Book Review: Zoning In On Creativity

Book Review: Zoning In On Creativity

posted in: Essays | 6

Do you know that magical place where — while writing, working out, or making music — you feel completely immersed, in tune, outside of time?

It has eluded me lately.

I’ve so many creative projects locked in my head or half-done that I feel like Sisyphus. I put my shoulder to the boulder and push, only to have it roll back down and land on my foot.

Then a little voice offers, “You know what your real problem is? You lack creativity and you’re lazy.”

I hate that voice.

Serendipitously, I found two resources to help overcome my Sisyphian funk — a MOOC called “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” and a book about navigating creative flow called The Zone by Tom Evans.

Embracing Intelligent Fast Failure

Three Penn State engineering professors teach “Creativity, Innovation, and Change.” I love their take on creativity. They define it as “bringing something into existence that wasn’t there before.”

Not surprisingly, they reject a mindset that defines artists, musicians, and writers as “creative,” and engineers, accountants, and math teachers as “uncreative.”

The class just started, but already I’m inspired. My favorite concept so far—Intelligent Fast Failure (IFF), the brainchild of Professor Jack Matson.

Professor Matson tells his students, “I will be looking for the frequency and intensity of your failures as a measure of how well you’re doing. Experiment, risk, fail, learn and create is your mantra.”

IFF is a learning process that has nothing to do with self esteem.

Finding the Magic Zone

That same week I read The Zone by Tom Evans. In it, he attempts to map that magical place of flow and effortlessness. (It’s always moving, like Jack Sparrow’s island.)

To follow the magic, we need to be productive in Doing zones (learning and creativity, for example) and exit the Danger zones (fear and anger, to name just two) fast.

That sounds simple and obvious, but in reality, Tom provides immense detail at each level.

Take creativity, for example. Creativity isn’t a monolith. It’s multilayered, with several subzones.

But if someone lands in the wrong mode at the wrong time, their work can end up on “a slush pile of their own making.” Any half-written manuscript or unfinished canvas signals a creative process blocked at one of the subzones.

The Zone Book

What are Creativity Subzones?

Spark: Are you looking for inspiration to magically appear? Don’t. Encourage it by meditating daily or walking in nature. Tom mentions that “when out walking it’s a good idea to look up not down, as that activates the more creative areas in the neurology.” (But be careful!)

Holism: Can you see the big picture? A mind map “allows our right brain to hold the complete vision while the left brain concerns itself filling in the detail — noting that this is gross simplification for how our mind actually works.” Doodling around a theme could work as well.

Dexterity: What skills do you need to master your craft? “Like any live performer, the artist works best when they become unconsciously competent about their craft. Practice, as always, makes perfect.”

Formation: Can you break the big picture into doable steps? “Successful artists are also required to be fabulous project managers. They must manage building blocks such as words, notes or clay.”

Completion: Do you have trouble finishing? I do. I like the journey. Tom has some great advice here:

When you are meditating or out walking, rather than musing about the creative project per se, think about what completion of it would mean to you. Imagine what doors will open for you, your family and your business or career. Think about what effect your art might have on people who enjoy it and what they might be inspired to do a result.

Exposure: Does releasing your work make you nervous? You’re not alone. “We are required to become show offs and expose our heart, mind and soul to all and sundry. For some, this can mean we enter one of the Danger Zones, typically the Fear Zone.”

After I studied these guidelines, I recognized road blocks at the Dexterity and Formation subzones.

I need to acquire new writing and project management skills. So I’m looking into working with a writing teacher and/or coach. My funk has nothing to do with lack of creativity or laziness.

I highly recommend The Zone. Tom uses concepts that interconnect like a crossword puzzle—figure out a couple letters and you’ve got several words that makes sense.

In my case, a couple subzones helped me realistically approach my funk, find a solution, and give that nasty voice the boot.

By the way, author Albert Camus interpreted the Sisyphus myth differently. He considered Sisyphus the ultimate artistic hero who paid for his passion through struggle and acceptance.



If you buy The Zone, you receive a special redemption code, worth $99, to access the Getting in the Zone ecourse through Udemy. Check out Tom’s website for details. I plan to enroll as soon as I finish Creativity, Innovation, and Change!

6 Responses

  1. pia
    | Reply

    sounds great…….please share when you guest on the show, “living portraits” with me!

    • Debra Eve

      Most definitely, Pia. Looking forward to it!

  2. cora ramos
    | Reply

    Thanks for highlighting this issue of creativity and the ‘dry’ times. The Zone sounds like a book definitely worth reading. Thanks for sharing this Debra.

    • Debra Eve

      You’re welcome, Cora. I’m so entranced with all the wonderful resources the Internet has opened up!

  3. Bob Cloud
    | Reply

    This post is very timely for me. I can’t seem to put any words together now days that after I re-read them all seem to look back at me from the page with an expression that says: “whhhaaat”? Your use of the word “funk” is right on the money but luckily I have a convenient cope out . I had knee surgery a while back so I’m blaming it all on the post op dope.

    • Debra Eve

      You get a pass, Bob :). Knee surgery is not very conducive to creativity. Hope your recovery is going well.

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