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On Artists’ Disruptive Influence… positively speaking

Artists as Innovators in Business

©Suzanne Moss PhD

This article was first published on LinkedIn  August 8, 2017

Isaac Kaplan captured my attention last week with his article “Upstart Co-Lab Wants Businesses to Hire More Artists” where he reports on the work of Laura Callanan, founding partner of the non-profit Upstart Co-Lab. Callanan argues that artists bring singular problem-solving abilities, challenging how a given issue needs to be tackled: “You especially want [artist employees] at the early stage of a new initiative, to ask the questions that aren’t obvious.” Rather than traditional roles, she suggests artists might be integrated into a team looking to address problems beyond the arts. Co-Lab’s report “Great Minds Don’t Think Alike,” cites research on the benefits of artists in the workplace—including creative thinking, innovation, and diversity of thought.


Referring to this and the landmark IBM 2010 Global CEO Study: Creativity Selected as Most Crucial Factor for Future Success Kaplan asks why then are not more artists involved in the workplace?


Let’s get the biggest assumption out of the way first: only artists, or ‘creatives’, are creative. Yes, they are very creative people, and not exclusively so. NASA researchers George Land and Beth Jarman showed that almost everyone was actually a creative genius at the age of 4 or 5, and given the steady decline in creativity scores, asserted ‘non-creative behavior is learned’.[1] Trained during the school years to find solutions fast, expansive ways of thinking – divergently and creatively – tend to function less and less. It seems reasonable to suggest artists might be people who’ve developed their divergent thinking rather than reduced it.


Why not foster people’s accessing of their creativity? Having an artist around can have many kinds of impact. The positive side is that it is a different and disruptive input and we need that for our best ideas. The downside is folks compare themselves and will actually name themselves as not artistic which tends to shut the door on any good ideas. (I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve heard: I don’t have a creative bone in my body!)


Callanan, says the lack of artists’ involvement in the workplace is partly because the value and importance of integrating artists into existing structures is still not fully embraced by businesses.[2] While Co-Lab’s campaign promotes the idea of the artist as innovator, a deeper enquiry is not presented. Why might artists not be ‘embraced’?

For a long time I’ve seen/heard ‘lip service’ given to creative thinking, so much so that it has become synonymous with brainstorming. And you know the research says how lacking brainstorming can be.


So…if creative thinking is not brainstorming, then what is it? Truth be known, many people don’t really know what creative thinking is. From what I’ve heard over the years, there’s two main ways of thinking about it. There’s the link with being creatively underhanded, and there’s the more contemporary sense of sparkles and dollar signs around the word innovation, without further mention of where it comes from – if not from some ‘creative’ in a small room out the back, like a chook laying golden eggs for the company.


Creative thinking is divergent, whole brain, expansive and speculative usually in response to a question or a challenge. It does not arrive at ‘solutions’ – this is convergence. Rather, creative thinking proposes a range of possibilities that are then chosen from according to certain criteria, which are then tested and evaluated. Innovation may or may not happen immediately. Failures inform and are necessary for the process to be its’ best. Creative thinking – part of any creative process – is fostered by certain conditions, and these I coach in my Creative Visionary Capability System.


Whether it be an artist or an artist-consultant-coach like myself, introducing an artist into a workplace means that the possibility of creative thinking might become real. And that might mean change, which is scary, right?


Drawing on my experience as an artist, Artist-in-Residence, Visiting Artist, Visual Arts academic, private teacher, mentor and coach, I’ll raise relevant concerns and respond to them. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2016) and Allan Parker’s Negotiator’s Toolkit (2016) are valuable resources that I’ll refer to.


CONCERN: Goodness knows what might happen! Some crazy thing with unpredictable outcomes could be set in motion. Like introducing a wildcard, this is uncertain and risky territory. Things might change…and change might be scary.


RESPONSE: Certainly artists’ influence can be disruptive and initiate change. And we cannot predict how inspiration for extraordinary ideas might occur, we just know they need to happen. There is choice at every point in the processes of transformation. Accepting a certain amount of risk opens us and our businesses up to fresh possibilities; an essential part of a growth mindset, as Carol Dweck notes when writing about Jack Welch at GE, Lou Gerstner at IBM and Anne Mulcahy of Xerox who each transformed their companies:


“When you enter the world of the growth mindset leaders, everything changes. It brightens, it expands, it fills with energy, with possibility.”[3]


The term creative thinking was not mentioned, this is the right kind of energy for it to be fostered. Meanwhile, fear would have been not far away. One of my teachers, Brandon Bays, speaks of fears as ‘paper tigers’ meaning you need to get close to them to see they’re harmless, rather than be deluded and overwhelmed. Best find out what they’re about first! One approach is The Journey Method of introspective enquiry Bays developed around 25 years ago.


Another of my teachers, Allan Parker’s number 1 tool for negotiating change in the corporate context is listening. No surprise really, however, Parker’s listening is very fine indeed; about discerning agreement and disagreement; distortions, misunderstandings, doubts, fears and concerns; perceived benefits and problems, and to follow with acknowledging feelings. The impact of this approach is astonishingly powerful. One feels not just heard but comforted – a rare and compassionate experience from which change can happen panic-free.


Google’s Project Oxygen researched what it takes to be a top manager. The first of 5 stand-out dynamics of an effective team was psychological safety: “A shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”[4]


Rose Crane and I, as students of Parkers’ and artists with a diverse range of other skills and experience, can help upgrade skills so that anxieties can be traded for brain-stimulating disruption and creative thinking.


Crane, a film-maker and consultant with considerable government and NGO experience, has worked with Parker for many years. I was founder and co-principal of a Physiotherapy practice before serious exploration of the visual arts; painting and teaching as a professional artist. Education, coaching, mentoring and Visionary Leadership training bridge my experience fostering well-being and creativity.


Artists’ role, I believe, is essentially one of ‘benign disruption’ as assigned Tedi Asher, neuroscientist employed to help their viewers upgrade their experience of the collection more fully at the Peabody Essex Museum north of Boston.[5] In the corporate context, artists might be better known as change agents, assisting with shifting people out of thinking on auto-pilot. This can only be a good thing!


CONCERN: Callanan promotes the idea of ‘artist as innovator’, but can’t anyone be an innovator?


RESPONSE: Yes. Everyone, from the cleaner to the CEO, has the potential to have great ideas. They may not know how to use those ideas. And it is possible to develop creative visionary capability – to foster conditions for generating fresh options and knowing how to use them.


The first step is about shifting mindset from fixed – I’m not creative or any other limiting statement you can think of – to one of curiosity signaled by an open question such as I wonder what might happen if…?


CONCERN: Aren’t artists flaky?


RESPONSE: People can have very weird ideas about what kind of person an artist is. Suggesting unreliability, the term ‘flaky’ is derogatory and unproven. In my experience, professional artists are highly dedicated and disciplined people who work very long hours. Involvement of an artist in a business environment might be far more effective if stereotypes are addressed. Sometimes artists take care of this themselves. Most artists do an Artist’s Talk or have folks visit their working space when they’re on a residency. This can bring the opportunity of the DSD – doing something different – into the work place, which alone can be very stimulating for creative thinking.


Artists are as many and varied as any labeled group. Chances are you have some on staff. Generally though, people that are not part of your system see with ‘fresh eyes’ and are open to responding creatively. They would likely suggest far more ways they might contribute than you could think of.


Consultants who specialize in negotiating change in the workplace can help you prepare your people for growth and integrate a Visiting Artist.


Visiting Artist can be for as brief as a day or as long as a year. An Artist in Residence can live in, as the term suggests, or nearby in a small apartment provided with studio space. They can be employed on a short-term contract as a great way to make a commitment to fostering benign disruption and creative thinking. And so you know their impact, it’s a good idea to have some ideas for measurable outcomes. Photos of the workplace and your people before and at the end of the artist’s stay can be visually indicative of positive change.


Different ways of thinking can be cultivated at any time, artist in the workplace or not. Consider having a staff library or resource shelf in the tea-room. Inform and even delight your staff with inspiring books such as those by SARK, Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull or Muppets’ inventor Jim Henson: The Biography, and children’s books are a must. Even one thing different in the work environment can be enough to trigger more openness to positive change and growth.


CONCERN: I don’t get how artists might contribute to innovation? What role should they fill? What tasks might they complete? What’s their value?


RESPONSE: Designing, making or coming up with ideas in a brainstorming session might be the most obvious contributions. However, research has shown that most ideas taken up from brain-storming come from the loudest people who put forward the most obvious solutions first. Most artists I know are not loud. The bias inherent in brainstorming suggests the need for more effective methods for generating fresh ideas. My article from April focuses on this.[6]


Here are just a few examples of unpredictable kinds of disruption artists have provided me with:


An illegal mural in an unexpected place at art school, showcasing a visual word play, made me laugh out loud and changed the course of my lecture and my day.


When I was an art student helping install the show of Betsebee Romero, she completely covered a car with toast. Toasters were cranking and the gallery smelled deliciously of hot toast. Unforgettable.


A fellow student came in very late to visiting artist Guan Wei’s class. She was quite unprepared and flustered. He gave her his paints to use and the demonstration painting he was working on. I’ve never seen a person running late treated so kindly before or since. Compassionate disruption.


Now because it’s an interesting one, and amusing in retrospect, I’ll give you a problematic example. In 2015, I was an artist-in-residence at a 5-star private hotel in Europe. At least 2 weeks after being briefed by head of staff, a senior staff member told me to ‘look like an artist!’ i.e. work on the easel outside and make conversation with the guests at breakfast so they will take your classes. Now, it was early Spring (cold), I’m an abstract painter and guests’ first language was usually not English: a lesson in how not to treat your artist.


Fascinated by creativity, I’ve been researching by learning and creating for well over 20 years, and teaching, mentoring and coaching during the last ten. My own practice as an artist gradually became more mindful especially through learning about Zen and its’ huge impact on contemporary art.


I’ve read articles and books with keen interest as the business world has given a wink and a nod to creativity, and slowly made more serious efforts to foster creative thinking, taking on growth mindsets in the process. And I’ve responded, creating a step-by-step system to foster creative thinking for people who want to be more effective, particularly when it seems counter-intuitive – during times of increased pressure.


Since profits can be hugely and positively impacted and businesses turned around by the openness, curiosity and creativity of a growth mindset as repeatedly reported by Dweck, more people want to know how to go about getting it. Engaging professional development could well bridge the gap between what you have now and what you want.


With regard to professional development, Dweck notes the evidence of a fixed mindset can be seen where “Much corporate training is ineffective because many managers do not believe in personal change.”[7] On the other hand, “Managers with a growth mindset think talent is a starting point and are committed to employees’ development.”[8] With a growth mindset, development of specific skills are targeted rather than a hit and miss approach.


When Lou Gerstner, Jack Welch and Anne Mulcahy reversed the fortunes of IBM, GE and Xerox respectively, Dweck notes they talked to people at all levels, got expertise and created teamwork, rewarding staff who helped their colleagues, demanded the job got done and focused on the customer.[9] They re-invented their companies and continued to do so. Big changes were necessary, and ongoing change essential – massive creative processes, each.


One thing is sure: if people are scared, they find it difficult to think ‘outside the square’ or welcome anyone else who does. Moving toward where you want to be might begin by laying the foundations for negotiating change in ways that allay fears. Essentially, Parker in his Negotiator’s Toolbox of fundamentals, provides practical ways to develop and practice a growth mindset that can greatly increase the success of your interactions.[10]


So getting back to the original question about artists as innovators and disruptors in your business… The first part of such a project is about getting ready for change – consultation and preparation. Step two: select your artist or creative consultant to discuss your needs. Step three: allow them both freedom and appropriate constraints to foster creativity and creative thinking. Step four, respond: consider, trial, create, evaluate and…repeat as required. Innovation will come.

[1] George Land and Beth Jarman, Breaking Point and Beyond. San Francisco: Harper Business, 1993

[2] Laura Callanan cited by Isaac Kaplan, “Upstart Co-Lab Wants Businesses to Hire More Artists”,, August 1, 2017

[3] Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Press, 2016, p.125

[4] Julie Rozovsky cited by Richard Feloni, Google has found that its most successful teams have 5 traits in common in Business Insider, Australia, NOV 19, 2015



[7] Dweck, p.139

[8] Dweck, p.140

[9] Dweck, p.129

[10] Allan Parker, The Negotiator’s Toolkit. 4th Ed. Sydney: Peak Performance Development, 2016

Better than Brainstorming

Better than Brainstorming

An Alternative to Brainstorming may also help prevent Burnout by Dr Suzanne Moss

I’ve recently edited this article. It was first published on LinkedIn 12th April, 2017


Just to put you in the picture, “Better than Brainstorming” was the working title for a 1.5 hour segment presenting for the remarkable Allan Parker of Peak Performance Development. I’ve brought some of the content into this paper, since discovering an interesting article while scanning the Harvard Business Review this morning:Employee Burnout Is a Problem with the Company, Not the Person” by Eric Garton (April 7, 2017). I realised the connection with the work I’ve developed, especially when reading this sentence:

Executives need to own up to their role in creating the workplace stress that leads to burnout—heavy workloads, job insecurity, and frustrating work routines that include too many meetings and far too little time for creative work.

 This article focuses on that last phrase about too many meetings and far too little time for creative work, and how those two areas might intersect.

About meetings…Much can be done to make meetings more effective, and less time consuming, saving resources. An expert in organisational behaviour and performance enhancement, Allan Parker can work what appear to be miracles in this arena. Plus, the traditional brainstorming that happens in meetings might be traded for another way that is far less stressful, more creative and effective.

Firstly, here’s why you might consider trying something other than brainstorming. Almost three years ago I came across the article “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work: Try this Instead” by Rebecca Greenfield writing for Fast CompanyHere are the main points:

  •  Only a few tend to dominate the ‘out loud’ part of brainstorming.
  • ‘anchoring’ happens – the early, obvious ideas have too great an influence on the rest of the session leading to groupthink, which tends to crush original ideas.
  • Brainstorming also favours least creative ideas known as ‘conformity pressure’
  • Convergence happens too quickly with too much time and energy spent supporting the obvious (and possibly safest) idea.

Greenfield reports alternatives proposed by researchers Prof. Leigh Thompson and Prof. Loren Nordgren where idea generation happens separately and before discussion as ‘brainwriting’. Thompson asks participants to post all the ideas on a wall, without names attached, and vote for which is considered the best, and then discussion of those ideas takes place. She showed this approach could make big improvements in idea generation.

In her book Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration Thompson reveals other surprising findings:

• Left to their own devices, teams are less creative than individuals
• Providing “rules” to teams actually increases inventiveness
• Striving for quality results in less creativity than striving for quantity

 Brainwriting can make a huge difference. You might just jot down a few ideas or try this method recommended by Julia Cameron, acclaimed author of The Artist’s Way: write your ideas long-hand, stream-of-consciousness style – whatever is on your mind – for three pages, and remember ‘nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included’.[1] And, I strongly suspect that…

…brainstorming and brainwriting are neither disruptive nor enriching enough to foster the best possibilities.

That’s where Creative work comes into the mix. Now, let’s clarify what creative work means. Roughly, creative work might be translated as taking time and space (head-space included), to allow for the freedom to have ideas and follow them through with creative processes until something new is produced.

Creativity is the name given to the experience available through creating, which may or may not produce desired results. Risky, it can be enabled – nothing can be gained without some risk – or disabled, often because of fear. Regardless of outcome, the process alone is valuable for the reduction of stress hormones, which over extended periods can result in burn-out.[2]

For the individual on the brink of burnout, certainly, a creative practice can be very replenishing due to the cortisol reducing effects (more on this soon), however, to be effective, mindset must be attended to.

Carol Dweck, acclaimed author of Mindset, notes that your creative skills are largely determined by whether you approach the creative process with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset where the process and persistence is more important than the outcome.[3]

The first component of my Creative Visionary Capability System of coaching addresses mindset. Getting clarity around one’s creative capability again is crucial, after all, if you think you’re not creative, how can you expect to think creatively?!

I say again, because at the age of 5 children assume they simply are creative! 98% of children have been shown to be creative geniuses by George Land and his team, in a famous NASA study (1968). They evaluated a group of 4-5 year old children using a creativity assessment he’d designed to identity divergent thinking in engineers. The same subjects were tested repeatedly against the same criteria as they progressed into adulthood where the measure of creative genius dropped to only 2%.[4]

What happened?! School education generally trains analysis and fast solution-finding known as convergent thinking, preventing the slower, imaginative, creative processes. This began many years ago with the demands of the industrial revolution, Ken Robinson notes, reading, writing and math required by industry were championed and the more creative subjects sidelined.[5]

Odd ideas about creativity are pervasive. Back in 1992, in his book Serious Creativity, Edward de Bono created a distinction between artistic creativity and creativity used in making business decisions, naming the latter kind of creativity as serious. Such a distinction is not at all useful given more recent creative brain research.

Research has shown that simple creative tasks drop the stress hormone Cortisol.

Last year, a Drexel University study found colouring – yes, colouring with colour pencils – substantially dropped the stress hormones that wreck havoc in the body. The lead researcher and award winning Girija Kaimal, interested in the health outcomes of visual expression, noted that everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting.[6] Support is key. Might this be embarrassing in your workplace? One of the teachings of renowned Zen Master DT Suzuki[7] might be useful here: don’t worry about what others think!

As an aside, I gave a lecture for The Jung Society last year on the benefits of mindful colouring, with a mini-workshop on how to create extraordinary effects. In the audience was a young Qantas pilot who said he found colouring a great way to unwind…as soon as he landed in his hotel room!

During such gentle tasks, leader in creative brain research Professor Nancy Andreasen, discovered a brain state she called REST – Random Episodic Silent Thought – where, in response to a question posed earlier, unprecedented neural connections can occur giving rise to an original idea.[8]

However, for new output, there needs to be new input… which is why innovation and creativity courses, (for example, this one I completed from Pennsylvania State University) advocate the DSD – Do Something Different. Usual ways of thinking are like superhighways in the brain, whereas fresh ideas come from roads not previously travelled! So, there is good neuro-scientific reason for ‘disruption’ and that is for the detour; the pathway to fresh possibilities.

What if creative work happened as preparation for meetings?

Given the neuroscience, it makes sense for an easy, creative task to take place before brainwriting, and then the sharing of ideas can take place, as Thompson suggests, where there are rules of engagement. Integrating creative practice into workplace systems has already been shown to be valuable and for quite some years now. Apple, Google and the work of Ed Catmull, founder of Pixar, with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter – are great examples.

But I’m not creative!

People will undoubtedly say this, and what can be done? Leading from the top helps, as does getting outside assistance. My system that is foundational to my work came out of the intention of helping people reclaim their creative capability. Six integrated components foster fertile ground for creative thinking.

 The bones of the System were there in my first creativity (in teaching and research) workshop for 20 university academics in 2014 at The Australian National University. I developed the 2-hour session into a 2-day Reclaim your Creativity course.

A survey of participants (90% of whom do not identify as creative types) from March 2015 to May 2016 yielded these results:

100% found the course relevant and worthwhile

89% found the processes used were calming

83% of participants said their ability to handle stress improved

94% said yes, their creativity was reignited

78% said they were inspired to follow a new creative pursuit and

83% agreed their beliefs about their ability to be creative changed as a result of the course.

The system enables customisation for workplace small group workshops and one-to-one coaching programs.

As a takeaway, instead of brainstorming, you might try brainwriting – writing everything that’s on your mind, then draw out the ‘gems’. And rather than doing brainwriting cold, warm up beforehand by doing something different, something easy and creative. Simple colouring or doodling is fine, and here’s another example below.

1.Recall what you most loved doing when you were creative as a child. Now, if you could see a shape in your mind’s eye that symbolises this for you, great! Draw that.

  1. Breathe normally with feet flat on the floor and spine straight, focusing on your breathing for one minute (or more), eyes opened or closed as you wish. Keep your attention on the movement of your chest as your breath moves all the way in and all the way out. Allow tension to ease out of the muscles of your face, shoulders and belly area, inwardly asking What might be easier?
  2. Draw: That shape you drew in step 1…ask your inner 5 year old to draw it 20 different ways. Did you know you can draw with scissors?! Perhaps your creative inner child has another suggestion… Now what was that other thing you were thinking of?
  3. Remember, ‘changing the channel’ in your brain can be very helpful for getting fresh ideas.



Former physiotherapist and university lecturer, Dr Suzanne Moss is a coach, educator and artist specialising in fostering creative thinking and helping people shine rather than burn out.


[1] Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way. London: Pan Macmillan, 1995, 10.

[2] Esther M Sternberg MD, The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions. New York: WH Freeman & Co., 2001 – Sternberg notes the difference between short term invigorating stress and chronic stress where stress hormones, such as cortisol, continue to pump out, shutting down immune cells’ responses so we are then far less able to fight off new invaders.

[3] Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine, 2016.

[4] Reported in Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today, 1998 by George Land and Beth Jarman

[5] Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything. London: Penguin, 2009.



[8] Nancy C. Andreasen, The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius. New York: Penguin, 2006.

New Mexico was beautiful!

Dear Friends,

I hope you’ve been able to enjoy our few classic Autumn days… It’s certainly getting chilly in the studio at this time when the air con is off and the heaters not on yet.

Much has happened. I had a trip to San Francisco for a conference/retreat for a few days in February then went with a colleague down to New Mexico. One of those wonderful earth-mother women, Gwendolyn is in my Coaches Mastermind team. We’d discussed running a retreat together at “Ghost Ranch”, Georgia O’Keeffe’s home for many years. We flew to Albuquerque (she lives nearby in Belen) and I caught the train to Santa Fe where I visited the beautiful O’Keeffe museum before catching the bus to Taos. Gwendolyn came and picked me up and we visited the Harwood to see the wonderful octagonal room that holds 8 large works by Agnes Martin. Gently and powerfully beautiful, it was a huge gift to see and be with these works.

We drove out to “Ghost Ranch” which took around 2 hours. Wow… The vast desert country with huge, partially eroded red rock mesas was breath-taking. “Ghost Ranch” was wonderful and I wish I could have stayed for longer. We could see Pedernal the distant mountain – the upper part looks like a stubby foot – that Georgia included in many paintings. I’ll put photos in the newsletter. There were beautiful purpose built art rooms with the front wall consisting of large glass doors, a nearby labyrinth, horses to ride and cosy rooms in which to stay. All in all, it looked very inviting. Lindsay, the event organiser, was generous with his time and I know we’d be very welcome and cared for there. For something completely different, late October would be a great time to visit.


Il Borgo Santo Pietro in Tuscany, Italy

Being artist-in-residence at Il Borgo for April this year was an unforgettable experience! It was as much about meeting great people as being inspired to create in different ways. Delightful guests came to visit me in the studio, set in the gardens. Some took a condensed version of my Zen Drawing & Mandala course. The staff were wonderful. By the time I reached my table for breakfast perhaps twenty people had welcomed me with buongiorno! I’m grateful to the owners and the staff for their many acts of kindness and hospitality. It is most unusual to be able to step behind the scenes of a 5 star hotel in Europe and to also partake in some of what the guests experience. I shared breakfast with them on the beautiful terrace and a special weekly dinner of Tuscan produce. I had time to wander the Renaissance style gardens and be inspired by the beauty of spring emerging daily from the cool with its exquisite colours. I was given a space to work and whatever materials I needed. All this inspired my palette and will eventually be born asa new series of paintings I hope in time for exhibition next Spring. I will keep you informed…Here are some photos…More soon 🙂



Hill End artist-in-residence

I am away from it all, or, most of it. Hill End is at the end of the road, an hour and fifteen minutes substantially elevated and west of Bathurst. An old gold-mining town, established in 1872, a number of artists have made this place their home. It is charming with its enormous trees, old buildings and ruins. There are a lot of kangaroos, feral goats and rabbits. The sun’s light is both clear and soft here in late Spring, a gentle breeze teases the leaves and a range of birdsong, flies, bees and whipper-snipper fill the air. And I miss my Dad. Tomorrow it is 5 months since he died. Tomorrow is also my birthday. It will be the first one that I will not hear him say ‘hope you have a good day Suzanna’. It will be day spent mostly alone and a bit with strangers here in this relatively remote place. Dad told me to keep painting. He had not understood why I had to stop being a Physio (problems with my spine and my hands ironically) and followed the path of an artist. It was more than that though. Around 6 weeks before he died we had a conversation about this. I could sense him searching for something to ask me, and he decided to tackle the art question: why do you do it? I compared it to farming; about there being good times and not so good times, but you wouldn’t give it up, would you? He nodded sagely. It felt like he really heard me and understood beyond my clumsy comparison. In the last weeks before he died, he would step outside his usual ways of thinking, and seek to understand. As his ego fell away, he became gentle and kind. It breaks my heart to remember him say “I’ll miss you Suze” and “…keep those paint-brushes revving!” He would have loved it here at Hill End. And I am painting.

An alarming proposition

I’ve been doing an online course on Creative Thinking through the Uni of Minnesota. One of the resource articles caused a sensation back in 2010, and continues to resonate. Published in Newsweek, titled The Creativity Crisis, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman report on the undisputed need for creativity. As an example they cite an IBM study of 1500 CEOs who identified creativity as the no. 1 leadership competency of the future. The authors note, however, that what is needed is not what is actually happening – creativity is statistically falling in the US.

Creativity, in the research literature from business, science, psychology and engineering, has become synonymous with problem solving, or as it is referred to – creative thinking.Once especially regarded the territory of the arts, though not exclusively so, the creativity of artists of every stripe has provided a leading edge to cultural development and change. Now, nations, such as China, understand the epic nature of looming problems and are making creativity a national priority. Apparently, there was no concerted effort, policy-wise, to nurture creativity in the US, while the opposite was happening in China and Europe. It doesn’t look so good for Australia.

Bronson and Merryman proceed to quote a most shocking suggestion Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and into the home room. A number of points emerge from this ‘solution’ which demonstrates a belief in an implied unworthy and exclusive ownership of creativity by the ‘art room’, and a lack of researchers’ creative thinking. A thoughtful unpacking of the idea is worthwhile.

Firstly, creativity is not an entity that is in or able to be removed from the classroom. A mercurial human experience, creativity is a way of being and doing in the world that creates objects, ideas and solutions, through us. The oft-quoted EP Torrance, of Torrance Creativity Test fame (1966), wrote that creativity defies precise definitionCreativity is almost infinite. It involves every sense sight, smell, hearing, feeling, taste and even perhaps the extrasensory. Much of it is unseen, nonverbal, and unconscious. However, current scientific theory asserts that creativity is a skill. This disturbing assertion seems akin to the Cartesian split – take the skill, leave the ineffable.

As an artist, educator andresearcher, I can say, as would all my colleagues,creativity is not a skill, per se, rather creativity employs skills, depending on the task at hand. Creativity is inclusive of much more than skill as Csikszenmihalyi considers at length in his comprehensive text –Creativity (1996). Creativity, in its embrace of seemingly paradoxical traits, is linked with genius. Of course it is desirable, and sought after, and most people have far more potential to be creative than they will ever know.

Learning of skills help with the skill-base, as specificity of learning has shown.A focus of online courses on creativity is the DSD – ‘do something different’. The DSD is about demonstrating non-compliance, a feature of creativity noted by Torrance in the 60’s. However, there is much more. To start with, creativity also needs to be allowed.

Allowing might seem terribly simple, but it’s not always. Limiting beliefs, doubt, cynicism and control issues can be hobbling. Allowing creativity sometimesdepends on dismantlinginner barriers. See, creativity is seamlessly integrated with intention, inspiration, imagination, wonder, curiosity, desire, seeking, authenticity, openness, willingness, supported processes of learning, making, failure, flow, resistance, freedom to change direction, interruptions, being flexible, inventiveness, exploration of raw materials, persistingThere is a problem with all this these human qualities cannot be reliably measured.

Subjecting creativity to empiricism is tricky. Some scientists say if it cant be measured it doesnt exist. Black-and-white attitudes have caused our world a lot of problems, and ruthlessness undermines the very nature of humanitarian solutions sought. Lets move on. In the search for answers about creativity, artists have been observed, questioned and tested like interesting pinned creatures, however, their wisdom about facilitating creativity is not sought. Dont you think thats odd? A great athlete tells of her training regime what helps and hinders her There is a history to this strange state of affairs. The first is the dominance of rationalism and creative people have been labelled as irrational, if not mad.Possibly a second reason is the opinion of famous writers on creativity. Justone opinion in his book Six Thinking Hats, Edward de Bono, on wearing the green hat of creativity, dismisses artists as not necessarily being able to teach about creativity.

There is evidence that the great artistic geniuses had at least one teacher was a creatively active person. Artists who teach, and this is how many of us make a living, impart much about creative practice to students. This is well known, but uncharted, un-funded territory.

Let’s return to the art room for a more helpful solution… Alternative solution 1:Ask ‘what were the conditions in the classroom that allowed creativity to flourish?’

Answer: Freedom to have ideas, a framework to give direction, a range of available materials toexperiment with, andunhurried time to devote to making.

Might it be possible to allow this freedom, the encouragement to do something authentically different, not just for the sake of practicing non-compliance, but also for the sake of making something beautiful, grotesque, something useful perhaps, fired by inspiration and enthusiasm and nourished by enjoyment? This is living. Does not anyone care about feeling like they are alive?

With regard to designated ‘free’ time, in her talk titled Nine Lessons Learned about Creativity at Google – Marissa Mayer discusses their 80:20 rule where Google employees have 1 day per week to spend on whatever project they like. Mayer reports the finding that 50% of overall productivity happened in that 20% of free time. It is possible for disciplines interested in innovation and creativity to engage with the arts and find out more about what remarkable things artists are doing despite the odds, despite the marginalisation by the over-culture of rationalism and associated superstition of science being able to fix everything, as noted by Wendell Berry.

Artists solve a myriad of problems every day. They are old hands at dealing with failure. They can teach a thing or two about creativity. And so I propose alternative solution 2 – Why not make the art room the home room? Consider the great polymaths and how there was no separation between the arts and sciences for them. Regardless of whether da Vinci was looking at eddies of water, the wings of a bird or the composition of a painting, his mind was inquiring. There was no separation in his inquiry. While painting he may have found the solution to an anatomical problem; while dissecting, an answer to a question about a painted figure’s posture. As an artist and a science major, I drew and painted my dissections, noticing the direction of muscle fibres and later ‘saw’ them in my mind’s eye as I palpated an injury.

The most obvious way the arts might offer approaches to enhance creativity and problem solving for science, engineering and business is through providing hands-on sensorial, explorative experiences of problem solving and failure through making.

Irrelevance is actually important, given that the greater the range of experience, the more vast is the information from which to make neural connections with. Use of the body and senses provides billions of bits more information than thinking alone to add to ‘the pot’ – the brain’s raw material. This is very much supported by the famous Secrets of the Creative Brainresearch of Prof. Nancy Andreasen. Visual art students generally develop a high level of visual literacy. Visual thinking, requiring visual literacy, is a highly effective method of problem solving. There is a visual thinking revolution currently happening – see the work of Sunni Brown, founder of Doodle Revolution. Doing other stuff besides thinking and ‘nutting out a problem’ is important – the brain likes ‘changing channel’ if you will.

The wisdom of the body can contribute enormously to problem solving – human hands were designed to make things. Children, and learners of all ages, benefit from opportunities to physically develop and materially explore, re-wiring the brain and facilitating new connections for the possibility of extraordinary innovation. Using our hands is imperative, in the view of the great leader of the crafts movement in Japan, S?etsuYanagi. Here are some of his highly resonant thoughts:

Fundamentally, human beings, whether Eastern or Western, need belief, free play of imagination and intuition in their homes and workshops or they become starved. All the cog-wheels and electronic brains cannot assuage these human needs in the long run. It is for lack of such essentials that we turn to.destructiveness. Basically this is not so much a revolution against science and the machine as a seeking of a means of counterbalance by employing mans first tools, his own hands, for the expression of his inner nature.

S?etsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman a Japanese Insight into Beauty. New York: Kodansha, 2013, p.90-91

In summary, my suggestions for increasing creativity at work –

– ALLOW: address what ideas stand in the way of being creative through education and coaching.

– FOSTER: allocate time and a pleasant place with materials to make things; to do things that are not just different, but enjoyable, calming, and without attachment to outcome. This really takes the pressure off, reducing stress rather than demanding staff to ‘be more creative’.

– EDUCATE: Education and coaching can assist greatly with allowing and nurturing creativity.

Coming soon….free talk and ’10 ways to nurture your creativity’ postcard! 🙂

A question about creativity


composition in threads, Suzanne Moss to the left, composition in threads by Kathleen Moss


Recently, an academic asked me whether an individual’s creativity was a limited resource. A good question given there is so much in the media about limited resources. Sure, neither is creativity a fossil fuel, nor is it a tank that runs out of fuel. Nevertheless, it can feel that way sometimes! Note the link between creativity and vitality? When tired, one rarely feels like being creative. When immersed in making of some kind, however, there is a vitality that comes in too. They are linked.

On my Home page, I cite the vital Martha Graham speaking of a channel for creativity and keeping that channel open for creativity to flow through. I like the idea that creativity is unlimited…and in the flow of making it certainly feels that way. One feels part of something much larger. The way creativity is spoken of by scientists is that it is a skill demonstrated by divergent thinking and that it can be developed. They are speaking of creative problem solving skills and as such, they leave a lot out….problem solving skills can be taught – that’s the easy part. Enhancing access to one’s authentic freedom of expression is a different proposition. This is the path of a person seeking. Coaches are guides for this kind of empowering personal work.

Creativity is life-force, generative and continuing. Keeping ‘the channel’ open is our challenge. What does this mean in practical terms? Caring for one’s mind by dismantling limiting beliefs and opening up to possibility; caring for one’s body and caring for the inner life, or soul by acknowledging and allowing feelings, reflecting on ones choices an actions and unfurling one’s gifts.

This is not a conclusive list by any means. Creativity is an infinite resource with many signposts and many paths. The founder of the Japanese Craft Movement S?etsu Yanagi wrote of how

Every artist knows that he is engaged in an encounter with infinity, and that work done with the heart and hand is ultimately worship of Life Itself. Andany work of art, is not an expression of the maker alone, but of a degree of enlightenment wherein infinity, however briefly, obliterates the minor self.

All of life experience provides a rich and unique collection from which to draw endless connections for creative thinking and being – reminds me of the small box I found crammed full of my Nanas embroidery threads…

on wonder and the creative process

As promised, I’m writing about my creative process. I’m reminded of a time around 6 years ago, when I decided to document every stage of making a painting so that, in theory, I would learn more about being in the flow of my creative process. You see, often I would get to the finishing layer of paint and wonder how I’d made it. This stepping sideways to try to see the process ended up in the making of a really boring painting and the experience of not allowing the flow of creativity to take over. My mind was vigilant, frequently interrupting the process and so, of course, there was no complete surrender to it. The mind cannot make paintings on its own. Creating is a holistic experience. This I know but cannot explain because it is not explainable. A singer is not singing with his or her mind, but with their entirety, agreed? Suffice to say it is, as Clarissa Pinkola Ests calls it – the mysterium. Creative flow cannot be observed by the person in it, or perhaps a better way to say it is that the depth of creative experience is not possible without trust and surrender into it. There you go.

Now, I can talk about what happens in the early stages of making something. Before anything can happen creatively for me, there is wonder. Sometimes inspiration, the spark of an idea, happens. Inotice and observe, which is just noticing for longer than usual, and take time to see what happens if I keep attending. And then as I really see, its as if I become part of what I’m seeing. The ‘I’ is no longer as I gaze upward. Do you ever feel like the sky? Perhaps this began when, as a very small child, Gran would take me out into the night and we would look into the heavens. Sometimes she would say things like ‘ring around the moon, rain will come soon’ or ‘red sky at night, shepherds’ delight’! ‘Evening Bliss’ is a painting I made about being blissed out by an amazing plum, pink and velvety sky-show while on the bus heading West out of Sydney. A good sky for shepherds.

Ps. Digression is a big part of the process 🙂

Evening Bliss_2012_116x116cm

Suzanne Moss, Evening Bliss (on the way home), 2012

On creativity

It’s late at night…and I have a question – why do people think they are not creative? It’s a human gift to be creative….Maybe people think its super special because of being a ‘buzz-word’ currently… And possibly more available to ‘creative’ types of people. Do young children think this? I don’t think so.Creativity is ordinary in its availability to all, AND extraordinary in its infinite range of processes and results. Its just that we’ve collected a few unsupportive beliefs along the way.

Its a good idea to turn these around. Beliefs effect our genes – an area of new research called epigenetics (see ‘The Biology of Belief’ by Bruce Lipton PhD, 2005). So if you believe you’re not creative, guess what? You’re not! Lipton, cell biologist and writer, makes it clear that our beliefs are programmed mostly before we turn 7, and, thank goodness, can be re-programmed. A chapter in Lipton’s book ‘The Honeymoon Effect’ lists modalities that work with people in this way and he includes The Journey – an approach I have extensive training in.

Guess what else? Human beings are innately creative – it is totally natural for us to make things. Especially with our hands. And just as each person’s signature is different, so is their flavour of creativity. So get this – your kind of creativity is yours and yours alone. No-one else can create something the same way as you!

Creativity is a naming word. It is a name which sums up all the inner resources that come together to seamlessly be, think and do stuff that intentionally creates. The process is described as being creative. The evidence may not be apparent, but the process of making changes the maker – creativity gives inwardly and outwardly.

Creativity involves being and doing in a way that is fully engaged, engrossed and intrigued. There is a way there and process after. However, in the depth of the creative experience, the body, mind and spirit create in a state simply described as ‘flow’. Being in the effortless flow of creating, skill carries out an inspired vision. Remembering the ancient cave drawings of Lascaux, this has always been part of human experience.

Cultivating a skill provides a vehicle through which creativity can happen. It happens in you, through you, solo. Speaking with a university lecturer and colleague yesterday, she realised ‘I don’t have enough time in my life to NOT be creative!’ She was saying that being creative saved her time. I say being creative saved my life! You can read about that in the ‘About me’ part of my site 🙂

I’ve been invited to present at an upcoming workshop on creativity at The Australian National University, so my next post will be all about that. I’ll be sharing myths and truths about creativity; what gets in the way and how to facilitate one’s creativity.

Stay warm and well 🙂