10 Things You Didn’t Know About Exceptionally Creative People

I recently completed Dr. Keith Sawyer’s book, Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the subject or curious about how to enhance their own creativity. (Visit his blog at keithsawyer.wordpress.com) In Zig Zag, Dr. Sawyer outlines a variety of exercises and tactics to help you along the creative process. He also provides valuable insight into the nature of the creative process itself. In his book, I learned some surprising things that exceptionally creative people all have in common. Below I have listed 10 things that you (probably) didn’t know about exceptionally creative people.

exceptional creators

  1. Exceptional creators sleep more hours than the average person. (Harvard researcher Jeffrey Ellenbogen found that after sleep, people are 33% more creative!)
  2. Researchers have found that people who have lived in more than one country (multinationals, biculturals, immigrants ect.) are more creative.
  3. Exceptional creators aren’t born that way. Creativity is close to 80% learned and acquired (according to Hal Gregerson, a professor at INSEAD Business School).
  4. Successful creators are curious by nature. They ask questions and listen closely to the answers, even when the information has no obvious relationship to what they’re working on at the moment. In other words, exceptional creators are experts at “connecting the dots”.
  5. Exceptional creators are masters of the discipline of play, the ability to imagine and envision possible worlds and alternate realities.
  6. Most exceptional creators are working on multiple projects at a time. (They’re using these various areas of focus to make even more connections and thus advance their work!)
  7. Creative people are exceptionally self-aware. They are constantly reflecting on what they’re doing at any given moment and they’re constantly listening to themselves.
  8. Creative people work harder than most other people, usually at researching and acquiring new information. Paradoxically, they also take more time off.
  9. About 25% of the world’s most exceptional creators engaged in the creation of elaborate imaginary worlds as children. (So think twice next time you want to make fun of someone’s “imaginary friend”!😉
  10. Exceptional creators make a conscious effort to introduce change into their lives, or to put themselves in situations in which they’re more likely to experience the unexpected.

The Intersection of Death and Creativity

As the saying goes, “Genius is sorrow’s child.”


Psychologists Christopher Long and Dara Greenwood recently investigated the connection between death and creativity. They asked a group of undergraduates to write humorous captions for New Yorker cartoons. Some of the students were first primed with subliminal messages of death. These students produced cartoons judged to be more creative and more humorous. The conclusion is that the inability to acknowledge and mourn loss leads to a shutdown of vital creative impulses. On the flip side, the resolution of loss allows for a fresh start and renewed access to sources of creativity.

Mourning, it seems, is not only vital for our mental health but for our creative lives as well.

This might explain why a disproportionately large number of creative geniuses lost a parent, usually a father, at a young age. A study of some 700 historical figures found that 35% lost a parent by age 15, and nearly half by age 20. The list includes Dante, Bach, Darwin, Michelangelo, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and more. These creative geniuses possessed not only an ability to rebound from suffering but also to transform that suffering into creativity.

Life is Simple

“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment. Neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it…but it’s easier if you do.”

My Top 10 Relationship Principles

I think it’s extremely important to have guiding principles in various areas of your life. Such principles keep you grounded and help you to see the bigger picture when it’s so much easier to get caught up in the small stuff. I decided to share with you my top 10 relationship principles. You can read them below. These relationship principles simply serve as grounding reference points in my day to day life. Also, one should note, they aren’t specific to romantic relationships. I try to implement these principles in all of my interactions, across a variety of relationships.

What are your relationship principles? Let me know in the comments section below!

  1. Be honest and direct in your communication. You’ll be amazed at how many problems you can avoid by being direct and honest in your communication.
  2. Show vulnerability. Don’t try to be perfect; it’s isolating.
  3. Be clear about what you need and ask for what you want. People aren’t mind readers, so don’t expect them to be.
  4. Be grateful. Appreciate how this person adds to your life. What if she/he were to disappear tomorrow?
  5. Remember that what the other person thinks, feels, and does isn’t any of your business. Your business is what you think, feel, and do as it pertains to him/her. 
  6. If there’s an elephant in the room, point it out. The sooner, the better.
  7. Keep your humor. Life’s not that serious.
  8. Listen more, talk less. Other people are our greatest teachers when we allow them to be. We weren’t given two ears and one mouth for nothing!
  9. Prioritize the relationship needs over your own. Don’t forget that there are three parties to every relationship. You, the other person, and the relationship itself!
  10. BE PRESENT! Probably the most important one of all. How can you experience the joy of true connection if your mind, body, and/or spirit is elsewhere?


Creativity vs. Art

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams

Creativity by Steve Jobs

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences than other people.” –Steve Jobs

Life is Our Greatest Teacher

“In fact, life is our greatest teacher. Whatever we are doing can be instructive, whether we are at the office, or talking to our spouse, or driving a car on the freeway. If we are present to our experiences, the impressions of our activities will be fresh and alive, and we will always learn something new from them. But if we are not present, every moment will be like every other, and nothing of the preciousness of life will touch us.”
― Don Richard Riso, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types

Belief: The Intersection of Creativity and Culture

In Western culture, we consider creativity the province of a select few. But that’s not true of all cultures. In primitive societies, for example, most people participate in creative activities. In more “advanced” ones, creativity becomes something special and therefore an option for fewer and fewer people. In the West, we tend to be concerned solely with the outcome of creativity. The product, so to speak. Asian cultures, on the other hand, are about the process of creativity. They care more about the journey than the destination itself.

How do cultures come to such different approaches towards creativity? 


It might boil down to our beliefs, particularly as they relate to creation. In the west, our story of creation begins with this, “In the beginning God created heaven and Earth.” We take this to mean that God created something from nothing, and thus, we humans tend to approach creation in the same way. This line of thought suggests that the creative act is linear. It says that the creator starts at X and advances until he/she reaches Y.

Chinese beliefs

Contrastingly, in Chinese culture, the universe, the Tao, has no beginning. There has always been something and there will always be. For the Chinese, the creative act is not one of invention but of discovery. Confucius himself said, “I transmit but do not create.”

hindu beliefs

The Hindus hold similar beliefs. In Hindu culture, there is nothing to invent, only old truths to rediscover and combine in new, imaginative ways. For Hindus, the creative genius is like a light bulb illuminating a room. The room has always been there and always will. The creative genius doesn’t create or even discover the room. She illuminates it. And this is not insignificant because without illumination, we would remain ignorant of the room’s existence and of the wonders that lie inside.

light bulb

Personally, I think that our Western version of creation, from the very beginning, has been misconstrued and taken out of context. If you continue reading Genesis, God’s story goes on to say that God always has been and always will be…That we are carefully crafted in His image. Thus, our creation story is closely in line with that of the Chinese or Hindu cultures. It has no beginning and no end. What they call the Universe, we call God. This points us to the rightful conclusion that the creative act is, in fact, non linear. The process of creativity is just as important, if not more so, than the outcome. When we begin to approach creativity in this way, not only does it become more accessible, but also significantly more rewarding.

How to Fail Successfully

What is the difference between failure that leads to innovation and failure that leads to… more failure?

What does it mean when people say, “That was a successful failure”?

The answer, researchers believe, lies not in the failure itself but how we recall it or, more precisely, how we store it. Successful failures are those people who remember exactly where and how they failed. This way, when they encounter the same problem again, they’re able to retrieve these “failure indices” quickly and efficiently. They don’t make the same mistake twice.

It seems that the advice we were given as children when confronted with failure, “Just forget it and move on” is wrong. “Remember it and move on” is the way to success.

The guiding principle for “successful failure” is the scientific method. Fail until something works. It’s about failing in a thoughtful and efficient manner. Failure can be a wonderful learning experience as long as it’s in the aid of some continuing process. The important thing is to fail early. Kill the ones that aren’t working right away.

fertilizer failure

Think of failure like fertilizer. It must be used by a skilled farmer, otherwise it is useless and smells bad.

Is Education an Essential Ingredient to Genius?

Bill gates, Steve Jobs, Woody Allen. All college dropouts. Einstein’s PhD dissertation was rejected twice. Thomas Edison dropped out of school at age fourteen. While some geniuses (Marie Curie and Sigmund Freud, for example) were stellar students, most were not.

In a study of some 300 creative geniuses, Dean Simonton found that the majority made it only halfway through what was considered a modern education at the time. Any more, or less, was detrimental. So while some education is essential to creative genius, it seems that beyond a certain point, more education does not increase the chances of genius but instead lowers it.

The deadening effect of formal education manifests itself surprisingly early. Psychologists have identified the exact year when a child’s creative thinking skills plateau: the fourth grade.