The Secrets of Creativity: Paradox

“As we approach, please notice that there’s a dock on the left, and a dock on the right. But don’t let it confuse you. It’s a paradox.” – Skipper from Disneyland’s The Jungle Cruise. (

Creativity and creative endeavors are fraught with paradoxes. It starts with Csikszentmihalyi’s creative personality theory (Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention). He came up with ten traits, which he admits are somewhat arbitrary, that every creative person exhibits. They are introverted and extroverted. They are often at rest and often in motion. They are smart and naïve. They are playful and disciplined or responsible and irresponsible. They deal in fantasy and reality. They are humble and proud. They are masculine and feminine. In short, creative people tend to have personality traits that are diametrically opposed to each other and that manifest at different times according to the creative’s need.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. – F. Scott Fitzgerald. (

This embodiment of paradoxical character traits probable comes from the equally paradoxical needs of human beings. As individuals, we want to be safe. We want to provide a good home for our family and fit in with those around us. However, we also want to explore. Watch how children act. They look at everything. They ask all the questions. They can be found at the edges of the playground where the concrete meets the bark dust or the grass meets the sidewalk. For the species to survive, people need to explore; they need to engage in activities that aren’t safe for the individual. In today’s world, creatives want the safety of a job with a paycheck, but they also want to be able to strike out on their own and find work in their art form.

“Seth Godin says that for any creative person, for any person doing work that matter, the two opposing thoughts are: ‘This might work’ and ‘This might not work’.” – The Editors at the Good Men Project. (

In “Let the Elephants Run” (p. 73), David Usher says that the best way for creatives to harness their creativity is to “develop a routine.” For a process that is steeped in the ideas of the Eureka moment and ideas coming at any time, a routine seems like a paradox. However, “ritual is the key to keeping your creativity alive” because it emphasizes to your brain and to those around you that you are going to be doing something different. It also keeps you putting gin the effort, even when the inspiration isn’t there.

Can you see how something can be an individual’s fault AND the fault of the system that person is a part of? A man who steals bread to feed his family is wrong, and a system that requires his family to starve, even when there’s a surplus of food, is also wrong. Can you harness the power of delayed gratification knowing that you want the reward offered now but you also want a better reward offered later, which won’t be there if you take the first reward? Taking your full paycheck now is something everyone wants to do, but putting a percentage of the paycheck into a matched retirement plan is better. You can’t take both, so you have to acknowledge your conflicting desires and choose the better of the two.

Once you become okay with paradoxes, you’ll begin to see the manufactured false dichotomies of our society. More importantly, you’ll begin to harness more of your creativity.

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