Wisdom From Arthur C. Clarke: Breaking the Mold with Purpose and Creativity

One of my all-time favorite science fiction books is The City and The Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke. I believe it was the first sci-fi book I ever read.

This magical story details the life of Alvin, a “Unique,” who has never been born before.

In the fully enclosed, domed city of Diaspar, everyone else has lived many lives — they are reborn cyclically from the city’s Central Computer banks — and their memories of their past lives return to them on their 20th birthdays. Alvin has no prior memories.

Alvin’s uniqueness was deliberately designed. Because the city creators knew that the measures put into place to protect the last of the human race might someday no longer be needed (including behavioral inhibitions to keep everyone safe at home), they knew that a catalyst would be required to test the waters and breakthrough old paradigms when the time was right.

Over the billion years the city existed and of the millions of city inhabitants at any given time, only 14 other Uniques emerged to play this key role in the fate and future of the city.

Unfortunately for Alvin, as someone with such a unique purpose and role to play, he didn’t fit in well with his co-habitants. None of the other people in his life were interested in seeing what was beyond the walls, or questioning why things were they way they were.

One day, Alvin met another unique character: Khedron, the Jester. Although Khedron had lived before, he too was designed to play a key role — the role of the artist and the saboteur — with the purpose of shaking things up, stimulating discourse and debate, and catalyzing other catalysts (the Uniques) into action.

The city planners had chosen his role with care: They realized that a billion-year-old city would get downright boring and complacent without periodical upheaval, crime, disorder, and change.

Although the Jester had lived before, and had his own implanted inhibitions, he operated outside the societal norms and could help Alvin to claim his purpose and to act on it. Khedron became Alvin’s muse, in a sense.

Ultimately, Alvin ventured beyond the city walls to discover the self-imposed secret truths that kept the human race cowering on planet Earth and fulfilled his purpose.

I share this story with you for a number of reasons:

  • I love the demonstration of purpose — of how a single individual can have a lasting impact — and how compelling that purpose can be. Alvin could not rest until he had fulfilled his purpose. Khedron fulfilled his purpose as well. Each had a role to play.
  • I also love how The Jester — the archetypal fool — demonstrated the powerful role an artist plays in a society. Often creativity and art are thought of as gratuitous or entertaining, but this story caused me to see creativity as a powerful force for change, learning, growth, healing, and understanding. When I hear people debating or disliking an art piece (particularly a public art piece), I smile to myself, and think, “Good! That artist is fulfilling her purpose — she’s got people talking.”
  • I love the idea that not fitting the mold is not only “designed” but is the key ingredient for success. The discomfort both characters experienced as “different” parallels the lives of many sensitives and creatives as we navigate this world not well-designed for us. Precisely because of the fear of being different, or rocking the boat, many of us hold back. But as sensitive sages and visionary creatives, when we hold back, we fail to fulfill our purpose. We must recognize that not fitting in is part of our impetus to fulfill our purpose.
  • I love the reminder that we require muses and supporters as we breakthrough the limitations imposed on us (self-imposed and otherwise). As my teacher Sonia says, “We cannot do this alone.”


What do you think?
I’d love to hear from you:

  • What does this spark for you?
  • Where are you ready to venture into new territory?
  • What status quo paradigm are you longing to challenge?
  • Who is your Khedron or muse?

Please share your comments and thoughts on the blog below.







  1. Great piece …love how you are bringing in the sci-fi piece as well. Just wondering what thoughts do you have about what David Allen (GTD) calls the “runway” bit…how to stay focussed when you realise that you are out of step with people around you…you have a conversation that makes you feel as though you are struggling to explain who you are…or how to build creativity into your daily routine (if that is not a contradiciton in itself!)

  2. Hi Jenna,

    Searching or “scanning” your beloved sci-fi for lessons really draws me in. I’ve never read much sci-fi and I’m not sure why because I couldn’t get enough of the Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond. You’re opening my eyes to this reading genre. It will surely move my personal essays and paintings in a different direction.

    We live in a funny world: We’re torn between expressing our unique creative sides or disappearing into the crowd of consumer conformity. Most folks choose the later at great mental and probably physical peril.

    The next economic wave will involve creativity. Poets, painters, singers, writers and other artists will experience a renaissance. We can attach value to anything we choose.

    You appear to be a combo unique & khedron.

    Great thinking piece! Giulietta

  3. I plan to read this as soon as I get my hands on a copy – thanks for sharing it. I definitely feel different from the people around me, and it has caused me at times in my youth to make decisions that were far more conventional than I actually am. It is tough to reclaim who you are when our society makes it so difficult to be different, but no one that ever made history was a conformist. I think that all of the sensitive creatives have important work to do, and I pray that as many of them as possible finds out what that work is.

  4. Jenna…

    Great article!! Love reading sci-fi books!! The theme of the book is so relevant to what I see, feel and hear in my world today!! I always seems to be the one to think outside the box! I’ve been looking for messages from the Universe to move forward on SEVERAL outside the box professional and personal projects. This article is a message!! Now I am looking for my muses, because I already KNOW I can’t do it alone!! Looking forward to MORE of your insightful articles!!

  5. Thanks for sharing this your thought-provoking perspectives that were aroused by your recent read. I love, love, LOVE that you’re so sparked by this genre. It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a sci-fi novel, but there once was a time when I’d burn through them like no other, always appreciating the depth of self-awareness they would coax forth from me. Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov are two of my favs!
    Your provocative questions draw long deep answers from me, but I’ll offer a quick summary:
    What’s sparked? OMG — everything!
    New territory? hmmm… with each day already feeling like new territory and being more and more able to trust myself as I progress along my path, I tend to welcome the great unknown and relish in the potential for newness with each choice I’m making… the new territory ahead appears wonderfully and inspires awe each time I find a new opening.
    Status quo? the strife to fit it, please others, meet their expectations, to be enough — especially where family is concerned provides me with my greatest challenge which leads me to your final comment about support.
    I tend to focus on others’ responses to me and my choices that are the not-so-cheerful, championlike responses. I HATE disappointing them and continue to have difficulty feeling supported by those whom I think should be my best supporters. …but you see, therein lies my answer: those whom I think should be my best supporters are often not. I’m putting my expectations on them and through that they’re bound to disappoint me. Support comes to me in the most strange and unexpected ways most times. Keeping myself open to receiving it and not shoulding it on others is my challenge.
    Phew! I feel SO much better!
    Thanks, Jenna.

  6. Wild. I’ve read some Arthur C. Clarke but not this one. I reserved it at the Library.

    And Jenna, You SO rock the sci-fi references :) It’s my favorite genre and I’m never found without a sci-fi or fantasy book in progress.

    I’ve been venturing into new territory since I can remember. I always want to do things my way (my first word in Greek translated to “I can” — I was trying to tie my shoes and pushing my mom away). And I’ve always tried to fit in but never really did.

    So hearing that my non-fitting-in-ness could be a catalyst for change? Sweet.

  7. Reading your description of this novel reminded me again (with a vengeance) that the pool of important ideas is indeed finite, and that it’s the artists that must find a way to make them fresh all over again. Are we not again living in a time of “self-imposed secret truths” that keep us from moving forward, that keep the entire planet from moving forward?

    Here’s a quote that I came across that makes this point very well (with apologies to
    the many gifted women who contribute to this blog):

    “What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas,
    but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.”

    – Eugene Delacroix

  8. I have been receiving messages the last 2 days from almost every media piece I’ve come in contact with regarding choices. The universe is speaking loud and clear to me. I believe we are in a history changing time. We have so much available to us as far as being able to reach and connect like never before. What an exciting time to be here!!! Thank you so much!

  9. Anne, I haven’t studied GTD yet, but I’ll check it out (tell me more about the runway). I’ve been hearing about it lately. My take on staying focused is to get clear about YOUR vision and then keep your head down while creating it. It’s too easy to get pulled off in other directions by other people. The people who get your vision are your audience, it’s probably not worth trying to explain to it everyone else. (Is that too harsh?) Oh, and stay tuned for a neat video interview I hope to have posted by next week — the woman I’m interviewing gives a great description about making creativity part of your daily life — very inspiring.

    Giulietta, Thank you, muse! I agree about your assessment of 1) the creative economy and my combination of both characters. xoxo

    Cindy, I hope you love it. I think Arthur Clarke is a genius. A true creative visionary! Your comment reminds me of a quote I love, “Everything popular is wrong.” ~ Oscar Wilde

    Debii, I can feel your inspiration — I’m thrilled! Yes, find your muses, supporters, and believing eyes — and go for it.

    Lydia, I loved your eloquent note! Thank you. What a brilliant reminder of how support comes from unexpected quarters. And thanks for the encouragement around the sci fi spark for me. Much appreciated.

    Alexia, Love it! I hope you love the book. Please let me know what you think, okay (you too, Cindy). Yes, I firmly believe we are designed the way we are meant to be, differences and all. Go forth and catalyze!

    John, I loved the quote you shared so much that I posted it on twitter. And indeed, you are so right, we are living in a time of self imposed secret truths. Well noticed.

    Julie, Amen, the Universe is paying attention, and so are you. You are so right.

    Much love to all of you,

  10. I think you are totally right about just focussing on your audience (it’s not harsh…if it’s your tribe, they’ll get you and you’ll get them!). What I like about GTD is that it says making your vision real comes from “cranking a widget”…like you writing this blog entry! And it also talks about organising tasks by context e.g. @errands…so that you get what you need when you go to the shop…not when you run out of something!
    Am looking forward to hearing your interview…sounds like perfect timing

  11. Your post reminds me of my visit to the museum today with my friend who’s a painter. When I look at a painting, I see a story; she sees structure. We were talking about creating the window that would allow readers into the opening of my book, and while I’m still working on the words to build the structure, the idea sparked new thoughts and the words began to shape themselves.

    She acted as the jester, “stimulating discourse and debate, and catalyzing other catalysts [and unique perspectives]…into action.” Thank you both.

  12. Anne, I love that idea about “cranking the widget.” Yes — to make our visions a reality, we need to decide what the steps are and DO them. And I love that idea of organizing tasks by context, even better than I like the terminology I’ve learned from my coaches, which is “batching.” I’ve learned to do like tasks together. On the errand front, we also have a system that we buy two of everything to start — one for active use and one for the pantry. Then when we finish the first one, we start using the second one, and put it on the shopping list. So we always have one in rotation and one in storage, so we never run out. (As long as we stick to the system, LOL. :) )

    Janet, I love your illustration of how you and your friend each see different things, that’s such a beautiful reminder of how we each see through our own lens. Sounds as though she was the perfect muse for you that day.

    With love,

  13. That’s spooky! That’s exactly what I do about stuff in the kitchen. I always have an extra one in stock and when I start to use the second last one…I put it on my list..just wondering have you noticed if HSP’s have particular ways of organising their environment..

  14. This is a great post, Jenna! Normally I only read non-fiction, but this book has me intrigued, so it’s now on my to-read list. I’ve always been drawn to sci-fi TV shows and movies. I love to read and I read books, etc. to learn new ideas, not for entertainment. Guess I’ve always considered the sci-fi I watch as just entertainment.

    Regarding organizing, I also keep an extra item on hand because I dislike running out of things. I like being as efficient as possible with errands, so prevention saves time, frustration, money, and too much exposure to crowds! I also “batch” my errands and plan my route to get done as quickly and efficiently as possible. I just figured these things out on my own; maybe this is an HSP thing to do.

    I am developing an e-book for a process I came up with for myself to solve my problem of wanting to get rid of paperwork but also wanting to keep important information and be able to access that information quickly and easily. I don’t know if things like that bother other people, but I feel compelled to share my system in case it helps someone else. So maybe HSPs DO have particular ways of organizing their environment, as Anne said. All these great comments have really got me thinking now!

  15. Anne, I haven’t noticed that, but I wouldn’t be surprised!
    Laurie, how interesting! I love to read and watch sci-fi. I do the same with errands as well. Sounds like a great topic for an ebook. Do you have a budding career as an organizer?


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