Every Idea Is A Good Idea: Be Creative Anytime, Anywhere

Paperback | September 25, 2014

byTom Sturges

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Access a level of creativity you never thought possible, using techniques Tom Sturges—former head of creative at Universal Music Publishing Group—learned in his 25-plus years in the music industry.


Everyone is innately creative. But many of us—especially those trying to develop careers in music and the arts—wish we knew how to better tap into our creative potential. Is there a way to more easily connect with the part of our minds that knows how to complete a song, finish a poem, or solve a problem?

Music industry veteran Tom Sturges argues that there is. Sturges—who, in his 25-plus-year career, has worked with artists including Carole King, Paul Simon, Elton John, Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins and Outkast—has developed dependable techniques to help you recognize and harness your own creative power, whenever and wherever you need it Get insight and knowledge of the creative process from Sir Paul McCartney and other. . Every Idea Is a Good Idea invites readers to find the pathway to their own creative endeavors.

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From the Publisher

Access a level of creativity you never thought possible, using techniques Tom Sturges—former head of creative at Universal Music Publishing Group—learned in his 25-plus years in the music industry. Everyone is innately creative. But many of us—especially those trying to develop careers in music and the arts—wish we knew how to better t...

Tom Sturges is the president of Tom Sturges Music and was formerly executive vice president and head of creative for Universal Music Publishing Group. He works as a coach, mentor, and teacher of at-risk children at an inner-city Los Angeles public school. He is the son of the Academy Award winning writer/director Preston Sturges.

other books by Tom Sturges

Every Idea Is A Good Idea: Be Creative Anytime, Anywhere
Every Idea Is A Good Idea: Be Creative Anytime, Anywher...

Audio Book (CD)|Jul 14 2015

$55.62 online$62.50list price(save 11%)
Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.73 inPublished:September 25, 2014Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399166033

ISBN - 13:9780399166037

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FOREWORDAll the creative people that I know have to work hard to achieve their goals. Okay, everyone has a good idea from time to time, but do they follow it through?It needs inventiveness and hard work, and this book is an extraordinary examination of the whole process of creativity, something within the capability of everyone.—Sir George MartinPREFACETo dissect, study, teach, and analyze the creative process takes enormous insight and balls. I personally was thrust into the creative process by accident and luck. Having just become head of Columbia Records—straight from being the chief lawyer for the company—I had no idea I could be “creative,” no idea I could have “ears,” no idea that the world of music could unleash a passion of creativity that exhilarates me to this day. And when, in interviews, I’m asked how I discovered the artists I’ve signed or the songs I’ve chosen for artists to record, I usually shrug my shoulders and say it was a natural, undiscovered, unknown “gift.” But was it? Well, after reading this very enlightening book by Tom Sturges, he challenges that notion for me; but more important, challenges that notion for what I hope is a vast multitude out there who want to explore whether they are creative or whether they can be creative. And he does it with color, with recalled experiences, with candor, with entertaining stories and anecdotes that entrance and fascinate the reader. I know that after reading this book there will be countless revelations and confessions from those who were stimulated and motivated to look deeply within and alter the course of their career or their life.—Clive DavisINTRODUCTIONI have been part of the music business for more than twenty-five years, most of that time as a music publisher. I was executive vice president and head of Creative for Universal Music Publishing Group. I was president of Chrysalis Music Publishing Group. I was a song plugger and talent scout for Screen Gems–EMI Music Publishing, and started as a professional manager for Arista Music Publishing.I can recognize talent in others and I can hear a hit song. I see what writers and artists are going to become as much as see who they are sitting in front of me, with the only evidence that matters being their songwriting ability. More than two hundred writers signed music publishing deals to companies I worked for, and many of them achieved lasting worldwide success. Among these were Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, Outkast and Goodie Mob, 50 Cent and G-Unit, 3 Doors Down, both Antonina Armato and Tim James of Rock Mafia, Slaughter, Green Jelly, Chris Brown, and Jack Johnson. I also signed Foo Fighters and Blink-182; writer/producers Troy Taylor, Mark Batson, and Jason Epperson (aka Jay E); and rapper and champion basketball player Shaquille O’Neal. I acquired rights for several writer/artists who had only one defining hit in their careers, including Baby Bash (“Suga Suga”), Vanessa Carlton (“A Thousand Miles”), Afroman (“Because I Got High”), Montell Jordan (“This Is How We Do It”), Katrina and the Waves (“Walking on Sunshine”), and Owl City (“Fireflies”).I was also a song plugger and placed more than eighty songs. A song plugger finds a song its home by pitching it to the right artist for a recording. I gave Huey Lewis and the News their breakout single “Heart and Soul,” and Pat Benatar her worldwide hit “We Belong.” Aretha Franklin and George Michael got “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)” and won a Grammy for it, while Celine Dion took “Think Twice” to the top of the UK charts and won an Ivor Novello Award for Song of the Year for writers Andy Hill and Pete Sinfield. I suggested Mariah Carey record “I Still Believe” for her Greatest Hits album. She had sung backup on the original recording with Brenda K. Starr many years before, so maybe that was a no-brainer. In total, the writers I signed have sold more than 175 million albums, over 26 million singles, and more than 18 million downloads, written fourteen #1 singles, and won twelve Grammy Awards. So far. There is still more to come.At various times I was also point person for Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, Prince, Carole King, Billy Idol, Beastie Boys, Sinead O’Connor, Jethro Tull, and U2, but had nothing to do with their discovery or signing.Being surrounded by all this talent gave me a rare opportunity to learn about the creative process, because I was right there. As it happened, I watched, I listened, and I learned. I took notes and asked questions. Anytime any of the writers or artists who have graced my life began to start on something, I paid attention. I never knew I would write a book about it, but I found myself in a place of such trust and closeness within their lives that I could not help but inhale. I have observed creative genius unfettered and unfolding in its natural habitat . . . over and over and over again, for years. How many people can say that?Does that make me an expert in creativity? Is there even such a thing? I would rather be considered a patient observer of the art, a collector of its techniques, its likelihood and promise, someone who has grown familiar with creativity’s nuances and possibilities.And here’s what I’ve come to believe. Creativity is a gift, from life to us. It exists in varying degrees, measures, and amounts in each of us, but we all have it inside. There is as much creativity in our lives as we allow there to be. On this point, Maya Angelou said you can’t use up creativity because “the more you use, the more you have.” Creativity is a reliable source of our self-respect, innovative power, and intellectual achievement. Tapping into this force—whether to paint an oil painting, write music, design a home, shape an advertising campaign, or discover the cure for cancer—this is when we are most human. Coincidentally, this is also when we are at our most vulnerable, most likely because the tenderness of our new ideas makes us so. While not everyone can paint or sculpt, write a symphony, or imagine a building, creativity can become a greater part of any life, enriching and ennobling it in many different ways.The physical process of creativity, regardless of the field or area in which it is used, is the same process. Regardless of the creative challenge we might be faced with, our brains respond the same way, they do the same thing. Neurons signal one another over synapses, often millions at a time, and spray one another with a substance that serves as an activating mist. This happens no matter what the new thoughts are, or what the subjects of those thoughts are. The spray, most often glutamate, serotonin, dopamine, or acetylcholine, is like an idea lubricant, and we all get plenty to work with. If you are a chef nuancing a recipe or a fashion designer working on a little black dress, you are utilizing the same brain functions and having the same aha moment as a film composer writing a score or a songwriter finding the perfect chorus. The brain cannot tell the difference. It is a machine functioning as designed. And if that’s all there is to it, why not have more creativity in our lives?Over the past fourteen years I have introduced more than a thousand public school students in the Los Angeles area to the basics of creativity, as a test of my own belief that creativity can be taught and learned, like English or math, and that it can be practiced and developed, like basketball or golf. I teach them that creativity is a skill.Some of the students are in Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs, while many others are at-risk inner-city students. Some come from amazing circumstances, but many do not. I had an idea that the more creativity these students had in their lives, the better those lives might be, and every class proves it again and again. I introduce the students to the breadth of their creative instinct and provide them with techniques that they can utilize to access it at any time, as much as they want or need to, for the rest of their lives.The students learn the basics of good creative thinking by learning how great thinkers—including several songwriters and composers—often think. They learn how those people guided and nurtured their own passions and intellects, whether challenged or inspired to do so. The students learn how to expand their own intellectual capacity by understanding how the greatest music makers, such as Mozart and Beethoven, developed and searched their own intellects for ideas and possibilities. By the end of the class, most of the time students are able to see and practically touch their own creative spirit by becoming engaged in the challenges and exercises put before them as part of the process of “learning” creativity.The classrooms are my laboratory. Teaching the students how to create is the experiment. The songs and lyrics and stories they write are the product. Watching them discover their own instinctive creative humanity, in bursts and flashes of creative thought and outright passion, is joyous proof of the hypothesis that creativity can be taught and learned. For those students who were already creative and in touch with their intellectual instincts, the ability to more readily access those instincts was significantly enhanced.Seeing this process repeat over and over, for many years, revealed to me the possibility and even the likelihood that anyone and everyone can learn to be more creative—not only students, or younger people, but everyone.In the pages that follow, many examples, ideas, guidelines, and exercises will be presented to you. Once you begin to understand how some of the greatest creators who have ever lived created, you will begin to better understand how you can create. You will recognize and direct your own creative thought processes better by learning how these geniuses did it when faced with the same dilemmas. With their experiences as your model, you will better understand how to imagine and encourage your own ideas, and how to think, understand, and harness the best of your own creative power. If everything goes according to script, the methods you discover will be available to you whenever and wherever you need them, for the rest of your life.Imagine being able to understand and manage your own creative process, manipulate its power and capability, and maximize its output, simply because you have the tools to do so. Imagine being able to encourage and harvest your own daydreams and musings, simply because you have found a way to filter out the least valuable ideas and focus only on the gems. Imagine being able to give your mind a creative assignment and have the patience to wait for it to arrive, the result of a clear understanding of the capacity of your own intellect when left to its own devices.Only a small percentage of people will ever develop the ability to render rooms speechless with their paintings or sculptures or improvised storytelling. Only the tiniest subgroup of people will redefine fashion and couture. Fewer still will write lyrics or melodies to hit songs. But creativity comes in many forms and formulas, not just poetic or artistic gifts. Top-level marketing and advertising companies are very creative places, as are architecture firms. The best trial lawyers and schoolteachers and chefs are highly creative. All of these areas of expertise require constantly innovating thinking if lasting success is to be achieved.This book is meant to be a toolbox full of possibilities, any one or ten of which might provide you with the guidance and inspiration you need to break through to and engage your creativity more fully. If you can become a more creative thinker, you will be a better problem solver because your mind will give you more options to consider. You will be a better decision maker because you will be able to imagine the future more clearly, and you will be able to better predict the likely results of your choices. You will be a better creator because you will use significantly more of your intellectual capability than you knew how to set free before.Creativity is the most individual and unique gift you possess. It is what allows you the freedom to be you. But the magic of creativity is different for everyone. So, too, is the journey of creation. The joy of realizing that you can repeat that moment again and again, whenever you need it, will be unspeakably beautiful. With the right tools in the right hands, it is not only possible to achieve greater creativity on a regular and repeatable basis, anywhere and anytime; it is impossible not to achieve it.As you read on, and new ideas occur to you, write them down, treasure and preserve them, and save them for some future creative project. Let none of them just slip away. Fill in the margins of these pages with your notes and reactions and, hopefully, inspirations. If that does not give you enough room in which to capture your musings, consider a devoted notebook or computer file that fills up as you go along. Summarize in your own words an essay or passage, if it strikes you like that. Try the exercises—they all really do work. Grow more and more aware of the process of your own creativity, the bursts of light and possibility as they take place, the tingle that accompanies new thoughts. Become knowledgeable about when and how you create best, where your new ideas sneak up on you most easily. Mozart wrote that ideas filled his head when he went out for a walk. Where will your creativity find access to you?Almost every technique to enable creativity that I have ever seen or heard about is somewhere in this book. The same is true for every trick of the trade that I observed about creators. Songwriters are just the starting point—I have sought knowledge and wisdom about creativity from many sources. This brought me to look at the brain, discover who the very first creators were, and then investigate the creative magic of a television writers’ room as a way to better understand group creativity. I also went looking for examples of what Picasso and Michelangelo knew about their creative powers, in addition to what Carole King, Paul Simon, and Marilyn Bergman know about theirs. The processes and methods these creators have already discovered could be the ones you are still looking for.It has brought me incredible joy to witness the beauty of creativity so many times, in so many different people, under so many different circumstances. My hope is that I successfully convey this to you, and give you a better understanding of how creativity can open a thousand doors in your life, any one of which is your future.But to hear it knocking, you must know what it is.1CREATIVITY: AN OVERVIEWWHAT IS CREATIVITY?Many people think of creativity as some glamorous, elegant practice that only certain people get to do, but this is not really so accurate. For Michelangelo, creativity was grabbing a hammer and a chisel and banging on a piece of iron-hard marble for months and months, as he had to do in order to create just one of his masterworks, the David. Creativity was also him building a system of scaffold platforms that stuck out from holes in walls, hundreds of feet in the air, which allowed him to stand and paint with his arms above his head every day for five years to finish the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He endured paint and dust getting into his eyes, and an angry, impatient pope complaining that he was taking too long to get the job completed. There was nothing glamorous about it.Or take multiple-award-winning songwriter Diane Warren, who you will meet soon, who goes into a cramped and tiny office on Sunset Boulevard every single morning at 8:30. With plaster raining down from leaky windows, and used lyric sheets and old song ideas gathering in growing piles, she sits there alone and creates. Her superstitions will not allow her to upgrade to more luxurious accommodations. Always on her own, just her, her intellect, an old keyboard, and a drum machine. No red carpet, no adoring fans, no glamour. No matter what happened or didn’t happen the night before, every single morning she is there, creating.Creativity is actually many things, and it encompasses many definitions. According to Noah Webster and his dictionary, it is “artistic or intellectual inventiveness.” David Kelley, founder of Stanford University’s Institute of Design (known as the d.school), said in an interview, “Creative confidence is like literacy.” Albert Einstein was quoted saying, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, wrote about creativity in that wonderful book: “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”Thinking is an involuntary act, believes Dr. Mark Jude Tramo. He is a neurology and ethnomusicology professor at the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA, and the director of the Institute for Music & Brain Science. He provided many insights and details about the brain for this book, as you will read later on. According to him, creativity is simply part of our basic makeup, encoded in our DNA, and a key advantage of our genetic endowment. It is inherent in our wiring as human beings to look at the world and see that it could be something different: to visualize a home where there is just a plot of land, or a nation where there are just a few disagreeing states, or a city where there is just a gas station and some sand. All of these were, at some point, brand-new ideas. Every “thing” started out as just an idea to someone. Our imagination and its simple wanderings are our creativity at its most basic. It is our nature to imagine, and to imagine that more can be done with what we have been given. “It is the fulfillment of our most basic human instinct to be creative,” says Tramo.Nobel Prize–winning neurophysiologist, scientist, and brain researcher Dr. Torsten Wiesel discovered how the brain processes light images by identifying ocular dominance columns in laboratory animals. He and his partner, David Hubel, shared the prize in 1981 for discovering how visual information is transmitted and processed in the visual cortex. This is a man who spent his life and lifetime’s work in a lab, but he recently wrote to me about creativity. He said, “In the arts and the sciences, a creative or inspired mind is always the driving force behind original and beautiful work.”In a much simpler forum than the ones Dr. Wiesel occupies, I recently posed the question “What is creativity?” to a group of at-risk inner-city public school students I was mentoring in South Los Angeles. There were about thirty of them. They were invested and intrigued, willing to learn and willing to participate. Way in the back, a young man named Nestor put his hand up and answered the question with one of the most accurate definitions I have yet heard. He provided the room with the magic and purpose of the individual creative intellect in one little sentence. He said, “Creativity is what makes you you, different from everyone else.” It stopped me in my tracks. It was so exactly right. When I asked him if he had just thought of that, he said that yes, he had. So in addition to being brilliant and insightful, it was a brand-new idea. And that’s what makes it perfectly creative.To me, creativity is any idea that has never been thought before. It is both the flash of a single idea or the long dawning of a group of ideas that might have taken months to emerge. As you will read, many creators let their ideas steep in the stew of their intellects for weeks, months, or sometimes even years. But creativity is also the nuanced development of an existing idea, like a better mousetrap or a new iPhone app, or the careful enhancement of a concept already in use, as you see in style and couture every year. It can also be inventing an entirely new and remarkable concept, like the telephone or the camera or the iPod or the theory of relativity. Creativity is a force that happens anywhere, anytime, and often uncontrollably. Whether artistic, mechanical, musical, athletic, poetic, explanatory, illustrative, scientific, or strategic, creativity is what makes you you.A PATH TO SELF-RESPECTA woman named Allee Willis is the co-writer of many hit songs, including Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” and “Boogie Wonderland”; “I’ll Be There for You,” the theme song to the television show Friends, which she cowrote with the Rembrandts; and many of the lyrics for the Broadway musical The Color Purple. Thanks to her great success, she now lives a life of complete creative freedom. She does little except think and dream and imagine and explode with new ideas every minute of every day.We were walking around her big pink house one morning, talking about how she pursues her muse, how she lets her creativity take flight, and how she finds new inspirations every day. She said that she achieves this by letting absolutely nothing get in the way of a creative thought. She leaves the business to others in her life, for instance, and hasn’t tried to balance her checkbook ever. That’s right, ever. I was telling her how I use creativity as a key element of my volunteerism with public schoolchildren and she responded by saying this: “It’s a very good thing that you’re doing. The path to self-respect goes through creativity.”I had never heard a statement so true and so alive with purpose. I adopted it immediately, made it my own, quote it endlessly, and frankly, try to live by it. Her words guide my interactions with songwriters, artists, executives, students, mentees, practically everyone and anyone. The path to self-respect does go through creativity. The more we create, the better we feel about ourselves. The better we feel, the more we feel like creating. The more we feel like creating, the more we get out of it. The more we get out of it, the better those ideas are. The better the ideas are, the more we respect ourselves for having them. And so on. It’s an endless cycle of good, a never-ending circle of growing self-respect.The young people who know me only as a volunteer think I am teaching them creativity and how to better write, draw, paint, and design. But really I am teaching them to respect themselves, stay in school, graduate, live great lives, eclipse their circumstances, and make a difference in the world, no matter the humble beginnings. At a certain point, they cannot help but begin to think more graciously about themselves because they have grown to completely respect their own creative capabilities. They begin to like themselves more readily, to believe in themselves more passionately. They begin to live in a world where creativity is a foundation to a greater and ever-growing sense of self-respect.THE CREATIVITY DISTRICT—AN IMAGININGNew York City has Wall Street and the Financial District, Palo Alto has Silicon Valley, and I imagine that our brains must have a Creativity District. It’s down one of the millions of dark avenues inside there, somewhere near the cerebral cortex. In it there are hundreds of clusters of thousand-story buildings, all bunched and crowded together.On every floor of every building, different ideas are being developed and manufactured, all of them at variously different stages of production. There is a constant hum, and the air reeks of excitatory spray. The elevators in these many buildings—and there are millions of them—can move up, down, sideways, laterally, circularly, or elliptically in an instant, stopping on any floor for any reason whatsoever. The elevators can also zip into and around any other creativity building just as easily as one would hope, and all the energy from one building can be borrowed by any project in any other building. It is a totally communistic environment, making a network of powerful, high-energy thought factories. Working together they have perfected systems to invent, reinvent, write and rewrite, imagine and reimagine, all day every day, no matter what. The output is limited only by the amount of input—the district will create whatever it is asked to create.The Creativity District inside us, working in, on, and around all those thousand-story buildings, can accommodate and contemplate any number of ideas, and devote whole floors to work on them, if necessary, for as long or as little an amount of time as needed. The precious attention of our conscious minds may be busy with a crossword puzzle or another session of Angry Birds, but that does not mean we cannot ask our intellect to come up with solutions to our problems, write papers, solve economic conundrums, or give fresh consideration to old song lyrics. The brain has never been ruined by having too much to do and, in fact, may actually thrive on having too much to do.Part of learning to be creative is learning to accept that our minds can exist on several floors of several buildings at the same time, working through a hundred ideas at the same time, as it is doing right now while you read this page. You plod through these words, and meanwhile your intellectual mind is whipping around all over the place, writing a book or a screenplay, thinking about how to advance your career, wondering what to say in the big meeting tomorrow, still trying to understand what love is, or what to cook for dinner, or considering a big trade in the stock market, and possibly hundreds of other tasks.As you will read shortly, some of the most successful creative people in the world simply give their intellect an “assignment” to create, and then go on about their busy lives. They are able to multitask far better than the rest of us because they have learned the joy of trusting in what happens in all those buildings down there in the Creativity District.SOMETIMES CREATIVITY IS BORROWING

Editorial Reviews

“Tom Sturges has written one of the most revealing and insightful books on the creative process that I have ever read.”—Ritch Esra, publisher The Music Business Registry “There is a wealth of advice and examples contained here. Sturges puts together a creative package, exemplifying every lesson in the book. A great purchase for personal collections and libraries.”—Library Journal"The book offers an engaging look at major songwriters of the last 30 years."—Publishers Weekly“Tom Sturges’s Every Idea is a Good Idea is a major glimpse inside the private world of songwriters. Tom is a gifted writer, interviewer, and collaborator. His book will stand over time as one of the best our business has seen to date.”—Lamont Dozier, Grammy Award-winning songwriter “Creativity is one of the best tools for success. Tom Sturges’s book Every Idea is a Good Idea helps teach everyone who to tap into their creative stream, and gives readers a clear pathway to an inspired life.”—Rock Mafia, producers/writers of 11 #1 hits “Creativity is a gift—use it wisely. This book can help you do that.”—Shaquille O’NealPraise for Grow the Tree You Got:"Tom Sturges's book is a wonderful road map to evolved parenting that everyone will find invaluable."—Clive Davis"The most important job in the world to me is the one of Parent. Tom Sturges shares his view on raising kids in a way that makes me want to change my Parental Destiny—an amazing and life-changing read!"—Kris Jenner"This is a subject of interest to every parent of teenagers, and Tom Sturges tells it like it is, from personal experience."—Hugh Hefner"Tom has written a book that encourages parents to help their kids follow their dreams to a successful life. It is a thoughtful and timely aid for anyone trying to raise children. Give it a read!"—Kareen Abdul-Jabbar"Tom is a great dad. This is a great book."—Shaquille O'Neal