Seven Seeds of Creative Success: Part 1

I once gave a presentation on creativity and human potential at the Union Pacific Depot here in Lawrence, and I chose that site for the specific reason that it serves as a symbol of how creativity can be transforming. Not too long ago, the depot was somewhat of an eyesore...but someone looked beyond the surface to the underlying potential of the structure. Once the debris was cleared away, the building demonstrated a presence that attracts the attention of everyone who drives by. With the addition of landscaping and a distinctive fountain sculpture, the depot has been transformed into a beautiful and compelling addition to our community.

The creative process is much more complex than the four-stage model that has been touted for many years. Never satisfied with the simplistic description developed by Wallas in 1926 (preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification), I developed my own transformative model of the creative process in the early 90's. Since 1991, Iíve been teaching classes using this model, and have watched the lives of many people change as they integrate its concepts into their lives. For the past year I have been conducting interviews with creative people on a radio show I developed, as further research into the creative process. My goal with these interviews is to discover how well my 12-stage model coincides with the life experiences of people invested in creative endeavors. Now I am working on a book that will demonstrate how this model mimics the creative experience of many different kinds of artists. For the next several months in this column I'll be sharing some of the insights I've gathered from my concepts, in particular, that have contributed to creative success in the lives of those I have interviewed.

When I refer to the creative process, it encompasses more than how one does their art. The dictionary defines process as a series of actions, changes or functions that bring about an end or result. Another definition I came across recently describes process as a series of events and experiences through which human transformation occurs. This latter view best describes my own experience of the creative process and its transformative capacity. Perhaps I can best illustrate with a story from my own life. While recording and marketing an album of my music in 1989, I noticed there were definite stages to that venture, which spanned a course of many months. Being aware of these stages helped me manage the fear, the hype, the frustration, the setbacks, the elation, the eventual outcome...and has helped me in many other creative pursuits since that time. Much like learning about the grieving process, being able to identify where one is in the process helps to normalize the experience. As I share my ideas about the creative journey, I repeatedly witness others becoming more courageous and successful in their own creative endeavors. This happens as they learn how to better understand and manage the various stages of the creative process.

When I use the word "creative", I am not referring to artistic talent...everyone has the capacity to be creative, whether or not they have true artistic talent. It is my belief that developing one's creativity is essential to real happiness, whether or not you can identify a talent. On the other hand, I've witnessed many of my students learning to develop talents they were unaware of, once they made a commitment to develop their creativity. Creativity can come into play in the way that you garden, arrange your home, relate to your you dress, prepare meals, solve problems, plan vacations or balance your checkbook.

In the following discussion, I refer to the seven concepts of creativity as seeds, because it conveys the perfect metaphor for transformation. Imagine that you are planting these "seeds" firmly in the psyche, in a very fertile area of your mind. Then imagine creating a firm foundation with a root system, to hold these seeds firmly in place and encourage healthy growth. Nourish the seeds with consistent care and attention, allow them to sprout, to develop over time, then watch as YOU blossom!

Seed One - Commitment. Making a commitment is a contract with yourself to do what is necessary to reach your goals. Like creativity, commitment is an ongoing process and involves the use of will. When you make a commitment to your creative life, it gives you a sense of hope about the future. Once I made a firm commitment to develop my music, my writing and performing, my life began to change. I had a different sense of myself. I began to define myself as an artist, and it felt very freeing to see myself this way as I entered my 40's. I started living the life I had always wanted to live, but had been afraid to commit to, for fear of failure. (Or was it fear of success? There is almost always an element of each in all of us!) It was at this point I came to understand that committing to the process is where my energy needed to go, rather than to needless worry about the outcome of my efforts. All too often, we let go of our dreams or talents because we don't make enough money from them. Regardless of the outcome, the process is invigorating and rewarding in itself, and it can lead to an income if you stay with the creative journey and are willing to consider a variety of outcome options. By making a commitment, you will benefit from the courage and momentum that results. More rewards come as you move toward your goals and experience the satisfaction of creating your own success.

Seed Two - Inspiration. Inspiration is another essential element of the creative process, and it is vital to find ways of keeping yourself inspired. Both Kansas City and Lawrence provide a wide variety of opportunities to witness others sharing their talents...with music, theater, dance and galleries galore. By attending to the efforts of others in their creative process, we benefit in many ways, and our support and appreciation can serve as a reflection of our own capacity for the courage it takes to share one's work in public. There are also numerous books and videos available to inspire us, and it is wise to have a collection of these on hand when discouragement sets in to distract us from our goal. I often watch peak performance athletes to be inspired by their persistence and endurance. Another experience that never fails to inspire is being out in nature, where creation exists in bountiful supply. Many of the creative people I interviewed cite being in nature as a constant source of stimulation and inspiration. More resources are available on the Internet at various web sites, including The Daily Motivator ( and, where inspiring quotations are posted daily or weekly to fire the mind and encourage the creative spirit. These websites also convey the helpful message that the creative process is a journey shared by many others...a journey well worth the investment of time and energy that it inevitably entails.

Commitment and Inspiration are two seeds of thought for you to consider and implement in your life. Once you do, a momentum will develop, and you'll be ready to learn more about the Seven Seeds of Creative Success in this column next month. Until that time, stay creative!

©1998 Marybeth Bethel

The Creative Spirit. (1993). Goleman et al. Plume/Penguin Books.
Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights. (1984.) Harman and Rheingold. Jeremy Tarcher/St. Martin's Press.
Living Your Life Out Loud. (1995) Rasberry and Selwyn. Pocket Books.