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The Creative Habit

by | Jun 1, 2011


Even the title of Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, is a clever oxymoron. You might think that to be creative means you put yourself in a zen environment and wait for the genius spark to ignite.


According to Tharp, an iconic Tony winning choreographer, creativity results from structured habits that increase the chance for sparks of genius. “Creativity is not a gift from the gods.”

Here are some nuggets from her well-written, honest, down-to-earth journey on how to make creativity into a habit.

Cut out distractions. Some of Tharp’s distractions include movies, multitasking and numbers (clocks, bathroom scales, bills). Mine include telephone, email, and internet.

Use the one tool that feeds your creativity. For me that’s a pencil and paper to write down the stories and funny stuff I can use for speeches, with clients, and for writing.

Scratch in the best places. When Tharp needs great music for a dance she goes to the best composers. I observe the best speakers to hone my skills. When I learned how to snow ski I’d ride the lift looking for people who skied like me. That was depressing! I learned to just look at those dancing down the slope.

Don’t inhibit the natural evolution of work flow. Have a plan but don’t overplan. Prepare to let go. Plan only to a point.

Avoid: relying too much on others, waiting for the perfect setup, overthinking structure, feeling obligated to finish what you’ve started, working with the wrong materials. All are deadly – and I’ve committed all of these sins.

Be generous. “If you’re generous to someone it’s like inviting yourself into a community of good fortune.” You make yourself lucky. Luck is a skill.

Collaborate wisely. “If it’s true that who you are now and who you will be in five years depend on what books you read and which people you meet, then you need to think more aggressively about those you invite into your creative life.”

Increase your MQ – Metaphor Quotient. This is the process of transforming one thing – a specific item or situation – to something universal. Twarp says, “It’s never too late to raise your MQ. Metaphor is all around you.”

Challenge assumptions. This will sharpen your Rut Fighting Skills.

Create and build imagination. Pick an object and in 2 minutes think about 60 ways to use the object.

Do a verb. Chose a verb and apply movement to it.

Build a bridge to the next day. Leave on a high and look forward (not backward).

Practice what you’re not good at. We tend to neglect what needs more work and perfect what’s already working.

Play 20 Questions. Before you approach a topic write down twenty things you want to know about it. “The more you know, the better you can imagine.”

Be in a bubble. Think that you are in a bubble observing from above. Observe on purpose – all you can see, hear, touch and smell. Use it. Trap it in the bubble.

These suggestions are my personal favorites among many metaphors, personal examples, and exercises that Twyla Tharp shares. It’s now MY habit to read more great nonfiction (scratch in the best places), not get distracted (practice what I’m not good at), collaborate wisely, and plan for possibility.


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