Creativity has become a popular term that we toss around when things are not going so well for us. In our personal lives, we say we’re just lacking that creative inspiration or that brilliant idea that is keeping us from publishing that book we’ve always dreamt about. At work, employers say that their organizations are not thriving because their employees lack creativity. Generally, when we think about creativity, we think about the ability to spontaneously come up with an original and transformative idea. However, that’s not creativity. That’s dumb luck. Creativity is something that requires a significant amount of time and effort. As Scott Berkun states in his book, to be creative, you must create!
The truth is that we have been fed this faulty perspective on creativity and act as if creativity is about inspiration or having some sort of revelation that allows you to produce something valuable overnight. Or perhaps it is a gene that only famous artists, musicians, or great thinkers possess. Unfortunately, when we think like this, it actually cripples our creativity because it encourages us to wait until we are inspired or have an ‘aha’ moment, and it dissuades us from taking action and putting in the effort required to come up with something creative.
So if this is not creativity, then what is it and how does one become creative?
To provide a more thorough analysis of creativity, I extracted some ideas from Keith Sawyer’s book, Explaining Creativity.
- Creativity should not be viewed as a talent or trait, but instead should be viewed as an action. The root word of creativity is ‘create’ and to be creative, or come up with something creative, you must create something. If you want to be creative, then create.
- Creativity is not random insights that you have, but instead, is mostly conscious hard work. Most creative people usually go through draft and draft and failure after failure until they come up with something valuable. Everyone has ‘aha’ moments, but there’s a lot that needs to happen before and after that moment create something of real value. If you want to be creative, then work hard and don’t be afraid to fail.
- Creativity is more likely to occur when you are an expert in your domain. Many people think that an ‘outsider’ is more likely to come up with a creative idea because they can bring a fresh perspective. However, in reality, an individual that is an expert in their domain is more likely to come up with a creative idea. This is because they have a vast body of knowledge in their domain and can form new patterns and combinations using that knowledge. If you want to be creative, become an expert in your domain.
- Creativity can be collaborative. Most people have this assumption that to be creative, you need to be isolated from the rest of the world and focused on just one thing. While it is true that you’ll need times of isolation to create, collaboration is a great way to learn from others and gain new insights. If you want to be creative, share thoughts with others.
- To become more creative, learn more about your domain, develop a strong work ethic, learn how to select and invest in good ideas as opposed to bad ones, and practice connecting already existing ideas together.
What I have presented is a quick summary of what is creativity and what it is not. In future posts, I will discuss the different stages of the creative process, how we can enhance our personal creativity, and what we can do from an organizational level to increase creative output in the workplace.
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