Your understanding of creativity holds you back from creating

February 20, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Creativity, Education

If you accept mainstream ideas of creativity, then your understanding of creativity is holding you back from creating things and being creative. Mainstream views on creativity sell books, movies, magazines, and so forth. They sell over-romanticized myths that, while entertaining, undermine your ability to create things and solve problems.

Let’s start with two contradictions to lay bare the counterproductivity in mainstream views.

First, mainstream views value creative, original, so-called outside-the-box thinking, but when push comes to shove, we don’t value it in practice. To illustrate, say you have a problem you don’t know how to solve. You need someone else to create a solution. It could be anything — a leaky sink, a managerial issue at work, what to make for dinner, a musical score you want to write. You ask two people for help. One says

I have the most amazing idea. No one has ever thought of it before. Totally outside the box. Completely original. It will blow your mind.

The other says,

I’m experienced in this area. I’ve solved exactly this problem a hundred times before. The solution I use has worked every single time. It’s tried and true.

Mainstream views romanticize the first one, but when the solution matters, you choose the second one. That’s why you hire experienced people for high-level jobs and not school children. That’s why people with experience are always compensated better than people without it: they know what has worked before and the implement it.

Second, borrowing from Janson’s History of Art, consider Manet‘s Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe:
manet.dejeuner-sur-herbe.jpgIt’s widely recognized as one of the great works of western art, I believe safe to call creative. Here’s what’s interesting. The composition seems to have been strongly influenced by this detail from Marcantonio Raimondi‘s engraving The Judgement of Paris (c. 1515) after a drawing by Raphael.

judgement of paris.jpg
Someone did their homework and found this detail from a third century relief on a Roman sarcophagus in a Villa of the Medici family in Rome. Isn’t it amazing to find out the tradition from which Manet’s piece derives? Don’t you feel that belonging to that tradition contributes to the value of Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe?

river gods.jpgA widespread reaction to finding out the inspirations or traditions from which a work derived is to be more interested in the work. But doesn’t a work being derived make it less creative?

I’m not sure if others react the same way, but these two examples — that in practive we value experience over originality and derivation from tradition when we learn about it — seem to me to highlight that mainstream views on creativity misunderstand how we treat it. That these misunderstandings result in people being less creative than they could be isn’t obvious, but I’ll come back to creativity, myths about it, and how to be more creative many times.

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2 responses on “Your understanding of creativity holds you back from creating

  1. Pingback: » Why suggesting to think outside the box hurts you Joshua Spodek

  2. Pingback: » What makes people see something as creative Joshua Spodek

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