4 Phrases Every Creative Person Uses

5 min read

Quite often, there are times in our daily schedules when we need something new (mentally speaking), when we require a different way of doing things, an innovative outlook, an unusual approach—times, in other words, when we would benefit from a new idea. We need some sort of creative approach or dynamic answer that will increase our productivity or give us a new way of seeing the world.

Creative folks address those challenges by regularly using four pivotal phrases that not only become part of their daily thought processes but are integral to the generation of unique ideas. By incorporating these phrases into your own thinking, you too, can discover some vibrant new ways to improve your personal creativity.

1. “What if…?”

Creative people ask lots of questions beginning with the two words, “What if…? They have discovered that the process of “what-iffing” stimulates the brain to think in very divergent and creative ways.

Consider the “what if” question Jeff Bezos may have asked himself many years ago: “People go to bookstores in order to buy books. What if the bookstore came to them?” Thus, Amazon was born. James Dyson may have similarly asked himself a critical “what-if” question: “What if vacuum cleaners didn’t require replaceable bags?” The result was the Dyson Dual Cyclone Vacuum Cleaner—the fastest-selling vacuum cleaner ever made.

Asking “What if” questions is one of the most powerful creativity engines ever—it has the potential of producing a plethora of possibilities, helping us move outside our “mental comfort zones” and into new and exciting venues. In addition, it propels us into an imaginative frame of mind—a frame without assumptions and without limits. So too, can it generate an abundance of possible responses (not right responses or wrong responses, just possible responses).

2. “I don’t understand….”

Creative people admit their shortcomings. They celebrate the fact that they don’t know everything they need to know about a topic. In short, they relish their lack of knowledge, knowing it gives them incentive to go out and “fill in the blanks.” Admitting you don’t know something is a catalyst to explore and examine, an odyssey of positive self-improvement. It is also a critical propellant for creativity.



For many years, I have been intrigued with the concept of longevity, specifically the longevity of trees that have been living for 2,000, 3,000, and 4,000+ years. However, since I am not a botanist or dendrochronologist, I knew little about the topic.

But I was sufficiently intrigued to go out and interview experts, read multiple research documents, and wander long trails in deep forests to seek what I did not know. The result was a new book: In Search of the Old Ones: An Odyssey Among Ancient Trees. My (previous) ignorance about trees’ awe-inspiring longevity spawned a creative endeavor I am delighted to share with others.

“I don’t understand….” is both an outward admission and dynamic incentive. It moves our minds into new dimensions—dimensions previously unconsidered, incomprehensible, or unimaginable. Most importantly, it breaks us of our overt dependence on what we already know and guides us into new realms of discovery and innovation.

3. “How can we do this differently?”

Simply put, creativity is the ability to generate multiple possibilities. Too often we get caught in a trap—thinking that there is one, and only one, solution to any challenge.

Creative folks, on the other hand, continuously look for ideas in unfamiliar, strange, and never-before-explored places. They break the rules, make up their own rules as they go along, or work without any rules at all. They ask questions that have never been asked—childlike questions, silly questions, imaginative questions, improbable questions, irrational questions, inconceivable questions, looney questions, and way-out-in-the-universe questions.

Creativity is all about possibilities, not absolutes. No limits. No bounds. No controls. Pure and simple: options.

No matter your occupation or education, your ability to examine all sides of an ongoing project is often the key to success. Instead of confining your thinking to the search for an absolute answer, consider some self-brainstorming—continuously searching for a surfeit of opportunities and alternatives at every juncture. “How can we do this differently?” should be a regular element of your everyday thinking.

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4. “What failures did I have today?

Fear of failure is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to our creative intents. If we are afraid of making mistakes, we tend to play it safe. As a result, our innate creativity withers and dies.

In the business world, companies want to be seen as innovative and “cutting edge.” But those same companies are composed of employees adverse to trying new ideas because new ideas can fail—and when they fail, they could be out of a job.

Playing it safe tethers us to reality and logic and ensures that the status quo will be maintained. Why live in fear (of failure) when it is much easier and less demanding to stick to the familiar? The unfamiliar, the creative, has so many more risks and so many more potential dangers. Too often, we resort to, “Thank you, but I’m fine just as I am.”

Admitting that failure is inevitable is critical to a creative life. It’s how we approach that failure that determines whether we are “fixed” in our thinking (“same old, same old”) or ready for some (creative) growth. And, as you might imagine, people who believe they are members of the “growth” mindset tend to generate more creative ideas from their failures than do those who self-assign themselves to the “fixed” group. This, too, is a regular practice for creative folks.


Creative people utilize strategies that keep them looking in new directions, searching for fresh experiences, and anticipating possibilities wherever they may lie. Creativity is not an isolated event; it is a lifelong commitment to practices that can open our eyes and expand our horizons. Incorporating the phrases above into your daily thought process can re-energize your creative spirit in very dramatic ways.

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