The words used to describe great work– Disruptive, Unexpected, Eccentric, Subversive, Bold, Funny, Emotional, Frank, Unusual –are the same words folks use to describe those people they wish to fire, detain at airports, kick off teams, deny access to, etc.

Dear Students,

It is human, natural and satisfying to create.

As it is an imitation of the first act of God, I believe it a high calling.

But don’t be fooled into believing creative thinking is going to make you popular.

The opposite.

Rather than applauded for seeing the world differently and making something new in response, you’ll be avoided, distrusted, unheard, misunderstood, insulted, and, then, after a time, as if to show that justice has no place at all in the world, you will see people who earlier mocked your ideas stand up and wave them as their own and make profit from them.

This is not news.

It has been so from the start of the world.

A union leader in America in 1918, Nicholas Klein,  described the process by which upstart, disruptive ideas come into the world:

“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.” (Something like this statement is usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi but according to several sources –besides Wikipedia–there’s no record Gandhi ever said it, while Klein got it into print)

The world gets used to a new thing, but it loathes the person who first brought it to life

A genuinely new thought in the moment of its arrival in the lives of normal people is like a boulder arriving from space. It bangs the sound barrier, sets fire to the sky and scuds up dirt like a 30,000 mph snowplow.

People hate the new.

And they’re going to hate you if you’re a creative thinker, because you’re in favor of finding as much new as you can to toss in their face.

It’s a dilemma.

You want to think up new things. And you know there’s money in new things. Eventually. But you don’t want to be hated, pelted with vegetables, ostracized, etc.

What to do?

Pretend you aren’t creative.

Yes. I’m serious.

Disguise the fire.

Give no suggestion you see differently, think differently, desire differently.

Walk around like you haven’t got a clue.

The novelist and teacher Gustave Flaubert said “Be quiet and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

I used to think what he meant was that by being quiet and orderly in life one would save up one’s energy so that one could use it in one’s work.

But experience has changed what I think.

Fool them is what I now think Flaubert was advocating. Trick them into not seeing your true self, or they’ll take all the power and originality out of what you do.

See, he knew what most people don’t ever say about creating.

It destroys.

There is violence.

There has to be.

To create something new something else has to become undone.

Knowing you’re going to do this, Flaubert gives the creative thinker practical advice:

Hide the gift.

If you make noise they’ll stop listening to you before you even talk. Go under the radar. Let silence prevail. Behave as if you are in line and happy to be there.

So that the world isn’t prejudiced against your work before you show it.

I’m guessing Flaubert got burned a few times and figured out that if you make new things and think new thoughts the destruction that goes along with them might get your work –or maybe even you–killed before it starts.

Better to live ordinary.



Give no sense that you’re capable of Disruptive, Bold, Unexpected.

If you’ve got it, respect it.

Don’t invite extra scrutiny.

Don’t let them know you’re coming.