Getting Prolific, Day 46: How to Invent Your Own Creativity Tools

6 min readJan 4, 2022

How will you turn small events or situations into breakthroughs in thinking and action?

Prolific people transform even the smallest events or situations into breakthroughs in thinking and action.

And it’s not an accident. Their learning and growth is systematic, not just sporadic. As my mentor always used to tell me:

We learn not from our experiences, but from intelligent reflection upon them.

Today I’m going to take you through my method for doing. The four phases are experiential, theoretical, intellectual and functional. Each of them has two sub phases. And all of them get harder, more complex and less popular as we progress down the chain.

I’ll explore them generically, and then I’ll share a mini case study so you can see them come to life.


A particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something

Think of it as the soil upon which all growth is built. Whether it’s a short interaction with a neighborhood dog, a conversation with a coworker, riding the bus to the market, traveling to a foreign country with your family, or a full blown traumatic event like getting carried into the night by a swarm of angry locusts, everything at its core is an experience that happens to us. And it all matters.

It’s all usable for something. There is nobody alive who doesn’t experience things.

Once an experience occurs, we instantly develop feelings, thoughts and emotions in response to it.

Beginning with sensation level reactions. Literal, simple bodily feelings. A twitchy stomach, sweaty back, flushed skin, aroused genitals, tight chest, and so on.

This is when the complexity of this process begins to set in. Whatever arises inside of us, our challenge is trusting that it’s not good or bad or right or wrong, it’s simply information.

Most people struggle at this phase, since not everyone’s willing to notice their feelings, name them, and wait before acting upon them. What’s more, the ability to have an experience and trust that there is something going inside of us that’s worth mining for wisdom, that takes years to master.


Getting out of the body and into the mind

Which kicks off with observations, questions, distinctions and reflections about what’s happened.

This my favorite part of the growth process, because we’re activate our curiosity and looking for patterns and clues. Wondering what that feeling, generated by the experience, wants from us.

Maybe it’s a call to action, to simply a request to be acknowledged and heard. Again, the skill of taking a pause in the face of a strong emotional stimulus isn’t natural. In that space between the stimulus and response, we have to train ourselves to choose our own response.

At this point in the second theoretical phase, critical thinking engages and we form opinions, assertions, assumptions and theories about ourselves and the world.

Connecting the dots and hypothesizing about what’s going on around us.

Now, our judgments most likely rest on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty, and that’s okay. Because we have to start somewhere.


We put on our technical hats and verify what we encountered into more concrete understanding

To do so, we leverage existing data, testing, research, insights and perspectives. Like a good scientist, we see what the literature suggests. Requiring us to step outside of our bodies and minds and broaden our circle of empathy.

Such validation tools show us the implications of our experience, like whether we’re crazy, alone, onto something big, have discovered nothing new, or somewhere in between.

Again, this is a step many people choose to leap frog over. They’re not interested in confirming their thoughts and feelings. Only blowing smoke up their own ass and whoever else’s ass is nearby. But the intellectual part is a huge phase of the process.

Only by triangulating our experiences with external evidence can we build real, usable principles and philosophies to improve our lives. Unless we’ve put intellectual rigor behind our assumptions, then we’ll never uncover the fundamental laws and truths from which useful action can be taken.


We convert what’s happened to us into some utilitarian purpose, capable of serving a purpose that makes valuable improvements to our condition

This is my other favorite part of the process, because it gives me a chance to engage my marketing muscles.

It’s about naming things. Merchandising your language. Since you’ve had an experience that made you feel, think and wonder about yourself and the world, now you can classify it.

Give it a more useful form to human eyes and ears. Create a branded term makes this palatable and memorable. Which ultimately creates a recommendation so anyone can take action to achieve a specific outcome in their own lives.

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Let’s review before running the case study. The four phases of learning and growth are experiential, theoretical, intellectual and functional. The method gets harder and more complex and less popular as we progress down the chain.

But if you’re willing to treat growth as systematic, not just sporadic, soon you will be able to transform even the smallest events or situations into breakthroughs in thinking and action.

Okay, time for a case study.

Let’s say you get laid off.

That’s an experience.

It makes your stomach drop to the floor and your face heat up like a microwave.

You feel rejected, angry, foolish, confused and sad.

You start grieving a loss of purpose, loss of income and loss of connection to your beloved coworkers.

Soon you start reflecting on your last few months at work, and a few observations arise.

Like the fact that your startup took on some new investors recently. And that your founder kept asking you cryptic questions about your job satisfaction. Not to mention the fact that many of the projects you were working on got cancelled abruptly and without explanation.

Well isn’t that interesting.

That line of thinking compels you to engage your intellectual side.

You learn that there are only a dozen or so red flags at any given organization.

And you might discover that there were actions you could have taken sooner, or things you can do right now, to mitigate your pain.

Or at least give yourself a bigger runway after the organizational axe fell.

All this information verifies what you’ve encountered in your experience into a more concrete understanding.

Granting you invaluable perspective on themes like company transitions, coping with loss and managing change.

The combination of which gives you new, usable principles to improve your lives.

After my first layoff in 2017, I wrote a philosophy based on my experience and reflection:

There’s no civil defense siren to provide an emergency warning to the employees of approaching quakes. You have to spot the warning signs and distress signals yourself, before the world splits open and swallows you like a bug.

Now that’s some real insight right there, not another management bromide I copied out of a textbook written thirty years ago.

Okay, now that you’ve seen me run through the experiential, theoretical and intellectual phases, it’s time to get functional. My favorite part.

After my aforementioned layoff, I realized how just how difficult it is to reliably predict when and where changes will occur at a given organization.

In, fact, it’s kind of like detecting an earthquake. Because similar to the animals who flee to the mountains right before tectonic plates shift, human beings also have intuitions about forthcoming change that’s hardwired into them.

And with the right intention and attention, we can respond resiliently to those tremors and throbs of the world.

Hence my new creativity tool called seismographing:

This means noticing the warning signs and distress signals of approaching changes.

Anyone can learn how to do it and become more adaptable to life’s many unexpected shifts.

Notice how the language gives my philosophy a useful form to human eyes and ears. Calling it seismographing is more memorable than something generic like managing change or overcoming adversity.

In review, the four phases are experiential, theoretical, intellectual and functional.

If you want to achieve leaps and bounds in your learning and growth, it’s got to be systematic, not just sporadic.

Experience isn’t enough. Intelligent reflection upon it is the difference maker.

How will you turn small events or situations into breakthroughs in thinking and action?

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Author. Speaker. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. CEO/Founder of Pioneer of Personal Creativity Management (PCM). I also wear a nametag 24/7.