Power Athlete Nation Book Club: The Creative Curve

Johann with one of my favorite quotes I often drop as a follow up to, “Not with that attitude”, when an athlete or coach comes to me with doubt or a fixed mindset. A large part of coaching goes beyond the sets and reps; communication with athletes and sport coaches, building team camaraderie, and guiding athletes through battles to mentally develop. As discussed in Potential, one of the battles all athletes face is the label.

The label is when a coach, scout, parent, or any outside influence states their opinion of an athlete, and fixates on their level of traits or abilities. Boxes are checked, notes are taken, and they are compared to those that came before. Of all labels an athlete can receive,the label of ‘potential’ may be the worst of all, leading to complex internal problems stemmed from external coaches and scouts who are merely on the outside looking in.

Power Athlete has been fighting to replace the perception attached to the label of potential with the same approach we take to developing athleticism: identify what is limiting an athlete, not what they’re lacking in, and provide the opportunity and direction to empower performance elements. This methodology directs the coach to take an honest, complete look at their athlete, and more importantly allows the athlete to develop a true level of self-esteem. Not looking at athlete’s performance as a checklist, but instead searching for what is preventing them from reaching their full performance potential.

Always on the hunt for new ways to communicate this message to athletes and coaches, I stumbled upon the The Creative Curve.

Right away, there was a connection between the author’s experience and our research towards athleticism. I flew through this amazing read, and we connected with author Allen Gannett for Power Athlete Radio Episode 266, to learn more about creativity and how it can be used to empower performance. This article will dive deeper into The Creative Curve and lay out the connections to unlocking athletic potential.

Concepts: The Four Laws of the Creative Curve

In episode 266, we meet Allen Gannett and learn about his journey from Jersey to leading the charge at TrackMaven, guiding businesses to crush their competition with creativity, customer appeal, and marketing analytics. This episode was basically an episode of MythBusters centered on battling the bullshit creativity myths we’ve been force fed through movies like Amadeus.

To guide our conversation and go to battle with the potential bullshit, we used the Four Laws of the Creative Curve presented in the book. These laws represent four patterns Adam discovered that creative people use to come up with ideas that are optimized for commercial success:

  • Consumption: Immerse yourself! Consuming as much information on a topic as possible will help you identify something's level of familiarity.
  • Imitation:  Don’t break patterns to be original. Build yourself an arsenal for enhancing creative output through expanding your knowledge and experience of what is familiar and identify constraints for success.
  • Creative Communities: Build your own creative entourage of these four different types of people:
    • Master Teacher - Someone that guides your creations and most importantly, gives you the feedback needed to hone your craft.
    • Conflicting Collaborator - Find a person or a group of individuals whose traits compensate for your flaws.
    • Modern Muse - Surround yourself with people who will motivate you to persevere, inspire fresh ideas, and even friendly competition to push your best work.
    • A Prominent Promoter - To be a creative success, you need to be recognized as one. A prominent promotor already has credibility and they are open to sharing their access with you.
  • Iterations: Creative iterations are crucial for making great products as well as knowing where your ideas fall on the popularity bell curve.

Allen goes to great lengths to support these methods using a variety of sciences ranging from psychology to sociology to neuroscience. Like in episode 266, the book provides specific studies, anecdotes of famous artists successfully applying these laws, and guides the reader in how they can apply them to their ideas.

Connections: The Mythology of Creativity

Inspiration theory of creativity: the idea that creative success results from a mysterious internal process punctuated by unpredictable flashes of genius.

Allen invests half of the book building up the mythology of creativity, before systematically breaking it down piece by piece. Discussed in the book is how our culture embraced the idea that a self-reliant person, born with the right innate talents, can produce art out of sheer inspiration.

This same myth is prevalent in the world of sport. Athletes seemingly gifted with speed or sport skill at a young age get more attention from youth coaches, which leads to more opportunities, which leads to more talent. Sure, stories like Rocky IV (1985) and D2: Mighty Ducks (1994, the greatest movie year of all time) create another myth - that the underdog can defeat the genetically superior opponent in one moment of brilliance. This is bullshit. All the training, hard work, and developmental process is fast forwarded in a montage, and success is guaranteed, if you only try. What message have we been sending through film?!

There is so much to unpack here; yes, genetics, geography, and opportunity play a major role in determining where an athlete starts in unlocking their athletic potential. Allen even gives an example of a little girl growing up playing tee-ball and running bases with her father who, ten years later, tries out for track Despite having never “run” before, she crushes everyone. Was her father a former D-III all-star? Nobody knows, but exposing her to sport early gave her reps at developing coordination and making running enjoyable. We can go on-and-on here, but I want to touch on coaching and what Jim Kielbaso calls, transactional coaching vs transformational coaching.

Transactional coaches buy the theory of creativity and that athleticism is too innate. They write off kids with lesser abilities and focus attention on those that will help them win games now. Fine for professional sports and some high level collegiate programs, but unacceptable for youth and high school coaches.

Transformational coaches do not buy into the theory of creativity. Rather, they embrace an attitude of honesty, taking a complete look at their athletes and implementing a program that puts them in the best position to unlock their athletic potential.

Think back to your athletic experience growing up; did you encounter a coach who wrote athletes off or cared more about their job than investing time in athletes who needed it? How about a coach that empowered your performance by creating possibility? Which one provided direction for you to attentively cultivate possibility into POWER?!

Challenges: Constructing Genius

Allen did amazing job laying out the origins of the creative myth and debunking famous stories of musicians and artists. The challenge I had throughout the book was catching myself saying, “yes...but”, thinking how genetics and structure play in to athleticism, rather than how to create it. After consuming the whole book and chatting with Allen, I went back to a section outlining the elements of creativity in an attempt to breakdown my athleticism bias.  

Citing the work of Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creative Curve introduces the three elements of creativity that fit together on a venn diagram.

  • Element One: Subject Matter - a thorough understanding of their medium.
  • Element Two: Gatekeepers - those that decide what constitutes the subject matter of a type of creativity; the "field".
  • Element Three: Individual - geography, abilities, creations, and connection to gatekeepers.

These elements have to align for an individual or a work to merit the label “creative”. Having more of one element makes up for deficiencies in the others, much like we outline in our Performance Model presented below. But, too great a deficiency in an element can be costly, whether it is performance or creativity.

Constructing genius relies on a hell of a lot more than one element; talent alone will not guarantee success as an artist or athlete. While I do not see an exact one:one for the Elements of Creativity to the Performance Model, the center of each venn diagram is the flow state representing possibility, not potential. In fact, Csikszantmihalyi has a TED Talk on getting into this flow state.

Changes: The 20% Principle

One of the biggest changes I am going to make after reading the Creative Curve is to get back to conscious consumption of strength and condo literature. A common pattern Allen found interviewing today’s successful creatives was, despite how busy they were, the creatives spent three to four hours a day in consumption mode.

Cleverly called the 20% Principle,the idea is to spend 20 percent of your waking hours consuming material in your creative field, putting you in a position to develop an intuitive, expert level understanding of an idea even without real-world experience. I relate this to watching game film. While you are not actively participating in the sport or skill work, you are consuming plays, mistakes, and opponent’s strategies, all of which can then set you up for deep practice when you do practice or play.

Breaking into the field, my time spent consuming for education far exceeded my current intake. While I will continue to look for connections in other forms of literature, I feel the itch to dive back into the science and practices like Science and Practice!

Dive into The Creative Curve and introduce a new perspective on developing skills through proper training, not movie montages! Get caught up with the PA Nation Book Club by reading Quirky and Outsmart Your Instincts to wrap up you summer reading!

Tex McQuilkin
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Tex McQuilkin

Director of Training at Power Athlete
MS, CSCS, SCCC, CHES
Book a consult with me regarding coaching, training, life, education... anything your heart desires. Click below:
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Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.
Tex McQuilkin
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One Response to Power Athlete Nation Book Club: The Creative Curve

  1. @mcquilkin et al. Thank you for these book recommendations/reviews combo’d with the great podcast interviews. I really appreciate the content and format.

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