I’ve always considered myself a creative individual. Growing up, I was an only child until I was 7, so I spent a lot of time playing with imaginary friends, scaling castle walls of my bunk bed, and doing Wong Fei-Hung kungfu with my mom’s broom handle in the backyard.
I’m not sure what it was exactly that sparked my curiosity to debunk some of the most common myths of creativity this week. Perhaps it’s how most people always blindly assume that they are ‘not creative,’ and therefore don’t think they do any tasks that require creativity. On the contrary, I firmly believe that everything in your life no matter what you do requires some degree of creativity. Just like everything in your life requires some degree of sales. I’m not saying that everyone can create Monet’s lilies, but to be creative is actually easier than you think.
Myth 1: I’m not Creative
Creativity, people always think is talent stored in a chromosome, with a label neatly by your parents, teachers, and anyone else instrumental in your childhood. You either have it or you don’t. My opinion is that if it’s a chromosome, everyone has it within them, in different areas. Of course, you have the folks who are seemingly good at everything they lay their hands on. In any case, I would argue that there are couple pre-requisites that need to exist before you can see the sparks fly with a wave of your creativity wand.
If you are interested in something, even if you don’t know any much about the subject matter, you’ll likely exercise your past experience from other subject matters. You’ll automatically apply what you already know to the arena for which you have passion. It’s like the cross-pollination of ideas from an outside perspective. This to me, is a very practical application of creativity. Some of the most coolest inventions on our planet are the result of this concept:
- Richard Jones, a naval engineer, was designing a power monitor on battleships. One of the tension springs fell to the ground. It bounced around without stop. Hence, the Slinky was invented. (If that isn’t earth-shattering, I don’tknow what is…!)
- John Pemberton, a pharmacist concocted a ‘French Wine Coca,’ which was made of wine, sugary syrup and coca extract. He was marketing it as a remedy for headaches. Later on, when alcahol was banned in Atlanta, so he substituted carbonated water, which made a ‘brain tonic’ affectionately known as Coca Cola.
- John Hopps was an electrical engineer working on radio frequency to heat up the body to prevent hypothermia. Turns out, as he discovered, hearts could be re-started by the same technology if they stopped beating. Hence the pace-maker concept was born.
Related: What it Takes to be Don Cheadle
Chances are if you look a little deeper within yourself to what you truly interested in, regardless of what you love doing, chances are, you are likely creative in that same area as well. Who knows, maybe you accidentally invent something that quantum leaps the progress of humanity.
My 4yrd old enjoys watching Paw Patrol, which is a kids TV show about a team of dogs, led by a teenage boy, Riley. Each dog has a different discipline: law enforcement, aerospace, fire-fighting…you get the picture. In every episode, they band together and help save the day around Adventure Bay. One of the dogs, Rocky (the green one), drives a recycling truck. Anytime they need to find something to solve a problem in heartbeat, Rocky’s the dog to do it. “Don’t lose it, re-use it,” he says. The point of all of this, is that he is always able to use something completely unrelated to the problem at hand, and fashion it into a solution to save the day: a re-purposed sail to patch a broken hot air balloon, an old surf board as a slide… you get the picture.
Like Rocky, resourcefulness is key to exercising your creativity muscle. There is so much information at our fingertips, being resourceful has never been easier. All we have to do is let our minds wander to brainstorm solutions without judgment. Critiquing your ideas prematurely is the best way to kill off creativity. Just let it flow. You’re right. Most of them will be ridiculous. That’s ok. As A.L.Williams said, “You gotta go through a lot of duds to find the studs.”
Myth 2: The Overnight Success
Wrong. So wrong. In 2013, Entrepreneur published an article about the myths of creativity. The first one was the idea of the Eureka Theory. Hollywood has done a great job in glamourizing and turning the creative process into the overnight success. The reality is that this seldom, if ever, happens. Creativity is demonstrated over countless iterations of versions that sucked over long periods before the winner was found. That’s good news for you. That means when you discover that you haven’t had any epiphanies overnight on finding the creative solution to your problem, no worries. It’s normal. Keep on, keeping on.
Ship before Perfection
I was listening to a podcast where Nathan Chan, Editor-in-Chief of Foundr magazine, once said ” If you’re not embarrassed by your first product, you’ve shipped too late.”
Here’s the thing, though. It’s one thing to acknowledge that the winner doesn’t happen overnight. It’s another thing to get into a perpetual iterative cycle where it’s not quite right yet. Look, when you have a working prototype, test it. Ship it. Revise it. Test it. Ship it. You’re never committed to the one version. Don’t get me wrong. It’s gotta be good. No. It’s gotta be great. Shipping a crap product, delivering a crap project, publishing a crap white paper is still going to be crap. And yea, you should be embarrassed by it. But if you’re waiting for perfection to ship, you’ll never ship!
This scenario applies to product creation and bringing it to market. I’m sure you’re familiar with the affectionate bugginess every new version of Windows has. This is a prime example of bringing a product to market before perfection. What does Windows do? They release bug fixes. They release patches. They release new and improved versions. It’s not just Windows. Every company does this: Oracle, Apple, Toyota, Ford, you name it. The key though is that they keep making it better. They keep closing the gaps. So it’s important to get it right. Get it right as much as you can. After that, you gotta throw it out there, and say.. I’ve done my best.
Myth 3: Creativity is Best on a Blank Slate
Close your eyes. No. Don’t. Then you can’t continue reading. Keep them open. Think of the most optimal environment in which you can unleash the wildness of your creativity. You’re likely thinking of an open field, sun shining, slight breeze, zero obstacles, where you can run freely, letting your imagination go wild. (Insert “Age of Aquarius” song here.) Contrary to this somewhat humorous picture, that for some reason makes me think of the 40 Year Old Virgin, creativity thrives on constraints. Recall the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention.” This very phrase implies that there was a set of constraints applied to a certain situation, be it, limited funding for a project, or folks who were on the project who worked in various geographic locations. We then see innovative solutions like using a chat tool to bridge the geographic gap. We see creative ways to possibly merge two project phases together to save on funding.
It’s easy to create a constrained environment. Everything is constrained! This is again good news for you. It means that you are constantly immersed in an arena, primed for creativity. How do you work that creativity muscle?
Myth 4: Focusing on the Problem
If I may get a little deep here. When you’re faced with a problem, the worst thing you can do is focus on the problem. This is what most people and organizations do, though. The tendency is to look at the problem six ways from Sunday, analyze the crap out of it and brainstorm potential alternatives that would address it. That is a sure fire way to perpetuate the problem. As Albert Einstein so eloquently put it, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” There are many ways to interpret this. My interpretation is that if you keep focusing on the problem, all you get is more problem. Instead, what we need to do is focus on the solution. Forget about the problem. What is it that you would like to have happen? Taking a leaf from Stephen Covey, begin with the end in mind. If you’ve ever read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you’ll know that his context was goal setting, as opposed to problem-solving. But it completely applies here. When you focus on the end game, what you would like to have ideally, the constraints are merely road bumps in which you need to navigate. They are no longer insurmountable walls that need to be scaled somehow.
Rise Above it All
A while ago, my friend Perry Lai (TransformYourKid.com) interviewed me for his podcast. The episode is called “How You Too can Help Your Child Think Like an Entrepreneur” You can find it at the bottom of this post. We spoke at length about the language in which we use to teach our children to think a certain way. Here’s the point: Instead of problem-solving, what about teaching solution-seeking? When we say solution seeking, it assumes that there is a solution out there. We just have to find it. This is a prime way that we then rise above the problem, and find that already existing solution.
Myth 5: Creativity Can’t be Trained
This is somewhat aligned with Myth #1, insinuating that you either have it or you don’t. As I said, I think that everyone’s got it to some degree the good news is that you can train it like a muscle. Like bodybuilding, you don’t just show up at the gym one day, and looking huge. Your muscles are trained little by little, over the course of a long period of time… often a lifetime. With every rep executed, with every meal eaten, (with every supplement taken) you build up your muscles such that one day, you’re walking into the gym, all the heads turn your way. Why can’t this be applied to develop creativity? Like bodybuilding, training your creative muscle requires practice and focus.
Here are some of my top faves:
Follow your Curiosity
If ever you are curious about a subject, try it out. Expand to different disciplines. Forgive me for alluding to the movie “Bring it On!” from 2000 with Kirstin Dunst. (my guilty pleasure, before Pitch Perfect!) It was about a bunch of cheerleaders who, having been led astray by a con artist, was disqualified from their national competition.
They left no stone unturned. They explored all styles of dance, even miming, to come up with their own original creation. If you want to catalyze for creativity, expand your horizons and try new things. It’s that easy. It’s the culmination of perhaps loosely related, or even unrelated fields of discipline that will spark inspiration for your own creation.
By now, you should already know that I teach fitness. Part of what I love is the requirement to create a unique and engaging fitness class that will motivate your participants to work it every week. For my fitness and personal development, I’ve studied capoeira, ballroom dancing, Wing Chun (kung-fu), and Zumba, among multitudes of other styles of exercise. They become a part of me. My fitness classes often pay homage to many of these disciplines. When I further apply my own personal style to it, it makes for a unique fitness class that is enjoyed and (sometimes endured) by my participants.
Set Aside Time
John Cleese (as in the actor) delivered a talk a few years ago about how creative minds work. You can find it below, if you’re interested n his full talk. He illustrated several ideas in which to help you get those creative juices flowing. My favorite is that we need to set aside time to do so. There is so much truth to this. If you’re always under the gun, you’re always in survival mode. You don’t have the opportunity to think of better ideas. You’re just interested in getting the job done. He says that setting aside time to think and relax the frenzy in your mind creates a safe haven of sorts for your mind to drum up new ideas.
Chew on This
What has supported the progress of humanity is the ability to think creatively, and apply it to make the world a better place. It’s in our blood. We just have to acknowledge it, and be brave enough to use it. Generations of ancestors have advanced us to a point where we are no longer merely about survival. It doesn’t matter if you are in a first world country, or a developing one where water is even at question. We as humans share the gift of creativity. Break free from the confines that were placed on you by your line of work, network, and especially how you see yourself. Each one of us was put on this earth to make it a better place. That is the reason we have been bestowed with this amazing gift. It’s time to use it.
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