To swim from thought to expression

What’s the best way to go about turning ideas into reality? This post looks at creativity, communication and inspiration, drawing on wise words from Susan Cain, Tim Ferriss and Brix Smith-Start.

There is nothing like the natural flow of an idea perfectly expressed. The master artist’s brushstroke, the virtuoso guitarist’s strum, the keynote speaker’s clarity and confidence. As effortless, as natural, as swimming through water.

Yet between thought and expression lies a lifetime.* What might seem the most natural flow of expression can be anything but.

Creativity and communication require inspiration, time and ability. Ability might be innate, a talent present from birth. But it might just as easily be a learned skill.

Susan Cain: Natural born killer?


“Rumour has it that straight in the delivery room, from the get-go, you were a natural born killer on stage. Is this true? Were you born a spectacular public speaker?”

This is Tim Ferriss’ knowing opening gambit in his outstanding January 2019 podcast conversation with Susan Cain (introvert**, author of two wonderful books on introversion – Quiet and Quiet Revolution, and creator of  a hugely successful TED Talk on the power of introverts***)

“Of course, the answer is the complete opposite,” Cain responds, laughing. She talks of her “almost lifelong fear of public speaking.” This fear consumed from her schooldays. In adulthood, she forced herself to overcome it, so that she could share and communicate the insights she attained while working on Quiet.

Through practice, repetition and determination, Susan Cain incrementally built her ability to express her ideas compellingly and in public (each step in this process is beautifully described in the podcast).

Today, Cain is recognised as a leading public speaker. A warm, wise voice. A natural, if you will. I love how Ferriss and Cain discuss this perception of her mastery as a speaker:

Tim Ferriss: “When people see the finished product, it’s easy to assume that it comes from an attribute, rather than a skill. A lot of what appears to be natural only appears to be natural as it started off very unnatural.”

Susan Cain: “So often when you see someone who’s really good at almost anything, it’s because they started out exactly the opposite, and then they cared so much about fixing that problem.”

The speaker might still tremble within, but the performance seems as smooth as swimming through water.

Brix Smith-Start: Like filling a swimming pool with a hose


Swimming also provides a beautiful metaphor for the creative process itself.

Last week, I celebrated seven books that have meant the world to me. The author of one of those books Brix Smith-Start (whose memoir The Rise, The Fall and The Rise I recommend wholeheartedly) kindly responded to her inclusion via Twitter. I asked how her upcoming second book is coming along. Brix replied:

“The next book is brewing… It’s like filling a swimming pool with a hose, at some point it’s deep enough to start swimming.”

I love Brix’s image of filling a swimming pool with a hose. This is a perfect metaphor for the creative process – or at least for one potential path from thought to expression.

Sometimes the idea must be allowed to develop on its own**** before the mind/the artist/the creator (delete as appropriate) can dive in, splash around, and explore the beauty of the depths.

Dive in! (Disclaimer: Please be sure there is sufficient water, first.)



* This line is Lou Reed’s, from the Velvet Underground song Pale Blue Eyes.

** In Quiet, Cain offers a succinct definition of introversion (via Jung):

“Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialise enough.”

She goes on to explain why introversion is not necessarily synonymous with shyness:

“Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is the preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”

*** Here is Susan Cain’s TED Talk:

**** What is the correct verb for this process of development? Brix’s band Brix & The Extricated offer some suggestions:

“Cooking? Percolating? Germinating?@jasonbrown001 always tells me to ‘trust my unconscious'”


  • Swimming pool and Brix #Sketchulence by mjcarty.
  • Portraits of Susan Cain via Wikimedia Commons (Here is the first, and here is the second).
  • Diver detail via Wikimedia Commons.

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