Express Creativity

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

Without inventions, we would be living in a very different world. Just think about all the new technologies that have developed both before and during our lives -- electricity, transportation, telephones, computers, satellites, the Internet, cell phones, iPods. It's incredible! But there are other revolutionary ideas that have nothing to do with technology, which also rely on imaginative and creative thinking -- in sports, arts, culture, politics, and religion. Creativity is incredibly important and powerful.

Roger von Oech is the president of Creative Think, a consulting firm which helps businesses become more creative. He wrote some awesome books about creativity, which you can buy at bookstores or online.

In A Whack on the Side of the Head, von Oech defines 10 "Mental Locks" that keep us from being creative, such as "The Right Answer" and "I'm Not Creative." Then, he shows how to challenge these "Mental Locks" and increase our imagination, innovation, and creativity.

  1. So, the first step in being more creative is to determine if there is anything in our thoughts, or anything in others’ thoughts, that we’ve accepted as true for ourselves that is making us think we can’t be creative.
  2. Then, write down a list of everything that would make us feel unimaginative or uninventive. This will help us be aware of our thinking.
  3. Next, work spiritually on defeating anything that would make us feel uncreative.
    1. Refuse to believe that there are limits to God’s ability.
    2. Accept our nature as God’s child.
    3. Know that we are capable of seeing God’s infinite creation.
  4. Also, determine practical ways to destroy those “Mental Locks.”
    1. Reading Whack is a great start. He provides several pictures, exercises, and mental games to help us think with more elasticity.
    2. Write down a strategy for how to overcome mental obstacles.
  5. Practice being creative by taking mental risks.
  6. Refuse to get frustrated if things don’t turn out the way we’d like at first.
  7. Keep at it!

In A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, von Oech explains the creative process by breaking it down into four "roles." These are: "The Explorer," "The Artist," "The Judge," and "The Warrior." We may already be good at one, two, or three of these roles. But if we want to embrace creativity in full, we need to be able to execute all four roles. Von Oech explains the roles in detail, but here they are in brief:

  1. The Explorer searches for and discovers ideas and information. He comes up with a concept that he gives to the Artist.
  2. The Artist plays with the Explorer’s concepts and “do[es] something” with them.
  3. The Judge evaluates what the Artist gives him and sees what’s good or what needs improvement.
  4. The Warrior “take[s] responsibility for making the idea a reality.”

There are several opportunities in school to practice getting good at these roles:

  • writing papers
  • working on group projects
  • creating and/or rehearsing scenes
  • doing lab research
  • studying for and taking a test
  • playing sports
  • performing in a concert.

Let's take writing a thesis paper, for example. Note how the different roles interact.

  • As the Explorer, brainstorm all possible ideas. Find evidence that will support a thesis. Offer an idea for a thesis.
  • As the Artist, look for connections. See what you can do with the thesis, how you can combine the ideas. If there’s not enough evidence to support the thesis, become the Explorer, and go through the book again searching for literary evidence.
  • As the Judge, pick the best ideas.
  • Here’s where the Artist and Warrior could work together in this scenario: write the paper.
  • Then, give it back to the Judge.
  • As the Judge, analyze the paper. Re-read it out loud. Correct it for content and grammar. Give it back to the Artist, or even the Explorer if needed.
  • As the Artist, revise -- again and again. Yep, it’s work.
  • Then, when you’re finally done, let the Warrior hand it in to another Judge, the teacher.
  • But the creative process is not done at this point. If we truly want to improve ourselves and make a contribution to the world, then we will work on refining all four roles. We will also listen to what the teacher-Judge has to say about our work. We may have to strengthen our Explorer, or maybe our Artist will need to help our ideas fit together better. It’s helpful to remember that creativity is a process.

If you follow this process, you'll be amazed at how much faster you'll arrive at creative ideas and how much better your work will be.

Now, there's one thing to know about the roles. They're in this order for a reason. If the Judge comes in before the Artist has had a chance to play with an idea, then the Judge will unnecessarily limit the artist. It's like hearing, "No!" before you've even finished asking the question. And if the Warrior takes an idea and runs with it before the Judge has a chance to evaluate whether or not it's a good idea, the Warrior may end up flat on his face (or getting a really poor grade on a paper).

In addition to doing all very essential practical work in honing our creative skills, it's also important to go back to the beginning, to go back to God, our Creator. The book of John gives us a pretty clear concept of God's creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Everything was created through him;
      nothing--not one thing!--
      came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
      and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
      the darkness couldn't put it out. (The Message, John 1:3-5)

So when we're faced with the need or the opportunity to be creative at school, work, or home, we can turn to God and realize:

  • God is the source of our creativity.
  • He inspires us through the “Life-Light” of inspiration.
  • This inspiring light cannot be destroyed by anything -- by imposed limitations, apparent lack of understanding, fear of inadequacy, not knowing where or how to start, pressures to be original and interesting, due dates, impending performances, “Mental Locks,” etc.

It's neat to think about the source of creativity as the Life-Light and ourselves as the reflection of that Life-Light. As we know, light, which dispels darkness, enables us to see infinite possibilities in God's universe, and therefore, express infinite creativity.


Roger von Oech. A Kick in the Seat of the Pants. New York: Harper Perennial, 1986. ----. A Whack on the Side of the Head. New York: Warner Books, 1990.