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6 Keys to Being Creative at Any Age

By Douglas Winslow Cooper January 24, 2023 Lifestyle

We would all like to be creative. Perhaps it is not so hard.

“Curiosity about life in all its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people,” noted the late Leo Burnett, outstanding advertising executive and founder of the firm that bears his name. If so, then by encouraging our own curiosity, we can become more creative.

Former journalist Harry W. Hoover’s little book Born Creative maintains that we all are born creative, but some of us don’t believe we are, and so we don’t exercise that skill.

Hoover cites a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study that found that those who think they are not creative, are not, and those who think they are creative, are. Inventor Henry Ford is credited with saying, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Perhaps your opinion correctly summarizes past experience, but Ford’s implied urging toward positive thinking supports Hoover’s view that however much we are innately creative, we can all do better.

Creative Mindset Test

Hoover offers HBR’s five-question test to gauge our “creative mindset.” It asks yes/no questions about:

Associational Thinking: Do you solve problems by drawing on diverse ideas or knowledge?

Questioning: Do you often ask questions that challenge assumptions?

Observing: Do you get innovative ideas by watching how people behave?

Idea Networking: Do you frequently interact with a diverse set of people?

Experimenting: Do you try to create new methods?

HBR would rate you as “creative” if you answered “yes” to a majority of these questions, but even if you did not, Hoover proposes some approaches to exercise and improve your creative muscle. Hoover reports that a study found that the average adult thinks up two or three alternatives for “any given situation,” but the average child thinks of 60. No wonder kids find so many ways to get into trouble!

Embrace Change

A comment by David Norris helped Hoover realize that his time was more precious than his income, especially when he was spending a couple of hours a day commuting. He altered his career trajectory and now works from home.

Generate an “I Am” List

Hoover recommends this clever exercise: Leaving the first entry blank, write down 30 things you are good at. When all done, put as #1 “I am really creative.” Re-read it frequently, as auto-suggestion, or self-hypnosis.

Don’t Be Like this Big Fish

Scientists ran an experiment with a big fish, Hoover relates, a fish that was initially given all the minnows it could eat, while it swam in its aquarium. Next, they encased minnows individually in strong, transparent containers, where they could swim, but the big fish could not get at them.

Soon, the big fish gave up trying. Next, they released the minnows from the containers, but the big fish did not try to eat them, having “learned” it couldn’t. This did not end well.

Make Creative Weather: Brainstorm

You are probably familiar with brainstorming, which Hoover praises. In an informal meeting, solicit ideas, and keep pushing for more ideas, while shielding each participant from criticism. Crucial elements are: proper preparation, a skilled facilitator, generating without denigrating, suspending judgment, quantity not quality to start, going “beyond reason” and piggybacking one idea on another. Capture the ideas in writing.

Use SCAMMPERR for Creativity

To come up with novelty, Hoover uses SCAMMPERR to suggest the following approaches: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Rearrange, Reverse.

Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying that creativity is often the joining of disparate elements to make something new.

Psychologist Edward de Bono, author of multiple books on creative thinking, emphasized the value of comparing and contrasting dissimilar items to generate new ideas. De Bono also maintains that creativity helps make life more fun and more interesting.

Harness Your Creative Courage and Judgment

“Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep,” wrote cartoonist-author-entrepreneur Scott Adams. By being brave, we can risk making mistakes. “Art” may largely be a matter of taste.

You won’t know until you try.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you express your own creativity? What do you do to stimulate it? What would go on your “I am” list? Please join the conversation.

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Jeanne Arnold

I love trying new things. I also love researching things such as a type of bird,a scientific concept,a new theory or discovery.This year I tried stage managing at my local theatre, acting in a Shakespeare play, being in a tap-dancing number in a local variety show,trying a new gym, and I took up classical piano and did my first triathalon in the last ten years. I also tried snow-shoeing,and my husband and I will try ballroom dancing. We have had rock bands and we are always trying out new musical projects. I keep my creativity flowing by being around musicians,artists, writers,play writes,directors,and actors. I got to be an extra in a film recently. I make new friends and try new things. I love meeting people with different cultural backgrounds,traveling,listening to different perspectives,reading,going to live performances,museums……. I love learning from my grandchildren.


What a lot of hot air!


I am a team player. I try to be thoughtful, kind and considerate. I try to uplift and otherwise help others. I take time for developing my spirituality, creativity, and looking after my health as much as possible. I try to keep balance in my life.
I duster creativity be trying new things-dulcimer lessons, Han bells at church and watercolor during last 2 years

Cindy Silverstein

I love the Henry Ford quote that is awesome . I don’t think of myself as creative but this article made me think that I need to work on that


The Author

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D. is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes and helps others write and publish their books, via Douglas's life's central theme has been a half-century romance with his wife Tina Su Cooper, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis, who receives 24/7 nursing care at home. Visit his website here

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