Kent Sanders | Unlock Your Creative Potential

Unlock Your Creative Potential

The 5 Cups of Creativity


For the last couple of decades, I’ve devoted myself to helping people discover and use their creative gifts. In my various roles as a teacher, musician, writer, and editor, I’ve become convinced of one truth: we find the most joy, and we help the most people, when we are doing what we are born to do.

However, there are several barriers that prevent most of us from living and creating at our full potential. These barriers result from confusion:

  • We are confused about the PROCESS of creativity because we lack a systematic way to develop our creative potential. We bounce between various books, courses, resources, habits, and systems, never truly committing to any of them, and only frustrating ourselves more along the way.
  • We are confused about the NATURE of creativity because we misunderstand the creative process. We tend to believe that only highly gifted or talented people are truly creative.
  • We are confused about the ACTIONS of creativity because we suffer from information overload. We are consuming too much content, listening to too many voices, and not taking decisive action on what we do know.
  • We are confused about the PURPOSE of creativity because we aren’t clear about our own gifts and goals in life.

Over the past few years, I’ve been on a search to understand more about these barriers and how they prevent us from being more creative. The more I studied, the more I began to see that there was a clear process for developing greater creativity. This process revealed itself as I studied the lives of some of the world’s most creative people, and it also rang true as I thought about the ups and downs of my own creative life.

This process (you might also call it a template or pathway) gives you a framework for understanding and developing creativity in your own life. I call it The 5 Cups of Creativity.

The Origin of the “5 Cups” Theory

Over the last few years, I began to look at my own life and wonder why I hadn’t seemed to reach my creative potential. I knew I was capable of so much more than what I was producing. The more I studied the subjects of success and creativity, I began to see patterns emerge in the lives of highly creative people, such as the Pixar team, Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, Coach John Wooden, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen King, and so many others.

It all seemed to click when I came across this quote from Walt Disney:

Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C’s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.

– Walt Disney

Disney’s statement seemed to summarize everything I was learning about creativity. I took this as a starting point and made a couple of adjustments you’ll see in a moment.

So how do you, as Walt Disney said, make dreams come true? How do you unlock your creative potential and begin to pursue what you were born to do? This framework of the 5 cups of creativity is a great starting point.

The 5 Cups

Let’s dive into the 5 cups. But before we do, keep in mind that these do not work in a linear fashion. You don’t necessarily work on clarity first, then move on to confidence. Creativity is more nuanced and individualized than that. These “5 cups” are like the parts of a car (engine, wheels, body, etc.) that all must be working for the car to go anywhere.

Ready? Let’s dive it.


Creativity is like a river, and clarity is the right and left river banks. When you have clarity about your gifts, your goals, your purpose, and your audience, it allows your creativity to run faster, deeper, and in the right direction.


When you believe in yourself and your abilities, you can accomplish more than you ever thought possible. A person who lacks confidence will always be timid and fearful, doubting themselves and their direction. Confidence gives you the momentum and courage to tackle obstacles and reach for higher goals.


Almost anyone can create something worthwhile on occasion, but a true professional approaches creativity like a workman. As William Faulker said, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” Creativity requires consistent, daily effort to accomplish anything worthwhile in the long run.


This is the desire to explore new subjects and find connections between things that don’t seem related. The curious person values learning for its own sake, not just as a means to an end. Curiosity is the impulse that allowed Leonardo da Vinci to invent so many marvelous machines and make so many contributions to our understanding of anatomy, architecture, science, and many other areas. Likewise, Disney was an endlessly curious person who literally changed the world through storytelling, animation, and theme parks.


Creativity is not a one-man (or one-woman) show. You need a team, mastermind, small group, teachers, peers, and mentors who will help you soar further than you can on your own. Your community will make you sharper and better. No one is a self-made man (or woman).

As we go further in this series, we will explore each of these areas in more detail: what each one is, why we need it, how to get it, and how to overcome the barriers that so often derail us.


With Apologies to Walt Disney

Earlier, I mentioned a quote from Walt Disney that was so helpful in summarizing creativity for me. Disney mentioned four key areas: curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy. You might notice that my areas are a little difference than his.

I kept Curiosity and merged Courage with Confidence because they are similar. I changed Constancy to Consistency because it’s a more up-to-date term. But what about my other two areas, Clarity and Community?

I added Clarity because we need it now more than ever. With so many opportunities today, and so many distractions, it is vital for any creative person to have a clear understanding of their gifts, direction, purpose, goals, and audience. If you read any biography of Walt Disney, you’ll see that he was clear on what his gifts were, and what he wanted to accomplish.

I also added Community because almost any artist who accomplishes anything noteworthy does so with other people’s help. This was certainly the case with Walt Disney. He employed a small army of artists, designers, musicians, and other creatives to makes his vision a reality.

So with my apologies to the great Walt Disney–an artist I deeply respect and admire–I made a few changes to the well-known quote I cited above and used it as a basis for this 5 Cups of Creativity template.

Why Use Cups as a Metaphor?

Finally, you might wonder why I’ve used cups as a metaphor for these five creative habits. There are several reasons:

  • Cups are PORTABLE. Over the years, I’ve read various ministry and business books that use “buckets” as a metaphor. But when it comes to creativity, a bucket is not a good metaphor because no one takes buckets with them. However, we take cups everywhere: the car, the office, and pretty much everywhere else. Creativity is something you take with you wherever you go.
  • Cups need constant REFILLING. You have to keep your creative cup filled up because it regularly runs dry. No one else can fill it for you; you must take responsibility for filling it yourself.
  • Cups contain FUEL. If you’re a coffee drinker, you probably see it as a cup of fuel that helps run your day. Creativity is the fuel that feeds your passion and work, just as caffeine does.
  • Cups represent FULNESS. When you live an intentionally creative life, you create and live from a sense of fullness, not emptiness.
  • Cups represent SHARING. We intuitively think about getting coffee with a friend or going out to dinner with people we enjoy. Cups represent sharing, relationship, and community. Creativity is meant to be the same way.

As we explore this series, we’ll go much deeper into the 5 Cups and how to incorporate each of them into your life. For now, consider these five areas and think about where you are doing well, and where you could use improvement. I invite you to share in the comments below.


About Kent Sanders

I help people unlock their God-given creative potential. I live with my wife and son in St. Peters, MO. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or YouTube.