Creativity - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes


“This book is about creativity, based on histories of contemporary people who know about it firsthand."

"It starts with a description of what creativity is, it reviews the way creative people work and live, and it ends with ideas about how to make your life more like that of the creative exemplars I have studied."

"There are no simple solutions in these pages and a few unfamiliar ideas. The real story of creativity is more difficult and strange than many overly optimistic accounts have claimed."

"For one thing, as I will try to show, an idea or product that deserves the label ‘creative’ arises from the synergy of many sources and not only from the mind of a single person."

"It is easier to enhance creativity by changing conditions in the environment than by trying to make people think more creatively."

"And a genuinely creative accomplishment is almost never the result of a sudden insight, a lightbulb flashing on in the dark, but comes after years of hard work.”

How do you think of creativity?

• Most of us think of creativity of artists, musicians or inventors..

• While those people are quite often creative..  Creativity and creative people are needed in every field!

• Creativity is really just about innovation 

Routines and Rituals

• A lot of creative people seem crazy to the outside world.. 

• This in large part is due to their seemingly odd routines and rituals

• But as we will see in this mindmap and as Mihaly talks about in the book those routines are what create the environment for creativity. 


“So the definition that follows from this perspective is: Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one."

"The definition of a creative person is: someone whose thoughts or actions change a domain, or establish a new domain. It is important to remember, however, that a domain cannot be changed without the explicit or implicit consent of a field responsible for it.”

 Domains can be almost anything

• Mathematics

• Physics

• Medicine

• Art

  • The domain must be changed when something creative has taken place
  • Domains can also be created


  • The field is the people who make the decisions within the domain
  • Without people in the field integrating the creation the domain has not actually been changed


  • The person must use the things available to them that already exist in the domain and field
  • Then they have to create something new with those

Creative Person

Often we call people who are unique and interesting 'creative'

But unless they are making real changes to the field they are attempting to be creative in it doesn't fit the defintion

Mihaly would call them 'brilliant' but this book is about the creative


“Another consequence of limited attention is that creative individuals are often considered odd— or even arrogant, selfish, and ruthless."

"It is important to keep in mind that these are not traits of creative people, but traits that the rest of us attribute to them on the basis of our perceptions"

"When we meet a person who focuses all of his attention on physics or music and ignores us and forgets our names, we call that person ‘arrogant’ even though he may be extremely humble and friendly if he could only spare attention from his pursuit. If that person is so taken with his domain that he fails to take our wishes into account we call him ‘insensitive’ or ‘selfish’ even though such attitudes are far from his mind. Similarly, if he pursues his work regardless of other people’s plans we call him ‘ruthless.’ Yet, it is practically impossible to learn a domain deeply enough to make a change in it without dedicating all of one’s attention to it and thereby appearing to be arrogant, selfish, and ruthless to those who believe they have a right to the creative person’s attention.”

“For example, Leonardo da Vinci, certainly one of the most creative persons... was apparently reclusive, and almost compulsive in his behavior. If you had met him at a cocktail party, you would have thought that he was a tiresome bore and would have left him standing in a corner as soon as possible.”

Side Note:

“It is often surprising to hear extremely successful, productive people claim that they are basically lazy. Yet the claim is believable." 

"It is not that they have more energy and discipline than you or I; but they do develop habits of discipline that allow them to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. These habits are often so trivial that the people who practice them seem strange and obsessive. At first many people were mildly shocked that the great Albert Einstein always wore the same old sweater and baggy trousers. Why was he being so weird? Of course, Einstein wasn’t trying to upset anybody. He was just cutting down on the daily effort involved in deciding what clothes to wear, so his mind could focus on matters that to him were more important."

"It may seem that choosing slacks and shirts takes so little time that it is pretentious to worry about it. But suppose it takes only two minutes each day to decide how to dress. That adds up to 730 minutes, or twelve hours a year. Now think of the other repetitive things we have to do throughout the day—comb hair, drive cars, eat and so on. And then think not only of the time it takes to do each of these things but of the interruption in the train of thought they cause, both before and after. Having to choose a tie could derail a whole hours’ worth of reflection! No wonder Einstein preferred to play it safe and wear the same old clothes.”


Mihaly talks about how attention is a limited resource here..  

  • Think about the end of the day..  When you're maybe tired!
  • How creative do you feel you can be then?
  • Attention and brain power slowly wain throughout the day naturally
  • *More about this later

Creativity takes a lot of attention!  

  • So it makes sense for the extremely creative people to have attention sparing habits
  • Simple things like not having to decide what to eat for lunch or what to wear can save a lot of attention

This is one of the many reasons creative people may seem weird to the outside world..

  • It's not even that they 'don't care how they look'
  • It's more so that they care so much about their creative endeavor that they wouldn't let more trivial things like that get in the way of them paying attention too it

Maximize Your Attention

Being creative means changing your environment so you can pay the maximum amount of attention to your creative endevours

What areas can you cut your attention drain?

  • Can you simplify your wardrobe?
  • Can you simplify your eating?
  • Can you cut yourself off from people who would drain your attention?


“Are there then no traits that distinguish creative people? If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it would be complexity. By this I mean that they show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated." 

"They contain contradictory extremes—instead of being an ‘individual,’ each of them is a ‘multitude.’ Like the color white that includes all the hues of the spectrum, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves."

"These qualities are present in all of us, but usually we are trained to develop only one pole of the dialectic. We might grow up cultivating the aggressive, competitive side of our nature, and disdain or repress the nurturing, cooperative side."

"A creative individual is more likely to be both aggressive and cooperative, either at the same time or at different times, depending on the situation. Having a complex personality means being able to express the full range of traits that are potentially present in the human repertoire but usually atrophy because we think one or the other pole is ‘good,’ whereas the other extreme is ‘bad.’”

“One can be creative by living like a monk, or by burning the candle at both ends. Michelangelo was not greatly fond of women, while Picasso couldn’t get enough of them. Both changed the domain of painting, even though their personalities had little in common.”


"Genius is being able to hold two contradicting ideas in your head at once" - Albert Einstein

Where are you holding contradicting ideas?

How complex are you?

Ten Dialectic Poles of Creative Individuals

1. “Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest.”

2. “Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same time.” 

3. “A third—paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline.”

4. “Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at one end, and a rooted sense of reality at the other.” 

5. “Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.” 

6. “Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time.”

7. “In all cultures, men are brought up to be ‘masculine’ and to disregard and repress those aspects of their temperament that the culture regards as ‘feminine,’ whereas women are expected to do the opposite. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role of stereotyping.”

8. “Generally, creative people are thought to be rebellious and independent. Yet it is impossible to be creative without having first internalized a domain of culture. And a person must believe in the importance of such a domain in order to learn its rules; hence, he or she must be to a certain extent a traditionalist.”

9. “Most creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.”

10. “Finally, the openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.”


“Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise." 

"They wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important."

"Of course, such idiosyncrasies are not endearing to those they have to deal with, and it is not surprising that creative people are generally considered strange and difficult to get along with. But personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from the expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.”

Freeing The Mind

The power of habit is real..  

  • Habit is an amazing device created by the brain to try and help us save energy..  
  • Creative individuals use this device to the maximum

Cutting out all the complexity on the outside allows us to be more complex on the inside

Find Your Rythm

How do you work best?

  • How can you maximize that time?
  • How can you eliminate those distractions?

How do you sleep best?

  • How can you maximize that?
  • How can you eliminate all distractions too that?

How do you eat best?

  • How can you maximize that?
  • How can you eliminate al distractions too that?


“The flow experience was described in almost identical terms regardless of the activity that produced it. Athletes, artists, religious mystics, scientists, and ordinary working people described their most rewarding experiences with very similar words."  

"And the description did not vary much by culture, gender or age; old and young, rich and poor, men and women, Americans and Japanese seem to experience enjoyment in the same way, even though they may be doing very different things to attain it."

"Nine main elements were mentioned over and over again to describe how it feels when an experience is enjoyable.”

Nine Elements

1. “There are clear goals every step of the way.” 

2. “There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.”

3. “There is a balance between challenges and skills.” 

4. “Action and awareness are merged.” (One point of attention)

5. “Distractions are excluded from consciousness.” 

6. “There is no worry of failure.” 

7. “Self-consciousness disappears.”

8. “The sense of time becomes distorted. Clock time no longer marks equal lengths of experienced time.”

9. “The activity becomes autotelic.” (Fulfilling in and of itself)

Finding Flow

Creative people are all about spending more time in a flow state..  

How can you use the nine elements mentioned above in order to maximize your creativity?

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