The Creativity Challenge

The Creativity ChallengeWhen I found out my online friend and fellow creative, Tanner Christensen had released a new book I immediately asked him to send me a copy to review. I’ve known Tanner probably as long as he has been blogging about creativity and sharing his insights with the rest of us who appreciate his pragmatic approach to inspiration. That’s what I love about him. He writes about creativity in a way that is practical. There is no magic wand or secret formula he has to share. He gives you a real perspective on what it’s like to create.

And The Creativity Challenge is no different. In it, he has compiled nearly 150 challenges to get you creating. Because, like I said before, Tanner is about the science of creativity and using proven methods to help you spark new ideas. Therefore, the challenges come in the following 5 types of problem solving techniques:

  1. Convergent is just like it sounds. These challenges require you to combine elements to come up with something new.
  2. Divergent requires the opposite of convergent thinking and asks you to deconstruct elements to see where they fit into a new solution.
  3. Lateral is likely the way we are all accustomed  to solving problems. These challenges ask you to follow specific steps to the correct answer.
  4. Aesthetic is all about the visual. You will be required to use your visual senses to complete these challenges.
  5. Emergent is another style that most of us may be familiar with. Ever have a brilliant idea right before falling asleep sleep at night? That’s emergent thinking.

Each challenge has a brief introduction based on a piece of research or other proven example and is followed by an activity. Some of my favorite ones include finger paining a masterpiece of your emotions, exploring other cultures through food, movies or books and tuning into Mozart – believed to increase creative thinking.

What I love about this book is that it is very accessible. You can flip through and choose a challenge whenever you are feeling blocked or simply looking for inspiration and quickly complete it. Creativity builds on our previous experiences and successes so the more challenges you complete the more creatively empowered you will feel.

tanner-christensenQ. Who should read The Creativity Challenge and why?

Tanner Christensen: The Creativity Challenge is a book for anyone who is willing to rattle their thinking in order to generate new ideas, explore their imagination, solve complex problems, and find new ways of entertaining themselves.

It sounds cliche and a little broad to say that, I know, but it’s true! The book was designed for anyone who finds themselves regularly stuck, either unable to spark that elusive genius of inspiration, in a daily routine, or behind some ambiguous creative block. Often times when we get stuck — in any of these types of situations — all we really need is a tiny push to see things from a different perspective, or to uncover the parts of our circumstance we weren’t otherwise paying attention to. Those little pushes toward creativity don’t have to be complex, but we get so wrapped up in our stuck-ness that we fail to see exactly how to shake ourselves free. With The Creativity Challenge I wanted to give more than 100 fun activities anyone could do to push themselves a little bit outside of their regular way of thinking in order to see what’s out there in the world, what they’re capable of.

But more than anything, I wanted the book for myself. Even after researching and writing on creativity for more than eight years, I get stuck all the time. And it sucks. But I know I don’t have to remain stuck, and the challenges in this book help remind me of that fact.

Q. What does a typical day look like for you? How do you get inspired?

Tanner Christensen: Most days are overwhelmingly the same for me, but that’s not to say they aren’t without their little surprises or inspirations. I wake up every weekday fairly early, around 5 am, to make time for the gym. Exercise makes me feel good and gives me a little momentum in the morning for what comes next. And what comes next is catching up on everything I need to get done that day.

I’m a full time designer at Facebook, so much of my time is spent collaborating with content strategists, product managers, engineers, and fellow designers to carefully craft products for millions of people. A lot of my day is also spent chatting with friends, which involves everything from planning out episodes for my podcast (Creative Something Podcast), catching up with old friends, or helping brainstorm ideas with a few peers I like to mentor. All of this chatting typically sparks some memory, emotion, or thought in me that feels almost overwhelming. In these moments I’ll feel drawn to write down whatever it is I’m thinking or feeling, and I’ll do that either by making a quick draft in Tumblr for my blog ( or by using my app Prompts on my phone.

At the end of the day I like to come home and relax for a minute before reviewing code for updates to the apps I’ve created, read a book (I just finished reading We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider and highly recommend it), flush out some of my writing from earlier in the day, and after dinner I’ll make time to research and try to write a draft for my blog.

It sounds like a lot, but much of my time is really spent simply thinking and trying to sort through my thoughts. I find that giving myself a few minutes throughout the day to simply sit and ruminate is the most rewarding thing I can do, not only because it helps me destress and make sense of the sometimes chaotic days, but it also tends to leave me feeling inspired and motivated.

Q. What’s one takeaway you’d like to see readers come away with after reading The Creativity Challenge?

Tanner Christensen: The one takeaway I hope The Creativity Challenge conveys is that, while creative thinking can sometimes be challenging, there’s always something small we can do for a big impact. Whether it’s a change in perspective, trying something new, or seeking out help, creative insights are always accessible if you make a small move to reach them.

Meet Tanner and connect with him!

Tanner Christensen is a creativity expert, author of The Creativity Challenge, a web developer, entrepreneur, designer at Facebook, and part-time artist.

He started blogging in 2008 with the goal of researching and sharing answers to the question: How can we better understand our creativity in order to do more with it?

After more than seven years of researching, writing, and sharing creative ideas and inspiration, more than 100,000 people subscribe to Creative Something and more than 50,000 people visit the blog every month.

Personal Website



Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive


Has a book ever arrived in your life at exactly the right moment?

For me, that book was Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive by my friend, David B. Goldstein and his co-author Otto Kroeger.

A couple of years ago, David reached out to me to review the book when it first came out. I was excited for him but hesitant. I had stopped blogging, and so kindly promised I would do so when my blog was back up. And then after it was back up, I kept putting it off. About a month ago, I was at my local library browsing the shelves when I saw David’s book. I immediately pulled it off the shelf to check it out. I knew it was a serendipitous sign, since I had recently started to seriously explore my personality style and figure out, for once and for all, what my type was.

I went home that afternoon and dove right into the book and to my surprise discovered, not only am I an INTJ, but also that Creative You offered so much more than just a synopsis of my personality type. In fact, I see it now as one of the premier books on creativity and living a creative life.

The book is broken into three distinct parts. The first debunks twenty of the top myths that still persist about creativity. When I started this blog, almost 10 years ago, it was built on the premise of myth #1 that I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. Since then, creativity has hit the mainstream, yet for some reason that myth persists.

The remainder of Part 1 allows you to determine your personality type based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I have taken this test so many times since college, but it wasn’t until now that I finally received an accurate report on my personality type.

Part 2 is where it gets interesting. This part explains in full detail the creative style of your personality type, including your strengths and weaknesses and how best to express yourself. You get to dive deep into yourself and discover how to best nurture your creativity.

My favorite was Part 3. This is where you learn how to apply your creativity to your daily activities. Far too many of us believe that creativity should only be assigned to our work lives or creative hobbies. Here we are presented ways in which to live our creativity, whether it is public speaking, collaborating with others or simply playing. It’s a nice conclusion to a thoroughly researched book and lets you take your creativity style and share it with the world.

I asked David the following questions and he responded with very thoughtful responses I hope will encourage you to explore your creative style.

David_B_GoldsteinQ: What was your inspiration for writing Creative You?

David B. Goldstein: Like all of us have from time-to-time, I had one of those ah-ha moments. While we can’t possibly develop all of our ideas, I knew this one was important enough to be brought to life and shared. In a workshop while noticing the artwork of my classmates, I made a connection between the personality types of my friends and their painting styles. By itself this idea was exciting and as I saw more connections that extended way beyond painting, quickly the concept took on a life of its own. It became clear that our personality is related to the very nature of how we are creative in all aspects of our life. Whether we are cooking or writing a business plan, we are all creative in our own ways!

But sadly, many people consider themselves as uncreative or not living up to their creative potential. And, through interviews, I often found they were discouraged away for the wrong reasons. Today we all need to be creative and along with my revelations, I became inspired to spend years researching, writing, and speaking to show people that we all are creative plus we can be helped by simply understanding our own personality type and finding our unique style.

Q: Why is learning your personality type important to creativity?

David B. Goldstein: You can never go wrong by learning more about yourself and knowing about your personality type gives you power for creativity. Doing anything new means standing up and being different. In our culture, we claim to love what is different but actually when many people come face-to-face with different items on the menu – they often go for the same old chicken club. Creativity takes courage and the best way to have the confidence to be creative is to know yourself and your creative style. Knowing your personality type will help you understand the environment where you come up with your best ideas, it will help you realize the unique way you see the world, it will give you insight into your decision making, and will help you understand your own creative process. Once you know who you are and what your strengths are, you know what you are bringing to the table – and you can gain the courage to stand on the table to share your ideas.

Q: Is there one takeaway you want our readers to know about personality type and their creative style? 

David B. Goldstein: The most important thing to know from my work is that there isn’t just one “creative type.” In our book Creative You, we don’t assume you have the same creative style as we have and show you what has worked for us. Instead we guide you to find your own creative process and your own unique style.

Learn more about David and connect with him!

David B. Goldstein is a management consultant, speaker and the originator of the “creative-type” concept. David speaks about how everyone can be creative in their own way using their natural strengths.

David is a researcher with a science background and an M.B.A. in Management of Science, Technology and Innovation, who uncharacteristically is also an internationally recognized artist. He was commission by the Pan American Health Organization/WHO to create their symbol to promote and protect human rights and David was invited to speak before a global televised audience for World Health Day.

David has been interviewed by the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Women’s Fitness, and Innovative Excellence. He has spoken at the Creative Oklahoma Forum, the Association of Psychological International’s Conventions, written for The Bulletin of Psychological Type, The American Bar Association’s Law Practice Today, and posts the Courageously Creative blog. As an entrepreneur for nearly 25 years, David founded an early digital imaging company, pioneered one of the first Internet startups creating an award-winning web-directory company. David also founded a research firm specializing in intellectual property, providing clients with information on the novelty and infringement of patents. Over the years, he has served as a consultant to technology start-ups, Fortune 500 companies, universities, hospitals, and government agencies.

Blog: Courageously Creative

Twitter: DavidBGoldstein

Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Road

Committed front coverWhen I first met Patrick Ross several years ago and learned about his creativity seeking cross country trip, I immediately asked when the book on it was coming out. At that time, there was no book, but I knew after listening to Patrick talk about the trip, that there should be.

So I asked again, every year or so. I believed this was a book that needed to be written and one that myself and my fellow creatives needed to read. Well, I got my wish and when I found out it was published this fall, I contacted Patrick for an advanced reading copy. And I am so glad I did.

Patrick’s path back to his creativity is no different from mine or a lot of other creatives I have talked to over the last 8 years I’ve been writing this blog and on my own quest to rediscover my creativity. And that’s what resonated with me most.

The book opens up with a particularly raw scene in which Patrick is fleeing his parents’ home with his children after a heated exchange. This exchange brings to light a dysfunctional family dynamic ignited by mental illness. It is from this understanding that we travel with Patrick along his cross country journey sponsored by the funders of the organization that he led for many years in Washington, DC.

While the intended purpose of the trip is to please his funders, it is through the conversations Patrick has with artists that spurns him to question why he has abandoned his own creative practice. These often emotional exchanges allow us not only to see into Patrick’s internal psyche but also his process of reawakening. It is this process that so captivated me and I knew I had to share with my readers. Below, I asked Patrick the following questions to illuminate this and inspire us all:

Patrick Ross author photo 2014

Q: What was the one piece of advice you heard from the artist’s that you interviewed that resonated the most? And why?

Patrick Ross: The one piece of advice that most resonated with me at the time was Idaho’s Rochelle Smith (and others, like New Hampshire’s Ernest Whaley) saying you have to tell your story. But the one I find myself hearing most often now is from Vermont’s Sabra Field, which is funny because she explicitly was resisting giving advice: she said the art-committed life is not an easy one, and many would be happier not attempting it. It is not an easy path, but it has been worth it so far.

Q: How did you implement what you learned on the trip into your own creative life?

Patrick Ross: The first thing I did was recognize that while I had a lot of experience as a writer of nonfiction, I had little experience as a writer of creative nonfiction. So In January 2011 I began a memoir-writing class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, my first-ever creative writing course. I then went to AWP (the annual Association of Writer’s and Writing Programs conference) and walked up to every single MFA program table on the trade-show floor and quizzed them on their creative non-fiction offerings. I ended up choosing the Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency program, and in late June of 2011 I found myself in Montpelier having pages I had written in my Writer’s Center class worshipped by my fellow VCFA students. It grew from there.

Q: What would you tell other creatives that have abandoned their craft?

Patrick Ross: It’s never too late to come back. You could say it’s like riding a bicycle, in that once you’ve learned how you can always do it again. But I think it’s even easier than that. One still must learn how to ride a bicycle to begin with; we are born inherently creative, so what you’re really doing is returning to your core state of being. The difficulty is what Sabra was referring to, sticking with it.

Finally, I can’t recommend this book highly enough (well, maybe I could) to anyone who has allowed life to get in the way of their creative practice. Patrick proves that there is always a way back to it.

Disciplined Dreaming

Do you or does your organization need more ideas? Well then Josh Linkner and his book Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity may have just the solution for you or at least just the right idea generating tool!

Filled with proven techniques and the success stories to back them up, Linkner has written a resource that you and your team will come back to over and over. He believes that creativity is a skill that you can learn and even quotes from renown Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen to prove it:

“Studies have shown that creativity is close to 80 percent learned and acquired.”

From there, Linkner provides a simple framework to increase your creative thinking capacity and also teaches you how to encourage it your organization or team.  His five step process is similar to the actual creative process.

1. Ask: Define your creativity challenge by asking what needs to be solved. Then use your curiosity to seek those clues.

2. Prepare: Like exercise, creative thinking requires warm-ups. Also if you are in an organization, cultural alignment is necessary.

3. Discover: Seek creativity in the unlikely corners of your life. You may be surprised by what you find.

4. Ignite: Where the rubber meets the road. Use as many different tools and techniques to spark ideas individually or in a group.

5. Launch: Bring your analytical mind back into the picture to sort through all of the ideas you generated in the last step in order to choose the best ones to  pursue.

Now, I can’t guarantee that you will become a creative genius after reading this book and following the Disciplined Dreaming process, but I am pretty certain that Linkner’s infectious enthusiasm about all things creative will at least make you look at problem solving and creativity a lot differently.

  • Now go and create some new ideas!

Spark: How Creativity Works

“Work comes out of work.” ~ Richard Serra

This memorable quote leapt out of the pages of Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein, the producer of Studio 360. The book, which chronicles the creative process of many of today’s creators, is filled with little nuggets like this to inspire you.

As you know, I am all about the process – the creative process that is! While the finished product is a feat, for me it is the process that is really intriguing.

That’s why this was the first non-school related book, in a long time, that I not only read but devoured. From the first story that takes us on a journey with the artist Chuck Close as he discovers his renowned painting style despite his physical and learning challenges, I was hooked. According to Close,

“Inspiration is for amateurs, and the rest of us just show up and get to work. But so much of it comes out of the process…”

The rest of the book continues to explore the creative process, in all its forms, with examples from writers, architects, musician, and actors alike.

There are stories on how artists have dealt with adversity, created modern alchemy through their work, worked with partners and collaborators and just got to work. In this last chapter, the writer, Isabel Allende discusses, in fascinating detail, her ritual of starting a new work each year.

This book provides a deeper look into the creative process of some of the most intriguing contemporary artists and is a must read for process lovers.

  • How have your life experiences influenced your work?

Becoming a Life Change Artist

Are you planning to look for a new job, new career, or just a new perspective on life this year? Then Becoming a Life Change Artist: 7 Creative Skills to Reinvent Yourself at Any Stage of Life by Fred Mandell, Ph.D and Kathleen Jordan, Ph.D is the book for you!

Before I planned to interview Kathy Jordan for my Five {5} Creative Questions series, I won a copy of her book. I was so excited that I dove right into it and have admitted that I never wanted it to end. Yes, it was that good.

I also have to admit, that as a trained art historian and personal development enthusiast, this is the book I wish I would have written. It explores the creative process through the work and life of such artists as Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo. Using the creative process of artists and translating it to personal growth is genius.

Throughout Becoming a Life Change Artist, Mandell and Jordan, share accounts of people, just like you and I, who have overcome adversity to achieve their goals, whether it was going back to school, switching careers, or choosing to stay home and care for their children. Interspersed with this are the stories of successful artists and how they used the creative process to complete some of the finest paintings and sculptures in the canon of art history.

Not only will you learn about the creative process of artists, but you’ll also learn the specific skills involved to make your change real. And with plenty of exercises after each chapter to get you thinking, this book keeps you involved in your own creative process.

Finally, my favorite part of the book happens to fall at the end, in the appendix. There you’ll find some pretty amazing resources including the Creativity Calculator, where you can test your own creative skills and learn which part of your process could be improved. Plus, the Preparation Activities appendix provides a ready-made list of creativity-enhancing triggers.

It looks like Becoming a Life Change Artist will be my go-to creative companion for the next year, as I get ready for big changes in my own life.

  • How can you creatively reinvent you life?

Doodle Diary Not Just for Girls

Last week I introduced you to uber-creative Dawn Devries Sokol and this week I want you to meet her latest book, Doodle Diary: Art Journaling for Girls. I am a twitter follower of Dawn’s and when I saw this book was being released, I begged for a review copy. I guess I just knew that with a title like that it would be good and fit right into the theme of my blog.

Anyway, after receiving the book, I giddily flipped through it and quickly realized that not only is this book not just for girls (women of all ages will love it too!) but also it is the kind of book I wish I had had when I was growing up.

The introduction features a host of how-tos for getting started doodling, as well as tips for using the book and getting the most out of it. My favorite part includes a statement about how mistakes often make better art! If only, I had read that as a young artist, I wouldn’t have had to learn it later in life, but I digress… Dawn also includes a list of tools, which include suggestions beyond a simple pencil. She mentions gel pens, sharpie pens, and crayons among others.

The rest of the book is filled with brightly colored and creatively laid out doodling prompts with plenty of extra space to well, just doodle. What I really like about the book is not only the emphasis on expanding creativity for girls but also the subtle messages of self-improvement aimed at a group that could probably use a boost of self-esteem.

With that said, I’d highly recommend this book to girls (of all ages) and even to boys. It’s an overall magical book that everyone will glean a bit of creativity and inspiration from.

  • Sample prompt: 5 Things That Make Me Happy. Now get doodling!

Outsmart the Unexpected

Earlier in the summer, Regina Pacelli sent me a message asking if I’d like to read her book, Outsmart the Unexpected: Grow Your Creativity the Edge-of-your-seat-Way.

Because I am always open to reading new books on creativity, I agreed.

From the beginning, I realized this wasn’t your typical creativity book. You know the one I am referring too! The one that promises to hold all the secrets to being more creative. Well, this is not that book.

Regina has no secrets to share, in fact there is no academic research, no stories of uber-creatives and no exercises that guarantee you will be more creative. Instead, she presents you with a couple of dozen ‘cliffhangers.’

These are short, almost impossible to believe stories that you have to figure out the ending to thus expanding your creative thinking skills.

The premise reminded me a of book that was out in the late 90s that my friends and I used to test each other with. It was a ‘what if’ style of book with really wild scenarios.

By the end of the book, I am not sure if I felt more creative, but I enjoyed the ‘cliffhangers’ and the opportunity to come up with my own solutions, because I think we are often always given the correct answer and that stifles our own creative and problem-solving abilities.

While I read the book on my own (each night before bed, which resulted in some crazy dreams!), Regina gives several great ideas to use the book in a more collaborative way. She suggests you use it as a party game, online discussion or chat. I would also add that it would be helpful as a creative writing prompt!

  • How can you ‘Outsmart the Unexpected?’

My Favorite Creativity Books

I love reading lists, so after creating lists of my favorite creativity blogs here and here, I decided to try creating a list of my favorite creativity books. While the books I have chosen may not be considered classics, they have helped me in some form develop or further enhance my own creativity.

A Whole New Mind
by Daniel Pink

The first book I reviewed on my blog still holds a place in my heart. Pink makes creativity and innovation practical and challenges the reader to interact. Could be considered a contemporary classic.

Guerilla Art Kit
by Keri Smith

In addition to being the most interactive book on the list – she actually gives you ideas for getting out and expressing your creativity – this post is one of the most popular on my blog. A guide for anyone wanting to encourage creative thinking in a non-traditional way.

Jack’s Notebook
by Gregg Fraley

Since reading this book late in 2007, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the author, Gregg Fraley, online. In Jack’s Notebook, Fraley weaves a fictional tale using Creative Problem Solving (CPS). Truly a rare find among creativity books.

The War of Art
by Steven Pressfield

I learned about this book from a workshop I took many years ago. When I finally sat down to read it one winter, I was blown away. Such a simple concept but written so powerfully. Mandatory reading for anyone working on a creative venture.

The Creative Habit
by Twyla Tharp

Written by the acclaimed choreographer, the Creative Habit explores just that from a truly inspiring creator.

  • What’s your favorite book on creativity?

Get Stimulated!

While many of us are creative in our personal lives, it seems much more difficult to be creative at work. In today’s economy more than ever, a creative brain is a requirement on the job. In Stimulated: Habits to Spark Your Creative Genius at Work by Andrew Pek and Jeannine McGlade the goal is to get you thinking more creatively.

Weaving together a combination of business case studies and personal stories, Pek and McGlade cover the following key habits necessary to increase your creative genius:

Scouting includes observing the world and your environment.

Cultivating is about creating the environment for ideas to take shape.

Playing allows for experimentation and curiosity.

Venturing is simply permitting ourselves to make the leap into the creative unknown.

Harvesting involves innovation and turning creative sparks and ideas into reality.

  • Try one at work today!