Personality traits and creativity

Legendary innovators and creators all seem to have a specific combination of two personality traits which multiplies interests and the enjoyment of learning new things.

Psychologists John Cacioppo, Richard Petter et al identified these two traits as Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition.

People with a deep and wide knowledge base have these traits. The wide knowledge base is down to Openness to Experience, the degree someone is keen to consider new ideas and opportunities. Others have a preference to stick to familiar ideas, activities and routines. This is related to creativity, unsurprisingly.

It is similar to the message in Ken Robinson’s TED talk “Do schools kill creativity?” which emphasises mistakes are necessary in order to be creative.  People are often afraid to try something new when they are used to being good at things; they don’t want to find out they can’t do it or they are disappointed in their lack of natural talent. So they would give up instead.



Being open to new experiences requires tenacity and bravery, to try and do everything however silly it may look, however rubbish you might be, just for the hell of it.

The hell of it is down to the other personality trait, a high Need for Cognition. To be creative is to do something not done before, and you need to know a lot about a field before you can be creative in that field. Creative painters need to know a lot about art, creative scientists need to be skilled in science and writers need to know the rules to break them.

To know a lot, and purse this knowledge, it is important to enjoy thinking. Learning new things is difficult and people who like thinking will stick at it long enough to acquire good knowledge. Some people are driven to think deeply – too deeply, they might be told – while others avoid situations which require a lot of thinking. People with a high Need for Cognition routinely learn, think and muse about new things, simply because they enjoy the process.

The combination of high Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition is powerful. Creativity often comes from drawing analogies between bodies of knowledge and a deep and wide knowledge base is required for such connections.

People with this combination learn about a wide range of topics and purse them in depth. They will watch a documentary and then follow up with reading, starting conversations about it and asking lots of questions to make sure they understand. They can approach problems from a wide variety of perspectives, and this is where creative solutions are found. They can bring out the specialist expertise of individuals in a group and see how it inter-relates to solve a problem.

It might be geeky and un-cool, but I genuinely enjoy this, and I’m sure plenty of you do too.

Of course, if you’re not naturally high in these traits, you can develop habits of creativity. Seek out new experiences and open your life to opportunities, coincidences and bravery in speaking to people you’ve never spoken to before and going to events you’ve never been to before. Set aside time to focus on learning something new – and keep at it. The broader, and deeper, you knowledge base, the more creative you can be.

Pencils are a journo’s best friend.

Professional pencils.

Professional pencils.

I scribble frantic shorthand as the witness shouts at me quickly as the hail that splatters my flimsy reporter’s notebook and he just wants to get inside and dry and warm and stop talking to me.

The camera doesn’t register the new battery; I do a quick sketch with a sneaky observation and a bit of talent of that crucial detail that will completely change the story, to jog my memory later when I have the leisure to describe it more accurately.

My pen runs out of ink in the middle of the NCTJ shorthand exam (mock). As soon as I picked up a pencil I was neater, quicker and better. I passed the real exam at 100 words per minute.

A pencil saved me every time.

But if you’re going to throw it around your bag or run with it in your pocket and write frantically and sharpen it constantly, you need one that won’t snap and can shade well for those sketches.

For me, the distinctive striped HB Steadtler pencil is what I associate with childhood play time and art time and can’t-write-in-pen-yet time.

Don’t accept anything less.

Unless there’s those ones with the fluffy feathers, or animal erasers on the end. Yeah, I’m a sucker for those.

What’s the difference between bad art, good art, and great art?

Here’s my theory.


Bad art.

Bad art is simply produced by an artist who is learning. That’s what failure is. And it fails because the artist didn’t have enough discipline, preparation, focus, or inherent talent. It fails because it’s a first experiment, a shaky start, the artist wasn’t sure about it, and it’s the only way to find out how to improve. The artist simply hasn’t learned, from experience, about what feels best (for them).

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My experience on tour with Bon Jovi

In the pit, close to the stage, and I am hit with rain pelting down as I try to upgrade fans’ tickets with the iPhone entrusted to me. Lesson: Rain and bad Wi-Fi affects the ability to be nimble on apps. But it was fun to learn.


This is the Golden Circle at the Bon Jovi tour in Cardiff, Wales, 12 June. I applied for the opportunity for a day’s work experience on tour through GoThinkBig and I was SUPER excited when I was called up! I have loved Bon Jovi since FOREVER. I remember when I lived in Auckland, New Zealand, I was annoyed they only went to Christchurch in 2009. I remember first discovering Livin’ on a Prayer and Always as beautiful songs for my teenage ears and the rest of his music inspired a fierce loyalty I’ve never felt quite so much since.

And just when I had given up on the affordability of tickets and wondered if each tour was the last, life had a way of making it happen. I loved every minute of the gig and it was even sweet as payment for such an honourable work experience. And my coach trip from London and hostel nights out made me feel like I was on tour, too.


Why did I do it? Why does anyone take any lifetime opportunity, right… *corny answer alert*:



I learned how much event organisation, co-ordination and coolness under pressure it takes to carry off such a phenomenal concert on the road – and I have such desire to do it more now. The Bon Jovi management team, all of them, were so courteous and nice to fans who had to navigate the inevitable confusion of a breathtakingly big stadium, multiple entries, regimented security and long, long queues in the cold and rain in Wales. Some had travelled all over the world for this; I met a woman so dedicated she came from Australia. When I asked her if she wanted to upgrade her ticket, she didn’t quite have enough money and did I even know how much it cost to get here? I totally did.


The most expensive Diamond VIP seats (around £300) came with access to a party room with an open bar. By the time fans had taken advantage of it and Bon Jovi started playing, it reminded me of my karaoke days. I had decorated the party room with fellow work experience lackeys with the instruction to ‘make it look like Bon Jovi threw up everywhere’. I couldn’t help but feel excited at the sight of exclusive and new and stunning band photography on stands and posters.


Cardiff City Stadium has a CAPACITY but I wasn’t quite prepared for the armies of different colour neon jackets, from stage builders to security bouncers, marching in file and standing to attention everywhere. And how proud was I to show my ‘work here’ pass to them?!

Oh Bon Jovi, you're still the best.

Oh Bon Jovi, you’re still the best.

The experience also involved carting around the steel-framed boxes of rock tours with stickers and painted artwork and ‘Bon Jovi’ written all over it. These were stacked up in multiple heavy-duty trucks, with everything from the building blocks of offices and office supplies, to merchandise, stands and tents. The sight of all these was a lesson in the sheer scale of being on tour with such a big band. I probably couldn’t have picked a bigger band; 30 years of tours, concerts and albums makes Bon Jovi particularly epic.


I packed merchandise bags and checked IDS and issued tickets in tents in the rain and at the end, I rocked out with you. But don’t worry, Bon Jovi, I did it because we’re good mates. <3


*I don’t think you realise we’re good mates.

Who will write poetry about the economy?

Allow me to introduce…

Criminonymous: A criminologist and advocate of restorative justice, truth and reconciliation for the most harmful crimes and social conflicts (and everywhere else where it’s appropriate).

This is an astute poet well versed in economics, crime and restorative justice. I re-publish his poetic call for action to direct our economic productivity and attention to a not-for-profit banking system.

Sounds much better than the current situation, doesn’t it? Until philosophers become Kings, and poets become economists… Continue reading