The Double-Decker Couch – Part Seven, Your Genius and the Double-Decker Couch

Your Genius and the Double-Decker Couch

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gave a TED Talk with the best advice I have ever found for how to continue making creative choices toward your goals even when you feel “just the worst.” In the talk, she admitted that she too worries about her creativity and faces practice-paralyzing inner-voices. She says the voices say things like, “You’re going to work your whole life. . . and nothing’s ever going to come of it” and “You’re going to die on the scrap heap of broken dreams with your mouth filled with the bitter ash of failure.”[1]

Her solution is to stop worrying about being a creative genius. She points out that anciently the word genius denoted a benevolent spirit—like a muse—whose purpose it was to inspire creativity. A genius was an external thing, not an internal thing. Genius was an angel rather than the attribute responsible for fried-hair, Einstein-esque brilliance. After the Renaissance, Elizabeth Gilbert says, when people turned from believing in muses and divine bestowals of inspiration towards humanism and self-reliant science, people unknowingly transferred the burden of creativity onto themselves. According to Elizabeth Gilbert, this shift in the meaning of the genius was dangerous. “Allowing somebody, one mere person, to believe that he or she is the vessel. . . the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche,” she says.[2]

Her solution to overcome the pressure and responsibility of the newer definition of genius? Return to the old definition. Instead of being a creative genius, pretend you have one—a mystical creature whose job it is to supply creative juices. Like a pet. I’ll name mine Emmet. What’s yours named? When doubts and worries threaten to cloud your resolve as you make creative choices, you can address your pet creative genius like Elizbeth Gilbert and say, “Listen you, thing! You and I both know that if this isn’t brilliant, that is not entirely my fault, right? . . . I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”[3]

That’s what creativity takes—we have to choose to show up for our side of the job, to keep trying, to keep evaluating based on feedback, to identify goals, and to keep practicing and making the best choices we can. We have to get to know ourselves and learn to use the creative feedback system. It’s a process. And if we need an imaginary pet genius to help us along, why not get one?

So, let’s take a moment and visit that magical place inside of your head. It’s big. You must be smart. There are voices speaking. I’m not hearing a whole lot of activity in here. I don’t think you’ve ever had an original thought in your life. But that’s not true. You’ve been making choices.

What about that one idea—the double-decker couch?

This is seventh and final part of an essay series on the creative process. If you would like to read from the beginning, click here.


[1] Gilbert, “Your Elusive Creative Genius.”

[2] Gilbert, “Your Elusive Creative Genius.”

[3] Gilbert, “Your Elusive Creative Genius.”

Complete Bibliography

Boden, Margaret A. The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms. London: Routledge, 2005.

Bowden, Anton. “Good to Great.” Lecture, Organizational Behavior Book Discussion, UT,

Provo, March 2018.

Cropley, David, ed. The Dark Side of Creativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

“Emily Dickinson.” Poetry Foundation. Accessed March 26, 2018.

Gaiman, Neil, and Chip Kidd. Make Good Art. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2013.

Gilbert, Elizabeth. “Your Elusive Creative Genius.” TED: Ideas worth Spreading. Accessed

March 26, 2018.

Grant, Adam M., and Sheryl Sandberg. Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World.

London: WH Allen, 2017.

Dietrich, Arne. How Creativity Happens in the Brain. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

“It’s Not You. Bad Doors Are Everywhere.” YouTube. February 26, 2016. Accessed March 26,


Larsen, Darl. “Monty Python and Other Movies.” Lecture, UT, Provo, Fall 2017.

Norman, Donald A. Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. New York:

Basic Books, 2005.

“Obituary: Harper Lee.” BBC News. February 19, 2016. Accessed March 26, 2018.

Reuter, Monika, Ph. D. Creativity: A Sociological Approach. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave

Macmillan, 2015.

Samuel, Rahul. “How to Avoid Feedback.” Rahul Samuel: Live Sound Engineer, Acoustic

Consultant, Educator. June 3, 2016. Accessed March 3, 26.

Simonton, Dean Keith. “Creativity—Cognitive, Personal, Developmental, and Social Aspects.”

American Psychologist 55, no. 1 (2000): 151-59. Accessed March 26, 2018.

The Lego Movie. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. United States: Warner Home

Video, 2014. Film.

“Vincent Van Gogh.” August 14, 2017. Accessed March 26, 2018.

“What Is Open Source?” Accessed March 26, 2018.







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