108: Destroying the Myth of Solitary Genius with Keith Sawyer

The creative process is one of the most significant challenges you will face as a creative. Whether you’re a writer, designer, or web developer, you will regularly face the pressure of creating something new.

108: Destroying the Myth of Solitary Genius with Keith Sawyer

Over the years, I thought to be creative was something I had to do alone or experience as a flash of creativity. Thankfully, I learned this isn’t the case at all.

The “solitary genius” is common myth accepted among the creative class. It’s the belief that creative people are isolated eccentric geniuses who spontaneously receive creative ideas. This is an unhelpful myth that needs to be destroyed. It discourages creative pursuits and diminishes the hard work creative people put into their projects.

This week on The Portfolio Life, Keith Sawyer and I discuss why creativity is a group effort, and eight practical habits you can learn to improve your personal creativity. Keith is considered one of the world’s leading scientific experts on creativity. He has helped students, business leaders, and corporations to become more creative and innovative.

Listen in as Keith shares the latest research on creativity and what this means for you in becoming a more creative person. If you are involved in creative work, then you don’t want to miss this helpful conversation!

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below. (If you are reading this via email or RSS, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Keith and I discuss:

  • What the latest research reveals about the myth of the solitary genius.
  • Why creative people hate the common myths about creativity.
  • How you can balance planning and spontaneity.
  • The challenges of doing creative work alone.
  • Eight habits you can learn to become more creative.
  • Why working too much can inhibit creativity.
  • The best ways to brainstorm new ideas.
  • The two lies that cripple writers.
  • How creativity can improve your career.

Quotes and takeaways

  • Anyone can be creative.
  • The creative process is a long road marked by starting, stopping, detours, and new paths.
  • “The key to innovation is always to manage a subtle between balance planning, structure, and improvisation.” —Keith Sawyer
  • Creative work requires a deep understanding of your field and a focus upon patterns.


What creative habit most resonated with you? How do you think this habit will improve your creative process? Share in the comments.

6 thoughts on “108: Destroying the Myth of Solitary Genius with Keith Sawyer

  1. This segment was the most significant to me: “So that’s one thing about, “Oh my God it has to be awesome.” Horrible idea. It’s going to suck. Anne Lamott has a book about writing it by. She calls it you need to generate shitty first drafts and that’s just the way it is. It has to suck at first. So that’s one. The other thing is, it’s not precious and if you put it out there and then you think, “Well now it’s great I can’t change it,” well then you’re not going to go through the creative process.” – I loved all of this, and this is the very thing that has stumped me for so long. YAY! Thank you both so much!

  2. Good word and lots to chew on. Thanks for doing this and looking forward to reading Zig Zag.

  3. Great interview, Jeff! Much to think about. I was in the car when you were talking about the cards, and I kept seeing geometric shapes everywhere. 🙂

  4. Thank you Jeff for bringing Mr. Sawyer’s work to our attention! I’ve worked in the creative arena for years and have been writing in my creativity blog for a few months now. I’m eager to explore his thoughts on creativity! I agree, creativity is stronger when bounced of collaborators.

  5. I really appreciate the great perspectives (and “steps”) provided in this interview, but it’s so pithy that I stopped listening to the podcast and downloaded the interview transcript. That was a mistake! As a former court reporter and a trained copyeditor and proofreader who understands the process of verbatim transcription, I was appalled by the number and significance of errors in the text. There were many mistakes in words and punctuation that truly changed the meaning of what was said, and I had to reread several portions to understand the speaker’s intent. Jeff, you need a new transcription method! And I need to get back to exploring creativity, with your help. Thank you.

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