Creativity is perhaps the greatest power we humans possess. Our ability to discover and assemble order, beauty and meaning from ordinary and ignoble things is perhaps humanity's most definitive characteristic.
But, if I'm honest, I also hate that word, or more precisely the way it is misunderstood and poorly wielded by many, if not most of us.
How we understand a concept like creativity shapes how we use it. How we think about it shapes our understanding of its purpose and possibilities. How we speak about it affects the way others understand it. Much of the misunderstanding and misuse of the word is nuanced. But those subtle slights, day in and day out wear this grand concept to a stub — it’s become a blunt word.
I meet genuinely creative people every day who believe themselves to be non-creative, because they’ve been told so. Conversely I meet “creatives” every day who really struggle to actually create — you know make things.
Creativity isn’t Decoration
Dictionary.com defines creativity as “Having the quality or power of creating,” a further definition is “originative; productive.” The Wikipedia entry goes further to add that creativity results in the creation of something of value.
True creativity creates, it doesn’t decorate.
The more creative someone is — by the very definition of the word — the higher their potential *should be* to create. There’s a certain objectivity to this that find missing from the common understanding of creativity. “Creatives” are often enough the worst at getting shit done, stumbling over the need for “inspiration” crafting meaningless and intrinsically valueless things to look pretty. Decorating.
There are more people being creative every day than we realise or give credit to. Creating things. What they do isn’t necessarily pretty, but it’s important. It adds value. It creates, because it’s creative.
The need to consume inspiration in order to create is a modern one. For a large portion of Western Culture’s existence, creation was understood as a process of discovering both existing and new connections. Creating was unearthing potential or truth that was always there.
An ancient generation of creatives, like Plato understood creativity in more empirical terms than our current age. Art was an extension of science and philosophy.
I’m not saying it was completely right, but i do find it interesting that this understanding of creativity is completely lost to us.
The search for inspiration in order to produce creates an aura of mystery around the creative process. It supports a massive market of TED’s and 99U’s — all of these incredible resources — but none of them able to make you make more through consumption alone.
The more I read about people who are genuinely, creative — ie: people who create frequently, predictably outputs of the highest quantative and qualitative value — the more it becomes apparent that being creatively prolific requires hours, days, years of focus and discipline.
As Pablo Picasso once said, inspiration must find you working.
Creativity Isn’t Novelty
There is a difference, and although subtle, confusing novelty with creativity undermines the real potential of creativity. At its best, Novelty has the ability to amuse, capture our attention, appeal to our desire for “new things.”
Creativity can be novel, and vice versa. But equating the “creative value” of anything to its novelty is wrong.
Be careful not to deride someone’s creative contributions simply because they’re not “first ever” or have "been done". An electric car isn’t a novel idea. But Tesla is an incredibly creative and (dare we say) novel company.
Creativity Isn’t An Industry
We denigrate creativity through narrow associations. What Exactly is the creative industry anyway? One where grown people draw? Making things that are pretty?
What’s a non-creative industry?
People who disrupt and shape industries outside of the “creative industry” are creative. Even if they can’t draw for shit. Or work photoshop, or write children’s books.
So many people I know in corporate environments believe the lie that they aren’t creative, that there’s an industry out there that is. That this industry needs to be consulted in order to do creative things.
Make your industry creative. Go and create something that’s of value. Do it often. I’m simplifying it here, but not enough people just go and make.
Creativity Isn’t A Look
Stop giving people bonus creative credits because they wear ripped jeans, ironic Hawaiian T-shirts with Aviators and hand-decorated Converse “One Stars.”
Sticking a calculator and prune juice in my front shirt pocket doesn’t make me more numerically savvy when it comes to filing tax returns.
You don't wear creativity, you work it.
Creative Isn’t a Layout
This one is for you marketing and advertising execs. When you call the output of whatever your “creative team” has been working on “The Creative” you’re sucker punching yourselves.
A printed layout isn’t — by entitlement — any more creative than the brief you printed out. Stop perpetuating the stereotype that creativity is some kind of “black box” magical process that only a select few have the power to deliver. Start the creative process when you write briefs, when you create strategy. Anything can be creative.
I'm not, for second suggesting that all made things are equal. I'm not either suggesting that all who create are, do so with equal measure. But maybe, just maybe, our often narrow perception of creativity is what holds many of us back from being truly creative.