How to be CreativeFriday January 6th, 2017
Creativity and problem solving aren’t superpowers that only a few chosen geniuses possess. We can all improve our propensity for “eureka moments,” it just takes a little bit of hard work.
There is a tendency, maybe even a desire, for us to think of creativity as a mystery. An intangible force that bestows random moments of genius on those lucky enough to wield it. Well, that’s nonsense. That’s not how it works.
“No one is born highly creative… Psychologists studying creativity have discovered that it is based on cognitive processes we all share. Creativity is not the result of some magic brain region that some people have and others don’t.”
-R. Keith Sawyer, Ph.D.
Creativity is hard. It requires time, dedication and an intentioned approach. Creative solutions arise when you have truly defined your “problem,” know which boundaries can be pushed, and understand how the variables interact. Sounds a lot like work doesn’t it?
Thesis: Strokes of “creative genius” are usually the result of methodical hard work.
Now I will present proof of this thesis, then I will show you how hard work fosters my creative process in the form of some tips to stimulate yours.
Exhibit A: The Light Bulb
Thomas Edison is widely credited with inventing what we consider to be the modern light bulb. As children, our schoolbooks portrayed Edison as a genius inventor, a unique luminary of his time.
I mean, he invented the lightbulb and the phonograph right? Well, he was also consequently a great marketer…
By the time Edison’s team entered the lightbulb game, many other scientists were already much further along with the development of electric light bulbs. In fact, electric “arc lights” were already in wide use for street lamps, and there was a rush to implement this technology within people’s homes. This wasn’t a unique flash of genius.
Edison’s Menlo Park research team tested more than 6,000 different materials as filaments for his light bulbs, looking for the perfect mix of availability, price and durability before settling on carbonized bamboo as the right material.
Edison took an idea that already existed and put in the work to turn it into to his great addition to society. Today, we just abbreviate that to “genius.”
Exhibit B: Twitch
There are many more qualified and reputed sources for you to hear the full Twitch story (here’s one), so I won’t try here.
Twitch, the video streaming service that connects millions of gamers, was bought in August of 2016 by Amazon for $970M. They had the perfect insight: Gamers love to share their gaming with others, and other gamers love to watch. Let’s connect these people and create a platform for video game streamers to make money.
Genius! Perfect idea, perfect timing! That idea didn’t form in a vacuum, though. It grew out of the founder’s not-so-genius business justin.tv, in which its founder wore a video camera 24 hours a day and allowed people to stream his life live.
The team took what they had learned about streaming video online and grew into a platform with thousands of channels that allowed others to stream their lives. Only then did their pursuit take on an air of creative genius.
They knew they had a novel idea with streaming content, but it took years of hard work to uncover the creative strategy that led to their success.
Now it’s just a textbook success story.
“Talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing.”
You’ll notice that both examples are more business related than “art” related. I submit that the creative process behind a world-changing invention and the next hit song are not so different, and should be approached in much the same way.
But, what is that approach?
How to Tame the Creativity Beast
So, what is it that separates “creatives” from the rest of us, and “creative moments” from any given Wednesday? I have a few techniques that I use to generate solution oriented thought, maybe they will help you too.
Understand the boundaries of the “problem.”
I feel strongly that creativity happens most naturally under constraints. Staring at a blank page is the worst way to start writing something. Instead, define who you’re writing for and what you want to convince them of. All of a sudden, you’ve got something to build on.
Don’t seek perfection.
If you sit and wait for the perfect idea to hit you, or the perfect words to come out you’ll be waiting forever. Ed Catmull CEO of Pixar says that ideas start out as an “ugly baby.” It takes constant hard work to refine them into something that is truly compelling.
Change your perspective.
Nothing will lead you to the same old conclusions better than looking at a problem from the same perspective. Change the way you’re looking at it, and you might just find something fresh. Listen to good music, take a walk, talk to someone else, try to collect some new insight that has you seeing your situation in a fresh way.
Collect idea fragments.
It won’t all be clear at first, but it’s important to keep pulling together little pieces of the puzzle. Read the dictionary definitions for the words involved, find their synonyms in the thesaurus. Read deeply into a certain related topic on Wikipedia. Do whatever it takes to find the sparks, and write them all down, no matter how small or incomplete. Before you know it, you’ll have a library of things to mix and match into what might become your next big idea.
These steps and techniques have helped me find creative solutions over the years, turning these strokes of “creative genius” into a repeatable process.
Now, when people ask me how I got to be so creative, I just say “hard work.”