how to become a creative badass

How to Become a Creative Badass A 9-Step Guide to Mastering the Creative Process

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Post on 05-Jun-2015




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Want to be more creative? This free book lays out an easy-to-implement 9-step guide towards mastering the creative process. Ignite your creative performance and innovative potential. Become a Creative Badass Download the full (and still free) copy at


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How to Become a Creative Badass

A 9-Step Guide to Mastering the Creative Process

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© 2014,

Please feel free to pass this (free)book around the web to your family and your friends…even your enemies... but please don’t alter any of its contents when you do. Thanks!

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What is Creativity Anyways?

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“Without creativity, it would be difficult

to distinguish humans from apes.”

– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discover

and Invention

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Let’s face it – feeling like an ape is no fun. We all want to be more creative. Regardless of our profession or situation, we all strive to enrich our lives and our work through bringing forth unique value to the world.

Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives.  Most things that are important, interesting, and human are the results of creativity.  When we are involved in the creative process, we get a sense of engagement and excitement that surpasses the usual moments that occur in our lives.  We feel alive and invigorated. 

But you probably already know this.

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What you might not already know, however, is that your own creativity can be cultivated.

In other words, you can learn how to be more creative in your life and work.

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Creativity is not just a rare talent that only the world’s greatest geniuses can wield. It doesn’t only happen spontaneously or out of one’s control. One does not need to be

slightly mentally unstable to create. And you don’t have to be on magic mushrooms to realize your creative potential.

There is a process you can learn and master that (if implemented into your daily life and practiced regularly) will transform you into a true Creative Badass.

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Researchers have been scientifically studying creativity since 1950 when J.P. Guilford, the American Psychological Association president at the time, strongly urged

scientists to focus their efforts on understanding the creative process and what makes some people “creative.”

Luckily, many of them listened. Thanks to six decades of solid scientific work from some of the world’s most brilliant researchers, we now have a pretty good idea of what

it takes to think and act like a creative badass.

And what is even more important—we know that anyone can adopt these ways of thinking and acting into their own lives in order to take their creativity to new heights.

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In this (free)book, I will walk you through the 9-step process that will transform you from being…

This guy... This guy.


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After reading the easy to implement advice found within these pages, you will go from being…


This guy... This guy.

Sound good? OK, let’s do this.

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Pop Quiz

Check Answer

Q1: What’s more important for becoming a Creative Badass?

A. Being Really, Really Good at Solving Problems

B. Being Really, Really Good at Finding Problems

C. Being Really, Really Good-Looking

Check Answer

Q2: What skill is most critical for unleashing the highest levels of creativity and innovation?

A. Coming up with Good Answers

B. Coming up with Good Questions

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Step 1To Find the Right Problem or Opportunity

Ask Better Questions

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If you answered, “being really, really good at finding problems,” and “coming up with good questions” in the pop quiz, then congratulations, you are very awesome. Being really, really good-looking has not, to my knowledge, been scientifically linked with being a creative badass.

Solving problems is relatively easy compared to finding them. When you are in problem-solving mode, you typically have a decent idea what information you need to use, what parameters or constraints you are operating within, and what your end goal is. All it takes is some time and effort and poof – your problem is solved.

Finding the right problems and opportunities to devote your energy towards, however, is a whole other beast. Just as Einstein alludes to in the quote to the left, true innovation occurs when one leverages the power of raising new questions and looking at things from completely different angles. For this reason, being good at finding the right problems is even more important than being able to solve problems.

Decades ago, my advisor, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (just call him “Mike” if you ever see him) and a team of researchers from the University of Chicago set out to answer the questions, “How do creative works come into being?” and “What makes some creative works more ‘creative’ than others?”


“The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its

solution. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to

regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative

imagination and marks real advances in science.”

“For the detective the crime is given. The scientist must

commit his own crime as well as carry out the investigation.”

– Albert Einstein

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To answer these questions, Mike and his team recruited about 30 student artists to participate in an academic study. In this study, the artists were asked to first examine a table full of various objects and then were asked to create a piece of artwork based on these objects as the researchers observed their creative process.

From the observations, it became quite clear that the student artists either approached their creative work with either a problem-solving style or a problem-finding style.

The artists who approached their work in a problem-solving style took about 5 minutes to select a few objects, and then right away they began getting to work on their artwork – spending most of their time refining and adding details to their piece. Their approach was to quickly formulate a visual problem, and then focus their effort on solving this problem.

The second group of artists took quite a different approach to their creative work. In this group, the artists spent a great deal of time arranging and rearranging the objects on the table, making choices and changing their mind often. They started their artwork, but then often would completely erase their work and start over from scratch. These artists would spend up to one hour formulating and reformulating their ideas, and then would complete their piece in about ten minutes. Contrary to the first group of artists, who took a problem-solving approach, this group spent much more time simply finding the right “problem” or opportunity to work with.


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So which group produced the most creative pieces of art?


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From the title of this section, it is probably obvious that the problem-finding group consistently produced art that was judged by expert artists as being more ‘creative’ compared to the problem-solving artists’ works.

But what might not be so obvious is that the long-term career success of these artists could also be predicted by which style they used. Those artists who took more time to ask themselves better questions about how to proceed in their work actually had more successful careers in the art world, were more respected by art critics, and had more paintings in reputable art galleries compared to those artists using the problem-solving approach.

The essence of this first step is quite simple: creative badasses ask questions that no one has ever thought of before or questions that no one has yet seriously considered. They take time to make sure that they are working on the right opportunity, and they spend time reformulating and adjusting their problem before getting down to the problem-solving work.


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The first and most important step of becoming a creative badass is to start off by choosing the right problems to devote your time and attention towards, and this stems from being able to ask the right questions. Without identifying the right problems or opportunities,

you likely will end up doing things that are not very creative.

Here are five strategies that will help you ask better questions:

How to Ask Better Questions

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First and foremost, it is imperative to dedicate time to just pause and ask yourself (and others) questions.

When you do pause to reflect, ask lots and lots of questions! The more questions you ask, the higher the probability that you will find the right one.


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When you are reflecting, ask yourself questions like:

“Is what I am doing working?”

“How and in what ways can I make improvements?”

“Am I even working towards the right goals?”

“Am I excited about the direction I am taking?”


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Try to view your problem and what you are hoping to achieve from completely different angles.

“How might someone else approach this problem?” “What if I did _____ instead?” “What would it look like if I decided to do the opposite?”

Even ask yourself really, really bad questions. Often a string of absurd, ridiculous questions can spark a more creative reinterpretation of what you are working on.


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“What assumptions or biases might I have that may be potentially holding my creativity back?”

“What if anything were possible?”

“Am I assuming that just because something hasn’t been done before, that it can never be done?”

Try using the George Costanza approach:

“What might happen if I believed the exact opposite of my normal beliefs?”

Challenge Assumptions4

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Go to the future.

“What does the creative realization of my goal look like?” “What exists then that doesn’t now?”

Now go back to the past.

“Did the problem or opportunity even exist in the past?“ “Why or why not?” “What was different back then?”

Time Travel5

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Step 2Break Free from Your Safe Zone

Go Beyond What is Comfortable

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Do you ever get that anxious feeling in your stomach when you are about to do something a little bit risky? When you are just not quite sure if you will succeed or fail miserably at something?

If so, you are on the right track to becoming a true creative badass. If you can’t empathize with what I am talking about, then it is time to really peel that safety blanket away, pull your thumb outta your mouth, and get your ass outside of your comfort zone.


I am serious. I will find you and I will yell at you.


“For some reason, that I can’t really explain, at the beginning of Radiolab, it always felt like life or death. Even though it was just a radio show. Even though no one was listening.

And I am not quite sure why…but it may have to do with that

radical uncertainty you feel when you are trying to work

without a template.”

-Jad Abumrad, co-creator of Radiolab, and MacArthur Fellow

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How to Go Beyond What is Comfortable

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Creative geniuses notice when they are getting a bit bored with their current knowledge or skill level. When they find themselves facing complacency, they are quick to ramp up the challenges that they take on. They push themselves by seeking out challenges that stretch their current knowledge and skills. While their less creative peers spend a lot of time practicing enjoyable, somewhat easy to achieve activities, creative badasses deliberately spend their time working on the things in which they are inadequate.

About 5 years ago when I was running the website, a great studio guitarist told me, “If you aren’t sucking and sounding awful, you aren’t really practicing.” He knew that in order to continue taking his playing to new creative levels, he had to deliberately practice the things at which he might suck at. If he just played the things he already sounded good doing (like most guitarists do), he would never go beyond what was comfortable and reach creative badass status.

1 Deliberate Practice

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Your brain is a baby goat at the petting zoo. You must feed your baby goat little baby goat pellets for it to survive. But it is also a lot of fun to sneak-feed the baby goat potato chips, candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies, too. The goat pellets represent the things that you must feed your brain that are directly related to your area of expertise. Baby goats need a lot of goat pellets in order to grow and thrive, and your brain needs to consume lots and lots of domain-specific knowledge in order to become expert-level and reach that 10,000 hour mark.

But those candy bars, potato chips, and cookies represent the knowledge outside of your domain of expertise. You don’t necessarily need it, but it just spices things up a bit and makes life more fun. You must also feed your brain with information from other professional disciplines, cultures, and the arts in order to develop a unique perspective that can be applied to your life and work.

2 Feed Your Brain

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This concept of having deep expertise in one or a small number of domains, yet broad exposure to many, is what some creativity experts refer to as being a “T-Person.” The “T” represents a singular depth of expertise and broad, yet shallow, exposure to many types of knowledge. T-persons are often more creative than those with either no depth or no breadth of expertise, as they are able to draw insights from many different domains and experiences in order to combine them with their deep-level expertise in ways that others cannot.


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The essence of embracing your curiosity is novelty-seeking. There may be something out in the world that intrigues you, yet you do not know much about it yet.

To embrace your curiosity is to be ok with the possibility that nothing will ever come of pursuing that with which you are curious. You may waste your time, or it may turn out to be the spark that ignites your creative fire.

Embracing curiosity is a risky, but necessary business towards going beyond what is comfortable and innovating. Often, doing so will lead to opportunities that you could never have foreseen!

3 Embrace Your Curiosities

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Jad Abumrad’s quote at the beginning of the section sums this principle up best.

Are you doing anything in your life where you are working without a template? If not, then it might be time for you to take on something radically uncertain—something you are curious about or that you have always wanted to do but haven’t had the chance to yet.

It is often in these radically uncertain episodes that we find the freedom and opportunity to truly create something unique and meaningful for ourselves and others.

4 Move Towards the Radical Uncertainty

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Step 3Heighten Your Awareness for Creative Insights and Opportunities

Take Notice

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Creative people are extremely good at finding exactly what they need to see to take the next creative step forward. As they go about their daily business, whether they are reading, watching TV, or just doing the grocery shopping, creative badasses seem to always be prepared to notice potential solutions or opportunities everywhere they look.

Taking notice is all about finding inspiration in your surroundings. It is about finding those missing pieces to the puzzles you are trying to solve in unexpected places.

So how can we take notice more effectively? It’s easy!


“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

-Shunryu Suzuki, Zen monk

“Mindfulness is simply the process of noticing new things…To be a

true artist it to be mindful.”

-Ellen Langer, psychologist and author of the book Mindfulness

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How to Take Notice and Find Inspiration in All that is Around You

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In Zen Buddhism there is the concept of living life with a “beginner’s mind” in order to remain open, curious, and aware of opportunities.

One potential trap of becoming an expert in any domain is simply becoming too rigid in one’s methods and beliefs. As a beginner, there are endless opportunities and an unlimited number of potential pathways one can go. Your assumptions, beliefs, and routines have not yet solidified. It may take deliberate practice to operate with a beginner’s mind, but it is a practice worth developing as you strive to become a creative badass. Think back to the types of questions you asked yourself in step 1, and see how you can incorporate a beginner’s mind into your daily routine.

1 Operate with a Beginner’s Mind

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Mindfulness, in essence, is a state of active observation. It is being actively aware of all that is going on around you: the sights, the smells, the tastes, the sounds. Unfortunately, throughout the day, we humans primarily operate in a mode of mindlessness. But by deliberately bringing our attention into a state of conscious awareness, we become more mindful of what is happening to us in the now.

Becoming mindful, like any skill worth developing, takes time and deliberate practice to cultivate. A great way to boost your mindfulness is to begin bringing meditation into your life. There are many forms of meditation, but two forms of meditation may be best equipped to develop your attention and noticing skills. Get in touch with me to learn more about these forms of meditation to take your creative badassness to new heights.

2 Practice Mindfulness

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A large part of taking notice is to also take notice of your own ideas as they pop into your head throughout the day. One of the easiest (and most impactful) things that you can start doing today is to simply write down your ideas as they come to you.

I write emails to myself using my smartphone or laptop and tag them as “Creative Insights” in my gmail so that I can easily go back and search through them and evaluate them at a later point in time. I want to just get them down somewhere; I can decide on my next action steps towards developing them later.

If I revisit an idea in my creative insight file that sucks, I simply flag it and archive it in my “What the F*#! was I Thinking?” file. No harm done if I have a few crappy ideas here and there. Big harm done if I miss out on the one great idea that could lead me towards creative badassness.

3 Take Notes – Keep an Idea Journal

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One of the simplest things you can do to notice different patterns or sources of inspiration around you is to switch your perspective.

What would I do, say, or think in my current situation if I were somebody else? What would be most interesting or useful to me if I were a completely different person?

A fun exercise is to pretend you are your different creative heroes as you go about your daily business. Try to embody their personalities and ways of thinking.

What would I notice in this situation if I were Jimi Hendrix? Hilary Clinton? Oprah? Bill Gates? Stevie Wonder? Sigmund Freud?

4 Switch Perspectives

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Why not use technology to help you take notice? Set up some Google Alerts of your favorite topics, companies, industries, hobbies, magazines, etc. Pick a few things and let Google deliver potential sources of inspiration to your e-mail box.

My primary stream of academic research is centered around the theme of “technology-facilitated mindfulness.” In other words, I am exploring the ways in which we can positively leverage personal technology to become more mindful, creative, and effective. Contrary to the opinion that personal technology is making us more mindless and worse human beings, I believe that we just need to learn how to use it for good. One simple thing that we can do is to simply use our smartphones to randomly ping us throughout the day to remind us to take notice, be mindful of our surroundings, get curious, and even shift perspectives.

5 Leverage Technology

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If this is something you would like to explore further, please get in touch with me and let’s chat! I love talking about this stuff and helping people set up their own personally meaningful technology-facilitated mindfulness apps.


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Step 4Unleash Your Imagination and Have Some Fun

Play Like a Kid

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Ok – enough of all the deliberate practice and hard work. It’s time to have some fun! In fact, having fun and unleashing your inner child is vital for nourishing the creative genius inside of you.

But why is play so good for our creative juices?

Play calls forth the imagination. While in play, we might envision alternate realities where we are gifted with superpowers, carry around ancient ninja swords, and fight bad guys who are holding our beautiful lovers hostage. (Man that is one cool alternate reality).

Play helps us work with constraints in creative ways. Remember when you only had a wrapping paper tube, a few rubber bands, and a couple of pillowcases to play with? If we were given these items now and told to have fun with them, we might think, “Yeah right, this is lame as hell.” But when we were children, it was so easy to transform the wrapping paper tubes into swords, the rubber bands into magic bracelets that give you special cloaking powers, and the pillowcases into capes that grant you the ability fly.

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You may be thinking to yourself, “Man, I used to pretend to do that all the time when I was young! But now I have serious responsibilities and can’t do that anymore.”

This trap is easy for us to fall into, but the world’s most creatively talented people have mastered the art of play, even within their serious lives, in order to imagine and envision novel possibilities and innovations.

We might not have the freedom to engage in play whenever and however we want to anymore, but it is absolutely imperative that we deliberately take time to add elements of fun, playfulness, and humor into our daily lives and work. It is one of the best ways to engage our imaginations, fantasize about things that do not exist yet (but should), and help us transform the constraints of our situations into opportunities for creativity.

It feels a bit silly to recommend ways for you to go out and play. You know how to have fun. You can remember back to when you were a kid and what you did to spark your imagination. The bottom-line is to take time to have fun, to use your imagination and think of wild ideas, and to look for creative ways to transform and leverage any constraints in your environment into opportunities to exercise your badassness.


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Step 5Let Your Mind Incubate Your Ideas and Do the Work For You

Just Relax!

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The primary purpose of finding time to relax is to take breaks from your creative work and simply allow your mind to


These moments of relaxation and distancing yourself from your problem encourages incubation, a cognitive state where your mind is free to process the enormous amounts of information that you have been feeding it. When the mind is relaxed and free to unconsciously process everything, it can lead to abrupt moments of insight, just as Archimedes had when taking a break to bathe.

Incubation has been scientifically shown to work in terms of eliciting these novel insights because: a) it gives people’s minds a rest, b) it provides an opportunity to become less fixated on incorrect solutions and approaches towards solving a problem, c) it provides time for spreading activation in the unconscious mind, and d) it provides opportunities for opportunistic assimilation – as you go about your day, you may randomly “notice” something that is related to your problem and use it to your advantage.



Archimedes, a famous Greek mathematician, was tasked by his cousin, King Hiero of Syracuse to solve a problem. King Hiero was

suspicious that his new crown (which was supposed to be made

of gold) might actually just mainly consist of cheaper metal and a gold coating. Naturally, he wanted Archimedes to get to the

bottom of it.

Archimedes couldn’t ruin the crown by cutting it open to

examine the metallurgy, but he knew that silver weighed more

than gold.

After many attempts at solving the problem, he became stumped and decided to just take a bath. As he stepped in to the bathtub, he noticed that the water level

rose. “Eureka!” he shouted, realizing that heavier objects

would displace more water. He found a solution to the crown

problem, when he least expected it, by simply taking time to relax.

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How to Relax for Higher Creativity

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