‘Spark Your Creativity’ – an evening with Dara Simkin


Quote of the night

“Perfection is procrastination in a sparkly dress” – Dara Simkin, 2018

Tonight I’m at ‘Spark Your Creativity.

Our presenter is U.S. citizen Dara Simkin.  Dara’s been in Oz long enough to grasp what ‘yeah nah’ means and have her first exposure to Monty Python –  which makes me feel quite sorry for Americans.

I wonder whether she’s watched Pete and Dud in the art gallery, and I think that if she hasn’t then she should, and so should you, and so here it is.


  • Get used to feeling uncomfortable. Being creative requires you to get out of your comfort zone on purpose.
  • Experiment. Practice makes perfect.
  • The future is uncertain and already upon us. Have a think about what you’ll do when the robots take over.

The What

I’m one of 25 people in the audience. It’s Monday and the most difficult night of the week to get people to events.

Melbourne’s weather continues to snap freeze the balls off a brass monkey. I am rugged up under a hat and several layers, including alpaca wool mittens. Brr!

From the get-go everyone declares themselves sufficiently creative, and claimsthey’ve never been told to be more so, ever, which begs the question why are they here then?

We do a few ‘get to know you’ / ‘let’s practice how this works’ exercises. My suspicion that people aren’t always the best judge of their own measure is confirmed during this phase.

Both partners, paired with me, exhibit the rigidity that I described as being a ‘creativity killer’ earlier in the evening.

One of them does what Dara specifically asked us not to do and allows me to take the lead without contributing a thing. It’s a silly handshake for Pete’s sake. I may not be a mason but how hard can it be?

Quite hard as it turns out. We start off easy using the ‘wrong; hand, which is fine, but also a bit sinister and a bit judgy if you’re a south paw. In the absence of any assistance I Monty Python the situation, and add a wink, wink and a tug of the ear, for good measure. This is more physically taxing than you might imagine. It’s on a par with patting your head while rubbing your tummy in terms of degree of difficulty. It succeeds in breaking the ice and making us looks silly, so that’s a win.

My next partner hits almost all of Dara’s buttons without the slightest glimmer of ironic realisation. He fancies himself quite creative but is undone by his:

  1. unimaginative and all too plausible ‘and then’ scenarios; and
  2. semi-public query, issued in self deprecation, (and to no one in particular,) that he “doesn’t understand how a simple trip to Bali resulted in our becoming drug runners.”

Point two is a long story, punctuated at the end with the live equivalent of canned laughter at the above ‘joke’. It involves improv and and two people telling what is meant to be a made up story. His reaction to me having fun, and being ridiculous, is on point.  He personifies the Holy Trilogy, the Triple J – the ‘judge, joke, justify’ that Dara says we tend to use when we fear ridicule from others.

It looks to me as though he’s deeply uncomfortable with being creative, as well as with anybody around him being creative, whatever he might like to wish was true.


As someone half my age might say and get away with: “I got no shame, bro.”

The Where

I’m at General Assembly, William Street in its events room, – a chair-filled space, chopped in half for the night by partitions.

The wifi password is ‘yellowpencil.’ It’s painted on the wall.

The Melbourne office is one of a few dozen G.A. branches scattered globally. This one is close to the Yarra, and to Flinders Street, and the Immigration Museum.

G.A. started life as a co-working venture, before branching out into what you might call ‘knowledge sharing*’ which is why I’m here tonight.

The Salient Points

Dara is a delight. Her style is authentic, her enthusiasm is right-sized and her evidence-based approach is persuasive, and logical.

Anyone who advocates a modicum of caution when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and who comes with a lot less ‘woo’ than I’m used to seeing and hearing from entrepreneurs gets my vote.


A slice of one of Dara’s slides…

‘Creativity’ has morphed into a ‘hero word‘.

By this I take it Dara means that people like to think they have desirable attributes in spades, as long as others hold that attribute in some esteem. In other words, being creative has developed cachet. 

It’s OK to play

Dara advocates play and humour in the workplace, in the right proportions, and gosh knows the number of people I’ve met who thought I wasn’t taking my job seriously because I had a sense of humour.


Practice makes perfect

Dara cites Nita Leland, (whom she admits she hasn’t read) but likes Nita’s idea of paying ‘relaxed attention’ to your surroundings and your feelings, meaning, literally stopping to smell the roses, be present in the moment and take a breather once in a while.

To assist you, try leaving your phone at home, once in a while, and put your phone down and time how long that lasts.

The Ask

General Assembly’s free events are designed to get you interested in their paid courses, workshops and conferences and tonight is no exception.

Fortunately, the pitch is never a hard sell, which I like, because it means I’m more open to the hearing the bait and making the switch than I otherwise would be.

I would actually consider going to Project Play because:

  1. it’s less than $100, which is very reasonable for this type of event;
  2. I get a discount for having attended tonight, and you can too, if you attend Spark Your Creativity II on 20 August; and
  3. the line up features an expert in divergent thinking and members of the IDEO group, who codified design thinking, or claim they did, which I find interesting.

Dara is also a life coach and has a more in-depth creativity seminar she’ll be hosting at G.A. that you might like to attend.

Dara Creativity






* I hesitate to call knowledge sharing ‘education‘ as I’ve formed the opinion that both sets of providers would strongly object to the label and for wildly, different reasons.

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