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Summary: Make Brilliant Work: Lessons on Creativity, Innovation, and Success by Rod Judkins


Do you dream of making something brilliant but wonder if you’re capable? You are if you are willing to do what it takes. The advice, methods and mind-sets this book provides will spur you to shake up your way of doing things – and make brilliant work. It just takes commitment. Find out how to get out of a rut, get noticed, gain a new perspective on discouraging experiences, and find confidence and drive. This book will appeal to and inspire anyone who wants to surpass their limits and achieve something exceptional.


  • Stop trying to fit in.
  • Turn negative experiences into inspiration.
  • Don’t wait for approval – assert yourself.
  • Attempt the impossible.
  • Find your obsession.
  • Forge connections.

Book Summary: Make Brilliant Work - Lessons on Creativity, Innovation, and Success


Stop trying to fit in.

Being an excellent student doesn’t make you a creative genius. People who do exceptional work often struggled in school. The educational system rewards you for mastering conventional thinking, but brilliant ideas are always unconventional. It’s normal to want to feel accepted, but if you want to create brilliant work, you need to draw motivation from your work itself, not from a desire for approval.

“Good taste is death; vulgarity is life.” (designer Mary Quant)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that humans will focus on basic needs like food and shelter first, but will then feel driven to satisfy higher needs. The highest need is not approval but “self-actualization.” Act based on what’s important to you, not to others. Even if you win awards, it won’t be as satisfying as knowing you have realized your vision. Fulfillment comes from satisfaction in your work, not from external validation.

“What makes you different is the pearl in the oyster – take it out and show it off. ”

Not only will original work satisfy you more, it will also have a greater impact on your life. You will connect with more people by making things that fit your personality than by trying to fit in.

Try these strategies to help you find your own way:

  • Identify your core beliefs and use them as your bedrock – They will give you the strength to challenge rules that don’t make sense and strike out on your own and do things differently.
  • Come up with your own answers before learning how things should be done – Learn by doing and come up with your own ideas first. In the 1920s, Eileen Gray wanted to become an architect but was not accepted in a field dominated by men. She taught herself everything she needed to know to build her designs herself. Her work proved her outsider ideas were at the cutting edge of modern architecture and drew the admiration – and jealousy – of the great twentieth-century modernist architect Le Corbusier.
  • Embrace weirdness – At first, publishers disliked Dr. Seuss’s stories for kids because they didn’t have a clear, sensible message. Dr. Seuss’s real message was to encourage children to free their minds and open up to new ideas.
  • “Dare to suck” – Once a week, Steven Tyler of the rock band Aerosmith gets his bandmates to share ideas that they think are embarrassing to make sure they’re not dismissing anything good. Look at what’s unpopular and question why people disapprove of it. Are you judging something’s worth based on conventional values?
  • Bring your knowledge from one domain into another – Apply techniques that don’t belong, like aircraft designer Malcolm Sayer, who designed a car for Jaguar as if it were a fighter jet. Breaking boundaries can turn something conventional into something groundbreaking.
  • Spark creativity with friction – Embrace clashing elements to create contrast and tension. Contrast highlights the properties of each opposing element, the way a blue swimming pool looks bluer with an orange inflatable floating on it. Tension creates suspense and interest, like Charles Dickens’s opening line in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”
  • Adapt your projects to your weaknesses – You may find that your weaknesses are in fact strengths. Andy Warhol had a poor sense of color, but the crass, sharply contrasting shades in his works made them unique and recognizable.
  • Don’t aim for perfection – Be honest about your flaws. Your flaws can make your work all the more compelling.

Turn negative experiences into inspiration.

It’s easy to give in to feelings of defeat. In fact, research of psychiatrist Leon Sloman and psychologist Paul Gilbert suggest that humans evolved to give up. In the evolutionary past, most decisions were life and death, and an excess of caution meant you survived to reproduce. Nowadays, you can adopt a different, less cautious attitude. Use your negative experiences as creative inspiration. If something bad happens to you, look at it as a compelling story or a chance to come up with an innovative solution. You can see it as something useful, rather than as a setback.

“If you’re a creative person, everything is fuel; everything is a useable building material.”

Rejection stings, but you can channel the strong emotion it provokes into new creative work. Jeffery Katzenberg was abruptly fired from his job as head of production at Disney after an argument with his boss. The experience fueled his drive to found a new studio, the very successful DreamWorks SKG, whose early feature, Shrek, poked fun at Disney characters.

When you take a difficult path, you will experience criticism from people who are unhappy with their own decisions to play it safe. Embrace difficulty. It’s a sign you’re not settling for mediocrity.

“Whatever obstacles are blocking your path, finding a way around them could lead you to original and surprising solutions.”

In order to keep working through difficulty, you must nurture your confidence. Even Picasso made missteps. At the height of his career, he painted an enormous mural commissioned by UNESCO. Critics immediately panned the work. His friends’ diaries record that Picasso suffered a huge blow to his confidence, but he went back to work right away, starting with small-scale sketches and working his way back up to more substantial pieces. If your confidence takes a hit, don’t retreat from work. Assess your failures, see what you can learn from them and keep working.

Don’t wait for approval – assert yourself.

Don’t let your work go unnoticed. You can’t passively rely on other people recognizing a brilliant idea. Salvador Dalì was an introvert, but he created a larger-than-life persona for himself to promote his work. Put as much work and creativity into advertising yourself as you put into your project. The work you do to promote a project is an integral part of the project itself. If you publish a book, you’re not done when you complete the final draft. You also need to talk about it on podcasts, make videos, regularly update your website and do anything else you can to raise your profile.

Don’t let a no be an excuse to stop. Anticipate reasons people are likely to say no and be prepared to respond to them. Don’t pester people. Understand why they are saying no and find a way to steer them toward a yes.

“Don’t react. Be proactive. Take responsibility and do whatever is necessary to turn your ideas into reality.”

Push back against resistance. When you ask someone for something and they say it can’t be done, this often just means they think it’s too much trouble. Designers Charles and Ray Eames saw huge potential in bent plywood as a material for furniture, but the manufacturers they approached all said it couldn’t be done. They figured out how to do it themselves. The resulting designs were an enormous success. Once manufacturers saw the demand for it, they quickly found out how to produce their own bent plywood.

You will never feel fully prepared. Accept opportunities even when they make you uneasy. Take a risk. When in doubt, say yes. It’s normal to fear risks, but it’s more harmful to always play it safe. If you take a risk, you will surprise yourself. You often do your best work under pressure.

“Most people think they want a breakthrough, but they find reasons why they can’t take it when it arrives.”

Psychologists have shown that acting as if you’re where you want to be motivates you to get there. This isn’t a question of trying to look like someone you’re not. Determine what attitudes are holding you back and motivate yourself to overcome them. If you openly commit to something, it will motivate you to find a way to deliver.

Attempt the impossible.

If something seems impossible, you’re probably still thinking about it in a conventional way. In some situations, conventional thinking is a trap.

“People who achieve the extraordinary set goals beyond their limitations – goals their colleagues and friends thought were impossible and ridiculous.”

If a problem seems unsolvable, that means it needs an unconventional solution.

  • Examine your assumptions and prejudices – Alec Issigonis created a car that was both smaller and more spacious by turning the engine sideways. Along the way, he pioneered front-wheel drive in order to make the design work. The result, the Mini, is one of the highest-selling British car designs in history.
  • Embrace unreasonable goals – Don’t fear looking foolish. Researchers Timothy Judge and John Kammeyer-Mueller of the University of Florida found that ambition has more of an effect on success than inherited characteristics, capacity or socioeconomic class.
  • Identify your “avoidance behaviors” – Identify goals that you are avoiding because they represent an unknown. Not only is it important to aim for these goals in order to realize your full potential, they will also motivate you better than mediocre goals.
  • Use a compass not a map – Today’s ever-changing, unpredictable world doesn’t care about your plans. Adversarial growth is the ability to adapt to obstacles and keep pursuing your goals. It’s an essential component of success. Don’t put off your goals until your plan is complete. Define your vision, then set out on the path to where you want to go.
  • Skip ahead and imagine the future – If you are feeling overwhelmed by constant change, get ahead of it.Instead of putting all your energy into mastering current innovations that may soon be obsolete, imagine an ideal future. Do you want a future that’s more ethical, inclusive or sustainable? Think about how to make it real. Focus on creating things that don’t yet exist.

Find your obsession.

People tend to stay within their limits and live in moderation, but if you find the right project, you can work on it obsessively. Successful people are compulsive because they are working on something they are passionate about. Only your passion is worth obsessive focus. If you commit to your passion, commit to it fully.

Choose a priority and hyper-focus on it. The modern world is full of distraction. At any moment there are hundreds of things competing for your attention. You must decide what is important. Learn to maintain your focus on one thing at a time. It takes discipline. Once you are able to direct your attention, you will recognize small ideas that can lead to major breakthroughs.

Find what makes you enter a “flow” state. That’s where you will do your most brilliant work. Edwin Land, the inventor of instant film, had assistants who had to pressure him to eat. He had no concept of what time it was or how long he had been working. Maintaining this kind of focus means giving other things up. While Land was working, he didn’t go on vacation or take breaks during the weekend. Be decisive and don’t let other things pull you out of your flow. Stretch yourself to take on more than you think you can. Set deadlines and work through the night if it’s necessary. You’ll learn you are capable of more than you thought.

“Once you start a project, aim to produce it instantly – don’t stop till it’s finished.”

Immerse yourself in the process and find ways to make things work better, even if it doesn’t seem like the most efficient use of your time. Don’t let other people’s ideas of success influence you. Work to make things exactly how you want them. Delve deeply and develop a “rage to master”: a desire to know everything about your chosen field. Fight impatience and the desire for instant results by learning to appreciate the joy of exploration.

Think about how far you can take your idea. Would it work on a larger scale? Directors like Ridley Scott and Guillermo del Toro directed 30-second television advertisements before they started making feature films.

Obsession does not mean recklessness. Resist the pressure to move quickly. Take time to reflect and analyze your next move.Decide on the theme of your work early to guide your decisions. The strength of your project turns on the strength of your idea. A strong idea will drive you to keep working.

Forge connections.

Get support. When you are working tirelessly to create and to promote your work, it helps to have someone on your side. Salvador Dalì’s wife, Gala, was also his manager. Early in his career, she organized the “Zodiac Club”: 12 patrons who committed to taking turns buying one of Dalì’s paintings each month so that he would have a steady income.

Help people and let them help you. Gather a group of individuals who can succeed together. Renowned cinéma vérité director John Cassavetes said a film director is like a host, and his or her cast and crew are guests. Look after your team as if they were your guests. Tend to their moods and their needs. Keep people connected and engaged, and see what you can come up with as a group.

“We are more inclined to ask for help in areas where our ego is not involved.”

Your first instinct may be to keep a good idea to yourself, hide your mistakes and only show the finished product. However, transparency around your creative process can grow a community of people who engage with what you do and support you.

Adopt an apprentice mind-set. Put aside your preconceived ideas and listen to the people who work with you and for you. Good leaders don’t aim for unquestioning obedience. They ask questions and gather information to make the best decisions.

“Wherever you are, the person above, near or beneath you is doing something that could teach you invaluable lessons.”

If you believe in what you’re offering, you can see networking as a chance to help people, rather than feeling pressure to pitch yourself. If you take genuine interest in other people, they will naturally open up to you. Go to networking events with the goal of better understanding what others need – then offer it.

About the Author

Rod Judkins is a lecturer at Central Saint Martins University of the Arts in London, England, and the bestselling author of The Art of Creative Thinking.


Rod Judkins’ “Make Brilliant Work: Lessons on Creativity, Innovation, and Success” is a thought-provoking exploration of the creative process, providing valuable insights and actionable advice for individuals striving to harness their creativity and achieve success. Through a collection of engaging anecdotes, practical exercises, and thought-provoking anecdotes, Judkins offers readers a comprehensive guide to unleashing their creative potential.

The book delves into the multifaceted nature of creativity, emphasizing that it is not a gift bestowed upon a select few, but a skill that can be cultivated by anyone willing to invest time and effort. Judkins systematically breaks down various aspects of the creative journey, ranging from ideation to execution, and offers a wealth of techniques to overcome creative blocks and enhance innovation.

The book is divided into six parts, each focusing on a different aspect of creativity and innovation. Part One explores the concept of “brilliant work” and the importance of developing a creative mindset. Judkins argues that creativity is not just a natural talent, but a skill that can be learned and developed through practice and effort.

In Part Two, Judkins discusses the role of curiosity in driving innovation. He emphasizes the importance of asking the right questions, observing the world around us, and embracing uncertainty as a means of uncovering new ideas and opportunities.

Part Three examines the role of collaboration in the creative process. Judkins stresses the importance of building diverse teams, fostering open communication, and creating a culture of constructive feedback to drive innovation and success.

In Part Four, Judkins turns his attention to the role of technology in creativity and innovation. He discusses the impact of automation, artificial intelligence, and big data on the creative process, and argues that technology should be seen as a tool to augment human creativity, rather than replace it.

Part Five focuses on the importance of storytelling in communicating ideas and vision. Judkins provides practical advice on how to craft compelling narratives that inspire and engage others, and stresses the importance of authenticity and vulnerability in effective storytelling.

Finally, in Part Six, Judkins offers practical advice on how to cultivate a culture of creativity and innovation within organizations. He emphasizes the importance of creating a safe space for experimentation, embracing failure as a learning opportunity, and providing opportunities for professional development and growth.

One of the book’s strengths lies in its ability to demystify the creative process. Judkins presents creativity as a combination of inspiration and perspiration, debunking the myth of the lone genius struck by a sudden burst of brilliance. Instead, he highlights the significance of consistent effort, resilience in the face of failures, and the power of iteration.

The author’s engaging storytelling keeps the reader captivated throughout. He shares real-world examples of successful individuals who have effectively harnessed their creativity to achieve remarkable feats, illustrating how their journeys were marked by determination, adaptability, and a willingness to learn from setbacks.

“Make Brilliant Work” also stands out for its practical exercises and actionable advice. Judkins provides a toolkit of strategies that readers can immediately implement to enhance their creative thinking and problem-solving skills. From brainstorming techniques to methods for refining ideas, each chapter equips readers with tools to nurture and refine their creative endeavors.

Furthermore, Judkins explores the vital connection between creativity and innovation, highlighting how the two concepts are intertwined. He emphasizes that creativity is not limited to artistic endeavors; it is equally relevant in fields as diverse as business, science, and technology. By intertwining practical advice with philosophical insights, the author prompts readers to challenge their preconceived notions and adopt a more open-minded approach to their creative pursuits.

While “Make Brilliant Work” is a rich resource for aspiring creatives, it could benefit from a more structured organization at times. Some sections may appear slightly disjointed, leading to minor moments of confusion. Additionally, while the book offers a range of exercises, readers may find it useful to have guidance on how to integrate these exercises into their daily routines effectively.

Key Takeaways:

  • Embrace Curiosity: The book emphasizes the importance of curiosity in fostering creativity and innovation. Judkins encourages readers to embrace their natural curiosity and use it as a tool to explore new ideas and approaches.
  • Failure is Not Final: The book challenges the traditional view of failure as a negative experience. Instead, Judkins argues that failure is an essential part of the creative process and can lead to some of the most brilliant work.
  • Collaboration is Key: Judkins stresses the importance of collaboration in driving creativity and innovation. He encourages readers to work with others to generate new ideas and approaches.
  • Keep Learning: The book emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and development. Judkins encourages readers to keep learning new skills and exploring new ideas to stay ahead in their respective fields.
  • Focus on the Process, Not Just the Outcome: Judkins argues that focusing too much on the outcome can stifle creativity. Instead, he encourages readers to focus on the process and enjoy the journey of creating something new and innovative.
  • Be Open-Minded: The book emphasizes the importance of being open-minded and receptive to new ideas and perspectives. Judkins encourages readers to embrace diversity and different perspectives as a source of inspiration and creativity.
  • Take Risks: Judkins encourages readers to take calculated risks to push the boundaries of what is possible. He argues that taking risks is essential to creating something truly innovative and groundbreaking.
  • Find Your Passion: The book emphasizes the importance of finding your passion and pursuing it with dedication and commitment. Judkins argues that when you are passionate about something, you are more likely to create something truly brilliant.


  • Practical Advice: The book offers practical advice and strategies that readers can apply to their own creative pursuits.
  • Inspirational: The book is inspirational and motivational, encouraging readers to embrace their creativity and pursue their passions.
  • Accessible: The language is clear and accessible, making it easy for readers to understand and apply the concepts discussed.


  • Lack of Case Studies: The book could benefit from more case studies and examples to illustrate the concepts discussed.
  • Some Concepts Are Not New: Some of the concepts discussed in the book, such as the importance of failure and the power of collaboration, are not new and may be familiar to readers.

Impactful Quotes:

  • “Creativity is not a talent, it’s a skill that can be learned and developed.”
  • “The best ideas often come from unexpected places, so keep an open mind and be curious.”
  • “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
  • “The more you practice, the luckier you get.”


“Make Brilliant Work” is an inspiring and practical guide for anyone looking to unlock their creative potential and achieve success. Judkins’ insights are based on years of experience as an artist, educator, and creativity coach, making the book a valuable resource for creatives, entrepreneurs, and anyone looking to innovate and make a meaningful impact in their field. The book is well-organized, easy to follow, and filled with actionable advice and real-world examples.

Here are some additional thoughts on the book:

  • I appreciate that Judkins shares his own experiences as a creative director, which helps readers to connect with the material on a personal level.
  • I also appreciate that Judkins provides practical exercises and examples that readers can use to apply the concepts he discusses.
  • Overall, I thought Make Brilliant Work was an excellent book. It is a must-read for anyone who is serious about creating work that has a lasting impact.


In conclusion, “Make Brilliant Work: Lessons on Creativity, Innovation, and Success” by Rod Judkins is a compelling and informative guide for individuals seeking to enhance their creative abilities and achieve success across various domains. With its blend of practical strategies, engaging anecdotes, and philosophical insights, the book offers a comprehensive exploration of the creative journey. Despite minor organizational hiccups, Judkins’ book serves as a valuable tool to inspire and empower readers on their quest for brilliance in their work and beyond.

If you’re looking to enhance your creativity, innovation, and success, “Make Brilliant Work” is an excellent choice. Whether you’re a seasoned creative or just starting out, this book will provide you with the insights, strategies, and motivation you need to unlock your full potential. Give it a try and see for yourself!

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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