What is creativity?

What is creativity? It’s a great question. Alas there isn’t a simple answer.

The dictionary definition of creativity (and I’m doing a bit of summarising here) is the ability to use skill & imagination to produce new & unusual ideas. That’s technically fine. But so what? Are you truly any clearer on what creativity actually is from that definition? Maybe a little. In fairness though, I could throw loads of other definitions of creativity at you and you might dance a little closer to understanding, but ultimately all of them will be as slippery as the concept itself. They don’t meaningfully get us that much closer to understanding the concept. Much less the essence of it. 

The funny thing is, I’m fairly sure we all instinctively know creativity when we see it. We can even recognise our own sparks of creativity and ingenuity when they happen. Then why do we have such a hard time defining what creativity is, or indeed where those moments of creativity come from? 

The artist John Berger once said: “All creation is in the art of seeing“. It feels like there is a deeper truth in that statement than the dictionary definition. Granted it is a bit more lyrical and creative, but there is a really interesting duality to it. The idea that creative output only truly exists with a broadcaster and a receiver feels accurate. Both need to be tuned to the same wavelength for creation to occur. If that holds true, then creativity itself is the initial signal for broadcast to commence. 

Still a bit too nebulous? Yeah, I know. I told you, there isn’t a simple answer to this. 

Let’s take the basic idea that creativity is rooted in a particular (even atypical) way of seeing the world. In order to facilitate and elicit moments of creativity, we must be open to seeing everything through a different lens. And the subsequent act of creation itself is then a natural direct response to that which you see before you. The combination of these two focal points is the moment where creativity ignites. 

To put it in less metaphorical terms, for me, creativity is about being posed questions that stimulate curiosity and lead down a new path (sometimes many paths) to an interesting answer. Often a very specific answer. That’s just as true for writing a new poem as it is for cracking a business strategy. 

If we can recognise creativity (but have a trickier time defining it), then maybe we are asking the wrong question. Are we actually more interested in questions like – Why do great thinkers think that way? Where do their ideas come from? What sparks those moments of creative combustion? 

Perhaps it is not a definition of creativity we seek, but rather an understanding of what it means to be creative, and, more specifically, how to tap into creative ways of thinking and seeing. The good news is that it can be learned. The reason I know this is because I have learned it, and so can you. The answer lies in practice. Tools of the trade are critical too, of course. But primarily lots of practice.

Look, there is no escaping the fact that there are certain people who are more naturally creative, but it will only get them so far in the long run. Everyone has to sharpen their creative skills through persistent hard work and consistent application. Everyone.

In our creativity survey 58% of respondents believed that creativity was innate, but more interestingly, 63% believed that it could be learned. So, whether creativity is innate or not, for a creative mind to remain sharp we seem to agree that it must be continually developed. Only through constant practice can creativity become our talent.

So I can hear you saying, that’s all well and good but I’m not very creative so I’m not sure there is much to develop. Bullshit, I say. Everyone has a level of creativity, you just have to unlock it and harness it properly. If you can cook, you’re creative. If you can tell a story, you’re creative. If you can build something, you’re creative. If you have the ability to fix something, you are creative. The spark of brilliance in producing a carefully crafted piece of communication, exists in the same sphere of creative magic as a great guitar riff. Now, that said, not everyone is able to transfer those abilities to different settings, but with practice you can develop your own brand of creativity to turn your lens to anything.

Ultimately, creativity is a form of problem solving and that is most certainly something that you can get better at. As mentioned before, it’s all about training yourself to think differently and to bring an atypical lens to any situation, and (perhaps more importantly in a work setting) to challenge the norms and draw out different ways of thinking from those around you.

One of the biggest, most stifling elements of modern workplaces is reverting to traditional, standard ways of doing things. “This is the way we have always done it” is such a fearful, risk averse attitude. If there is an inherent desire to circle back safely to something that has worked before, then you are in an endless loop — because in that paradigm nothing can truly evolve. Because even the things that worked before may not work any more, because everything else around it has moved on. Just look at the endless reboots and sequels to movies we didn’t ask for. In that environment, your role as a creative mind is to disrupt that type of thinking.

In a future post I will share some of the many tips, tricks and techniques that I have learned to stimulate and accelerate creativity, but for now, I encourage you to begin with a simple daily creative practice (even if it is just for 10 minutes). Personally I try to write something new every day. But for you it might be doodling or dancing. It doesn’t matter what it is. Keep your creative mind limber. Nothing will develop your creative abilities more than pushing yourself to consistently create. 

Most importantly though, perhaps don’t ask what creativity is, but ask yourself how you can shift your perspective to see things more creatively.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.