Innovation and creativity are often assumed to be the domain of a gifted few who are endowed with a natural ability that the rest of us don’t have. However, I’ve made a career out of proving to myself (and now others) that we’re all creative and capable of innovation. Since I’m often my own my test case, I thought I’d mention a few of the mistakes I made around creativity – which apply equally to innovation – when I was starting out. My hope is that by explaining how these errors trip us up, I can remove a few of the obstacles that prevent all of us from exploring and developing our ability to innovate and create.

1. Waiting for inspiration

I’m going to begin this section with one of my favorite quotes by mega-successful author, Stephen King. “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” This was absolutely my mistake in my early songwriting efforts. The conditions had to be just right and then the heavens would have to open up and THEN I’d start writing a song. This was just fine when I wasn’t trying to make a living as a songwriter but the moment I realized that hoping I’d be inspired wasn’t exactly a business plan, I changed my approach. I had to learn ways to go out and get inspiration so that I could create consistently. For example, I’d write down an idea for a song title every morning so I’d never be starting with a blank page. Making your own inspiration is all about small, actionable steps.

2. Trying to make things perfect

When you’re truly invested in the creative process, there’s a natural tendency to want to make things exactly right. I used to agonize over single words in a song to the point where I would bring my creative process almost to a standstill.  I believe this comes from the best of intentions. After all, if you genuinely care about your work, why wouldn’t you want it to be perfect. The irony is that the harder you try to make something perfect, the worse it generally becomes. Innovation and creativity require a willingness to live with chaos, confusion and even failure before the good stuff presents itself. If you’re constantly trying to perfect what you’re doing instead of placing the emphasis on moving forward and gaining momentum, you’ll find yourself frustrated, stuck or even worse, giving up. Be easy on yourself in the early stages of innovation and save your perfectionism for later. I love the quote that has been falsely attributed to everyone from Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald to James Joyce. “Write drunk, edit sober.”

3. Thinking you should do it alone

The image that often comes to mind when we think of innovation and creativity is the lone genius toiling away in their laboratory but, in my experience, this is what scares many of us away from attempting to innovate in the first place. One of the great joys in my career has been the long list of amazing collaborators with whom I’ve been able to create and innovate. The reality is that innovation and creativity are much more likely to be team-based than an individual effort. Collaboration is about playing to each others’ strengths and diversity of experiences to come up with novel and useful ideas that we could not have created alone. I resisted collaboration early in my career which not only made the creative process harder but also made my songs decidedly less inspired. Once I realized the power of a great co-writer, my songs and career improved dramatically. This is not to say that alone time to ideate isn’t valuable but I’ve found my best ideas and had my greatest successes via collaboration.


I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “I’m not creative” from members of high-performing business teams and organizations and, yet, given the proper direction each of these participants ends up undeniably demonstrating their innate ability to innovate and create. Part of the reason is that I’m there to help them navigate – based on my own experience – the unfamiliar terrain fraught with the mistakes above, however, the simple awareness of these mistakes is a good first step towards getting out of our own way on the road to innovation and creativity.


Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

There is a moment in the workshops I lead for business teams and organizations that changes everything. It’s not when I get up on stage with my guitar because who doesn’t want to sit and listen to a little music? Instead it’s the moment when I tell my audience that they’re going to be writing and singing a song. I love this moment for the way it politely but firmly pulls seasoned executives (or scientists or accountants or attorneys) out of their comfort zones. It’s a given that the groups I work with are all very accomplished in their chosen fields but I’m there to show them that by leaving their comfort zones for the duration of my workshop, they’re going to emerge better for the 90-minute experience. Below are a few of the reasons why.

1. It levels the playing field
Team dynamics can be tricky with some members clearly deferring to others whose expertise they require for a particular sought-after solution. However, when faced with a task that no one in the group knows how to accomplish, all of a sudden the paying field is leveled. Now, it’s not about prior expertise but, rather, about a willingness to dig in and explore a new and unfamiliar terrain with our peers. This is a very powerful dynamic and one that, in the very best way, humanizes all the members of a team so they can work together as equals to achieve something completely new.

2. It prevents perfectionism
With high-achieving individuals who are already good at a particular task, it’s often not enough to simply get that task done. It becomes about making that particular job “perfect.” However, when no one on a team has ever written a song, there aren’t any benchmarks for what is perfect. Instead, the creative process is allowed to run its course without being hampered by countless edits and “improvements.” I’m a big believer in the removal of our inner editors when it comes to innovation and creativity. So when a team leaves their comfort zone and has to keep the process moving forward, there’s just enough room for ideas but not enough for squeezing the life out of the process.

3. It’s a reminder that there is always more to learn
The danger in continually playing to our strengths is that we can fall into the trap of believing we’ve learned/grown enough to get by. Holding on to the status quo might feel comforting for a while but given that change is inevitable it can be a genuinely dangerous way to approach not only our businesses but our lives. One of my favorite quotes is “change is what happens to us but innovation is what we do to them.” Taking my teams out of their comfort zones and teaching them a new approach to problem-solving is my way of showing them that there’s always more to learn.

4. It’s exhilarating to achieve something “impossible”
Finally, let’s not forget how thrilling it can be to achieve something new that we’ve previously considered beyond our capability. I get a vicarious thrill from showing bright executives who don’t consider themselves creative that, given the proper guidance, they are indeed deeply creative. It’s always a pleasure to see the faces of my participants – so somber at the prospect of leaving their comfort zones – light up with the joy of accomplishment once they’ve done so.

All of this to say, it is never my intention to make business teams and organizations uncomfortable for an extended period of time but, rather, just long enough to reap the benefits of exploring unfamiliar territory in a curated and constructive manner. And, of course, one of the best parts of leaving our comfort zones is when we come back, we’re stronger for the experience.


Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

When we talk about “future-proofing” something, the understanding is that we can’t predict the challenges that will face us in the days, months and years to come yet we still want to prepare. While we’d all like to think that our past problem-solving approaches will work for any future issue, the reality is that we can’t possibly know what’s around the bend and whether our problem-solving “hammer” will be ready for an issue that isn’t a “nail.” This is why developing your innate creativity is an essential preparation for the unexpected. Below are three ways that creativity can help handle unanticipated future problems.

1. Creativity allows for comfort with ambiguity

As with any unexpected challenge, there will be a period of chaos and confusion after we realize that traditional problem-solving methods aren’t helping. The creative process is about living with this ambiguity for a period of time as we explore novel approaches in search of a solution. The simple understanding that there will be a period where things are messy, goes a long way towards keeping us calm and focused on the issues at hand without our getting overwhelmed or seizing the first fix that comes to mind. Creativity makes room for – and actually thrives in – uncertainty because it is an indispensable part of the creative process.

2. Creativity encourages lateral-thinking

Creativity isn’t bound by linear or predictable patterns. In fact, it is the act of departing from existing patterns that leads to creative breakthroughs. Otherwise put, thinking “laterally” instead of “linearly” can lead to insights and perspectives that might not otherwise come to light. It is exactly this kind of non-linear approach that allows for new ways of looking at problems that don’t have obvious links to prior problems or challenges. By being willing to depart from the orthodox approach, we open ourselves up to brand new ways of solving brand new future problems.

3. Creativity involves a willingness to take risks

A hallmark of any creative endeavor is that it involves a certain amount of risk. This could be anything from risk to our reputations or even the bottom line of our businesses. However, as we develop our creativity, we become less afraid of risk for multiple reasons. First, we understand that failure is an essential part of the creative process and second, the rewards – more often than not – far outweigh the risks taken. While I’m not suggesting outrageous risk, I am saying that being completely risk-averse is the antithesis of creativity and the solutions it can yield.


We have no way of knowing what challenges await us. But by making the effort to re-kindle our innate creativity, we stand a much better chance of navigating towards novel and satisfying solutions. Creativity isn’t the domain of a gifted few but, rather, an essential survival skill that we all possess and need to nurture. A creative mindset is as critical as a willingness to do hard, productive work when it comes to facing whatever problems the future holds for us.


Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

My experience in working with leadership teams is that confidence, in a general sense, is practically a prerequisite for top business performers. However, there’s a difference between the confidence that comes from countless hours of work and years of experience in a chosen business field and believing in yourself creatively. My work is centered around showing bright, high-achieving individuals that creativity and the confidence that comes from uncovering – and trusting – that creativity, can yield dividends that elevate even the most productive performers. Below are three significant areas where creative confidence leads to long-term gains.

Increased problem-solving skills

In the – slightly paraphrased – immortal words of Abraham Maslow, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” Problems come in all shapes and sizes and solving them all via the same approach is a recipe for sub-standard results. Given that there are problems and challenges you will face that don’t even exist yet, it’s unreasonable to think that your existing problem-solving approach will automatically be viable. With increased creative confidence, you’ll be willing to explore new and innovative ways of solving future – and even current – problems. Creative confidence adds new tools to your toolbox along with the effective but not foolproof “hammer” mentioned above.

Improved Collaborations

In order to make the most of any collaboration, faith in your own creative ability is a must. It is only with a belief in your own creative capabilities, that you can not only contribute your ideas but also comfortably make room for the creative contributions of your team members. And, just as important, the creative confidence of your collaborators will allow them to feel good about adding their insights and points of view to the mix. An environment of creative confidence and trust can yield results far beyond the individual contributions of each team member.

Willingness to take risks

Innovation is consistently referred to as a critical part of a healthy business but, again and again, there is resistance to new, creative approaches when the current business model is working well. This is simply because taking new approaches feels risky. However, it is precisely when things are going well that your creative confidence will encourage you to explore new and innovative ideas in spite of the apparent risk. There is an institutional belief that the status quo is safe but over and over it has been proven that it isn’t. As I’ve heard it put, “Change is what happens to us and innovation is what we do to them.” Change is inevitable but with creative confidence and the subsequent willingness to take calculated risks, you can successfully navigate the ever-changing landscape of your particular business.


Creativity is not the domain of a gifted, chosen few. We are all creative. Whether or not you choose to honor and develop your innate creativity could be the difference between feeling stuck and exploring new and exciting horizons. A seemingly small daily investment in your creativity can, over time, result in a renewed sense of creative confidence which will broaden and significantly improve the quality of your work and life.


Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

Creativity in the broader sense can feel, to the uninitiated, like a monolithic and seemingly impossible pursuit. But as someone who has spent decades in the creative trenches, I’m here to tell you that creativity is made up of smaller more manageable steps which allow any – and all – of us to access our innate creative ability. That being said, there’s more to creativity than breaking it down into its component parts. Creativity is also highly dependent upon your process. A flawed or unexamined process can lead to frustration and unsatisfactory results. One of the best ways that I’ve found to improve the creative process is by striving for and maintaining momentum. Below are a few reasons why momentum in your creative work can be particularly powerful.

1. Momentum prevents perfectionism

The creative process is often messy and unpredictable. A natural response to this chaos is to try to perfect what you’re working on as a way of returning a little order to the proceedings. There will be a time to reestablish order but early on in the process is definitely not that moment. By encouraging yourself to maintain forward progress instead of bogging down by trying to perfect the details, you’ll find that you make much greater gains in your creative pursuits. Momentum prevents you from editing and perfecting too soon which can inhibit the flow of ideas. Allowing yourself to move forward with “good enough” will give you a much better chance of fleshing out your ideas totally before you go back to polish to “great” what you’ve created.

2. Projects get completed

A creative idea that doesn’t see the light of day is not going to bring anything new to your work or the world at large. Creativity is at its best when the project gets done and others can benefit from the results. By maintaining your momentum beyond a simple idea and following through until your creative project is completed, you’ll have tangible proof of your creative work that otherwise would have just been another unrealized brainstorm or idea. Keep the finish line in sight and use momentum to keep pushing you forward until you’ve reached it.

3. Momentum begets momentum 

It can help to think of your creative process as a flywheel that builds up speed and power with every small creative effort you make. To continue the metaphor, starting a creative project can feel overwhelming much like the first turn of a flywheel but the more consistent your efforts, the greater the momentum you’ll achieve. This momentum is not only important inside the scope of a singular creative project but also from one project to another. The more you’re able to move forward with your creative projects the easier it will be to move on to the next one and the one after that. Using the momentum of a successful creative project to inspire you to tackle another is a great way to build your creative practice.


In my experience, the only way to become better and more consistent in your creative work is to keep doing it. To that end, building up momentum can make the entire process not only easier but also more fun. It doesn’t hurt to remember that the creative process can be enjoyed, too. Momentum will allow you to look back and take stock of your growing body of work and find the necessary motivation to keep you moving onward and upward.


Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.


The key to a successful creative practice has very little to do with natural creative ability. Developing your creativity requires an ironclad and consistent work ethic to develop and maintain what I like to think of as your creative muscles. I’ve put together a list of things to keep you motivated as you work your way towards greater – and more consistent – creativity.

  1. Set up a dedicated place to create
    • Having a place where you can work helps formalize your creative process and makes it easier to do.
    • This can be a spot in your office or even a corner of one of your rooms at home.
  1. Have a particular time of day to create
    • Schedules are good for accountability. 
    • Stick to your schedule.
  1. Don’t wait until you have huge chunks of time
    • It’s better to work on your creativity a little every day than it is to wait until you have four uninterrupted hours. 
    • Consistency, not duration, is the key. 
  1. Work with a collaborator
    • It’s often easier to share the load when it comes to creativity.
    • Collaborators keep you accountable.
    • In a good collaboration, the work feels half as hard.
  1. Go on input for a while
    • If you’re stuck for creative ideas, feed your inspiration by listening to music, going for a walk, browsing in a bookstore and looking at titles, etc.
    • It comes down to being present in your life and paying attention.
  1. Tell yourself you only have to try for five minutes
    • On the days when you least want to be creative, it’s usually because there’s something inside you that needs to be explored and that can feel daunting.
    • If, after five minutes, you’re not getting anywhere, give yourself permission to stop but, usually, you’re off to the races once you actually start the process.


Creativity is a wonderful gift but don’t expect it to come in a flash of inspiration. Instead, put together an environment conducive to creativity and carve out time in your daily schedule to actively pursue inspiration and grow your creativity. When it comes down to it, there’s nothing mysterious about creativity. We all have it and those of us who choose to develop it will reap the creative rewards.

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

When it comes to successful creativity, there is very little room to indulge in stereotypical “artistic” behavior. The reality is that flighty, irresponsible and disorganized creative geniuses rarely have any significant success. Being organized in your creativity yields measurable benefits above and beyond the obvious ability to find a pair of matching socks. Below are a few important reasons why it’s worth your while to stay organized as you pursue your creative growth.

1. It’s good for business

I feel like I end up saying this a lot but if you’re hoping your creative efforts will translate into financial success, then you’re not just a creative, you’re a business person. The grim reality of businesses is that they don’t run themselves. Staying organized will only make your business (and your career) run more smoothly. Everything from being on time to appointments to keeping a current backup of your computer hard drive counts. To make it more personal, creative ideas are precious and losing them because you’re disorganized feels like an avoidable catastrophe.

2. Inspiration can accessed

The difference between having a creative idea on the rare occasion when all the planets line up versus accessing your creativity every day comes down to being organized. Keeping track of your inspired ideas in a way that allows you to go and find them, will allow you to more consistently create even if the magical inspiration isn’t on a predictable schedule.

3. You’ll avoid missing opportunities

Having an organized folder arrangement on your computer will enable you to find – and exploit – your creative ideas quickly and efficiently. On a personal note, my first big break as a songwriter almost didn’t happen because the artist was in the studio and couldn’t find the demo we’d sent them. Because I was able to quickly find and email an mp3 of the demo, the artist cut the song in the studio that afternoon. I can’t imagine how disappointing it would have been if I hadn’t been able to find the song until a day or two later when the opportunity had come and gone.

4. You’ll be more productive

So much of being effective in your creativity is about getting the maximum amount done in the limited time you have to do it. If you’re constantly rooting around your office or on your computer looking for where you placed your last creative project, you’re not making the kind of progress you could be. Staying organized can take you a long way towards being productive and, ultimately, successful.


It should be understood, of course, that there is no substitute for actively pursuing your creativity. Unfortunately, there are many, many people capable of great creative ideas. The way to differentiate yourself is to not only create but also keep yourself and your ideas organized in a way that will allow you to take full advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. By improving your odds of success, staying organized might be the deciding factor in your next successful creative idea.


Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams and organizations.

Don’t get me wrong, compared to most work in the world creative work is pretty great even from the beginning. That being said, once you’ve made the decision to take your creativity seriously, there’s so much more to consider than whatever your inspiration happens to provide on a given day. As you progress, there will be plenty of challenges ahead but the good news is that the longer you pursue your creative work, the more fun it gets. I thought I’d put down a few of the reasons why I’ve found this to be true.

1. The technique disappears

When you begin to really study the craft of your chosen creative field, it seems like you can’t create at all without getting bogged down in all of the techniques you’re supposed to remember. Given that there are tons of things to consider when you’re refining your craft, it’s a miracle you can make it through the work at all. But, as with any technique, the more you do it, the more it will become ingrained and the less you’ll find yourself actively thinking about it. Once you’re no longer consciously considering technique, your creative process will get back to feeling as inspired as it did when you first started out.

2. You get better at getting out of your own way

When you’ve only worked on a few creative projects, there’s a tendency to agonize over every detail and to constantly second guess yourself. The more creative work you do, however, the more you’ll come to realize that your instincts are worth trusting and that the details will work themselves out if not in your first attempts then in the subsequent ones. The more you’re able to relax and get out of your own way, the more open your creative channels will become and the less you’ll hinder your own process.

3. Your work will get more consistent

As my friend and hit songwriter, John Tirro, said years ago, “every once in a while you’re going to screw up and write a great song.” What I think John was referring to was the fact that early on we can occasionally show flashes of extreme creative brilliance. The problem is that when we’re new to our craft, the likelihood of consistently repeating that particular feat is low. The more creative work you do, the higher the baseline level of quality. There is absolutely no substitute a large volume of creative projects when it comes to raising the level of your work.

4. The more creative projects you have out there, the more good things will happen 

In the end, creative work is a numbers game. I’ve always believed that as creatives we have to reach some mystical critical mass of effort before we start to see success with our work. Not that it’s exactly like this but if you think of each of your creative efforts as a lottery ticket, the more tickets you buy, the greater the likelihood that one of them will be the winning number. On a slightly less poetic note, working on more creative projects simply improves your odds of the work getting noticed and connecting with people in the industry. I feel I should mention that it’s not just the creative work that counts but your effort in getting that work out into the world. In other words, don’t forget to pitch and promote your work.


Given that I wrote songs for twenty years before I had a #1 single and thirty years before I wrote a song on a GRAMMY-winning album, I feel like I can speak with a certain authority about how creative work gets more fun the longer you do it. I’m living proof that if you stick with it, things can – and will – improve. Otherwise put, when in doubt, keep going.


Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams and organizations.

For those of you who are relatively new to creative collaborations, it can be difficult to know what to expect when you get together with another person to combine your efforts. As a veteran of over a thousand songwriting collaborations, I thought I’d put down a few of the indicators you should be noticing if – and when –  your collaboration is working well. Another way to put this is that if you aren’t experiencing these things, it might be time to look for other collaborators.

1. You feel comfortable/secure expressing yourself

The foundation of all successful collaborations is trust. If you can’t trust your fellow collaborator with your suggestions and ideas, then it’s pretty much game over from the start. You need to feel safe suggesting potentially ridiculous things while brainstorming so that you can ultimately get to the good stuff. Conversely, you, too, will need to be patient and trust that while all of your collaborator’s suggestions won’t be great, you’re going to get there together. There’s no room for negativity  or nonconstructive criticism in a healthy collaboration.

2. You’ve got complementary skill sets

One of the best scenarios possible arises when you and your collaborator are strong where the other is weak and vice versa. If visual ideas come easily to you but your copyrighting skills are lackluster, you’d be best served working with someone who has a gift for writing but might struggle with visuals. It’s been my experience that the talent of your collaborator in their given speciality will also help you up your game in yours. In other words, your writing will work even better when paired with your partner’s brilliant images. The key here is that you easily fall into your respective roles and, together, create something that is better than either one of you could have done on your own.

3. Things move along quickly and easily

Another hallmark of a successful collaboration is that the creative process is a smooth one. Instead of agonizing over what comes next, you find yourselves steadily moving through the entire process and watching it come together naturally and efficiently. This isn’t to say that there won’t be difficult days no matter how good your collaboration may be but, typically, when a collaboration is good, things tend to move along at a nice, steady pace.

4. You’re having fun

Don’t underestimate the value of enjoying yourself during a collaboration. As a collaborator of mine once said, “We should be having fun here. After all this isn’t air-conditioner repair school.” The reality is that if you’re enjoying yourselves, that’s a great indication that you’re working at your peak creativity and capacity.

Bonus Indicator: You’re both proud of the work

When you’re fortunate enough to be in a great collaboration, you’ll both end up feeling strongly about the quality of the work which is not only great for morale but also makes the less romantic prospect of communicating your work to others more appealing.


Let me be clear. Not every collaboration is a great one. The reason, in fact, that I feel qualified to write this article at all is that I’ve spent enough time in crummy collaborations over the years to know unequivocally how the good ones look and feel. However, just because you’ve experienced a bad collaboration is no reason to give up on the concept all together. Stay at it and if you keep the above indicators in mind, you’ll be sure to know when you’re on to something great.


Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.

Gratitude. It’s a seemingly simple concept. Be grateful for the things you have or are given. It almost seems like it would be difficult not to be grateful when something good happens or someone shows you a kindness and, yet, sometimes we get so wrapped up in our pursuit of creativity that we forget to stop and simply be grateful. Take my word for it. Stop. Appreciate all the good things and the generosity you’ve been shown and everything will almost immediately feel – and get – better. 

  1. You’ll enjoy yourself more

At its best, developing your creativity comes slowly with relatively little proof of progress for a very long time. In the absence of that major creative breakthrough, it’s up to you to find the good in the little things. A comment by a colleague in appreciation of your creative effort would be a good example. If you’re going to – and we all do – take the less than flattering comments to heart, then please remember to take the compliments to heart, too. It’s a long road to consistent creative confidence so stopping to smell the roses will make that road a much more pleasant one to travel.

  1. More opportunities will come your way

I know this seems a little mystical but the energy you put out in the world is tangible. If you’re brought in on a creative project and you make sure to express your appreciation for your collaborator’s work and talent, not only will you be more likely to get another opportunity to work with that person but you’ll also be an easy recommendation for another creative project when the opportunity presents itself.

  1. Your reputation will precede you

OK, this one’s personal so bear with me. I’ve been a songwriter for a long time (if you consider writing songs for thirty-plus years as “long”) and over the years I’ve developed a reputation as an expert in the field. As a result, I would guess I receive a dozen or so requests a week via email or my website asking for help on a songwriting related topic. It’s a point of pride that I read – and respond – to every single request. I like doing it and I know how good it feels to hear back from someone in the industry given how few and far between those responses can be. Thinking back to when I was starting out, I still remember exactly how good it felt when my call or email was answered. 

Now to my point… I can’t help but notice how few of the people who have asked me for help actually take a moment to send a thank you email in return after I’ve responded to their questions. I won’t even try to guess why this is but I will tell you that it makes me appreciate the grateful replies that much more.  On your creative journey, connecting with those who are more experienced and able to help will be much easier if you remember that everyone likes to be appreciated.


We all know developing creative skills is a challenge. That being said, why not avoid the low-hanging fruit of complaining about it or, worse yet, letting it affect your work. Take time to be grateful for the good things and the kindnesses along the way and you’ll be amazed at how your creativity will flourish. 


Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.