As kids growing up, we were all creative until we went to school. That’s where we were punished for being curious and for asking questions (out of the ordinary). It was where we were rewarded for following instructions and being compliant, all in the name of “discipline”. Although we went to school to learn things, we focused on getting good grades while the actual learning got lost in the process. In short, our schools killed our creativity. There is plenty to be said about schools and their raison d’être, but I’ll leave that conversation for another time.
Of course, when we enter the “real world” (after leaving school), and leave our “creativity” behind, it’s because we have forgotten to be creative. It’s when we stop thinking of ourselves as creative and start (wrongly) associating creativity with those doing “creative work” for a living such as designers and “artists”. We think to ourselves, “He is a writer. He must be creative”, or “She does illustrations. She must be very creative”, etc. We forget that we are all artists trying to create change in the world through our art. We are all creative.
As adults, most of us don’t think of ourselves as creative. We wrongly think being creative is limited to the domain of “artists” and designers or anyone who does “creative work” for a living. The fact is that even your accountant is creative. The bank teller is creative. Middle Managers in organizations are creative. Teachers are creative. The point is that creativity has little to do with your profession. You don’t have to be in advertising to be creative. You could be very creative as a marketer. All this to say that as artists, we are all creative. If we are not creative, it’s because we have forgotten to be creative.
Creativity has less to do with our professions and more to do with finding (and creating) opportunities to make change in the world through our art.
Creativity is not something that we are born with or without. It is something to be discovered, honed, and improved upon by doing the work.
Here are some ways to be creative.
- Creativity is a process. It requires commitment and self-discipline. That means we don’t wait to be inspired. Instead, we show up every day and do the work, especially when we don’t feel like doing it. Doing the work inspires us. The other reason being that we want to be driven by values (not feelings).
When you’re doing the work, having fun is important. Without fun, your work won’t reflect the same creative output. Also, give yourself permission to fail. That means doing the work while deferring judgement. Only by doing so will you have a chance of making something great.
William James, the famous psychologist, has said that habits and schedules are important because they “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action”. Focus on creating a large volume of work over time. That can only happen when we become a true master of habits, routines, and consistency.
You see, creative work happens on a schedule. We use rituals, habits, and routines to do the work. This helps us think less about when/how/where we’ll do the work, and more about doing the work. This helps us take the emotion, motivation, and decision-making out of the creative process, which we can use for other things. We also need to finish (ship) the work on a frequent basis, but more on that in a future piece.
Only when we routinely do the work can we make things of lasting value. Having a time and space to do our best creative work is a constraint that works for us (not against us).
Another thing we can do to be more creative is harness the power of routines. For instance, we start (and end) our day the same way every day. I wrote about the importance of warmup as we begin each day, where we can do things like meditate, journal, walk, etc. before we sit down to work. We can also have a “power-down” routine in the evening before going to bed. It might include stopping use of screens (TV, phone, tablet, notebook, etc.) of any kind at least an hour before going to bed so as not to affect our sleep. Instead, we use this time to read, review, and reflect on the day’s accounts/events.
One of the best things we can do to be more creative is to eat, move, and sleep consistently. This will ensure that we arrive at our work fresh and full of energy to do our best work. We can also learn from different sources by way of reading different kinds of books.
Don’t fill all your time with things since that can stifle your creativity. Give yourself the space to get bored. Avoid over-scheduling your day. Give your mind a break. If your mind is stimulated all the time, then you won’t have the space to be fully creative. You have to empty the cup before you can fill it.
When we are consistently creating a volume of work over time, we increase our odds of doing great work. When we are routinely creative, we are able to solve problems that, otherwise, we might not have been able to solve. We are able to connect disparate ideas in ways we haven’t imagined in the past. We come up with solutions to problems when we are least thinking about it.
Here’s the thing: we are all creative. If we think we are not, we have forgotten to be creative from when we were children. We might not think of ourselves as creative, but rest assured, those creative muscles lie dormant in our subconscious. We all have brilliance inside us, and it’s up to us to use it. Only by doing the work on a regular basis can we have any hope of producing something meaningful.