Embracing Absurdity in Creative Problem-Solving Through Air Guitar

Humans are inherently creative beings, whether we know it or not. Even if you don’t work in a creative field in your professional life, you’re out there solving problems creatively every single day. Sometimes it’s a case of mammoth multitasking; other times it could be something as deceptively simple as balancing the budget.

Creativity isn’t something that only certain people are born with. It’s a process, and it can be honed.

I recently spoke about creative challenges at TEDxLawrence. My TEDx Talk,  “How Air Guitar Can Reveal Your Own Creative Process,” takes the creative process apart, dissecting it bit by bit to reveal the very real strategy behind what it takes to win a very unreal event—the Air Guitar World Championships.

Its subject may be specific (and bizarre), but the themes of the talk are broad, and I designed it to resonate with anyone who has come up against a creative challenge, be it professional or personal.

This presentation goes behind the scenes through my own journey into the absurd world of air guitar, and how I solved the biggest creative challenge of my life.

In the world of competitive air guitar, you have one minute to bring the audience from zero to eleven, with the aid of nothing but your invisible axe. You are literally and figuratively making something out of nothing, so that minute better be packed with astonishing moves timed perfectly to the song. If you stand in one spot and mimic what it would look like to play a real guitar, you will bore them to tears. Air guitar is performance art. Air guitar doesn’t mean merely pretending to play the guitar – it’s a very different instrument, and it should be freed from the shackles of what a “there” guitar can actually do.

In any creative process, it’s always good to get philosophical and back far away from your challenge to get a good look at what you’re doing. Much like the brick wall that marketers/designers/entrepreneurs run up against, I was looking at the problem through too traditional of a lens. For all of my lofty creative ambitions in the world of competitive air guitar, there was one big problem staring me in the face.

(No spoilers; you’ll have to watch the video to see what that was and how I solved it.)

World Air Guitar Champion tells his unlikely story and issues a challenge for any kind of creative problem-solving: Go beyond perceived limitations and embrace absurdity to realize your full creative potential. Eric is a multi-headed hydra of creativity, having released 10 albums and toured the world as the drummer for Ultimate Fakebook, The Dead Girls, and Truck Stop Love.


Other, more common problems that are solved creatively are no different. This TEDx Talk—besides going through a brief and hopefully hilarious history of the air guitar—talks about maintaining your passion while going through the arduous steps of any creative process. Epiphanies rarely happen in a bubble. That lightbulb moment only happens after much research, trial and error, and hardcore critical thinking about the problem.

Good creative is more than raw talent. It’s talent carried out through a well-designed strategy. Even in something as inherently absurd as air guitar, you still have to create a plan and execute it. I hope that “How Air Guitar Can Reveal Your Own Creative Process” will inspire you to consider your own creative process and challenge you to solve your creative problems in a similar way.

After all, the only way to achieve airness is to embrace absurdity.

This blog originally appears at CallahanCreek.com