The Soul of Creativity

by Rick on April 22, 2016

Ever thought about the fact that 4-year-olds know the past tense of 10,000 verbs having heard only 100 or so? You notice this gift when you hear them make a mistake like “goed” or “eated.” Equally impressive is how quickly they learn that they are wrong. In no time they are saying “went” and “ate.” They handle being wrong better than we adults do.

The human brain has a design flaw: We are brilliant at knowing, equally prone to being wrong and even better at denial.


As Kathryn Shultz so eloquently and entertainingly portrays in Being Wrong (HarperCollins, 2010), the human brain has a design flaw: we are brilliant at knowing, equally prone to being wrong and even better at denial.

There are two kinds of learning. “Single loop learning” is adding information to our existing mindsets. “Double loop learning” is changing those mindsets based on new information. This second kind of learning grows out of living in the tension of irreconcilable mindsets to come up with something new. Increasingly, the success of a person, group or organization depends on our facility with “double loop learning.”

Children are better at this than adults, because we adults are under pressure for our mindsets to be accurate and our theories to be true. We think our survival, success and popularity depend on being right. Less and less we like to change our theories, so more and more we’re prone to arrogance—often with devastating results.

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

So what do we have to do to stop stepping off into wrongness?

  1. ask questions
  2. talk to a friend
  3. sleep on it
  4. increase awareness
  5. let go of expectations
  6. lollygag, meditate, wonder, go for long walks
  7. pay attention to crazy ideas
  8. play
  9. publically own your thoughts and feelings
  10. experiment with new behaviors
  11. invite disconfirmation
  12. ask the person who didn’t say anything at the meeting what she thinks before you vote.
  13. don’t trust “metrics.” Everyone knows there are three kinds of data: “Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics.

These disciplines and many others tend toward inviting our genius to the table. This inner voice of the soul is aware of all the data including what we have been avoiding, ignoring or denying.

Culture is powerful. The culture we are in can either drive us toward needing to be right or open our eyes to wrongness and new possibilities. In most schools, for instance, these 13 behaviors are too risky, odd, or not allowed. Being wrong is embarrassing because being right is the only value. Asking stupid questions or changing your mind might get you laughed at. Talking to a friend or lollygagging might get you yelled at.

On the other hand, we can actually create culture by defining ourselves to the situation moment by moment. We can look for opportunities to speak the truth in ways that get smiles instead of snarls. We can be the child who says, “The emperor has no clothes.” We might have to risk being weird, but then we might contribute to learning, and more importantly we’ll have surfaced more truth for a more creative climate. This is leadership.

  1. Mistakes: Leaders can create a culture where one gets as many brownie points for making mistakes as for being right. Parents can change the culture in the home by acknowledging their mistakes instead of hiding them.
  2. Conflicts: Removing the recrimination layer from conflict can have a powerful effect on turning conflicts into successful collaborations.
  3. Contributing: Giving children opportunities to take responsibility for others completely obviates the need to lecture them on “being responsible,” or to “teach them empathy.”

Please do try this at home, or even in public places, but don’t try it without engaging genius; for genius is expert in harmonizing inconsistent opposites, resolving dilemmas, and integrating of two impossibilities. Reality and our trusted beliefs never quite match up. Our soul holds the key to living with the confusion long enough for us to create something of value.

The culture around us is changing. To create, collaborate, communicate, and contribute are increasingly obvious as required skillsets for human success. The need to create is undermining the pressure to be right. The requirement to collaborate is undercutting solo virtuosity. The way to communicate is obviously a two-way street. The imperative to contribute is preempting “looking out for yourself.” Self-made, arrogant men are less popular. (The apparent popularity of Donald Drumpf is the rear-guard phenomenon of an obsolete culture.)

Living with our paradoxes leads us down into our soul and back out toward creativity.

Our soul holds the key to living with the confusion long enough for us to create something of value.


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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Ginna April 23, 2016 at 6:58 am

As I read your passage while listening to birdsong, feeling the sunrise, and sensing the energy of the red rocks of Sedona (on vacation) … Your words land in a refreshing pool of reflection. Grateful for your authenticity. At peace with your line of thought. Inspired to keep this passage close at hand as we shift gears from the slow of this vortex to the pace and inevitable dissonance of daily life. There are multiple realities available to us always. Thank you for these offerings.

Ray Erickson April 23, 2016 at 9:47 am

Hi Rick,

I love this article and your presentation of the real truths that free us from the dogma of culture and society. I’ve boiled down these principles to one simple phrase: “Change Your Mind, Change Your Life”. Thanks for such a soulful expression of self.

Patricia Lathrom April 23, 2016 at 10:13 am

Am so surprised you aren’t a fan of Trump, the man who has never had to apologize because he has never been wrong.

Loved your post. So much truth. I know that learning to accept my wrongnesses and learning how to lean into pain have been a life changing experiences for me. Life became a lot richer and more fulfilling then.

PS Writers group is still going strong. About 8 show up regularly.Sadly Z isn’t one of them. But surprisingly David, even though he hasn’t read for years, regularly shows up. Doug comes regularly. He recently read my entire manuscript and edited it. He’s a very talented editor.

Marshall April 23, 2016 at 10:34 am

Hey, Rick. Thanks for this fine piece.

Appreciated the bit about the “rearguard action” for Mr. Drumpf. Interestingly, this may last longer than we ever anticipated. My AARP mag is advises that we all plan for a retirement to last until we are 95. That means an additional generation of older folks wagging their fists at hipsters on their virtual lawns. We are working to extend the lifespan even beyond this. This places even more emphasis on your good work to get every lifespan started with tools, joy and wisdom.

Cheers, MC

Patricia Lathrom April 23, 2016 at 11:01 am

I love that TED Talk about wrongness. Schulz is very right about wrongness. “I err, therefore I am human.” The reverse is also true. The more right we have to be, the less human we are.

Rick April 23, 2016 at 1:23 pm

Well, Marshall, well yeah. I guess I’d better get back to running schools if I have another 25 years.

Karen Levesque April 24, 2016 at 4:33 pm

I love this. One thing though, I disagree about data. Numbers are just one piece of information in a complex puzzle, but we are too often ready to dismiss what they may have to tell us. Certainly not the final word, but they are part of what can push us to learn and be creative.

Rick April 24, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Thank you, Karen. I got carried away. I am reacting to those who don’t think deeply about the assumptions that generate the data and what the data doesn’t say.

Claudia April 24, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Thank you, Rick, for sharing this fine piece. I have written two columns of late based on the concept of owning up to our mistakes and extending grace to others, and supporting our children to do the same. Your words resonate with me!

Jon Madian April 24, 2016 at 7:22 pm

Rick, in many ways it seems like you are recommending mindfulness, or nonjudgmental reflection (in Christian terms “witnessing”) rather than judgment laden reaction… or put another way, you suggest being comfortable with the contemplation of polarities and then a considered response. On another level it seems you are suggesting deep inquiry, or conversation, either with one’s self or others, to inquire into the nature of situations and things without a concern for defending a position or being right or wrong.

You are so correct when you point out that in our classrooms we cultivate a culture of knowing rather than of curiosity and inquiry, of null hypotheses and risk taking, of experimenting and forever knowing that within polarity the opposite of a profound truth likely will not be a falsehood but another profound if transitory truth.

It is refreshing to notice where true science and true spiritual inquiry (reflection on the nature of consciousness) seem to converge in an empty or balanced person/position.

Bob Conway April 27, 2016 at 5:31 pm

I would change one word at the top of the column: “arrogance” to “resistance.” Resisting other mindsets is a more subtle and socially acceptable way of sticking to our own, while arrogance provokes a counter-reaction that further undermines our position.

Also agree with the comment about statistics as not intrinsically bad.


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