Embracing Creative ADD and Thinking Inside the Circle

photo by mark sebastian

[Note: Creativity is something very personal to me. Without creativity, there is nothing but a vacuum. The adventure of creating something new, the anticipation of discovering what lies around the next corner is something I live for.]

There is a lot of advice out there on how to be more creative and remove the blocks that might hinder your creativity. I think, however, that the greatest way to be more creative is often overlooked; thinking inside the circle and embracing Creative ADD (want to ride bikes?).

It’s a common misconception that being creative means being more focused. That somehow if you were able to just hone in on your task with laser sharp focus, you would find the creative insight you were desperately searching for. While focus is important, trying to force a creative act stifles creativity. Because the whole point of being creative is to have fun, right? If you feel as though must create, you may as well burn Creativity at the stake.

There is a different approach available to cure this potential mishap, that I feel is unfortunately neglected. Adopting this innovative process has had an extraordinary impact on all of my ideas.

A lot of people talk about “thinking outside the box” when it comes to creative genius. I hear things like this all the time: “Oh he really thinks outside the box,” “She is so far outside the box, the box doesn’t even exist!” All of these nonsensical references to thinking inside and outside and on top of boxes hasn’t really helped me much. The more I tried to think outside the box, the bigger the box seemed to get. I was so obsessed with thinking outside the box, it began to follow me around.

What did help me was “thinking inside the circle” and planting the creative seed. While I was shamelessly bashing on keeping super-focused, I must admit it does have one powerful benefit: identifying the core. If you can’t identify the core of the problem you’re trying to fix, no amount of creative sidestepping is going to save you. Form without function is nothing. So all that focusing does one valuable thing; it helps you plant the creative seed. Identify your core issue, as close to the center of the circle as possible, and plant your seed there.

Every time I plant a creative seed, one of two things happens:
  • It starts to take root and grow in my subconscious. Gradually, new associations and connections are formed, and some very interesting things start to happen. This is a sign that the idea is worth pursuing.
  • If the idea is worthless, however, it will hold on for dear life and then, eventually, it will whither and die. This is not a bad thing.
Thinking inside the circle does a few things:
  • By getting to the core of your problem, you gain clarity toward possible solutions.
  • You’re able to evaluate whether or not the idea is worth pursuing.
  • Planting the creative seed gives your subconscious a solid anchor.
  • The more conscious focus you place on your seed, the more it will take root in your subconscious.
  • By planting inside the circle, your subconscious mind will gradually flourish into a creative tree, fully equipped with roots, branches, leaves & even a tire swing if all goes well.

Sometimes our greatest ideas lie on the fringes of our creativity. They are much like an exceptionally colored leaf on the edge of the tallest branch; one that could have been easily missed if we weren’t paying close attention.

When engaging in idea generation, embracing creative ADD is the best tool you can use to spawn creative connections. The whole point is to let go of judgment and to simply accept whatever comes to be. If you’re not coming up with any interesting ideas, you’re either trying to hard or it needs more time to develop. Or you might need to heighten your ADD level.

By embracing Creative ADD we do a few things:

  • We remove the daunting pressure of the need to create. Creativity can regain its rightful joy.
  • When there’s no pressure to create, we’re simply bouncing from one idea to another.
  • By embracing Creative ADD, we can think inside the circle (and break the idea that creativity is either inside or out of a box).
  • We can come up with interesting connections to ideas that seemed to have no connection before. If we were trying to force the natural impulse of creativity, more than likely these connections would have gone unnoticed.

So first, think inside the circle. Try to get as close as possible to the core of the problem you’re trying to solve. Once you’ve done that, plant the seed in your subconscious with as much conscious energy as you can muster. Your subconscious mind will start working on all the creative associations connected to the core idea. Now is the time to embrace Creative ADD. Let go of all judgment and simply experiment. Get as far out as possible. Test the limits of your creativity and see how far the spiral takes you.

Here’s an overview:

  1. What is the core issue? Get as close to the center of the circle as possible.
  2. Plant the creative seed firmly (but gently) into your subconscious.
  3. If you’re not getting feedback from your subconscious, the idea is probably not worth pursuing. Either wait it out, or simply drop it and move on.
  4. Embrace Creative ADD. Suspend judgment and free-associate. Test the limits and see how far the spiral takes you.
  5. Look for the ideas on the fringes of your mind; ponder unexpected angles. These are the ideas that will bring freshness to all of the work that you do.

Creativity is like uncovering a gigantic fossil buried beneath the earth’s soil. Most people want to uncover the entire ancient artifact in one sitting. Our society of instant gratification hasn’t helped this very much.

The majority of great ideas aren’t uncovered all at once, though. They are uncovered with great care over time. Setting up the intention to uncover the fossil is the first step, but allowing time to properly dig it up is essential. You don’t want a disintegrated, barely recognizable artifact when you’re done. Taking your time ensures that you will reveal something more beautiful than you could have ever possibly conceived. I’d rather have one amazing idea than 200 muddled & broken ones.

I hope you get something out of this article. I’ve tried to display as much creativity as possible when writing this (after all, this is an article on creativity). What do you to get the creative juices flowing?

This is part 1 of a series I’ll be doing on creativity. Later this week I’ll be writing about my step by step creative process. Stay tuned (want to ride bikes?).

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Tabs July 29, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Great post, I am all for thinking inside the circle and then branching out. Your “branching out” analogy is perfect for getting the point across. “Thinking outside the box” sound innovative, but people tend to forget that innovation starts with trying to solve a problem which means you need to find the core and work your way out from that point. I also find when I don’t get down to the root of an issue (pardon the pun) I am never really able to see the big picture, which sometimes leaves me dangling for weeks trying to solve a solution that would never have existed if I had taking the time to start at the core. It does not help that I am a “highly” visual person and I need to see everything (mentally or physically) before it truly makes sense. I am all for building a solid foundation to place my box on.




Avani-Mehta July 29, 2008 at 12:25 pm

I loved your idea about planting a creative seed and letting ideas grow on their own. Reminded me of a simple tip I had recieved for writing essays in english exam – to select a topic first and write essay last. I guess the same principle applies here – I planted a seed – the topic. And by the time I have to write about it, I find lot of ideas already present in my mind.


BrianS July 29, 2008 at 4:28 pm

I like the way you are thinking inside/outside boxes of rectangular or circular or whatever shape. ‘Think outside the box’ becomes cliche or doctrinaire, I agree, and whose box is it anyway? Instead of ‘focus’ arriving at the creative idea is like looking out of the corner of your eye, chasing mercury, or whatever other metaphor comes to hand. Wonderfully counter-intuitive, like your your other essay “Enlightenment is Overrated.” What a breath of fresh air!


Robert A. Henru July 29, 2008 at 6:14 pm

This is really a fresh perspective on creativity!
Thanks for sharing it!


Terry McDaniel July 29, 2008 at 10:41 pm

For me, I break the opportunity into perceived and understood sections. Between 3-6:30 am I often can’t sleep…. the visions are really, the solutions are real time and the associations and relationships connect… it is just fun…. Great post… keep it up….. For example someone said “put your foot into a pale of water and pull it out….what was left” well, the answer is not that you didn’t influence the pale of water, but you were able to see your reflections in the pale… you are wonderfully made…..Enjoy…..Terry McDaniel


Elly July 29, 2008 at 11:41 pm

I loved the article. Very useful and without blah-blah s


Glen Allsopp July 30, 2008 at 12:27 am

Great original thinking here. I love being creative and find it strange how some people push themselves into office life or a routined environment when they clearly have creative qualities, I can’t imagine anything worse.

Great post, Glen


Amy July 30, 2008 at 4:59 am

I love the illustration of the tree with the tire swing! Seeing an idea go from a seed to “full grown” (without a whole lot of conscious effort) is so satisfying. Trying to make it happen really does kill it! Thanks for such an interesting read. :)


Tiffany Monhollon July 30, 2008 at 6:32 am

You’ve hit the nail on the head describing the problems that arise when trying to “force” creativity – but a question comes to mind: what can “creatives” or people who work in fields where creativity is a daily demand do? My husband is an artist by passion (and talent) and graphic designer by profession. He is very creative and driven, always stretching himself to create different, better things. But it is taxing on the creative mind to always be in “go” mode. In his “spare” time, he’s illustrating and writing a graphic novel. So more than a majority of his waking time is spent constantly under the gun to not just to ideate but to produce new, innovative, creative ideas and images. It’s taxing to say the least….

Of course, he loves it and I know he wouldn’t be happy working in any other field, but I see on his face at the end of the day sometimes how difficult it is when he’s had to “force” his creativity.

But to your point, I know one of the most important things to him is to constantly be planting new seeds of creativity. He’s always researching, exploring, looking for new inspiration. So I think you’re right on with that. But it seems there’s never enough time for him to spend on that part of the process since most of his time must go into producing.

It seems as though a revisioning of the creative process is what we need – to realize that planting those seeds of creativity is just as important to the process as is producing the ideas themselves. So, how can we convince our employers that this is not “wasting time” but investing it in a better product?


Jonathan July 30, 2008 at 8:07 am

@ Tabs: And I think so many people overlook that. They’re so busy trying to grab blindly at creative associations they don’t really get to the root (as you said).

@ Avani: I think it’s important to plant the seed and be patient. I often have planted the seed a week or a month before the idea really comes to fruition and manifests physically. I’ll also have 5 or 6 creative seeds planted that have varying spans of germination.


Jonathan July 30, 2008 at 8:07 am

@ Brian: Thanks man, I’m glad you liked it.


Jonathan July 30, 2008 at 8:08 am

@ Robert: Thank you, it means a lot to me. Seriously.


Jonathan July 30, 2008 at 8:11 am

@ Terry: I’m often the most creative in the middle of the night. Sometimes my dreams are so crazy they wake me up.

@ Elly: Thanks. =)

@ Glenn: It’s a shame really. I think that’s the importance of releasing judgment, just letting yourself be a kid again really.

@ Amy: Glad you liked it.


Jonathan July 30, 2008 at 8:12 am

@ Tiffany: It’s definitely tough having the pressure of being creative all the time. I think the most important thing for me is planting different seeds all the time. I’ll plant them in my subconscious and just let them grow there for a while. That way I have lots of ideas germinating at the same time.

It’s important too, to take breaks and just re-group. Relax and forget about everything, including creating. =)


John Rocheleau - zen-moments July 30, 2008 at 6:01 pm

I agree with your ideas here. Creativity just needs a place to begin, a willingness to have an adventure, and some courage. It will find its own way — and we will be able to participate if we just keep our eyes and minds open to where it is pointing.

We need to drop all of the templates we hold over our creative vision.

Good stuff,


Aman Chaudhary July 31, 2008 at 12:36 am

The box has definitely become tiresome, whether one is in it or on it.


Michael Henreckson July 31, 2008 at 10:32 am

Interesting thoughts, and I’m guessing they will prove pretty useful. Personally I don’t perform well creatively when I’m facing a deadline. I concentrate too hard on making myself come up with something, which doesn’t work very well. The idea of making yourself think of the problem in an unfocused manner sounds like it has a lot of potential.


jrandom42 August 1, 2008 at 2:13 pm

There’s a whole lot about creativity and creative inspiration. I don’t see anything for creative discipline. If you truly follow the ADD model, nothing gets finished, because your’re on to the next thing, because you’ve lost your creative ‘edge’ for what you were currently working on. What happens when you ‘lose your creative edge’ and the project is incomplete? How do you regain the edge to finish it, or find the discipline to get it finished before you move on to the next project?


T. Michael August 5, 2008 at 10:43 pm

subject me to
subject me to
subject me to write
subject me to write

No No No, you’ve got it all so wrong. Creativity how you got anything at all.
your penicillin, your E-leck-Tris-city, your hair die, and “ring around the rosey.”
dosey off and trake me off now..


Jonathan August 6, 2008 at 8:33 am

@jrandom42: The whole point of Creative ADD is idea generation. Without action and the dreaded final product, then it’s all in vain. You have to keep things in context.


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