seem to be much better at than others. Not everyone is cut out to be Georges Braques, Dr. Suess, or Brian Eno, but the creative mind is something we can all tap into and take advantage of.

You might be led to believe that being creative is all about thinking a certain way. Actually, it’s more about thinking in an uncertain way. It’s about forgetting about the rules and dogmas and “truths”. It’s about approaching things from an angle that doesn’t make sense. It’s about creating things that fall outside of the established connections in our brains.

Crazy People, Children, and Creative Genius

Uhhh... ya... Maybe my friends have a point when they say I'm not quite sane.

Creativity is strongly linked with mental illness. Perhaps there’s a good reason for that. People who are out of touch with reality aren’t tied down by what’s considered “normal”. Things don’t have to make sense. There are no rules about what can and cannot exist. What does this mean for us, The “sane” ones? Ok, some who know me might argue that I don’t exactly fall cleanly into the category of “sane”, but I think I’m grounded enough to be able to bridge the gap. What it means is that to access the same “outside the box” mindset, we have to act a little crazy. Seriously, go nuts. Let your mind go to the weird places. What if the rules of the universe don’t actually apply? What if rain falls up? What if Canada’s national tree is bacon? What if unicorns are real and we all ride them to work?

I know it sounds childish, but that’s kind of the point. Children are naturally creative. The sky doesn’t have to be blue and the moon isn’t so far away that they can’t fly there on a giant bird. We all started out this way. Somewhere along the way, we were indoctrinated with the restrictions of adulthood. We have to be proper. We have to be civil. We have to behave. Things have to make sense. Bull. Shit. Go ahead. Act like a kid. Hell, act like a crazy person. No one ever accused Einstein or Da Vinci of being perfectly normal, proper, sensible people. Hell, Van Gogh cut off his own damn ear! I’m not suggesting you go out and start hacking off your own body parts — that’s still a really bad idea. What I am suggesting is that if you can channel your 7-year old self, if you can forget that you are “supposed to” act a certain way, you might just be able to tap into the same part of the brain that Van Gogh used to create Starry Night. Shed your inhibitions, be playful, be curious, be silly, be random, and have fun!

Antisocial Loners and the Concept of Mental Space

Creation is, for many people, a lonely pursuit. It requires solitude and quiet. It requires a clear mind, free from distraction. This is why some of our best ideas come to us when we are in the shower, staring out the window of a bus, or sitting on the toilet. During these times, we create a mental space for ourselves that is clear of other concerns, clear of distractions, and clear of obligations. We aren’t there to solve the problem, but once our minds are empty, the solutions have space to arise. I personally incorporate meditation into my creative process. The unfocused mind is like a pond with ripples on the surface. It is only when we stop throwing pebbles that the surface becomes clear and we can see what lies beneath. I know this may seem flakey to some and I suppose it’s not for everyone, but for me, it works. The important thing to remember is that sometimes, to hear the message, we need to get rid of the static.

Social Butterflies and Inspiration

Wait… What? Didn’t I just say that creation requires solitude? Well yes, but it also requires social engagement and cultural participation. Inspiration doesn’t come from the muse, as Plato thought. It also doesn’t come from thin air. Instead, we take it from our experiences and our surroundings. So if we are to be highly inspired, does it not follow that we need to have rich experiences? Surround yourself with culture. Books, art, magazines, artistic performance, music, food, and nature can all be amazing sources of inspiration. People are also a crucial part of the equation. Hang out with friends. Make new ones. Talk to strangers. Go to festivals. Experience public spaces. Watch people (but don’t be a creep). As creatives it’s far too easy to think we can just sequester ourselves and create. Sometimes we can, even for long stretches, but eventually, we have to crawl out of our studios and into the light. After all, isn’t this a cultural pursuit?

I hope this post on the creative mind leaves you feeling inspired and motivated. I’ll be writing more on the subject of creativity over the coming days. I’ll be talking about creative spaces, creative processes and techniques, and fun creative exercises. In the meantime, go out there and create something, you crazy, childish, antisocial, social, creative genius!

Next up: The Creative Space | How our surroundings can help us tap into our creative potential

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24 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    The “problem” begins in the Education system where minds are “processed” to learn what is acceptable in society. Our Educational system is stuck in the 1960’s where people were supposed to either work in an office or work in a trade and there was no room for anything else. Now, with Standardized Testing, the minds of the young are increasingly constrained to learning only the material on the tests and nothing else. We need to move away from quantifying everything with a number or a grade and assessing students using different tools. We used to learn much better when the teacher set the learning curve based on the curriculum rather than the standardized tests set by the government.

    • I am fully in agreement with you there Steve. Current methods of teaching often seem to be antithetical to fostering creativity. Standardized testing, while well-intentioned, isn’t very good at nurturing people’s unique learning styles.
      Shaun Hensher recently posted..What the Heck is Branding?My Profile (dofollow)

    • John | Start Mission

      I was in the engineering program at U of T and that’s a very good example of what Steve is saying. Even when we were conducting lab experiments, we were penalized arriving at results different from what the TAs were expecting. We were also penalized for playing devil’s advocate when interpreting lab results. The way everything worked in engineering school was that there’s always only ONE right answer.

      However, in the real world, there are so many different answers to the same engineering problem, because the problem is complicated by business problems, creative-art problems, personality problems etc…

      I feel it is important to be aware of constraints you must work with, and be allowed to work outside of them when necessary. Creativity to me is exactly that. And school just penalizes you for stepping out of order.

  2. Loyd says:

    A book I love on creativity is ‘How To Get Ideas’ by Jack Foster. Looking forward to your future posts.

  3. Audrey Ross says:

    True, ‘Creativity is the driving force of innovation’ and not all can come up with brilliant ideas but we can try and see what we come up with. Being creative means being original and this world will certainly become a dull place if there is lack of creativity.

  4. Jeremy

    funny about the “sitting on the toilet” reference. I happen to keep a guitar right next to mine.

  5. Loved your article, so much inspiring things you have shared about creativity. Really it touched my senses and boost my creative skills. Creativity is beyond a superior thinking which comes directly by heart.

  6. What modern school teaches is old news, most lessons are history, nothing in school besides basic reading and writing and math, preparres the kids for tomorrov, the hole idea of the schoolsystem is telling about what already is, in other words, its anti ideas, anti creativity.
    None of the ideas I get for my blog A 1000 ideas is the result of my school years, except Im able to write them down :-)
    Jesper Hejlesen recently posted..Idea #57 – Idea for Childproof ScissorsMy Profile

    • I think maybe it’s a bit unfair to say that the school system is anti-creativity. There are some opportunities for creative exploration, such as in art, music, and creative writing assignments. I do however think that we could do a much better job at developing and enriching creative abilities. I think we could greatly improve the speed of innovation if creativity were nurtured more in school. I believe the biggest problem is that creativity is sort of segregated. In other words, you have your creative classes like art and music, and you have your logic-based classes such as math and science. What would happen if we infused these logic-based classes with creativity-enriching activities? Could we solve the world’s great technological problems by being more creative?

      By the way, that’s a great website you have there. I love to see people sharing ideas.
      Shaun Hensher recently posted..The Creative SpaceMy Profile (dofollow)

  7. Ana | SEMRush

    My daughter is amazingly creative, but seems like God decided I am better off without it. LOL

    Go nuts… Sounds tempting!
    Ana recently posted..Best Affiliate Marketing Programs that PayMy Profile

  8. Joseph says:

    Everyone has this creative skills, we just need to develop this talent.

  9. Ollen says:

    If you meditate you can improve your imagination. Its so easy to get to distracted. Take time and smell the roses

  10. My eyes saw the words, “How to think like a crazy person…” so I clicked on the article. Great link bait! Love reading your stuff!
    Jennifer MacKay recently posted..Panama City Homes and condos | Real Estate Market SummaryMy Profile

  11. Shahid says:

    Hi i got the reference from my friend and i thanks of him it really a awesome post and i just focused on creativity to explore and make a new things. Thanks for sharing with us.
    Shahid recently posted..PlayBook OS 2.0 AnnouncedMy Profile

  12. Katrina says:

    Great article to read and i believe that every person has different talent and it depends whether he uses it or not. And if he uses it in innovative way then it is called creativity.
    Katrina recently posted..Young Nepalese Environmentalist Wins Prestigious International AwardMy Profile

  13. Jayanthi


  14. Lekha says:

    One of the best articles i have read. But i can’t completely agree with some of you.
    Don’t just blame it on teachers or the educational system. To make a change there should be combined effort from all part of the society. First and foremost thing is acceptance from the society. How many of us support a crazy idea unless and otherwise it is from a celebrity or from a proven or successful person as we call it. Changes should start from us. Let us allow our children to be insane, crazy, make mistakes and score less marks and the very important part TELL THEM SOCIETY MAY ACCEPT YOU OR REJECT BUT BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO FIGHT FOR YOURSELF. I KNOW IT IS EASY TO SAY AND DIFFICULT TO IMPLEMENT BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE.

  15. jeniffer says:

    This is excellent post.Everyone has this creative skills, we just need to develop this talent. Its so easy to get to distracted.
    Thanks for the sharing.

  16. lhaizza | Miami

    Some people can see one thing, creative people dig deep to find meanings. Be creative to be unique.
    lhaizza recently posted..Hallandale Beach Luxury Condos: The Perfect Real Estate Option For People Looking Into RetirementMy Profile

  17. Edward Villanueva | Miami Wordpress

    Creativity happens when you make the effort to learn or try something new every day. Pretty soon it will become a habit. Have good creative habits and your mind will be happy.
    Edward Villanueva recently posted..South Florida Is Looking Forward To More Interesting Real Estate Trends In 2012My Profile (dofollow)

  18. Hemu says:

    for me a creative person is a person who make you believe that you know everything yet you don’t know anything. and i think creativity can’t be iterated, it is only thing that need to be feel.
    Hemu recently posted..Funny Saturday QuotesMy Profile

  19. Yaz

    Creativity must also be based on skill, production, achievement, and craft, however. It’s not just attitude.

    And, in defence of the ancients here, they were right that the act of true creation comes from divine sources. We usually only discover. But that is very, very important.

    Buckminster Fuller, one of the most most “creative” people that ever lived, always said that he simply discovered the beauty and principles of nature.

    Crazy is good to escape the mental shackles that society puts on us, so that we can truly discover the miracle of the world and the universe, and then show it to our fellow human beings.

    Well, that’s my take, anyway.
    Yaz recently posted..Guitar Solos Lessons – How To Write a Melodic SoloMy Profile (dofollow)

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