Debunking the Myth About the Creative Process

MozartThere is a very interesting article I read recently called “The Creativity Myth” – Creativity is not what we think it is. I heartily encourage you to read the article in its entirety but if you don’t have the time, here’s the gist of it (with some extrapolation of  my own)…

We have a romantic idea about genius and creativity like it is some magical power only certain people wield. Myths about geniuses like Mozart perpetuate that idea because we have been led to believe that his musical masterpieces come to him in a flash of inspiration. He would hear the entire composition in his head – just like that – and all he would have to do is write it down. We cling to this idea because it gives us an excuse for not attempting to emulate his genius – what would be the point when he was so far beyond anything we could ever hope to achieve?

Such myths must be debunked and exposed for the lie that it is because it works against the nature of the true creative spirit – the one where you actually have to put in the work before reaping the results. And yes, even Mozart had to work for his genius. There is no denying that Mozart was “exceptionally talented, but he did not write by magic. He sketched his compositions, revised them, and sometimes got stuck. He could not work without a piano or harpsichord. He would set work aside and return to it later. He considered theory and craft while writing, and he thought a lot about rhythm, melody, and harmony. Even though his talent and a lifetime of practice made him fast and fluent, his work was exactly that: work. Masterpieces did not come to him complete in uninterrupted streams of imagination, nor without an instrument, nor did he write them down whole and unchanged.”

In Psychology Today, there is a terrific explanation on how we fall prey to the Mozart Myth. We may work on a project with numerous ideas that we struggle with for months without really getting anywhere and then, in a stroke of insight, we discover a way to tie everything together and our masterpiece is complete. When asked about this amazing masterpiece that we have created, we may only recall the “aha!” moment when everything fell into place, but not the endless nights of struggling with the individual ideas.

The most powerful message we can take away from this about how the creative process works is best summed up in a quote I once stumbled upon:

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” – Somerset Maugham

Or as Jack London put it so aptly:

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

You can hear more about the Creative Myth from David Burkus:

You can also read more about it here:

Memory Tactics: The Memory Palace

If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results. – Anthony Robbins

If you want a phenomenal memory, follow what Joshua Foer did…

Who is Joshua Foer?

Joshua Foer is a freelance journalist with a primary focus on science. More importantly, he was the 2006 U.S.A. Memory Champion – a skill that he trained himself to develop using methods that he had learned from top “mental athletes”. Joshua Foer’s yearlong quest to improve his memory is documented in his bestselling book “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything“. The methods described are drawn from cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of remembering, and venerable tricks of the mentalist’s trade that transform our understanding of human memory.

How Joshua Foer Improved his Memory

In the following video, Joshua Foer talks about the methods he learned that helped him to improve his own memory and to win the 2006 US Memory Championship.

Some of the techniques he talks about we have covered in the previous post on Memory Tactics. He also refers to a memory method called the Memory Palace.

What is the Memory Palace?

Also referred to as the Mind Palace or the Method of Loci, the Memory Palace is a mnemonic device from Ancient Greece that enhances memory by using visualisation to organise and recall information. According to the Smithosonian, this is how your employ this method:

To use the technique, visualize a complex place in which you could physically store a set of memories. That place is often a building such as a house, but it can also be something like a road with multiple addresses. In the house version, every room is home to a specific item you want to remember. To take advantage of the mind’s ability to hold onto visual memories, it often helps to embellish the item being stored—the milk you need to buy at the grocery store might become a vat of milk with a talking cow swimming in it. When those memories need to be recalled, you can walk through the building in your mind, seeing and remembering each item.

Joshua Foer explains more about the Memory Palace in his TED Talk – Feats of memory anyone can do:

Using the Memory Palace

The following Youtube video gives a very basic example of how to use the Memory Palace:

Of course, if you truly want to emulate Foer, you should check out his book for more memory tactics…

About Moon Walking with Einstein

Moonwalking with Einstein follows Joshua Foer’s compelling journey as a participant in the U.S. Memory Championship. As a science journalist covering the competition, Foer became captivated by the secrets of the competitors, like how the current world memory champion, Ben Pridmore, could memorize the exact order of 1,528 digits in an hour. He met with individuals whose memories are truly unique—from one man whose memory only extends back to his most recent thought, to another who can memorize complex mathematical formulas without knowing any math. Brains remember visual imagery but have a harder time with other information, like lists, and so with the help of experts, Foer learned how to transform the kinds of memories he forgot into the kind his brain remembered naturally. The techniques he mastered made it easier to remember information, and Foer’s story demonstrates that the tricks of the masters are accessible to anyone. – Miriam Landis

Enhancing Your Memory with Memory Tactics


Image Credit: Stuart Miles /

Having a phenomenal memory is a great asset to have, but even if you feel you weren’t blessed with a good memory, there are a number of tricks you can employ that will help you remember more. Here they are…


Chunking is the technique of organizing or combining individual pieces of information into “chunks” or groups. This facilitates easy retrieval of the information as students have to memorize the chunks instead of the individual information. These chunks also act as cues, allowing for easy recollection of information. – Professional Learning Board

Our short-term memory is only capable of remembering a limited number of items at any one time. The magic number is supposedly 7 – give or a take a couple. If we want to be able to remember more, we need to group bits of information together in a process called “chunking”. For instance, if you had to remember the number:


Instead of trying to memorise each digit individually, you could break up the number into groups:

1812 (Tchaikovsky’s Overture)
007 (James Bond’s number)
2013 (Last year)
711 (7 Eleven store)

In this manner, you would have seemingly doubled your short-term memory capacity from 7 items to 14 items, although technically, you’re only remembering 4 items.

To better understand the power of chunking for improving recall, watch the following video explaining how grand chess master Susan Polgar is able to recall the random positions of 24 chess pieces after a 3 second glance:

Linking Memory

The Link Method is a memory technique that facilitates recall by making simple associations between items in a list, linking them with a vivid image containing the items. Start with the first image and create a connection between it and the next item, then progressively move through the list, linking each item to the next. Alternatively, you can also link the items together through a memorable story featuring each of the items. The flow of the story and the strength of the images give you the cues for retrieval. – Mind Tools

See also: Linking Memory

The following video is a good demonstration of how linking memory works:

Linking memory is a great memory method that can be employed to remember information for school. For example, if you were trying to remember the elements of the periodic table, you could use this story:

Peg Memory

Similar to the linking memory system, the peg memory system has one difference – it allows you to recall items in a particular order. For instance, if you needed to remember what item number 15 was, you would be able to recall it instantly using the peg memory, as opposed to the linking memory method that would require you to run through the entire story from the beginning until you arrive at item number 15.

Before you can use the peg memory, you first need to have a peg system – a list of items that you have connected with a specific number, for instance:

  1. Sun
  2. Shoe
  3. Tree
  4. Door
  5. Hive
  6. Sticks
  7. Heaven
  8. Gate
  9. Wine
  10. Hen

Each of these pegs are connected with a number through rhyme – one and sun, two and shoe, three and tree, and so on. It doesn’t matter what peg system you use as long as you can remember it.

Once you have a peg system, you can remember any list of items in order by associating each item in order with your peg system.

See also: Peg Memory

Here’s an example of the peg system being used to remember a list of items: