Creators are so caught up in the pursuit of their work mission that they sacrificed all, especially the possibility of a rounded personal existence

How to be a Creator

by Eric Barker

1) Be curious and driven

For his book Creativity, noted professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did interviews with 91 groundbreaking individuals across a number of disciplines, including 14 Nobel Prize winners. In 50 Psychology Classics Tom Butler-Bowdon summed up many of Csikszentmihalyi’s findings including this one: Successful creative people tend to have two things in abundance, curiosity and drive. They are absolutely fascinated by their subject, and while others may be more brilliant, their sheer desire for accomplishment is the decisive factor.

2) It’s not about formal education. It’s about hours at your craft.

Do you need a sky-high IQ? Do great geniuses all have PhD’s? Nope. Most had about a college-dropout level of education.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

Dean Keith Simonton, a professor at the University of California at Davis, conducted a large-scale study of more than three hundred creative high achievers born between 1450 and 1850—Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Beethoven, Rembrandt, for example. He determined the amount of formal education each had received and measured each one’s level of eminence by the spaces devoted to them in an array of reference works. He found that the relation between education and eminence, when plotted on a graph, looked like an inverted U: The most eminent creators were those who had received a moderate amount of education, equal to about the middle of college. Less education than that—or more—corresponded to reduced eminence for creativity.

But they all work their ass off in their field of expertise. That’s how to be a genius. Those interested in the 10,000 hour theory of deliberate practice won’t be surprised. As detailed in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, the vast majority of them are workaholics.

Via Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

“Sooner or later,” Pritchett writes, “the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.”

In fact, you really can’t work too much.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

If we’re looking for evidence that too much knowledge of the domain or familiarity with its problems might be a hindrance in creative achievement, we have not found it in the research. Instead, all evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. The most eminent creators are consistently those who have immersed themselves utterly in their chosen field, have devoted their lives to it, amassed tremendous knowledge of it, and continually pushed themselves to the front of it.

3) Test Your Ideas

Howard Gardner studied geniuses like Picasso, Freud and Stravinsky and found a similar pattern of analyzing, testing and feedback used by all of them:

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

Creative individuals spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what they are trying to accomplish, whether or not they are achieving success (and, if not, what they might do differently).

Does testing sound like something scientific and uncreative? Wrong. The more creative an artist is the more likely they are to use this method:

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

In a study of thirty-five artists, Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi found that the most creative in their sample were more open to experimentation and to reformulating their ideas for projects than their less creative counterparts.

4) You Must Sacrifice

10,000 hours is a hell of a lot of hours. It means many other things (some important) will need to be ignored. In fact, geniuses are notably less likely to be popular in high school. Why? The deliberate practice that will one day make them famous alienates them from their peers in adolesence.

Via Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:

…the single-minded focus on what would turn out to be a lifelong passion, is typical for highly creative people. According to the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who between 1990 and 1995 studied the lives of ninety-one exceptionally creative people in the arts, sciences, business, and government, many of his subjects were on the social margins during adolescence, partly because “intense curiosity or focused interest seems odd to their peers.” Teens who are too gregarious to spend time alone often fail to cultivate their talents “because practicing music or studying math requires a solitude they dread.”

At the extremes, the amount of practice and devotion required can pass into the realm of the pathological. If hours alone determine genius then it is inevitable that reaching the greatest heights will require, quite literally, obsession.

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

My study reveals that, in one way or another, each of the creators became embedded in some kind of a bargain, deal, or Faustian arrangement, executed as a means of ensuring the preservation of his or her unusual gifts. In general, the creators were so caught up in the pursuit of their work mission that they sacrificed all, especially the possibility of a rounded personal existence. The nature of this arrangement differs: In some cases (Freud, Eliot, Gandhi), it involves the decision to undertake an ascetic existence; in some cases, it involves a self-imposed isolation from other individuals (Einstein, Graham); in Picasso’s case, as a consequence of a bargain that was rejected, it involves an outrageous exploitation of other individuals; and in the case of Stravinsky, it involves a constant combative relationship with others, even at the cost of fairness. What pervades these unusual arrangements is the conviction that unless this bargain has been compulsively adhered to, the talent may be compromised or even irretrievably lost. And, indeed, at times when the bargain is relaxed, there may well be negative consequences for the individual’s creative output.

5) Work because of passion, not money

Passion produces better art than desire for financial gain — and that leads to more success in the long run.

Via Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us:

“Those artists who pursued their painting and sculpture more for the pleasure of the activity itself than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior,” the study said. “It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

One Response to Creators are so caught up in the pursuit of their work mission that they sacrificed all, especially the possibility of a rounded personal existence

  1. Anonymous says:

    Creative people should not try to emulate dodgy ideas because it is written in books. Not all fields are all the same.

    Notice that practicing some of the ideas put forward would be considered quite dodgy compared to common since. It is a tempting sell. You want to be smart and successful? Yeah. Yeah. How? How? Pretty soon we might believe any method.

    I have a feeling that some of what is written about very successful creative people is actually a fabricated. If that is the case, emulation of a fabrications could become a problem, instead of a help.

    I have actually found several fabrications about famous people on the internet quite prevalent.

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