In the Age of Abundance, Software is Free for Creative People

Autodesk 123D

In the Age of Abundance, it’s amazing what’s free for creative people. All you have to do is look for it. As I’ve mentioned before, there are great classes offered online for free. The Y Combinator startup class in my last post is just one example. But in addition to education, the tools are free too. For 3D rendering, look to Autodesk. There are nine of these Autodesk 123D online apps that offer and incredible array of 3D rendering capabilities.

Catch: Create 3D scans of virtually any object.

Circuits: Design, compile, and simulate your electronic projects online.

Creature: Have a perfect character idea in your head? Bring it to life with this free app for iPad!

Design: 123D Design is a free, powerful yet simple 3D creation and editing tool which supports many new 3D printers.

Make: Turn your amazing 3D models into even more amazing do-it-yourself projects.

Meshmixer: The ultimate tool for 3D mashups and remixes. Mash, mix, sculpt, stamp or paint your own 3D designs.

Sculpt: Push, pull, pinch, paint, smooth, tug. More fun than a Renaissance studio, cleaner than clay.

Tinkercad: Get started with basic 3D modelling – no downloads required.

Sandbox: Here you’ll find some technology in progress.


If you think these are to complex and you’ll never figure them out, think again. Two years ago, I put my son on one to see how easy there were. He was ten at the time. Within a few hours, he had the Design app figured out and made the coffee cup below. Yeah, to him that’s a coffee cup. It look s more like a transformer/tank. You have to drink out of the spout on the right. He filleted and chamfered all the edges on his own. By the time he finished, he could manipulate the program to a high degree. The only thing I showed him was how to get into the program.


I think the reason he did it so easily is that these programs are similar in nature to minecraft and the Lego Digital Designer. They have a modular sense of construction and the navigation tools are similar.

If you are still intimidated by software, take a look at this video. Using the Catch app, all you have to do is to take some pictures of an object and the program will stich the images together for you, creating a 3D rendering. Take some time to poke through these apps. It’s well worth your time.

Y Combinator Put Its Course Online, For Free!

Y Combinator Put Its Course Online, For Free!

Y Combinator is one of the best startup accelerators for tech entrepreneurs. It’s been around since 2008 and launched an amazing array of success stories including: Dropbox, Airbnb, Reddit and Twitch. Now, they’ve launched an online course explaining their methods. And for the best part, it’s free. The course, “How to Start a Startup” is exactly how it sounds, a course on how to start a startup. And it’s great. I haven’t watched all the lectures. But the ones I have are really informative.

I recommend it for any creative person wanting to take control of their future.

The Definition of Creativity is …Complicated

Courbet in his studio

Courbet in his studio

With the  level of press creativity gets these days, it would seem that we’d have a better handle on the definition. But still, there are many who differ on how the term should be used or to what it applies. Partly, this can be attributed to the long and twisted history of the term itself. Bear with me while I travel through time to elucidate the history of creativity. The following is paraphrased from a section in my book, A Curious Path: Creativity in an Age of Abundance.

Etymology related to creativity is extensive. The root of create and creativity are the Latin creates and creare. Both of these words convey a sense of making—not innovating. The transitive verb creo means to conjure up or be born. Creativity is also derived from the old French base kere, the Latin crescere and the Roman creber. Already, it’s a little confusing. From these comes the Roman goddess of the earth, Ceres. Another goddess, the Italian corn goddess Cereris, is linked as well to creativity. In this sense, creativity means to grow and has a strong connection with the earth. Other modern day terms derived from these origins are cereal, crescent and creature.[i]

So for the most of history, creativity has been tied to making, growing or putting together. Obviously, this is not how we view it today. Present day usage of creativity implies a more individualistic, unique or artistic connotation. How we understand the word is relatively new, and it was not seen much until several hundred years ago. You can see below how Herman Melville used it in Moby Dick back in 1841:

‘…There is some unsuffusing think beyond thee, thou clear spirit, to whom all they eternity is but time, all thy creativeness mechanical. Through thee, thy flaming self, my scorched eyes do dimly see it…’

Way back in the time of Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), creativity was linked to rationalism. This rationalistic belief of creativity categorizes it as conscious and deliberate.[ii] This corresponds to the notion of art at that time. The Greeks referred to art as techni (craft). Greek artists were not the type of aloof, expressive individuals we see artists as today. Instead, they were lower class laborers. To be an artist was to be a craftsman.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance (1400 AD – 1550 AD) that artists achieved recognition as individual geniuses. Before the Renaissance, creativity for artists meant the ability to imitate past masters. Essentially, they copied—again, not how we conceptualize creativity today. But during the Renaissance, individualism began to take form. From this, artists became more expressive and vocal. Leonardo da Vinci, himself, argued that genio (genius) was not only imitation, but should also incorporate originality. However, at this time painting studios were not personal retreats where artists found their muses. These were workshops filled with apprentices painting large portions of the artist’s work. The artists of this time served as masters to apprentices and finished the more difficult areas.[iii]


Wanderer above the sea of fog

Wanderer above the sea of fog

The notion of the modern painter—aloof and idealistic—took shape during the nineteenth century’s Romantic period. Artists during this time did look to their inner muse to draw inspiration. Thids adoption of the inner muse for inspiration, they took from the Ancient Greek conception that poets were agents of the gods and devoid of talent themselves. “The romantic artists and men of letters, in particular, revived the classical notion of divine mania or inspiration and established it as a divine mark of the extraordinary individual”.[iv] Rationalism therefore was dismissed, and men of letters argued that “creativity requires temporary escape from the conscious ego and a liberation of instinct and emotion.” Wordsworth even stated that is was “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”[v] To get a good view of what it may have felt like to be overwhelmed in such a way, Casper David Friedrich (above) paints a good visualization.  In this mode of thinking the artists contemplates nature as a mysterious beckoning force.

Oddly, it was technology that liberated artists from their studios and enabled them to work directly from nature—painting their immediate experiences. In 1841, an American portrait painter by the name of John G. Rand found a way to fabricate a tube from tin. Sealing it with a screw top, it was perfect for holding paint. Before there were tubes of paint, artists mixed pigments in their studios and stored the paint in pig bladders.[vi] As you can imagine, pig bladders are neither durable nor portable.  Taking them on site would be a messy affair.

Consequently, artists would make sketches in the field and return to their studios to paint final versions. With the ability to store paint in tubes, artists could carry a number of colors around with them and paint directly from nature instead of from the drawings created before. Additionally, this innovation set forth a whole new genre in painting, en plein air (in the open air). This is where we get the image of an artist standing (alone) with his easel in a field, rendering nature.

Innovations like paint tubes came about frequently during this time, which was the Industrial Revolution. Pretty much every domain was being innovated including agriculture and manufacturing. Before the Industrial Revolution, inventions were slow to come about. But this time of scientific inquiry created a new vision of the future and drove people to improve their surroundings.

In the 20th century, the notion of creative expression ping-ponged back and forth between romanticism and rationalism. Rationalism returned through Modernism and the conscious experimentation of form and materials. Modernist poets such as Baudelaire and Mallarmé heralded the significance of consciously developing skill. Shortly thereafter, Abstract Expressionism brought a burst of romanticism through artists who created spontaneous expressions of pure emotion.[vii] The arts of this time were seen as free of planning or rational thought. Finally, the following isms that wrapped up the 20th century brought back the objective notions of creativity and creative production that remain today.

Whew, that’s quite a history.



[i] Piirto, Jane Ph.D. Understanding Those Who Create, 2nd Edition. Scottsdale: Gifted Psychology Pres, Inc., 1998

[ii] Sawyer, Keith. Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006 .

[iii] Ibi

[iv] Becker, George. “The Association of Creativity and Psychopathology: Its Cultural-Historical Origins.” Creativity Research Journal, 2000-2001, Vol. 13, No. 1: 45-53.

[v] Sawyer 2006

[vi] Hurt, Perry. “Never Underestimate the Power of a Paint Tube.” May 2013. (accessed October 29, 2013).

[vii] Sawyer 2006

How Sculptures Are Becoming Spaceships

How Sculptures Become Spaceships

For decades, the gravity defying sculptures of Kenneth Snelson have risen to the skies with a unique state of energy. These expansive nests of cable and steel rods possess a tranquil and rhythmic aesthetic quality linking geometry with art. It’s a process Snelson has perfected over the years. His sculptures are always a hit with the art-loving community and the not-so-art-loving community. He calls his combination of tension and compression, “tensegrity.” He and Buckminster Fuller seem to have come up with the idea together.

But as things go, good ideas have a multitude of applications. And now there is a new use for tensegrity—spaceships. NASA is now planning to build tensegrity robots called Super Ball Bots. These flexible robots are to roll like tumbleweeds around on the surfaces of planets sometime in the near future. NASA plans to drop the robots from high altitudes and just let them squish on the surface of the planet. Once they’ve done that, they’ll flex back into form and be good as new. Their combination of tension and compression makes these structures both flexible and durable. Without a central body, they basically look like a ball of sticks. Each little stick has its own brain and motor. Each brain works fairly independently and gang together to create an interesting system of interconnected computers that can continue navigating the robot even if some fail. The bots navigate by the each motor tightening or releasing tension in the cables.

How Sculptures Become Spaceships

It’s interesting to find useful solutions in one domain and then see those same principles jump to solve problems in other domains. You can call it synthesis, emulation, association or whatever. But in general, it’s creativity.

5 Questions That Make You More Creative

5 Questions That Make You More Creative




If you want a better solution, ask a better question. I first saw this statement in something by Edward de Bono, probably his book book Lateral Thinking. As I’ve written before, what you see is in part what you expect to see. Those who expect to see ordinary things, see those. And those who look for more unique things, find more interesting ones.


While lecturing on brainstorming, I often ask those in the audience a series of questions. The first one is “what am I wearing?” I have them write their answers in a few quick sentences. Following that, I ask the same question again, but with one word added, “specifically.” So the new questions is, “What specifically am I wearing?” It’s interesting how that one word, changes their answers. The responses to the first question are things like a button down shirt and khakis. The answers to the second question, as you may have guessed, include actual colors, patterns, brand names and other more informative insights than before. And that’s the difference one word makes.


To be more creative, you have to ask better questions. So here are five main questions you should ask yourself during projects.


How can I combine this with something else? Synthesis is the easiest method of generating unusual ideas. Any two things can be combined to make a new concept. And in the beginning of the creative process, this is a great question to expand your possibilities. How can a bridge be combined with a fan? Click here to see.


How can I adapt this concept to fit something else? The idea you have may be a good one, but it may work even better in another field. Who knew adding bike lanes to traffic would actually  speed up traffic? Click here for that. .


What can be substituted for this? There may be something out there that works better to solve your problem. This could be a different material, a different color or a different person to do it. Take time to switch out parts of the solution even though it seems to work well now. If you are trying to create light in an impoverished village with no electricity, maybe a liter bottle of water would do the trick. Click here for the video.


What negative could I turn into a positive? There are always shortcomings of products. But sometimes these shortcomings can be turned into assets if just looked at in the right way. A problem with roadways is that they take up a lot of space while reflecting a lot of heat and sun. What if we were to use them to collect energy? Here is an idea for solar roadways.


How can I simplify this? Usually, we tend to over-design products. As we keep improving the design, we keep adding more stuff. Eventually, they become confusing. The example here is an old one, the iPod. When it came out it was a revolution; it took only three clicks to get any song. If you can remember that far back, think of all the other mp3 players at the time. They had so many buttons it took an engineer to just turn them on. Here’s an idea.  Next time you create a PowerPoint presentation, take out half the words. See what that does. I bet more people pay attention to.


For more questions like these click here for a larger list called SCAMPER Questions on my blog.


How Does Creativity Relate to “Your” Job?

How Creativity Relates Your Job

When I speak with people at events and conferences about creativity, they tend to agree that creativity is a good thing. But for them personally, they don’t really see how it fits into their life. And I totally understand why someone would think this way. Historically, creativity has a confusing message.

But take it from me, creativity relates to your life and your method of doing business—no matter what you do. Wouldn’t you like for your employees to be more productive? Wouldn’t you like for your business to be more profitable. Or wouldn’t you just like to lead a happier, more meaningful life?

The skills related to creativity are flexibility, empathy, idea development, design, storytelling, problem solving, and so on. Creativity includes a huge range of skills related to contemporary life. As automation and outsourcing continue to change the nature of what we consider work, creativity becomes ever more relevant.

The definition I use is the production of something novel and useful. So when you solve a problem in a new and better way, you are being creative. Creativity can be big (paradigm changing) or small (personal). It doesn’t matter. Take for instance, if you decided to leave for work 20 minutes earlier each day in order to beat that traffic jam that occurs every morning as you get on the road. You may actually save time in your workday because you will be on the road for less time. As a result of not being in your car, you’ll be more productive and save gas. Let’s say as a result of leaving early, your daily commute is lessened by 10 minutes. Over the course of a year, you gain 40 hours of time. That’s like having a week vacation. Subsequently, it’s also a creative way for being more productive.

I’m using this example because where I live, leaving 20 minutes early can actually reduce my commute by about 20 minutes. But this is a small thing. What would happen if we were to scale up this type of thinking.

UPS did something similar to this a long time ago when they decided to just turn right. By minimizing left turns, they found that their truck routes were more efficient. Because of this policy, UPS has achieved the following:

  • Saved 10 million gallons of gas
  • Reduced CO2 emissions by 100,000 metric tons, equivalent to 5,300 passenger cars off the road for an entire year. UPS website


I think we often get confuse efficiency with effectiveness. UPS got it right. By thinking about the problem, running the numbers and including some unorthodox models, they were able to become much more effective, not just efficient. You can very efficiently do something wrong. Doing things effectively means doing things right.

Chance Favors the Prepared Mind

Chance favors the prepared mind

Over the summer, I had the privilege of serving as a reviewer for the Ocean Exchange. The Ocean Exchange is a nonprofit organization awarding grants to innovative ideas for improving our environment. They give two main grants, the Gulfstream Navigator Award and Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics Orcelle Award. Each is worth $100,000. It’s a very generous foundation with a great cause.

The conference for Ocean Exchange began on Sunday. The final winners will be decided later today. Starting the conference, the emcee Dain Dunston made an immediate impact. He opened with Louis Pasteur’s quote, “chance favors the prepared mind.” He followed with statements like, “prepare to see opportunity” and “observation predicts outcomes.” All these are profound and true.

What we expect to see largely determines what we actually see. Studies have shown that in situations with expectations, our first inclination is to think our expectations are being met. Take for instance, if I were sitting at a café table along the sidewalk waiting for a friend. Sitting at that table, I’m expecting to see the person I’m waiting for at any moment. Therefore, as each person walking toward me comes into view, I see my friend in them until otherwise proven wrong. First, it may be hair color that differentiates them as not being my friend. Or, it could be body shape.

This kind of expectation can also lead to what’s call change-blindness and innatentional blindness. These are forms of selectively seeing what we want to see. So if you want to see opportunity, prepare to see opportunity. If we try to see more opportunities, we will in fact do so.

One way to see more of what’s actually happening around us is to be more empathetic. That might seem odd, being empathetic to see better. But if we don’t understand someone else’s situation, it’s hard to see why they do things. Reality is very interpretive with many possible solutions for the same problem. Learning to see can help us be prepared for unexpected moments of insight.

To Be Creative, Choose a Lifestyle Not a Trick

Choose a lifestyle not a trick

I’ve read a ton of posts with tricks for being a better, smarter, more creative, or generally more successful person. I’m assuming that you have too. But honestly, do these tricks help—not really. They are fun to read and interesting to think about. But very few of us will actually be impacted by them. That’s because tricks don’t change behavior.

A long time ago I read some studies on the best methods for losing weight and getting in better shape. These were studies that dealt with actual results rather than hype. Surprisingly, the best method for being healthier didn’t involve a radical style of exercise, a gimmicky diet, the latest treadmill or some other quick fix. Instead, the research found that if you really want to get into shape, date someone who is already in shape.

It’s true. To change your lifestyle, you really need to change your general way of doing things. By dating someone who is already in shape, you’ll start picking up on their habits and begin incorporating them into your life. The sad part is that they probably will slide into a few of your tendencies. But there is a real lesson here. I have tons or methods for generating ideas and synthesizing concepts. And they do work. Or, you could buy the book “Thinkertoys.” It has hundreds of games and techniques in it. But none of these make you more creative in the long term. To have a more creative career, you have to actually develop a practice of being creative.

Something I’ve found through research and practice is that one of the best ways for gaining a more creative life is to become more curious.  It’s much easier for all those other things related to creativity to fall into place for a curious person than a person who isn’t curious. Curiosity works because it compels you to act, to seek out new things. Creativity people are problem finders. And curious people seek out problems. Curiosity comes from a knowledge gap that needs to be filled. Once you know you don’t know something, you will want to figure out what it is that you don’t know. So taking walks, camping, tinkering with stuff, talking to new people – these all lead to heightened curiosity. Curiosity isn’t a drive where the more you get the fuller you get. Instead, the more stimulus you get via curiosity,  the more curious you become.

But most of all, hang around others who are curious and creative. That is how you will actually increase your odds of being creative yourself.

Four insights from Kevin Carroll’s lecture

Four insights from Kevin Carroll lecture

Last week, I had the privilege of introducing Kevin Carroll to a packed auditorium of students and faculty. Rarely have I seen a speaker maintain the focus of hundreds of students for that long a time. They even stayed through the entire Q & A session. He brought down the house. If your company is looking for an inspirational speaker for creativity and innovation, I strongly recommend Kevin. His story is incredibly engaging, and he is definitely a positive agent of change. His website is here.

A few memorable lines from Kevin are:

  • A closed mouth don’t get fed: speak up for yourself if you want someone to listen.
  • Haters are my motivators: let the pessimism of others inspire you to act.
  • Be a catalyst – an excitatory agent that speeds up or changes a process, help others change their ideas into reality
  • Be a doer, not a talker: a lot of us talk about making a difference. But few of us actually go a head and do it.

Be a Catalyst for Change

Be a Catalyst for Change

Kevin Carroll is an inspirational speaker promoting creativity and social change. He’s got a great message and stage presence. Check out his TED Talk, from a while back. He’ll be speaking at SCAD this week. What really impresses me about him is that he’s promoting action over talk. We need to start doing what we are talking about. Additionally, he’s pushes the concepts of play and curiosity as motivators. His web site is here.