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Simplifying Creativity: What Creativity Isn't?

Posted by Jenna Baskin on 20/06/2016
Jenna Baskin
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Creative people are annoying. We envy them, their carefree attitude, their capacity to just make stuff up. And not bad stuff but good stuff. Stuff we watch. Stuff we read.

Creative people hold this position that most of us acknowledge we won't hold. We've decided these people have some ability tantamount to a superpower.

But if we really think about it, we know this isn't at all how it works. Creativity is a lot of things, but a superpower surely isn't one of them. So, what is creative behaviour?

Table of Contents

  1. Creativity isn’t written in your genes
  2. Creativity isn't something that strikes you
  3. Creativity isn't it's own thing
  4. Creativity isn't a waste of money
  5. Creativity isn't just one thing
  6. Creativity isn't unstructured chaos
  7. Creativity isn't about fame or fortune
  8. Creativity isn't invincible

Let’s get one thing out of the way real quick. Put out of your head everything you normally think of when you hear the word “creativity”. Forget students in berets running solely on espressos, clogging up your favourite coffee shop. Forget translucent glasses on the face of an architect bent over a drafting table lit by sun coming through French windows. Forget the approach your high-school English teacher took to creative writing which started with everyone lying down and whale songs played from a cheap Sony boombox in the corner. Forget all that.

Do me a favour: just look at the word.

Creativity - noun

Creative - adjective

Create - verb

The only prerequisite to creativity is that you create. Even if it’s been elevated and inflated on the hot air of those that have sought to hijack the word, “creativity” is just the capacity to create: to leave something standing where there was nothing before. Honestly, it’s probably one of the most unifying features of humanity generally. From tools made by smashing stones together to the man-made islands of Dubai, if humans do anything at all, we make stuff. And you’re not any different.

Buying into the myth that creativity is some virtue ordained by divinity is selling yourself short.

Changing how you think about this word, and frankly about yourself, can take some time though. Before you can really know what does creative mean, you have to know what it most certainly isn’t.


Creativity isn’t written in your genes

We're all born as curious children, incessantly annoying our parents with an endless "Why?". It's our upbringing that either cultures that curiosity into a creative impulse or stifles it. Creativity, then, isn't something we're born with but something we learn.

The second you think creativity is something a person is born with is the same second you've given yourself an excuse not to create.

And just like most things, they can be learnt at any age. Sure, like language, you have an advantage as a child, but you've all the tools required to create, to be creative. If you want to believe that creativity is gifted to a privileged few at birth, you also have to believe that the kind of person someone can be is locked in from before they've got a full head of hair.

The second you think creativity is something a person is born with is the same second you've given yourself an excuse not to create.


Creativity isn't something that strikes you

I don't remember the last time I found myself creating something without realising it. Probably because it's never happened. I've never just found myself with a pencil in hand and a sketch half complete before me. Creativity isn't something that happens to a person but something that person does. That creativity should be a bolt from Zeus arcing down your spine is about as mythical as the big guy himself (Zeus that is). Creativity isn't a mood you need to feel before you create something.


Creativity is creating.

Inspiration strikes. Insight is discovered. Creativity is just creating.

The best time to be creative is whatever time you're prepared to devote, the best state of mind is whatever state of mind you're in when you start. Thinking creating happens in some special space at some special time when you get a special feeling is the first step in not creating anything.


Creativity isn't it's own thing

It's easy to be sucked into the thinking that creativity ought to be some rarified practice, incompatible with the work we do every day. Creativity is incompatible with business, one might be deceived into thinking.

But a business without creativity has little chance of surviving. A business needs to have people that are capable of creating, capable of setting a product apart, of streamlining internal communication, of establishing systems that allow a business to be more nimble and more innovative.

By definition, every business starts with an act of creation. The business can become a sea of grey walls, grey suits, and grey hair if that first act is forgotten. If you see creativity as something done by hipsters with too much time on their hands and not enough soap. If you see creativity to be as valuable as snake oil. Basically, if you see creativity as all the things that creativity just isn't.


Creativity isn't a waste of money

…But you need to know what you're buying.

I can guess that you're a fan of movies. It's kind of hard not to be. Movies as an artform perfectly capture the balance that must exist between creativity and finance. We understand movies to be art, to be capable of moving the cultural needle, of saying something. But we also know another Adam Sandler movie is going to be a fun enough way to spend a Friday night in behind a pizza box open on your lap.

Movies have to reach an audience if they're to be successful. Unlike other art, they literally depend on ticket sales of individuals to make money. And they need to sell a lot of tickets because modern movie productions are often well into the hundreds of millions.

Think for a second if money takes precedence, if creativity is seen as a waste of money. You end up with commercials, with bad attempts at viral videos by tone-deaf brands on Instagram.

From a business perspective, creativity, and time to create, is a legitimate investment.

But if you let creativity go unchecked in an organisation, you end up with increasingly abstracted art, often as unapproachable as the contents of a gallery of contemporary art.

From a business perspective, creativity, and time to create, is a legitimate investment.


Creativity isn't just one thing

I hope by now you have more that a little scepticism for the preconceptions we hold as a society about creativity. It shouldn't need saying then that creativity doesn't always look the same. Those pictures of the inebriated artist, or the reclusive writer are nice pictures for books but really don't look anything like how people actually create.

More than anything, believing in the truth of these images only perpetuates a thinking that you fundamentally need to change in order to create. This just isn't a thing.

Moreover, this fact, that creativity can look a bunch of different ways, is actually extremely liberating. There is no one right way to create, basically. Sure, you can employ good practices, but a kid with a crayon is creating as much as the trained artist with a charcoal pencil. Because there's no one right way, there's no perfect way, no special recipe of process that involves as much spiritualism as discipline as repressed childhood memories bubbling up through "expression". If there is one thing that unifies creative approaches, it was best summarised by Nike: Just Do It.

Because, you know what? You can't fail. If you're creating, you only fail when you stop. If you're doing it, you're winning.


Creativity isn't unstructured chaos

One of the scariest things about creating something from nothing is the first step: that nothing. For writers it's known as "the tyranny of the blank page" and the formlessness can stop even seasoned creators in their tracks.

Sometimes to create you really just have to be okay without structure or form, with that blank page. But in most cases, creating within a structure (or against limitations) can lead to better results.

Whether you find structure in the time dedicated to creativity, a hour in the morning before your highly regimented job, or you set up structure within the creative task itself, you can free up your mind to forget about the nothingness and get down to work. Because, really, in most cases creativity will necessarily function inside a structure, be that as basic as time spent creating or budget to execute your creation.


Creativity isn't about fame or fortune

Did you create something? Yes or no. That's the only way to measure creativity. If you want to be a little more specific: did you create what you set out to create?

Just because someone is more famous or has made more money in a "creative" field doesn't mean they're any more creative than you. All you can measure yourself against is yourself. I'll ask you again, as you should ask yourself: did you create what you set out to create?

Did you create something? Yes or no. That's the only way to measure creativity.

Metrics of finance, or of notoriety can be useful after, to judge return on creative investment. But when you're creating, that doesn't matter. And your capacity to accrue either through creativity isn't at all important. Creativity is creating. Simple.


Creativity isn't invincible

A lot of this has been written in the interest of tearing up a few pretty pictures we often like to hang in envious celebration of "creative" people. I want to say that creativity isn't some do-not-disturb dainty feature gifted to a select few, but really just a way to talk about the action of creating. Remember:

Creativity - noun

Creative - adjective

Create - verb

That doesn't mean creativity is invincible, however. The act of creating is simple, can be done whenever, wherever (as Shakira might sing). But the desire to act can be ruined, silenced, locked away. It's this desire you can't afford to lose.

This article was influenced in no small part by Jon Westenberg and his piece The 10 Ways You're Wrong About Creativity Could Destroy You. You can find it here.

Topics: Article, creativity, general, MCI Live, mci staff, self-improvement

By Jenna Baskin

Jenna Baskin is the CEO of MCI and has over 11 years’ experience in the training and education space. She was responsible for the creation of the MCI's online consumer division, the MCI Institute, and the transition of the organisation into the digital learning landscape. This includes platform partnerships across North America, unique content development, and the introduction of virtual reality learning methodologies.