DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Liberating Latent Creativity

Written by: on November 17, 2019

At first glance, Pierre Bayard’s provocatively titled book, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read, appears like a pithy how-to book to help doop others in conversations about literature. In our microwave culture, one might be tempted to situate Bayard’s work along with others that promise the quick, unearned benefits of a life-long pursuit (in this case, literature). Upon further consideration, however, this book addresses a deeper concern: the guilt that stifles creativity. Bayard presents a deep, psychological reflection on liberating the latent creative power in each of us. 

Bayard’s brief biography on the book flap introduces him as a professor of literature and a psychoanalyst. These two categories, in that order, are a good way to approach his work. This is my second time reading this book, and each pass was through those respective lenses – first as a professor of literature, and this time as a psychoanalyst. What student can’t relate to the loaded question, “Have you read _____?” Some books and authors stand as non-negotiable entry points into certain communities spanning the conversative-liberal spectrum. My first time through this book gave me some paradigms and useful strategies to remain in conversations about literature where a simple “No” would have closed the conversation. This week’s second engagement under Bayard the psychoanalyst left with me a more enduring memory and understanding.

In the epilogue, Bayard finally discloses his purpose as an instructor: encouraging his readers “to become a creator yourself: this is the project to which we have been brought by the observations draw from our series of examples, and it is a project accessible only to those whose inner evolution has freed them from guilt completely” (182). Treating a book, or a reading list, like a binary activity (read/unread) and the proper response as a regurgitation of the information or story is a gross disservice to one’s self and the author.

I join Bayard’s quest to liberate creativity in each of us to address some of the world’s most complex problems and I, too, lament that many “forbid themselves to call on their imagination in circumstances where that faculty would be extraordinarily useful” (184). I find that there are three levels in which to address latent creativity: a theology (worldview or mindset), a framework and a methodology. 

Theology. Consider Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Many have endeavored to describe and elaborate on what being created in the image of God might mean. While I don’t suggest taking a verse out of context, it underscores my point to consider defining what “image of God” might mean by this single verse. Taking a grammatical approach to this verse, we must conclude that being made in the image of God includes creating. The word “create” is used three times in this poetic verse, and is the sole action of God therin. 

Theological reflection doesn’t end with that popular observation. While I’m still piecing together my reading and research in a cohesive order, other words that are involved in this word cloud of thought are “curiosity,” “imagination,” “mystery,” “wonder,” “hope,” “surprise.”

Framework. We have solved most of the simple problems in the world, and even some of the complicated ones. What remains are the complex problems. The distinguishing marks of a complicated versus a complex problem is the type of solution needed and the methodology to derive that solution. A non-working car engine is a complicated problem. There is often a single issue causing that car to not work, and it takes a guru/expert to identify that solution. As ludicrous as it would be to say that every non-working car engine needs a new alternator because that’s what my car needed, so it is when in ministry contexts we assume a universal problem to complex, local, context-specific issues. The methodology for a complex issues is employing the scientific method: creating hypotheses and measurable experiments. 

Methodology. That leads to the methodology of rapid prototyping, creative experiments, and an informed feedback loop. One mistake I see leaders make is looking for the single answer to a problem by sitting in a room and deliberating. Often, if they use prototype language, they really mean, “This is the direction we are going. I’m willing to make some simple tweaks, but this is the answer.” Emotional attachment is high with a single solution. On the other hand, if a leader is willing to create multiple, even conflicting experiments, they can remain more objective, open and curious as the solution is sought out.

The one place I find Bayard’s work falling short is the unspoken assumption that a foundation of literature can be built without the hard work of reading. In other words, one must read themselves into a place where they don’t need to read. Creativity and innovation work best when one builds off of tradition. Jazz pianists have spent years and years mastering basic scales which gives them the ability to improvise in a constructive way. Bayard’s suggestions would work best as developing an already existing bedrock of understanding. 

Bayard closes with this (as do I): “The key, in the end, is to reveal to students what is truly essential: the world of their own creation” (184). As my NPO and research direction takes focus, I aspire to Bayard’s same end – to reveal to Cru staff and involved students what is truly essential: the world of their own latent creative and innovative potential. What better gift could I extend – than an opportunity to connect with the Creator and his liberation of latent creativity?


Pierre Bayard. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007).

About the Author

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Shawn Cramer

7 responses to “Liberating Latent Creativity”

  1. mm Joe Castillo says:

    I believe that Bayard is not as interested in people reading the books of other authors as much as reading or non-reading, but to encorage readers to obtain a creative dimension, in which, for every book, the reader cam always add some of his or hers experiances.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    Shawn,
    You always have the most gracious and generous posts. Indeed, the innovator and learner in you shines each and every week. Thank you for consistently modeling a teachable spirit:)

    “The one place I find Bayard’s work falling short is the unspoken assumption that a foundation of literature can be built without the hard work of reading.” Agreed. A person has to lift the hood of the car to even know there’s an engine in there. How intensive they delve into the inner workings of the engine depends of their interest levels.

    Bayard gives a handful of ideas of how to develop one’s creative self. In regard to your project, what are some of ideas have you collected so as to inspire your CRU staff to tap into their latent creative selves?

  3. mm Dylan Branson says:

    “The one place I find Bayard’s work falling short is the unspoken assumption that a foundation of literature can be built without the hard work of reading.”

    Ultimately, like Darcy I agree with this statement (I think reading is super important), but with some nuance to it. If you’re well read in a specific genre of literature, you tend to notice that it’s typically the same story reskinned with different characters and some minor tweaks on the formula. Because of that, you can normally have a good conversation about some books without having read it (as long as it isn’t about specific moments). But the themes you find are not just found in literature, as you can find similar themes in other mediums such as television and film. Believe it or not, I’ve never actually read a comic book, but because of video games I played when I was younger, research I did on those characters because of it, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I can talk with the best of them about comic heroes.

    My uncle told me once that when you don’t know anything about a topic (whether it’s a book, an activity, etc.), if you ask more questions than giving statements you can carry on an intelligent conversation. That’s something that’s stuck with me through the years.

    Or, in the words of Joe Walsh, “If you just act like you know what you’re doing, everybody thinks that you do.”

  4. mm Greg Reich says:

    Bayard discusses the idea that an individual’s path passes through the books they read and each book bears a part of who they are after it is read. I didn’t get the idea that Bayard was negating the hard work oriented around reading. Could it be that he was issuing a subtle warning to the reader that due to the immensity of the whole read wisely so as not to lose yourself in books that aren’t worth losing part of yourself to? Often the price od reading is time. Time is the most valuable resource we have since it can’t be renewed or recaptured once it’s spent. Have you ever read a book that after reading it you realized it was a waste of time? The ROI just wasn’t there?

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    I really appreciated the comparison to jazz piano. True improv masters make very difficult things look easy- almost so simple that anyone could do it. What no one sees is the years of study and practice. Good scholars are no different- years of study and practice train a mind to process information and interact with concepts very differently than others. Where have you seen the practices you write about unlock the latent creativity in people?

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    he one place I find Bayard’s work falling short is the unspoken assumption that a foundation of literature can be built without the hard work of reading. In other words, one must read themselves into a place where they don’t need to read. Creativity and innovation work best when one builds off of tradition. Jazz pianists have spent years and years mastering basic scales which gives them the ability to improvise in a constructive way. Bayard’s suggestions would work best as developing an already existing bedrock of understanding.

    Hi Shawn, I appreciate that you find some of Bayard’s viewpoints slightly challenging. On Greg’s post I noticed that you shared a link to an article reviewing the reading of one of CS Lewis’ books by someone else of certain prestige (not sure of his name right now) and his interaction with the CS’s text on the margins (I think it was the ‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). What comes of not reading or skimming, having a general understanding and filling in the gaps with a kind of grasp from what we previously have known on a given subject. You’ve read this book by Bayard twice now! What does that mean? Perhaps, just like scripture, as we change and what we read changes as well. Between your previous reading and this reading of Bayard’s book, you have changed. Then, a whole new reading, with new application, through a lens that is adjusted slightly differently than last time? Continual exploration. Books change us, as do we change one another (if we’re willing).

  7. mm Steve Wingate says:

    The one place I find Bayard’s work falling short is the unspoken assumption that a foundation of literature can be built without the hard work of reading.

    It was an interesting discovery that a student I think from 2 years ago never read a book while in the DMin program yet graduated. Interesting

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