Why Creativity is So Hard (it isn’t, really)
We don’t know what it is
Have you ever had the experience of trying to define a word that you use all the time, only to find yourself struggling to come up with a simple, clear definition? For instance, how do you define the word “the” without using the word “the”?
This is exactly why it has been so hard for people to come to grips with the seemingly incomprehensible nature of creativity. No one seems to have a clear definition of the quality. Or, at least, no one agrees on a definition. And, if you can’t define something, then it’s quite likely to remain a bit of a mystery.
So then, how do we solve the issue? Well, it would help if we all agreed to get off of the “creativity is magical!” train and take a closer look at the word we love and fear so much.
Creativity has, as it’s root, the word “create”. To create has, basically, two meanings. The first meaning, to produce something new where nothing existed before, is unattainable to humans. But don’t let that trouble you. We simply aren’t built to create anything out of thin air.
That leaves us to ponder the second meaning of “create”, which is to produce something new using what already exists.
That’s it. Stop defining. I’m not kidding here, that’s all the definition we need.
Using that definition, to be “creat-ive“, then, means to be able to produce things using what already exists. We ALL do that. For example, take two slices of bread and drop them into a toaster. Wait a few minutes, and you have created toast. You wacky creative types and your toast! What will you think of next? As Kirby Ferguson pointed out, everything is a remix
Are you a little disappointed? Feel like all the magic and wonder has been drained from being creative? I understand completely, and I apologize, but believe me, it’s for the best.
Better than shooting blind
Actually, if we use this simple, straight-forward definition we open the way for a whole lot morewonder and amazement. The reason for this is that we now know the end goal of creating, therefore it becomes simple to know when we have successfully met that goal. If the goal is to create toast, then toasting bread makes us successful. However, if toast is not enough, then we know that what we need to create is different than toast. Maybe we need to create breakfast. Or, maybe we need to create a good-tasting breakfast without using animal products. By understanding the measurement of success, we know what to do next, even if it means that we need to learn how to cook things we’ve never cooked before. In any case, we will have created a meal.
Most people reading this will be less interested in cooking than in designing, songwriting, drawing or similar endeavors. The process is exactly the same, figure out what is needed (or desired) and start creating toward that. If a client wants a new logo, then start asking questions geared towards understanding the need. Why do they want a logo? “Our old logo is stale, we need something fresh and cool.” Find out what they mean by “Stale”, “Fresh”, and “Cool”. What are the parameters for the logo, colors, size, usage, etc.? What does your client picture to be a raving success, a “homerun”?
Then, you create something. Draw! Photoshop! Illustrate!
There are bound to be about a million questions regarding technique, style, thought-process, writer’s block, etc, etc, but these are different issues. These issues have their own definitions, and their own explanations, which we’ll get into later. For now, let’s all just agree that creation is not all that mysterious. In fact, it’s as normal and essential as breathing.
Once we accept that, then the fun really starts.