So You Think You’re Not Creative?

Creative Cogs
Photo by Digital Buggu from Pexels

 

There’s an interesting label I keep seeing thrown about the Interweb. It’s become a sign of membership to an elite group of surpassingly intelligent beings, those who know no boundaries to their skill and extraordinary thought processes. These beings have a style all their own and spend their time adroitly hurling paint at a canvas, dexterously arranging notes into synthesized electronic symphonies, designing iPhone covers with an expert flick of the cursor, or drizzling poetic words of great profundity onto a parchment in flawless calligraphy.

“But who are these people?” you ask, “What is this remarkable label of which you speak?”

“‘A creative’”, I reply, wiping a drop of artisanal espresso from my lip, “each one of these incomparables is called ‘a creative’.”

I object to this. I realize I object to a lot of things, but this one is serious. It makes people feel inadequate, deficient in those special brain cells or magic genes that harbour the elusive creative impulse. They feel they must show outstanding artistic skill to achieve this level of success.

And that just isn’t true.

I can prove it.

First of all, what is the definition of creativity? Google says, ‘the use of imagination or original ideas to create something’. Have you ever used your imagination? Of course you have! Like that time you thought about how you could win Survivor, or when you’d just finished off that kilogram of ribs and imagined you knew how a pregnant elephant felt.

What about creating something out of an idea you had or a concept you imagined? Well, those dance moves you thought made you look cool in high school certainly didn’t come about by accident. Neither did that haircut.

See, you’ve already had plenty of ideas. Being creative doesn’t mean they all have to be good.

Creative Awkward Dancing
Well, this is awkward.

Photo by Matt Mechtley on flickr.com

 

Secondly, consider the words of Alex Osborn, the man credited with inventing brainstorming (surely a sign of an imaginative mind):

“Creativity is now something we can turn on and off like a faucet.” Click To Tweet

Now, why would he say that? Clearly because he was American, and did not use good English words like ‘tap’. But that is not the point. The point is every single person in the whole entire world has the capacity to be creative.

So, why aren’t they?

Sadly, education has stifled many a creative instinct with treacherous teachings.

‘Stop playing around and concentrate!’

‘That’s not the right answer.’

‘You’re not being logical.’

‘Get your head out of the clouds.’

 

When creative thinking dies its final death
We all think exactly the same way now!

Photo by Vu Hoang on flickr.com

<Sigh>

Our poor little grey cells get smooshed into the mold of ‘correct’ thinking, rather than frolicking gaily across the fields of ‘what if?’

In his book, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative (naturally, I couldn’t resist a book with a title like that), Roger von Oech describes these ‘mental locks’ that restrain creative thinking. Fortunately, he also explains how to open them. You just need to put aside everything you’ve ever been taught about ‘the right way to think’ and try on some new approaches. Here is a selection of my favourites:

‘The Right Answer’

Oh! Those heady school days when essays were rejected and multiple-choice quizzes were decorated with a large red ‘F’ because (surprise, surprise) we did not submit the ‘right’ answer. The result? We have become like Pavlov’s dog. A question rings out and we immediately begin drooling for that one, correct solution.

Except that’s not how questions work. Questions usually open the door to many possible answers, solutions, ideas, concepts, and other things drawn in thought bubbles. Searching for a single, all-encompassing answer is a surefire way to throttle creative thought. We should be asking, ‘What are the answers (plural)?’ or ‘What are the possibilities?’ or ‘What else could it be?’

What if? Click To Tweet

As Nobel Prize-winning Chemist Linus Pauling said, “The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.” 

 

‘That’s Not Logical’/ ‘Be Practical’

It’s true I’m a big fan of logical thinking. I often complain about the nonsensical thought patterns that resulted in abominations like squirt-on cheese, Banting, and Donald Trump. But I have to admit that these original ideas could only result from the same imaginative processes that also gave us Instagram, toasters, and cat videos. So, I can’t really complain.

And that’s why we have to move away from ‘hard’ or ‘black and white’ thinking if we want to revive our idea machines. Stop being precise, exact, or specific. Be ridiculous, impractical, illogical, and directionless. Be a kid again and ask ‘why?’ and ‘why not?’

Why can’t I make greeting cards out of nail clippings?

Why not wear a batman costume to work?

Why shouldn’t I pluck my eyebrows into the silhouette of Mount Rushmore?

When you throw away logic and practicality, the possibilities are endless.

 

‘To Err Is Wrong’

Damn you, examination devisers. Damn you.

We’re programmed to view failure as the opposite of success, but this is contrary to everything that is natural and good. How many babies start walking without falling again and again? How many scientists, for that matter, invented something fantastic right off the bat? Many great inventions were made by mistake, such as the microwave oven, penicillin, potato chips, and X-Ray images.

Failure IS an option. Click To Tweet

Say it with me. Then write it on a sticky or Post-it Note (the result of chemist Dr Spencer Silver’s failure to invent a super-strong adhesive and Art Fry’s attempt to use up all the low-tack adhesive still hanging around the office nearly 10 years later) and stick it on the wall above your bed. Then get some spray-paint and go graffiti it somewhere imaginative, like the side of an ambulance.

How do you get yourself out of the rut of fearing failure? Take the advice of James Joyce (an author so creative, no one can understand a single thing he wrote), ‘A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.’ So, when something goes wrong, instead of saying, ‘Oh no, I’ve failed!’, rather ask, ‘Where could this take me?’ or ‘Could this be a stepping stone to something else?’’

 

‘Play Is Frivolous’/ ‘Do not Be Foolish’

This one is just sad. Kids have so much fun being silly. Why is this considered so terrible as an adult? Studies show that playing can help you be more creative[1]. Jean Piaget, a psychologist who studied how the mind develops, is quoted as saying, ‘Play is the answer to the question, “How does anything new come about?”’

How can you be more playful? Oh, let me count the ways:

  • Get outside
  • Play a game
  • Spend time with a funny person (like us hilarious folks here at Survivor Bunny)
  • Make something out of playdough
  • Read Survivor Bunny
  • Solve a puzzle
  • Be curious as a child
  • Draw or paint
  • Look at colours or three-dimensional art (like you find on Survivor Bunny)
  • Find the ridiculous in everyday things
  • Plan a harmless prank
  • Dress up like Survivor Bunny
  • Make a pun or joke
  • Think of silly names for your friends or household appliances (they’ll love you for it)
  • Go swimming
  • Follow Survivor Bunny on Social Media
  • Approach each day with a sense of humour and a touch of mischief. Reading Survivor Bunny can help with this.
Creative face painting
Slap paint on your face! For fun!

Photo by Pixabay.com

To sum up, I shall again quote Mr Brainstorming:

“Creativity…is an experience and expression in our lives that must be nurtured. This nurturing process means that creativity is at once a skill, an art, and a lifestyle.” Click To Tweet

To be creative, you need to practice being creative. There are loads of techniques that can help you do this, but I’ll cover them in a future post. In the meantime, remember that there is a little dormant seed of creative possibility hidden away in the depths of your mind, waiting for the tiniest sliver of light to shine through the ajar door of a slowly opening mental lock.

In the creative world, there is nothing you cannot do. 

In the creative world, there is nothing you cannot do Click To Tweet

[1] If you feel like testing my honesty, check out this 2010 study by researchers Paul Howard-Jones, Jayne Taylor, and Lesley Sutton. They found that students who were given time for play before going on to a structured creative task showed a significant increase in creativity and use of colours in the creative task. 

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10 Comments

  1. Heather Jacobs

    Literally ANYONE can draw too. If you can write your name, you can be taught to draw (ie meaningful marks on a surface). It is not a matter of born talent, but hard work. Some of us just have to gym harder. That’s all. Education system gets me fuming….

    • You’re absolutely right. Have you read ‘Drawing on the right side of the brain’ by Betty Edwards? I was certain I had no talent for drawing or art but gave the first few exercises in her book a go. Couldn’t believe the results! Definitely convinced me anyone can learn to draw.

      P.S. Feel free to share your artwork with us 😉 Or if you feel like writing a guest post on your drawing journey (or any topic you like), we’ll be happy to feature it.

  2. Creativity is addictive. When I wake up a little earlier than usual, sometimes I feel what is like champagne bubbles in my mind. The ideas come to life, and start blossoming. Fast. The more I think about them, the more new tangential ideas pops out. More bubbles. I must write them down before they fly away – so now my tablet seats by my side every night.

    The creations cannot be more diverse: recipes, oil canvases, photography, music lyrics, poems, home decoration… It’s amazing how ideas love a fresh brain and the absence of boundaries! Right now I am busy building mobile apps inside my mind (at least until the day we will be making them for real). The UX keeps coming, one button here, a slider there, the colour gradients, the dashboard, until the whole screen is complete! There is no time constrains, no technology gaps. In the ideas world, you can do just about anything! And this feels fantastic!

    Besides playing, I found out reading is and amazing fuel to creativity. Just read about a wide variety of subjects, and your brain will thank you. Seriously, this post is so right when it says no one needs to be a genius to put creativity in action – I’m positive I’m quite far from being one – but I cannot imagine life without champagne!

    • I have witnessed your idea factory, Pat 😉 It never sleeps! I have also found I have more ideas in the morning and have started ‘brain dumping’ first thing. It really helps. I do it at night too if my brain is too busy to fall asleep.

      P.S. Hope you will share some of your creative projects with us soon! Or maybe you’d like to write a guest post on your topic of choice?

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