How to be more creative
[This post is part of a series on creativity. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
So you want to be more creative? What do you do?
Just about the worst thing you can do is to believe people have a certain amount of creativity and that’s their lot in life — that Mozart was off the charts, you’re somewhere less, and that’s that. That belief is counterproductive for two reasons: evidence implies otherwise and it demotivates you from improving your life.
Creating something is like solving a problem. The problem may be a necessity solved by an invention, an empty canvas solved by painting on it in a way a buyer would pay for it, an empty musical score solved by composing a piece in a way a conductor would choose to play it, an empty dinner table solved by putting ingredients together into a meal, or whatever.
I suggest that your primary goal in each case where you think creativity would help is always a successful solution to the problem. Whether someone views the solution as creative or not is less important. If your sink is clogged, call a plumber, not an artist, no matter how much the artist works with pipes.
If the solutions you come up with tend to be solutions anyone would come up with — your inventions are never new, your paintings are ordinary, your music is lifeless, or whatever — people won’t view you as creative. The inventions, painting, music, and such may get the job done, sell, or whatever, but people may not see you as creative.
If your solutions tend to be wild, crazy, and out of left field — your inventions recall Rube Goldberg or your paintings or music are unrelated to any tradition — people may see you as more eccentric than creative.
People will see you as creative to the extent your ideas are between those extremes. You solve problems others can’t the same way anyone does — be in a state where you’ve already solved many problems before and can apply those solutions in new ways. Or stick with it after others give up.
That means people will view you as more creative the more experience you have, the more you persist in finding solutions when others give up, and the more you know about your field.
Repeating the main points here, to get others to view you as more creative
- View being creative as problem solving
- Have as a goal solving problems effectively more than solving them creatively
- Solve many problems, persist when stuck, and learn about related problems
Over time you will inevitably develop systems that work for you and increasingly apply the same abstract solutions in different situations. You will feel you’re doing easy work and people will call you creative.
Everything else is secondary. The next thing to do is learn general problem-solving techniques that work across all disciplines. Jacob’s book describes that.
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