What is Creativity?
On my 26th birthday (in a few days), I'm starting a year long exploration of "creativity." Before deciding to start this project, I had to spend some time thinking about what creativity is. Is it a thought process that can be learned? A kind of mental muscle that can be trained? An innate characteristic that I can only hope to imitate?
As with most things, I believe that the potential for creativity is in each of us and it manifests itself more easily for some. But, with the right training, practice, inspiration - or... something - we can all boost our creative tendencies.
But, what do I really know?
I turned to researchers, practitioners, and other experts who have spent years studying and "living" creativity. Here's what they have to say.
Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.
– Ray Bradbury
Don't you love directives like that; "You simply must do things." It's right up there with "Be better!"
All joking aside, the concept of being self-conscious - or, rather, NOT being self-conscious - runs throughout much of what I've read on creativity. It takes courage to put your product, art, idea - whatever - out into the universe. Since there is an element of "different" or "original" tied to creativity, there is little room for worrying about how others will react and what they will think of you.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, says that creativity doesn't happen in our heads but in the interaction between our imagination and our social context.
Emory University underwent a project to define creativity, asking many of its top professors to define and discuss the concept. Here is one of my favorite responses:
Our imagination is boundless. In a split second we can imagine an incredible number of things. To give form to what is imagined takes great creative powers. That's why I believe creativity is giving form to imagination.
Professor Fereydoon Family, Emory University
Read more responses, here.
Image from Pinterest
I like the above graphic because it introduces the idea of connection as a component of creativity.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, the just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while”
– Steve Jobs
A lot of other people have also written about connection. That creativity is merely seeing new connections between or among things or that creativity is taking something apart and connecting it in a different way.
Often these new connections are inspired by asking a different question. I just started reading InGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, written by Tina Seelig. She starts the book with two questions: 1.) What is the sum of 5 plus 5? 2.) What two numbers add up to 10? The first question, she points out, only has one correct answer, while the second question has infinite answers. The lesson: by reframing a question, issue, project, etc., we can unlock a vast array of different and new - or, creative, as it might be - solutions.
The above are just a handful of musings and quotes on creativity - and I hope to discover and develop more over the next year. But, this quick survey of creativity reveals to me that it is something we - I - can practice, develop, unleash.
What does creativity mean to you?
Julia Andrus Williams
Creative Communications, Graphic Design, and Photography