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Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity Hardcover – March 18, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From the Author: Eight Simple Techniques For Greater Creativity

Creativity doesn't come from one brilliant idea; it's a way of life. Using Sawyer's techniques, new ideas come every day, leading you always further down the zig-zag path to greater creativity. Try these simple techniques, one for each of Sawyer's eight steps.

Find the right question

If you're stumped, it's often because you're asking the wrong question. Maybe your question is too narrow and focused, and you just need to think bigger. For example, instead of asking yourself "Should I repair my old car, or buy a new one?" try asking "Can I get a job within walking distance of home?" or "Can I move closer to public transportation?"

Prepare your mind

The most creative people are voracious learners; they dabble in things they know nothing about. Teach yourself something about weaponry, hypnosis, glass blowing, auto repair, Sufi mysticism…

Be aware

Research shows that the most creative people are more likely talk to lots of different people. So try this: Before you attend your next party or social event, choose a color. Then at the event, make a point of meeting and chatting with anyone who's wearing that color.

Free your mind

When you're facing a creative challenge, try to imagine it as a problem in a very different world, like Dentistry; Lawn care; Furniture design; Prison; The Circus. How would your problem look in that world? How would you try to solve it?

Generate ideas

You can increase your ability to generate good ideas by practicing idea generation every day in simple tasks. For example, make a long list of specific facts about how the world would be different: If gravity stopped for one second each day? If there were five sexes? Come up with your own idea challenges as you go through your day. In the kitchen: What if my refrigerator had 20 shelves? Preparing for bed at night: What if people could sleep standing up?

Combine ideas

The best insights come from combining ideas that are completely unrelated. Take out paper and pencil and sketch a piece of furniture that is also a kind of fruit; or, a lampshade that is also a kind of book; or, just pick two words at random by closing your eyes and pointing at different pages in a book, and invent a combination.

Make ideas even better

Once you have a few ideas, take each one of them (even the ones that aren't so great) and list at least three benefits of that idea, and then list at least three practical steps you would have to take to implement the idea. This simple technique often helps you think of ways to make the ideas even better.

Get your ideas into the world

Buy a stack of ten magazines. (Or take some of those old magazines in your dentist's waiting room) Clip out any photos that seem related to your problem, and keep going until you have 50 photos. Use a glue stick and make a collage by sticking them onto a large piece of poster board. Keep the collage near your desk for a couple of weeks, and make sure to look at it each day.

From the Inside Flap

"No matter what kind of creativity I studied, the process was the same. Creativity did not descend like a bolt of lightning that lit up the world in a single brilliant flash. It came in tiny steps, bits of insight, and incremental changes. Zigs and zags. When people followed those zigs and zags, ideas and revelations started flowing."
—From the Introduction

Can you be more creative? Absolutely, and Zig Zag shows you how. Dr. Keith Sawyer, a psychologist, professor, jazz pianist, and former video game designer, is one of the world's leading experts on creativity. To develop his accessible eight-step creativity program, Sawyer explored the lives of exceptional creators, tapped into the back stories of world-changing innovations, and analyzed laboratory experiments that delved deeply into the everyday creativity that all of us share. He discovered many surprising secrets of highly creative people—how they question assumptions when presented with new problems, how they get beyond creative blocks, and above all, how they negotiate the many twists and turns along the way.

Zig Zag draws on these secrets to provide an eight-step program that will help you achieve greater creativity—whether you're looking for new ways to excel at your job, build a fulfilling career, develop a more deeply satisfying personal life, find fresh, clever, permanent solutions to nagging problems, make better decisions, bring about change in your community, and more.

Zig Zag provides an unprecedented collection of more than one hundred practical, hands-on activities that will keep you moving down the creative path. These research-based techniques help you ask deeper questions, see the world in new ways, and develop novel ideas. Zig Zag is your guidebook to the surprising, unpredictable, and fascinating journey that leads to greater creativity.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (March 18, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118297709
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118297704
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Keith Sawyer is one of the world's leading scientific experts on creativity, innovation, and learning. In his first job after graduating from MIT, he designed videogames for Atari. He then worked for 6 years as a management consultant in Boston and New York, advising large corporations on the strategic use of information technology. He's been a jazz pianist for over 30 years, and performed with several improv theater groups in Chicago, as part of his research into jazz and improvisational theater.

In addition to ZIG ZAG, his books include GROUP GENIUS and EXPLAINING CREATIVITY, and he has published over 80 scientific articles.

Dr. Sawyer is the Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Customer Reviews

Reading this book will tell you it's the gift you can give yourself.
Bob Mankoff
Keith Sawyer’s book, ZIG ZAG, The Surprising Path to a Greater Creativity, illustrated that it can be learned and developed.
Nathan DeFord
The book is fun to read and the overall look of the book is very appealing.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By BusyMom on March 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This fascinating book not only claims that we all have what it takes to be creative people but also gives a research-backed, step-by-step process to make this claim a reality. The format is very user-friendly, with lists and personal assessments, inspiring quotes, and intriguing tales and current research supporting Keith Sawyer's eight steps to greater creativity. An impressive blend of the scientist and the artful storyteller, Sawyer makes it fun to learn how to solve every-day and entrenched problems with fresh insights. This is not a linear process but one which "zig zags" along.

Be warned, Sawyer is very clear that creativity is not the result of one sudden inspiration that we can quickly acquire by some new form of free thinking nor is it a magic potion to be pulled out when stumped with a difficult problem...rather it is the result of specific daily practices combined with hard work. The exciting news is that once we make these eight steps part of our modus operandi, we will grow accustomed to little bursts of insight and creativity permeating all of our projects and efforts. Whether we are business people, church volunteers, school principals, stay-at-home moms, or artists, this easy-to-read book can lead us to become truly creative people!
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Jeannette on March 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in manuscript form, and found it more helpful than any creativity book I'd ever tried to parse. Most are either full of air and zing, no substance, or ponderously technical, or preachy and unhelpful.This one's smart and solid and inspiring. I've been using Keith Sawyer's insights ever since, with flashes of gratitude every time they pay off. He's right: Creativity takes hard work. But he's managed to make the work understandable, doable, and fun. And now it no longer feels like work.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bob Mankoff on April 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: I know Keith Sawyer and have worked with him. I'm, Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of The New Yorker. I've always been interested in the creative process especially as it relates to humor and the creation of cartoons. By the way, if you want to read all my reviews on Amazon, you can stop right here. This is the only one so far.

Anyway, I read a previous book by Keith "Group Genius" and was very impressed about the research he brought to bear on the general process of creativity and wondered if he was interested in looking into as it applied to humor creation. Long story short it did. As he wrote

"I found that there's a pattern to their creativity--and this pattern provides a window onto how all creativity works for scientists and inventors and for The New Yorker caption contest as well."

His new book "Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity", wasn't surprising to me because of my past work with Keith, but will be revelation to people who think creativity is some God given gift, or if you're an atheist, some genetic given gift. Reading this book will tell you it's the gift you can give yourself. First by buying the book, and then, by not just reading it, but by applying it's principals and doing it's assignments. Then, after you've given yourself the gift of creativity you can pass it on by re-gifting this book to someone who's still waiting for the light bulbs to go off in his or her own head.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By theatreprof on August 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity

I became aware of Keith Sawyer's research when, in 2010/2011, I was awarded a faculty development leave to research and design a new undergraduate-level course in creativity for the non-arts major. I've been interested in the study of creativity since reading Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation in grad school. As a nationally-recognized professor of theatre arts, I believe I've nurtured creativity in my students for over thirty-five years. Serious theatre practitioners have been exploring techniques for awakening and enhancing creativity at least since Constantin Stanislavski, founder of modern acting technique, began early in the twentieth century to seek what he called "the conscious keys to unlock the unconscious." Stanislavski observed that actors' performances were stunning when the artist was inspired but lackluster when she wasn't. In developing his "system," Stanislavski sought means for the actor to call upon creative inspiration at will--and his tools, along with the discoveries of additional artists, have become standard theatre pedagogy. Courses in theatre practice, such as acting, directing, and design, employ active learning methods to develop student creativity. Since the early 1980s, when I was awarded a Kellogg National Fellowship (leadership training and interdisciplinary research), I have pursued an interest in theatre-based techniques as active learning tools for other disciplines.

My development leave included apprenticeships with creativity teachers and massive reading in the field. Since my goal was to design a class, I looked not only for active learning exercises to use but a textbook.
Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Nussbaum on April 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Keith Sawyer is perhaps the most brilliant researcher writing about creativity today. His new book, Zig Zag:The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, captures the true truth of the creative process. Creativity isn't linear but dashes about connecting new dots in unforeseen and original ways as new information and learning open up new pathways. Sawyer says he wrote a "practical book" and he certainty has. There are personal creativity assessments that can boost the creative capacities of everyone.There are specific steps toward leading a creative life. And there is the deep research to back up each creative step, practice and technique that Sawyer offers us--both as individuals and organizations.

And don't forget the humor. In talking about "Common Moments When Incubation Takes Happens," Sawyer mentions "sitting through a boring meeting," listening to a boring lecture," and "sorting the recycling." Perfect. Sawyer knows the creative moment.
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