A definition of creativity

Nobody really knows what “creativity” is. Every year thousands of people take a pilgrimage to find out. This involves flying to Cannes, snorting cocaine, and having sex with smokers.

Creativity is defined as the phenomenon of creating something new and valuable. A new thing (a product, solution, artwork, literary work, joke, etc.) that has some kind of value to someone. Easy enough to grasp, right?

Consider on of the most important inventions ever – the lightbulb, invented by Thomas Edison. A new and completely invaluable product to everyone in modern society. It’s hard to argue that Edison wasn’t creative, since he also came up with a little thing called the phonograph not to mention the movie camera. Now, imagine a guy coming up with all of Edison’s inventions before him. Would the fact that he wasn’t first, even though he came up with the idea himself, make Edison not creative? Well, if Edison actually stole the ideas, his creativity might have been doubted. But otherwise we can all agree that he was indeed very creative. (Some argue that he actually did steal a lot of stuff from Nikola Tesla, but that’s the topic for a different article.) The point I am trying to make is that there might be a problem with the very definition of creativity.

“Novel” is a binary attribute. Something either is or isn’t new. And both “novel” and “valuable” are subjective to the beholder. If creativity is evaluated against these two criteria, then that would make creativity lie totally in the eyes of the beholder. Thus, depending on from who’s point of view you’re looking, a person can be super creative or not creative at all.

I think the problem is that people are trying to understand, in a linear way, what creativity is. We naturally assume that there is some secret process behind creativity because we have been taught all our life to think linearly, moving forward by sequential steps justifying each step. To do this successfully we need to move in patterns that we have successfully used before, making it more difficult to come up with fresh and invigorating ideas.

This way of looking at creativity is a problem as it results in many thinking that they can’t be creative. That it is something that you have to be born with. The truth though is that, just like maths, everybody can, at the least, get better at it – by practicing.

So, is this definition of creativity doing more damage than good? Do we need a definition of creativity? Many argue that we don’t need a definition of art, because the sole purpose of such a definition would be to be able to say that something isn’t art. An interesting point of view. Then again, some argue that a definition is exactly what some people need in order to be successful and to be able to justify their work as more than just doping around (which is what a lot of people think creatives do and what many creatives actually do…) A definition also gives the creators a certain status. This is of major importance to agencies who are trying to charge their clients for creativity – something that apparently is hard to put your finger on.

I think we all can agree that creativity oftentimes is interesting. Something that tickles our imagination. A spark to light our own creative fire. You see, creativity spreads just like fire. So! If you feel like pouring some gasoline over your creative fire and kickstart a new, and hopefully a little more interesting, creative streak, here’s what I suggest that you do.

So…

I suggest we start thinking about creativity in a new way. The idea of an extra-ordinary creative thinking processes is part of ‘the Genius myth.’ I am convinced that everyone has the ability to learn how to be creative, and this does not mean I believe in some single process or formula for creativity to rule them all, but that it is possible to learn the tools that are helpful in such processes. A lot of schools, at least in western society, only teach logics and linear thinking and never present students with complimentary ways to problem-solving. No wonder “creative souls” have a hard time in there to later excel in work life.

I have a theory. A theory about what makes for a good mindset to have. It’s Humor and Contrast. I believe contrast is the key to both being funny and having fun. I also believe that humor and the unexpected good that can come out of mixing two opposites, often are key factors behind successful creativity. To cultivate this kind of thinking, which I believe will make it easier to be more creative, you only need to stop doing what you have always been doing.

Try to experience as much as you can and with as much variation as possible. Try to experience the unexpected and don’t get stuck in old habits. Always say “yes”, or at least more often than you say “no”. It’s better to live and forget than to live in regret… Or thereabout! Whatever you think, think the opposite! Many of the world’s most creative inventions like the general theory of relativity by Einstein, and the Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso, were thought up somehow using opposite thinking.

Basically, just do more! Here is a good finishing quote from Russel Davies:

Start windsurfing or tap dancing or decide to visit every seaside pier still standing in Britain. Take a photo every day. Be interested in other people. Strike up conversations, eavesdrop in cafes, think about why people have arrived at certain opinions.

If you somehow feel the need to have a couple of processes to back up or boost your creative thinking, here’s a rather exhaustive list of creative tools to help you on your way. But remember, don’t kill creativity!