Isaac Asimov on creativity

Len WilsonCreativityLeave a Comment


A previously unpublished essay on creativity by renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, written for the government agency ARPA in the 1950s, has just seen the light of day. Click here to read the whole thing. I’ve highlighted two short lists from his wonderful essay, with snippets from the article, which is worth the full read.


Essential characteristics of creative people:

The ability to connect seemingly unrelated things

…not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.

The ability to randomly connect dots is a hallmark of creative thinking. Many of us do this in our own minds, few of us are willing to entertain such thoughts, and fewer still to share them.

The eccentricities of self-assurance

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. 

See above re: sharing. it takes confidence to drop non-sequiturs on your friends on a regular basis. I’ve gotten so I like watching people’s reactions to my random pop culture, literary and theology references. Every once in a while, somebody understands what I’m saying.

Lots of discretionary thinking time

…isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it…The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing.

The most difficult thing. When you manage people and go to lots of meetings, you must schedule time to be alone. And then stick to it. No, really.

Essential characteristics of a creative setting:

A safe environment

First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object…

Notice his word “foremost.” If you don’t feel relaxed with your co-workers, you can go no further in creativity. It begins and ends with a sense of teamwork and safety.

Without any stiflers

If a single individual present is unsympathetic to the foolishness that would be bound to go on at such a session, the others would freeze. The unsympathetic individual may be a gold mine of information, but the harm he does will more than compensate for that. It seems necessary to me, then, that all people at a session be willing to sound foolish and listen to others sound foolish.

Asimov has several other notes here about creative team sessions, which closely parallel a chapter on the same topic that my co-author Jason Moore and I wrote in Taking Flight with Creativity, for example the ideal number of people on a creative team.

Freedom from tasks and responsibilities

Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues. To feel guilty because one has not earned one’s salary because one has not had a great idea is the surest way, it seems to me, of making it certain that no great idea will come in the next time either.

What other characteristics do you think are necessary for creativity in people and environments?

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Writer. Story lover. Believer. Branding philosopher. Breakfast chef. Tickle monster. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Creative Director. Occasional public speaker.

Len WilsonIsaac Asimov on creativity

Is This Your Final Answer? What Happens When We Insist on a Definitive Solution

Len WilsonCreativity, CultureLeave a Comment


…“What if” thinking encourages new solutions to seemingly impossible problems.Think Like a Five Year Old

One of the biggest creativity killers is our need for a final answer. This need is properly known as convergent thinking, and the ability to accept multiple answers is properly known as divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is not synonymous with creativity but is a key principle of creativity.

As a case study to test your own thinking about this, consider this question about the Bible:

  • How many points are there in a parable?

The parable of the prodigal son is perhaps the longest and perhaps most famous in scripture. It’s the story of a son who demands his inheritance, squanders it in a far off land, then returns home in shame, and how the father reacts. (It’s in Luke 15:11-32 if you want to read it.)

Is there one meaning to this story, or multiple meanings? Perhaps it depends on the character with whom you identify. The “point” of the story is one thing from the perspective of the father, another from the son, and yet a third from the older brother.

The beauty of story is its ability to provide multiple meanings.

We return to beloved stories again and again, not because the stories change, but because we change. In the story of the prodigal son, perhaps at various life stages, the same man resonates with all three characters.

We may agree with this in principle, yet by our actions, we often suggest that there is only one meaning to find. When we insist on convergent thinking, and look for a single “point,” we reduce the power of our stories and their ability to speak in unique ways in time and space. We do this in our work life and in our spiritual life, where we look for final answers to our deep existential questions. As I write in my book Digital Storytellers:

Has it ever struck you how little the Bible is present in worship today? Most of the time, Protestant worship is expository. In the past, worship contained both the telling of the biblical story itself, and a commentary on it. Now, we almost always get the commentary. Sermon-centered worship, if based on the Bible at all, is mostly the presentation of one person’s understanding of biblical stories; based on his or her private, quiet analysis of Biblical text. 

We’ve gotten used to the idea of the final answer. We skip the movie and go right to the criticism and review. We want the explanation – it’s easier, faster, and seemingly “final.”

In our schools, companies and churches, we teach convergent thinking, or at least it happens naturally and we don’t stop it.Think Like a Five Year Old

But do we lose something when we drive straight to the point, when in fact there may be more than one point, for various people and at various times in life? Perhaps what we lose is an ability to explore, and in the exploration the opportunity to discover new wisdom and insight.

Modern education prefers final answers.

Creativity researcher Sir Ken Robinson notes that our modern educational system’s emphasis on standardized testing is exacerbating the problem. You’ve heard the story. American kids are “falling behind,” so we continue to push for higher standards and more rigorous testing. The statistics are depressing, and I don’t mean the test results. Here’s one: up to 70% of high school senior year reading is now non-fiction. Literature is increasingly lost. (For why this is bad, see above.)

But what is happening on the other side of the world, at the highest end of the global rankings?

In 2010, high school students in Shanghai, China’s largest city, finished first in an international standardized test of math, science, and reading proficiency given to students in sixty-five nations. The United States finished between fifteenth and thirty-first… Not everyone in China, however, viewed this result as an unmitigated triumph. Some expressed concern that an emphasis on rote learning was smuggling creative thinking and intellectual risk-taking. “These are two sides of the same coin: Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests,” Jiang Xueqin, a deputy principal at Peking University High School in Beijing, wrote in an essay in The Wall Street Journal shortly after the test results were announced. “For that reason, they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.”

A principal at a school in Shanghai that figured into the international testing was concerned enough about the stifling atmosphere that he instituted reforms to foster more creativity. One of his innovations: a weekly talent show. (Michael SokoloveDrama High)


Most problems have multiple answers.

The effects of quantifying learning won’t be known for a long time, but the potential loss of creative thinking is frightening. I am not a chicken little by nature, but a greater emphasis on creative thinking is critical in our schools, churches, homes and communities. While the value of the humanities is foremost that they teach us to be human, it’s becoming increasingly clear that through their proclivity to promote divergent thinking, they also serve a quantifiable benefit. Sokolove writes,

In 2011, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, first established in the Reagan administration, highlighted current scientific research and issued a call for greater emphasis of arts education. “The brain prioritizes emotionally tinged information for conversion to long-term memory,” the authors wrote, citing music and theater education as examples of disciplines with the potential to “cause an actual change in the physical structure of neurons.

  • In what areas of your life do you see a need to know the final answer?
  • When is it appropriate and good, and when is it a hindrance?
  • How might acceptance of multiple answers aid your personal, work, and faith life?
  • What steps can you take to encourage divergent thinking?


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Writer. Story lover. Believer. Branding philosopher. Breakfast chef. Tickle monster. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Creative Director. Occasional public speaker.

Len WilsonIs This Your Final Answer? What Happens When We Insist on a Definitive Solution

How Many of These 10 Problems Do You Experience In Church?

Len WilsonArtists, Church, Creativity, Leadership, Marketing, Strategic ThinkingLeave a Comment

Len Wilson Worship Arts

How many of these problems do you experience in your church or organization?

  1. Disengaged members and attendees.
  2. Plateaued or declining attendance and involvement.
  3. Mediocre or poor quality worship.
  4. Lack of biblical knowledge.
  5. Lackluster spiritual formation.
  6. Little sense of beauty.
  7. Poor hospitality or guest experience.
  8. Inward focus / lack of outsider perspective.
  9. Lack of strategic thinking.
  10. Communications confusion or chaos.

For a long time, church leaders have tried to attack these seemingly intractable problems, with varying levels of success.

I believe there’s a common spiritual root to each of these problems: lack of creativity. Innovation that leads to growth and vitality can happen in a variety of settings: strategic thinking, leadership, worship and arts, communication, mission, discipleship, and more. But the foundation is the same. The key to vitality is to move yourself and others from consumption, where we are conformed to patterns of decline, to creativity, where we are transformed by our God-given impulse and calling to make things new.

If any of this describes your church, I’d love to help. Click the button below to inquire about an event or keep reading for more details:

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Suggested Speaking Topics

The following three talks, each based on my book Think Like a Five Year Old, can live separately, as a keynote and subsequent workshops, or as a sequence, say for a retreat setting. They are ideally suited in the sequence in which they’re listed.

Think Like a Five Year Old (Part One): Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great Things

Supposedly, since we’re made in the image of God the Creator, we have creativity in us. This may be theologically true, but most of us don’t know it to be so. In fact, the vast majority of us don’t consider ourselves to be creative at all. We’ve lost our ability to create. Maybe that’s why the vast majority of workers worldwide want to quit. Learn why this seems to be everyone’s story, the secret to reclaiming your creative wonder, and how to discover real innovations right where you live.

Think Like a Five Year Old (Part Two): The Four Expressions of Innovation

Whether you seek new ideas and vitality in your personal or professional life, creativity is about more than adopting best practices or reading someone’s life hacks blog post. It’s the natural expression of a more engaging and fulfilling life. Growth isn’t the target; it’s the result. In this session, learn strategies for creativity, how to overcome damaging misconceptions, and the four unique creative expressions with which we’re wired. Strategize new ideas for your setting and how to leverage these expressions for a more productive personal and corporate life.

Think Like a Five Year Old (Part Three): Techniques for Cultivating Creativity

Fostering more creativity ultimately comes down to the habits we form and lives we live. In this tactical seminar, learn creativity as a spiritual discipline: how to overcome the tyranny of the blank page, how to tame your schedule – and your mind – to leverage good ideas, best practices for more creativity, and more.

I also speak on a variety of topics related to creativity and communication in church life, such as:

Take Flight with Creativity: How to Build a Creative Worship Design Team

Church leaders in many congregations have attempted to form teams for the purpose of planning worship. Getting a group of people together in one room is fairly easy. But whether large or small church, staff or volunteer, most discover that it is difficult to form a team that actually works. In this session, learn how to be a part of a worship design team that works, including discovering a strategic approach to worship, tips for team composition, a look at how to overcome a series of obstacles that frequently keep teams from finding success together, and some of the usual “mechanical difficulties” that keep teams grounded.  Based on my book Taking Flight With Creativity: Worship Design Teams That Work.

Five Brand Secrets to Communicating a Compelling Vision

People don’t give time and money to pay your light bill, but to see lives changed. While we may cognitively understand this, we disagree in practice, because we communicate the process, not the vision for what might be. People don’t care about your process. This workshop focuses on the idea of your brand as a promise and five secrets to developing campaigns and leveraging technology that focuses on your shared dreams and aspirational possibilities.

Best Practices from 20 Years of Creative Worship

I’ve been practicing, studying and teaching about the visual arts in worship since 1995. Here is the best of what I have learned in the trenches of five churches and years of consulting, leading and teaching churches of all sizes and environments around the United States.

(For Creatives) How to Survive Working in a Church

The nobility of using your gifts for God’s kingdom inspires many lovers of Beauty to work for the church. Unfortunately, the turnover rate is killer. This session explores how to survive and even grow as a creative in a church environment.

(For Church Leaders) How to Make Your Church or Organization Awesome for Creatives

While many are talking about the power of story, few are creating a good corporate environment for successful storytelling to flourish. Instead, while leaders want more creative and dynamic environments, and storytellers and artists want a place to practice their craft, often the two groups can’t seem to work together. In fact, many leaders diminish creativity in their staff without ever knowing it. This session explores secrets to unlocking creative potential. How can you create an environment for creatives to flourish?

(For Communicators) Seven Secrets to Help People Remember Your Big Idea

Marketing is a hassle. You’ve got your cool creative idea produced and it sure would be a heck of a lot easier if people would automatically flock to it. Of course, this doesn’t happen. You’ve got to get the word out. To some extent, other people can help you do this, but when it comes down to it, the number one champion for your big idea is you. The first step is to admit your ownership. Say to yourself: I am responsible for marketing my own big idea. There, that wasn’t so bad. The rest is cake. Just follow these seven strategic approaches.

(For Worship Leaders) Ten Common Questions About Using Screens in Worship

Whether novice or seasoned veteran, these are the basic questions that everyone needs to know in order to use screens more effectively in worship. Consider this a crash course on screen use in your church. Based on my books The Wired Church and The Wired Church 2, and two decades of experience working in the trenches of church communication.

Jesus Marketer: How to Craft a Message That Changes Hearts and Lives

Many of us think of marketing as a necessary evil that comes after the more noble and meaningful work of creating the big idea. We like to pretend that how we present our idea doesn’t matter. And yet our efforts often float away without reaching those who so desperately need it. The package matters. Lucky for us, Jesus had a marketing strategy. The question is, in addition to communicating about Jesus, what if we began to communicate like Jesus?


A Little Bit About Me

My calling is to use creativity and effective communication to share Jesus Christ and advance God’s kingdom. I have been practicing my craft since 1993, and in 1996 I began to write and teach others to do the same. Along the way I have honed a philosophy and strategy for what I do and have developed a variety of hard skills for improving creativity and sparking innovation.

Think Like a Five Year Old Len WilsonI have spent the bulk of my career in the local church, joining with colleagues to develop creative and storytelling congregational cultures, the kind of places that artists want to join. My theological education and field experience, coupled with my ongoing research and writing on creativity, uniquely positions me to speak on creativity and the life of following Jesus. My wheelhouse is a passion for fostering personal and community creativity, for turning dreams and ideas into real innovation and change, and, tactically, for helping your church communicate the gospel more effectively through art and design.

I have written ten books. The most recent, Think Like a Five Year Old: Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great Things, comes out through Abingdon Press on June 2, 2015. Click here to learn more about it.

My beautiful wife Shar and I have been married for 23 years. We have four children in school, which makes for a busy and fulfilling life stage.

Learn more about me, read a longer bio, and view my ministry and educational background at the link.


What People Are Saying

Len’s work at Midnight Oil was my first glimmer of hope that I could change how churches communicate.
 - Michael Buckingham, Creative Director, Victory World Outreach and Owner, Holy Cow Creative

Few authors have foreseen the future of language. Len captures not only the prophetic union of technology and worship, but the first glimpse at a new way of thinking. Without a grasp of this new language, I can not see how the church can survive. That’s how important Len’s work is.
 - Thomas Hohstadt, Conductor, Fulbright Scholar

Len is a master wordsmith and communicator.
– Will Willimon, Author

Len’s writing and insights for the church go far beyond media; they extend to how we effectively communicate the Gospel to generation that has largely dismissed what the church has to say.
 - Jordon Cooper, Founding member,

Len is an artist and thought leader.
 - Gary Molander, Author, Pastor, Owner at Floodgate Productions

Len’s vision for the effective use of media in worship has transformed worship experiences in numerous congregations around the country.
 - Warren Pattison, First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, FL

Len is a creative master.
– Grant Hagiya, Bishop, United Methodist Church

Len Wilson is an incredible speaker and a gifted minister of the Gospel. He is able to effectively communicate his vision for using media to reach people for the Kingdom of God!
 - Phil Graves, Web/Graphic Designer at All Saints Media

The first time I heard Len speak on his passion, I knew he was the real deal. Len speaks from the heart and works hard to help church volunteers and staff create an atmosphere for worship.
 - Darell Jordan, Software Support Specialist, Hewlett-Packard

As Senior Leadership Editor at Abingdon Press, Len brought heft and breadth to our acquisitions.
 - Neil Alexander, President and Publisher, United Methodist Publishing House

Len possesses a rarely-seen combination of creativity and attention to detail which together make his work both strikingly original and highly correct.
 - Rebecca Burgoyne, Director, Publishing Operations, United Methodist Publishing House

Len took over a fledgling ministry at Ginghamsburg Church and developed it into a nationally recognized program of innovation and effectiveness by producing some of the most effective tools for communicating deep theological concepts in ways that informed, inspired, and entertained.
– Mike Gibbs, Missions Pastor, Ginghamsburg Church

Len literally wrote the book on the development and use of engaging multimedia communications in worship.
 - Steve Fridsma, architect, Grand Rapids MI

Len’s insight, design sense, and communication skills are limitless.

 - Myca Alford, Strategic Marketing Manager, United Methodist Communications

Len consistently brings creativity, professionalism and a high level of expertise to the creation and effective use of media, creating a “digital stained glass window” that enhances worship in powerful ways. Len also has a clear understanding of the value and mechanics of team building, and the significance of spiritual relationships in the worship design process.
 - Claudia Lavy, Vice President, Deepening Your Effectiveness, Inc.


My Books

I published my first short story at age 14 and my first church leadership book, The Wired Church, at age 28. I have been lead or solo writer for nine books to pastors, church leaders, communicators, and worship leaders. In addition, I have written 40 journal and magazine articles, maintained this blog since 2007, and occasionally contribute to other blogs and websites. My tenth book, Think Like a Five Year Old: Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great Things, is a mass market trade Christian book on creativity. It officially releases on June 2, 2015. Learn more about my books here.


My Speaking Experience

I have been honored to conduct over 200 keynote addresses and workshops in venues of all sizes, either solo or with partners in ministry. Highlights include:

  • 44 US states and 4 Canadian provinces
  • Disney Creativity Conference (2 times)
  • World Association for Christian Communication
  • Festival of Homiletics
  • ShowBiz Expo
  • Break Forth Canada
  • NAB: National Association of Broadcasters (3 times)
  • NRB: National Religious Broadcasters
  • Worship Leader National Conference (3 times)
  • Ginghamsburg Change Conference (4 times)
  • Church of the Resurrection Leadership Institute (5 times)


Upcoming Events

Additional dates are in development; check back soon or click  below to inquire about an event near you!


Contact Me Now

Invite me to speak at your next event! Click the button below to start a conversation on how I can help your next gathering.

Inquire About An Event 

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Writer. Story lover. Believer. Branding philosopher. Breakfast chef. Tickle monster. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Creative Director. Occasional public speaker.

Len WilsonHow Many of These 10 Problems Do You Experience In Church?

What`s your story?

Len WilsonChurch, Faith, StoryLeave a Comment

The other day a stranger greeted me with the ice-breaker question, “What is your story?” Although it may sound like small talk, his question is one of the most important and revealing things you can ask somebody.

Most of us go through life with a negative view of our own story.

We remember our mistakes; we’re convinced we’ve screwed up. We think we come out of dysfunctional histories – our families, our hometowns, our money or lack of money. We think we have made, and continue to make, bad decisions. We know what Eric Clapton means when he sings, “I must be strong and carry on, ‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven.”

The circumstances change from chapter to chapter, but the same nagging problem remains: there’s something about our own story we don’t like.

When you meet somebody and you ask them, “What’s your story?”, you’re not just throwing out a colloquial, how-ha-doing greeting. You are asking that person perhaps the most important question you can ask, and their answer says a lot about how he or she understands their own life. Your answer to the question says a lot about how you see your own life.

We see our story, and our identity, as the sum total of our life experiences.

Many of us define ourselves by our life experiences; we think who we are comes from what we’ve done. We adopt the unexamined idea that our identity is in our history. But maybe our problem isn’t the plot twists and turns of our life, or the characters and scenes we’re stuck in. Maybe the problem is that we don’t understand, or that we have forgotten, our real story.

What if our story is more than just our seemingly random set of life choices?

What if we’re not actually alone, making our own life’s scenes up as we go like a crazed screenwriter? What if there’s a bigger story unfolding all around us, and we’re a small but crucial part?

See, I believe that following Jesus is about learning that neither the idea that we are the director of our life purpose, nor that our lives are devoid of meaning, is true. Instead, we are created by a divine God, made in God’s image, and that we have a story, and that in spite of everything that has happened, our story is a good story. And that in Christ Jesus, we have the opportunity to rediscover the story for which we are made. We’re not alone, writing our own future as we see fit, but we actually have a divine director who wants to show us what happens next.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…2 Corinthians 5:17-18

Art and inspiration for this post come from The Story, a sermon series at my church, Peachtree. Learn more here.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Writer. Story lover. Believer. Branding philosopher. Breakfast chef. Tickle monster. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Creative Director. Occasional public speaker.

Len WilsonWhat`s your story?

Stop Looking to Habits of Famous Creative People

Len WilsonCreativity2 Comments


A popular book and Internet blog topic has been the study of lifestyles and habits of famous creative people, such as this and this. I’m bored of them, and today I realized why: to look at creativity as a set of techniques or tactics robs us of a deeper understanding of creativity’s power.

It’s oft-stated in the church community that God is Creator, and that, since we’re made in God’s image, we are thus creative. Consider: If creativity is part of the essence of what it means to be human, is it something we can easily distill into a simple recipe, heat and serve, like Ten Habits of Famous Compassionate People?

Or is it much deeper than that?

In my book Think Like a Five Year Old, I note that our unique perspective on life is in fact the origin of our creativity:

Creativity is about listening to, and living out of, the voice in your inner being – your heart, mind, soul and strength; in other words, creativity is about being attentive to and acting in response to the combination of ideas and reactions and preferences that form your view of the world. This perspective, this unique form of expression, is the identity given to you by God and the origin of your creativity. We come with it preloaded. We’re each born an artist. We’re made to be creative. As an image of God, when we exercise our heavenly impulse, the result of our expression, regardless of our field of endeavor, is art. This power, which reflects the essence of God, reveals itself in the passions we feel.

This passage suggests that, if we’re feeling uninspired or fatigued, the solution isn’t something extrinsic – to change our circumstances or surroundings or self-identity, or to adopt a famous creative’s set of habits from a blog post or list.

Of course, looking at famous people’s habits is fun, and I don’t want to overstate its value by complaining about it. But I also don’t want to subconsciously spy on the creative routines of well-known people out of a hacker’s mentality that if we can uncover some common thread and apply it to our own lives, we’ll improve our lot. This is magic in the worst sense of the word, a replacement of identity and faith in God with an easy trick or set of tactics. Instead of looking to other people’s habits, if we look inward to rediscover who we are and how we’re made, from this place of wisdom we might recover not a grab bag, tactical creativity but an expression of our human identity.

Rather than adopt new routines, or look to the habits of well-known persons, what are the implications of looking inward to find our creativity?

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Writer. Story lover. Believer. Branding philosopher. Breakfast chef. Tickle monster. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Creative Director. Occasional public speaker.

Len WilsonStop Looking to Habits of Famous Creative People