A formula for creativity – no. 1 : Introduction


When you visit a city that you explore, there’s no wrong turns… every street you go down is a new adventure. And really aren’t the things we do as creative individuals kind of the same way? There are no wrong turns as creatives when we struggle to find answers to the problems we’re wresting with.

The burden of creativity

Creativity is without a doubt a very significant burden. Creativity is a burden that pays no respect to experience or prestige or talent. Its companionship seems to stay with us throughout our entire careers, there is no way to escape it… and yet creativity is incredibly and wonderfully rewarding.

In the introduction to his book ‘Imagine : how creativity works’ (*see note below), Jonah Lehrer says something that is a good introduction to this subject…

Every creative journey begins with a problem; it starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer. When we tell one another stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase of the creative process, instead we skip straight to the break throughs, we tell the happy endings first. The danger of telling this narrative is that the feeling of frustration is an essential part of the creative process.

A formula for creativity

This new series of posts is about the inevitable frustration that comes about from being creative and an appreciation of that frustration as a means to an end. We’re going to be exploring elements of creativity using maths equations – I promise it’s not too complicated and I’ll lead you through it gently…

* note: Jonah Lehrer’s book ‘Imagine : how creativity works’ was, ironically, removed from sale after it emerged he was a bit too creative and made up some quotes from Bob Dylan. He resigned his post at The New Yorker and later lost his job at wired.com after an investigation into plagiarism. However, it’s still quite a compelling read and I found a proof copy on Amazon at a very reasonable price.

PS: This is probably a good moment to say that this series of posts is not my own writing and has been modified from a keynote speech by Cameron Moll I had the pleasure of hearing. I have not sought permission to either modify or publish his work as it would seem to go against the nature of what he says in the formula which you will discover in due time.  


  1. Hmmh, so according to Lehrer, every creative journey starts with a problem? That may be the case I suppose, if you are trying to solve a problem, but generally an artist starts by being an artist, out of a conviction that this is what they’re here to do.

    Then whilst studying, contemplating the form in which we are to work the inspiration may come for a story, a song, a dance movement, or a film. I would call it The Cultural Way of Being. I think if we conceive of the first principle of the creative journey in terms of a problem or burden, then we are starting in the wrong place.

    Another problem I see here is that seeing creativity as a formula, we then of course may end up with formulaic art!

    1. Geoff,

      Couldn’t agree more, this was based on someone else’s material and I think it is somewhat blinkered in terms of ‘process’. At the time (which was a good few years ago now) I liked the concept, now I mostly like the elements of grit and collaboration.

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