Spacing Out on Creativity Part Two: The Six Creative Modes
S01E02b: A Guide to Cultivating a Diverse Creative Headspace
👋 Hello, makers and designers, scholars and philosophers, empaths and artists!
Creativity is the act of connecting things in exceptional ways
This three-part series on creative space continues where part one left off.
🙌 In the last edition, we explored the workspace and how to bring it with you so you can always do more.
📘 Today we’ll discuss the mental areas—or modes—we inhabit when we struggle (and don’t struggle!) to be creative: our headspace.
(💗 And if you stick around long enough, I’ll get to the personal realm of inner-space next week)
Let’s get into it!
> Part Two: Modes are Better than Moods for Cultivating a Creative Headspace📘
When people talk about their creative pursuits, whether for themselves or for their jobs, they often lament about not being in the right mood to get the work done. Well, I’m going to stop you right there. If you want to be creative, you must get over that part of you that believes conditions need to be perfect to create. It’s a myth. And it’s a barrier that will never cease to hold you back. Time and time again, the world’s most prolific artists will tell you it doesn’t matter how you feel. It’s your job to show up and do the work. But what if you’re at an impasse between these physical and emotional aspects of creating?
This is where your wonderful, logical, self-aware brain can step in and save the day.
Let me try to explain the rest of this without writing an entire book. If you can believe that creativity is the act of connecting things in exceptional ways—which is the definition I now profess after many years of combining the research and experience of psychologists, neuroscientists, entrepreneurs, writers, musicians, and artists—then you should be able to accept that the most important elements of creativity are Action (doing more), Connection (thinking better), and Exception (being different). Of course, we will all have our own strengths and challenges in each category, and they will combine in different ways at different times.
I propose these creative elements are combined in six main ways that I call Creative Modes. And I invite you to wrap your head around them with me.
The Six Creative Modes
The six creative modes represent different approaches to creativity. Each mode has its unique strengths, challenges, and shadow modes. Understanding these Creative Modes can help you see yourself and your own patterns of creative behaviour. It can assist your teams in optimizing their collaborative efforts and overcoming obstacles.
Let’s take a peek at each mode, its strengths and challenges, how to approach its Shadow, and how best to shift into that mode when you need it to benefit you the most.
📝 A Note on Terminology
It is essential to recognize that the terms Designer, Artist, Maker, Empath, Scholar, and Philosopher all carry specific (and personal) connotations and meanings in various contexts. In some cases, these terms are associated with professions, titles, or areas of expertise, each with its own unique history and implications.
However, I encourage you to view these terms not as rigid categories or definitions but as archetypes that help you differentiate and navigate between different and impermanent creative states. I refer to them as Creative Modes because modes are transient, flexible, and adaptable. You can consciously change a dynamic process by shifting and evolving into various modes, as needed. Modes are like instruments in an orchestra, all necessary at different times and in varying amounts, depending on the desired outcome.
While you may have a default mode you fall into most often, embracing the full range of creative modes will open your work to a broader spectrum of possibilities. As you progress through a project, you may naturally shift from one mode to another, or you may stumble and struggle. Some transitions occur more effortlessly than others, but all of them are easier to recognize (and shift into) once you know what they are.
As you explore these Creative Modes, remember they are meant to empower you. They are a perspective, not a prescription. It’s also important to note that these descriptions are cursory and skeletal in their present form, and require your own thoughts and practice to really flesh themselves out.
You are driven by action and productivity, focusing on creating tangible results and making progress in your work.
The Maker is characterized by action, commitment, and a focus on quantity. Makers are always creating, making things, and staying active. They are hands-on and disciplined. They have momentum and move a project forward by doing.
Strong commitment to their work
Ability to make things happen through action
Constant practice and improvement of their craft
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.
May struggle with competitiveness or over-commitment
May have difficulty focusing on the deeper meaning behind what they are doing
Can become overwhelmed by multitasking
Defeating the Procrastinator
There are infinite distractions around us, demanding our time and rewarding our attention. Procrastination is the ultimate momentum killer for all creative projects. Strategically, Maker Mode can often hold it at bay.
To shift into Maker Mode, establish a routine prioritizing action and progress. Set specific goals and deadlines, break tasks into smaller, manageable steps, and focus on completing them one at a time. Minimize distractions and create an environment conducive to productivity. Turn your creativity into the reward.
Complementary Mode: Philosopher
Makers work well with Philosophers because the two balance action and reflection together. Philosophers can help Makers see the bigger picture and explore the deeper meaning and connection behind their work.
You thrive in solving problems through innovative solutions, combining practical abilities with specialized knowledge to achieve better outcomes.
The Designer is about applied knowledge, knowing the ins and outs of a specific discipline. Designers are problem-solvers who aim to create useful and meaningful solutions. They are skilled in their craft and have a strong sense of curiosity.
Ability to manifest intent and solve problems
Expertise in their chosen field
Skilled at connecting ideas and concepts with execution
Focus on quality and functionality
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
— Steve Jobs
Can struggle with taking risks or expressing perspectives that don’t solve the challenge at hand
May be overly critical of their own work (or that of others) due to their analytical approach
Defeating the Critic
The Critic tells you everything wrong with what you’re creating. It can be discouraging and demotivating because it’s often rooted in some truth. To defeat the Critic, Designers need to focus on finding constructive solutions rather than simply pointing out flaws. Remember, the opposite of success is not failure; it is learning.
To shift into Designer Mode, engage in an iterative mindset. Everything is a stepping stone. Focus on solution-oriented activities that stimulate critical thinking. Identify the needs and requirements of your project and brainstorm specific possibilities. Sketch, prototype, and improve on your ideas. Collaborate with others to gain different perspectives and refine your work.
Complementary Mode: Empath
Designers work well with Empaths, who can provide emotional insight and a deeper understanding of the human experience. This collaboration can lead to more meaningful and impactful solutions, like a User Interface (UI) designer working with a User Experience (UX) researcher.
You seek to expand your knowledge and explore connections between diverse fields of expertise, improving your efforts with curiosity and learning.
The Scholar is characterized by infinite curiosity, connection, and a focus on quality. Scholars are thinkers who love learning and analyzing information. They are constantly seeking new knowledge and making associations. This heads-down approach allows them to go deep or broad on any subject (given enough time, of course).
Strong analytical and critical thinking skills
Deep curiosity and a love of learning
Ability to connect disparate ideas from various disciplines
Focus on quality and depth of understanding
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
— Albert Einstein
Can become paralyzed by the infinite amount of information available
May struggle to complete projects because they can always learn more
Creative ideas expressed can be overly complex or academic, making them harder to relate to for people less emersed in a particular topic
Defeating the Perfectionist
Scholars must set clear boundaries and finish lines for their work to defeat the Perfectionist. Embracing the idea of "good enough" and focusing on progress rather than perfection can help overcome this challenge.
Shift into Scholar Mode by immersing yourself in learning; read books, articles, and research papers related to your project. Watch videos, and attend workshops, conferences, and webinars. Engage in discussions with experts and peers, and be open to exploring new ideas and concepts.
Complementary Mode: Artist
Scholars work well with Artists, who can provide a balance between thinking and expressing. Artists can help Scholars translate their knowledge and ideas into fluid and natural forms, bringing their insights to life in a more relatable form.
You delve into the deeper meaning of your work, contemplating the human experience and examining the impact of different points of view.
The Philosopher is about finding the wisdom behind knowlege. Philosophers are courageous and curious seekers who explore the human condition and investigate the world around them. They strive for understanding, conclusion, and synthesis.
Ability to explore and understand complex ideas and concepts from various perspectives
Strong focus on the human condition and its implications
Excellent at correlating information and drawing conclusions
Deep curiosity and the courage to investigate
The unexamined life is not worth living.
Can become overly cynical or pessimistic
May struggle to take action or apply their insights
Defeating the Cynic
Since Philosophers may forage through the darkest parts of humanity, they must cultivate hope and optimism to ward off the Cynic—a shadow mode where everything no longer matters. Engaging in positive meditation, surrounding themselves with supportive people, and focusing on the potential for growth and change can help overcome cynicism.
To shift into Philosopher Mode, dedicate time for reflection and contemplation. Consider the broader implications of your work and its potential impact on society, culture, and the human experience. Engage in debates, explore diverse perspectives, and always question your assumptions.
Complementary Mode: Maker
Philosophers work well with Makers, where they can balance reflection with action. Makers can help Philosophers put their ideas into form and create meaningful, tangible outcomes.
You prioritize emotional awareness, valuing the personal landscape of your work. You courageously pursue a unique and human voice.
The Empath is characterized by exception, courage, and a focus on uniqueness. Empaths are feelers who are deeply attuned to the emotions of themselves and others. They have a strong sense of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. They put their hearts out with their work, turning vulnerability into a strength.
High emotional intelligence and empathy
Ability to sense and understand others' emotions
Strong self-awareness and introspection
Courage to express their unique perspective
Creativity takes courage.
— Henri Matisse
Can struggle with impostor syndrome or self-doubt
May become overly absorbed in others' emotions
May identify so strongly with those around them that they lose sight of themselves
Defeating the Impostor
The Impostor seeks to undermine and diminish the Empath and invalidate their belief in themselves. You are a disingenuous fake who needs to be exposed. To defeat the Impostor shadow mode, Empaths must cultivate self-compassion and self-acceptance. Embracing their unique strengths and focusing on personal growth can help overcome impostor syndrome.
Shifting into Empath Mode requires active listening and observation (of yourself and those around you). In order to trust yourself, to just be, you need to let go of judgment and accept what is. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can deepen your self-awareness. And activities like journalling, volunteering, and support group participation can all foster deeper empathy.
Complementary Mode: Designer
Empaths work best with Designers, who can provide a balance between feeling and problem-solving. Designers can help Empaths create practical, meaningful solutions that still consider human emotions.
You balance the development of your skills with the expression of your unique vision, often experiencing immersion and focus in your creative process.
The Artist is a combination of action, and exception, with a focus on committed uniqueness. Artists are expressors who strive to find their creative flow-state and share their vision with the world. They are hands-on and courageous in their self-expression.
Ability to enter a state of flow and create without inhibition
Strong commitment to their craft and discipline
Courage to express their unique perspective
To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.
— Kurt Vonnegut
Can struggle with self-doubt or insecurity when they hit a snag (ie. stop flowing)
May have difficulty maintaining focus or direction
Defeating the Doubter
The Doubter makes you question every move you make, asks you to second guess your abilities and your intuition. It interrupts your flow and momentum with nagging fears that you will mess things up, that you will ultimately fail, that you aren’t good enough.
In order to manage the Doubter, Artists need to practice self-trust and build confidence in their abilities. Focusing on their strengths and accomplishments, as well as seeking feedback from supportive peers, can help overcome self-doubt. Allow yourself the freedom to experiment, take risks, embrace a unique vision, and to learn from your mistakes. Practice deep breathing and visualization techniques to stay focused and confident.
Complementary Mode: Scholar
Artists work well with Scholars, who can provide a balance between expression and analysis. Scholars can help Artists deepen their understanding and bring greater nuance to their work.
This Wild Creative Spectrum
As we come to the end of this exploration into the Six Creative Modes, please remember that these archetypes are infinitely adaptable to the unique experiences and perspectives of every individual engaged in creative work. They offer a window to understanding ourselves and our creative behaviour, empowering us to make the most of our innate talents and abilities.
The importance of grasping these Creative Modes is threefold. Firstly, they help us delve into our own creative psyche, recognizing the patterns and tendencies we exhibit. We all tend to jump into creative projects with either our hands (action), our heads (connection), or our hearts (exception). As we identify our default modes and those that lie dormant, we can actively nurture and develop the aspects of creativity we are less familiar with, thus expanding our creative potential.
Secondly, these modes enable us to appreciate the diverse contributions of our team members when working collaboratively. By understanding the unique strengths and challenges each mode brings to the table, we can create an environment that fosters diversity, facilitates open communication, and maximizes the collective potential of the group.
Lastly, the Six Creative Modes encourage a learning mindset and continuous self-reflection. As we work through various projects, we inevitably face obstacles and opportunities that necessitate adaptation and evolution. Shifting into different Creative Modes, different archetypes, can shepherd us through these barriers and transitions.
On that note, and at the extreme risk of suffering from the Doubter, the Impostor, and the Perfectionist all at once, let me end by thanking you for reading this far. It is my extraordinary desire to see people create more, better, and different work—things that inspire them to reflect their own unique humanity. Hopefully these Creative Modes gave you some insight or perspective to assist you on your further adventures as a Maker, Designer, Scholar, Philosopher, Empath, and Artist.
Now get out there and create more!!
What’s your default Creative Mode? Let us know in the chat (or in the comments). The more ideas we share, the better.
⏭️ Coming up next…
In Part Three, Inner-space, we’ll explore fostering belief in ourselves and uncovering our own unique voice.