Creativity is a thing you do

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I’m writing my next book, The Seven Keys to Creativity. Sometimes I write a bit that I want to put here straight away (as I also did with the dappled world post).

This is from an early part where we are establishing the meaning of creativity.

It goes like this:

When I’m teaching classes I like to hear about students’ creative projects – I mean, the ones that are not school work: the ones they do because they purely want to. And I talk a bit about mine too. I preface this by saying:

You might think that because I teach about creativity, I must be ‘really creative’. But I literally don’t think of it like that. I don’t really think creativity is a variable. Let’s say that again: creativity is not a variable.

Creativity is just things that you’ve bothered to do, things you’ve had ideas to do, and things you’ve done. There’s a way of thinking about it that says that creativity is like a muscle, and if you exercise that muscle, you can learn to use your creativity better and you can operate more effectively. So some of us have maybe had more opportunity to try to exercise those muscles than others have. And there are ways to unlock your creativity.

But I don’t think creativity is an amount of juice that some people have more or less of. Creativity is a thing that you can do. So in talking about my creativity, I don’t think I am more or less creative than anybody else. I’m just telling you about creative things that I’ve done. You also can do creative things.

This means that when thinking about an artist or creator that I like, I don’t really think ‘oh that person is very creative’. Instead I note that they have clearly found or made time to do creative things. And they have, perhaps, exercised their creativity muscles well, and with imagination.

This is both more comforting, and more realistic: creativity is not a superpower bestowed upon special individuals. It’s something people choose to do. Some people manage to do a lot of it, and some people get really good at it. Some people benefit from being in the right place at the right time, too – and they were open enough to new ideas, technologies or experiences to take advantage of that. So, well done, those people. But we can all do it. Creativity is a thing that you choose to do.

Photo of Janelle Monáe at the Reeperbahn Festival in 2009 by Nina Zimmermann on Flickr (see original), used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence.

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