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Wishful Thinking and Creativity

Just came across this in Michael Michalko’s excellent Cracking Creativity:

There is a clear relationship between wishful thinking and creativity. You are more likely to have a creative idea when you are wishing than when your thinking is extremely intellectual. Wishes help us deliberately oversimplify. This tactic has a long and distinguished history in science and in the arts.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

One of my reasons for calling my business Wishful Thinking is to combine the heart (emotions, wishes) and the head (thinking). To me, the pejorative status of the phrase ‘wishful thinking’ is symptomatic of a deep prejudice in Western culture against emotions. “You’re being emotional” is not usually a compliment – instead we are urged to “be reasonable”. My friend John has plenty to say on this subject – I’ll confine myself to saying that passion and open-mindedness are both essential for creativity, and it takes a certain amount of both to have a second glance at the phrase ‘wishful thinking’.

I’ve found the name Wishful Thinking is a bit like Marmite – people either love it or hate it. The people who love it tend to be the ones who ‘get’ what I’m trying to do, and who are most likely to enjoy working with me.

PS – I quite like Marmite.


  1. Wishful thinking also has a distinguished history in politics, too. Very good to read of the connection between wishful thinking and creativity. Seems totally right. Helps me to explain (!) why I’ve set up this art installation: http://www.thewishingtrees.co.uk – please visit – and remember to make a wish!

  2. Thanks Francis, I didn’t know WT worked in politics as well, I’m intrigued… Your installation is beautiful – wish duly made!

  3. Wishful thinking could also be considered to simply be imagination. The ability to project yourself forward (mentally). Many creative people ‘see’ their ideas in a fully realised form. A scientist’s hypothesis could be considered wishful thinking. COnceiving ads was once called visualising.

    The ability to realise the wish is where the rubber hits the road though – through experimentation, design and other forms of prototyping – or simply conveying the vision to people who can help you realise it.

    After all – if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

  4. Thanks David, good points. Yes, the thinking/visualising is only one part of the creative process, there’s no point having an idea unless you actually DO something with it. That’s why I get annoyed when creativity is discussed purely in terms of idea generation. Ideas are cheap and plentiful, making the vision a reality is a rarer skill.