myth: the creative life is romantic & problem-free (video teaser)

I delivered a talk – The Creative Mindset at Work – to about 70 executives, presidents, and administrators of non-profit grant making organizations and of grant-making regional associations. (See video teaser below.) These status quo-shakers and dream-makers had gathered in Pittsburgh for The Giving Forum’s annual conference.

When I surveyed some of the attendees ahead of time to ascertain their views and their daily realities, I quickly spotted a myth. “Our days are spent fixing technology problems, responding to board members’ needs, and preparing for meetings,” one participant told me via email. “Hardly the climate for creativity.”

I hear that complaint often. I get it. Have felt it. But the view that being creative day-in, day-out equates to escaping problems and having time on your hands is inaccurate and self-defeating. If you’re curious about this & other myths of creativity, keep reading and share your views in the comments below. 

The surveys and my research crystallized my focus: First, to disabuse these shakers and makers of the myth that to be creative means a problem-free life of contemplating dragonfly wings (i.e., “Nothing to do with my work life.”). Second, to lay the groundwork for what conditions optimize a creative mindset at work. Third, to engage them in being creative on cue.

Here were some of the take-aways.

1. Being creative is not romantic. Being creative is not painting, poetry, or performance. Those are the imagination-based media through which people most traditionally express or explore creativity.

2. Being creative is not about escaping problems. Having a creative mindset at work is about tracking problems and making situations better by using novel ideas or novel combinations of ideas. Once I told this group that a day at work rife with problems is a veritable gold mine for creativity, I had their attention.

3. Constraints of time and money benefit creativity. Given that the 2007-08 economic crash and recession stymied these organizations’ abilities to fund the organizations they believed in, this group didn’t want to hear, “Do more with less.” So, I didn’t say that. Instead, I showed them how they could “Do differently and better and more creatively with less time and money.” And I showed them examples of the grant-making organizations that were doing just that since 2008.

4. Intentional focus coupled with delightful divergence leads to capturing eurekas and taking creative action on problematic situations. That’s the basis for the four-part method I led them through. Complete with an appearance by Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things.

And talk about constraints: I had about 25 minutes to set things up and 15 minutes to lead the high-minded group through an interactive experience – while they sat around tables where they had just finished breakfast. One CEO introduced himself afterward and said, “Wow. The last morning of the conference. We’ve just finished eating. And you woke us up. Provoked us to think differently. Pardon the sports cliche, but you knocked that one out of the ballpark.”

I don’t know about hitting a home run, but if I helped one person in the audience take agency of her mind’s focus and re-direct it toward solving problems creatively on cue, day-in and day-out, then that is a hit.

Because, really, what it comes down to is this:

Being creative means that we challenge the status quo – of living, working, solving problems – in order to make the world a better place for all people. That’s what being a grant-maker is all about. And it’s what’s being creative in any field ultimately is about. And all of us need more of that kind of collective creativity.

Create what matters. Captivate the people whose lives your work touches and changes. That’s captivating creativity.


Check out the video clip and teaser and share in the comments below what myths about creativity you’ve encountered and possibly had to overcome yourself. Thanks!

See you in the woods,


P.S. Soon, I will be leading an intimate group through that four-part method to create-on-cue. Only a handful of spots left in the annual Create & Captivate Retreat held this March in Taos, New Mexico. Early-Bird discount ends on October 8. Check out the new retreat intro video and photographs, too. -jbd

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