7 Habits for Creativity + the Missing Link

chasejarvis_creative zen

Here are 7 habits that I use to help my creativity:

1. Get into adventures. Instead of saying no, say yes. Whether it’s agreeing going to the South China Sea or to Sundance festival or the grocery store.
2. Devour popular culture. Examine the work of other artists, movies, books, magazines, the interwebs.
3. Take pictures of things. I photograph things I see in the world that inspire me and use them for reference.
4. Scribble ideas. On a notepad, ipad, or whatever.
5. Share your ideas with others. Better ideas often come from a conversation. Give and receive. It’s a dialectic.
6. Ask Questions. Lots of other people know more than you do.
7. Listen. Try to listen carefully. When other people talk, you should listen. Ideas are everywhere.

All that is well and good…attempting to live an interesting or interest-ed life–via travel, adventure, new experiences, consuming the arts and devouring popular culture or whatever–is certainly a proven method to produce the raw material, the putty that makes up creative ideas….BUT, here’s a left hook. It’s all for naught…nearly useless if you don’t take one extra step…Beyond a doubt, the most important thing for shaping your raw creative material is QUIET.

Reading the biographies of so many of the great artists, inventors, and idea-people in history confirms it…they locks themselves away to get the master idea… But this is not myth. Doesn’t your own experience confirm it as well?

On reflection, it’s certainly true for me. The aesthetic for the best campaigns I’ve shot have come to me in the wee hours of the morning. Seattle 100 came to me while relaxing in my hammock on the weekend. The Best Camera ecosystem hit me in the middle of the night while on vacation. creativeLIVE was cooked up with Craig over the holidays when the studio was closed. The vision for many of my best photographs and videos have come while on airplanes, out of reach of phone calls in wireless signals. And time at the family cabin consistently produces long lists of things I want to create or do. I’m banking the same is true for you.

We’ve gotta carve out some time and space from the day to day noise…the laundry, the groceries, the homework, the job, the spouse, the friends, the television to go away.

Live and learn? How about Isolate and create.

[if this idea resonates with you, there's more on this over at Zen Habits.]

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183 Responses to 7 Habits for Creativity + the Missing Link

  1. mattbeaty October 19, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    True that! I would venture to say the my best creative moments come when I’m away from the technology, the noise, and the the buzz of civilization. AKA – in the shower, in a hot tub, or in bed.

    • Kingsley October 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

      Yup – I’m a shower one :D

    • Tanya Petraglia October 20, 2010 at 7:15 am #

      Thank you for this chase. I find it amazing how I was just taking a breather to do “nothing,” then your blog comes about! …and then more ideas come into my awareness.

    • Nick Kelly October 20, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

      I agree completely. My wife and I (who are co-authoring a handful of projects right now) usually get a lot of idea generation accomplished when we’re isolated from the noise and computers. The hot tub is a perfect setting.

  2. gmb October 19, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    You’ve absolutely nailed it here (again) Chase. I think I can safely say that all my best ideas have come to me in the moments of quiet in between the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The best solutions to challenges in my day job have, historically, come to me in the shower or over my morning coffee.

    And it’s funny, but until I read this lost I’d forgotten about the value of solitude. I’ll make more of an effort to find it for myself from now on.

  3. James Dyas Davidson October 19, 2010 at 11:57 am #

    Totally agree. I’m currently spending a week on the Isle of Skye in Scotland where it gets very dark at night and is very peaceful. Now, maybe no great creative idea has come to me yet but I am certainly just loving taking pictures for the hell of it and I’M happy with them. I’m relaxed and so is my brain and I sense my creativity is being recharged just by being engaged with nature and disengaged with stress.

  4. gmb October 19, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Argh, “post,” not “lost.” I love the iPad for many things, but its propensity to make me look silly isn’t one of them.

  5. Rob Acocella October 19, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Absolutely true, Chase. I recently completed a 365 project that I thought would be the death of me and most of the more creative ideas that came to me happened around 1 or 2AM before bed. Sometimes I couldn’t actually do them THAT day, and would save them for later, but they certainly flowed more easily than when I’d be focusing all day on trying to come up with my next piece.

    In case you’re interested, the gallery is here: http://www.digimmortalphoto.com/p291432627

  6. Oliver October 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    I’ve started writing all of my photography/design ideas in a small Moleskine that I take with me everywhere. It’s amazing to look back and see the things you’ve thought of that you’d have otherwise forgotten. I try to keep that journal sacred so it’s not diluted with other things. The hard part is maintaining the diligence of putting them into motion.

  7. Stuart October 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    Amen! I agree with you there. Also, once I’ve had that time to ponder ideas I usually get frustrated because it’s usually to early in the morning or too late at night to try them lol.

  8. Isaac Hinds October 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    Spot on Chase.

    Living in Denver I often forget the value of heading to the mountains for a drive or a day trip.

    I am planning a trip to Costa Rica in December for quiet time. My only struggle is to bring my camera for personal projects or leave all technology behind.

    Thoughts anyone?

    • Diego Mora October 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

      Hey Isaac, I live in Costa Rica and in December is quite the most beautiful season in the year, i mean its windy, sunny, awesome. I recommend you to bring your camera on, here you’ll find many many places to shoot, and nature is the most amazing thing here definetly!!! i could recommend you some places like, San Carlos: La Fortuna, Guanacaste: Malpaís, Nosara, Montezuma, Manzanillo… Which Rock…

      In Costa Rica you won’t find no places to buy DSLR’s supplies, well there are a few but really expensive ones, so bring all your stuf.


    • Darrin October 19, 2010 at 4:37 pm #


      Definitely take your camera. I always look at each trip, walk, etc., as a once in a lifetime op. You may go back, you may take that walk every day. That shot is a once in a lifetime shot. You can always take time to go technology free. Take your stuff!

  9. Norm October 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Right on point. I write stuff down in so many places when in comes to me, I really get inspired by seeing others work. It invigorates me to go out and create something spectacular.

  10. Jane Quigley October 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    Chase – you should take a look at “Rework” by the 37signals guys. I think that that would resonate w/you. It’s a quick read (def a plane-ride) and I totally look at a couple of the essays each time I need a little “quiet” inspiration.

  11. Abhi Inamdar October 19, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Point # 6 and 7, cant agree more!

  12. Scott October 19, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    IS this every true in my life… Husband, father, step-father, grandfather, work, distractions, and life in general. In my years I have found that QUIET is a must if I am going to create anything of substance.

  13. Hayter October 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    Another habit to add to the mix: pursue alternative creative outlets. Writing has always been my thing but, since it’s my job, I’ve started dabbling in photography for pleasure and am seeing the world in a new light. Photography, even at my amateur level, provides inspiration and new perspectives that enhance a number of areas of my life. P.S. Looking forward to seeing the Jarvis crew in a couple of days.

  14. Royd October 19, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    I couldn’t agree enough. Absolutely true. The peace and quiet of solitude give me the best results creatively.

  15. Jasmine* October 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    So TRUE!! Love this post….

  16. Albert Yap October 19, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Interesting sharing! Thanks!

    • Keys June 25, 2011 at 7:02 am #

      What a great rsoecure this text is.

  17. Brian October 19, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born. – Nikola Tesla

    • Anonymous October 19, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

      Sounds fine but when it cost’s money to do the things that wr n

  18. Michelle Sibley October 19, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    When I cut grass with the push mower, my mind reels with inspiration. As the wheels of my imagation were turning and creating, I had a butterfly land on the handle and I took it as a ‘Sign’. Was it really a ‘Sign’? maybe, maybe not but sometimes you look some kind of confirmation and accept ‘signs’ when you feel your creative spirit trying to communicate.

  19. John Wohlfeil October 19, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    Amen! Pass around the collection plate, I feel like I’m in church.

  20. Joshua Legault October 19, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    Chase, your words are always encouraging, weather it be to experienced shooters,or peple who still have lots to learn, (like me)


  21. Joshua Dance October 19, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    I agree. Love the 7 things but QUIET or reflection is so important. If we don’t let our minds chew on life of a little while we can’t get anything to come out.

  22. Jose October 19, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    For me, it’s locking myself in a room and putting on my iPod. Music always gets the juices flowing.

  23. Nikhil October 19, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    When I grow up, I want to be just like you…seriously. :)

  24. WillSalomon October 19, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    Chase, you are official like a NFL’s ref’s whistle. Thank you for sharing.

  25. J W Nienstedt October 19, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    A close second to quiet might be pressure. I find that some of the most creative idea’s I’ve come up with in my life came to me when my back was up against the wall. There’s something in that rush of adrenaline when faced with a high-pressure situation that brings clarity and lets the subconscious take control.

  26. Nasuha October 19, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

    wow, this is a great article. :)
    i think from now on, i have to lock myself up in my room until i’ve already had a plan for another adventure.

    thanks for the inspiring words !

  27. Matthew Robl October 19, 2010 at 11:43 pm #

    Agree. You can´t be creative when your head seems to explode, because of all the work that has to be done. Distance from the all day work is the key for me. Don´t always brainstorm what you could do, what you should do or what will sell best. A little bit peace and quietness, and enthusiasm and creativity floats back. My Ipad is absolutely essential to catch my ideas. The biggest problem I see is to put the ideas into action because of time and money. But if you do not realize your “Idea Projects”, you will end up going blind of the great possibilities in creativity. And you will never get the great assignments you´ve been dreaming of. You will stand still.

  28. a girl and a camera photography October 19, 2010 at 11:50 pm #

    i agree 100% thanks for sharing ….

  29. Marcus October 20, 2010 at 1:12 am #

    Completely agree here (surprise, surprise ;-) ). Especially with the “QUIET” part. Just collecting impressions won’t help, if you don’t take the time to “digest” them. Your subconscious works on all the input and you have to turn down the conscious part a bit, in order to get those weird ideas you carry inside coming back to the surface again. At least that is how I see it. ;-)

  30. Tim Skipper October 20, 2010 at 5:12 am #

    Its the wee hours of the morning when I first wake up but haven’t gotten out of the bed that ideas seem to pour into my head. I use to keep a journal to write things down but I found I couldn’t read what I had written. Now I just get up and write them at my desk, apparently I was trying to write while still sleeping.

  31. Alex Weltlinger October 20, 2010 at 5:56 am #

    I absolutely agree with the quiet. But I come at it from a slightly different tack – I always conceptualize my images at a cafe, by myself, sequestered away in a corner somewhere with a coffee and a notebook, scribbling madly away.

    It’s always in a cafe for me, don’t know why. Though I suspect there’s a caffeine addiction in there somewhere…

  32. Steven Geer October 20, 2010 at 5:57 am #

    Great insight Chase- thanks for continuing to mentor!

  33. Bruce Buck October 20, 2010 at 7:36 am #

    It’s always easy to think we’re more productive if we’re “doing something”. Everything you said here has definitely been true for me as well. Although I really need to work on jotting my ideas down. I usually always forget to do that.

  34. Donnie Bell Design October 20, 2010 at 8:14 am #

    Agree with this. The only problem is number 1. We tend to get comfortable and settle and don’t want to break a mold or routine. As a group, we pretty much do 2-7. I think it’s time for a company adventure.

  35. Laura October 20, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    Interesting and inspiring
    ….but I can’t help myself

    It’s not a “dialectic”, it’s a dialog – dialectics having to do with logic and logical arguments

    It’s not “for not”, it’s “for naught”

    …and my project stewing on the back burner is named for exactly how you’ve framed inspiration – unconscious thoughts – those ideas and concepts that are swirling around our heads and seem to gel when we’re not super-focused on anything in particular.


    • Chase Jarvis October 20, 2010 at 9:04 am #

      thanks for the “naught” catch.

      coming back at you on dialectic. i’m specifically referring to hegel’s dialectic here – a philosophical discussion structure where two sides offer differing views and their ideas are combined to create a single, elevated “answer”. (that answer is then of course again subject to outside views and on and on –and up–it goes…).

      putting my grad school philosophy to use here… ;)

      • Benny October 20, 2010 at 9:46 am #

        I think therefore I am.

        …that’s all I’ve got.

      • Laura October 21, 2010 at 8:30 am #

        You got me. One so seldom sees a reference to Hegel!

  36. JerseyStyle Photography October 20, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    “Isolate and create” I like that.

    Whenever I get on an airplane, that seems to be a conduit for creativity for me. Whether it’s because I picked up an magazine at the airport that I normally wouldn’t or because I have time to think thru things, whatever it is, flights seem to do it for me. I’m getting to do some big travel soon – hopefully I’ll get inspired!

  37. WillSalomon October 20, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    Hello Chase,

    I was reading your 7 habits and really appreciate the thought process behind it and it surely makes a lot of sense. However, since this is an open source platform, I was thinking as an Indigenous American, that honoring and reflecting on our ancestors could also be a big sources of inspiration. I understand popular culture, but in many ways popular culture has its roots in indigents cultures from around the world. In many ways our current culture is an amalgamation of many different art forms. So, I wanted to put that our there in terms of expanding on what you have already built and stated, that as move forward in technology and new media, we cannot lose our cultural ancestry efficacy through our arts medium. “Sankofa” teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or been stripped of, can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated.

    • Chase October 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

      great point, will.

  38. Sachin Khona October 20, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    For me, I’m most creative when Im bored…

    Travelling, commuting, on the way to a job, waiting for a friend to turn up… Thats when all my ideas come to me..

    They go straight onto my phone in drafts and I later write them up and review..

    I just need to get those ideas better organised..

    But the key is implementing them..

    Thanks for sharing Chase

  39. CallumW October 20, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    Bizzare admission, but I keep a notepad and pen next to the toilet.

    If I run out of loo paper I can always make good use of lesser ideas :)


  40. Adam Leahy October 20, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    Right on

  41. ihath October 20, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

    Thank you for the pointers. I especially appreciate the advice on listening … so true.

  42. Rich Park October 21, 2010 at 8:05 am #

    thanks for sharing chase! we all need a little more silence in our lives -

  43. Stacia Kelly October 21, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    So very well put. People often wonder how I can work in so much silence. It is truly the only way to really hear the ideas when the come to you. I find that many times I’ll be driving without the music on, and I accomplish so much more on my project ideas, story ideas and more.

    Silence is golden. So many people seem to be afraid of it.

  44. Rohn Engh October 25, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    As I rest here in my quietude,.. I relect on my favorite…
    ten words…


    Creativity comes from the inside, not from the outside.

  45. Tim Olsen October 26, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    There are days when I am so overwhelmed by the bombardment of the internet, photography, advertising, business, relationships…. that I just have to walk away, even at the height of the chaos. I love the stimulation of diversity, but sometimes enough is enough. When I find myself feeling too sensitive, overwhelmed, anxious… I need a recharge. Silence, isolation, nature, a bike ride, a nap.

    I’ve recently hit a wall in my writing for http://www.APhotoAssistant.com. Every time I start writing an article, it gets lost in the confusion and distractions swimming around in my head.

    I’ve been tossing around a few ideas that have grown from other ideas, writing, projects. It all came together in the shower this morning. I’m optimistic that by working on a new side-bar for APhotoAssistant that the writing will come back.

    The Zen Habits link looks awesome!

    Thanks for a timely post Chase!


  46. Mitch November 12, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    Very true for me, but I’m an introvert, so I need my walk in the woods to recharge, to think. For extroverts, though, it’s essential to get out into the loud. They NEED interaction with the world to collect themselves. The quiet I enjoy is painful to them, just as the interaction they crave wears me out at the end of the day. Studies do show that most artists are introverts, though…

  47. Stan November 17, 2010 at 12:13 am #

    Hello Chase! I’m new you your blog

    I love your 7 creative habits. I definitely need hem because I’m trapped working two “regular” jobs that rob me of the time and desire to do anything creative (design and photography)

    Quiet and silence helping creativity is so true. I came up with my website name iunderstan.com while sitting alone in my Moms car, waiting for her AAA for like 2 hours. I took out scrap paper and started brainstorming…

  48. TJ November 19, 2010 at 6:53 am #

    Hi Chase

    Absolutely love your work, and appreciate the 7 creative habits you talk about here. Your missing link is very true, we all need a little solitude from time to time. Too bad many other people don’t think the same way.


  49. Ashley November 19, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    So inspiring. I often have a hard time being proactive in my creativity. I’m a perfectionist and want everything to come out as a masterpiece. Sometimes I forget that mistakes can turn out to be masterpieces. I say no to things because I’m scared of failure. Writing songs is my major stumbling block. I used to be more fluent, but lately I’ve been finding it difficult to even just sit down and begin writing. I’ll jot down a line or melody here and there, but I haven’t been taking the time to make something out of them. When I don’t have a brilliant idea at the moment, I assume the vision will come to me at some point. But that time often never comes. I gotta get back into the swing and explore and take some crazy risks. Thank you for the tips…now to applying them.

  50. francisco November 19, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    I am working on bettering myself as a photographer especially in the commercial advertisement lifestyle market. I would love some advise as to i dont know where to start

  51. MarkMimage November 20, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    Hi Chase,

    Thanks for this post, it must be the 10th time I’ve re-read it. Your perspective is spot on – it transcends being just a photographer, it encompasses so much of art and life. The best things come from the time you spend listening to your honest self and listening to people and their own amazing story. You’re so right, now is the most exciting time for photographers, we are witnessing a period of evolution – more and more people are not happy with 9-5, they want to create, they want to break the everyday mould. We as photographers and artists have the power to bring that story through images or any other medium – your images inspired me to become a photographer, it’s only been 8 months since I beg

    • MarkMimage November 20, 2010 at 12:13 am #

      ….began making photos, and I’m so inspired to grow and learn as much as I can from you, other photgraphers, artists, musicians, people etc etc.

      Ok, there’s my rant for now. Thanks again!!

  52. Mikael November 21, 2010 at 7:04 am #

    I thought “spot on!” when I read this. It’s incredible how similar humans function, and yet we are so different.

  53. Derek Anson January 10, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    I’ve found that ideas strike when I’m doing something repetitive and I’m almost in autopilot letting the mind wander. I always found swimming good for this, but nothing strenuous ;)

  54. James Reyes January 18, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    I should print these out and tape them on my monitor!

  55. Rohan Juierie April 17, 2011 at 4:05 am #

    Hi Chase,

    I’ve been following you for sometime now and this is the first time I’m commenting here. Great job man. Its very novel you sharing your creative life with us. There’s been many a times when your posts lift my spirit and motivates me. I’m forever grateful. KUDOS to you man.

  56. Miss EmmaJane June 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    This is very true – and links into the fact that our brain can process things better when not bombarded with infomation noise and everything else – down time or quiet time is like cooking time… very much needed to form an idea that may have stayed at subconsious level otherwise! :)

  57. Photographick September 13, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    Although this article is almost a year old now, the principles and rules still hold firm. 5-7 are absolute musts in todays market. Thank you for such a wonderful reminder.

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