“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

3 Steps to creativity – Wash, Rinse, Repeat (Get Flattered/Insulted)

… Or … Work Hard, Rest, Repeat … Criticism … Repeat.

This post was inspired by the recent piece by Scott Berkun, called “How to be creative – the short honest truth”. In the post Scott, who has made it his life’s work to observe and research how businesses, especially the technical and creative sides of business, operate, points out that the simple truth of creativity is you have to work hard. I could not disagree if I tried. I just think in the spirit of full disclosure this is a bit simplistic and the hard work needs to be contextualize further in order to be useful to Scott’s readers. Otherwise they will just be left cranking away on whatever they are doing the same exact way they always do when in fact there are some important pieces of the creative context that matters.

Again, hard work is definitely important. But I want to make a distinction between two types of hard work:


The hard work of craft is just becoming good at a set of skills. I can do arithmetic all day long, but it won’t make me a great accountant. I can become the best writer with perfect syntax and semantics, but it does not make me a good storyteller. I can forge wood into any form given to me, but that doesn’t make me a great furniture designer. I can play, by ear even, any song put in front of me on a guitar, but that doesn’t make me a composer.

Craft is so important in design and creativity. We need to be able to communicate our ideas. The better we can execute our ideas towards some level of detailed communication the more likely our ideas will be executed in final form the way we intend.

Explore and experiement

Eames Lounge Chair

The other hard work we do does not necessarily require us to be masters of craft in order to start. Mastering craft just makes the results of this type of work more interesting if you ask me. Also, quite often, the great designer often finds themselves having to take on new crafts as part of the hard work of exploring and experimenting. In fact, sometimes new crafts are invented by designers.Take the example of the invention of wood-bending that Charles & Ray Eames invented in their exploration of new forms for furniture design.

But the purpose of THIS hard work is to create options, experiment with capabilities, gain experience, create artifacts that others and yourself can respond to validate and evaluate. A key purpose of options though is to create objects to associate off of. This is the purpose of a wall of sketches, or table filled with 3D printed models in Industrial Design and Architecture.

Hard work can’t be in a bubble


Creativity also needs moments of reflection. Reflection can be seen as a sit on your ass and do nothing to create an epiphany in the shower, but that is not it. Reflection is active in its attempt to create absence of work. Reflection is not WITH your sketch book. That would just be more hard work. Reflection is leaving your work behind. Jonah Leher in his recent book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works”, talks about how answers of a creative nature often come when we aren’t looking for them. Science has seen a shift in brain waves that occur when we aren’t working that correlate to creative answers happening at a higher occurrence.


I can write all day, but if I haven’t read, I’ll never know what good writing is. This is what comes from experience. We need to learn through exposing ourselves to others outside of our own personal hard work. It is imperative for creatives to look outside themselves.


Once we look outside ourselves, we can do evaluation for sure, but we also have to be open to criticism. We need to create critical language that allows us to refine our creativity beyond simple analysis of “it works”, or even “it’s pretty.” The process of criticism is something I can go into in another post, but for here, I will say that criticism is not easy. It requires many people and different levels of expertise, and is required for not just becoming a better creative producer, but also for building a total environment for creativity to best take place.

So work hard, but …

So yes, work hard. Keep working. But you need more than just work ethic. The work needs an environment. It needs collaboration. It needs juxtaposition. It needs structure. Endurance, Stamina, Grit will take you far in the right environment, surrounded by the right people, with the right structure, and the right set of experiences.

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