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Book Summary: Creativity Rules – Get Ideas Out of Your Head and into the World

Creativity can feel hard to control and difficult to summon. Maybe you never know when your creative inspiration will show up, and you spend hours in front of your desk struggling with creative blocks. As a solution, Tina Seelig explains how to turn your creative impulses into a simple, accessible set of attitudes and actions. In this book summary, you’ll learn how you can put your creativity to work for your professional ambitions, your personal dreams, and your life.

Book Summary: Creativity Rules - Get Ideas Out of Your Head and into the World

Use these concrete steps to harness your creative power.


  • Need a new strategy for productivity
  • Want reliable plans to increase creative output
  • Are curious about how the right attitudes can help you lead a more satisfying life

Content Summary

Phase 1: Imagination
Phase 2: Creativity
Phase 3: Innovation
Phase 4: Entrepreneurship
About the author
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Motivational, Business, Self Help, Design, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Personal Development, Language, Writing, Management, Business Decision Making, Decision-Making and Problem Solving, Creativity


Creativity can be tough to define and harness. Sometimes creativity seems like an erratic muse whose presence is sporadic at best. Other times, creativity can feel like a spark of genius that requires infinite coaxing. But creativity doesn’t need to feel fragile or fleeting; it can be reliable and concrete.

Tina Seelig explains that creativity can be a collection of skills and attitudes that you develop and improve the more you use them. By thinking of creativity as a reliable strategy, rather than a fickle muse, you can increase your creative energy and put it to work in service of your goals.

Seelig’s framework, which she calls the Invention Cycle, consists of four phases: imagination, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Each successive phase builds on the one that came before it. More specifically, imagination produces creativity, creativity produces innovation, and innovation produces entrepreneurship.

Seelig illustrates this progression through the example of learning to talk. Infants begin the speech process by producing various babbling sounds. Babbling turns to words, words turn into sentences, and sentences turn into ideas. What begins as play and experimentation gradually develops into increasingly complex expressions and nuanced ideas.

The Invention Cycle begins the same way. Imagination is the “babbling” part of the process, where you get to try new things, ask questions, and play. It’s the phase where you envision realities that don’t yet exist and allow your mind to run free. It’s your day off from work when you seek new sources of inspiration in movies or books. It’s the unexpected situations that inspire fresh problem-solving.

The second phase, creativity, is the focused application of your imaginative power, the moment when you take all of these playful ideas, experiences, and dreams, and then apply them to a problem or situation. If imagination is the ammunition, creativity is the direct attack. Seelig uses the example of painting a landscape. If imagination is the pre-painting phase, where you observe the sea shore and dream up ways to capture it, creativity is when you pick up your brush and put paint on the canvas.

The third phase, innovation, is another intensification of your previous processes. If creativity is the phase in which you develop ideas that are new to you, innovation is the phase where you develop ideas that are new to the world. In other words, you’re not just making a new idea. You’re making a groundbreaking idea. You’re creating a landscape painting that will change the art world and forever shape how artists choose to paint seashores. Just as Vincent van Gogh changed how you see sunflowers and Steve Jobs changed how you think about phones, an innovative idea changes everything.

Finally, entrepreneurship is the phase in which your idea inspires other people. It restarts the Invention Cycle for someone else. Consider the iPhone: not only was it an innovative idea, it created new opportunities for other people to be creative. Because of the iPhone, other people invented apps that let them shoot movies, find true love, and track their money with their phones.

Each phase of the Invention Cycle includes a combination of attitudes and actions, which maintain a symbiotic dynamic. In other words, it’s impossible to use just creative attitudes in your Invention Cycle. Your creative attitude requires creative actions. In the sections that follow, this Snapshot will explain how to cultivate and nurture the requisite attitudes and actions for each phase of the Invention Cycle.

Phase 1: Imagination

Imagination is a state of play. It’s the safe space in which you can dream up new ideas and devise wild plans for your life. But how does this fruitful experimentation get started? How do you get inspired when your imagination is feeling flat?

Getting inspired comes from having an engaged attitude. It requires a certain willingness and an open mind that’s receptive to new possibilities. Say you’re looking for a new purposeful outlet in your life. Perhaps you explore that impulse by getting a job in a restaurant. You’re not doing this because it’s your dream to be a server. You’re doing it because a new experience will open you up to new ideas. For instance, a restaurant job could inspire all kinds of dreams. Maybe you’ll become extremely interested in the farm-to-table movement, or you’ll discover how much you like to cook, or you’ll meet a fascinating patron who introduces you to their political circle and takes you in a completely different direction.

Seelig argues that it’s the same mindset in the world of dating. If you’re the kind of person who deeply wants to get married, it’s not enough to sit inside your house and wait for your perfect spouse to knock on your door. You need to be willing to go on some dates. Will there be terrible dinners and failed relationships? Absolutely. But those experiences will teach you about what you really want in a relationship, and it’ll bring you closer to creating your ideal romantic partnership.

The moral of these examples? Try anything and everything when you’re attempting to jumpstart your imagination. New people, ideas, experiences, and problems will offer you all kinds of food for thought. Trying these new things requires an intentional decision to immerse yourself in the world. This is the attitude of engagement.

Remember that a creative life doesn’t usually include clear paths or straight shots. There’s no one answer that you need to find. Instead, throw yourself into something, anything. Start approaching the world with curious engagement, and see what those experiences inspire.

While imagination requires an engaging attitude, it also needs an action. This is the act of envisioning. When you envision, you connect your experiences to your ideas. You make a dream for yourself and see how the stuff of your life — your experiences and questions — can inform that dream.

Seelig regularly tells her students to practice their engagement by taking an hourlong walk and writing notes about everything they see and hear: every birdsong, every scrap of litter, every dilapidated house. She encourages them to ask questions about what they observe: What bird is this? Why is this neighborhood so full of garbage? Those questions and curiosities can become a playground for the imagination: What if you devised a Shazam-style app for recognizing birdsongs? Or assembled a group of neighbors to green up the neighborhood? Or started making eco-conscious sculptures out of the trash you collect on your street?

When you envision, you challenge yourself to expand the boundaries of what’s possible. And don’t rein yourself in, either. A vision can propel you forward, but if it’s too small or rigid, it can limit you, too. Make sure that your vision for your life and your world is expansive and flexible enough to accommodate the surprising throes of imagination.

Phase 2: Creativity

Creativity requires an attitude of inner motivation and motivation comes from what you love. When dreaming up new solutions to a given problem, make sure that those solutions resonate with you. For instance, the birdsongs on your neighborhood walk could lead to all kinds of ideas. You could take up bird-watching, take an interest in the sustainability of bird habitats, or build a birdsong app.

Whatever you choose, do it because you love it. Don’t just make a birdsong app because it feels like the most lucrative option. Don’t study bird habitats because you think you’d be good at it. Use your creativity in a way that feeds your soul and matters to you on a personal level. It is this intrinsic motivation that is the best key to success. Be honest with yourself about the things, ideas, and problems that truly motivate you.

Your motivated attitude will push you toward the act of experimentation. Experimentation means that you’ll engage in a process of trial and error. It means that you’ll come up with all kinds of ideas and test them in order to figure out which ones are most satisfying or successful.

As you participate in experimentation, remember that failure is normal and inevitable. If you’re going to carry out a series of experiments, it makes sense that not all of them will go as you plan or yield the desired results. Failure can be downright painful. It can make you feel worthless and it can make your inventive process seem pointless. That’s why it’s so important to have a strong, internal motivation. It’ll keep you going when failure begins to feel too burdensome.

Remember the dating example? Dating is full of failure. You’ve probably been on some terrible first dates and had some difficult breakups. After such trials, it’s easy to fall into despair and assume that the world is full of jerks and losers. It’s also easy to feel like there’s something wrong with you for being unable to lasso a perfect mate.

However, failure doesn’t have to be a source of discouragement. Failure can be a teacher. Maybe you dated a heavy-metal rocker, and it made you realize that what you really want is a partner who can share your love of opera. Maybe you dated a successful surgeon who didn’t have time to give you the kind of attention you needed. Or, maybe you dated someone who was beautiful and kind, but became volatile and violent during your arguments. While these experiences might feel like total failure, they also taught you about which qualities you want in a partner: someone who shares your interests, who spends quality time with you, and shows you respect even when you disagree.

In order to apply your imaginative power to given situation, you need to keep trying and retrying. Embrace your mistakes, gather your data, and then try again.

Phase 3: Innovation

It’s one thing to come up with an idea that’s new to you. It’s quite another to develop a revelatory idea that’s new to everybody else. This means taking your creativity to a new level.

To enter the innovation phase, you need an attitude that will help you make your creative edge even sharper. You need a focused attitude.

Focus means that you give more time to your chosen endeavor. It means carving out extra time and energy to take your ideas to the next level. To do this, you may need to take a hard, critical look at your life and your priorities. Are you taking on too many assignments at work, or doing too many favors for friends? If your life is too full, you may need to rearrange your schedule in order to make time for what matters most to you.

Sometimes it’s tough to give up certain commitments because you’re used to a life of scarcity. For example, pretend you’re a freelance writer. Maybe you go through a dry spell where the assignments and the money just won’t show up. Even when you do find work again, you pile it on high, afraid that if you say no to one job, all of the assignments will dry up again.

Learn to recognize when your life shifts from scarcity to abundance. If you’re already working full time, maybe you don’t need to hold onto your weekend waitressing shifts. If your children have moved out of the house, maybe you have enough time to pursue your deferred dreams. Know when you can say no to certain burdens and open yourself to your own priorities.

As you try to come up with ideas that will change not only your life, but also the lives of others, remember to practice the act of reframing. Remember to look at your situation from a variety of perspectives in order to discern unseen obstacles. Maybe the surrounding freeway noise creates obstacles for your birdsong app. Maybe your phone’s microphone isn’t sensitive enough to pick up the necessary sounds. Remember, too, that these kinds of roadblocks are a blessing. They offer the opportunity to be even more creative. No matter your project, changing your frame of reference will help you grow.

Phase 4: Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship requires a persistent attitude. It means that you let your ideas continue to flow, even if you think you’ve found the perfect answer or hit an impossible wall. Entrepreneurship requires pushing further than you thought was possible.

A persistent attitude requires grit. Grit is the human capacity to set goals and overcome setbacks. It’s the force that makes you keep going even when the going gets tough. Seelig adds that grit, not talent, is the biggest indicator of success. She cites the example of Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group. While you may be familiar with the success of Virgin Records and Virgin Mobile, you might not know that Branson had his share of failures, too. Virgin Cola, Virgin Clothes, and Virgin Cars, as well as numerous other Virgin ventures, were complete and total flops. But because Branson had grit, he pushed on and achieved success.

A persistent attitude leads to acts of inspiration. Inspiration comes from telling your success story in a certain way. It’s how you broaden your appeal, expand your audience, and increase your sphere of influence.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a perfect example of inspiration. Back in 2014, individuals made videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads, then posted those videos to the internet, and tagged three friends. The tagged friends could either donate to the ALS Association, or do the same ice bucket dump. The videos went viral. People who had no idea what ALS even was began to get involved. The strategy garnered tons of public attention for ALS and raised millions of dollars.

Inspiration is an important way to increase your following, your customer base, and your allies. See if you can tell your story in a way that will touch other people and motivate them to action as well.


Creativity might feel difficult and complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead, creativity can be a concrete, replicable strategy for success.

By learning how your imagination, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship feed on and support one another, you can treat your creative energy as a series of actions and attitudes, rather than a fickle muse. Remember that the phases of the Inventive Cycle require both interior and exterior work. They demand proper attitudes and proper actions. By cultivating productive attitudes and practicing fruitful actions, you can rely on your creativity as a trustworthy process and use it in service of your goals.

About the author

Tina Seelig has a doctorate in neuroscience. A Stanford professor, TED speaker, and bestselling author, Seelig’s published work focuses on maximizing creativity and supporting entrepreneurship.

Tina Seelig earned her Ph.D. in neuroscience from Stanford University Medical School and is Professor of the Practice in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford’s School of Engineering and executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. She is the international bestselling author of What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 and inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity. In 2009, Seelig was awarded the prestigious Gordon Prize from the National Academy of Engineering for her pioneering work in engineering education. Follow her on Twitter at @tseelig.

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Tina Seelig


International bestselling author and Stanford University professor Tina Seelig adapts her wildly popular creativity course to a practical guide on how to put your best ideas into action.

For the past fifteen years, Professor Tina Seelig has taught her Stanford students how to creatively unleash their unique entrepreneurial spirits. In Creativity Rules, she shares this wisdom, offering inspiration and guidance to transform ideas into reality.

Readers will learn how to work through the four steps of The Invention Cycle: Imagination (envisioning things that do not yet exist), Creativity (applying your imagination to address a challenge), Innovation (applying creativity to generate unique solutions), and Entrepreneurship (applying innovation, to bring ideas to fruition, where our ideas then gain the power to inspire the imaginations of others). Using each step to build upon the last, you can create something much complex, interesting, and powerful.

Creativity Rules provides the essential knowledge to take a compelling idea and transform it into something extraordinary.


“The Silicon Valley entrepreneurship story has taken an outsized place in our understanding of innovation. Tina Seelig explains how the skills of creativity, invention, and entrepreneurship can be pursued in every walk of life, and even better, how they can be taught.” — Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc.

“Insight Out elegantly illustrates how to move from imagination to innovation, and inspiration to implementation.” — Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take

“Tina Seelig presents a provocative pathway for bringing your ideas to fruition. Illustrated with inspiring examples, this book leaves plenty of room for defining your own choices as you move through the entrepreneurial process.” — Geoff Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm

“This book will make you smarter, more creative, more original and more innovative. It’s valuable both for individuals who want to turbo-charge their own performance, as well as companies and the leaders within these companies: anyone who is looking for more innovation MUST read this book!” — Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth

“Tina Seelig draws from the halls of Stanford to the walls of start-ups to distill the secrets of successful entrepreneurs. Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur or an established professional, Insight Out will be your essential guide for converting your ideas into impact. — Liz Wiseman, bestselling author of Multipliers and Rookie Smarts

“A practical handbook for turning ideas into action, Insight Out is a fast-paced ride from imagination and creativity to innovation and entrepreneurship. Use this book to bring your ideas to life.” — Tom Kelley, co-author of Creative Confidence

“Many of the current generation of leaders in Silicon Valley were once students that she personally mentored. With Insight Out, Tina uses her characteristic analytic insight to unpack creativity and innovation, helping dispel the myth that these are magical powers available only to a lucky few.” — Justin Rosenstein, Co-Founder Asana

“If you care about driving innovation in your company or your community, you’ll benefit from this book.” — Chip Health, author of the bestselling Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

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