Are we all creative at heart?

Are we all creative at heart, yes I believe in that.  The prowess of one person’s creative ability to another person is always subjective. Creation could be art, food, design, spoken word, visual, auditory, or any of the 5 sense that we have. Is one person’s trash another person’s creative power.

Sometimes I think of the turner Prize, who can say that the creativity of the winner is in doubt a work of art. Sometimes it is conceptual, practical but above all it is creative.

Over recent years, research findings have found that creativity can be learned and nurtured. Our brains need the nudge or kick in order to quit being lazy and start becoming a little more creative and inspired.

How to we start:

Chill Out

When you are under stress, then the brain is in the fixed in problem solving. We are in the gear to address the issue and creativity is not considered. Working from previous fixed plans stored in the brain is what our brain is working from.

Our brains need to be relaxed enough to create new connections and neural pathways, which occurs thanks to neuroplasticity – the innate ability of our brain to adapt.

  • Take a long walk
  • Have a shower
  • Read a book or something inspirational
  • Daydream (just not when the boss is around)
  • Take a break or multiple breaks
  • Take a nap
  • Have a laugh or some fun

We need a relation mode for the brain, to train it to have the ability to switch off, divert from the days to do list. Walking increases creativity, it’s what I do in the mornings, bringing the dogs for a walk to give me the opportunity for chill time and being a little creative.

Try New Things

  • Expose yourself to new Experiences
  • Work in New Environments
  • Travel, see the world
  • Start afresh
  • Work in noisy environments (different)
  • Keep your desk a little cluttered,
  • Move to another office location/city
  • Let go, trust in your judgement as a beginner

Kids have a seemingly boundless sense of imagination, turning blankets and beds into spaceships and fortresses in a matter of seconds. The older we grow, cognitive bias affect our brain’s ability to become creative and we are boxed into zones or ‘biases’. Children are always tinkering with toys, materials to learn, they are not afraid of making mistakes, they learn from their failures, success and or attempts.

Is a tidy desk the sign of a tidy mind, or just an ADHD boss. Many times I have heard stories of people having to put away handbags, phones and or any non immediate work documentation but then reflecting in their work environments, they are so regulated that creativity is not permitted, it is work to process.

Get out see the world, travel see new sights. Similar with food, experience new smells, sights, tastes and savour that knowledge.

Having experienced Edward De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats, the 6 representatives of what the hat wearer does to analyse the project at hand from these different view points. This is what we have to do, try new things, new experiences.

Drop inhibitions

Are we all wired like Mr. Spock’s (Star Trek) in this world, logical in our approach or just biased from what went before. Our brains are imprinted to be efficient, it is our hard wiring on survival, how we learn from best practice. Logic is always our default go-to tool when coming up with ideas, even though the best ones often emerge from intuition and association.

  • Do something boring
  • Get a little inhibited (drink)
  • Switching working times

I have found on occasions that my most creative times can be late at night when my brain has relaxed and I am beginning to nod off to sleep.

Train your brain

Our brains might be lazy, but just like our muscles; they can be trained to perform well at anything, including creative thinking

  • Take different classes – art, photography, food
  • Build up the creativity foundation
  • Read more, gain knowledge
  • Watch and observe
  • Get a mentor
  • Ask why
  • Try something

We need to try something new, have the crack at learning a new skills or experience, for example, taking stand-up comedy classes is the perfect way to teach yourself how to stretch your imagination at a moment’s notice.

Read articles and books to gain a new perspective. If creativity is simply the process of putting together existing information in something fresh and new, then it’s safe to assume that you need to have sufficient knowledge in the first place

I always think about the asking of ‘Why’, the sign of an interested mind, being curious about the way an item works. It’s the foundation of a learning process.

Keep doing

Inspiration can hit at any moment, and if you’re not ready for it, your won’t recognise when it occurs. The key here is not to sit around mooning and waiting, but to keep working hard in preparation for that “Eureka!” moment. Which in itself, is a rare occurrence, Edison took three thousand attempts before his light bulb, Dyson Vacuum cleaner was over five thousand, so Eureka is an inspired process.

  • Go with you intuition
  • Allow yourself to fail
  • How does a mouse eat an elephant
  • Don’t give up
  • Write down your attempts

Give your permission to fail, learn from your experiences. Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality).”

Edwin Catmull, Creativity Inc.

Just Start

Just start, not doing anything is not a failure but lazy. So get up, get out and do. Remember Nike.

We all have our own way of doing things, after all we are human. We all have our unique experiences that give us the ability to do stuff.

Learn, challenge and explore

Time to Create Part 2

My continued journey on the overhaul of the fishing boat.

Part One

2014 –

My local timber yard sourced & supplied to approximate size 22ft 3″x1 1/2″ lengths of larch and white oak for the seats and all internal timber.

G Clamps have arrived

I gathered all the necessary equipment that I thought I would need

Timber, G-clamps, chisels, Hammers, drills, router, saw’s, mallet, screwdrivers, plain, vice, angle grinder and radio.

Routing through the sheds in Mick’s yard, I discovered copper rivets & rove for fasters of the timber a stroke of luck.

Stripping back the boat was an interesting challenge, fearful that with out the structure and reinforcement of the timber, the fibreglass shell may distort its shape, warp or worse.

My plan started with the gunwales as shown in the photo, these were held in situ with copper rivets. I had to cut around each rivet to remove the timber, then using the angle grider to cut the rivets off.

Next was to measure up the new gunwales, this was arduous, trying to fasten them in situ with the G clamps. The difficult aspect was the curve of the beam along with the rise in the sides to the bow (front of the boat), there is 7″ height difference from the stern (back) to the bow, which means that along with shaping the gunwales to fit the beam will also have to bend to accommodate this, boat building 101….

I didn’t have the knowledge/experience of steaming planks to fit into place, so I had to form them into place using the g-clamps. I left them for over winter in place to take the shape. Previously I had stored them with both ends anchored down to form a curve.

Original oak seats in the boat

Started on the seats, these were 2″ oak. There are 5 seats in the boat.

Rotten ends of the seats

Out with the sander and started on them to see their condition. The centre’s were in good shape but the ends where they were sitting on the fibreglass and little way of water to drain away, they were rotten, so these were next to be attended to.

The two middle seats were salvageable, I could cut them for the two smallest seats.

I left two pieces in place to hold the shape of the boat whilst I was working on it.

Cutting out the new seats were straight forward using the original seats. I cut out rough templates for the knees – timber that connects the seats to the gunwales.

2015 –

The gunwales were in an approximate shape of the boat, apart from the rise to the bow. As these covered the fibreglass by about 1 inch, I had to rebate the larch to accommodate the fibre edge.I measured using the original timber the dept of the original rebate and marked this onto the timber. Using the router, I rebated this on boat sides of the gunwale and then attached the back onto the boat using G-clamps. Word for note, white oak is a tougher timber and it dulled / burnt out several router bits.

Next I attended to the stern, again, I measured out compared to the original. Rebated for the fibreglass and then proceeded to a fix to the boat. I cut for size both internally and then externally giving space to mount the engine. This sandwich effect gives strength to the boat and when they are attached to the gunwales, this provides a reinforcing effect to the stern to hold the weight of an outboard engine.

The final part was the bow. The gunwales were attached using the G-clamps, so removing them and then started on the bow.

I hope the correct nautical term for the stanchion, timber at the bow. This was a case of trial and error, using the chisels, sandpaper to get the correct shape, the orignal piece came out in shards. I created a prototype shape for the internal part.

stanchion marked out

stanchion internally in place

This required plenty of patience as this was the initial location that would form the structure of the boat and when I would start with the gunwales, working backwards from this point.

Had to get it shaped to fit internally in the boat with the shape of the fibreglass, then to fit with the angles of the bow and to allow for the gunwales to be fixed into it.

Glad to have plenty of patience, I was ready to get the knees in place, these secure the gunwales to the seats to allow for the timber to give strength and reinforcement to the boat.

Knees at the seats to allow them to fix gunwales to seats for strength.

Again, more measurement for the angle of the seats where they meet the fibreglass at an angle. This required a curve of the boat, angle of the gunwale and to sit flush onto the seat. Each seat had 4 of these, so I required 16 in total.

These I admit were time consuming to get correct, as the gunwales weren’t affixed, I could not finalise the cuts yet.

In the picture, I allowed for adjustments of the gunwale. Some while ago, I was out fishing on another boat and saw the knees which allowed for the fishing rods to be secured, and I incorporated these into my boat.

All timber were now shaped and cut to an approximate form for the boat.

The Home Run

All timbers ready, I removed all timber from the boat. I attached the stanchion in place and secured this into the steel plate of the keel. Part one completed.

I decided that I would use the existing rivet holes for the gunwales. Clamping each side in place, I drilled using existing hole to create the pilot hole for the rivets. Note to anybody doing this, make the pilot hole a smaller dimension to the rivet as this allows for some resistance when I was roving the rivets.

The rivet is a copper nail, the rove is a curved copper washer that you hammer the nail (rivet) into, this allows the two to be fixed together. Then using the proper equipment, you mould (hammer) the top of the rivet into a cap over the rove which holds the timber in place. When done, you then sand down both ends, this makes it secure and no rough edges.

Again, I never had done a rivet and rove before, internet search is a great thing, so practiced before I started for real on the boat. I tried a flat hammer on the rove with a ball peen hammer – one that had a curved head to the rivet. After some trial and error, I found that it wasn’t working for me, so I thought a little differently, I used a wrench / socket set of the dimensions of the rove. This allowed me to hold the rove in place when I hammered in the rivet and formed into shape. Started at the bow and working backwards, I fixed the gunwales into place. This was the most nerve wrecking of the whole process, as I had no replacements if any mistakes occurred, thankfully none happened. I left some excess at the stern. I was able to mould the gunwales to allow for the rise to the bow.

Part 3 fixing the stern timbers. Now that the gunwales were finished, I was able to fix the oak in place at the stern. Holding in place and screwing from both sides to keep secured. I then formed more knees to fix the stern timber to the gunwales. I added in an alumium cover to allow the clamping of the engine nuts onto the timbers, previously they were eating into the timbers.

Similar, I was able to mould out the breasthook, the triangular piece at the bow of a boat. This again gives strength to the bow and connects both sides of the gunwales to each other. I felt that the boat was now stronger and had less flex. I created a larger piece to allow for some storage from the weather.

Knee for the front seat in the boat

Home run was the knee’s, but it took the most time. As I had two fixed pieces in place – seats and gunwales. I was able to finally shape the timber for each location. This required time for each to sand to shape.

Next was the oarlock risers. I fitted four of these to the gunwales. These were made from oak, shaped to fit onto the gunwales, curved to the corners. I drilled a hole to allow for the oar barrel to be mounted. Caution would be advised in case you damage the fibreglass beneath.


Once the timbers were finished and sanded, I gave the boat timbers a coat of paint. I had given the gunwales an undercoat prior to fixing onto the boat.

I must admit a little error, don’t paint in the late evening, when I put the undercoat on the boat in the shed, it thought it was an off white, but when I pulled the boat into sunlinght, well, the colour was pink. Back to the shed for change –  gun metal grey.

I didn’t know if the boat was lake worthy, i.e would float, I had filled it with water prior to starting on this and there was no leak, but still until it went onto the lake, I didn’t know if there was any holes or weak spots in the fibreglass.

Finished Boat

finished boat with undercoat

finished boat painted

finished boat

Looking at the timeline of the photo’s 2013 – 2015

Aided by my pets, they offered great encouragement – golden retrievers Finlay (l) and Rosie (r)

The boat was brought into the shed in 2013

I got the timbers in the Autumn of 2013. Left the gunwales to take shape over winter

April 2014 removed the old timbers and started forming the timbers into place

2015 Mar – July, most of the work completed

July 2015 last timber work finished and painted the boat.

August 2015 boat launched

Sept 2015 Out fishing


This was a hobby project for me to complete to allow me to fish again. So for a money making exercise, I would have been bankrupt, but I am happy with the outcome and I use the boat regularly out fishing. It took a year longer to do the work, put this down to the forming of the larch into shape and researching into the methods of completing the refit.

I enjoyed my time doing the boat, it allowed me to both follow a passion and to think about client issues/requirements/new business development. As I said in the first post, being creative here allowed me to focus on my own business. You need time to switch off, fishing is my ‘golf’.

I try to go fishing every few weeks, but I am out at the boat each week. Bailing out the boat is a weekly task, and I am working on a device on this. Again from my business skills, I am developing a prototype device to allow for this, and there are several challenges that I have to overcome, but hey that’s what life is about.

Fishing, my favourite time is the Green Peter fly fishing in late July / August. Best fishing on Lough Owel occurs after 9pm / dusk when the rise occurs and I have been known to stay out till the wee hours fishing. There is a strange feeling night fishing in the moon light.

Over the last few years I have cleaned up the boat trailer, given it a good scrape down and painted it.

Writing this, I have to replace the planking in the floor of the boat, I have sourced 3/4″ larch planks and will do this over the next few weeks. I take the boat out of the water each October and store it ashore. I have a waterproof tarpaulin to cover it and this protects all timbers from the weather, so each spring all it needs is a wash out and a lick of paint from the previous years wear and tear.

Big Ideas come from Problem Finding not Problem Solving

I attended another really interesting SCPD featuring Bill Burnett from the This time about problems and prototyping. The issue of problem solving is an interesting one. If someone comes to you and want the software to include 100 pieces of data rather than the current 10 – you may have to be creative to solve the problem but it is unlikely it will lead to a revolutionary innovation. But if you went back to the customer and asked why they needed the extra data – that’s where the magic could happen.

Design Thinking, according to Burnett, works bets on open-ended human centred problems. Problems where:

  • Users can’t tell you what they want
  • Users explain their problems based on what they think is possible
  • Users change their minds
  • Users do not want the innovation they demand (at first)

When I hear about these problems I think this quote from Henry Ford describes the dilemma:

“If I  asked people what they wanted they would have asked for a faster horse”

And it is true – we cannot ask for something that is beyond our worldview. The market was not screaming out for mobile phones but it turns out it is exactly what people wanted.

So how do find out what people want when asking doesn’t give us the right answers. This is where empathy comes in. We have to stop looking for problems and start looking for needs – getting beyond what people say and do and get to what they say and feel. (I find an empathy map can help).

Some needs are apparent – these are explicit needs and can be found through direct techniques such as surveys, interviews etc. . But implicit needs come from stories because people cannot always say directly what is important. There are many ways we can uncover stories to get to implicit needs – facilitating storytelling with games and observation are just some examples. But if we really try to get at people’s needs we can get unique insights and big ideas. As an example – the iphone was developed with the knowledge that technology at the time made people feel stupid because they found it hard to use. Apple took away the technology that made people feel stupid and gave them something that made them feel smart.


How to train yourself to be Creative

How to Cultivate Creativity using Design Thinking

So as we’ve seen before Creativity is abnormal brain activity – it is very high energy and we have evolved to use as little energy as possible. It is also quite scary for a lot of us- we have evolved to be naturally fearful but we can learn to lower our fear of failure.

Bill Burnett od Stanford offers 3 easy steps to Cultivating Creativity:

1. Train Yourself to “Get Stuck”,

Try the 30 circles test – you can get a template on google. Just give yourself 3 minutes to fill in as many circles as possible – you add doodles, plants, shapes anything you like  – the goal is quantity not quality. The point is you probably will get stuck, but the game helps you explore how “unstuck” happens and lowers your fear of getting stuck. It’s a bit like a good brainstorming session – the way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.

You can see Tim Brown of IDEO talk about this exercise and much more about Creativity and Play here:


2. Train Yourself to Brainstorm Well

In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell claimed that it took 10,000 hours of practice to master anything. Although this has been denied by some studies it is clear that practice of anything will make us better – Brainstorming is no different, We have to work on letting ourselves go and investing in the moment to let he ideas flow. In his book “Imagine” Jonah Lehrer talks about Neuroscientist Charles Limb who carried out a complex MRI on Jazz musicians using specially designed keyboards. Before a note was played the MRI showed a de-activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), the part of the brain associated with impulse control. The musicians had learned to automatically switch off their inhibitions when they needed to create – it still worked the rest of the time!

We may not be able to automatically switch off our impulse control but you need to warm up before brainstorming – just to get your brain going. There are lots of games you can play – check out Innovation Games or


3. Space

“If you live in a cubicle world, you will think cubicle thoughts”

If we really want to be creative our spaces should be creative – we need visual as well as mental inspiration  create. according to Jonah Lehrer in the “New Yorker” – Raw Space is the most powerful i.e you need an easily modified environment where collaboration is encouraged. Even if you can’t makeover the whole office you should have a ‘war room’ where normal rules do not apply – papers can be stuck up, furniture can be moved, people can move about freely and have basic tools for expression.


I will be talking more on all of these topics but for now – have fun cultivating your creativity.

Cultivating Creativity – Are you paying Attention?

SO back to Stanford – How to Cultivate Creativity using Design Thinking. Bill Burnett of the Stanford used this quote which I thought really summed up the creativity challenge:

“You do not see what you are looking at, you see what you are looking for”

As an example there is the famous video  of the basketball players where students are asked to count how many passes were made by a team and completely missed the gorilla. This video has spawned many talks on inattention and even a book “The Invisible Gorilla”.

Try it yourself:


Burnett referred to the research of Neuroscientist Gregory Berns who identified the key traits of creative people:


Creative Traits

These traits can be learned – especially our own fear response to novelty. So keep an eye out for the next quick blog to learn more


Your Brain on Creativity

Brain On Creativity

“The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Yesterday I attended a Webinar given by the Stanford Centre for Professional Development (SCPD) – you have to love webinars, you can interact with amazing people and you don’t have to leave your house. Anyway, the Webinar was entitled “How to Cultivate Creativity using Design Thinking”. I must admit, I’ve been a Design Thinking follower for a few years now and didn’t expect to find anything new but you never know what you are going to hear – especially as the talk was to be given by Bill Burnett, Executive Director at the d. school.

Design Thinking is usually seen as a process for innovation but Burnett says it is also about unlocking potential and building creative confidence. He talked about how DT is about mindsets:

  1. Reframing
  2. Mindfulness of Process
  3. Curiosity – about who you are designing for
  4. Bias towards action
  5. Radical Collaboration

He talked a little about how we are creative as children but how school is about control and being different is not well received in traditional education systems. He also talked about neural Darwinism – did you know that following the pack is evolutionary – we all needed to afraid of the same predators to survive. But even more interesting – your brain works at about 40 watts, and it uses about 25% of your daily calorie intake. It never even occurred to me that it used any. Apparently creativity uses more brain power – and as we have evolved to conserve energy your brain has evolved not to be creative for the same reason. We have lazy brains…but with a little help we can whip those brain muscles into shape. Maybe it could burn a few more calories…


I’ll pick up on this webinar later – there is much more but short and sweet is the way..

Standing on the shoulders of Giants




“It’s great to sit on the shoulders of giants, but don’t let the giants sit on your shoulders. There’s no room for their legs to dangle!” Stephen Nachmanovitch
I love this quote. I recently came across it in the excellent book “The Accidental Creative” by Todd Henry. It seems a little absurd at first but it accurately evokes one of the key assassins of creativity – comparing our work to that of others can stop you before you even start. We even compare our new projects to older successful projects of our own. Musicians are often beset by that “difficult second album” syndrome. But usually only if the first has done very well either critically or financially. The weight of unhealthy expectation can kill creativity before it starts. It can often lead to a cheap copy of other work in an effort to repeat that success. It’s a difficult one to fight – you need objectives, but try suspending judgement. At least at the beginning. Give yourself the objective of coming up with 30 average ideas. You are under much less pressure and more likely to come up with a great one!

Fear is the procrastinators best friend..

Who’s with me?This week I’ve realised I’ve been indulging in extreme procrastination. I’ s really been ready for months to launch a new venture but I’ve been busy perfecting and talking and doing a million other things that could be done instead of acting. This is a familiar step in the creative process. Whether you are ready to launch a new business idea or you are about to create a new artwork. Sometimes the task seems so big and fraught with opportunities for failure that it’s easier to avoid. But this is time to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ because, after all, living with the fear is often a lot harder than carrying out the action and dealing with the consequences.

So how do we overcome our internal resistance to action. David and Tom Kelley, in their book “Creative Confidence:unleashing the creative potential within us all” offer these five suggestions:

1. Get Help: recruit someone else to help you and make your problem theirs for a while. You might collectively come up with a new solution.

2. Create Peer Pressure: Be answerable to someone. Even if they don’t get involved, have someone who you have to make a progress report to. I find that a regular meeting with a network of other entrepreneurs helps keep me to my milestones. No-one wants to turn having had no progress since the last meeting.

3. Gather An Audience: Find someone who will help you move the idea out of your head and into a valid plan. When working with people with ideas I like to use the Business Model Canvas. It helps to validate the idea and develop a pathway to implementation.

4. Do A Bad Job: Sometimes creating anything is better that being frozen in inaction. I have created prototypes on my kitchen table using an old swimsuit, swimhat and glue. They don’t look pretty and nothing like the end product, but at least I could demonstrate a concept to a potential user.

5. Lower The Stakes: if you are not acting because the problem you are tackling feels hugely important, make it less important. Instead of coming up with the best twitter marketing idea ever, challenge yourself to come up with 10 mediocre ones. Once that constraint is gone, it’s amazing how quickly the ideas will come.

In the end, you must remind yourself why you wanted to act in the first place. In my case, I truly believe in what I do, and it’s benefits. When you see someone break though their judgement, play and then present a story or create a product that is truly unique, there is no better feeling.

This post has been written with John Cale in my head..

The Case of the Petrified Brain

The great Leadership and Innovation speaker Paul Sloane has been known to give this very sage advice “every new hire comes with a free brain”. In other words, insight can come from anyone, not just the chief architect or the creative director…anyone. If they are savvy, managers who really want to innovate in a competitive market will ensure that the work environment is such that the most benefit can be gained from this most scarce of resources. Companies are busily developing work spaces that will optimise creativity and implementing systems that will harness and implement ideas. But have you noticed that creativity is often most prevalent in the young. How many tech entrepreneurs had their best ideas when the were still in their teens, how many bands reach the i musical peak in their early twenties. In business, it is so easy to spot the idealist from the institutionalised. But is this inevitable? Do we have to accept that our creativity drops as our age rises. Our cognitive ability starts to deteriorate between 20 to 30 and this can cause panic – many companies focus on continually bringing in young people into the organisation but is this the answer? Some experts believe that the reason we become less creative is that we have stopped challenging our brain, We become experts in our field and we become comfortable with our lives. What we really need to do is to keep learning new skills, challenging ourselves, developing new perspectives and staying interested in our universe. Perhaps we should also stop giving our brain functions to technology for a while – reading maps, discovering new music, managing money, doing basic mathematics….. Imagine what we could do with a workforce that was both experienced and creative….