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David Burkus on Myths of Creativity

Kiss of the Muse by Paul CezanneThere are many ideas about being creative: You have to wait for a flash of inspiration; You need to be a “genius”; Artists are crazy (or at least flaky); You should be in pain to create, and many other myths which often get in the way of personal creative work, and business innovation.

In his book “The Myths of Creativity” David Burkus, writes about one of the most enduring myths: that creative inspiration comes from an outside source or entity:

“The ancient Greeks told and retold stories of gods, supernatural creatures, and regular mortals as a way to explain how they thought the world worked…They created the muses, who received and answered the prayers of ancient writers, musicians, and even engineers.

“The muses were the bearers of creativity’s divine spark. They were the source of inspiration. Even thinkers as great as Plato believed that poets drew all of their creativity from the muses, so that any works by the poets were really considered works of the muses.”

[Painting: “Kiss of the Muse” by Paul Cezanne, also used in my article Creative talent: genetics, a muse, or hard work?]

In an interview for, Burkus comments that “decades of psychological insight into creativity have given us a means to study where it comes from and how to enhance it for greater innovation.”

He adds, “The stories and heuristics we used to explain creativity and innovation aren’t necessary and, in many cases, are contradictory to the empirical evidence. By beginning to study that evidence, managers will develop a better understanding of how great ideas develop and how to develop organizations that can consistently produce great ideas.”

In this short audio clip psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, host of The Science of Thriving conference, interviews Burkus, who talks about the “Eureka” myth of creative inspiration, and about how incubation works.

Video: The Myths of Creativity by David Burkus

The description of the video includes this: “We tend to think of creativity in terms reminiscent of the ancient muses: divinely-inspired, unpredictable, and bestowed upon a lucky few. But when our jobs challenge us to be creative on demand, we must develop novel, useful ideas that will keep our organizations competitive.”


In the interview, Burkus also notes he closes his book “with a discussion of the ‘Mousetrap Myth,’ the belief that once a good idea is generated, getting it implemented is easy. This comes from the maxim ‘If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.’

“It turns out that this saying is quite backwards. In most cases, when a great idea or innovation is presented to the world it is typically rejected at first. The digital camera, personal computers, and even talking pictures were all at first dismissed as nonsense.

“In most cases, if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat you down and ignore your idea. The reason for this is most likely a psychological bias we all share against creative ideas. We say we want more creativity, but when we are presented with new ideas, we have a hard time recognizing their utility. This is something I see in almost all organizations.”


The Myths of Creativity bookBook: The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas by David Burkus.

The Science of Thriving: At Work and In Life online conference featured more than 20 leading scientists and authors including Carol Dweck, Dan Ariely, Adam Grant, Daniel Pink, Sian Beilock, Art Markman, Maria Konnikova, Scott Barry Kaufman and more. Recordings are available.

Hear more audio clips of presenters in my post: Thriving In Work and Life: An Online Conference.


Also see my related articles:

Myths of Creativity and Creators – How They Hold Us Back.

Artists are Crazy; Mothers Can’t Be Artists, and Other Myths

Scrapping The Starving Artist Mythology

Creative inspiration – R. Keith Sawyer on myths of creativity


The Truth About Creativity conference

The Truth About Creativity conference is hosted by David Burkus.

The online conference includes video interviews with 31 experts on creativity and innovation. Recording packages of the live interviews are available: videos (MP4), audios (MP3) and PDF transcripts.


David Burkus on Myths of Creativity

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2014). David Burkus on Myths of Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Jun 2014
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