Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Tools: Transform your problems into courage, confidence, and creativity. A Book Review by Graduate Student Ian Rosenfeldt.

I came across The Tools in the Cultural Studies section of the bookstore. After flipping through, it looked appealing enough to investigate. The premise is straightforward - outlining five tools to be used to develop one’s self actualization. It occurred to me that there are plenty of cognitive tools to guide creative thinking and yet I hadn’t come across many whose purpose was to guide our thoughts so as to optimize our mindset for creative thinking. How do we suspend judgement? How do we accept opinions even if we disagree with them? Since the elements of courage and confidence are fundamental to developing creativity, perhaps The Tools, developed by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, would show a path to do just that and more?

Chapter one is written in call-and-response style from each author. One talks about his experience as a psychotherapist, encountering challenges with patients and looking for answers himself. The other talks about being approached by a young patient who was searching for answers. Not to why she thought the way she did, but on how to change her way of thinking. This led Barry Michels on his own quest to find tools that could do just that. The historical perspective on how the authors came to be acquainted with each other and the Tools made for an easy an engaging read and heightened my anticipation for more.

The tools are a way to bring positivity to your consciousness and to connect you to something called the Higher Power (and yes, it’s capitalized in the book). When first reading about the Higher Power, skepticism came naturally. The authors invite skepticism and ask only for one thing - for the reader to practice the tools. Given that simple request, I read on with an open mind, curious about what lay behind these Higher Powers. By inviting skepticism, the reader is forced to examine the book from deeper perspectives, to be open minded and yet look for cracks in the process.

Each of the next five chapters, one for each of the tools, starts with a story from their experiences - giving personality and context to allow the reader to identify with. They present situations that would prompt you to use the tool, the higher force that you will connect with, the process on how to use the tool (with simple illustrations), how the tool works and what the benefits are. The authors also address frequently asked questions they’ve had for each tool before ending off with a summary. This layout works very well. As I progressed through each chapter, I was trying to identify how I would use each tool. As each chapter summary drew near, there were additional examples given and alternative uses offered. Many of my own questions were addressed.

Thus far, I was grateful for finding The Tools and yet, the chapter on Higher Power was yet to come and my skepticism alarm started to chime. Turns out the Higher Power is not meant as a concept to challenge or replace anyone’s god, religion or spiritual belief. It offers a way of explaining how the power of happiness and confidence is actually a never ending well that we can tap into...only it comes from inside of us and not from external sources. To paraphrase the authors - these tools are a means of defeating inner enemies, using the weapons that enable us to believe in and experience higher forces without sacrificing our mental freedom to anyone or anything.

Despite my skepticism, I realized that the perspective presented isn’t revolutionary or even that scary. What is unique about this book is how the tools and this unique perspective of Higher Powers are presented, in an easily digestible way with simple and plain language that is not steeped with cultural, religious or spiritual dressings.  I found its simplicity and presentation refreshing, and after some short term practice I can say that these tools have had a positive impact on me. More practice is in the cards, most definitely.

The concluding chapter espouses practice and has us consider what might happen if more and more people tapped into these Higher Powers - how we as a society could benefit from the resulting positivity. One theme underscoring the entire book is that Western society is hell bent on consumption as a route to happiness, as if the latest and greatest will allows us to harness our creativity and confidence even better than before. What Stutz and Michels stress, however, is that along with developing a more positive mindset we each have the limitless power to develop our own creative selves. In effect, creating is more powerful than consuming.

Reading between the lines, it is not a far cry to draw connections to humanistic psychologists such as Rollo May or Abraham Maslow. The field of positive psychology is there as well, with the elements of motivation that could have easily referenced Teresa Amabile and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and even psychologist Viktor Frankl.

The tools seem like mantras, images and stories to be repeated and experienced repeatedly in one’s head. What is most interesting is that we’re not being told what specific images to use (i.e. not of someone else's creation) but scenarios to create ourselves, based on our own experiences, insecurities, goals and wishes. It takes imagination to visualize these future scenarios and The Tools calls upon our metacognitive efforts to practice them.

The authors mainly draw upon their experiences as psychotherapists in developing these tools. It was disconcerting as a reader to have no references to draw upon, and yet a core tenant of the book is that having faith in a process despite not being able to prove it, doesn’t detract from its effectiveness. Getting through the book is pretty easy, so I encourage a temporary suspension of judgement while you read it. Once through the book, having gained an understanding of the tools themselves, the concept of Higher Powers may be easier to digest and reformulate in a way that makes more sense to you.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is craving an infusion of fresh perspective to their stale inner dialogue. If you’re looking for techniques to be used to top up your positivity, courage and confidence then The Tools is worth further investigation.

About Ian
Ian is an energizing facilitator of deliberate creativity, team training and Creative Problem Solving. He is a specialist in coaching for success, providing the tools to optimize creative thinking and facilitating diverse groups through their unique challenges.
Ian is a current Masters student at Buffalo State College, studying creativity, innovation and change leadership. He pursues optimal experience in the mountains (not often enough), on bikes of all sorts and behind two turntables. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work By Steven Pressfield

Description: Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work By Steven Pressfield

Pressfield, S. (2012). Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. New York: Black Irish Entertainment, LLC.

Would-be rockers might argue Born to Run is one of the greatest albums of all time; easily Bruce Springsteen’s opus. This marked the turning point in his career when he made the decision to commit his energy and talent to the universe.  Indeed, some of the most haunting and powerful lyrics on the album lie in the song Thunder Road, “the door is open but the ride, it ain’t free.”  According to the boss himself, “so this was my big invitation to my audience, to myself, to anybody who was interested.  My invitation to a long and earthly, very earthly, journey.  Hopefully in the company of someone you love, people you love, and in search of a home you can feel a part of” (Springsteen, 2005). 
Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield, is a non-fiction book about the seminal moment when an individual makes, what Pressfield calls, “a monumental, life-overturning decision” (Pressfield, p. 5).  In other words, the moment one makes the decision to stop fooling around, to become the creative person he was born to be; the point in which one draws a line in the sand. Springsteen’s storytelling encapsulates Pressfield’s thesis regarding why some individuals are able to embrace their true creative calling in life, while others merely tip- toe along the edges, seeking distractions to silence that tiny voice inside. It’s not easy to turn pro.  Yet at the same time, it’s much more difficult, and mentally painful not to.
Reading Turning Pro is not about identifying a true calling. Pressfield asserts that for the amateur it’s already there, hiding under the surface. Rather, Pressfield suggests there is a stark difference between the amateur and the professional and dedicates the book comparing and contrasting the mindset and behaviors of the two archetypes. He purports turning pro – consciously leaving the amateur behind – represents a model for self-transformation (Pressfield, p. 5).   
Self-transformation begins by acknowledging and pushing through what Pressfield terms, “resistance,” a force of fear, self-doubt and self-sabotage.  The amateur allows resistance to stymie creativity, by providing all too tempting distractions.  For some it might be addictions to food, alcohol or even making money.  To others, resistance takes the form of the need for instant gratification or the approval of others.  According to Pressfield, “addictions take on two primary characteristics: they embody repetition without progress and they produce incapacity as a payoff.”  Addictions are boring; they travel in a repetitious circle that goes nowhere.  “We are stuck in the same endlessly repeating loop. That’s what makes addiction like hell” (Pressfield, p. 34).  
The professional faces the same types of resistance; the difference being he recognizes it for what it is and has committed to stepping through it. Being a professional is an act of courage. “The professional knows that in the course of her pursuit, she will inevitably experience moments of terror, even panic. She knows she can’t choke that back or wish it way. It’s there, it’s for real.”  (Pressfield, p. 123).
The Pressfield suggests the professional gets to this place because of a commitment to mastery, to leaving the trappings of the amateur. Turning Pro is not easy. Turning Pro means, in a sense, growing up, leaving youth (metaphorically) behind.  It may necessitate finding a new set of friends, a new career, a new way of life.  In other words, “the ride, it ain’t free.”  Old, comforting habits must be jettisoned.
The book has a touch of “zen.” Turning professional leads to a more spiritual place with one’s art (however defined), by finding one’s personal power. Ironically, turning pro is not easy, but being pro is. Pressfield (p. 90 – 91) does a wonderful job of bluntly stating the qualities of the professional, who:
·       Shows up everyday
·       Stays on the job all day
·       Is committed over the long haul
·       Knows the stakes are high and real
·       Is patient
·       Seeks order
·       Demystifies
·       Acts in the face of fear
·       Accepts no excuses
·       Plays it as it lays
·       Is prepared
·       Does not show off
·       Dedicates himself to mastering technique
·       Does not hesitate to ask for help
·       Does not take failure or success personally
·       Does not identify with his instrument
·       Endures adversity
·       Self-validates
·       Reinvents herself
·       Is recognized by other professionals

In Summary – Relationship To Creativity
Turning Pro is not a guide to finding one’s artistic (big C, little c) calling.  For this type of personal journey, I recommend Sir Ken Robinson’s, “The Element.” Dr. Robinson asserts The Element is found at the intersection of natural aptitude and personal passion (Robinson, p 21). Pressfield targets the individual who hears his calling yet is scared to act. The person who may, on a conscious or sub-conscious level, know the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of changing. 
As students of creativity, Pressfield lays out the very simple choice – we can sit on the sidelines and dabble in Creative Problem Solving and creative leadership or fight our way into the game, grab the ball and run like heck to the goal post.  We must choose to lead creatively.  We must declare ourselves creative leaders and own it.
The book is a quick, yet powerful read that I found to be very self-motivating. It has evolved my thinking on creativity, offering insight regarding the blocks to creative commitment. For readers, the idea of naming the force of resistance and identifying it on a personal level might evoke a new level of self-awareness, leading to self-transformation.  
Those interested in the concept of resistance and its relationship to developing one’s creative calling should consider reading Pressfield’s 2002 work, The War of Art.

About the Author
Steven Pressfield is the author of Gates of Fire, Tides of War, The Afghan Campaign, The Profession, The Warrior Ethos and The War of Art.


Aronica, L., and Robinson, K. (2009). The Element: how finding your passion
changes everything. New York: Penguin Group.

Robinson, K., and Aronica, L. (2009). The Element: how finding your passion
            changes everything. New York: Penguin Group.

Springsteen, B. (1975). Born to Run. New Yor: Columbia Records.

VH1 (April, 23, 2005). Storytellers: Bruce Springsteen. Distributed by Viacom

Alison Murphy – Biographical Sketch 
Alison Murphy is a founding partner of Murphy Marketing Research/TRENDTOWN, an insights consulting firm dedicated to applying creativity tools to traditional market research methods. Alison and her husband, Tom, formed the company 18 years ago and employ six professionals.  Throughout her career, Alison has worked with Fortune 100 consumer and business-to-business organizations.  She works closely with clients including Grainger, Allstate Insurance and Revlon to gain insight, identify customer needs and develop new products and marketing and advertising programs.  
Areas of expertise include developing innovative and creative methodologies for capturing consumer insights on deeper, more emotive levels and facilitating ideation and brainstorming sessions.  Throughout her career, she has moderated hundreds (and hundreds) of focus groups.  
A specific area of accomplishment is MMR/TT’s Sparks® ideation program that features a panel of over 400 creative consumers who brainstorm new products for leading manufacturers.   In 2012, the Sparks® program won a coveted Ogilvy Award for Innovation Excellence and in 2009, MMR/TT’s Sparks® program was awarded the Milwaukee Small Business Times IQ (Innovation Quotient) Award.  
Prior to forming MMR/TT, Alison worked for several leading advertising agencies in Chicago and Milwaukee and held the position of Market Research Director for Stokely USA, a division of Del Monte.  She holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and an MA from Marquette University. 
As a life-long student, Alison is currently completing a Master of Science degree in Creative Studies and Change Leadership through SUNY New York.  She attends the annual Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) sponsored by the Creative Education Foundation.  She is very active in the Qualitative Research Consultant’s Association, having served on the Board of Directors as Vice President for this global, 1,000 member organization.    In addition, she is involved in the PTA for her son’s high school and conducts strategic planning sessions for the school board. 
She’s a passionate bread baker (no bread machines allowed!) and recently won a blue ribbon for her Jackson Harbor Killer brownies at the Washington Island fair. 

Contact: Alison Murphy
Murphy Marketing Research/TRENDTOWN
161 North Green Bay Road
Thiensville, Wisconsin 53092
262-236-0194 ext. 229 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book Review: Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told you About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

(Austin Kleon)

            You’ve probably seen this book at your local Barnes & Noble, stacked on a table of “Gifts for Grads, ” right next to Oh the Places You Will Go by Dr. Suess, or under a sign declaring “Good Advice” alongside the latest release from a Real Housewife. It is a chunky little block of a book with bold handwritten text throughout, by a young author (yes, in the advice game, 29 is young). You might be tempted to dismiss it as just a cute little bon bon, a feel-good gift book destined to collect dust on the coffee table.
            But there’s serious thinking behind Austin Kleon’s “10 Things,” drawn not only from his experiences but broadly sourced from the experiences of countless creative practitioners who have influenced him. Kleon is a self-described “writer who draws,” a prolific producer of poetry and other writings as well as a promoter of visual thinking. He quotes Picasso, T.S. Eliot and David Bowie to support one of his key assertions — “Nothing is original” — but he could just as easily have drawn from the works of more academic heavyweights like Mel Rhodes, Arthur Koestler or Keith Sawyer.
            Born as a blog post that was shaped into a commencement speech that turned into another blog post that became an internet sensation, Steal Like an Artist is a modern-day manifesto: Kleon’s public declaration that we all have the potential to be creative (King, 2012).[1] “These ideas apply to anyone who’s trying to inject some creativity into their life and their work,” he writes, adding, “(That should describe all of us.)” (p. 1).
            It’s not just a book you read: it’s a book you experience. It’s fun to look at, optimistically declaring its advice on bold little billboards, in pithy poems and through quirky line drawings.

(Austin Kleon)

            So what are the “10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative”?
            1) Steal like an artist.
Embrace your influences, learn from the work of others and transform those influences into original work of your own. Kleon uses the analogy of genetics: we are made up of the people who came before us, both physically and intellectually. And there’s creative power in accepting that.

(Austin Kleon)

2) Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
You discover who you are by doing. In doing, you learn what’s worth stealing. But “stealing” is not about copying. “Don’t just steal the style,” he writes. “Steal the thinking behind the style” (p. 35).

(Austin Kleon)

3) Write the book you want to read.
The age-old advice about “writing what you know” is wrong. Kleon asserts you need to write (or draw, or otherwise create) not what is but what you want to be. “...Do the work you want to see done” (p. 48).
4) Use your hands.
The computer is, by its nature, an editing tool, Kleon says. Creativity can’t just happen in our heads or on a screen; you need to physically make something, be it words written by hand on a page or an actual object.
5) Side projects and hobbies are important.
What some call “incubation,” Kleon calls “productive procrastination,” and he encourages the practice of it, along with the pursuit of passions. (p. 65, p. 69).[2] “One day,” he writes, “You’ll look back and it will all make sense” (p. 71).

(Austin Kleon)

            6) The secret: do good work and share it with people.
There’s no need to be miserly with your ideas: sharing is a learning experience. And the internet makes it easy to share. “Step 1: Wonder at something,” he writes. “Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you” (p. 80).
7) Geography is no longer our master.
Thanks to the internet, we can all live in two worlds (or more): the one we physically inhabit, and the one(s) we create through shared interests. But you have to leave these “homes” at some point: “Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings,” Kleon says. “You need to make it uncomfortable. You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things differently than you” (p. 93).

(Austin Kleon)

8) Be nice. (The world is a small town.)
Kleon advocates active niceness: seek out talented people, write fan letters, “don’t pick fights.” (Instead, use anger as motivation to create.) At the same time, he encourages being nice to yourself as well: keep a praise file, but don’t expect validation from others.
9) Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)
“That whole romantic image of the creative genius doing drugs and running around and sleeping with everyone is played out,” Kleon writes (p. 119). Take care of yourself so you have the energy to create.
10) Creativity is subtraction.
Despite what we’ve all been led to believe, constraints are, in fact, freeing. “Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities,” says Kleon. “The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying” (p. 137).

(Austin Kleon)

            Steal Like an Artist is wise and practical: advice not just on being creative, but on how to live. Kleon wraps it up with a useful list of action steps — “take a walk,” “buy a notebook and use it,” etc. — to get the reader out of the book and into creative action. As the drumbeat for creative thinking and innovation grows louder in across many sectors, from corporations to schools to government and more, its content is both timely and timeless.  
            Steal Like an Artist reframes the concept of creativity for those who have been held back by their belief that you can only be considered creative if you have “original” ideas. It has the power to provide hope to people who think that “growing up” means they have to give up their creative pursuits. It would, in fact, make a great gift for a recent grad or for a lost creative soul looking for good advice. So I guess the merchandisers at Barnes & Noble are onto something.

All images courtesy of Austin Kleon ( from the Steal Like An Artist blogger kit (


King, A. (2012, August 26). Theft as art, art as theft: an interview with Austin Kleon. The Kenyon Review. Retrieved from

Kleon, A. (2012). Steal like an artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative. New York, NY: Workman Publishing.

[1] The original blog post:
The Jonathan Lethem article referenced in the original blog post:
[2] And ample alliterative use of the letter p.


Jody Fisher is the Ideation Strategist on the Innovation Team at NestlĂ© Purina PetCare. In this role, she helps feed the company’s innovation pipeline and manages the company’s internal idea network. Prior to joining Purina’s Innovation Team, Jody was a copywriter for 15 years, working on brands like Friskies, Purina ONE, Gatorade, Pizza Hut and more. Jody earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from The Colorado College, and expects to finish her Master’s of Science in Creativity and Change Leadership at the ICSC in December, 2013.