or How To Slay Your Inner Medusa
As a freelance Creative Director, I come across many people who don’t believe they are creative. They think it needs to be part of their title—emblazoned on their business cards and prominent in their LinkedIn profiles—for it to be legit.
Sentences often begin with, “Well, I’m not a creative person, but…” followed by an apprehensive observation or idea. They are apologetic, or worse, self-deprecating.
Don’t believe the propaganda!
According to Sir Ken Robinson (who worked tirelessly to imbue the value of creative thinking into the education system), these are the top four myths people believe about creativity:
C̶r̶e̶a̶t̶i̶v̶i̶t̶y̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶o̶n̶l̶y̶ ̶a̶b̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶a̶r̶t̶
There is a mistaken belief that creative people study arts and humanities while non-creative people take math and science. Creative people paint, draw, or sculpt art while the rest of us become accountants or lab technicians.
This myth instantly sets up a binary reality: there are creative people and non-creative people. There are creative jobs and non-creative jobs. You either belong in one camp or the other.
Robinson dismisses this myth with one sentence:
Creativity is…in science, the arts, mathematics, technology, cuisine, teaching, politics, business, you name it.
Creativity is not an area of expertise. No one group or authority can claim ownership. It exists within every vocation and pursuit.
C̶r̶e̶a̶t̶i̶v̶i̶t̶y̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶u̶n̶i̶n̶h̶i̶b̶i̶t̶e̶d̶ ̶s̶e̶l̶f̶-̶e̶x̶p̶r̶e̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶
I never thought I’d use Pewdiepie and Ernest Hemingway in the same sentence, but they both perpetuate the idea of creativity as uninhibited self-expression. YouTuber Pewdiepie would say whatever came into his head (which was often controversial or inappropriate) while gaming in his gaming chair. Novelist Hemingway would write drunk and naked (which was also considered controversial and inappropriate) while standing at his standing desk.
The myth of the f***ed up artist, the free spirit, the uninhibited soul, is pervasive in North American culture. Like Apple’s famous ‘Think Different’ campaign, we celebrate the crazy ones.
‘Uninhibited’ is often a euphemism for addiction-fueled art. And, if you are genetically or environmentally prone to addiction, says neuroscientist David Lindon, “…you are more likely to be more risk-taking, novelty-seeking and compulsive. None of which are explicitly creative, but they are things that get to [emphasis mine] creativity. So novelty-seeking might be a spur to creativity. Risk-taking might lead you to go more out on a limb. If you’re compulsive, you might be more motivated to get your art, science idea or novel out into the world.”
Being uninhibited might get you closer to creativity, or aspects of creativity, but it is not creativity itself. Losing your inhibitions might help with some things and hinder others. It’s dangerous to assume you’ll be more creative if you just pick the right vice. It won’t necessarily help you practice more, learn new things, or trust yourself—all fundamental ways to improve your creativity.
C̶r̶e̶a̶t̶i̶v̶i̶t̶y̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶a̶ ̶t̶a̶l̶e̶n̶t̶
I used to believe this myth because it meant I was special, gifted. I used to say, “For some people, the most creative they’ll ever be is making themselves a sandwich while watching television.” I was an inventive elitist, an imaginative snob. But the edge effect brought me back down to earth.
In basic terms, the edge effect argues that new ideas emerge at the boundaries of two systems. For example, the knowledge of taxidermy combined with the experience of firefighting might lead to the invention of a fireproof spray for pets. This is a novel and useful (hence creative!) intersection of skills.
In my experience studying creativity, I skirted around the edges of dozens of disparate definitions of the term. I looked for overlaps and commonalities. And what I discovered was that creativity doesn’t happen without work, without activity—the act of creation. And this act requires a certain drive, a tenacity, to push through all the barriers and get something done. It’s not about how creative you are (innate talent, giftedness) but how you are creative (drive, process).
Anyone can learn the fundamentals of creativity to create more, better, and different work—if they want to.
C̶̵̶r̶̵̶e̶̵̶a̶̵̶t̶̵̶i̶̵̶v̶̵̶i̶̵̶t̶̵̶y̶̵̶ ̶i̶̵̶s̶ ̶r̶̵̶e̶̵̶s̶̵̶e̶̵̶r̶̵̶v̶̵̶e̶̵̶d̶̵̶ ̶f̶̵̶o̶̵̶r̶̵̶ ̶a̶̵̶ ̶f̶̵̶e̶̵̶w̶̵̶ ̶g̶̵̶i̶̵̶f̶̵̶t̶̵̶e̶̵̶d̶̵̶̵̶ ̶g̶̵̶e̶̵̶n̶̵̶i̶̵̶u̶̵̶s̶̵̶e̶̵̶s̶̵̶
If creativity isn’t an exclusive club of uninhibited and naturally talented artists then this fourth myth doesn’t hold together either: that creativity is the divine birthright of a few gifted geniuses.
“We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth,” says Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers. He goes on to argue that the successful geniuses we know and love (or love to hate) are usually the product of thousands of hours of practice combined with specific opportunity and circumstance (also known as luck of the draw).
This means they may not be so special in and of themselves but are the combination of a unique set of circumstances. Regardless, you don’t need to be a genius to be creative. You just need to practice a lot, be open to learning new things, and be brave enough to express yourself.
Creativity isn’t the exclusive right of rockstars and writers, YouTubers and surrealist painters, it belongs to all of us. If you are human, you are creative.
You can download the Picobook here.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this format, as well as the creative myths that still need busting. This will help shape future Picobooks. So please answer in the comments below.