The ultimate secret to more creativity
You hear the word ‘creativity’ often. But do you even know what it means?
You probably agree creativity – like love and happiness – is something you want more of. But its meaning is slippery.
And where a word or concept has a slippery meaning, the qualities or attributes it denotes are more difficult to attain, right? After all, how can you reach towards ‘being like’ something or ‘having’ something, when you don’t know exactly what that ‘something’ is?
So, in this article, let’s pull out the word as though it’s a big piece of squishy dough. Let’s see if we can get to the heart of what it means. That way, we can all go back to our desks, parks, beaches, classrooms and hovels. And get on with it.
How others define creativity
Definitions of creativity vary.
I wonder if this isn’t some sort of inherent glitch in the system – anyone interested in the meaning of the word is likely to be living a creative life and therefore can’t help but offer a creative definition?
This in fact implies one of the main features of creativity, that it’s lived and expressed through every pursuit. It’s not sectioned off from other aspects of life.
Fiction writer Ray Bradbury explains creativity like this:
“Creative people don’t put aside time in their day for creativity, they live creativity. It seeps from their pores and governs their facial expressions. You can smell it on their breath.”
While Bradbury seems certain creativity is about doing rather than thinking, Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way sees it as something that is actually unknowable. She says:
“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.”
These two descriptions reveal the essence of how to get creativity, and perhaps something about what it entails.
In his book, Human Motivation, Robert E. Franken gets a little more explicit and definitive. He defines creativity as:
…the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.”
The problem with this definition is it fails to nail a specific type of behaviour or thinking. It says simply that creativity has something to do with ideas relating to a spectrum of activities and experiences.
A definition you can work with and on
You know the idea of the Muse? Mostly the Muse idea goes something like this:
The Muse is an external source of creative expression. Traditionally a woman, she inspires the artist to create not only work; but work that belongs to the realm of the divine.
There is something ethereal and uplifting in this conception of creativity and that’s why it has such traction. It sets creativity aside from the quotidian experience of everyday life.
However. It’s not true.
Creativity doesn’t isn’t bestowed upon the creator from above as in this painting by Fragonard:
“ Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought. ”
Creativity is something you harness from within yourself. And once you grasp it, you continue adjust your grip so that you can hold on and enjoy the ride. You do not let go.
There’s something almost tangible and material in creativity, despite its ostensible abstract surface.
That’s why I think this quote by Einstein nails it:
“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.”
The source of creativity is everywhere, from the bus-stop, to the public toilet to the suburban backyard garden with a swing set.
The trick to living creatively is in altering the everyday so that it becomes something fresh.
As creatives everything you encounter is the opportunity for a creative transaction. That transaction is more likely to occur the more curious we are.
Here’s the ultimate secret.
What Einstein knew was that creativity isn’t about inventing the new from a puff of air, or taking inspiration from the Muse.
Creativity is actually all about the familiar.
It’s about stealing from your everyday environment and experiences, and those of other people. But repositioning these sources to place them together in surprising and delightful ways.
I’ll get back to the notion of delight at the end of the blog.
Let’s just unpack the idea of placing ideas and things together in unexpected ways.
As an example, think of how poetry, because of its use of special language, can transform the experience of, say, a trip to the supermarket, as in this poem by Alan Ginsberg:
Or consider how the interior designer combines stripes and polka dots to create a comical and playful aesthetic, all the while completely undermining the expectation of conformity.
You can improve creativity by eradicating cliched or expected patterns of thought.
We all think in cliches to begin with. They’re obvious and immediate.
But one thing you can do is train your mind to skip through them quickly and move into conjuring surprise. For example, consider this small word-association quiz:
For most of you, the immediate words that would have come to mind are:
These are cliches.
The creative person rejects these because they are sour and old. Can you think of any fresh word associations?
If you get in the habit of seeing the world in a way that is fresh, you will grab and hold the attention of clients and audiences alike.