A Brief Guide to Creativity

by Stephen Bray 

A baby, reaching out to grab a rattle or a mobile hanging above the crib, is being creative.   The infant learns from such experiences that there are internal and external worlds that s/he can influence.

But what is it that moves?   Who reaches out?   What is the inspiration that leads to such creative impulses?   Quite simply life has a desire to witness itself in many forms, and, as agents of life, each of us will thrive if we help with this task.

This secret is flow.   All religions and most philosophies recognise there is an energy that flows between us and between the objects in our respective worlds and ourselves.   When this flows freely we are creative and healthy, but when we restrict this flow by holding on to the familiar until it has had its way with us, then we feel ill at ease, we become diseased.

The prophets of old are reported as hearing the voices of their gods commanding them.   It has been suggested that humans lost this ability 10 - 15000 years ago when we developed rational thought and intuition.  

Intuition is far closer in its nature to the guidance that our forefathers received than is rational thought.  Rational thought provides us with free will at a price.   Sometimes our rational mind urges us to abandon our ‘crazy’ intuitions.

This can interrupt the flow of energy between ourselves and our world with disastrous consequences because our bodies have to bear the strain of this constraint and we experience distress.   This process in turn inhibits our abilities both to intuit and also to think rationally.

In commerce and industry we must listen to the hearts as well as the minds of employees at all levels of our businesses.    We encourage them by offering training in both thinking and technical skills.   We loan our people on charitable projects exposing them to new challenges and less certainty.   When they return to us we find them refreshed, alert and with greater creative flair to add value to our businesses.

A little chaos is an aid to creativity.   Building No. 20 was built at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a temporary structure during World War II.   It was finally demolished in 1998.   The hut, built entirely out of wood was easy to personalise and customise.  Researchers found inspiration from the piles of ‘junk’ left behind by previous experimenters over the years.  This old equipment was often put to good use in later experiments.   The building itself was so pitiful that no one ever competed for the space there.   Building No. 20 boasts the spawning of more creative science than any other building of comparable size in the USA.

Richard Semler CEO of the Sao Paulo manufacturing giant Semco actively encourages executives and employees to take sabbatical leave.    They also have quiet and restful areas designated as ‘thinking rooms’, where people may escape from the urgency of production.   Semler says:

The key to management is to get rid of the managers.

The key to getting work done on time is to stop wearing a watch.

The best way to invest corporate profits is to give them to the employees.

The purpose of work is not to make money. The purpose of work is to make the workers, whether working stiffs or top executives, feel good about life.” 

To feel good about life it is necessary to blend our energy with events and move with them.   Using this philosophy Semler was able to increase Semco’s turnover from $35 million to $100 million in just six years. 

Semco has no receptionists, secretaries, or personal assistants. All employees, Semler included, receive their own guests, make their own copies, and draft and send their own correspondence. There are no private offices, workers set their own hours, and office attire is at the discretion of each employee.   Semco has initiated a once a week dialogue session for women workers and regular women’s retreats.   It has factory floor flextime, self-set salaries and a system for rotating the post of CEO, who is called a counsellor. 

Such creative solutions arise from listening and dialogue, rather than debate.  We do not necessarily invest thousands of dollars upon the whim of an employee or ourselves.   We must however recognise that failure to act on intuition and the inhibition of creative expression come at a heavy price. 

Guide to creativity.


Keep on the move and listen to whomever you meet.


Beware of fixed structures, a laptop or PDA and a mobile phone may be used anywhere.


If your job demands that you have a working space make it a light practical adaptable working space.


Train someone else to become creative.   This will teach you more about your own creativity.


The more you try, the more you fail.   If what you are doing is not working then, having given it a fair shot, do something else.


Vary your routines whilst maintaining your focus.


Write off log-jammed work and stay in the flow.


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This article was originally published in Executive Excellence Magazine.   Text Copyright ©2001 Stephen Bray. Stephen Bray may be contacted at stephenbray@quietquality.com.