Fostering Creativity by Looking in Unlikely Places



By Think Jar Collective founder Ben Weinlick

wordcamp edmonton

Recently, Shaun Brandt of ONST Creative and I presented a session on creativity at an event for hackers, creatives and designers. Over the course of 2 days a few hundred people attended Wordcamp to learn about blogging, design, coding, creativity and WordPress. Shaun and I wanted to present something a bit different than what might be expected at an event like Wordcamp and so we gave a session called Fostering Creativity by Looking in Unlikely Places.  

At first glance Shaun and I are an unlikely pairing to present on the subject, but that was in many ways the point; to show what can happen when very different domains collide.  Shaun is a successful entrepreneur who along with his business partner Cam Service launched ONST Creative (pronounced honesty creative) last year and ever since have been uber-busy with international and local clients seeking branding, design and web development.  I asked them a while ago if they wanted to be part of think jar because I noticed their designs, originality and creativity is stellar and I sensed people could learn a lot about creativity and design from them.
For myself, although I come from an art and experimental music background, the area I’ve been applying creativity for the last decade has been in the domain of human services(social services). A number of years ago I saw the value and need for creativity in human services and proceeded to explore what creative processes could be relevantly applied to social service design.  That led tograduate studies and research on what it takes to develop creative organizational cultures that yield better quality work.  For the wordcamp talk I gave more of the background of what creativity is, what blocks it, and my own examples of creatively linking disparate, unlikely ideas and domains.  After I spoke, Shaun came in like a boss and showed how he and his creative team look in unlikely places all the time in their design process.
Below is a recap of the main points I spoke about on Fostering creativity by looking in unlikely places

  • We need to look in the places we normally don’t  look because it is there that we find fresh creative ideas

“Creativity is the ability to connect the seemingly unconnected” William Plommer

  •  Looking in unlikely places provides opportunities for Serendipity: chance events that become beneficial and useful
  • If we want to “think different” then we need to shake up stiff mental habits that keep us locked in the status quo

The danger of habits is that a person can become a prisoner of familiarity.” Roger Von Oech

  • Hard to see new situations we encounter in a fresh way because of our habits
  • Problem is we don’t see new situations as they are, we are clouded by past experiences and assumptions… this hinders a creative perspective
  • We need to balance having experience and breaking the old rules in order to see in new ways
  • There are some things we can do to hack and defeat some of these rigid mental habits




Philo Farnsworth invented television by getting an idea from looking at the rows of neatly spaced crops on his farm. He applied the spacing concept to creating rows of light and dark spots on a cathode ray tube to create images.  So, you could say looking at farming led to the invention of television. 


“The creative act: The defeat of habit by originality overcomes everything”

George Lois- American Designer
  • Defeat habits by being curious about interesting ideas and interesting people – seek out and learn from others

Keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas others have used successfully.  Your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on” Thomas Edison

  • Defeat habits by engaging lots of interests and hobbies

Legendary innovators like Franklin and Darwin share a defining attribute, they had a lot of hobbies” -Steven Johnson, Where good ideas come from

  • Defeat habits by consciously shaking up routines
  • Defeat habits by asking the “dumb questions” – The value of beginners mind
  • Defeat habits by hanging out with weird
  • Defeat habits by focusing on a problem and then letting go; do something totally different
  • Defeat habits by including people in your projects who are from outside your domain

Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine always brought together men and women from different domains in his think tanks

  • Defeat habits by developing a culture of serious play.  Play fosters trust and when there’s trust you are more likely to share and be open to fresh ideas

     ~ Curated by TME, Pass-the-Idea, November 28, 2012 



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