What is Creativity?

Nero and Burning of Rome

Rumor has it that Nero, the Roman Emperor, burned Rome and hoped that the traumatic experience, of watching the great city burn, would inspire him to produce great music. However many thinkers including British philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell, believe that a serene and peaceful frame of mind is the breeding ground of creative thought.

Definition of Creativity

Every scientific and technological breakthrough – from inventing the wheel to the wireless phone – was an act of creativity. Webster’s dictionary defines creativity as, “involving cognitive activity that results in a new way of viewing some problem or situation, and which is not necessarily restricted to practicality”. This definition of creativity, even though is fairly accurate, it does not give us any great insight into what creativity is. Now, my favorite definition of creativity comes from one of the greatest creative minds of all times, Pablo Picasso. He says, Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”.

What Picasso is saying here is that a child’s perception is free of all forms of prejudices, attitudes and opinions. A child sees things, essentially, as they are. And as the child grows his/her perceptions are shaped by age, gender, race, past experiences, religion, culture, geography history etc

How do we become creative?

Once again, we have to look to Picasso first for an answer to this question. Picasso goes on to say that, “It takes a long time to be young”. By this he means that it is not easy to get rid of all the filters – prejudices, values judgments, professional dispositions, attitudes and opinions that we have acquired over a life time. These pre-conceptions impede us from perceiving the world as it is. It requires great conscious effort to free ourselves from the shackles of our cultural prejudices and to perceive the world as is. This clear vision is the first step towards creativity.

Maslow and the hierarchy of needs

Another great thinker that comes to mind when discussing creativity is Abraham Maslow, whose theory of “The Hierarchy of Needs” revolutionized the concept of human motivation. According to his theory, humans are driven by needs that fit in a hierarchy – at the lowest level lie the physiological needs such as food, water and other biological necessities. Next in the hierarchy lie the need for safety and security, and then the need for a sense of community and love.  Fourth in the hierarchy comes the need for self-esteem and then finally Self Actualization. By the very nature of the hierarchy the lower needs take precedence over the higher needs. And as each need is satisfied the person will experience needs at the next higher level and is motivated to fulfill that need. At the final level, during self actualization, the individual exploits his creative potential and is true to his nature.

However, Maslow admits that there are exceptions to the hierarchy of needs,  “There are apparently innately creative people in whom; the drive to creativeness seems to be more important than any other counter determinant. Their creativeness might appear not as self actualization released by basic satisfaction but in spite of lack of basic satisfaction”.

Emerson and Edgar Rice Borough

In this context, incidents from the lives of two great personalities come to mind: According to legend, when Ralph Waldo Emerson came home in despair after being fired from his job, his wife is known to have handed him a paper and pen and told him to write. Thus began his now famous essays. Also, Edgar Rice Burroughs was a failure at every job he tried.  Finally at the age of 36 he secretly wrote his first Tarzan book, without even telling his wife. Tarzan stories became bestsellers and were later made into movies. Today, Tarzan is one of the indispensable icons of popular culture.

Bertrand Russell on Creativity

Bertrand Russell contends that most creative minds led relatively quiet lives, lacking in excitement, and they do not travel too much.   He believed that traveling or migrating from one place to another is a stressful experience and not conducive to creativity. He points out the examples of Socrates, who never travelled outside Athens and Karl Marx, who spent most of his life in London’s British Museum.

Creativity as an end unto itself

Creative persons do not use creativity as a means to an end; to them the creative undertaking is an end unto itself. These people are free from or oblivious to all their basic needs and have an open mind that perceives the world without any preconceptions. This person usually has a strong want to express this creative potential. And while the artist or writer is absorbed in creative activity this person does not feel hunger or thirst nor is this person tired or sleepy. At times the creative impulse will inject a burst of energy and a single-minded obsession with the creative activity such that the writer or artist will work for hours and days without seeming to tire.

Creativity – work and play

You may ask what kinds of people are capable of these great feats of creativity.  Can I be a Leonardo or a Michelangelo, you ask? Again a clue to the answer to these questions comes from Pablo Picasso. He states that, “Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time”. All great creative minds loved their work. For them there was no difference between work and play. Their daily activities were in complete harmony and so they were happy and they were very creative.

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Upon Being a Professional

Who is a professional? Is it your local plumber? Or is you’re lawyer a professional? In this blog I plan to explore the concept of professionalism, its various meanings and some real life examples. According to Webster’s dictionary, a professional is a person who belongs to one of the professions: a Lawyer, a Doctor, a Plumber, a Carpenter etc.

But that is not the only context in which we use the term professional: we use the term in sports when a player earns a living playing the game such as tennis or golf while some others play as amateurs. It is also used in the context of attire, “he is not dressed professionally,” meaning the person is casually dressed. And then the word is also used to refer to a person as an expert at what he or she does.

Definition of Professionalism

And then there is also the definition in Business dictionay.com, “professionalism is a meticulous adherence to undeviating courtesy, honesty, and responsibility in one’s dealings with customers and associates, plus a level of excellence that goes over and above financial considerations and legal requirements.”

It is the receptionist who will walk you to you destination instead of just telling you where to go.

It is the cashier who will save you money by pointing out an item on sale that you have over looked.

Professionalism is an attitude

Some of the attributes of a professional, courtesy, honest, and responsibility, are based on our attitude towards work. And an attitude is defined as “a way of looking at life; a way of thinking, feeling or behaving.”

And our attitudes, in turn, are based on our values such as pride, passion and beliefs.

1. Pride – I know this is a tricky word. It connotes arrogance, especially when one has         a high opinion of oneself. Personally, in defining my attitude – “Pride” means self-                 dignity. Pride prevents you from doing just enough to get by. If you know everything           you do at work has your name and signature on it, then you will give it your best shot           and nothing less.

Pride is awareness that people see you as a representative of your company, your                 department, etc., and therefore it is incumbent on you to behave in ways that bring               credit to you and your organization.

2. Passion – Just a simple plain ‘interest’ in any work or career you choose isn’t                   enough to bring you through the tough times. And trust me, there will be tough times.         It could be an unreasonable client or an impossible time-line. However, a burning desire       will pull you through these. An intense enthusiasm for all things worth doing will pull             you through the toughest times.

3. Belief – In order to generate that passion, it is important to believe. Only a deep             belief will create the vigor and force that gives you the fuel to charge. Know that you             can do all that you set out to do for yourself. You only need to start believing in                       yourself.

Professionalism and compensation

Being a professional in this sense has nothing to do with money or compensation. David Maister states “ .. Act like a true professional, aiming for true excellence, and the money will follow.”

One of the most famous statements in the Hindu holy book the Baghvat Geetha states “Do your duty and do not concern yourself with the fruits of your labor.”

Rabindranath Tagore the great Indian poet and Nobel laureate says, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I woke and saw that life was duty. I acted and behold! Duty was joy.”  The word duty here does not just mean your responsibility towards your job but also responsibilities as a member of a family and as a member your community.  I believe Mr. Tagore was thinking of the Hindu concept of “Dharma” when is talked about duty.

Professionalism and type of work

Also professionalism has nothing to do with the type of work you do.  You can be courteous, honest and responsible in any job or situation.  Professionalism has nothing to do with the profession — it’s all about the person.  It’s NOT the job you DO, It’s HOW you DO the job.

Your employer is your customer

Treat you employer as your customer. You are a business enterprise whether you own a company or you work for one. And always remember the adage, “Customer is always right.”

Michael Angelo and the Sistine Chapel

Michael Angelo the great Italian artist painted 12,000 square feet (1,100 meters) of the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512. He resented the commission, and believed his work only served the Pope’s need for grandeur. However, today the ceiling, and especially The Last Judgement, is considered Michelangelo’s crowning achievement in painting. According to a story in Reader’s Digest, when Michael Angelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a person walks in and observes him on top of a ladder in a dark corner of the Chapel craning his neck and stretching his hand in an uncomfortable angle and painting a floral design in this dark corner of the ceiling. The man asks Michael Angelo, “Why are you taking so much trouble to paint in this dark corner of the roof? No one can see it anyway and no one will know if you have painted correctly or not in this dark corner.

To which Michael Angelo replies, “I’ll know.”

That is the best example of a professional that I have come across.

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I Am Awake

Buddha on being Awake

What is being awake? We all sleep in the night and wake up in the morning. But are we truly awake? Let’s examine this term more closely.

Gautama Buddha was walking through a village soon after his enlightenment. He passed a man on the street who stared in amazement at Buddha’s extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped Buddha and asked,

“Noble sir, are you a messiah?”
“No”, answered Buddha.
“Then are you a healer?”
“No”, Buddha replied.
“Then are you a teacher?” the man persisted.
“No, I am not a teacher.”
“Then what are you?” asked the man exasperated.
“I am awake”, Buddha replied.

what was this different kind of awakening that Buddha was talking about? Buddha meant that by being awake he was totally aware of himself, his surroundings and reality or the truth.

We are all sleep walkers

Most of us sleep walk through life. For instance, every day I drive 20 miles to my office. But most of the time I don’t see a thing on my way. I drive like an automaton; listening to the radio; thinking about my work, and if someone asked me what I saw on the way I would be clueless. And the other day I was talking to a friend who just came back from a cruise. He was telling me all the things he saw and did and I asked him if he was able catch any sunrises or sunsets. He dismissed my question with “I was too busy and never thought about it.” It was John Lennon who once said, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy doing something else.

We live in a subjective world – “wear tinted glasses”

Not only are we caught up in our daily activities but even when we see, our perception filters reality. And the filters we see through are based on our experiences, our attitudes, beliefs, prejudices etc.,

A classic example of how our experiences affect our perception is – imagine a geologist and an ornithologist (bird watcher) taking a walk together down a country road. After the walk if you ask them to describe the walk they will both give you two different versions of what they saw. The ornithologist will talk of the various birds and their habitat he has seen and the geologist will talk of the different types of rocks and rock formations that he observed. Both have been on the same road but their life experiences decide what they see and what they don’t.

We all look at the world through tinted glasses. Our perception is colored by our personality and our personality is determined by our genetics, our culture, our religion, our family upbringing and our attitudes. Therefore what you see and what I see is totally different because we are wearing different tinted glasses. And what both of us are seeing is not necessarily the real thing at all.

Buddhism and the four types of Awareness

To Buddha then being “awake” means overcoming these subjective limitations and seeing the reality as it is.

Zen Buddhism provides some insights into being totally aware. It teaches us that there are four levels of awareness:  The first level is self-awareness. This means actually experiencing oneself – how our bodies feel; what kinds of thoughts and images pass through our minds; which emotions arise and fall. One valuable method of self-awareness is to practice doing one thing at a time — doing it fully and with awareness — rather than attempting several things at once. For instance when driving the car jus enjoy the drive, don’t listen to the radio or think about other things.

The second level is awareness of others. This means seeing persons not as objects – to see people more fully and objectively, rather than just reacting subjectively to them. The third level is awareness of the environment; that is, of what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch around us. To practice this level of awareness we must trying to notice things.

Finally, there is awareness of Reality. Although awareness of reality, in the full sense, isthe highest point of spiritual life and our practice of all other levels of awareness, it can also be developed along the way. According to Buddhism, to perceive reality one must understand the essential impermanence of life, relationships and the world around us and overcome attachment to material things that cause misery (dukha).

Henry Thoreau

Henry Thoreau the great 19th century American philosopher also discusses the idea of awareness in his book Walden.  At one point he states, “To be awake is to be alive”.

Thoreau’s idea of being awake is supported by his idea of “living deliberately,” that is living each moment to its fullest potential, and appreciating the present for what it is. He wishes to truly be awake in that he wants to comprehend fully all that is absorbed by the senses. “The millions are awake enough for physical labor…only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life.”

Stop and Smell the roses.

In conclusion then we must live deliberately and consciously savoring every moment. And don’t forget to stop and smell the roses once in a while.

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In Praise of Selfishness

What is Selfishness?

Webster’s dictionary defines selfishness as “too much concerned with one’s own welfare or interests and having little or no concern for others; self-centered.”

Society generally frowns upon selfish behavior and as a rule praises altruistic behavior – the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.  But there is more to selfishness than meets the eye. And it is my intention today to explore this concept.  Please allow me to tell you a short story that depicts selfishness in a different light.

Howard Roark in Fountain Head

It is from the book “Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. This is a story of Howard Roark, an architect in the 1940s, who comes up with a creative architectural method or style. He believes that a building’s site and material used must dictate its style and appearance. But in those days there were a number of schools of architecture – Classical, Gothic, Renaissance, Neoclassical etc. And most people preferred to build using the architects belonging to these schools. And as with anything new it was very difficult for Howard Roark to convince prospective customers to use his architectural style. But he did get some work and gradually his reputation grew. Howard had one quirk, however, he did not allow the customer to change his design is anyway. He refused to mix his style with other architectural styles.  As the story unfolds it was a time of severe economic recession and very few people were building anything and Howard did not have any work and he was almost broke. Then there was one building project were they liked Howard’s designs and were willing to give him the job. But one of the director’s son was a budding architect and wanted to add his own ideas – a classical balcony here and a patio there to the structure. But Howard refused. It went back and forth for a while and finally the board of director’s of the company gave him an ultimatum, either accept the changes or else the contract will be canceled. Howard refuses and walks away. One of the director’s who was also his friend pulls him aside and scolds him, “What are you doing? I know you are almost broke and you desperately need this contract. Why are you being so selfless and refusing the contract for some abstract principle?” Howard looks at him in a bit of surprise and says, “This is the most selfish thing I have ever done”, and walks out of the room.

This act of standing up for his principles knowing that it would lead him to poverty and destitution was a selfish act but a different kind of selfish act than what we normally see. We have seen this type of behavior in many great people throughout history. Socrates died by execution for sticking to his principles, Jesus was crucified for his novel ideas on the path to human happiness and salvation. Gandhi endured great suffering and eventually was assassinated for standing up to his ideals, so was Martin Luther King. For all these people, their ideals and principles were an extension of themselves and life without following their principle was not an option to them. That is the mark of their greatness. And it is also a form of selfishness – enlightened selfishness.

Enlightened Self-interest

Another form of enlightened selfishness is when someone acts in a seemingly unselfish way but he or she has a long-term self-interest in mind. The best example of this is the behavior of Don Corleone in “The God Father”. He never refused to help anyone who comes up to him and asks for a favor. Once when his son asks him why he helps everyone, he states, “I’m like an arctic explorer who stashes food in the snow, on the way to the North Pole, so that I can get it on the way.” That is enlightened self-interest.

Also we all are familiar with the principle in the book and the movie “Pay it forward”. In this story a good Samaritan saves authors life. After he gets well he tries in vain to find the good Samaritan, finally he stops searching and decides that instead of repaying the good Samaritan he will “pay it forward”, that is, do good to others and hopes this will a catch on and benefit more and more people.

Short term self-interest

We have seen selfishness in the form of adherence to an ideal or principle at the risk of great harm to oneself and we have also seen examples of long-term self-interest. And we are also familiar with the short-sighted, self-centered behavior of people who causes great unhappiness to people around them. We are all too familiar with crime, violence and physical and mental abuse of people. And we are also familiar with the selfish myopic behavior at the corporate and societal levels too: striving to increase short-term profits by laying off workers, cutting corners in product quality etc. Also the global warming and pollution of our air and seas is nothing but short-sighted self-interest with long-term negative consequences.


In conclusion then, there is nothing wrong in selfish behavior. After all we are the best judge about what is good for us and we are the only ones who know how to best take care of ourselves. In conclusion then, there is nothing wrong in selfish behavior.  But we should not lose sight of the fact that it is in our interest that everybody else around us also live a happy and fulfilling life in a healthy and abundant environment.  And by everyone around us I mean the world.

If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years.– Bertrand Russel

Umesh Jetty

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It’s All Inside

All our inhibitions, limitations, issues and the solutions to these problems are inside us. Nobody else but we have the power to resolve these issues. But we are always looking somewhere outside ourselves for solutions.  Please allow me to illustrate this point with a small story.

Wild Geese II

I saw an eighties movie called “Wild Geese 2” recently. The story concerns a television network company that hires a group of mercenaries to engineer the kidnapping of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s second in command during World War II, from Spandau prison in West Germany. The mercenaries’ hope to force Hess to divulge hidden Nazi secrets left hidden since the 1940s. The story is set in 1982 London. Hess was in prison for 37 yrs.

Long story short the mercenaries manage to drug Hess and extract him from prison and bring him to London. After he wakes up and the mercenaries tell him that he is free now and can do what ever he wants, to their surprise, Hess pleads with them to return him to prison. Hess says that he is an old man and does not know what to do with his life.

“Please allow me to spend the reminder of my life in prison where I spent the last 37 years”, he pleads.

After some deliberation the leader of the mercenaries drops Rudolf Hess outside the French embassy. And they show Hess walking slowly towards the gates of the French embassy, then he stops, turns around and says, “You think I’m crazy don’t you, for wanting to go back to prison?” To which the mercenary replies, “No, I understand. We all live in prisons, only yours have bars”.

Our inhibitions are inside us

I found that statement very profound and it is also so true. We are constrained by a number of inhibitions due to fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of the unknown and so on. But the point is that, all these limitations are inside us and the power to overcome them is also inside us, not out there in the world.

Actions and Interpretations

You see, we take some action and then we get a response. The response we get is just that, a response. How we perceive and interpret that response is up to us. And most of the time our interpretation depends on our unique personality, our experiences, attitudes etc. The response is interpreted by some as a failure and they quickly give up and by others as an opportunity to try another approach.

Most of the time all you need to do is re-interpret the response in a more positive light. I do this all the time. Initially I look at any negative response as a set back. But I re-think a little and look at it from a different perspective and it is not so bad. And I move on. In the next few paragraphs let’s look at some of these fears and inhibitions and how a change in attitude makes all the difference.

Fear of Failure

You see someone, and you want to approach and strike a conversation, but you are afraid they will scorn your advances and you stay put.  You want to ask your boss for a raise but are afraid that he will say no and don’t ask at all.

But the point is that failure leads to success. Do you know that a guided missile makes a series of errors and corrections before it reaches its target. You must have also heard of the statement, “Ready, Shoot, Aim!”

Yes that’s right, not “Ready, Aim, Shoot.” You first shoot and see where the bullet is going and then correct your aim and shoot again. That’s the only way to hit your target.

Fear of public opinion – The 18/40/60 Rule

One major cause that governs our behavior is social pressure “what will people think?” or what will people say?”

I want to dance in the rain but I’m afraid of what the neighbors will think. A friend of mine wants to wear shorts to the office but is afraid that people may laugh at him.

When ever I come across situations involving social pressure I think of the “18/40/60” rule I first read about it in the Success Principles by Jack Canfield. When you’re 18, you worry about what everybody is thinking of you; when you 40, you don’t give a darn what anybody thinks of you; when you’re 60, you realize nobody’s been thinking about you at all! People spend all their lives worrying and thinking about themselves, not you!

Fear of the Unknown

You love to sing but are afraid to give up your day job and follow your dream of becoming a singer, because you’re afraid that you’ll fail and have to starve.

We are all familiar with the sayings, “Better safe than sorry” and “A Bird in hand is better than two in the bush”. But the point is that unless we venture out, try our hand at new things, we will never know what our abilities are.

I read the story of this faith healer in a book called “Illusions” by Richard Bach. This person has the power to heal all manners of disease by just touching the sick person. People from all over come to him to get healed. They call him “Messiah” and “Deliverer” and pray to him. The faith healer protests and says, “ I am no different from you. We are all similar to small creatures in a great river clinging to the rocks while the river flows by. We hang on to the rocks because we are afraid of what may happen if we let go. I decided to let go of the rocks. I flowed down the river a little and then crashed into the rocks. I did it again and again I crashed into the rocks. But the next time when I let go, I started floating down river, the river carried me along with it. Down stream some other creatures that were clinging to the rocks saw me and cried, ‘Look! There goes a flying creäture.’ That is the only difference between us”.

The faith healer in the story above just let go of his secure life and moorings and surrendered himself to the flow of life. Initially he failed but soon he started flowing  to new and unchartered regions and having whole new experiences.

All the great men in history were people who took that first step into unknown territory – Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Ludwig van Beethoven, Galileo, Newton and many others. They were pioneers who ventured into new and unknown territories. There greatness is discernible from how they lived their lives and the boldness with which they explored the unknown. Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the true source of all art and science.”

Life is a Movie

In conclusion then please allow me to present this short quote from the writings of Dr. Dennis Waitley, motivational author and lecturer:

“Life is the movie you see
through your own unique eyes.
It makes little difference
what’s happening out there.
It’s how you take it
that counts.”

Umesh Jetty

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