Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: Everyday Creativity


Being creative in many parts of daily life is for me the utmost of internalizing creative problem solving skills. When I heard that Ruth Richards wrote about the connection between creativity, intuition and spirituality in her book Everyday Creativity, I knew I had to read this book! The combination with integrating intuition and spirituality could improve the meaningfulness of creativity. And it could help to live more ‘in the moment’.

As a leading creativity researcher, Ruth Richards has asked a group of eminent thinkers to offer their thoughts on how to embrace creativity and tap into the originality of everyday life. Csikszentmihalyi describes the nature of this book as “a stimulating, thought-provoking kaleidoscope of views about what everyday creativity can involve for people, both individually and together” (p.XI).


The book Everyday Creativity consists of three parts. The first two parts focus on the role of daily creativity in our individual lives and its role in society. In the last part, Richards draws a conclusion and marks an interesting red line that connects different points of views expressed in the book into twelve principal potential benefits of living more creatively. In this part, after all the provocative sideways in the previous chapters, she makes the impact of everyday creativity understandable again.

everyday creativity

Everyday creativity involves meeting just two criteria, defined by Barron, namely: originality and meaningfulness (p.5). This can be in all parts of life or society when we pay attention to the development of two important personality traits: our openness to experience and tolerance of ambiguity. Further, Richards makes it clear that:

“Seen as a process, and even a way of life, our everyday creativity offers whole new ways of thinking, of experiencing the world, and experiencing ourselves. It can pull blinders from our eyes, and bring us alive, making us more conscious participants in our lives, aware of the dynamic of life moving about us.” (p.4).

in our individual lives…

Richards starts Part I by focusing on the healthy benefits of being creative everyday, both physically as mentally. The other authors explore in depth the importance of bravely facing uncertainty in this complex world (Schuldberg), the healing power of viewing art (Zausner) and that viewing television can create new opportunities for new learning (Pritzker). We can look at different stages of consciousness that are affecting our creativity (Combs and Krippner) and Runco shows that our creativity is a vitally important factor when we live our lives in a meaningful way. In this part I the authors show that creativity can have a big influence on our experienced happiness.

creativity in society

Part II stretches the implications of everyday creativity from an individual level into the benefits for a better society. Along unknown parts of Darwin’s evolution theory (Loye), the surprising posture of the Homo Sapiens (Arons), the subtleties of poetry from the East and West (Sundararajan and Averill) and more collaborative learning structures (Goerner), these writers show that everyday creativity is needed to live in societal complexity. The cyber world can offer us new dimensions for this (Abraham), and the power of love will help us to be more creative and more caring (Eisler). All contributors show that the impact of creativity goes beyond the individual benefits.

twelve benefits

For me the main thesis of the book lies in the last chapter. There, it all comes to a focus about the added value of everyday creativity from an individual perspective and with implications for our society. Richards calls this the features that may describe us if we are functioning more creatively. All twelve features start with the sentence “when I am creative I am…”:

I. dynamic: feeling awe as part of complex patterns and finding beauty in this

II. conscious: aware of and attentive to present experience

III. healthy: following a lifestyle with active participation and internal balance

IV. nondefensive: staying alert to restricting forces and working to limit these

V. open: welcoming new experience

VI. integrating: functioning across multiple senses and states of consciousness

VII. observing actively: in dialogue with the observed and demands of the new

VIII. caring: guided by love, compassion and meaning; aware of interconnection

IX. collaborative: working with others toward broader goals

X. androgynous: bridging false dichotomies beyond stereotypes and limits

XI. developing: aware that our personal development and evolution is ongoing

XII. brave: welcoming risks of exploring the unknown and embracing the mystery


In my opinion, what makes the book attractive, is that everyday creativity gets an importance far bigger than what people normally think about this kind of little ‘c’ creativity. The book makes very clear that everyday creativity strongly contributes to a creative attitude and the path of self-actualization. The points of view of Richards and Runco are concrete, applicable and inspiring. The other authors are more academical and theoretical approach in their explorations. But finally their essence is nicely bridged together in the twelve benefits defined by Richards.

The kaleidoscope of writers has expanded my perspectives on everyday creativity, although the chapters were not always relevant and concrete enough for me. The topic is not only an individual challenge to live more creatively. The book shows that everyday creativity influences personal health, and can have a big impact on societal development too. For me it’s no longer a how-to question but also an increased curiosity about the possible extra impact of everyday creativity (and creativity in general) in future life. This book reinforced my thinking about the importance of making everyday creativity understandable, accepted and applicable.


Don’t expect this book to be a practical ‘how-to’ about individual everyday creativity. Most of the contributions have a strong psychological background, are general in their applications or more focused on a societal level. But if you want to understand why people have to be creative and how broad the implications can be for meaningful development of individuals and society, than this book is for you! This kaleidoscope will provoke your thoughts about everyday creativity!


Erik op ten Berg (1963) is a Dutch creativity professional. Since 2001 he works as an independent trainer, facilitator and consultant on creativity and innovation. In 2010 he started studying again at the International Center for Studies in Creativity in Buffalo. Topics of his interest are climate, intuition, keeping originality alive, leadership and everyday creativity. Erik loves nature, labyrinths, traveling around the world, his wife, his three children and eating risotto with parmesan cheese.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review- Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity

Written by Graduate Student Mary Kay Culpepper

Cooking Light magazine launched a website in 1994. As editor in chief 10 years later, I reasoned the more ways we could give readers to interact with the magazine (and each other), the better, so we established a channel on YouTube and set up a Facebook fan page. I personally launched @Cooking_Light on Twitter, every day parsing out 140-character behind-the-scenes tidbits about the magazine and teasers to upcoming issues. Readers responded enthusiastically; in a year, more than 8,000 followers submitted recipes, shared story leads, and delivered near-instant issue critiques. Today, @Cooking_Light has more than 38,000 followers. What began as an exercise in reaching out to readers now transcends the magazine with separate online communities that use its feed as a jumping-off point for their own supper clubs and recipe swaps.

David Gauntlett (@davidgauntlett on Twitter) would not be surprised. A sociologist who studies media and communications at the University of Westminster in London, Gauntlett traces a handmade line from the 19th century to today in Making Is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. In it, he maintains that creativity’s value is in the making, and that the communities built by people who share their work—people like the followers of Cooking Light—can aggregate the social capital needed to effect change.

Gauntlett, an engaging writer whose other books include Creative Explorations: New Approaches to Identity and Audiences (2007), and Media, Gender, and Identity: An Exploration (2008), specializes in media studies, and often conducts research by asking study participants to make assigned items—videos, drawings, Lego models—to reflect on the process of makin

Gauntlett is hardly the first sociologist to write about creativity; Howard S. Becker obliquely covered the topic in his classic book Art Worlds in 1982. But scholarly books on the subject are far more frequently written by educators such as Keith Sawyer (2006) and D. N. Perkins (1981), or psychologists such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) and Teresa Amabile (2011). The thrust in their work is on creativity’s effect on individuals. By exploring what’s at stake when society exercises creativity, I find Gauntlett covers important new ground.

Explaining the present through the past

Intriguingly, he invokes John Ruskin and William Morris, two preeminent English philosophers of the Industrial Age, to set the stage for his modern argument. Ruskin, an art critic and social thinker, wrote emphatically about his concern that the technological upheavals of the mid-1800s would rend people from the soul-nurturing countryside, and the shifting consumer economy would rob them of self-sufficiency. Morris, a prototypical industrial designer, imagined a future revolution when everyday people would reject buying cheap, often ugly, mass-produced goods, and instead make their own beautiful things.

That future, Gauntlett claims—with the additional assistance of social theorist Karl Marx, futurist Clay Shirky and educator Ivan Illich, among others—might be now. For the last 60 years, mass media have cast a long shadow in the western world, entrenching the restrictive, didactic culture Ruskin and Morris feared. The model of having an exclusive few create programming, products, and doctrine for the many even extended to schools, where “factory learning” produced successive generations of passive consumers.

A subtle but important shift occurred in the 1970s, during a counter-culture-inspired craft revival; Gauntlett sees today’s bloggers, YouTube videographers, and extreme crafters as their aesthetic heirs. He also sees changes in the way teachers approach students who are used to contacting each other online and sharing photos and videos; their classes take a collaborative bent, where inquiry is more important than parroting a teacher’s answers. With that, they are starting to succeed in the wake of flawed programs such as “No Child Left Behind” in the U.S.

What ‘creativity’ means now

Gauntlett devotes chapters to what it means to make, exploring both craft and digital creation. Then he ties together the sociological significance of connecting with sections on happiness, and social capital and communities. At the heart of the matter is Gauntlett’s own definition of creativity, one I believe should hold special interest for scholars of the domain. He begins by identifying Csikszentmihalyi’s generally accepted 1990 definition of eminent creativity as stemming from the “sit-back-and-be-told” culture, where a network of gatekeepers, God-like, judge what is creative. Instead, Gauntlett links everyday creativity with process, allowing anyone to determine what is creative. His version:

Everyday creativity refers to a process which brings together at least one active human mind, and the material or digital world, in the activity of making something which is novel in that context, and is a process that evokes a feeling of joy (p. 70).

The human drives to make and share have the power to transform culture, he says, as people gather online and in person. Furthermore, people are apt to be joyful and healthy if they work together on meaningful projects; Gauntlett quotes economist Richard Layard as saying that shared purpose is essential for human stability, a purpose that online communities can foster.

Yet, as much promise as the wired world might offer, it is no utopia. Gauntlett points out that privacy issues, the success of aggregators (including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) that don’t pay for content, and the creativity-restraining, socially isolating matters of group think and one-size-fits-all templates are very real concerns.

What it could mean in the future

To counter, Gauntlett, like Morris, imagines futures for media, education, work, and politics and the environment that allow people to share their creativity with tools that don’t filter the results. He also envisions that people might be able to do so easily, without gatekeepers.

He admits things won’t effortlessly change. People are “comfortable with the undemanding role that contemporary culture expects us to enjoy,” he says (p. 244), yet the social cost is high. On the other hand, making and connecting are not necessarily easy, but convey more substantial rewards:

Making things is about transforming materials into something new, but it is also about transforming one’s sense of self. Creativity is a gift, not in the sense of it being a talent, but in the sense that it is a way of sharing meaningful things, ideas, or wisdom, which form bridges between people and communities (p. 245).

As a former media executive (one arguably, if benignly, complicit in the “sit-back-and-be- told” culture), I see the strength of Gauntlett’s logic. My experience with the magazine’s readers helped me understand that new media’s chief advantage is its ease as a platform for sharing, and that platform is changing the way mass media are produced and distributed, quite possibly forever. Encouragingly, the theories behind Making Is Connecting offer broad insight into the directions the times might take, and invite further scholarly research to render proof. As a student of creativity now, I find it compelling to consider participating in that research, illuminating what is happening, and perhaps helping create what happens next.

Having learned to knit and crochet in the 1970s, Mary Kay Culpepper considers her graduate education at the ICSC another form of extreme craft. Her website is www.MaryKayCulpepper.com.


Amabile, T., & Kramer, S. (2011). The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Becker, H. (1982). Art worlds. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Gauntlett, D. (2007). Creative explorations: New approaches to identity and audiences. London, England: Routledge.

Gauntlett, D. (2008). Media, gender, and identity: An exploration. 2nd ed. London, England: Routledge.

Perkins, D. N. (1981). The mind’s best work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sawyer, K. (2006). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Book Review: Inspired: How creative people think, work and find inspiration

Inspired is a richly visual book comprised of 36 onsite visits to the studios, offices, ateliers and workspaces of some of Europe’s top designers, artists, writers and composers. The authors, (ICSC Graduate Student) Dorte Nielsen and Kiki Hartmann, traveled the continent with cameras, notebooks and recording devices to capture, first-hand, the words, workspaces and workbooks of men and women who have been recognized around the world for their creative contributions.

“We wanted to do a book that only looked at the process,” Nielsen shared with me. “Lots of books show the results, we wanted to do something different. Although the guys in the book are world famous for what they do, we wanted to focus on inspiration, the process and thinking.”

To each interviewee, the authors posed questions: “What inspires you?” “What’s your working environment like?” “What is your working process?” They capsulated each artist’s responses in a single page of text, followed by pages of images of that person’s open notebooks, scribbled sketches, candid studio shots and quirky collections. The results are as varied as the artists themselves.

But as page follows page, certain themes emerge. Patterns repeat. The voices of architects, painters, copywriters, and fashion designers begin to form an unintended chorus, which reveals similarities: these individuals are driven to create; they work hard to produce something new, fresh and original; they have worked hard to know their own process; they have learned to trust it; they’ve worked for years to develop their personal repertoire of words, images or icons; they are inspired by diverse and often unexpected sources; and perhaps most importantly, their commitment to their own creativity is a very intentional choice.

They aren’t creative by mistake. When it comes to creativity, these guys are professionals, and this book is a fascinating glimpse into what it takes to hone and develop one’s own creativity to the point where its manifestation can reliably, consistently and repeatedly produce a world-class product.

Inspired leaves you with the distinct impression that highly creative people find inspiration in everything – from old sunglasses to B movies, from nature to crushed pop cans. They tend to be sensory omnivores, collecting anything that piques their senses and “seeing” the world through uncommon (perhaps more porous) filters. In the book, Paul Smith, famed fashion designer, admits, “I have a very childlike view of the world. Childlike, not childish. A friend of mine once said: ‘You walk down the road and see fifty things, and I walk down the same road and see only three things.’”

Smith was one of many interviewees who reported, “I use a notebook and pencil every day.” Many others have devoted years to keeping notebooks, scrapbooks, collections and journals. Pages of those notebooks are photographed and included in the book. Pointedly, the authors have not chosen to include the artists’ finished products, such as buildings, frocks, ad slogans or paintings. Instead, we see the raw work — the notebooks, scribblings, and sketches — the inner-workings of the creative mind. As a reader, catching these intimate glimpses into someone’s creative process is almost like looking at the sock drawer of the mind. “For me,” says typographer Chris Priest, “a scrapbook is like a visual development diary, a personal journey.”

With such a variety of fodder, the book is a visual smorgasbord, with images of everything from pinup girls to walrus tusks. And while the authors clearly address the question, “How do people get inspired?” they arrive at a divergent conclusion. In fact, there are 36 different conclusions.

Therein lies the strength of the book: It remains clearly committed to its primary sources. The artists speak for themselves. Their workspaces appear in unvarnished snapshots. Their notebooks are laid opened to digital cameras.

As a student of creative studies, I cannot help myself from pinning these specimens to the scientific corkboard of theory. I find myself thinking, “Wow, that guy is such a high ideator,” or “She’s talking about the need for incubation!” or “Gosh, he really understands his work environment preferences.” I can see their “creative” personality traits lining up exactly with the Adjective Check List. I can map their process onto the stages of creative problem solving.

I’m pleased to report that, for me, understanding some aspects of creative theory has brought a richness to these isolated interviews. I am equally pleased to report that the solo voices and anecdotal insights in these interviews have brought a richness to the theory.

In the end, if it’s creativity you’re after, regardless of whether you’re interested in theory or its manifestation, you’re in for a lot of work. The years of devotion that these individuals have invested in becoming “eminent creatives” is summed up by the comments of textile designer, Vibeke Rohland who reflects on her motivation to do creative work, “I don’t know what else to do. For me there’s no such thing as a day off. I love what I do, and do it all the time. The older I get, the braver I become. But it takes time. I believe that if you want to be good at what you do, it takes time.”

Being inspired takes time. Reading Inspired is definitely time well spent.

Note, this opinion is not just my own: The book first came out in 2005. In 2010 came the 2nd edition (which is how I came to review it for this class) due to public demand. The book is being reprinted for the 5th time in 2011. It's sold worldwide in Asia (Japan, Hong Kong, China), Australia, USA and Europe. It's a part of the curriculum for design, advertising and fashion students in London, Melbourne and Copenhagen.

Sarah Thurber is managing partner of FourSight, LLC, a Chicago publishing firm that develops researched-based tools to promote team innovation.