Zig Zag: A book review by Bob Morris

Zig ZagZig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity
Keith Sawyer
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2013)

Cutting edge thinking and practical advice on how to follow a path less traveled to breakthrough creativity

After introducing eight “powerful, surprisingly simple” steps to creativity, Keith Sawyer observes, “Exceptional creators often zig zag through all eight steps, in varying order, every day. That’s part of the secret. because the steps work together to generate successful creativity. Each step feeds the other seven.” I presume to add, each step can also activate the other seven. Long ago, thanks to a Dudley Crafts Watson Scholarship Fund for public school students in Chicago, I was able to take classes at the Art Institute while in grades 5-12. Guest artists and art historians favored different creative approaches and suggested different steps in the process but all agreed that it is seldom (if ever) linear, and, as Sawyer affirms, is proactive rather than reactive.

Paradoxically, insights cannot be forced but seem to appear most frequently within an environment that will welcome them and nourish them. Matisse was once asked of he painted all the time. “Oh no, but when my muse visits me, I better have a brush in my hand.” I think it was Baudelaire who, when asked “How to write a poem?”, replied this way after a lengthy pause to reflect. “Draw a birdcage and leave the door open. Then you must wait. Perhaps for hours and even for days. Then, if you’re blessed, a bird will fly in. Erase the cage.”

Few are comparable with Matisse and Baudelaire in terms of creative genius but Sawyer insists that almost anyone can think, indeed live much more creativity. No one will ever complete each of the eight steps. The process of continuous improvement in each of the separate but interdependent domains is best viewed as a process, not as a destination. It is worth noting that Picasso struggled throughout his adult life to regain a childlike perception of reality. He was 91 when he died.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Sawyer’s coverage:

o Mistakes We Should All Avoid (Pages 10-12)
o Find the [Right] Question, (26-36)
o Practice Deliberately (53-61)
o Use Fresh Eyes (78-88)
o Find the Right Box (116-125)
o Ideate (132-141)
o Force Fuse, and, Make Analogies (157- 167)
o Know What You’re Looking For, and, Edit, Revise, and Improve (179-185 and 189-191)
o Draw It, Build It, and Reflect on It (201-205, 207-209, and 211-213)

Before concluding his lively as well as eloquent narrative, Keith Sawyer observes, “Creativity is not a moment in time; it’s a way of life. Live the creative life. Don’t worry about having ideas; when you follow the eight steps, the ideas will come to you. And the more ideas you have, the more likely you are to come upon one that’s brilliant. So brilliant, it will look, to everyone else, like it cam in a flash. With a leap of insight. By magic. You’ll know better.”

I hope this book helps you to generate a blizzard of ideas, and, that at least a few of them are brilliant. In that event, don’t worry about protecting them. Keep Howard Aiken’s observation in mind: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

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