Creativity is one of the most misunderstood ideas and topics in the world. Most of our minds jump to artists, painters, and really messy work spaces with bags of Doritos scattered across the floor and paint all over the walls. We think about da Vinci and Mozart. We think that it’s a specific gifting or talent that only a select few have.
It’s time to have your mind blown.
Creativity isn’t reserved for artists. It isn’t all about spontaneity and staying up all night. And it’s certainly not reserved for a select few.
Let’s dive in.
What is Creativity?
Creativity is a skill to be learned, refined, and harnessed whether you’re a painter or a janitor. Creativity is the process of generating something out of nothing. It’s about bringing something new into being – whether that’s a mural or a business idea. At its heart, creativity is about ideas and how we develop, understand, and communicate them.
Note that creativity isn’t solely about generating ideas, but also about communicating and bringing them to life. Someone who can come up with great ideas, but not capitalize on them is more imaginative than they are creative.
In addition to being about ideas, creativity is largely about problem solving.
It’s about coming up with brilliant answers to problems in a moment’s notice. The ability to identify a problem and generate a solution is a creative skill as much as it is a leadership skill.
So when you think about creativity, quit thinking about Picasso and staying up for five nights in a row to finish a scultpure. Think about generating ideas, working with ideas, and problem solving.
The Creative Disconnect
Adobe performed a study in 2016 called State of Create. They surveyed over 5,000 adults in 5 countries. The responders included both those who identified as “creatives” and those who didn’t. The study showed:
- Creativity is Valuable: 77% of respondents agreed that being creative is valuable to the economy and 82% found creativity valuable to society
- Creativity Pays: Those who identified as “creatives” are paid 17% more than “non-creatives”
- Creativity is Positive: 88% of respondents said businesses who promote creativity have happier employees
Despite all of that, the study also showed that only 44% of respondents were “living up to their creative potential.” So why the disconnect?
I think this disconnect is a result of a lack of understanding. The stereotype of a “creative” is a painter locked in a closet throwing paint at a canvas. Most people’s mind’s don’t jump the executive meeting or the corporate training session.
So let’s dispel some creative myths.
3 Myths About Creativity
Myth #1: Creativity is only for artists
“Oh I’m not very creative, I work in finance.”
“I’m a manager, I leave the creative thinking to my production team.”
“I’ve just never really understood you ‘creative folk.’”
Creativity is not reserved for the artist and the designer.
If your job requires you to bring something new into being, you are a creative. If you work with ideas, solve problems, or generate solutions, you are a creative. Even if you just simplify complex ideas, you are a creative.
“Creativity is more than being different. Anyone can be different. Making the complex simple, now that is creativity.” – Charles Mingus
Myth #2: Creativity is just a gift
A huge stigma around creativity is that it’s a gift one is born with. It is reserved for the lucky ones who have it in their genes. But as we’ve already discussed, creativity is not a gift, but a skill.
It’s a skill fueled by a process of rituals, routines, and habits. It grows over time.
“Creativity is a habit. And the best creativity is merely a result of good habits.” – Twyla Tharp
Sure, some people are gifted in areas that lend themselves to creative thinking. Creative work may come easier to the naturally curious, or to the open-minded. But it’s not merely a gift, reserved for a small percentage of the world. It’s available to anyone with a brain.
Myth #3: Creativity can’t be learned
In 1960, a man by the name of George Land created a test that would assess the creativity of children between the ages of three and five. Mr. Land gave the same students the same test at the ages of 10 and 15. During this study, he also tested somewhere around 280,000 adults.
Test results amongst 5 year olds: 98%
Test results amongst 10 year olds: 30%
Test results amongst 15 year olds: 12%
Same test given to 280,000 adults: 2%
George Land concluded it’s actually non-creative thinking that we learn over time.
Creativity is a skill that can be learned; it is a process to be managed. When managed well, it produces brilliant ideas at a moment’s notice.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso
Wherever you are in your creative journey, don’t buy into these myths. If you don’t feel particularly gifted, there is hope. You can be more creative than you are now in 5 years. What you need to be weary of isn’t your inability to grow in creativity, but the risk of losing whatever creative thinking you have if you neglect it.
How to Become More Creative
Creativity is the fruit of habits, rituals, and routines. It is the result of consistency. Brilliant ideas, solutions, and designs are rarely random creative spark, but the result of flexing the same muscle daily for years on end.
And if that’s the case, then there’s hope to learn creativity. It’s a skill waiting to be grown and refined. And there are plenty of ways to grow. Here are just a few:
Don’t Just Read a Book
Similar to lots of skills, you can’t just glean some information and become better. It requires action, reflection, and more action. Learning creativity requires you to train and work your mind. You don’t learn it as much as you become it. Bummer right? It would have been nice to just be pointed to a book (however, I do that below if you keep reading).
One of the most important disciplines of a creative is curiosity. Become disciplined in asking questions. Become disciplined in wondering why. This is crucial to growing in creativity. And don’t just ask why, but experiment. We all know that Thomas Edison liked to say that he hadn’t failed before inventing the lightbulb, he “…just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Failure is okay, and what you learn from it may spark more creative ideas than success ever would.
Build Creative Habits
Whatever your craft, refine it. Do it repeatedly. Some of the best writers have a habit of writing 1,000 words a day. Some of the best entrepreneurs spend daily time just coming up with ideas. Some of the best musicians write thousands of songs a year (and only a handful make an album).
Creativity is like a muscle that needs to be worked regularly and consistently. How do people perform well at a moment’s notice? It’s because they’ve done it a million times.
Get Creative People Around You
Everyone needs other people around them to stir them up. Regardless your craft or profession, get both like-minded and not-so-like-minded people around you. These people plant ideas, help you pick through ideas, and hold you accountable to executing on ideas. Set up regular meetings with specific individuals who inspire you. Join meet-ups and clubs specific to your field. I know it’s probably tempting to lock yourself in a closet and go to work for a week straight, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You can’t be creative alone!
Manage Your Time Well
One of the quickest ways to fail as a creative is to burn out. It’s one of the biggest struggles in the world today – not just for those who are creative, but for anyone who does any kind of work. (Even creatives in Greenville, SC struggle with it.)
It’s okay to prioritize rest, and to slow down regularly. As much as creativity is about habits and working, it’s crucial to also create rhythms of rest and rejuvenation. This will keep your passion present and your energy levels high.
Additional Resources on Creativity
This is merely a primer. I think you could read twenty books and barely scratch the surface on creative thinking. Here are a few of my favorite resources:
Best Books on Creativity
Best Articles on Creativity
Some of My Favorite Creative Tools
- The Best Self Co. Journal: a baller journal for focus and productivity
- Streaks: a great app for keeping up with daily habits
- Moleskine Notebook: the classic for jotting down thoughts, it won’t be beat