The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin has been climbing the bestselling In his book, Rubin weaves together the seemingly oppositional ideals of discipline and creativity—ideas that are highly applicable to the practice of facilitation.

According to Rubin, “creativity is a fundamental aspect of human existence.” In a corporate workplace, though, creativity can be deprioritized in favor of logistics and analysis, with a focus on speedy results that leaves less time for innovation. Can Rubin’s insights help bridge the gap between the current state of the modern workplace and the power of creativity?

In this article, we’ll break down key insights from The Creative Act that can be used by facilitators and collaborative leaders to drive innovation and revitalize problem solving.

Who Is Rick Rubin?

Rick Rubin, author of the The Creative Act: A Way of Being, has had a storied career in the music industry and beyond. In order to understand the insights in The Creative Act, it’s worthwhile to review his biography and understand the context of his experiences.

Born in 1963, Rubin is most well-known for cofounding Def Jam Recordings alongside Russell Simmons in 1984. Most seasoned music lovers know the historic and cultural importance of Def Jam, which quickly became “a maverick independent label inspired by downtown New York City’s vibrant street culture and the emerging sound of hip-hop, pioneered by iconic stars like LL Cool J, Slick Rick, The Beastie Boys and Public Enemy.” Def Jam would go on to play a key role in popularizing hip hop and other groundbreaking music trends.

Rubin is also well-known for his work as co-head of Columbia Records, beginning in 2007, where he stayed until 2012. Rubin has had an immeasurable impact on the music industry, and, with the release of his new book, has sparked discussions on the power and methodology of creativity in realms beyond the music industry.

Key Insights for Facilitators from The Creative Act

Rubin’s book is highly accessible, as it can provide benefits to people of all stages of life in both their personal and professional lives. Let’s dig into how a few of the 78 Areas of Thought can work for facilitation and collaboration. 

Organizing the Creative Process

Rubin acknowledges that his creative process does not look like some may expect it to, writing:

“When outside observers come into the studio, they often can’t believe how clinical the process looks. They imagine a big music party. But we’re constantly generating detailed notes to focus points and experiments to test.”

Rubin’s process is loosely organized into four stages: Gather, Experiment, Craft, and Complete. These stages are similar to the design thinking model, which has the stages of Emphasize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Design thinking (which is not just for designers) utilizes a creative problem solving process that helps teams move past the first ideas to discover creative solutions. Rubin’s approach is very similar to this type of facilitation, identifying creativity and innovation outside of traditionally artistic venues.

Embrace Constraints

Creativity does not occur in an unlimited space. There will be limitations on many decisions and experiences, but those do not mean your creativity has to be limited. Instead, utilize these constraints as challenges to think outside of the box and look for innovative solutions.

Facilitators often have to help participants overcome their ideas about constraints. Meeting participants may see the constraints or limitations on a problem as insurmountable and thus not worth even attempting to overcome. Skilled facilitators can spark inspiration from these constraints, encouraging creativity instead of complacency.

Collaboration Is Key

In The Creative Act, Rubin explores the power of collaboration by detailing his experiences working with artists of a variety of genres. He encourages digging deeper when there is disagreement, noting that there is usually an underlying issue that is worth exploring.

By exploring these disagreements rather than ignoring them, Rubin seeks to utilize the full spectrum of talent within the group. He writes, “The synergy of the group is as important—if not more important—than the talent of the individuals.”

Prioritize Ideas over Ego

In a podcast discussion with Lex Fridman, Rubin recounts the challenge of bringing people to work together and test out each other’s ideas. Instead of allowing any one person to veto an idea, Rubin believes in testing every idea, removing the ego from the process.

For facilitators, this occurs in the “groan zone,” where all ideas are encouraged and built upon. A skilled facilitator will also create a safe, inclusive space where all participants know that they can be honest and open without fear of retribution.

Get to the Essential

In that same podcast, Rubin discusses the opposite end of the spectrum: making the final cuts for an album. He explains that if they have twenty-five songs and need to select just ten for an album, instead of focusing on which songs should be removed, he would focus from the ground up, deciding which songs they cannot live without.

Rubin explains, “So going past even the goal to get to the real heart of it and then say, okay we have these five or six that we can’t live without. Now, what would we add to that? That makes it better and not worse.”

He continues, “And it’s just it puts you in a different frame when you start with building instead of removing and you might find that there’s nothing you need to add. Sometimes something happens when you get to the real essence. Then when you start adding things back, it becomes clear that it was just supposed to be this, this tight little thing.”

This mindset can work well for facilitators when it comes to helping participants move toward a consensus. Focus on building rather than removing ideas that do not work.

The Power of Artistic Identity

Rubin puts an emphasis on developing an artistic identity. This may seem foreign to analytical professionals, but, with patience, anyone can tap into an artistic perspective on the world. 

In an interview for On Being with Krista Tippett, Rubin says, “The real practice of the artist is a way of being in the world.” For Rubin, creativity is not just listing off unique ideas, but, rather, an integral part of everything one does.

For people with strong artistic identities, this creativity can permeate deeply and meaningfully into every action, while other people may limit it to a superficial level. By allowing for a wider view of the world, you can see that possibility goes beyond the surface.

Taking Breaks: Not Just for Meetings

Skilled facilitators already utilize breaks in meetings and sessions, with breaks necessary to keeping participants engaged and innovative. Rubin also sees breaks as an important tool.

By taking regular breaks, you can realize a vital change in perspective. In particular, when feeling stuck and overwhelmed, rest and relaxation can defuse tension, reset the brain to a more neutral filter, and offer space for new creativity. Often, people will return from a break with new ideas and a refreshed perspective on the problem.

Awareness Takes Practice

Awareness can be a superpower, but it takes practice and dedication to be able to tap into intentional awareness, according to Rubin. Awareness is a non-forced state, which can be difficult for some people to imagine, let alone achieve.

The world around us offers an incredible, unlimited source material for creativity, yet most people walk around with a filter on, unaware of what’s around them. Through a strong sense of artistic identity, you can reawaken a childlike curiosity for the world around you, becoming more sensitive to experiences and environments, which can then be the source of inspiration and innovation.

Rubin practices daily meditation to cultivate his awareness, incorporating this meditation in the rituals of his life. For those unsure where to start when it comes to creativity, meditation can be a great, accessible practice.

Envisioning the Impossible

The suspension of disbelief can be a powerful tool when it comes to innovation. In an interview with Ezra Klein on The Ezra Klein Show, Rubin says,

“I talk, also, in the book about how you have to believe that something that doesn’t exist can exist to bring it into the world. If you start with the idea that it’s impossible, then it’s impossible. We believe our way into things, allowing them to come into being in the world.”

Traditional workplace meetings may call for purely practical solutions, grounded in what’s been done before and what is most logical. By allowing space to envision the impossible, Rubin encourages innovation that operates outside the status quo.

Skilled facilitators will create a safe, engaging environment where participants can comfortably put forth their most creative ideas, even if that means some suspension of disbelief.

Balance Discipline and Freedom

In The Creative Act, Rubin waxes on the balance between discipline and freedom. While the two concepts may feel naturally oppositional, Rubin actually sees discipline as “harmonious relationship with time.” With the right amount of and use of discipline, you can have more time to get to the creative acts and exploration you want.

A creative life is not one with no rules and a commitment-free schedule. A creative life makes time to practice awareness and curiosity in pursuit of new solutions, views, and experiences.

Learn to Embrace Creativity in Facilitation with Voltage Control

Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act: A Way of Being challenges traditional views of creativity, offering tips and techniques for reinvigorating your approach to creativity in both work and life. For facilitators, this book can be particularly beneficial, as many of the themes that the storied music producer discusses are highly applicable to the practice of facilitation.

At Voltage Control, we believe creativity is a necessary and powerful tool for facilitators—our Facilitation Certification program heavily emphasizes creativity. To integrate creativity into your daily practice, join Facilitation Lab, a vibrant community of facilitators and collaborative leaders committed to lifelong learning. Facilitation Lab hosts a free virtual meetup every week that you can attend to get a taste of the community.

Contact Voltage Control to learn more about what creativity can do for you and your business.