What is Creativity?
Creativity is connecting things. You make connections between what you know, pulling threads together, and coming up with a new idea. You are taking things that are already out there and mixing them in a way that hasn’t been done before.
I treat creativity like a muscle that I exercise. And with any exercise regime, it’s never linear, it can take you off in other directions, the results can come fast or slow. Sometimes, the process may feel chaotic when you first try it. In 1939, James Webb Young laid out five essential steps to help you develop your creative process. His process has stood the test of time.
Step One: Gather Raw Material
Here you build a pool of things that interest you. Observe people and the world around you. Be curious about the world around you. When you have a cup of coffee, imagine the journey of the coffee from the ground to your cup. Become fascinated with life and the world around you. See things like a child, for the first time. Prepare to be amazed and awed by anything and everything. Develop a range of interests. Read something different.
Step Two: Digest the Material
Examine what you have learned by looking at it from different angles and perspectives. Challenge your biases as they arise. You can take one bit of information, look for its meaning in a different context. See what other ideas arise and fit into your new jigsaw.
Step Three: Leave it Be
Go for a walk, do something else. Let new information percolate into you. Put your new information aside and do something you enjoy. Use your imagination in different ways. You need to turn the problem over to your unconscious mind and let it work its magic.
Step Four: A-Ha, your idea pops back
A solution will come to you when you least expect it. Bringing with it a renewed energy and deeper insight. This can happen when you’re in the shower or sweeping the floor. Often, during the mundane day-to-day things, our ideas can flourish.
Step Five: Speak about your idea
Tell people about your idea. See what people think. Listen to the criticism, adapt where needed. Your idea is a first-draft of something, and in order for it to become something, you need to release it into the world.
Young’s definition and the process have stood the test of time:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” Steve Jobs
Creativity can transform everyday life. When we begin to look at the world with this sense of wonder and potential, ideas can flow to us. In his book The Art of Creative Thinking, Rod Judkins suggests:
Be a Beginner, Forever
I love learning, I study something every year. Sometimes I enroll in a course and other times, I dive deep into my own research, going to the library, checking online for talks and podcasts. I approach this, not to chop and change my career. I do it because I love the fact that I will never know everything on any subject. There is something to learn, a different way of looking at things with everything.
Learn from Failure and Accidents
Every gold-medal winner, Booker-Prize recipient has failed lots. Failure is the path to growth. Exploring the lessons that you take from life instead of asking why life treats you hard is a mindset to adapt. By making the most of your experiences, seeing what went well, what could have been better and what you wouldn’t do again, you grow.
Every single thing you use today is the result of a failure. You are reading this on a digital device. Do you think that this device was invented perfectly? No way! It failed a lot along the way, it pivoted to become something else and what you are reading this on now is probably a far-removed idea from the initial concept, maybe this device was an accident!
Have Role Models but Be Yourself
People you see online have a carefully curated image. When I left my teaching career, I blindly followed some people, listened as they told me what to do, what I should be doing. It was overwhelming. I stepped back. I began to listen to myself more and trust myself more. Nothing happens in a straight line. Build your values, build your mental tool-box. Learn how to listen authentically and seek inner joy, not outer validation. The more I did this, the less drama I found in my life. And the more ideas that came to me. It’s good to have role models but it’s even better to discover your own magic, own it, and utilise it.
Be open to criticism – but don’t blindly follow what others say
“I’ll tell you now what you should do”…..(please don’t)
When I left my teaching position, a lot of people said this to me.
When I started out my business, a lot of people said this to me.
At no point, did I ask these people what I should do.
The only thing you should ever do is be authentic to your true nature and self. Constructive criticism is beneficial, it can point out blind spots or biases you didn’t realise you had. Having a solid base in yourself, a strong inner belief that is open to change, opportunity and creative growth really help because people do get personal (a book on this could be written!). They put their own perspective on you. They put their own fear on you too. That criticism or “helpful advice” is their stuff, their baggage, not yours. You have your vision.
If and when you get feedback, ask yourself:
Is this true?
Is this helpful?
What is the lesson here?
Then leave it, go and take a walk. Let that perculate through you. By not taking it personally, the criticism will either help your creativity or you’ll filter it out.
How to be Creative
1: Let yourself create anything
Sometimes I tear pictures of people from the newspaper, stick them onto a page and create a comic strip. These never see the light of day but why can’t I do this? I have a sketch pad that I fill in, I am at a beginner stage in every sense. When my ego gets in the way, I put it away and tell myself I am ridiculous to even try. When I remember the ridiculousness of this, I take it out and doodle or draw whatever. When you let yourself create the ridiculous, you’ll discover the sublime.
“The goal isn’t to get good ideas; the goal is to get bad ideas.
Because once you get enough bad ideas, then some good ones have to show up”
2: Show up
As I mentioned at the start, creativity can be daunting and hard. It’s humbling and you can go through a whole spectrum of emotions in the shortest period. Somedays I create and then wish I could stick my head in the sand for the remainder of the day. But I still show up. I honour the time I put into this and I also respect that creativity will not come under duress. As I show up, I remember to be mindful of myself.
3: Do the work
Finish what you want to create. I have a notebook full of ideas for articles. It has taken me a long time to put them up on this website. As John Lewis famously said
“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”
Only you can do what you do, the way you do it, you might as well give it a go
4: Let it Go
Press publish. We are our own worst critics. People remember the bad reviews because they are the ones that resonate so much with their inner voice. I have gone through every emotion setting up this website. The devil on my shoulder kept telling me that it was not good enough. And so what? For some people this work helps, for others, this work won’t resonate. That’s ok. That’s ok because that is life. I am never going to please everyone, but I know that the intention behind my work is a drive to share and create. I feel better when I publish than when I mull an article over and over. Magic happens when you hand your creation over and share it with others.
5: Stand firm
The world needs creativity. The more you exercise your creative muscle the better it gets. An idea you share might seem simple. It might be exactly the solution someone else needs. Connect with people who are excited with your work. Listen to the feedback. Take walks and breaks to be inspired and amazed by your surroundings.