Actualized Leadership: Creativity

Actualized Leadership: Creativity

Creativity is intelligence having fun.
Albert Einstein

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.
Abraham Maslow

When I think of creativity I think of the brilliant and often tortured geniuses who changed the world with their art, music, or technological breakthroughs.  I usually think of “them,” as opposed to me, and names like Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, and Steve Jobs come to mind.  And while it’s true that these are some of history’s most creative and influential people, it’s also true that both you and I have access to unlimited creativity when we master the art and science of creative insight.  The purpose of this blog is to examine the psychology behind creativity and to explore the Creative Process Framework as a methodology for putting ourselves in the appropriate creative mindset.

When referring to creative insight, the famous American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver stated, “I love to think of nature as having unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour, and every moment, if we will only tune in.”  I love this concept of creativity.  It is something eternally abundant that exists both inside and outside of us at the same time.  Our challenge is to create the appropriate mindset and practice for tapping into this creative abundance.

The Psychology of Creativity

There are three psychologists that I think provide the foundation for understanding creativity.  Carl Jung believed that our psyches contained both a personal unconscious – the Shadow – and the Collective Unconscious.  Jung believed that the Collective Unconscious contained the memories or historical DNA of our family, race, and culture, in addition to universal Archetypes. Creative insight exists within these unconscious domains, which we are intimately connected to during our lives, though most of us fail to access it.  He believed that both creativity and spiritual growth could be attained through interaction and dialogue with the Collective Unconscious.

Abraham Maslow illustrated how creativity was a common output of Self-Actualization.  Maslow stated that individuals who have transcended the need for personal recognition and connection to others become motivated by the “growth need” of Self-Actualization (as opposed to the “deficiency needs” such as recognition, acceptance from others, control over others, etc.).  In turn, these individuals are more objective, more passionate, and more problem- (as opposed to person-) centered, allowing them to tap into their latent creativity.

Modern psychologist and godfather of the term “flow,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, built on both Jung’s and Maslow’s frameworks to explore creativity from a more practical perspective.  He discusses common attributes such as the need to have intense focus on, and passion for, the task at hand, as well as finding your creative “rhythm” (e.g., early morning, late evening, etc.).  Like Jung and Maslow, he states that the key to creativity is to stop thinking of yourself in dichotomous or “either/or” terms (e.g., I am either a hard worker or I am lazy, etc.) and to take the time to resolve these seemingly opposites to become a fully integrated human being.  When it comes to creative individuals, Csikszentmihalyi found the following common dichotomies that had been successfully integrated:


                                                Disciplined         and        Playful

                                                Proud                    and        Humble

                                                Passionate          and        Objective

                                                Realistic               and        Fantastical

                                                Energetic             and        Quiet

The Creative Process Framework

After reviewing research on creativity, I have tried to boil down the creative insight experience into five critical steps, what I refer to as the Creative Process Framework, which follows:

  1. Purpose
  2. Mindset
  3. Disconnect
  4. Practice
  5. Promote

First, you have to have a sense of Purpose to focus your attention on.  It can be lofty, like ending world hunger, or more mundane, like writing a blog.  Whatever it is, you must genuinely care about the task at hand and feel compelled to take action.  Second, it’s critical to adopt a “growth” Mindset, as opposed to one that is “fixed.”  Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” is the seminal work to read if you are struggling with only seeing the glass as half-empty, or are too focused on what you can’t do (as opposed to leveraging the gifts and talents you do have).  I also use the term Mindset to refer to the proper balance that comes from integrating seemingly “opposite” aspects of our nature, and making peace with our own quirkiness.  Third, it’s absolutely essential to Disconnect from others so that you can explore creativity.  Research has shown that individuals who unplug their electronics and disconnect from social media are more creative than those who don’t.  And, if you want to boost your creativity, spend this new time away from your Facebook or Twitter accounts in nature.  In this instance (disconnected from social media and smart phones and plugged into nature), research has demonstrated that individuals increase their creativity by as much as 50% after only a few days!  Fourth, you must develop the discipline to Practice.  So, whether you want to create a new app, write a novel, or learn to play “Stairway to Heaven” on the guitar, you must be disciplined in your Practice.  And finally, after you’ve created your “masterpiece,” you must practice what “Creativity on Demand” author Michael Gelb calls “creative heroism” and Promote your work with others.  It requires courage because there is always the possibility that your efforts will be ignored, or worse, rejected.

So, if George Washington Carver and Carl Jung are correct, there is abundant creativity all around us.  We simply must adopt the proper mindset and be disciplined in our practice to access it.  If you’re interested in learning more, I would recommend the books “Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Intention” by Csikszentmihalyi and “Creativity on Demand” by Gelb, as well as the website, as excellent resources to support your process.

And whether you’re writing a book or blog, or learning to play Mozart or Metallica, I hope you will have the courage to share it with the rest of us … the world is waiting.







  1. Anna Kamgaing

    “as opposed to the “deficiency needs” such as recognition, acceptance from others, control over others, etc.” So then how does one promote without doing so from the motive of being recognized or accepted by others? Many creative people die before being recognized for their creative genius. What role does recognition play in the life of someone whose main occupation is to reflect, create and perform?

  2. Dr Will Sparks

    I think the source of motivation is vastly different. There is usually some degree or residual of “acceptance” or “recognition” but it is not THE driver (if it exists in the Self-Actualized individual at all.) The purpose of sharing (“Promoting”) the creative insight, work or innovation is more out of a sense of responsibility to help improve the lives of others, whether it is a novel, piece of art, or new technology. Personally, I think this quote from Marianne Williamson sums it up nicely:

    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.


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