Add inputs to pump up creativity

My good friend, illustrator Walter Stanford, is one of the most creative people I know. Check out more of his work at

In a presentation I put together a couple of years ago entitled “9 to 5 Creativity,” I compiled a top 10 list of practices that are “sure-fire” ways to make you — yes, YOU — more creative.

What?!  Creative?!  But I’m not a creative person!  My job doesn’t call for creativity, and my life is dull and safe!  Creativity is only for artists and hippies and advertising people!

Hogwash.  You’re a human being, aren’t you?  You have a mind that can reason, don’t you?  The Lord God breathed life into your lungs himself for a purpose, didn’t he?  Well, didn’t he??

Then you can be creative.  Moving on…

So, No. 7 on my list was “Add Inputs.”

I particularly like this one because it resonates with me personally.  What do I mean by “add inputs?”  It’s a simple concept.  Basically, if you want to produce something different, you must start with new ingredients.  An “input” is almost the same as an ingredient.  (Notice the “in”contained in both words?)  In the world of agriculture, an input is something that helps a plant or animal grow, like fertilizer or feed.  In the world of creativity, inputs help ideas grow.

So what, exactly, is an input?  Brace yourself for a complicated answer.

It’s anything different.

A book, a movie, a CD, a sermon, a presentation, a vacation, a blog, a photograph, a walk in the park —these are all inputs as long as they’re not re-runs.

Well, that’s simple enough, you might say with an exaggerated eye roll.  Don’t you have something any more exciting and ground-breaking than that??

I don’t know about you, but just about anything new in my life is exciting.  With three kids and a demanding job, great chunks of my calendar often pass before I look up and notice.  Each day is often a Groundhog Day repeat of the one before — wake, drop kids off at school, work, pick up kids, work out, eat dinner, baths, and bed.  Rinse and repeat.

The enemy of creativity is sameness.  Creativity’s greatest benefactor is change.  So by undoing the sameness in your life, you can sprinkle a little pixie dust over what was lying dormant only moments before, like pouring milk over Rice Krispies.

For some, this is a very conscious effort.  It’s said that Ray Bradbury, the legendary sci-fi novelist who passed away earlier this year, read at least one short story, poem, and essay every day.  Louis L’Amour, perhaps the Western genre’s greatest writer and one of my heroes, famously said, “If you want to be creative, go where your questions lead you.  Do things.  Have a wide variety of experiences.”

While most of us can’t hop a freighter and go explore the Orient, there are effective ways to add inputs. One good practice is to simply drive home from work a different way each day for a week.  (I’ve done this, and it can be fun.)  Eat foods you’ve never eaten.  Take trombone lessons.  Get a bit part in a community theater production.  Rent movies you don’t think you’ll like.

All of these things will make the synapses in your wondrous brain fire in a slightly different order at a slightly altered rate, and you will perceive the world in a slightly divergent way.  This will help you take a set of knowns, jumble them all together, and make an unknown.

And this, my newly artistic friend, is what is also referred to as “an idea.”

Welcome to creativity!

banner ad

3 Responses to “Add inputs to pump up creativity”

  1. Took your advice today. Went to Barnes and Noble to write just to get out of the house and expose myself to something different. I could have sat at my desk while it rained outside and been glum. Instead, I had a caffeinated good time. It worked well. Good post.

  2. Love, this, Mark! I’m going to look for more opportunities to “change it up.”

    As a science major and business-oriented person (left brain personified), I’ve come late to the understanding that artistry and creativity come in many forms. I wrote about it a couple of years ago for a leadership consultancy blog: “Are You An Artist?”

  3. I love changing it up. I’ve tried more things in my mature years – learning languages, trying art, taking college classes, playing soccer with the grandsons! Better later than never.

Let me hear from you!