Sparking and Sustaining Creativity

Is creativity a flash of brilliance or a sustained effort toward originality? 

Perhaps it is both.


Saturday’s Wall Street Journal article, “Think Inside the Box,”  challenges prevailing ideas about the creative process.  Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg, authors of Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results say that brainstorming is overrated.  Rather, “People are at their most creative when they focus on the internal aspects of a situation or problem – and when they constrain their options rather than broaden them.”

I make no claim to expertise on the creative process, but I propose that creativity involves a combination of thinking both “inside” and “outside” of the proverbial box.  However, I agree with the authors that the most creative potential is found on the inside.

My own creative efforts over the last week have included both.


The leadership team of our Community Bible Study class retreated to Wisconsin last week for a few days of planning for next year’s study.  We spent many focused hours generating, discussing and evaluating ideas.  Some ideas resonated with all of us and we adopted them quickly. Others died natural deaths.  Non-starters.  And in one rather humorous discussion, we collectively inflated one proposal as if we were blowing up a balloon until it popped and we found ourselves right back where we had started.  The risk of free-flowing ideas.

Personally, I found the process energizing, lots of fun and slightly exhausting.

But that’s only the beginning.

Internal Processing 

Now it’s time for each of us to reflect on the ideas from within the framework, the “box,” that we constructed.  One thing will lead to another.  Incremental adjustments to something familiar will suddenly become something new.  This will be a longer term, more internal but no less a creative exercise.

The creative pCampfire 1rocess includes the collection of ideas, the sparks of making innovative connections followed by the sustained energy to fan them into flames.

Last week’s brainstorming meetings were like the collecting of kindling, logs, and matches, all the makings of a creative fire.  This week we begin the more internal and longer term effort to assemble those raw materials into the products of our creative energy.

This same phenomenon occurs every time I write a blog post or prepare a teaching.  Loosely organized ideas and thoughts get dumped into a document.  It’s a mess, and it never feels terribly creative.  But, somehow, while working within that mess an order, a focus, and even surprisingly creative ideas emerge.  Amazing.

Campfire 2The Result

Thursday night, after a long day of brainstorming and planning, we built a fire on the shore of Lake Michigan.  The sun went down and the stars came out as we conversed amiably around crackling flames while sipping tea and roasting marshmallows.

May our creativity burn as brightly.

How about you?  What’s your creative process?  Do you find the brainstorming or the processing most creatively fruitful?

12 thoughts on “Sparking and Sustaining Creativity

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  1. Funny, I’ve been reading about this subject quite a bit lately. I agree that the best option (for me at least) is a combination. Internal, private processing…getting to mull things over myself and hone some possible solutions. Then, come together with the group and discuss them. Going straight to brainstorming with others can be too much of an influence and perhaps keep you from thinking of a completely different avenue. Thanks, as always, for the thought-provoking post, Judy.

  2. After working in the public most of my life and loathing it! I retreated; partly due to uncontrollable family issues but also for my sanity. In all my years of working, school, college, now owning a small business, I have learned more about everything including brainstorming, creativity and the written word in my time alone with God. This bothers me because even what I was taught in church for decades never taught me what I know now that I have learned in a one-on-one with God. The churches I have been in aren’t teaching what I believe God wants taught; not that what they are doing is wrong or bad; just missing. i was kicked out of one Sunday school class, ignored in another and working as a volunteer was all but told to leave by another volunteer. I am still there because it is where God has placed me for the very reason these people kicked me out!

    1. Hi Cathy, God is the best teacher/revealer/idea generator, isn’t he? I love that you have learned from Him directly, and I applaud your determination to share what he has taught you. Thanks so much for your thoughts, and me He continue to teach, guide and empower us to his glory!

  3. I agree with you as to the inside and outside. I have to be careful however, that I am not so busy with internal processing that I overlook something externally that ignites my creativity just as much. I’m not much on brainstorming, unless of course it’s with a group colleagues or team building. There is so much to ignite us, but overall my favorite are the “flash of brilliance” moments when you just know it is from God. The veil is pierced and you know you’re not alone. Thought provoking post Judy. 🙂

    1. Amen! I know exactly what you mean about the tension between internal processing and making myself available to external ideas and inputs and life! I suppose it depends a bit on our temperaments. Some people process verbally; others internally. Thanks for sharing your creative process and your thoughts!

  4. Hi Judy! I’d have to say I’m all over the box! When writing poetry, I live for and celebrate the flashes of brilliance which DO NOT come everyday, just so you know. When the Lord and I get together for something more important than writing a poem–trying to straighten out my course or find the Light, it’s probably an amalgam of what you discussed here. The results often seem like brilliance, but surely it is not mine, but HIS. Whichever, whatever–I’m very grateful for it all. God bless you abundantly–love, sis Caddo

    1. I really resonate with that Caddo. Sometimes what I perceive as brilliance is the result of God opening my eyes to the shining truth that has been always before me. Like you, I am so grateful for everything he shows me. (I can be a little blind sometimes:) And I’ve read enough of your poetry to find plenty of His light and shining brilliance on display! Blessings back to you Caddo!

  5. I think of myself as being a plow horse when it comes to creativity rather than a thoroughbred filled with ideas, yearning to jump onto the page. So, I guess you’d call me a plodding internal processor with an above average memory. As far as brainstorming goes, this has never ever worked for me. In fact, if I was on your brainstorming team, after a while, you’d assign me the chore of refilling water glasses or erasing the blackboard, just so I’d be useful.

    1. Larry, you crack me up. I appreciate the fruits of your “processing,” however they are found. I might add the word prayerful to your processing, for you are a faithful man of prayer. Thanks for the honesty and the laugh! Judy

  6. So interesting to hear how different people go about the writing process! I agree that creativity is both “spark” as well as sustained and diligent thinking “inside the box”. My writing process for longer talks usually involves reading and thinking and reading and thinking and then drawing a mind-map type of spider diagram to organize my thoughts. For blog posts, it stays in my head: I talk to myself and adding sentence fragments to a growing idea (while driving, in the shower, singing the wheels on the bus ad nauseum to my kids), until I finally “purge” my head of its free floating thoughts by writing it down. Such a different process to yours! But I like the results of your process so very, very much.

    1. It’s fascinating to imagine individual methods as unique as our fingerprints. I often wish I could do more “mind-mapping.” It seems so much more efficient! But, for me the writing seems to be necessary. However God does it, I am always thankful and amazed at his faithful provision. Thanks so much for sharing your creative process. (Funny, I was over at your blog commenting while you were here:).

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