Posted by: Liz Massey | December 10, 2009

Surf’s Up: Top creativity links for December 10, 2009

Photo courtesy SXC.

Learn the five secrets of innovation

This article on reports on the results of a six-year study of more than 3,000 executives and 500 innovative entrepreneurs by professors from Harvard Business School, Insead and Brigham Young University.

The researchers were quoted in an article published in the December 2009 Harvard Business Review as having identified five skills that separate truly innovative businesspeople from their less-creative peers: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and discovering.

One of the men behind the study, Insead’s Hal Gregersen, told CNN, “What the innovators have in common is that they can put together ideas and information in unique combinations that nobody else has quite put together before.”

Gregersen noted that it wasn’t just thinking differently that made the innovators innovative.

“The way they act is to observe actively, like an anthropologist, and they talk to incredibly diverse people with different world views, who can challenge their assumptions,” Gregersen told CNN.

“For them, everything is to be experimented upon — for example, if they walk into a bookstore and they’re used to reading history they might try psychology. All these behaviors are powerfully enhanced by a capacity to ask provocative, challenging questions of the world around them.”

He also notes that creative achievers, by and large, become that way through practice, not primarily by virtue of their raw talent.

“Studies have shown that creativity is close to 80 percent learned and acquired,” he told CNN. “We found that it’s like exercising your muscles — if you engage in the actions you build the skills.”

Overall, this article confirms observations that artists and entrepreneurs have been making for years. As a bonus, the piece also provides some practical tips for cultivating the five skills.

New Class: Explore your creativity in 2010

If you liked Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” and want to work with another book articulating Cameron’s beliefs about creativity, Quinn McDonald, a Phoenix-based creativity coach and arts teacher, is starting an online reading group in January that will examine Cameron’s 2003 book, “Walking in this World.”

The class starts on January 12 and, according to McDonald, the group will cover one chapter each week—doing the exercises at the end of each chapter, discussing the results and each member’s creative progress over time. The class is $30 (a screaming bargain for a 12-week class!) and $10 of the fee will be donated to the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, a charity committed to supporting the careers of craft artists throughout the United States.

This is an opportunity to start the year fresh with a new book and a new outlook on your creative process. McDonald is a warm, witty woman, a fantastic writer, artist and creativity coach, and just a lot of fun to be around, even if it’s just electronically. Plus, her class fee is reasonable and supports a great cause. What’s not to like?

The Score: Advice to Young Composers

This link leads to a wonderful essay written by composer Annie Gosfield on the Opinionator Blog at Gosfield, who has been known throughout her career for composing music often inspired by “non-musical” sounds, was recently interviewed by a fellow musician about her work, and found herself taken aback by the question “do you have any advice for younger musicians?”

“The question took me by surprise — wasn’t I a young composer, too? When did I make the transition to not-so-young composer? Every day I have moments when I feel like a young composer: I struggle with starting projects, experiment with unfamiliar techniques, and deal with interpersonal challenges. There are so many times when I feel like I lack a manual in my day-to-day life. How do I find the time to compose and still take care of all of the boring administrative tasks? What’s the best approach to take with a temperamental musician?  … Truth is, if I had the answers to all of the questions, my life would be a lot less interesting. Looking for the answers and keeping an open mind is what keeps it exciting.”

She outlines a couple of wonderful points for younger musicians—or any creative person, really—that can help them “hover between being a greenhorn and seasoned old hand.”

“Always consider yourself a young composer. Throughout your life as a composer there will always be more to learn, more to explore, and more to write.

“Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Once you’ve recovered from the grand aesthetic statement you just made, make sure your music is actually playable. And, hopefully, readable. A sense of humor will help you get through difficult times, and could help deflect the fact that the pianist might have to grow a few extra fingers to play that epiphanal earth-shattering chord that you refuse to change…

“Details count. …Although your ultimate goal may be something that sounds fast and dirty, there is almost always room for improvement as you refine your sounds, your scores, or your techniques.

“Be willing to put yourself and your music on the line. If you don’t believe in your music, nobody else will.”

Gosfield’s piece is a triumph. It’s practical, funny and wise, all at the same time. It deserves to be shared widely.

Bonus links!

From Sketchbook to Studio

A post from Katherine Tyrrell’s Making a Mark blog that describes how she uses her sketches in developing her other works of art.

The Biggest Stories of Our Time, Visualized

From For the past year, David McCandless has immersed himself in the storytelling possibilities of charts, and the fruit of those efforts—works he’s done, and works contributed by a slew of all-star designers—are now collected in “The Visual Miscellaneum: A Colorful Guide to the World’s Most Consequential Trivia.”


  1. Thanks for the mention – I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

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