Posted by: Liz Massey | April 29, 2008

Surf’s Up: April 28, 2008

Reflections on what inhibits innovation in the workplace, several examples of bite-size creative output, and your advice to a young artist are today’s links from the creative blogosphere.

1. Professor Keith Sawyer of Washington University at St. Louis posted his thoughts recently about a Stanford study that looked at how corporate protection of so-called “proprietary secrets” can inhibit creativity.
The study, conducted by Pamela Hinds of Stanford worked like this:

Hinds took 69 undergraduates and asked them to imagine they worked for a company and that their goal was to “generate novel and marketable ideas for consumer-oriented information appliances” (like a toaster with a computer screen on it).  Before starting the task, she gave each of them a packet with eleven pieces of information about information appliances.

Half the students were told that several pieces of information could not be used in developing a final solution because the information was proprietary. In terms of average number of ideas generated, novelty and marketability of the products suggested, and in terms of the single highest idea per student, the students who had to deal with the constraints of “proprietary” information scored lower than the students who were told all the information they had was public and could be used to formulate a final solution.

Sawyer writes:

“The results are not dramatic but they are suggestive…. It could be that suppressing the proprietary information is mentally demanding, and so interferes with idea generation.  Or, it could be that students in the proprietary condition perceive the task to be more constraining, feel that they have less autonomy, and thus their motivation to create declines.”

(Disclosure: I interviewed Dr. Sawyer last week for an article I am writing on team creativity. He’s a heck of a nice guy.)

2. Next, several brief notes:
Author Paul Ford wrote recently about a technique he uses to cut the fat out of his writing: he creates an Excel sheet to track sources, relationships, etc. He explains: “The grid imposes brevity. Relationships between sentences are exposed. Editing becomes a more explicit act of sorting, shuffling, balancing paragraphs.”

Using this technique, he reviewed 763 songs and made each review exactly 6 words long. Perhaps extreme, this little entry (itself less than 200 words) provides food for thought to anyone struggling to cut their prose.

Meanwhile, at Twitterprose, K.G. Schneider, a librarian and writer, also known as the Free Range Librarian, presents great lines from creative nonfiction works through her Twitter/RSS feed. The feed is fed by reader suggestions, so send her your favorite link, or perhaps suggest your own work! (It’s not explicitly forbidden, so why not?)

Finally, over at Chris Webb’s blog on all things publishing, Chris interviewed Erik Chevalier, publisher of the online ultra-short fiction magazine Burst Fiction. The discussion of how to write fictional stories that will fit an entire tale with in 1000 characters (that’s characters, not words–so several times larger than a Twitter post, but still extremely brief and mobile device-friendly) and where the ‘zine is going is worth reading.

3. Finally, Alyson Stanfield of posed the ultimate question on her blog’s Deep Thought Thursday last week: What advice would you give to someone just starting down the artist’s path?

The posted comments so far range from practical (buy a paint tube wringer) to motivational to the business-like (look professional with the work, the portfolio/website, and yourself). Join the conversation, or as Alyson encourages readers to do, post your own answer on your blog and link back to her entry (and mine!).

What is my advice?

Remember why you love to create.

Create daily.

Learn business skills, but hold fast to your own vision.

Remove the obstacles that stand between you and your art as you would weed a garden, or clear a lot you intended to build a house on.

Working on a schedule doesn’t diminish your creativity; indeed, it lets your inspiration know the best time to show up.

Fall in love with your projects and let the momentum carry you through the hard days.

Your perspective on the world matters, therefore the art you make–whether anyone else sees it or not–matters.


  1. Thanks for the link Liz. Looks like some good stuff going on over here – just subscribed via RSS.

    Thanks again,


  2. You’re welcome Chris! I was just floored by the idea of writing an entire story within 1000 characters–but then again, it’s definitely an exercise in paring your expression down to the barest of essentials.
    –Liz 😉

  3. Thanks for your kind compliment about our interview! I’m glad you liked the blog posting. I’ve been to a lot of law school intellectual property conferences this past year, the issues are complex and absolutely critical to the future of innovation.

  4. Wonderful advice, Liz. I especially like this: “Remove the obstacles that stand between you and your art as you would weed a garden, or clear a lot you intended to build a house on.”

    Thanks much!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: