From Inspiration to Implementation – Tina Seelig

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Here are my notes from a great talk by Tina Seelig (hostess of Stanford e-corner) on a model for describing creativity and inspiration.

Need vocabulary to describe words like: creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship. Don’t have good definition for these words. Sharp contrast to other disciplines like maths, physics.

So we need a model and way to describe. Here is the model/definitions/framework for describing these concepts.

Imagination – The ability to envision what doesn’t exist

Creativity – Applying your imagination to solve your problem.

Innovation – Applying your creativity to come up with a unique solution.

Entrepreneurship – Applying your innovation to bring those ideas to life.

Now can break down and see what have to happen at each level.

engaging and envisioning
you need to start with engagement
if you don’t engage, you won’t see opportunities
Most people don’t pay attention
Go through life with blinders on
Miss opportunities – because they don’t engage
Hence they can’t envision
Many people don’t know they have a passion until they engage

requires motivation and experimentation
most people in world are puzzle builders
they know exactly what their life should look like, and they assembles pieces to complete the puzzle
they are the ones who get stopped by barriers
creativity people are quilt makers – they weave stuff together
many of these people stcratch itches they fac
13:39 Monster maker – cheap prototyping experimentation

focus and reframing
this is for deep insights and breakthroughs
reframing is when you start looking at the problem from all different angles
? + ? = 10 infinite answers
they way you ask the question is profound
the question you ask is the frame into which the answers will fall
Example – Plan big birthday for Morgan
if we change one word to
Plan birthday celebration…
The set of solutions completely expands
If you don’t ask the right question, you won’t get the right answers
18:38 How to reframe problem and come up with innovative solutions

persistence and inspiring others
persistence = grit
people who will walk through walls to get things done
also critical for you to inspire others to join you
22:45 Global innovation tournament example

Organizations need people playing all these roles.

Persist – Creativity Inc Letter

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In Creativity Inc, Ed Catmull describes a letter he received from Pixar animator Austin Madison, which he found particularly uplifting when it came to protecting and promoting Pixar’s culture.

To whom it may inspire,

I, like many of you artists out there constantly shift between two states. The first, and far more preferable of the two is white hot, in the zone, seat of the pants, firing on all cylinders creative mode.

This is when you lay your pen down and the ideas pour out like wine from a royal chalice. This happens about 3% of the time.

The other 97% of the time I am in the frustrated, struggling, office corner full of crumpled up paper mode.

The important thing is to slog diligently through this quagmire of discouragement and despair. Put on some audio commentary and listen to the stories of professionals who have been making films for decades going through the same slings and arrows of outrageous production problems.

In a word – persist.

Persist on telling your story. Persist on reaching your audience. Persist on staying true to your vision.

I think this is a great letter. The audio commentary Austin refers to is what you find in your blu ray DVD. Turn it on sometime. Listen to the struggles the artists and directors when through making that movie.

You’ll see it’s not magic. It’s a lot of hard work. But through the hard work, and persistence, magic can happen. And that is what we all love.

Use Pure Contour Drawing to see things differently


Continuing with the exercises outlined in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, today’s lesson is about getting better at kicking the right side of your brain, into gear, and turning off the left, by focusing on contours.

Edges have a very specific means to in drawing that is different from everyday language. Betty describes it like this:

In drawing, an edge is where two things come together, and the line that depicts the shared edge is called a contour line. A contour is always the border of two things simultaneously – that is a shared edge.

So when you draw, you become aware that an edge has two sides. For example the edge of the boat is shared with the sky and the water. Put another way the water stops where the boat begins – shared edges. If you draw one, you have drawn the other.

The outer edge of the composition (also very important) is part of the picture.

The Exercise

In this exercise Betty asks us to draw the detailed wrinkles of our hands, without looking at what we are drawing.


The goal here isn’t a good picture. It’s to get you to look at the wrinkles in your hand in a way that you never have before. You are going to perceive detail and lines you didn’t even know were there. That’s what artists do. They perceive and see things differently.

For this exercise it’s recommended you tape your canvas (paper) down, look at the palm of your hand (in a comfortable position) and then without thinking, draw all the wrinkles on your hand.

Here’s my attempt.


As you can see it’s pretty ugly. But what was amazing was that while drawing I saw things I have never seen before!


Little rivers of wrinkles. Intricate, deep chasms of lines, rivers, streams, criss crossing my hand in ways I had intellectually known were there but never saw.

This exercises is good because your L-Mode (left sided analytical brain) rejects what it sees (it lacks the language to try what it sees so it gives up). Which of course kicks in the right side (which is what we want).

To learn more about drawing check out these previous posts:

Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down

Or better yet, buy Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Upside-Down Drawing: an exercise to reduce mental conflict


Something that’s beginning to dawn on me as I work through Betty’s book, is that it isn’t learning to draw that’s important, it’s learning how to perceive things differently.

This exercise, drawing upside down, is designed to do exactly that.

Instead of looking at a picture right side up and going – “House”.

But tipping it upside down you perceive things completely differently.
Instead of seeing: “Roof, chimney, shingles, window.” You see lines, forms, and detail indescribable in everyday language.

So your verbal left brain shuts down, and your right side (drawing brain) kicks in.

For example, here’s a portrait of Igor Stravinsky by Pablo Picasso. Try drawing this upside down (should take about 40min).


As you are drawing, note how you are focusing on line and form, and not words.

Here’s my attempt.


Not bad! Spacing was the hardest thing to get right (you can see how the head just kind of hangs out there. Yet when you compare it with the original it’s pretty good.


This exercise is probably the greatest hack for taking anyone who hasn’t drawn since junior high, and re-activating the right sided brain.

Also notice how the most complicated parts of the picture, the crossing fingers, are drawn quite well. For most students, this is the finest part of the drawing. Why? Because the students didn’t know what they were drawing! They simply drew what they saw, just as they saw it – one of the most important keys to drawing well.

Betty also points out that when it came to drawing the face, there was probably a lot of erasing. Why? Because we knew what we were drawing, maybe starting talking to yourself, and inadvertently kicked in the the language dominant left brain. This verbalization doesn’t help.

Give it a try! Even better buy Betty’s book and see for yourself.

Vases and Faces – an exercise for the double brain



In this exercise from Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain we are purposely confusing both sides of our brain.

The left is going to want to use words to describe what we are drawing (mouth, nose, lips) while the right is going to want to be more visual. It’s jarring.

The exercise goes like this (do the opposite if you are left handed)

1. Draw a face on the left handed side of a piece of paper.
2. Draw horizontal lines along the top and bottom.
3. Now, take your pencil and slowly go back over the face profile you have just drawn naming the parts like this: “Forehead…nose…upper lip…lower lip…chin…neck.” This is kicking in the left hand side of the brain (the war is about to start).
4. Then go to the other side and start to draw the face profile.
5. When you get to around the forehead or nose, you may experience some mental confusion.
6. Purpose of this exercise is for you to self-observe: “How do I solve this problem.”


Why would we want to do this?

This is a great exercise because it sets up conflict between the left and right hand side of the brain.

The left likes words (nose, chin, these things I can label and draw because I know what they look like).

The right however despises language. It simple wants to draw. So it studies line, form, spacing, and ignore the language side.

Except we trick our brains into using the left by repeating the words as we draw them. Hence the conflict.

The purpose of this exercise is to get you, the drawer, to realize there is conflict (acknowledge it’s there) and then in the follow up exercises show you how to deal with it.

In the next exercise, turning the picture upside down, we will see how we can quiet our left brain, while engaging the right.

For more information on drawing, and a great book on learning, check out Betty Edwards book which I am currently working through.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain



I have always wanted to learn how to draw. So it was with great excitement that the best book I could find on drawing arrived yesterday – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.

I won’t go into why this book is so good (I have only read the first two chapters) but already this early in I know I am in good hands as this book was first published in 1979, is now on it’s fourth edition, and has stood the test of time.

First, it’s helpful to understand this general distinction between left and right brain.


The left brain (our dominate one) is used every day for most things. Language, analytic thought. Important stuff like that.

But it’s the right side of the brain that is used for drawing. And engaging it is not as easy as it sounds.

Fortunately, Betty has several exercises to help us get our right brains engaged and aid us in our drawing.

The Vase/Faces exercise is designed to acquaint students with the possibility of conflict between the hemispheres as they compete for the task. The exercise is setup to strongly activate the verbal hemisphere (L-mode), but completion of the exercise requires the abilities of the visual hemisphere (R-mode). The resulting mental conflict is perceptible and instructive for students.

The Upside-Down Drawing exercise (I remember an art teacher showing me this one in junior high) is rejected by the left hemisphere because it is too difficult to name parts of an image when it is upside down, and, in left-brain terms, an inverted image is too unusual – that is useless – to bother with. This rejection enables the right hemisphere to hump into the task (for which it is well suited) without competition from the left hemisphere.

The Perception of Edges exercise (seeing complex edges) forces slowness and extreme perception of tiny, inconsequential (in left brain terms) details, where every details becomes a fractual-like whole, with details within details. The left hemisphere quickly becomes “fed up” because it is “too slow for words” and drops out, enabling the right hemisphere to take up the task.

The Perception of Spaces exercise is rejected by the left hemisphere because it will not deal with “nothing”, that is, negative spaces that aren’t objects and can’t be named. In it’s view, spaces are not important enough to bother with. The right hemisphere, with its recognition of the whole (shapes and spaces), is then free to pick up the task and seems to take antic delight in drawing negative spaces.

The Perception of Relationships (perspective and proportion in building and interiors) forces the left hemisphere to confront paradox and ambiguity, which it dislikes and rejects (“this is not how I know things to be”), and which are abundant in perspective drawing, with its angular and proportional spatial changes. Because the right hemisphere is willing to acknowledge perceptual reality, it accepts and will draw what it sees (“it is what it is”).

The Perception of Lights and Shadows presents shapes that are infinitely complex, variable, unnamable, and not useful in terms of language. The left hemisphere refuses the task, which the complexity-loving right hemisphere then picks up, delighting, in the three dimensionality that lights and shadows reveal.

The Perception of Gestalt occurs during and at the close of a drawing. The main effect is a right-hemisphere aha, as though in recognition of the whole that emerges from careful perception and recoding of the parts, all in relationship to each other and the whole. This initial perception of the gestalt occurs largely without verbal input or response from the left hemisphere, but later the left brain may put into words a response that expresses the right brains aha.

This, then is the essence of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: five basic component perceptual skills of drawing, and an overall strategy to enable your brain to bring to bear the brain most appropriate for drawing.

I am so looking forward to studying this book. Stay tuned for more insights into the world of drawing and any other creative hacks I come across for drawing.

There is no tribe

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I’m currently reading Turning Pro by one of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield. And it’s great. Not as good as The War of Art. But still very good.

In Turning Pro, Steven has a great metaphor for describing how people sometimes get caught up in worrying about what others think, instead of doing what they were meant to do. It’s fear. Fear of the tribe.

Read this excerpt on p68 to see what I mean (paraphrased).

The Tribe Doesn’t Give a Hoot

The amateur dreads becoming who she really is because she fears that this new person will be judged by others as “different”. The tribe will declare us “weird” or “queer” or “crazy”. The tribe will reject us.

Here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a hoot.

There is no tribe.

That gang or posse that we imagine is sustaining us by the bonds we share is in fact a conglomeration of individuals who are just a messed up as we are and just as terrified. Each individual is so caught up in his own bs that he doesn’t have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it.

When we truly understand that the tribe doesn’t give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe, and there never was.

Our lives are entirely up to us.

If you’ve got fears holding you back, check out Turning Pro. It may be the boost you’ve been looking for.

Young at Heart: How to Be an Innovator for Life – Tom Kelley (IDEO)


Just finished listening to this excellent podcast on what it takes to stay innovative and fresh, in a world that is so easy to become status quo and complacent.

In it Tom share 5 ways you can stay innovative as you gain experience and age:

1. Think like a traveler.

You know when you travel or go to another county how you notice things that you wouldn’t normally see back home?

That can be very useful for finding opportunities back home. Look at your home, and your current working environment with fresh eyes – those of a traveler. You will see and discover things you were blind to before.

“I don’t know who discovered water but I can guarantee you it wasn’t a fish”.

2. Treat life as an experiment.

By willing to fail a little bit. Fail forward. Fail for learning. For knowledge. Edison of course is the greatest example of this is discovering the light bulb. But only by trying and failing can we discover and learn our way to better things.

3. Nurture an attitude of wisdom.

This one is about being OK with when you know, but don’t believe everything you know is necessarily so.

Tom shares this great example of how Best Buy spent $1Billion dollars buying a record company called MusicLand in 2000. MusicLand has 1300 stores and Best Buy thought this would really increase their distribution – after all they knew their market.

What they didn’t see was Napster. 18-30 years stopped paying for music. And guess who works at Best Buy? 18-30 year olds. Their own employees could have told them this was a bad idea – but a billion dollars later it was too late and MusicLand went bankrupt.

Don’t assume you have all the answers.

4. Use your whole brain.

Left brain right brain stuff.

5. Follow your passions.

Blur the line between work and play.

Tom talks about two buckets he can drop most of his friends into. Those who look forward to the work week, and those who dread it, or at best are working for the weekend.

Be the former. Change if you are becoming the later.

In here Tom also alludes to the three circle analogy Jim Collins gave us in Good to great which is:

1. Find out what you like.
2. Find out what you can be world class at.
3. Discover what people will pay you money for.

And do whatever it is where those three things intersect. This is probably my favorite piece of advice and one I try to live by.

This post doesn’t do the podcast justice. If you are sincerely looking for ways to improve your creativity I suggest downloading or listening to the full hour in the car, when you are jogging, or biking. Well worth it.

John Cleese on focus and creativity

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I love John Cleese. Not just for his classic Faulty Towers skits or his views on American football, but I was blown away when I watched this highly insightful video of him talking about creativity and script writing.

In this, John describes how memory, the unconscious, all work in your favor when trying to be more creative.

Before you can really be creative, you need two things:

  1. Boundaries of space
  2. Boundaries of time

Boundaries of space is about killing the one thing that stops your best ideas from ever seeing the like of day: interruptions. You’ve got to go somewhere where you won’t be interrupted.

Boundaries of time are about setting up a start and end time where you and your muses can play.

It’s bang on advice, and it’s how I like to work. I have a wonderful office at home, but I am writing this, on a Saturday morning (boundary of time) at my local Starbucks (boundaries of space).

If you can spare the ten minutes I highly recommend watching the video.
It’s some of the best advice I’ve seen on how to get your best ideas out.

Update: Dec-23-2012 Here is another good video on creativity by John.

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