Creativity - debunking myths part 1

Read the following bold word, close your eyes and come up with an image:

creativity.

Let us assume that, if you are like most, you imagined a painter or writer or any other kind of artist, reading the word. We hate to say it but that imagination is flawed. (Yes, we admit that the blog posts' title image might have been misleading, too). However, we are confronted with those stereotypes when we talk about the Creativity Gym to others. A lot.

In this quick 4 minute read we lay out why those stereotypical images couldn’t be further away from the truth, why each of us is (or can be) creative and most importantly why it matters.

Creativity

There are a lot of definitions out there; one sums up creativity as work that is novel (original, unexpected) and appropriate (useful, adaptive) (Sternberg, Lubart, 1999). This approach is a good starting point to work with but might need some elaboration.

First of all, novel in that sense does not mean that it has to be new to the ENTIRE universe. Quite the contrary is true. It can be novel for you only and perfectly be creative.

Appropriate refers to the notion of value. There are things that might be novel but of low usage (think of an electric, rotating fork designed to eat spaghetti; honestly, how valuable is that?).

Another component which we borrow from Tim Robinson, knighted creativity expert, is, that of creativity being a process. This understanding debunks another myth, which is that creative people have those seconds of divine-like epiphanies. Rather, being creative requires hard work towards those moments of insight and being prepared to embrace them. As, Louis Pasteur observed: "Chance only favors the prepared mind".

You decide to be creative and live a more creative life. It’s really about a mindset, that you can create something new and valuable and are willing to start a process and work towards it.

Lately, we have discovered an interesting twist on this by Carolyn Gregoire who was interviewed for her new book: Wired To Create. She sketches self-expression as being fundamentally creative. Self-expression can take so many forms: how you dress, how you take different perspectives or how you find new solutions to an idea. According to Carolyn Gregoire, creativity is the ability to openly express ourselves and see things in a new way.

Creativity in that sense is not an on/off switch. You really choose to be creative (or not). You choose to do something that might lead to something novel and valuable (or not). You choose to express yourself (or not). You can decide and even improve your creative skills, too. But as outlined above, it’s a process, and therefore (hard) work. As a consequence we often “stop being creative”.

The challenge

There is yet a more severe challenge. The problem is that most people don’t dare to be creative. They are literally afraid of being creative. But why? Simple: we fear to be wrong. We fear others opinion and consequently social exclusion (Tim Brown’s Ted Talk on Creativity & Play and Kelley & Kelley, 2012). “Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan” is how a proverb goes.

Education and socialization dynamics drive that fear until, as grown-ups, we are totally “educated out of creativity” (Robinson, 2011). The consequences are devastating: We live a stifled life on many levels.

  • On a personal level we don’t dare to express our goals and follow them, leading to inferior personal well-being,
  • on a professional level we curb our companies’ innovation potential which
  • on a societal level eventually curbs entrepreneurial spirit, growth and change.

Conclusion

So why is it not enough to simply give-in when people say “I am not a creative person”?

To start with, as mentioned above, as an individual you can decide to be creative or not. And you can certainly go the route you feel most comfortable with – it’s really your choice and it makes no sense to force someone any way. However, we believe that it has to be clear that you don’t “avoid” being creative out of fear or due to misconceptions about creativity. You literally would rob yourself for the opportunity of personal well-being.

Furthermore, we see organizational leaders (in schools, universities, companies, …) responsible for shaping an environment where creativity can thrive. They can influence and actively shape how high or how low the barrier is for others to decide for or against being creative. You can support your employees with tools, space and establish values that foster creative confidence.

Our goal

One big part of our work is to break persistent misconceptions about creativity and design and to share our knowledge and more importantly design-based skills & tools with people and forward thinking schools, universities, companies and organizations.

Our journey started with an OpenIDEO challenge (How might we inspire young people to create their creative confidence) and we picked up the underlying question to transfer it to our work within our community.

Our goal is to inspire more people to decide for living a creative life: be it in school or at university, in everyday life or in your company. In that sense we chose to be creative and started the process to create novel and valuable services some years ago: first in the form of community meetups and workshops, since the last year also within corporate training, project work and consultancy.

If you also choose to be creative we would be very happy to meet you in one of our community workouts or OpenIDEO meetups or talk about how we might help your school, university or company.

In the next post we’ll debunk myths around design. So stay tuned by signing-up for our Newsletter.

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