Existential Friday Newsletter

v23: How To Be More Creative

“We’re a firm of Accountants and Attorneys so we’re not really creative.”  The audience laughed acceptingly and I looked around to see if anyone else felt like objecting.  Nope, just me.

Okay, I’ll concede a bit.  The percentage of Accountants who are creatively driven is pretty small, but I know for a fact that some exist.

Even in non-creative occupations there are bound to be people hiding in the corner dreaming of a way out.  They’re the sullen, restless souls who are trying to figure out how they manifested their good intentions so poorly.  On the upside, there are the really odd ones who embrace their authentic nerd and find some way to turn Accounting into something you can reluctantly call “interesting.”

Creativity comes from taking unrelated things and combining them to form something new.  It grows with less specialization and wider ranging ideas lead to more creativity.

If we want to be more creative, we need to continue seeking out new experiences.  The last time most people have significant variety in their activities is during school.  At the same time, the further you go in school, the more specialized you’ll become.

Specialization is a consequence of the industrial revolution.  When industrialization swept through we ended up with assembly lines and factories.  People performed a narrow set of tasks and production shifted down the line.  We moved from a world where a metalworker made various objects to a world where he put rivets in two pieces of metal.  Today we have incredible specialization to the point that it’s hard to understand what some people do at work.

There are plenty of arguments in favor of specialization, but it’s not the only path to success.  Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, talks about building a talent stack.  His theory is that you can combine a number of okay skills into something unique and exceptional.  It’s kind of like cooking.  Eating the raw ingredients for chocolate chip cookies is far less delicious than eating the cookie (or dough).

Renaissance Men or Polymaths (think Galileo, Da Vinci, etc) made some great contributions by avoiding specialization.   Polymaths, by definition, have a range of different interests.  Their disparate interests led to some amazing discoveries in Math, Science, Philosophy, and Art.  Here’s a great article from Zat Rana on how Einstein was an artist and how creativity works.

We like to label things because it simplifies the world and creates order.  Our need for order could be robbing us of possibilities.  What multiple skills could you be combining for more creativity?  What if you don’t consider them skills yet?

A lot of the discussion comes back to learning.  What are you going to learn today?

This is the quote of the week:

“A genius is the one most like himself.” -Thelonious Monk




Since we’re thinking about creativity, maybe we should all be drawing more.


This is an incredible story about a volunteer who’s been living at the bottom of the Grand Canyon for 30 years.


Let’s round it up with this historical look at Skateboard art:

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2 years ago

This comment resonated with me: “Creativity comes from taking unrelated things and combining them to form something new”. As I look through the lens of my life and profession, I find that for me a lack a of creativity disengages my audience; they tune out when week in, week out, they are going through the motions. Because I am a parent and watch kid movies all the time, a common theme in the Disney Movie “Big Hero 6” is to find a new angle, think your way around a problem. We can all benefit from embracing creativity in the big… Read more »