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Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity

ISBN: 978-1-118-29770-4
288 pages
March 2013, Jossey-Bass
Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity (1118297709) cover image


A science-backed method to maximize creative potential in any sphere of life

With the prevalence of computer technology and outsourcing, new jobs and fulfilling lives will rely heavily on creativity and innovation. Keith Sawyer draws from his expansive research of the creative journey, exceptional creators, creative abilities, and world-changing innovations to create an accessible, eight-step program to increasing anyone's creative potential. Sawyer reveals the surprising secrets of highly creative people (such as learning to ask better questions when faced with a problem), demonstrates how to come up with better ideas, and explains how to carry those ideas to fruition most effectively.

This science-backed, step-by step method can maximize our creative potential in any sphere of life.

  • Offers a proven method for developing new ideas and creative problem-solving no matter what your profession
  • Includes an eight-step method, 30 practices, and more than 100 techniques that can be launched at any point in a creative journey
  • Psychologist, jazz pianist, and author Keith Sawyer studied with world-famous creativity expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Sawyer's book offers a wealth of easy to apply strategies and ideas for anyone who wants to tap into their creative power.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Choosing Creativity 1

Step One ASK: How the Right Questions Lead to the Most Novel Answers 19

Find the Question

Search the Space

Transform the Problem

Step Two LEARN: How to Prepare Your Mind for Constant Creativity 49

Practice Deliberately

Master Your Domain

Learn Forever

Balance Specialty with Generality

Step Three LOOK: How to Be Aware of the Answers All Around You 73

Use Fresh Eyes

Grab New Sights and Cool Sounds

Render It Visible

Step Four PLAY: How to Free Your Mind to Imagine Possible Worlds 101



Find the Right Box

Be a Beginner

Step Five THINK: How to Have Way More Ideas Than You’ll Ever Need 129




Step Six FUSE: How to Combine Ideas in Surprising New Ways 153


Make Analogies

Do a People Mash-Up

Step Seven CHOOSE: How to Pick the Best Ideas and Then Make Them Even Better 173

Know What You’re Looking For

Host an Idea Competition

Look Past the Good

Edit, Revise, Improve

Step Eight MAKE: How Getting Your Ideas Out into the World Drives Creativity Forward 195

Draw It

See It

Build It

Make It Concrete

Reflect on It

Conclusion 215

Appendix A: Outline of All of the Steps, Practices, and Techniques 229

Appendix B: The Research Behind the Eight Steps 237

References 243

Acknowledgments 261

About the Author 263

Index 265

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Author Information

Keith Sawyer, PhD, is associate professor of psychology, education, and business at Washington University in St. Louis. An accomplished jazz pianist and former video game designer for Atari, he has published widely on the topics of collaboration and creativity. His book Group Genius won awards from Library Journal and (800) CEO-READ and has been translated into many languages. He is the proud owner of a collection of vintage Grateful Dead bootleg tapes, his childhood piano teacher's old (but working) accordion, and a 1982 BMW motorcycle (also working). To learn more, visit keithsawyer.com.

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Press Release

April 10, 2013
Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity

"In geometry the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But in creative pursuits, Zig Zag shows us, it's anything but. Keith Sawyer is the most creative person writing about creativity that I know, “ Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor, The New Yorker; author, The Naked Cartoonist: A New Way to Enhance Your Creativity 

Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity

By Keith Sawyer

San Francisco, CA – There are two common mistakes that people make when they decide that they need to enhance their creativity: they think that they only need to be creative occasionally, and they hope that one great creative idea will suddenly strike them.  But instead of waiting for that rare flash of insight, wouldn’t it be better to be consistently creative, on a daily basis?

Today, there’s a new book that provides a proven method to enhance everyone’s creativity: ZIG ZAG: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity (Jossey-Bass, March 2013, ISBN: 978-1-118-29770-4, $26.95 / Cloth / also available as an e-book). Zig Zig is written by Keith Sawyer, who has studied with one the world’s foremost creative experts Mihaly Csikszenthihalyi.   Drawing on his expansive research, Sawyer reveals the surprising and yet practical secrets of highly creative people.

Sawyer tapped into the back stories of world-changing innovations and analyzed laboratory experiments that delved deeply into everyday creativity.  What he found was surprising and revealing – truly creative people interact with the world differently. While most people approach life as a straight line, creative people zigzag.  From his research, Sawyer identified eight steps that anyone can follow to become more creative:

  • Ask – how to ask the right questions for the most novel answers
  • Learn – how to prepare your mind for creativity
  • Look – how to be aware of the answers all around you
  • Play – how to free your mind to imagine possible worlds
  • Think – how to have way more ideas than you’ll ever need
  • Fuse – how to combine ideas in surprising new ways
  • Choose – how to pick the best ideas
  • Make – how to get your ideas out into the world to drive your creativity forward

Additionally, the book includes 30 practices and more than 100 techniques for learning how to tap into ones’ creative power.  These research-based techniques show how to ask deeper questions, see the world in new ways and develop novel ideas.

Sawyer said, “I’ve spent more than twenty years as a research psychologist studying how creativity works and it’s obvious from the latest neuroscience that people can strengthen their own creativity.  This inspired me to write this book because so much of what’s been written about creativity has been romanticized, ascribed to Muses or the subconscious, but we ALL have creativity abilities.  My hope is that readers will discover their own creative power and learn how to advance their creative journey.”

Zig Zag is a guidebook that can help anyone break through their creative roadblocks. It’s the starting point of an unpredictable and fascinating journey that will yield new creative possibilities.

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