Developing creativity is a process that takes time. It is a mental skill that can be learned but it requires the right conditions for it to grow. If we understand how it occurs, then we know how to foster it.
Creativity is the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, forms, methods, and interpretations. Before we can break the norm, we need to know what it is. So we need to learn a subject or domain thoroughly. This requires an education. We usually study what interests us.
“So the first step toward a more creative life is the cultivation of curiosity and interest, that is, the allocation of attention to things for their own sake,” writes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his seminal book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention (2013).
A curious person has an open mind. We want to know because we know that we don’t know. Thus, we immerse ourselves in the subject. We investigate all sources. We verify data and discard untruths. We consider different viewpoints on the subject and we do not discount an idea just because we disagree with it. This keeps us mentally flexible and we gain a wider perspective. This habit is critical in maintaining creativity.
When we fuel our curiosity, it could lead to deep learning and eventually expertise. Interest is sustained by finding a meaningful pursuit and gaining competence in its practice, writes Csikszentmihalyi. This interest becomes our passion.
Passion necessitates many traits as we continue to gain mastery over our domain—we become inquisitive; we keep learning; we don’t assume that we know everything about the subject; we question everything, not to annoy but to understand the underlying reasons; and we do not just accept what has always been known. We consider every angle and examine the subject with keen observation. Then, we write down our ideas to help us remember.
We persevere through the long hours of hard work because there is so much we want to accomplish within our domain.
We need “a great deal of curiosity and openness…and an almost obsessive perseverance….Both of these have to be present for a person to have fresh ideas and then to make them prevail,” writes Csikszentmihalyi.
When we are passionate about something, we spend most of our waking hours thinking about it and working on it. Solitude and thoughtful meditation are advised for increased creativity. We need the quiet to turn over ideas in our mind and to play around with other possibilities. Thus, our imagination rages.
“Creativity involves putting your imagination to work. In a sense, creativity is applied imagination,” writes Ken Robinson in Out of Our Minds—Learning to be Creative (2011).
Csikszentmihalyi said that surroundings are important to support creativity, whether through our personal space or our general community. Our environment must provide the resources and opportunities for us to access our domain. This is why where we live is important and why most successful creatives come from higher income families and neighborhoods. Many business collaborations were formed by two classmates and friends.
Our community is where we meet like-minded passionate creative thinkers interested in the same things. This results in the exchange of thoughts and ideas which adds to our knowledge base and also imbues us to previous products of creativity.
It is untrue that a single creative person will come up with an astounding creation, like they attribute to the overused example of Albert Einstein. Einstein tapped the minds of other greats before him. He frequently communicated with other relativists and sounded off his ideas to them that there is a question as to who should take or share credit for his theory.
In any case, creativity always stands on precedents. It is not an isolated endeavor but a collaboration of great minds.
“A good idea is one that’s inherently interesting. It builds on previous ideas and has the power to generate all sorts of good ideas in the future; it also has the ability to combine with other ideas in intriguing ways,” writes Keith Sawyer in Zig Zag—The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity (2013).
Being surrounded by fellow enthusiasts who have also mastered our domain will result in invigorating exchanges which can spark new ideas and open up new avenues of pursuit.
Creativity begins with honesty
Every creative thought begins with the truth. If we want to think creatively then we need to be honest about ourselves, our perceptions, our world, our goals, and others.
Csikszentmihalyi noted that all the creative individuals he studied were reared to be honest. Honesty allows us to see things for what they are so we can perceive something fully. If we are colored by our biases, then we should be aware of that too and take it into consideration when we evaluate our subject.
Our self-awareness shows us our strengths and limitations, so we can reach out for assistance in areas we lack. We need to know where we stand on the historical innovation in our field.
Honesty also seeks improvement through trusted and learned advice. We can learn from the experience of veterans in our field and avoid their mistakes. Picking the brain of a successful creative in any field is one way to come up with workable ideas.
Otherwise, if we reject criticism, we can remain stuck in our lack of progress. We need to constantly determine if we are on track to meet our objective, then quickly drop failed attempts and adopt new methods.
“Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals,” writes Csikszentmihalyi.
We must create to be creative
Deep understanding of a subject matter or domain is the foundation for creativity to flourish. Coupled with honesty, it can lead us to discover problems. When we tackle these issues and ponder them, it can prompt us to come up with creative solutions or at least consider improvements.
“Successful creators know what they’re looking for because their creative judgment is honed by years of practice,” writes Sawyer.
Creative thought must lead to actual creation. We cannot claim to be creative if we don’t do or make anything.
“Creativity is a step further on from imagination,” writes Robinson. “Private imaginings may have no outcomes in the world at all. Creativity does. Being creative involves doing something.”
Curiosity begins the process which is supported by the culture. Through training, it becomes a passion and expertise. When we are experts in a domain, we are bound to find faults in the system and we have the competence to fix it.
“Innovation is the process of putting new ideas into practice,” writes Robinson. “Innovation is applied creativity.”
Creativity must be validated
But just because we come up with a great idea does not necessarily mean that it will be a hit. Our idea must be accepted by experts and adopted into the mainstream.
There are three essential interactions to the creative process: “a culture that contained symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty into the symbolic domain, and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation. All three are necessary for creative idea, product, or discovery to take place,” writes Csikszentmihalyi.
Proficiency brings the confidence we need when we try to bring our creative ideas to fruition. Many groundbreaking thoughts were first met with great skepticism and ridicule. But our expertise will give us the fortitude to stand our ground amidst opposition and ignorance and to find novel ways to produce our creative work.
“Everything counts in large amounts”
It is hard to pin down any concrete formula for creativity. Like any ability, there are too many variables which contribute to a person’s achievement. But creativity is unique because this ability is dependent on the creator’s unique background, training, intelligence, taste, and personality. It is a reflection and expression of the creator.
To remain unconventional, it is important that we constantly fuel ourselves with outstanding material and enrich our lives. We must learn continuously, open ourselves to many fields, try new things, and have a variety of experiences. To be interesting, we must be interested in many things and do interesting activities. Novelty results from the confluence of mixed domains.
To create beautifully, we must develop good taste. We need to absorb excellent design and the beauty of nature. We must seek and understand symmetry and artistry. Elegance is a matter of exposure and habit.
If we want to think differently, we have to be atypical. We have to embrace our individuality and accept our complexity. Everything we think, feel, and see makes an impression on us.
“Your brain’s efficient; at some point, it will find a way to use everything you gather,” writes Sawyer.