Creative surplus and how to get some

Creative surplus is what you invest in order to create new ideas. Like operating surplus – or profit – it is what is left over when an organisation or individual’s basic operating needs are met, which is available to invest in growth of the next project. Rather than pounds and resources, creative surplus is the mental space and energy available to you to think creatively. Unlike profit, I see that creative surplus is something that most organisations spend little time thinking about.


Whether it is in response to the Covid crisis or the far larger climate crisis, organisations need creative thinking more than ever to find new ways to operate sustainably, ethically and usefully. But when I speak to leaders they tell me that their teams are too busy to think creatively. They have very little to invest in new thinking.

The Eiffel Over formula for creative surplus

My formula for creative surplus is:

Creative surplus = time x attention.

Time is, simply, time to invest in creative thinking. Attention is the ability to keep our focus appropriately directed for the creative thinking. I use this form of words because attention is not simply about concentrating. Attention all involves allowing enough time when our minds can wander, in an unfocused way, without being distracted by something else.

Over the my next few series of posts I will share tools and techniques I have been gathering over ten years to help make time for and attend to creative work. Some of these are the tools I have been sharing with creativity and design trainees to help them make the time and build the attention they need to think creatively. Others are new tools that I would like to share.

I don’t have anything new to add to the extensive literature on time and attention management. What I can add however is thinking about how these tools can be used to build creative surplus.

This post will serve as an anchor for other posts related to this topic. As I complete new entries, they will appear as hyperlinks below.

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