The Quest to be a Creative Superpower

09 Jan,2019


By Sanjeev Kotnala

Creativity is an expected skillset in any profession today. Yet, there are very few recognised programmes on creativity that are taught as part of professional education at graduate or postgraduate level. Creativity is something one is expected to have or to learn on the job.

Most of us have accessed creative training programmes and books to gain insight into this magic formula. The result, we all have our preferred processes and beliefs. Be it open-ended thinking, constraints breaking, brainstorming, magical hats,  or use design thinking. It is a professional requirement, and most of us have remained chained to creativity as experienced, expressed, exploited and explored in our area of expertise or profession.



‘Creative Superpower’ has been published as a crowd-funded programme called ‘UnBound’. It is a compilation of articles by global creative hotshots with a wide spectrum of professional expertise. There are architects, creative directors, educators, fashion designers, marketers, musicians, and storytellers, to name a few.

Each article focusses on expression, processes and examples of creative approaches in a particular field. Some defend the inspirational style of creativity, and some still look for originality.

The book is a light read, but it makes you think. It helps you discover a few things afresh. If you are in the field of creativity and innovation (which most of us are), the book will resonate with current thinking and learning.

The book is divided into four parts. Each of these clusters of articles deals with innovation and creativity under one of the four conceptual ‘CREATIVE SUPERPOWERS’.



The new way to approach. Learn how getting your hands dirty and making things open up new parts of your brain as well as creating happy accidents. Then you can see how the pieces fit together. Learn how to shape your ideas in your way. Your way is unique and human. Be brave, it’s the future.

‘Making’ asks you to be ‘Lateral Tinkers’ and not merely lateral thinkers, to make the best use of your creativity.

Quoting “There is no right way to make other than to just get started. To start anywhere and eventually, to finish. To learn from the successes and failures and to start again. Because everything needs to be made real and making processes defines every articulation of every creative vision”.

You do find some real hope in the book. ‘Machines can indeed do the work, but progression and innovation depend on the imperfection of the human creative process’.

Again quoting from ‘What makes for great making?’ by Morihiro Harano, Creative Director and founder of Mori Inc. And this one is a serious thought. It is called ‘Don’t Make Shit For Shit’. Here it goes: ‘I have been to many clients briefing for products that were, to be honest, total shit ( sorry!) But the agency or the design studio staff would usually say, ‘Wow, what cool shit!’. And the client would be pleased and we all go off to make another shitty ad. And then we go to the south of France to give awards to each other for making the best shit.’

The chapter ‘Shared Noises’ by Lucas Abela, a musician is the highlight. It was special for me as I am musically challenged. It is full of discoveries and simple innovation in motion experienced by the author and now served to the readers.



How becoming a hacker will help you find solutions differently. For the first time I saw the creativity in hacking and it as a process tool for innovation.

John Wilshere, the founder of Smithery, defines it brilliantly ‘A hacker is someone who always assumes that one part is broken’. By assuming  that one part is broken, you have to find what is broken and then you can focus on fixing it, thus making it better.’

My favourite is the chapter ‘Using hacking to build better business’ by Annicken R Day, founder of Corporate Springs. It resonates with me when it says ‘Strategies are nothing but a guessing game for a future reality that is impossible to predict.’. We are after all expected to creatively or otherwise do the best within the constraints and degree of available information.

My discover section was the way magicians were labelled the original hackers. ‘They look for flaws in the operating systems of the human brain and exploit them through sleight of hand, misdirection and great storytelling…. We find ourselves questioning the reality of what we have just experienced. I use the word ‘experienced’ rather than ‘seen’ because the gap between the data that goes in through the eyes and how the brain turns that data into a visual story is where the magic ‘experience’ truly happens’.



Learn how teaching yourself and others consolidates experience in a fast-paced world. And why you need of continuously self teach through exploration, experimentation and DIY.

There is no debating the quote from Alvin Toffler at the start of the section. ‘The illiterate of the twenty-first century won’t be those who can’t read or write. But those who can’t learn, unlearn and learn’.

Teaching as an innovation creativity superpower is all about this learning cycle and approach. Something that Chandramouli in his book ‘Catalyst’ or Ambi Parameswaran in his book ‘Sponge’ pushes for.

‘Street wisdom. Answers are everywhere’ by David Pearl, founder of Street Wisdom, is my favourite in this section exploring teaching as a ‘creative superpower’. It presents the case so vividly that you can’t miss the importance.

In ‘learning in reverse’, Nadya Powell, co-founder of Utopia makes a strong case for the need to reevaluate the irrelevance of knowledge in the world of younger-wiser. He further stretches on the need to manage the young talent by adding ‘We must let the young teach’. I love his suggestion that the hierarchical structure or remuneration levels need rethinking. It can no longer just be based upon the years of experience and service but must be contribution based.



Learn how looking at what already exists helps you solve your problem. How to be inspired and learn from what already exists in the framework and reference set.

In the introduction of this section, Mark Earls, founder of Herd Consulting sets the ball rolling. I quote ‘Our ability to use the ideas and the brains of others- to steal, copy or borrow- is the most important superpower, we have inherited from our human predecessors. It means, we don’t have to store information or know-how within our individual skulls but use the brains of others to do so- we outsource cognitive thinking. Like all superpowers, it can be used for good or ill, but not to use it at all- or not to acknowledge it- is to be dishonest to ourselves, our inheritance and our world. When used well, this is the way to create new ideas and things, faster, better and with more fun.’

‘Same Same but different: How abstraction is the key to creativity’ by Faris Yakob with Rosie Yakob, founders of Genius Steal makes the point absolutely clear. They dismantle the notion of originality ( the greatest myth still doing rounds) and develops a schema for understanding ‘Stealing’ and recombination in the formation of Ideas.

I somewhat agree with their thought ‘Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination’ and then add what Jim Jarmusch says ‘It’s not where you take things from that is important but its where you take them to’.

Before I close on this, here is a tip from T S Eliot ‘A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote or alien in language, or diverse in interest’. And that links to need for far more extensive knowledge, experience, exposure to be a better thief. I definitely want to be a better thief.



One can pick which ‘Creative Superpower’ works best for them. This book is a compilation of articles on Creativity clustered under new buzz sections of Making, Hacking, Teaching or Thieving.

In Indian style, we have ‘creative superpowers’ like  Saam (Logic, rational, inference),  Daam( Price or opportunity),  Dand (Penalty, constraints, frugalism) and Bhed (differentiation, uniqueness, relevance doubt). Each one of them is capable of rolling out an avalanche of innovation. We say copyright is right to copy and we are expert in it. We follow a simplistic approach of beg-borrow-steal from existing frameworks and reference. Adapting and being inspired is always an honourable escape route for many creative.



Ravi Deshpande, founder and chairman at Whyness, is the Indian voice in the book. He discusses Jugaad in the chapter ‘How hacking helped build one of the world’s largest economies’.

Jugaad, the frugal innovation remains one of the most misunderstood terms. Ravi correctly puts it in the right perspective ‘Jugaad is based on one simple rule, there is no rue’. It’s about doing whatever it takes to make things work your way. If the conventions do not permit this, change the convention. If your audience does not approve of it, change your audience. If the cost is astronomical, do it on a shoestring.’

But I will not endorse Ravi Deshpande’s current perception of India. He writes: ‘The most important thing about Jugaad is that it thrives on chaos and uncertainty. India is probably the most chaotic country in the world; elephants blocking traffic….” Really? Ravi, you forgot, the beggars, the mosquitoes, snake charmers and the famous Indian rope trick. I am surprised that even he presents and projects an utterly perverted, biased impression of the motherland. Being unique and creative is so tough.



Creativity and Innovation is an approach and an attitude towards working. It is a way of working. It is not a button that you switch on or off as per requirement.

There are multiple processes and paths, but the end-objective remains the same. You use creative superpowers and innovate to make something better not necessarily new or unique.

The processes are ‘Same Same but Different’ if you know what I am hinting at. You can pick them and innovatively mix them to create what works for you. Most of the Innovation experts and consultants will vouch for their concoction.

However, the need to stimulate an empty relaxed mind to think does not change. At times unlearning is required. An overstretched mind full of many facts can be a severe impediment to the creative process. Each additional frame of information is another barrier or a box to be ticked. The dots need to be connected or reconnected relevantly. The childlike curiosity and willingness to learn remains a crucial ingredient of the whole process.

Remember: “You are the most talented, most interesting and the most extraordinary person in the Universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are special”. Go create and redefine your own Creative Superpower.


I run a co-creation innovation programme ‘InNoWait’. It is built around the promise of directional innovation to a product, service or probortunity within a short period. InNoWait simply means; You don’t have to wait to Innovate.

InNoWait banks on the idea of immediacy, creating, learning and recreating. It follows the collective co-generation and creation of solutions. It employs the divergence and convergence of design thinking. It works with a relaxed mind. The work ambience induces childlike curiosity and a   non-evaluative environment with no race for credits.

Most of the techniques in ‘Creative Superpower’ were known to me. Few I have personally experimented with and can endorse their efficacy. Hence, to me, the book ‘Creative Superpower’ is just a  revision of thoughts. I must add, it did add a differential experience in terms of examples and lucid explanation.



So, if you are new to the field of innovation and creativity, slightly academically inclined, ‘Creative Superpower’ is a book you should read. However, the book may not excite people who work in the creativity Innovation field.

I will say you will be better-served reading, ‘The Art Of Innovation’, ‘Storm The Norm’ and ‘Unlock the real power of ideation’ to start with.


‘CREATIVE SUPERPOWERS’: Equip yourself for the age of creativity by Laura Jordan Bambach, Mark Earls, Daniele Fiandaca and Scott Morrisson. Published by Unbound. Pages 237. Cover Price Rs 999 (Available on Amazon for Rs 628, Kindle edition: Rs 129)

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