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.