My Favorite TED Talks About Creativity: Joi Ito

Want to Innovate? Become a Now-ist

Joi Ito doesn't like the word "futurist" - he thinks that real innovation comes instead from being a "now-ist." He argues that innovation is best driven by taking action now and not asking for permission. Deploying something. Anything. And making small changes and improvements along the way as you learn.

My favorite parts of the talk:

""Deploy or die." You have to get the stuff into the real world for it to really count, and sometimes it will be large companies. But we should be getting out there ourselves and not depending on large institutions to do it for us."

It's a bottom-up innovation, it's democratic, it's chaotic, it's hard to control. It's not bad, but it's very different, and I think that the traditional rules that we have for institutions don't work anymore, and most of us here operate with a different set of principles. "

"One of my favorite principles is the power of pull, which is the idea of pulling resources from the network as you need them rather than stocking them in the center and controlling everything."

"We could not have planned this whole thing, but by having a very strong compass, we eventually got to where we were going, and to me it's very similar to agile software development, but this idea of compasses is very important."

"I think it's about stopping this notion that you need to plan everything, you need to stock everything, and you need to be so prepared, and focus on being connected, always learning, fully aware, and super present."

"...what you need to learn is how to learn."

My Main Takeaways from this talk for Enhancing Innovation

  • Just get started - no excuses about resources.  You CAN do something, even if it is on a much smaller scale than your big vision. One of my favorite resources is 37Signals' book ReWork. One of my favorite principles of theirs is to release "half the product, not a half-assed product." This means that if you are strapped for resources and time, but have a deadline, it is better to release half the product rather than changing that deadline, or attempting to do too much and ending up with a mediocre product.
  • Stay mindful of your situation and possible opportunities.
  • Try things out first, commit to things later.
  • Embrace mistakes.
  • Be willing to throw your plans out the window.
  • Learn from everything.
  • Keep going. Never stop.

How to Be More Creative: Be a Problem-Finder (not just a Problem-Solver)

Decades ago, my advisor, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (just call him “Mike” if you ever see him) and a team of researchers from the University of Chicago set out to answer the questions, How do creative works come into being?” and “What makes some creative works more ‘creative’ than others?

To answer these questions, Mike and his team recruited about 30 student artists to take part in an academic study. In this study, Mike and his research team asked these artists to first examine a table full of various objects for inspiration, and then create a piece of artwork.

As the artists created, Mike and his team carefully observed their creative process.

From their observations, it became quite clear that the student artists approached their creative work with either a problem-solving style or a problem-finding style.

The artists who approached their work in a problem-solving style took about 5 minutes to select a few objects, and then right away they began getting to work on their artwork – spending most of their time refining and adding details to their piece. Their approach was to quickly formulate a visual problem, and then focus their effort on solving this problem.

The second group of artists took quite a different approach to their creative work. In this group, the artists spent a great deal of time arranging and rearranging the objects on the table, making choices and changing their mind often. They started their artwork, but then often would completely erase their work and start over from scratch. These artists would spend up to one hour formulating and reformulating their ideas, and then would complete their piece in about ten minutes. Contrary to the first group of artists, who took a problem-solving approach, this group spent much more time finding the right “problem” or opportunity to work with.

So which group produced the most creative pieces of art?

From the title of this post, it is probably obvious that the problem-finding group consistently produced art that was judged by expert artists as being more "creative" compared to the problem-solving artists’ works.

But what might not be so obvious is that the long-term career success of these artists could also be predicted by which style they used. Those artists who took more time to ask themselves better questions about how to proceed in their work actually had more successful careers in the art world, were more respected by art critics, and had more paintings in reputable art galleries compared to those artists using the problem-solving approach.

Why is problem-finding so critical to creative success?

Although problem-solving is an important and desirable skill to possess in any field, problem-finding is the primary driver of creativity and innovation.  It also is a skill/process that most people (and organizations) do not fully utilize.

In today's fast-paced world, we often are eager to jump to formulating solutions, checking things off our to-do lists, and "getting things done." There are plenty of problems out there to solve. Our customers, our colleagues, our professors, our bosses - they all have things they want us to solve and devote time towards. These problems are known as presented-problems - problems that are somewhat already defined and there for you to solve (and often come from some external source).

Tackling these problems can make us feel like we are being productive, but approaching our work with a problem-solving mindset (and not devoting any time to problem-finding and opportunity-identification) can actually hinder our creative progress.  

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
–Henry Ford

Henry Ford, and many other creative geniuses, understood that true innovation comes from discovered-problems - problems that take quite a bit of curiosity, research, experimentation, reflection, evaluation, and re-formulation in order to be defined (and are often internally generated or constructed).

So what can I do to become a better problem-finder?

Becoming a better problem-finder starts with the type of questions you ask yourself and others as you explore potential problems and opportunities.  In my free e-book, How to Become a Creative Badass: A 9-Step Guide to Mastering the Creative Process, I give you 5 techniques that you can use in order to become a better problem-finder and ignite your creative performance.  You can get it now, if you want, by putting your e-mail in the box below. You will be sent a download link for the e-book, and over the next few weeks, will also be sent my top 10 favorite creativity-boosting books.

The Most Important Creativity Advice You Will Ever Receive - Courtesy of Jerry Seinfeld

If you know me, I freaking love Seinfeld.

Hands down - The.Best.Comedic.Show.Of.All.Time.  

[Please let the rumors of it coming to Netflix be true *fingers crossed*]


But anyways, that's besides the point of this quick post.

If you are looking for tips on how to be more creative or to become a creative badass, this is one piece of advice that I personally think is the most important thing you could ever internalize:


"Your blessing in life is when you find the torture you are comfortable with."

- Jerry Seinfeld from a Howard Stern Interview


What's the deal with this quote? I mean is it advice?  I thought creativity was fun? Who are these people?

I LOVE this quote so much.  

The first time I heard Jerry speak it in this interview with Howard Stern (The quote comes in at around the 30:00 mark),  it hit me like a ton of Torrance's bricks.  At the time, I was really struggling with finding my true creative calling. Like many others, I was operating under the assumption that my true creative calling, once found, would help me live a life full of bliss, complete flow, and just waking up everyday being pumped up as hell and ready to do my fun, wonderful creative work.  

Wow. Was that ever stupid.  

A lot of us think that when we find "it" that our life will somehow magically unfold thanks to some mystical laws of The Secret.  We break away from our commitment to do creative work as soon as we face something annoying, frustrating, or scary. We say to ourselves, "Hey, this must not be my true creative calling if there is an array of things that I dislike about this. Better drop this and keep looking for something that I whole-heartedly love!"

But the truth is, we need to embrace our discomfort. We need to be objective and honest about our creative calling, and realize that no matter what we decide to do with our lives and in our work, there will be things that we just do not like to do, but have to do. Things that are annoying. Things that are frustrating. Things that suck.

Things that are absolutely torturous.


The trick is, as Seinfeld says, is to find the types of torture you are willing to deal with in order to have a great career/relationship/project.  

As a researcher, my torture is finding people to participate in my studies, carefully cleaning and restructuring data so it can be useful and analyzed, being succumbed to quite a few tedious and excruciatingly boring tasks that my advisor makes me do (I hope she isn't reading this),  and a whole array of other annoying tasks.

I spend a lot of time working, and miss out on some of the social activities that I would like to participate in.  But that is ok, because in general, I love the process of research and being able to generate and test new ideas that I think are important for helping people become more creative, effective, and just generally more satisfied with the quality of their lives. To me, all these torturous things are simply one aspect (albeit shitty aspect) of this process to do creative things and help others. So I deal with them and try to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Not everything is meant to be or will be fun when you are doing something creative.

So I ask you, what is your torture? What do you live with in order to fulfill your creative badassness?  What do you have to give up in order to live your creative life?

Other News: Check out my newly released Entheos class on how to be more creative!  

And if you haven't already, download my free e-book (below) that goes into more detail about why creativity ain't always easy, but shows you 9 easy steps that you can begin implementing in your eve.

Fun little bonus video for all you Seinfeld fans out there...

How to Become a Creative Badass - A 9 Step Guide to Mastering the Creative Process

It's here folks - How to Become a Creative Badass, a guide to mastering the creative process and deliberately developing your own creativity, is now available - for free.  

All you need to do is enter your e-mail address below to receive your copy.  When you do so, you will receive an e-mail with a free download link.  Act now, because this won't be free for long.  

If you...

  • Wish you were more creative
  • Want to learn how to take control of your creativity, and not just hope for spontaneous flashes of it
  • Are curious about how the world's most eminent creators think and act in order to produce their innovative works
  • Need to demonstrate higher levels of creative performance at work in order to get a raise or get promoted
  • Desire to add more creativity, meaning, and fun into your life
  • Love to learn new things, and especially things that you can immediately take action on and implement in your day-to-day life

Then you need to get this (free)book right now.

When you sign up, you will also be placed on the insider e-mail newsletter list.  Each month, you will receive an exclusive letter from me highlighting what is new in the world of creativity & innovation, learning & development, and positive psychology -- and how you can take action to integrate the latest scientific findings in these fields to become happier, more effective, and more creative.