How To Become More Creative
The secret to finding an original idea
Tealfeed Guest Blog
It’s hard sitting down and staring at a blank piece of paper or a screen that mocks your output by silently hissing ‘white void’ over and over again. The more you stare and sip on your coffee, the harder it all becomes.
The nagging assumption is that your idea has to be original. That nobody in the entire world has had that thought before. The idea has to have sprung from some magical source or secret elixir that only you’ve drunk. A power so great that only a handful of people possess such an elusive force.
But original ideas are often composed of and inspired by things that already exist in the world. Pieces slotted together in unthought-of combinations. Fragments colliding to create something new, yet similar. Reimagined in a new structure. Presented as a new idea.
“Only those with no memory insist on their originality” — Coco Chanel
The problem most people suffer from is the concept of the ‘originality myth.’ Originality doesn’t simply happen. People don’t actually wake up in the morning with the answer to a formula that has bewildered the best scientific minds in their field. John Lennon didn’t write all the Beatles tunes by taking a walk and being hit with inspiration.
Originality, their moment of inspiration, their creativity, was years and years in the making. Without the background knowledge, they would never have come up with an ‘original’ concept. Lennon studied music. Socrates studied philosophy. Picasso studied art. The building blocks to their creativity were based on very solid foundations.
If It Takes Years to Become Creative, How on Earth Can You Start Now? How Could You Become Creative Overnight?
It’s fine to borrow from other creations, as long as the borrower “compounds it with one’s own experiences and thoughts and feelings” and “expresses it in a new way, one’s own,” wrote the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks in his essay “The Creative Self.”
If you accept that originality is a myth and that every idea is built upon the previous millions and millions of ideas, then being creative should be easier. There’s no longer the pressure of coming up with that ‘big idea.’
Inspiration for creativity is all around you. Creativity is within you.
When asked, any pre-school child will tell you how great they are at drawing or colouring. Hands shoot up when paint and colour are involved. So what happened? Did we slowly become less creative? Is the path to a chartered accountant filled with the bones of dead creatives?
If ‘nothing is original’ is a myth, the second great myth is that only half the population is creative. That some of us are naturally creative and others aren’t. David Burkus, the author of “The Myths of Creativity,” said, “We can’t find anything in the research that suggests there’s a ‘creativity gene,’” and that we should think of creativity “as a gift that is available to everyone.”
No creativity gene? Every child starts from the same base. The question then becomes, ‘What has happened to my creativity?’
Creativity as a Mindset
Creativity is not a skill but a mindset or a way of looking at the world. And we all have the ability to look at something — a problem, a subject, a situation, a theme — and bring forth our own ideas and interpretations.
I hate to blame the school system or other outside forces. But at some point, you’ve told yourself you can no longer draw. You’ve said over and over again that you’re simply not creative. The older you get, the more people say to you that your ideas are too crazy. Or maybe they simply didn’t want to hear anything that would change their system. Out-of-the-box thinking means change. People don’t like change. It’s hard to adapt to change.
Meanwhile, after years of being tolerated and beaten down by the conformists and middle-tier management — people who kowtow to the upper-levels of non-changing senior management — you’ve believed the hype. That you, this spark of life, this force of nature that could’ve changed the world, are now a single cog in a very singular system. That you’re not creative.
If you fall for their story and tell yourself, “Well, I’m not one of those creative people,” it lets you off the hook. You don’t even have to try.
Let’s stop doing that.
Originality = myth. Creativity gene = myth.
Where Do I Find Time to Create? How Do I Start?
Another stumbling block. Again, the wrong question is asked.
Another elusive block of time that needs conjuring. Where do you find that? Where do you find your creativity? Where do you find originality? ‘Find’ has too many negative connotations. Let's replace find with reallocate. We all have time. We all have the same amount of hours. Why not stop chilling with Netflix for an hour? Why not stop pretending that the washing up is the most important factor in your life right now?
Significant blocks of time are needed for deep creative work. Stop being a manager. You don’t need to keep having meetings. There’s no need to do managerial tasks every working hour. Take control. Block out time.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist and essayist Paul Graham calls this a ‘maker’s schedule.’ Blank spaces in your calendar aren’t a curse. They aren’t there to be filled. Your job isn’t to face the evil force of the blank space. Blank spaces are your friends. Blank pages are your friends. The blank canvas isn’t an enemy.
Psychology professor and author Dan Ariely stated, “The reality is, blank spaces are the spaces where you’re supposed to do the most meaningful work.”
It’s Not Time That’s Killing Your Creativity — It’s Focus
Call that three-hour blank space an opportunity to focus on being creative. To let your mind wander. Stretch your thought process. You need to be able to focus your attention for extended periods in order to do creative work.
Ignore the endless buzz of notifications. The emails whizzing in. The ‘urgent’ jobs that can’t wait and nobody else could possibly do. The Twitter update you must respond to. The connection request you can no longer ignore. These are all distractions.
Switch the question around. When should you take a break to connect? When is a good time to no longer focus?
Where Do You Actually Begin?
Finally, we end on the big question.
You now understand that the ‘big idea’ simply won’t happen. That whatever you do, it won’t be original. That time constraint is simply yourself in the wrong frame of mind. And focus will achieve results. But where do you actually begin?
Bruce Mau once said that the most common lament he heard from young people attempting to start a creative project was, “I don’t know where to begin.” And Mau said he often responded by sharing a favorite quote from the maverick composer John Cage: “Begin anywhere.”
It doesn’t matter what you start with. What matters is getting started. It can be rough as guts, scribbled ideas, and half-cooked theories. It doesn’t matter. Anything you put down can be moulded. Don’t worry too much about quality, because whatever you express now will likely be revised or maybe scrapped altogether as you keep working. Imperfection or rough ideas are your friends. They’re the base from which ‘original’ thoughts and creativity will spring from.
A fellow author once told me that he couldn’t start work until everything in his office was in the right place. He was constantly tidying his shelves, clearing his desk, procrastinating. The problem was, he never got started. Recognise when you’ve begun to clear shelves and rearrange your office.
Don’t be a shelf cleaner.
Make time. Stay Focused. You too can become creative.
This article was originally published by Reuben Salsa on medium.
Tealfeed Guest Blog