Creativity: A Really Basic Primer

I’m going to use Tina Seeling’s video “The 6 Characteristics of Truly Creative People“, as my framework for a post on creativity. First the summary, comes my thoughts on her concepts. “Quotes” are not necessary exact words: they are just as likely to be summaries of her thoughts.


Tina Seeling’s “Innovation Engine” is composed of:

– Culture
“How we deal with failure… Scientists don’t look on unexpected results as a failure, but as data. And unexpected data is where discoveries can be found.”

Rapid prototyping, which does not require extensive resources to determine success/failure is useful.

The culture determines if we are open or closed to making mistakes, and thus to innovation.

– Imagination
“Creative people look at problems through different lenses, and they reframe the problem. They don’t believe that there is just one right answer, but reframe the question. Instead of asking what does 5 + 5 equal, you can ask how many numbers add up to ten?”

“Often, the answer is baked into the question that you ask. So if, you don’t question the questions you’re asking, you are not going to come up with really innovative solutions.”

– Habitat
“No matter how innovative we are, we often work in environments or clients who do not foster innovation.”

The physical environment can either encourage or stifle innovation and new ideas.

– Knowledge
“Knowledge is the toolbox of your imagination. The more you know, the more you have to work with…. How can you get more knowledge? You can go to talks, you can read books, but one of the most powerful ways to gain knowledge is by paying attention.”

– Resources
The people, natural resources, community, etc. Money is important, but not as much as is commonly believed.

– Attitude
“If you are not driven, motivated, and confident that you can solve a problem, you will not solve it. It is not easy to come up with innovative ideas, and it is certainly not easy to bring them to life.”

“What happens if you are building a puzzle, and you are missing a piece of the puzzle? You can’t finish the puzzle. True innovators, true entrepreneurs are not puzzle builders; they are quilt makers. They take all of the things they have available, even the strange things, and how to leverage them together to make amazing things happen.”

The inside of your innovation engine:
Your knowledge is a toolbox for your imagination * Your imagination is the catalyst that transforms information into new ideas * Your attitude is the spark that gets it going.

The outside of your innovation engine
This is closely tied to the internal structure of the engine.

Imagination & Habitat are parallel, as the habitats we create are the external manifestation of our imagination.

Resources & Knowledge are closely tied, as to be co-dependent

Culture & Attitude, likewise.

My Thoughts

At least for me, Habitat is not as essential as for others, but it is still of some important. Mainly, I need quiet in order to concentrate. Suitable music can be useful on occasion. I would extend this to food & drink: some people think better while hungry, other when full; others like to start up with a cigarette, or a glass of wine: that’s up to the individual.

I am not particularly tied to the public Culture around me: but I am strongly tied to my fellow  co-believers. (“The heart of culture is cult!”) The community you identify with will direct where your creativity is pointed to, and what it is pointed away from.

Attitude is a simple thing: “Are you willing to put in the sweat needed to get your ideas to work?” If you don’t want to do the imagination thing, don’t do it: build on your strengths. If you feel that fantasies of the future aren’t worth thinking about, forget them: the physical world around you cries out for someone to put it to right, be it your car, your bank account, or your kids.

If you do want to build a future world, then you should know why. There is nothing wrong in just wanting to run a hilarious one-shot game in a Vargr gambling den, and there is nothing wrong in building up a dangerous, complex universe where everything impacts everything else. It depends on what you and your players want.

Resources and Knowledge are so closely bound, as to be nearly inseparable in my mind. Fortunately, if you just want to make scenarios for a fictional sci-fi universe, you don’t need a lot of money or special equipment – especially in the day of $500 laptops and cheap Internet. The mastery of  a set of knowledge, on the other hand, is what makes the difference between a deep and a flat universe. That takes time: time that just might be better used elsewhere.

(Or maybe not. That’s for you to decide for yourself, not me.)

Imagination is something I find overrated. You need to master the tools, the knowledge, first, before you make the tools sing. Most people today don’t see the reason why they should master a given body of knowledge if it doesn’t provide here-and-now benefits. Fair enough: I have no interest in persuading them otherwise.

I will say that creating a universe (or any other work of art) is more enjoyable is you put effort and discipline in it, if you respect the rules of the place, if you imbue it with purpose. In contrast, casual, superficial work brings forth casual, flimsy results.

I will never be a Tolkien, a true sub-creator, but I can do my level best, and at least set a useful mark for others to aim for and strive to surpass.

Traveller campaigns can be a simple string of adventures and encounters, set against the background of a pregenerated sector in which the adventurers fly from world to world, engaging in trade and speculation, seeking and finding patrons, taking on and solving problems, and generally wandering about the universe.

With a small bit of effort on your part, however, a campaign can be structured to be much, much more. There are several seeds to a good campaign: the basics, the gimmick, the pull, the push, and (optionally) the enigma.


The Enigma: There is always something the players do not understand. The enigma is, on a large scale, the secret of the universe; on a smaller scale, it is a secret worth knowing. Early in a campaign, players may not know what the enigma is. Later, when presented with clues, they may realize there is a puzzle, but they’ll have no idea of its solution. Still later, they may have all of the information and need to find an analyst to decode it. With the secret at their disposal, they will need to decide how to use this information. Doling out the clues and information slowly can make the campaign an intense, interesting cliffhanger until the very end.

MegaTraveller: Referee’s Manual, page 10.

Bolting it All Together

I have questions that demand answers. Some of these questions can be articulated: others cannot be clearly spelled out, but can be asked in the form of a story, or a scenario. I write to organize these questions in a form that can be asked, and present them to my chosen audience.

Due to the nature of my work, I don’t get direct answers to my questions… but direct answers were never the real intent of my stories.

I do get indirect answers. This is sufficient to organize the next set of questions.


Tolkien may be a better sub-creator than I: but it is Christ that is the Creator, with the big C. I cannot speak, and thus create a universe. All I can create are illusions, stories, scenarios, hypothetical situations.

But… perhaps these illusions, these fantasies, can be useful to Christ in the here and now. North once wrote an article, The Rabbi and the Professor: How to Get Your Idea Across (paid subscription required). I find it useful, like so much he has written.

Things are changing, and the rate of change is only going to accelerate. It is going to be increasingly important to have the right sort of imagination, to ask the right questions, and get the answers you need, even in the face of fragmentary and incomplete information.

Sadly, Traveller has the wrong answer to the question at the heart of the universe: Grandfather, an immortal Droyne psion. So, there are limits to how useful the canonical game can be. Still, even a crippled, flawed universe can be useful, depending on how you use what has been given: if you know that a rotary saw is unbalanced, you can compensate to a certain extent.

If every tool had to be perfect for us to use it, nothing would ever get done in this life. We do what we can, with what we have. I will have to trust in God for the rest.

About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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