Dispatches: Phil Chipman

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Phil Chipman is my neighbor. He’s not a typical neighbor. When I moved here a dozen years ago I noticed there were strange happenings in Phil’s garage. I’m probably making this up, but I think I remember sparks from an arc welder. Mad science people, mad science. Phil is a retired engineer. He’ll tell you in the interview where he worked and what he worked on, and it’s interesting, but I interviewed Phil about being creative. He started surfing at 53. He plays guitar. He built an electric car, a good one, in his garage. He looks at the world in a refreshing way. I said this before but I’d love to bottle his knowledge and fire and drop it on art schools around the world. They need it and he has it. Have a listen.

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  1. Love it.

    Buried in there, I think, he sees that creativity and inspiration is a process one can master, a process one can learn.

    One of the biggest fallacies in modern life is ‘you either have it or not’. You might never be Mozart. You almost certainly won’t be. But could you learn to write a passable chamber piece? Yeah, you could.

    Creativity ain’t simple. You need a deep reserve of ideas, other people’s solutions to things. You need to internalize them.

    Then you need to spend time on your own problem. Struggle. Try to fit ideas from your reserve. Try to steal someone else’s idea.

    Then take a break. Let it go. The back of your mind will work on it.


    Doing it in an instant can work. You need the deep reserve, you need to be engaged and yet separate. Some sort of basic looseness. Then you need some luck. And some patience.

    It’s all lightning strikes. But you can learn to attract it and increase your hit rate.

    Engineering overlaps with art. They’re not the same. The overlap is not complete, but there’s this piece of art, this important piece, that’s much like this important piece of engineering.

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  2. Thanks for posting this Daniel – nice to have such an inspirational neighbour I should imagine. Sorry for the short comment – I have to go and buy a surfboard.

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