How to Create Creativity

‘Creative’ is the most popular adjective in the design world. Everybody wants to be a creative individual, find a creative solution, or discover a creative book. There are many synonyms for the word ‘creative’: ingenious, clever, prolific, innovative, gifted, inspired, inventive, original, stimulating. But what does this word really mean? And how can we activate our own creativity?

How to create creativity

The Latin word creatio was originally applied solely to deeds of God. Only later, in The Renaissance Period – when man first recognized his own ability to create something new into existence – the word creativity became used for describing human accomplishments.

Da Vinci Vitruvian Man

Creativity is a mental and social process involving the discovery of new ideas or concepts. It is the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new that has a value – be it a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object, form or idea. Either way, the end result of creative thought is both original and useful.

A number of personality traits have been shown to be associated with creative productivity. A high degree of self-confidence is a basic need for an individual that aims to create something new, so is unconventional thought and curiosity. In order to practice creativity, one must be a master of his particular domain, while also having the autonomy to explore and the flexibility to step outside of the box.

However, having the right characteristics and even the most inspiring work conditions doesn’t guarantee a creative result. Creativity techniques are thought processes or methods used to generate divergent thinking – a form of thinking which aims to produce many different ideas in a short period of time. Creativity techniques are used to release the creativity out of our brains and put it into a practical solution. Let’s imagine them as "output techniques".

Three well-known techniques for igniting creativity:


A term invented by Alex Osborn, and first used in his book "Applied Imagination"–Brainstorming works best in small groups of people, but can also be done individually.

The Brainstorming process starts off with the problem clearly stated and recognized by all participants. One person out of the group is chosen to write down all the ideas that are suggested in order to make them simultaneously visible to all others.

The Brainstormers suggest solution to the problem, starting from very obvious answers, and often going to the extreme.

Criticizing suggested solutions is not allowed. Every idea is accepted and written down.

Participants are to build on and develop each others’ ideas.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American artist and the first painter of African descent to become an international art star, depicted his own identity struggle using various symbols from Haitian, Puerto Rican and African American cultures in a brainstorming manner. Staring from simple elements – colors, shapes – later adding the more developed ones followed with words and lines connecting them.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral Thinking is a creative technique that encourages reasoning that is not immediately obvious, and ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. It is about finding a solution to problems through an indirect approach.

Lateral Thinking

Edward de Bono, who coined the term Lateral Thinking (acknowledged in the Oxford English Dictionary) is regarded by many as the leading authority in the field of creative thinking, innovation and the direct teaching of thinking as a skill. De Bono claims that it is important to disrupt the conventional patterns adopted by the brain. In notes from definition on Lateral Thinking, De Bono states: "Lateral Thinking is used for changing concepts and perceptions instead of trying harder with the same concepts and perceptions".

To demonstrate this form of thinking, take for example a simple problem like opening a door. Now think of some new solution except the doorknob. This forces you to think about creative solutions that are close to or the extreme opposite of a doorknob. It promotes thinking outside of the box.

Albert Einstein, whose name is a synonym for genius of originality and creativity, once said: "The problems of today will not be solved by the same thinking that produced the problems in the first place". It is obvious that Einstein had used lateral thinking to go around existing paradigms. He used Lateral Thinking in coming up with his theories to explain the physics world to us.

Problem Reversal

In his book "What a Great Idea", Charles Thompson suggested that the only way to truly understand this world is to learn from positives as well as from negatives. Ying-Yang, Summer-Winter, Day-Night are just some examples of that.

Problem reversal method is based on stating the problem in reverse. Change a positive statement into a negative one. Next, try to define what something is not, change the direction or location of your perspective. This will give you the opportunity to look at your problem from radically different point of view, which might lead to completely new and unexpected practical solutions.

Rene Magritte, a famous Belgian surrealist painted this picture that shows a smoking pipe.

Problem Reversal

Below it, Magritte wrote – "Ceci n’est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe). By explicitly stating that this is not a pipe, Magritte tricks the observer into posing a question to themselves: if it’s not a pipe, what is it actually?

Naturally, the answer comes: it is a painting. Magritte used the problem reversal technique to emphasize the real subject of his work: a painting, rather than what that painting is supposed to represent.


Sir Ken Robinson, a 20th century thinker in the development of innovation and human resources, claims that by the time kids became adults, most have lost their capacity to be creative; they have become frightened to be wrong – they get educated out of creativity.

Why does this happen? Is there a downside to being creative?

Encouraging creativity means encouraging departure from society’s existing norms and values.  Creativity’s main goal is to question old ways and to find new and better ones, which is not always fitting to the world we live in. Conformity and creativity run in separate directions.

People working in the Creative industry know very good how big of a fight that is. However, don’t let it beat you, keep strong and keep demanding your freedom. Arrange your environments so that they encourage freethinking. Expand your mind and give it lots of input. Apply "output techniques" and let it all out.

Creativity is waiting to be awakened, enjoy it!


Image credits

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About the Author

Martina Skender is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator from Croatia. She works for theater, print and web. She likes to observe, write, draw and post her drawings on her draw everything blog. You can take a took at here portfolio at, follow her on Twitter @semiblancaand send her a note.

This was published on Jan 31, 2010


Callum Chapman Feb 01 2010

I could brainstorm for hours and hours :) Great post, Martina.

Rafael Feb 01 2010

Amazing! Thanks!

Nitesh Patel Feb 01 2010

what a nice content rich post Martina!!!
the post is really creative…

Murlu Feb 01 2010

A perfect amount of inspiration to start the work week.

I don’t think my boss particularly likes it but I like to spend the first 30 minutes of work basically sitting at my desk and thinking how to solve today’s problems and objectives.

I spend a bit of time thinking of new ways to bring more people to the business and although many ideas don’t get approved, the ones that do really rock.

It’s not the best way to go about brainstorming but I still love using sticky notes. I build nice little webs of ideas and when I’m on break I pick up one of them to continue writing down ideas.

My best advice I could give is to go into each project with a hacker mentality. Break down every little aspect til you get down to the basics and understand the meta. Then you’ll be able to truly understand what you’re working with and how you can quell up that creativity in you.

Matthew Heidenreich Feb 01 2010

thanks for this, gets you thinking.

Creativity for Create ? Or Create for Creativity ?
It’s same for me. Thank you.

Excellent article. Way back in another life, I was a facilitator for a group of 3rd-graders in the “Odyssey of the Mind” program. We used these techniques to get them to problem-solve, and I was constantly amazed at the creativity exposed! I would add to this list the notion of approaching creativity with child-like wonder and silencing the inner critic we all develop as we grow older that tells us, “That’s a stupid idea!” Quite often the “stupid idea” is the beginning of the path that leads us to a great solution.

Renato Feb 01 2010

Wonderful post, Martina.

Shabbir Hussain Feb 01 2010

I feel like GOD. :)

Nick Parsons Feb 01 2010

Wow, I love articles like this that really get you thinking – this was very thought provoking! The lateral thinking section especially caught my attention. I think I’m going to do some more reading/research on that.

Excellent job, and I’d love to see more unique, original content like this!

Poonit Patel Feb 02 2010

Hi Martina
Thank you very much for sharing this valuable information with us.
Very good post.

92pixels Feb 02 2010

wow, coool

Eko Setiawan Feb 02 2010

To generate creativity, I usually just use the method of brainstorming. Thank you for the other method, I get new knowledge.
Great post..

Jacob Giles Feb 02 2010

That was not an extremely interesting article on creativity

Nasip Feb 02 2010

Now this is a Creative article!

Ljilja Feb 02 2010

Excellent post!

Karen Parker Feb 02 2010

Aaaannnd, I couldn’t disagree more. Not only with almost everything you said. But I also disagree with everything you have misunderstood about what the writers you were quoting said.

“Creativity is a mental and social process involving the discovery of new ideas or concepts.”

Perhaps a divine being can create something from nothing, but we mere humans are resigned to using what is on hand. In other words: we can never create new ideas, concepts or materials, we can only modify the ones we have.

Looking back through art history, one can see the linkages between “new” ideas and concepts in art and the social, scientific or material productivity of the culture. Dada was a reaction to social unease. Surrealism a reaction to the ideas of Freud and Jung, Warhol a reaction to both the “heroic” tone of Modernism and the ideas posited by one of the founders of Dadaism, Marcel Duchamp.

Aristotle has been quoted: “Western philosophy (thinking) is just a series of footnotes to Plato.” Of course that was not Aristotle, but a condensation of a statement by Alfred North Whitehead. But the seed of the idea holds a germ of truth: Nothing new is created. It is merely reconfigured.

There is a scientific maxim: “Energy can neither be created or destroyed.” The same holds true for literally every idea, concept, work of art, science or philosophy.

Anyone can produce a new piece of art or poem or scientific discovery, but the processes, methodology, techniques and results will be based on thousands of years of refinement and questioning before the “new” thing was even considered.

As for Lateral Thinking: The concept of Lateral Thinking in no way embraces the concept of “going around” an idea. I think one might label that as End Run Thinking or Pincer Movement Thinking.

Lateral, as the name should imply, means taking something from here and utilizing it in a novel way over there. Moving the concept, idea, material, sideways, in order to use it in a similar fashion within a new framework or in a new context.

For example, the inventor of that now ubiquitous material Velcro, was a Swiss mountaineer named George de Mestral. George had a flash of insight one day as he was pulling cockle-burs off his clothes after coming in from a walk.

He didn’t invent cockle-burs, nor did he invent the idea of them pulling at clothing fibers; that technique is used extensively, even today, using out-sized burrs called teasle, because we can’t, as yet, create a hook sensitive enough to pull natural fibers without breaking them. Mestral was lucky enough to live in an era where plastics were being actively promoted over natural fibers. If he hadn’t then he would have faded into history as the crazy man he was thought to be in his day. Now, we laud is “ceativity” every day in using his product.

But he didn’t create anything. He merely used lateral thinking to join divergent ideas and disciplines into something novel.

Another “amateur” who lateralized her skill set to the benefit of science was Marjorie Rice of San Diego, California, a housewife and mother of five.

You see, before 1968, there was an established idea that there were only five types of convex pentagon shapes that could tile a plane. These had all been discovered by K. Reinhardt in 1918. But in a 1968 article in The American Mathematical Monthly physicist R.B. Kershner presented three new types. He also announced without including a proof, that there were no other convex pentagons left to be discovered. No one challenged his assertion and the results appeared in the July 1975 issue of Scientific American in Martin Gardner’s column Mathematical Games. Soon after, Richard James III, a reader and tiling aficionado, sent to Gardner a new type of convex pentagon tiler, which Gardner
published in a later issue. Now we had nine.

This news caught the attention of Marjorie Rice who also read Scientific American. She had no formal mathematical training except for a general course she took in high school. And I seem to recall that she was a quilter. But she said that she “had a feeling” that the pronouncement that were no more patterns was, somehow, wrong. So she decided to see for herself.

So she pulled out her shears and some paper and discovered four new types of tilings in the next two years, making a total of thirteen known types.

She used Lateral Thinking, using a skill she already understood (quilting which uses tiled patterns) to discover something new. That embodies the essence of Lateral Thinking: discovery based on given parameters.

Lao Tsu once said: “To see things in the seed, that is genius.” He did not suggest that the things were not already there, just that we have not, as yet, apprehended them.

The problem I have with the promotion of “creativity”, “creating” or “creative thinking” is that nobody can explain how it happens except by way of example. It takes on the air of something “magic”. And since most people have the common sense to know that “magic” is the stuff of fairy tales, it both marginalizes the creative and sets the act of creating outside everyday understanding. It also allows the creative to spend their time navel gazing and contemplating their unique “specialness” rather than (as we say in the superhero biz) “using their powers for good”.

However, if I explain that anyone, ANY ONE, can take skills or ideas they have already learned and apply them in a slightly different manner inside a given context or within certain parameters, most people can grasp that as within the realm of possibility. They can paint, sculpt or draw, or make scientific discoveries or build a windmill from a trash dump to provide energy for their impoverished village. (

Human creativity is overrated. And whether you choose to believe it or not, the whole aura of creative “specialness” is ultimately detrimental to all artists (including designers) everywhere. It is the albatross we are doomed to carry as penance for the sin of hubris; assuming that we can, as the gods, create.

Jacob Gube Feb 02 2010

@Karen Parker: Wow, great insight! Contact me if you’d like to write a follow-up article on Martina’s post.

Vishnu H Feb 03 2010


The greatest idea to be creative is – “Thinking out-of-box” – it is the real creativity.

I always wondered how people ride a bicycle… having only two wheels, both aligned in a straight line. If McMillan had never thought “creative”, then we couldn’t have such a so-popular simplest vehicle for us!

Wondered about television – another most creative thinking – John Baird thought about reproducing a moving image – a very much creative thinking at that time.

Also heard a story about Thomas Alva Edison. He just thought about making diamonds from cheap Coal by passing it through a high-voltage discharge [Both are pure Carbon with different atomic structures]. His experiment caused the Electric generator at his office to blast, and he lost his job! (Sometimes, creativity kills…!!)

Almost everything we see today – The Radio, TV, Phone, Computer – they are the results of some poeple’s creative thinking.

I dont think that the Internet is not a result of creativity. It’s an evolution of a simple requirement – connecting some military computers. That formed the ARPANET, gradually adding more and more computers/devices, finally reaching (and growing) as the Internet.

Although the internet is not the result of “creativity”, but the internet have the power to fire “creative ideas” always. The result is – Google, twitter, facebook, blogs, wikis, other web-apps and a lot more…!

However, necessity is the mother of all inventions, and the father is – creativity!

Wily Walnut Feb 03 2010

Thank you Martina — I enjoyed the clarity of your article and your overview of creativity and ways to stimulate it.

I also enjoyed some of the responses it provoked, particularly that of Karen Parker.

One one level, you could say it is nit picking to claim creative thinking is a misnomer, and that all we do is modify existing ideas and materials.

True we do stand on the shoulders of giants and work with what we know and find to hand, but we are an ongoing creative process and essentially part of a deeper mind that has its own agenda of which we are a part.

I do relish Karen’s feisty war against the idea of creativity being somehow exclusive to certain types of people. Or that it is somehow mysterious and hard to get at. Creativity or the ability to adapt and improve is innate to all people, and as she suggests we should just get on with the doing of it!

BEBEN Feb 03 2010

so beautiful…:D

ShutteR77 Feb 03 2010

Very interesting material!

I agree with Wily Walnut.

jeff Hug Feb 04 2010

Actually, research shows that brainstorming is more successful when done individually than in groups. Otherwise, nice article.

Anthony Licari Feb 04 2010

Well I was going to give a lengthy reply to @Karen Parker but ironically it inspired me to create my own post:

Neelakandan Feb 04 2010

Very well written. Excellent.

Vil Pietersen Feb 04 2010

This is an awesome article. The thing about creativity is, you can apply it to anything you do in life, work or play. I often brainstorm and think that it is the best way to enforce your creativity.

Really got me thinking, thanks :)

Taylor Steele Feb 04 2010

Lol, I guess this blog does offer a few ways to increase ones creativity; however, as rule creativity is something that combined with your personality type develops as you grow.

You can’t increase what “God” and the world didn’t give you.

Nice simple article. I been having a mental block recently and I should probably relax and do things one step at a time. I like the three ways of thinking explained.

Its also important to pace oneself and I believe too much schooling and too much conformity to society has stunted my creativity. :(

Jocke Feb 06 2010

Great article! I think creativity is strongly connected to our subconscious, some periods it just flows, and some periods it is like a dry hot desert…

Hi, I really enjoyed this article.

My only problem was with your somewhat narrow definition of creativity as a ‘mental and social process’.

I think you did a fine job of covering the mental aspect of creativity, your description of brainstorming, lateral thinking, and problem reversal was great. (I especially liked what you wrote about problem reversal–I don’t think I’ve heard of that before).

But there are other dimensions to creativity as well, like the physical–I really don’t believe that a dancer’s technique is designed to ‘release creativity out of their brains’.

We are not brains perched on a stick, we are whole people-with physical, spiritual, emotional, energetic and mental dimensions–and creativity arises from our whole being.

Thanks for the thought provoking post!

Chaitanya Feb 08 2010

Great post..

It was really fun reading this article.. I am more of a multi-tasker but sometimes I find that my creativity gets stunted just because I am thinking too many things at one time.

Lot go great things to learn here…

Thanks for the post

kakday Feb 09 2010

how about mind map?

this was very interesting and inspiring! thanks msk!

Berthold Mar 16 2010

I agree wholeheartedly with Karen’s notion that perceiving “creativity” as the end-all-be-all skill behind design is one of the most common and most dangerous mistakes would-be designers and people around them make. Countless freelancers (upwards of 70%) fail every year because they assume their being creative is what makes or breaks a successful design career. Well, it doesen’t, and I can’t stress it enough. Being flamboyant, quirky, individual, verbose or any other trait that is commonly associated with creativity is no foundation for anything.

It is, however, a good jumping-off point for learning about design, and, if you really want to freelance, to learn about professionalism while you’re at it. One of my idols, Andy Rutledge, recently wrote about young wannabe designers ignoring every warning and going headfirst off the deep end, unaware of the craggy rocks that seperate great designers from everybody out there with a cracked CS4.

I myself have recently pondered why so many people conceive our profession as adding “Feenstaub”, i.e. some magic pixie dust, to everything to make it look “good”. You may be born with or aquire a certain sense of aesthetics, forms and shapes, but in order to acheive greatness, you need to learn the science behind design and art, otherwise everything you do will be hollow, bland and unremarkable. And that’s the worst that can happen to you or your prospective clients.

To the uninitiated, art looks accidental, whimsical even. And that’s the way we want to keep it. We want people to understand our messages, not wonder about the creative process. But we do, and we have to. Every great artist did it and even though it may all seem effortless, nobody should assume designing is anything but hard work. That’s not to say you can’t have a little fun doing it, but your priorities do have to be straight.

Andy got flamed for telling the truth, and I expect the same to happen to me, but then again, somebody has to be honest about it, and it ain’t gonna be your friends and family.

Hiral Sep 08 2010

Creativity is better good creat in our life. creative men alwais happy and solved your and his problem. So i telling you can creative your mind and creat your life.

Kim Green Mar 21 2011

Valuable piece – gets me thinking…

DavidPing Mar 22 2011

Helps explain why no matter where I am and what I’m working on, I feel like I’m rebelling against everyone else.

alessio May 21 2011

Wonderful, Thanks

Harshit Shah Jun 19 2011

Hey nice article…

Love your post. Too bad not everyone one of us has creative minds.

Vipul Nov 18 2011

Useful comments…!!! Awesome..
Thanks to All.

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