The creativity myth

Our understanding of creativity is a myth. I’ve heard dozens of people being described as ‘creative’, having their method characterised as creative, or their work as being somehow more ‘creative’ than someone else’s. Similarly, I’ve read articles on how to engage the creative process, to beat creative block, to become somehow ‘more’ creative. And it’s largely bullshit.

I don’t mean that these people are liars, or just plain wrong – they’re not, I mean that what people understand as ‘creativity’ – particularly when talking with somebody they feel is, or describes themselves as, creative – is not at all related to the actual undertaking that goes on when that creative person engages their process. (With me so far?)

The reason this matters is that it creates a gap between people who consider themselves to be creative, and those that wish to be. Those that wish to be often feel shut out from an industry, a discipline, or a way of thinking, because they don’t consider themselves to be operating on the same wavelength.

So, what do ”’creative’ people have that non-creatives crave? Simply put, they have a methodology. They have a craft that has been developed through considerable practice that enables them to produce ideas and execute them through whatever medium they have chosen. This applies to artists, designers, songwriters, or whoever – the process of being (or becoming) creative, is exactly that: a process.

The key then is perhaps two-fold. Development of a process, and plenty of practice. That process will be different for everybody – it may be establishing a routine, creating a habit that naturally breaks down big problems or jobs into smaller, more manageable ones. (Right now, I’m writing a book – which sounds huge – but taken in 500 word chunks each day, becomes extremely manageable).

Alternatively, you may need to completely break with your routine – do something disruptive that forces you to look at a problem in a new way. If we look in the same places for new ideas, or use the same methods for developing them, then eventually they’ll become stale they’ll need invigorating.

One of the biggest ‘creativity delusions’ is that it is something that cannot be learned. Nonsense – we all have creative abilities. Okay, so we can’t all draw, we can’t all design products, but we can all make something, we can all practice, and we can all become better at it. What people perceive as ‘creativity’ in others is really just problem solving. Those people have found a really effective way to solve the problems they encounter – whether they’re design problems, or problems of the soul, they’ve found a way to solve them. It is not a natural talent that some people have and others do not – it is a natural ability though, and some people learn better how to optimise that ability by asking questions, remaining open, and exploring options that others remain closed to.

If you want to become more creative my advice is to keep your mind open, start asking questions, and develop a methodology for finding and nurturing your ideas. And remember, the next time you look at someone enviously, thinking ‘wow, they’re so creative …’ what you really mean is ‘wow, they’ve developed a great process for problem solving’ that’s totally something I could do’!

Some resources I’ve found helpful around this topic:

  • Leo Babauta – is an author and expert on the business of habit creation. His blog Zen Habits is really good – and this post in particular on how to form habits, is excellent reading. He’s so good at this stuff, that he sells a course in making changes to your life.
  • – produce short, creative essays for your kindle. Their essay on producing ideas is really good – although, since I purchased it as a PDF, it seems only available in the US, which is a shame.
  • this book is a good read ‘The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg’. Great dissection and analysis of what creates habits, and the power of changing just one of three steps in the habit loop’.