Sunday, April 19, 2009

Be Neotenous.

Many years ago, when I was a creative director at Ketchum Advertising, I was taught Storyboarding The Disney Way by a gentleman named Gerry McNellis (who now uses it as foundation for what he calls "compression planning."  Check it - and him - out at  Gerry was taught by Mike Vance (, who was Disney's "Director of Idea and People Development," (which has to be one of the coolest job titles of all time) and is kind of the guru of Storyboarding (now that Da Vinci, who is credited with pioneering the technique, is dead).

Gerry had a favorite word -- neoteny -- that he used constantly.  To Gerry it meant, "the ability to retain a sense of childlike wonder," and it made such an impact on me that I've kept it in my head and used it shamelessly for years.   I thought then that he'd made the word up, but now thanks to Google I see that there are 116,000 or so references.  While Merriam-Webster defines it as the biological "retention of some larval or immature characters in adulthood," Wikipedia has much more fun, defining it as "juvenilization," but still relegates it to developmental biology.

Thought about in more human terms, in creative terms, the idea of neoteny is elemental to the idea of living a creative life (hence the connection to this blog).  My 8-year-old son looks at everything with a sense of its possibility.  He doesn't seem to see anything just as it is, but as it could be.  Which is great.

To me, that's what living a creative life is all about: seeing all things, including yourself, as they could be.  A creative eye, head, heart, and soul doesn't just see possibility, it expects possibility and is relentless in the search.  While I'm not suggesting that you don't appreciate things as they are (a beautiful sunset is a beautiful sunset), I am suggesting that you never stop exploring, thinking, tinkering, learning, poking, failing, and pushing.  That's what creative people do.  And we are every one of us, creative people.

A note on this blog:  I started this blog as a companion to a course I teach at Carnegie Mellon University called "Innovation + Technology."  I call the blog "Creative Habits" for two reasons.  One, I want my students (and everyone kind enough to read this blog) to quite literally get into the "habit" of thinking creatively, non-linearly, innovatively, with possibility.  And two, because I'm such a fan of Leo Babauta's Zen Habits blog ( and hope he won't mind my borrowing the "habits" idea.


  1. For more thoughts regarding neoteny, visit to view an animation of the process.

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