Lessons from The Music Room No.6: Two Creative-Types

For one year– from Spring2010 to Spring 2011,  I turned my growing family into a laboratory.  My purpose– to set each of us on a Creative path of our own.  We began in the grand central space we callThe Music Room.  Our old piano is here and our shelves are stuffed with great books.  There are Kapla blocks to build with and a wooden castle with queens and kings to play with. For one week I’m writing about what I’ve learned this year– about Creativity and what it takes to live it. My previous post: Creativity Can Be Learned

There are two creative-types: Creators and Responders.  Both creative-types produce creative work, but they work very differently.


Creators constantly put out new domain-specific stuff and don’t even wonder about messing up.  With proper tools and protected free time they’re off producing. They master their own energy for quiet productivity and work prodigiously with minimal restriction. From my observations, their creative-development sky-rockets between ages eight and ten years old.

My nine-year old son is a Creator-type. He’s busy all the time– not with homework, chores, video games or sports. Instead he’s mastering a domain– Lego design.  He takes breaks to play with his sisters, help tidy up the house or sleep. But the quotidian in general (mealtimes, showers) are superfluous unless combined with Lego-time.  Check out some of his daily domain-related activities:

  • reading Lego History books (yes, they do exist),
  • designing Lego kits on his computer
  • building new scenarios and characters using pieces from Lego kits,
  • making Lego stop-motion videos ( he’ll soon start posting on YouTube),
  • calling friends to talk about Legos,
  • talking to his siblings (and anyone else who will listen) about his latest Lego creation/project,
  • watching Lego videos on You-Tube,
  • updating his page on the Lego social site,
  • writing a screenplay for a Lego movie (which he’ll start making soon),
  • writing the Lego company in Billund, Denmark (no response, yet) asking for a job as a designer,
  • reading Lego Brickmaster magazine,
  • collecting free tickets to Legoland (from magazine, etc)

He organizes his days to produce.  He learns and makes.  He talks and makes.  He makes new stuff everyday. He goes to bed excited with a head-full of ideas for the next day’s projects. No doubt about it– he’s a Creator-type.  All my son needs is free time (he must control his schedule) and some tools. We give him that. So he creates constantly, fully engaged.

Another child of mine also created constantly and fully engaged when she was nine years old.  We gave her free time (she also controlled her own schedule) and some tools. Her domain– writing.  Check out some of her daily domain-related activities:

  • writing short stories
  • writing sketches and observations
  • writing plays (and faxing them to cousins so they could start memorizing their lines)
  • listening to audio-books
  • writing/reporting/editing a newspaper she founded
  • learning newspaper-making software
  • sending newspapers to relatives and friends across the US
  • writing a children’s novel
  • walking outside– thinking up new plots for stories
  • writing in her journal
  • writing letters to cousins
  • writing the introduction to her autobiography

Drawing and painting (which she also enjoyed) got less time as she got older because she needed more time to write.  No doubt about it– she’s also a great example of a Creator-type.

Albert Einstein was also this type. His domain– theoretical physics.  Einstein didn’t make stuff but still constantly produced. He constantly produced new thoughts.  He walked and thought.  He read and thought. He ate and thought.  He sat still and thought. He wrote and thought.  He took breaks to converse (usually about big ideas– peace, religion) or play Mozart on his violin– but mostly, he thought. Not all his thoughts were ground-breaking.  Most were not.  But all this time thinking eventually gave him the intellectual heft to produce the Theory of Relativity.


Responders also produce creatively (eventually) but spend major time (especially in childhood) noting (mostly unconsciously) the activities of others.  They produce as a response to others.  Their creative domain– other people.  Responders write, cook, dance or build for fun but their creative potential lies elsewhere– in the realities of the human condition.  They take in what others feel, think and experience as if by osmosis. Because they are so other-oriented,  many responders lose creative drive (about the same time Creators take-off– fourth grade) in favor of service to others.  For responders, Creative drive is maintained consciously.  They have to want to be Creative. They need tools and protected free-time, but they also need prompts.  Responsive creativity emerges as an ongoing conversation of sorts. Responders play idea ping-pong.  My eleven year old daughter is a Responder-type.  When she walks in a room she immediately intuits the emotional climate there.  She tracks my moods and everyone else’s, for that matter.  She does this naturally, as if by osmosis.  Check out some of the ways she spends her free time and note their great variety (as opposed to the examples above):

  • playing the piano
  • texting friends
  • taking long nature walks
  • reading historical fiction,
  • organizing homework
  • making the baby giggle
  • looking up horses (she wants one very badly) to buy–online
  • daydreaming
  • helping siblings do stuff (i.e., reaching a high cereal box, gouache-painting)
  • attending extra-curricular classes (science, pottery-making, etc.)
  • swimming
  • listening to audio-books
  • riding her bicycle
  • wondering what to do next

These activities seem energy-neutral for her (except for giggling with the baby).  They steady her energy but add none to her reserves. Her intellect and energy to do runs on people-powered batteries. A full day with friends leaves her bouncing around the house like Tigger– full of energy and ready for anything.  But if I act tired or grumpy, her energy disperses into the breeze and she sticks to what’s required. Responders need proper tools and protected alone time AND  people (family, friends) charged with positive energy as well as creative peers to play/work with.  Everyone benefits from creative peers but responders Create because of them. Their creativity requires partners.  Without partners they don’t play at all and produce nothing original.

Mother Teresa, deeply moved by the plight of the poorest of Calcutta, spent her life holding them, loving them and feeding them. But she did more than aid people one-to-one.  She responded by creating organizations so more people could reach the poor and help out. I don’t know how my eleven year old will make her mark in the world.  I cannot yet see the scope of her creative contribution.  But I am learning how she functions.  She is clearly a Responder.  So I’ll do my best to give her what she needs– tools, protected time, creative peers/people and me.

Jesus Christ was also a Responder.  Try to imagine Jesus without his Father, his disciples, the ruling sacerdotal class or the masses of people needing inspiration in a Palestine under Roman siege.  Jesus noted the human condition and changed the world.  He responded to the people (their needs, ideas, fears and troubles) around him.  No people.  No Jesus.

Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva.org is a current-day example of a Responder responding to people in her world.

Her TED Conference presentation (below) is worth watching:

Creators are easy to spot because they are so productive.  Responders simmer long instead and need more preening. Both are rich in creative potential.

Creativity’s Terrain, Part 10: Find A Love & Attend to It, For Life

You have less control over your environment and the environment in which your children grow than you think. The variables are infinite. For two weeks I’m writing about Creativity’s Terrain and the variables you can control. Yesterday I wrote about Setting Your Own Path.

Creativity in a given domain builds on pleasure but  is sustained, just like the best of relationships, with lifelong attention.

A few months ago, my son and I happened to walk past the Lego isle at a toy shop. We didn’t stop, but his eyes skipped a blink.

Cognitive psychologists measure a baby’s interest in or recognition of objects by split second differences in attention. A baby will look at an object that captures her interest a tiny bit longer. I registered my son’s pause and knew what I’d buy for his next birthday.

He’s crazy-infatuated now. Four hours a day using Lego’s Design by Me site is not enough.  He eats, sleeps and swims when I insist he must take a break.  The rest of his day is spent as follows:

  • building Legos
  • talking his sisters (at home) and cousins (by phone) into buying Legos
  • begging to help me with unsavory (paid) chores, so he can buy Legos
  • trying to figure out how to work as a Lego designer, by the time he turns 13 (he’s willing to move to Denmark)

He may not remain monogamous for long in this relationship with Legos.  His first child may, or may not, be born in Bullund, Denmark. Regardless, working long hours with Legos will serve a more enduring, future Creative pursuit by fortifying, among other things, problem-solving and three-dimensional design skills. And he will love Legos into old age for the joy he feels today.

Love for a domain need not reach full-blast, at first sight.  In fact, it will need 10,000 hours of devoted attention to allow for Creativity.

My 11 yr. old daughter spent the big bucks, this morning, on acrylic paint tubes.  She’s been painting all afternoon and left her room for dinner, amazed two hours had passed since she last left the easel. Up-sweeping her brow, she  said,

Wow. I can see how artists get so involved in their work.

This overt love of painting is new but an interest has simmered in her subconscious for years. Now, with her recent 45 hours of art lessons squeezed into three weeks, she’s hooked.  She’s learned who Mary Cassatt was and how hard Claude Monet fought for respect and relates, even if only a bit.

Her sweet infatuation may grow tall and wide to lead her to Art School later or, it may ripple into a different domain for her as well.

My most vivid memories of childhood recall the amazing (to me), cosmological questions I pondered back then. I’ve spent happy hours drawing and reading and running marathons. I’m crazy about my children and married my soul mate. But like Rene Descartes,

I think, therefore Iam.

Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, is a zoologist, financier and journalist. He travels and hikes and dabbles in philanthropy.  But is true love seems philosophy.  He thinks about the origins of Man and what makes us who, and what, we are. He married a neuroscientist. His training and his relationships, fuel his passion for thinking.

Young Albert Einstein‘s stint clerking in the Swiss Patent office, also fueled his thinking passion.  He reviewed patents on clocks (which in his day were not atomic-time accurate) and pondered on the enigma of time.

Even the patron saint of polymaths, Leonardo Da Vinci, had one huge idea to drive all his projects.  His was a lifelong love for the human eye. This awe for the human capacity to see drove his every invention and every work of art.

Highly Creative people eventually stop flitting domain to domain to devote themselves to the one domain they’ll love lifelong. They dream within one domain and love it, as long as life.