Gardner, in his book Creating Minds, says:

What may distinguish creative individuals is their way of productively using the insights, feelings, and experiences of childhood. For some purposes, it may prove adaptive to erase memories of childhood. But when it comes to the forging of new understandings and the creation of new worlds, childhood can be a very powerful ally. Indeed, I contend that the creator is an individual who manages a most formidable challenge: to wed the most advanced understandings achieved in a domain with the kinds of problems, questions, issues, and sensibilities that most characterized his or her life as a wonder-filled child.


It is indeed incredible that a young man of such talent (Einstein) was academically unemployable just a few short years before he made his epochal discoveries. (One wonders whether the same blind spots exist in the field today.) As is well known, Einstein did land a job as a patent officer in Bern, Switzerland; when not evaluating inventions, he worked on physics.

Still, without the benefit of hindsight, an observer of the young Einstein might well have considered him somewhat of a failure: after all, he had not graduated successfully from the gymnasium; he had not gained entry to the polytechnic on his first try; he lacked influential mentors or sponsors; he had failed to secure an academic job; he had not completed his dissertation. More likely than not, it seemed, he would remain in obscurity in the patent office.


On the surface, neither Freud nor Einstein are easily described as childlike or childish, in the manner of Picasso or even, at times, of Gandhi. They were, after all, members of the German bourgeoisie, and they dressed and acted accordingly. There are occasional pictures of Einstein clowning, to be sure, and even Freud was well-known as a teller of Jokes, but it would be straining to think of either scholar as an individual who never grew up.

At a deeper level, however, we can discern the links to childhood that seem to run through the lives of highly creative individuals. As Einstein often pointed out, the problems he pondered were those that children spontaneously raised but that most adults have long since stopped thinking about. And while the issues that preoccupied Freud are less likely to arise naturally in the minds of young children, they are just the ones that dominate the actual lives of children: not only phenomena like dreaming, joking, and sexual play but also psychological processes like displacement, condensation, or substitution.

Only individuals still in touch with their childhood experiences could have unraveled these phenomena.

As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” The prolific inventor Buckminster Fuller put it more bluntly: “Dare to be naive.”

As kids do, the idea behind childlike observation is to find information and data that you would have never thought might exist. Children also see the world as it is. Adults don’t. Our past programming skews our observations and colors our judgments. But as adults developing childlike observation skills, we can have one extremely important advantage. We can also see with wisdom. Seeing with wisdom means seeing things without prejudice, resentments, or biases that spring from greed, hatred, and delusions.

Inside the incubation process, you feel the need to be most receptive, to listen like a child, emphatically and openly. Children listen carefully, not just to content but also to form and tone—not just to what adults or parents say to them but how adults say it. Child-listening is when you hear everything in your surroundings and not just what you want to hear.

Like a child who hates the routine, you must avoid the mundane way of thinking. Let ideas emerge freely and be receptive to them. Avoid negativity and tension. Negativity that impedes the Flow of ideas through the mind is analogous to tenseness that constricts the Flow of blood through the muscles of the body. The simplest acts of physical relaxation—letting go of tensions—free the mind to be open to new ideas.

Avoid the same comfortable ways. Psychologists call the trap of routine “functional fixedness” to see the obvious way of looking at things. You must be willing to question any and all assumptions about your past and what must have been the cause of your apathy. Have no preconceptions. Look for ways to change the paradigm. The ability to see things in a fresh way is vital to the incubation process.

Avoid the traps of self-blame, self-criticism, and self-censorship; they create barriers to absorbing fresh information. Self-blame, self-criticism, and self-censorship are the inside voices that tell you, “Everyone thinks I’m dumb,” “It will never be accepted,” or “They will think I am crazy thinking like this.” In the incubation stage, you will be actively defeating the negative beliefs. You need to learn how to recognize and change this self-defeating mechanism.

These are the inner voices of judgment that limit the incubation process. They set shallow boundaries that we wrongly consider acceptable based on our own destructive advice. Once the voice of blame is stilled, what emerges is a spirit of hopefulness and optimism. The incubation stage needs bold innovators with a clear vision to dismiss the voices of fear and doubt.

Gathering information and childlike observation might consist of visiting bookstores and roaming through books to discover the passion. Traveling to exotic places, gardens, and nurseries to find a childlike desire to conquer and discover. Accept no boundaries. Push your limits. In the incubation stage, you try to make sense of all the data you have gathered. Try to remember when you had a great idea. It could be a time when you discovered you had talent in one area, were creative in another, or solved a problem ingeniously. It could be a time when your imagination resolved a work dilemma. Think of things that you are good at, and because of them, you are more worthwhile for having done them. Remember, everyone is capable of tapping into his or her motivating spirit. Remember which of your actions were the most satisfying, noble, and virtuous. Which gives you a deep-down sense of pleasure? The incubation stage is where you will uncover your innate excellence and your unique genius. If you feel you have found your competency, it is more likely you will excel at it. You will receive more praise and have even more self-esteem. However, in the incubation stage, any scale of excellence is irrelevant. A true sense of motivation depends on being able to do things that give you more confidence.

Remember that inside the incubation stage, your mind must stay more passive; try to let things occur and information be observed in the mind’s unconscious, outside your focused awareness. Use this time (or, if vacationing, a quiet walk in the woods) to Daydream! Getting away from all of that is really important. You need to have a space where your mental chatter and all the judgments and loudspeakers in your mind about who you are and what you are doing are turned down. And then you can get in touch with a deeper part of yourself that can start revealing patterns. Yes, these can be the patterns of new intuition. Incubation for motivation is in the process.

Have you ever heard that for some people, the answer will eventually come to them somehow during the early morning or even while taking a shower? These are little incubation stages where the unconscious mind is intellectually richer than the conscious part of the mind; it has more data from which to draw. What the unconscious mind knows is often more apparent as a felt sense of correctness, a hunch. The reason this stage is so powerful and successful is because there are no self-censoring judgments in the unconscious.

Cognitive scientists, who study how information Flows through the brain, tell us that all memory is unconscious before it becomes conscious and that only a very small fraction of what the mind takes in, less than one percent, ever reaches conscious awareness.

Further, the unconscious speaks to us in ways that go beyond words. What the unconscious mind knows includes the deep feelings and rich imagery that constitute the intelligence of the senses. We call this kind of knowing intuition.

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