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Get Into Your Creative Flow

Lesson 5 of 32

The Creative Personality

Steven Kotler

Get Into Your Creative Flow

Steven Kotler

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Lesson Info

5. The Creative Personality

Lesson Info

The Creative Personality

I want to jump in and talk a little bit about the creative personality type, because it is different from most people. Creative people show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude. This is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. You probably are familiar with his name. He's often called the Godfather of flow psychology. He was the chairman of the University of Chicago's Psychology department, in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. He's now at Drucker University here in California. He is one of the most pioneering flow researchers there is, but for my money, he's better in creativity than he is on flow. His books on creativity are fantastic. I think he's done more foundational work on creativity than anybody else out there, even though he's really known for flow. If you haven't read, for example, his book Creativity, absolutely essential reading, definitely check it out. So I want to talk a...

bout what Csikszentmihalyi meant by that and what he discovered in terms of the creative personality. Now, I also want to say, when I think about creatives, when I think about professional creatives, that this class is for professional creatives, what do I really mean? How would I identify a professional creative? One thing is by the personality type we're about to talk about, second of all, I think of creatives as people who are obsessed with the next project. So when you complete something, even if it's going to make you super famous, super rich, you could give a shit. You're already on to the next thing. Right, it doesn't matter, that's done. It's really funny, along these lines, a good friend of mine whose a documentary film maker. One of those, I mean, award winning documentary film makers who came out of Cleveland, and I remember early on, my career was taken off a little bit, and he was a little bit behind me, and his first documentary was coming out. And he came up to me, he was like, "Dude, how do you publish these magazines articles? "Like you write an article for the New York Times "and a million people share your opinion, "but how do you deal with the pressure?" I was like, "Dude, I don't know." Like by the time the article's coming out, like forget about it, I care about my next article. I finished that article six months ago, or three months ago. I don't even know it's out, like most of the time, I don't even ask my editors to tell me when it comes out because I don't care. I care about the next project, I care about the fact that I get to be creative for a living. I care about what I learned back in Coventry, which is creativity can save my life. Probably saved, who in here by the way has had their life saved by their creativity? Just out of curiosity, awesome, okay, cool. Alright, so let's talk about the creative personality type, let's talk about the binaries. The thing that's interesting about creativity and creatives, is we are both and; you're not an either or. Most people tend to be either or, energetic and sedate. Creatives need tremendous amount of energy to go out into the world, explore, gather ideas, and yet you spend massive, massive, massive amounts of time alone, lost in your own thought, in rumination, by yourself, and you have to be able to manage both, right? Simultaneously, you are very, very smart and very, very naive, and the naivety is absolutely fundamental, because when that creative idea shows up in your head, you have to be dumb enough to actually think it's a good idea, and worth pursuing, right? It's got to pop in your head, and you have to think to yourself, "Oh wow, this is so good, "I'm willing to spend five years on this," right? My first book, eleven years, I threw it out four times along the way, right? But that first idea was so compelling to me, and I believed in it, I was naive enough to believe in it so much, I was willing to put eleven years in to see it all the way through, right? And once again, you also have to be smart, right? Creativity, and we're going to learn this along the way, if you're not a reader, and you want to be a professional creative, learn to read. We're going to get into why as we go along, but smartness is not optional if you want to be a successful creative. Extremely playful and extremely disciplined, right? You have to be very, very goofy in your approach to life, stirring up new things. You also have to be extremely disciplined. I have gotten up every day at four in the morning to write since I was 28, I'm 50. Have not missed a morning, four am, I start no matter what. I'm also extremely playful, so your likely to find me in the bar at one o'clock in the morning, right, balance. Alright, fantastical and realistic. Also critical, similar to smart and naive. You have to be able to let your imagination roam, obviously, but you also have to be able to be very, very realistic. And you have to be very, very thick skinned. Very, very thick skinned, I came through a creative writing program and then I came through a kind of a professional career as a journalist, and in both cases, people were merciless. I was actually asked to leave my undergraduate creative writing program because I was so difficult. (laughing) There were other reasons, and yes I was thrown out of my undergraduate creative writing program. Extroversion and introversion, we covered this earlier. Both show up in creatives, right? Very, very outgoing, when the time is right. Very, very introverted simultaneously, right? Ambitious and selfless, this is really key. You need burning fire ambition, if you want to be successful as a creative. And I want to kind of pull back for half a second, and say my focus here today, is not on individual creative projects, not on what you're working on now, and how to be more creative, right? And this class is definitely not about what color is my parachute, right, I don't know what I'm passionate about, I got to figure it out. For people who are watching at home, for the people who want to buy kind of the digital content that we are going to offer later, there will be a module on this, about how to kindle passion, but we're not going to talk about it at all today. I'm assuming you guys are all professional creatives, and we're going to start there. And ambition is really fundamental. It is really hard to be a professional creative. We'll go over the numbers a little bit later, but let's just say that the deck is stacked way against you. You also have to be very, very selfless. As I said, as a journalist, the editing process, it's ruthless, people say all kinds of horrific things to you, and you have to be humble enough and selfless enough to take it in and say, "Okay, this is great information. "My ego doesn't matter here," really critical. Conservative and rebellious, successful creatives, this is really tricky for a lot of creatives, because they don't think about the conservative part, but if you are a good creative, right? That's me as a writer, I have to have embodied the whole of the writing tradition up til now. I am the tip of the spear, I am standing on that entire writing tradition, and I have to know it, and I have to want to conserve it, right? That's part of it, you can't just throw away the ideas. I want to tell you, by the time I got to grad school, I sort of came into fiction writing backwards. I started out as a poet, my grammar was terrible. I didn't really know how to spell, until I was into grad school, and they almost threw me out literally, of grad school, as well, because I could not spell. I mean like, okay. (laughing) So I ignored the whole conservative stuff. I came in through the rebellion, but you have to be both, and by the time I actually was making a living as a creative, I had kind of mastered everything I kind of ignored along the way. Humble and proud, same kind of binary. Passionate and objective, same kind of binary. Very, very passionate, but you have to be able to pull back and look at things objectively. Very, very sensitive, very, very cold. This is tricky for a lot of people, and it's also really tricky for the people who love creatives, right? Our significant others, our partners have a really tough time, because creatives are extremely hypersensitive, as it tends to be, but they can also be extremely cold, and you have to cultivate both. When I'm working on a book, when I'm buried in a book, I get no news whatsoever, I turn off the outside world. I don't want to know about it, I have to be cold to everything that's going on, because I need so much said sensitivity, that's fired way up, so I have to balance, and I have to manage my life. So here's the thing, and I've talked to Csikszentmihalyi about this, and we're in slight disagreement. So I don't know who's right or wrong, and more research needs to be done. And which, by the way, we're going to do a lot of science here today, a lot of this is very cutting edge. So I'm going to try to tell you what's exact, what we really know, and places where it's a little gray and more work needs to be done. What it seems like and what it seems that we're learning is these both than personality types are a byproduct of creative thinking. So if you're going to become more creative and that is what today is about, right? We'll amplify your creativity along the way. You're going to end up becoming more both and, not less. These both and things, first of all, the world doesn't work this way. Most people are not wired this way. This is difficult, and what I mean by difficult, is creativity is dangerous, I'm not joking here. Creatives have the highest suicide rate in the world. We have an increased risk of depression. 17 percent more increased in creatives. 17 percent higher chances of bipolar disorder, and creative men are 20 percent more likely to kill themselves, creative women, 60 percent more likely to kill themselves. Really, really, really creativity is a dangerous profession, this is not easy. Interestingly, along those lines, they now know that really successful creatives tend to have schizophrenic relatives. There is a link, we've all heard about the link between creativity and insanity. It's not direct, but it's something about the leaky brains of schizophrenics. You can't have to much of a leaky brain, too much information coming in, otherwise it will push you into madness, but one of the things they find over and over when they do biographical studies of creatives is they tend to have schizophrenics in the family. My uncle is schizophrenic, I've got a couple people. So many that my father's now actually very, very active with several charities for schizophrenia, and you start talking to really creative people about schizophrenia in their family, and you'll find it. It is not easy, so a lot of what we're going to be doing today is trying to make it less dangerous.

Class Description

Do you want to learn more about flow? Take the Free Flow Profile to find out if you are a Deep Thinker, Crowd Pleaser, Hard Charger, or Flow Goer.

If creativity is already core to your life, then this program is perfect for you. This could mean you’re a copywriter at an ad agency, a scientist hunting a breakthrough, a coder designing software, an entrepreneur dreaming up your next start-up, a writer aching to finish that novel or a landscape painter trapped in the life of an accountant — all that matters is that generating novel ideas (and putting those ideas out in the world in some form or another) is core to your life and purpose.

Why Does “Flow for Creatives” even matter?

  • You keep losing the battle to be innovative in the rush to be productive.

  • You have writer’s block or coder’s block or painter’s block and the thing you used to love most in your life has become a source of pain and frustration.

  • You have trouble managing your emotions and fear keeps getting in the way of your good ideas.

  • You have trouble sustaining momentum on projects and tend to quit early rather than to finish what you started.

  • You have no idea how to gain access to groundbreaking insights and ideas when you need them most.

  • You don’t actually believe creativity is trainable.

  • You’re numbing yourself with substances and placating yourself with distractions as a way to ignore the fact that you’re not living up to your creative potential.

  • You get lost in the fixing to get ready phase, and never get down to business.

  • You keep bashing into creative walls but never breaking thru.

  • Your emotions keeping getting in the way of your desired outcomes. Fear of failure keeps you from committing to projects; perfectionism keeps you from making your work public.

Flow For Creatives can help.

It’s like an inspiration turbo-boost training program. It’s practical, experiential and experimental. You learn a new idea about Flow and Creativity, apply it to whatever problem you’re trying to solve, see what happens, then make it your own.

And, did you know…

  • When in Flow, your creative problem-solving abilities can spike by over 400 percent.

  • Research done at Harvard shows that the heightened creativity produced by Flow can outlast the state by a day, sometimes two—suggesting that Flow actually trains the brain to think more creatively over the long haul.

  • Creatives are more prone to depression than most people, but an understanding of the process can protect against this liability.

  • Creativity tops the list of 21st-century skills—meaning those skills that are essential for thriving in the modern world—yet 75 percent of people think they’re not living up to their creative potential.

  • The baseline brainwave state produced by Flow is also the ready condition for “Ah-ha” insight, meaning being in the zone makes you primed for breakthrough insight.

  • Fear blocks creativity, while Flow resets the nervous system, calming us down so we can avoid burnout and gain access to much-needed insight.

  • Unless you know how to train the brain properly, most people tap into their deepest creative potential at age 5.

  • Frustration is actually a built-in component of the creative process—it’s a sign that you’re moving in the right direction not a sign that you’re going about it all wrong.

Life is better than ever and we are feeling worse than evener. We are neurotic, stressed, unmotivated and it’s literally killing us. This class is for anyone that is serious about staying in their highest performing state.

*Warning: this instructor occasionally uses strong language. Viewer discretion advised*

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Jeremy Richardson

I've watched and participated in many webinars and online classes, and this was by far one of the best. The depth and breadth of information that Steven covers in this class is not only really important, but he structures it in a way that is engaging and most importantly: PRACTICAL. I'm coming out of this with a clear list of ways to improve my ability to get into Flow while accomplishing all of my creative endeavors. I highly recommend this to anyone who would like to do the same!


This is amazing. Steven is hitting so many pain point for me about reframing my fear. He is also an amazing presenter. Thank you, Steven! I am excited, I am excited, I am excited!

Isaac Freed

Utterly mind blowing. Wow. A few hours listening to Steven Kotler felt more like a few days. He has done his research, and offers so much practical application advice that I will review this material several times. Well worth it, and highly recommended. Thank you, Creative Live!