The Calculated Creative

The Dual Attributes of Creativity

With an open, curious, appreciative mindset, we can learn to harness the unpredictable fruits of imagination in all its messy glory.

Creativity is often seen as an entirely positive trait - the magical well from which innovative and important ideas spring forth.

But the unbridled imagination and openness to experience that feeds innovation also has a darker side.

Let's examine some of the more controversial attributes of creativity in detail.

Originality Can Alienate, Before it Liberates

Creative people tend to think quite differently from others, coming up with ideas, concepts, and solutions that may seem bizarre, irrational, or nonsensical to more practical-minded folks. This tendency for originality and rejection of conventions can lead to feelings of isolation and being misunderstood or undervalued by peers. Truly original thinkers are often rejected by societies and social circles that find their novel concepts confusing, threatening to longtime traditions or the status quo, or simply lacking in viability. Creators have a long history of being shunned by contemporary arbiters of status and taste before later being upheld as visionary pioneers.

However, without such bold original thinkers willing to take social risks and put forth completely new ideas at odds with the mainstream, many fields would stagnate. Perhaps we need to expand our social circles and challenge our own assumptions and worldviews to appreciate and integrate novelty, before passing judgement. What first seems eccentric and destabilizing can later usher in positive transformation.

Surface Disorder Can Unlock New Connections

Many highly creative people across fields are less orderly and disciplined in their daily habits and living spaces. Their desks may be cluttered, lives often spontaneous or unpredictable. However, this surface "chaos" can reflect an openness to unexpected connections between ideas and patterns that spur imagination. What seems like aimless wandering of the mind, loose associative thinking, or even escapist daydreaming allows more remote ideas and concepts to bump into each other in new ways, setting the stage for innovation. While tidiness and regimented routine is virtuous to a point, some disorder opens up mental space for the accidents and serendipity that allow creativity to bloom in unlikely ways. Too much structure squelches the possibilities. An excess of either extreme is likely unhelpful to the creative process, which thrives in the space between order and chaos.

So while certain kinds of surface messiness may frustrate expectations, it can catalyze the incubation and cross-linking of ideas necessary for bursts of creative progress. There is a kind of order and hidden logic within the creative mind's disorder. Structured environments have their place in creative fields, but often arrive later to discipline and refine the innovations hatched earlier from unstructured meandering.

Impulsivity Over Planning Can Unlock Breakthroughs

Creative people often display impulsive risk-taking and urgent surrender to new passions rather than carefully planned and orchestrated behaviors. They may juggle many ideas and projects simultaneously in a rapid fire manner, quickly moving from one shiny new concept to the next based on adrenaline and impulsive obsession rather than sober analysis and timing. But in fact, this impulsive action and following of ephemeral interests with almost manic devotion can unlock creative breakthroughs by collision that more measured and incremental steps may never achieve. Careful planning and discipline has its place later on to develop the ideas and bring them to full maturity, but impulsive passion, zeal, and urgency fuels the chaotic generative phase when new concepts are born, before extensive analysis can stunt them.

So we benefit from having those more impulsive, risk-taking creative types who are willing to jump first and look later. While still having other personalities to bring more planning and order to ideas further down the line. Both impulsive meandering and focused intent play important roles in the creative process at different stages. The impulsive artists, creators, adventurers often produce the raw materials that we all later enjoy and benefit from in more refined forms.


The Takeaway

While the relative messiness, openness, and urgency displayed by highly creative people can be baffling and vexing, it generates the variety, risk-taking and bursts of novelty necessary for societies to economically and culturally advance.

With an open, curious, appreciative mindset, we can learn to harness the unpredictable fruits of imagination in all its messy glory.

The steadfast and disciplined builders are just as key to realizing creative visions in tangible ways.

So while certain creative traits may frustrate in the short term, they unlock the incubation of novelty necessary to take us to new and higher planes over the long arc of growth.

Make Your Work
Suck Less

Pulling back the curtain on the creative process to help make your work a little less terrible. A 3-minute read delivered each week on Monday morning.

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