“Creative thinking is the kind of thinking that leads to new insights, novel approaches, fresh perspectives, whole new ways of understanding and conceiving of things. The products of creative thought include obvious things like music, poetry, dance, dramatic literature, inventions, and technical innovations. But there are some not so obvious examples as well, such as ways of putting a question that expand the horizons of possible solutions, or ways of conceiving of relationships that challenge presuppositions and lead one to see the world in imaginative and different ways.”  {Peter Facione, Santa Clara University}

I think we can all agree on how important creative people have been for mankind and how much more creativity we need in the world right now.
But, can it be learned? Can we all be creative? or have we lost it while growing older?

Pablo Picasso once said; “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

He is right because regrettably creativity is not a subject on most schools. Creative or “different” kids are most of the time not accepted and definitely not supported in being more creative on most modern schools.
Sadly, for many of these creative students our automatic tendency is to view them by their limitations and not by their possibilities. Let’s try and change this asap!

Giving children and students the means to explore their creative possibilities instead of focussing on their limitations is the way education should be designed. It is the only way to let our society grow. We need new and fresh ideas, not copies of existing ones.

The first thing you probably think of when talking about creativity is art. Here’s what Tolstoy has to say about the meaning of art:

“To evoke iWhat is Art?n oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling–this is the activity of art.

    Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feeliings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.

    And if men lacked this other capacity of being infected by art, people might be almost more savage still, and, above all, more separated from, and more hostile to, one another.”


To be able to be creative and create art, is one of the most important qualities of mankind.
Think about it,the world really wouldn’t be the same without creative people and their great inventions. Picture a world without music!

Can creativity be learned?

Those that have read my book the “Corporate Music Method” know I talk a lot about getting “Circle Around”. This means getting your music (or any product) up to market standards, getting it up to what your client expects, what your fans expect, what your listeners or your buyers expect. This “Circle Around” aproach could also be discribed as craftsmanship, a mix of knowledge and inspiration, getting it up to 100%, becoming just as good as your competitors, just as good as your musical heroes.

But, these readers will now also know that true creativity lies in that extra step, that “One Step” further, One Step beyond or One Step different.
It’s about taking your ideas to a new area, a new world, giving it a uniqueness where you make a difference and find your own USP. It’s there where you distinguish yourself and your music from the rest. This is where creative people make a difference and teach the rest of the world how it’s done.

Creative thinking - Circle Around

How does being creative work?

Is it a mindset? a sudden strike by lightning?
Or is there a trick? and can it be learned?
The answer to the last question luckily, is Yes!

But why do some people seem to be creative all the time while others of equal intelligence never do?

According to “guru of lateral thinking” Edward de Bono there are three answers to this intriguing question:
There are three basic aspects of thinking:

  • What is

  • What may be

  • What can be

“We are almost totally consumed by ‘what is’. We underestimate the extremely valuable contribution that ‘what may be’ has made to progress. We do very little about ‘what can be’, even though our future depends entirely on this aspect”. So, those who do think about ‘what can be’ are the ones with the best and newest ideas”.

“The brain is specifically designed to be ‘non creative’. If it were creative, the brain would be utterly useless. It would be impossible to get up in the morning or to function at all. With only eleven items of clothing there are 39,916,800 ways of getting dressed. To go through these and to sort them out would take a lifetime. We do not need to because the brain simply switches us into the appropriate routine. That is the basis of perception and of action. Because the processes of deliberate creativity are not natural there is a need to practice them.
Riding a bicycle is not at all natural but once we have learned to ride a bicycle then it becomes easy”.

“We can now get all the information we need on the Internet, our smartphones. The new bottleneck is ‘thinking’ and ‘creative thinking’ in particular. The analysis of information does not yield new ideas because the brain can only see what it is prepared to see… So you have to be able to create the idea first as a possibility.
It is not much use making a creative effort if you are then unable to appreciate your own effort. So it is important to develop a habit of mind which sets out to find value in anything. With time you will become more and more able to detect real and potential values. One outcome of creative thinking is specifically to focus attention on discovering value. When we set out to discover value there can be some big surprises. Very often there is a sudden ‘insight switch’. A value which was never even glimpsed suddenly becomes obvious.” (The ah-haa feeling). We do not make very full value of the opportunities provided by technology because we prefer critical to constructive thinking, argument to design.
Creativity is, however, never a substitute for competence. If the car does not start there is no point in being creative about destinations. On the other hand, competence is only a substitute for creativity when everyone around is being incompetent. Competence is the baseline, but creativity is the real value creation.”

So we could call getting “Circle Round” competence and “One Step” further creativity.. But you can call it lateral or sideways thinking, “One” different, concept thinking, outside the box or whatever you like. All it really means is that you have to think differently and be creative when you start a business or a band, write a song, when you’re making music for a client or thinking of a concept for yourself or for a customer. You need to be creative in your thinking in order to be successful and give the world something special. Period!Yes-Creativity-Can-Be-Learned_FB

So, back to music again! How can you think outside the box? How can you be creative whenever you want to? Is there a special way to do this?

Pablo Picasso again: “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Of course he is right. You first have to work hard at an idea, a song, a piece of music or a problem you want to solve. Only then the mind can work it’s wonders and give inspiring new answers.
So while it might seem like creativity is all about eureka moments, the most successful and prolific creative people share one thing in common:
They had solid routines that devoted time every day to work on their craft.


In my “Rules to be a Successful Musicwriter” the first 4 rules are great routines for evoking  and raising creativity:

1 The Plan. The night before you start working on a new project you decide on which direction it will take. Get in the right mindset before you go to sleep and tell yourself that tomorrow you’ll be creative and focus on this one project, this one piece of music and nothing else. Make a plan and stick to it!
You need to tell yourself “tomorrow I will write something great” and you will. Just believe in it.
Your mindset, focus and taking the time to think about your upcoming work makes all the difference between a useful, creative day and a long, tiring, not so creative, fighting against deadlines kind of day.


2 The Folder. Then make a folder where you put in ideas that seem to be related to your plan. Do this intuitively. For a song it can be a bassdrum, vocal sound, lyrics, a poem, some YT links, older music you’ve written. Anything that you intuitively think fits.
The folder will be your your starting point and the place to fall back on when you get stuck.
Listen to what is in there and get instant inspiration that steers you in the right direction again. A small sound or the way another track is mixed will give new ideas you can use in your new track.


3 Buy Time. Start early! Really early, and make your day a long one. Don’t look at your inbox, don’t look at Facebook or Instagram. Only focus on your job for that day. Create an environment where you can work fully focussed and undisturbed. Research has proven that most creativity exists in the morning when you, and your ears are fresh.
Having a long day ahead of you and more time to work, will give you a feeling of control and a relaxed mindset, which will make you write better and be more creative.


4 Be Intuitive. In writing music you need to trust your first emotion, your gut feeling. Whenever writing chords or a theme, making a sound, mixing, writing lyrics etc…. be intuitive. Trust your musicality. Rest assured that you will know what is the best musical decision immediately.Trust your musical instincts! When you’re someone that has to be creative on almost a daily basis, you need to believe in your own musical abillities and have the trust that your initial ideas are the best.

“The greatest scientists are artists as well,” said Albert Einsteinalbert-einstein-creativity-quote
For Einstein, insight did not come from logic or mathematics. It came, as it does for artists, from intuition and inspiration. Einstein: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge.” Elaborating, he added, “All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge. I believe in intuition and inspiration…. At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason.”

The above 4 Rules are solid routines for me and I use them every time. They work for me and I’m sure they’ll work for you too. We need these kind of routines to get into a creative state and start working on new and fresh ideas.

But, what when you run into problems or you inspiration dries out. What then?

Here are the steps you can use to create an atmosphere of creativity for yourself:

  • Step 1 Do Something Different.

    Did you know that the best ideas are born when you do something totally different? That’s because when you’re less focused your ideas are many times better. We really do get our best ideas in the shower! Go jogging or lift some weights, sports really help for the same above reason. That, researchers say, is because we’re less focused on generating ideas. It’s a paradox, but it’s true.

  • Step 2 Stop for today, get in bed on time and start early tomorrow morning.

    There’s definately more creativity in the morning. Most composers and musicians work long days until deep into the night. But to be creative this is all wrong. I think you’ll just be able to get “Circle ‘Round” when you’re tired but you won’t get the “Aha” moment or reach the “One Step” further moment. So sleep early and plan what you’re going to do next day. Then rise early, start fresh, with fresh ears and get fresh ideas.

  • Step 3 Go stand on a threadmill

    People walking on a treadmill proved to be more creative afterwards. According to a research by Stanford: 81 percent did better on divergent thinking while walking on a treadmill. Outside works even better than inside, less distractions. So, go walk the dog for 20 minutes. You’ll body and mind will get a rest and new ideas will just come to you.

  • Step 4 Go have a drink

    The best time to have an alcoholic drink would be when you’re searching for an initial idea. Alcohol helps decrease your working memory (making you feel relaxed and less worried about what’s going on around you), you’ll have more brain power dedicated to making deeper connections. Researchers found that about 5 seconds before you have a ‘eureka moment’ there is a large increase in your brain’s alpha waves that activates those parts of the brain that are responsible for your creativity. These alpha waves are associated with relaxation which explains why you often get ideas while you’re going for a walk, in the shower, or on the toilet. Alcohol is a substance that relaxes you so it produces a similar effect on alpha waves and helping us reach creative insights.

Use this last step with care of course and i wouldn’t recommend it early in the morning 😉


It is known that Rolling Stones guitarplayer Keith Richards only slept for about two nights every week for many years. This gave him a lot of time to be creative when most people were fast asleep.
Don’t try this at home kids!

New research suggests that musicians may be at their most creative when they are not playing their instrument or singing. By studying musicians and asking them when inspiration struck them, researchers found that breakthrough moments often happened when players were humming to themselves or tapping out rhythms on the table or imagining dance moves inspired by the music.

Most people probably know the stories of Beethoven composing his music in his head, without an instrument while walking outside.
Steve Jobs walked outside a lot when thinking of new ideas or solving problems and so did Goethe, Dickens and Darwin. So no shame in following these kinda people!

“What we are finding is that even fairly mundane activities can feed in to the discovery of new insight, new knowledge and new means of expressing ideas in all sorts of ways,” said John Rink, professor of musical performance studies at Cambridge University. “The potential is infinite.”

Use the Rules and Steps to become more creative and amaze the world….


About the author:
Erwin Steijlen is a songwriter/composer, coach, teaches Songwriting and Media Composing at ArtEZ, Institute of the Arts and is author of the book “Corporate Music Method, How to make Money with Music
More info on: Erwinsteijlen.com and erwinsteijlen.coach
Erwin believes in sharing instead of competing!