What unseen forces stand in the way of true creativity?

Honesty and Candour

Despite the shared interest for all of us to be honest with ourselves and each other, there are often good reasons why we should not be honest and there are times when we choose not to say what we really think, especially in a work environment.

This creates a dilemma.

The only way to solve problems and to collaborate effectively is by communicating fully and openly, by not withholding information or misleading others.

Our decision making is better if we can draw upon the knowledge of the whole group, but our overriding fear of self-preservation holds us back.

We need to free ourselves.

To do that, we can start by redefining our aim. Instead of honesty, strive for candour.

What’s the difference between honesty and candour?

Nobody wants to be called dishonest.

Candour is forthrightness or frankness, similar to honesty, but with fewer moral connotations.

Candour is not cruel. It does not destroy. On the contrary, any successful feedback system is built on empathy, on the idea that we are all in this together, and that we understand your pain because we’ve experienced it ourselves.

Every piece of feedback we give is in service of supporting and helping each other to do better.

So how can I embrace candour?

You should have mechanisms in place that explicitly make candour valuable.

Pixar use Braintrust meetings which are opportunities to put smart and passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with one another.

You cannot address problems until people are free to express themselves. Using the word honesty makes it harder to talk about what matters.

You do not need a business to be candid. Seek out people who are willing to be frank with you and hold them close.

Andrew Stanton, Vice-President of Creativity at Pixar, named two qualities in people you should choose.

  1. They must make you think smarter.
  2. They must be able to put lots of solutions on the table in a short amount of time.

The Hungry Beast and The Ugly Baby

New concepts are fragile and in their first stages far from pretty , hence the name ugly babies. They are not beautiful, miniature versions of the adults they grow up to be. They are truly ugly and need to be nurtured in order to grow, which requires time and patience.

The natural impulse is to compare the finished product to what you are working on. Our job is to protect our babies from being judged too quickly. In order for greatness to emerge there must be phases of not-so-greatness.

Let’s imagine that you really want to learn how to code. You are most likely to be dreadful at first, but with time and patience you will get better. If you let people judge you too early, it could destroy your enthusiasm for developing something valuable.

Any group that produces a product or drives revenue could be considered to be part of the beast, including marketing and distribution. In our own lives, the beast comprises of earning a living and impressing those around us.

Think about yourself at school or university. For the latter in particular you may feel like you can be yourself, so you dedicate your time to doing things that you want to do. You’re an ugly baby, free to explore and reinvent yourself at will. The hungry beast is always there though, in the form of assessment results, work experience and starting your career.

Ultimately, it’s about getting the right balance that will lead to the best result.

Too much focus on the beast and you will kill all creativity and sense of you. You are just another workaholic perfect for the corporate world which will make you work even harder until you burnout in a pitiful puff of smoke.

On the other hand, not acknowledging the beast means that you remain an ugly baby and while it’s cute at first, eventually it’s a hindrance and you will not be able to move forward with your life, never to be taken seriously again.


What do you think of when you hear the word balance? 

Maybe calm, stillness and tranquility but, in reality, those are not a true reflection of balance.

The problem with real life is that we are rarely still.

Balance is dynamic.

Imagine a surfer gliding across a wave, everything is balanced yet the environment is rapidly changing. When trying to highlight the importance of balance, it’s easy to dismiss it because we assume that it is static and in our fast-paced lives it doesn’t quite fit.

Balance has more to do with being diligent about paying attention to your actions and their wider consequences on your life and on others.

Creativity is dynamic so to achieve balance you need to be reactive to change that would throw you off your surfboard as you ride the wave of life.

Change and Randomness

The mechanisms that keep us safe from unknown threats have been hardwired into us.  However, when it comes to creativity, the unknown is not our enemy. If we make room for it instead of shunning it, the unknown can bring inspiration and originality.

How, then, do we make friends with the random and unknowable? How do we get more comfortable with our lack of control?

Stochastic self-similarity.

You what mate? 

Stochastic means random or chance; self-similarity means patterns that look the same when viewed at different degrees of magnification and can be found in everything from stock market fluctuations to seismic activity.  Look at a tiny section of a snowflake under a microscope and it will resemble a miniature version of the whole.

How does this stochastic-thingy relate to my life? 

Sometimes a big event happens that changes everything. When it does, we think that these big events are fundamentally different from smaller ones. That’s a problem.

Let’s say that your bank account has been hacked and all of your money is stolen. That’s a big problem. What if your bank account is hacked, but the hacker removes £2 a day. If you spot this early enough, it’s not too much of a problem. If this goes on for a year or two, then it’s big.

The problems are the same – your money is being stolen – however because the second example can be viewed as a small problem at first, we may approach it differently.

We should approach big and small problems with the same set of values and emotions because they are, in fact, self-similar. It’s also important not to freak out over big problems and be humble enough to recognise that unforeseen things can and do happen that are nobody’s fault.

For example, what if you have the best security system in the world and you still get hacked?  You have done everything in your power to reduce the chances of a successful hack and the event was random and nobody is responsible for randomness.

You can only do your best to insure against these scenarios but they will inevitably happen and when they do your values are paramount.

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