Updated: May 1, 2021
Ineffective people live day after day with unused potential. They experience synergy only in small, peripheral ways in their lives. But creative experiences can be produced regularly, consistently and almost daily in people's lives. It requires enormous personal security and openness. and spirit of adventure. Stephen Covey
Most likely, we all grew up thinking that creativity is some innate personality trait, that you either have or you don’t. Usually it's at an early age when we decide that we don’t have it, so we just end up chucking the whole possibility of “creativity” away-- reducing it to something trivial and not worth our time. I always get so alarmed (and sad) when people tell me they just are “not creative” or “don’t know how to be”. Chances are, you were never shown the tools to be creative as a student, because let’s be real, your teachers didn’t have the slightest clue either.
So, why do we reject creativity? Simple. There’s no certainty in it. It's hard. And it's subjective.
Creativity is a complex skill to learn, because it requires vulnerability, patience and flexibility-- personal security and openness.
In our capitalist world, creativity and innovation has morphed into more a "buzzword" than a means of expression. Employees now feel an elusive pressure to be creative, in order to be desirable candidates. We compare ourselves to creative geniuses, who build million dollar franchises from their heads, or our friends who are artists in their fields. White, able-bodied men from Western countries such as Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Zuckerburg serve as the star example of where “creativity” can get you, and are rewarded for thinking outside the box. This unique behaviour and innovation is labeled as “creative” at the cost of reducing it to something that only provides monetary output. On the other side of the spectrum, businesses do not value ‘creatives’ enough, underpaying them and claiming that their work is self-fulfilling and good exposure.
But let’s reclaim creativity for a moment here. What if you belong in the category of a “marginalised group”? If you didn’t have access to greater resources or powerful social networks? People with disabilities, or altered sensory abilities, experience and act in the world completely differently than the norm. Under different circumstances, that would be valued as creative, but instead they are classified as disorders. The term “diffabilities” might connote that difference in ability shouldn’t function as a barrier, but a valid experience that offers a creative perspective. A simple change in our perspective can allow for our communities to be much more inclusive, fostering communal respect we can all benefit from. I see this play out in my workplace all the time. Students who require special attention are being disregarded in the classroom because they cannot complete activities and engage within the ordinary standards and expectations. Their environment doesn’t have the time, patience or resources for wide and open-ended possibilities. There is no true creativity.
Now my intent for this piece is not to convince you that you have a mystical magic ability waiting to be discovered from within. But the science does prove that we all have the capabilities and building blocks to achieve a lifestyle where creativity is intrinsic. I know personally, that with a little practice and patience, engaging in conscious, creative activities brings me a lot of fulfilment. Creativity was not intended to generate billion dollar companies- it is and always will be, an investment into our own wellbeing.
What the hell is creativity?
Let’s replace the phrase “creative person” with “a person learning creative abilities”. This will mean that you don’t have to assign yourself a whole personality in one go. We’re not trying to produce whole works of novels, compositions or paintings here-- just things to fuel our imagination and inspiration.
Despite what you think, creativity is not about having a momentary flash of insight. Having a lot of ideas doesn’t necessarily mean you are a “creative person”. If you’re going to wait for that single moment to hit you, you’re inevitably going to fall into a creative block (of confusion) and quickly give up. Creativity comes in small sparks, all the time-- they are constant. The research can tell you how to have these small sparks better and how you can string small ideas together so they result in something that actually is a big idea.
In other words, a lot of the time, creativity entails some form of consistency, and some form of end-result.
The (simple) key to creativity
There is an extremely simple way to conceptualise ‘creativity’ as something tangible, and achievable. It works with young adults, middle aged adults and adult adults.
A leading scientific expert on creativity, Keith Sawyer, tells us that there are 8 facets of creativity, and if you apply these small actions, you are quote on quote “being creative”. As Sawyer tells us, once these steps become second nature, the process of creativity doesn’t seem so daunting or alien as it used to. Here are the 8 steps:
Ask: The discipline of always looking for a good problem, or seeking new inspiration.
Learn: seeking out knowledge from mentors, peers, websites, books etc. Could be a good idea to make note of them!
Look: not just seeing what you expect to see, you are constantly and quietly aware. You see what others take for granted, and what they incorrectly assume
Play: you allow yourself time to play and experiment, freeing your mind to imagination and fantasy
Think: lots of ideas means lots of possibilities. Clamp down on them.
Fuse: continuously bouncing ideas together, as successful creativity never comes from one single idea
Choose: this is brainstorming done right. We need a balance between wide-open idea generation and critical examination and editing. Read that again.
Make: creativity is not about merely “having” ideas, it's about continuously externalising your thoughts and making it a reality.
The beauty of this theory is that this is not a linear process, even though as a beginner you can mostly certainly follow them as steps. However as you get to know them a little better, Sawyer tells us that we can ‘zig zag’ between them, because we constantly bounce from one to another. And there you have it: ~creativity~ in a nutshell.
Here is a creative prompt for your morning commute to work.
If Sawyer’s 8 steps still feel elusive then it might look a little clearer as you work on something ‘creative’. Have a go at this!
There are obviously heaps of avenues to practice creativity, but start with grabbing inspiration and thinking about it (learn, ask, look, play). Here is an easy activity for some instant inspiration, and it starts with you and your experiences.
Note down: (Try and be as specific as you can)
Your most memorable childhood place
Your favourite smell
Your favourite thing to wear
Your favourite food
Your favourite kind of shade
Your favourite kind of light
Your favourite sound
Your favourite texture
Two antonyms to describe yourself
A simple activity, but it gets you to ask and look.
the sugar cane trees surrounding a forgotten home sharp tang of spices, garlic and onion that waft through the windows
the oversized jean jacket that never fails to gift comfort
the sweetness in the savoury chutney
welcomed shade under a tree on a sweltering day the constant humming of my cat when I hold him close
warm candle wick that flickers in the dark the feeling of fresh, crisp bedsheets
dormant, static bundle of energy
Now simply add “I am” to the beginning of every line, and you’ve got yourself your very own personal poem. The awesome thing about this, is that no poem is ever the same. It might look something (or nothing) like this.
I am the sugar cane trees surrounding a forgotten home I am sharp tang of spices, garlic and onion that waft through the windows
I am the oversized jean jacket that never fails to gift comfort
I am the sweetness in the savoury chutney
I am welcomed shade under a tree on a sweltering day I am the constant humming of my cat when I hold him close
I am warm candle wick that flickers in the dark I am the feeling of fresh, crisp bedsheets
I am dormant, static bundle of energy
Don’t feel the pressure of trying to sound “poetic”, just write them as they are.
This is now where you can choose, play and fuse. Cut things, move them around and add whatever you feel. Don’t worry about if you think other people might not understand it, as long as it's personal to you-- you are never doing something wrong. Pro tip: If you’re comfortable, get someone you trust to read it to you. That will allow you to think about where you’ve placed words, and where it might need some tweaking.
My final product!
I am the sugar cane trees surrounding a forgotten home I am the sharp tang of spices, garlic and onion that waft out our windows
I am the oversized jean jacket that never fails to gift comfort
I am the sweetness in my mother’s savoury chutney
I am welcomed shade under a old tree on a sweltering day
I am a warm candle wick that throws specks in the dark
I am a dormant, static bundle of energy Wondering if life has just begun, or ending
‘Creativity’ is a muscle that I can strengthen
Creativity has been hijacked to monetise, but real creativity wants to build alternatives that explore human nuance without necessarily having economic gain at the forefront. When we consciously engage with these 8 steps, we're building skills of empathy, vulnerability, patience and flexibility, personal security and confidence. The more we conceptualise skills such as creativity, the easier it is to try it and pass it on. Rest assured, you already have what it takes to be creative-- it's just a muscle that needs to be exercised.
This activity has been borrowed from and inspired by Story Factory, a non-profit organisation that strives to improve literacy and build confidence in young adults and children through storytelling. Head over to the website storyfactory.org.au to find out more and donate.
Editor: Jessica L
Sawyer, K., 2013. Zig Zag. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.
Mould, O., 2018. Against Creativity.