The Calculated Creative

What is Creativity?

Creativity is not some gift bestowed upon a select few. It lies latent inside all of us from very early ages - we just have to nurture it.

Creativity is often seen as some mysterious force or talent that only certain people possess. However, I believe creativity is far more accessible and universal than we tend to think. Here is an alternative perspective:

Creativity is Not Magic

The myth of the tortured artist or the lightbulb moment of inspiration has dominated many cultural narratives around creativity. It feeds the idea that creativity blooms only for a special few who are struck by divine inspiration. However, the reality is not so mystical. While moments of inspiration do happen, most creative work emerges from experimentation, diligent work, and even failure.

Creativity does not require a special "creative gene" gifted at birth and possessed only by artistic or eccentric types. Certainly, some people may be more inclined towards creative expression based on their personality and skills. But evidence shows that nearly anyone can unlock substantial creativity through practice. Brain scans indicate that as people work to solve problems creatively over time, their neural networks actually change. Our brains build new creative capacity.

In other words, creativity can be honed intentionally - the magic is learning how to work the skill itself. Picasso said that "Inspiration exists but it has to find you working." Brilliant ideas are far more likely to emerge from a place of persistence and effort rather than idle waiting. Even moments of sudden inspiration are usually preceded by intense study and focus in a field.

The barriers to our creativity tend to be more about mindset and expectation than innate limits. By dispelling notions around creative genius, nearly anyone can actively improve their capacity for creative thought.

Creativity is a Skill

If creativity lies latent in all people rather than a random lucky few, that means it can be intentionally unlocked and strengthened. Just like learning math or playing the piano, creativity is a skill that anyone can develop. Some key aspects include:

Practice - Flexing your creative muscles through constant small experiments and attempts over time. Set aside dedicated time for creative practice, start very small without attachment to outcomes, and progressively take on more bold/difficult challenges. Creative capacity strengthens through use, just like a muscle.

Techniques - Applying intentional methods like brainstorming, limiting choices, seeking constraints or odd angles, and "idea sex" (combining disparate ideas into something new). These techniques stimulate and exercise neuronal connections that spark creative thinking.

Mindset - Approaching problems and ideas with curiosity, flexibility, and persistence. Ask provocative questions, entertain perspectives counter your own, connect dots between unrelated concepts, and don't give up easily. Building motivation and resilience in the creative process matters just as much as raw talent.

When made a regular habit, deliberate creative practice trains flexibility, experimentation, and novelty. Over time, anyone can gain skill at thinking differently about problems compared to their previous boundaries. Intentionally strengthening creativity as a skill opens new windows of insight.

The Scientific Perspective

Scientifically speaking, creativity relates broadly to the ability to produce ideas, solutions, or products that are both novel (original/unexpected) and appropriate (effective/valuable). It represents a special case of problem solving - finding useful solutions that shift away from the status quo to provide new value.

Creativity researchers have identified key cognitive elements enabling creative work. These include:

  • Divergent Thinking - The capacity to generate diverse ideas in many directions. Flexible, fluid thinking that explores the problem space widely.
  • Convergent Thinking - Analyzing and synthesizing possibilities towards effective solutions. Discerning judgment to refine possibilities to their best forms.
  • Meta-Cognition - Higher order thinking enabling self-evaluation and adjustment. Monitoring one's own idea generation and editing as needed.
  • Insight - A sudden recognition of new relationships to solve a problem. Seeming intuitive leaps connecting dots in novel ways.

Beyond cognitive processes, social and emotional factors also influence creative success like intrinsic motivation, willingness to take risks, and building expertise through 1O,O00 hours of practice in a domain.

In total, scientific research reveals creativity is complex, tapping both raw talent and motivations, but also learned skills and domain mastery. While no single profile defines the ideally creative person, nearly anyone can strengthen their creative capacity through knowledge, tools, and persistence. Creativity is ultimately more skill than inborn gift.

With cognitive flexibility and the right supportive environment, science suggests far broader swaths of humanity can channel their inner inventor. There may be more undiscovered Einsteins and Mozarts living today who lack only the means and encouragement. If human creativity represents the ultimate renewable resource, enabling more people to develop theirs could have profound impacts.

Everyone Starts Out with Creativity

One major misconception around creativity is that it steadily declines with age. Children brim with imagination, but creative vitality presumably fades as one grows older. However, creativity thrives not just in youth but potentially across an entire lifetime.

Young children overflow with creative ideas and unfiltered imagination. They ask outrageous questions, mash up concepts into fantasy worlds, and show little filter on expression. However, our social structures often actively discourage that innate creativity over time. As schooling and societal norms take hold, creative behaviors get circumscribed into more rigid boxes of acceptability. Self-conscious emerges, and rules dominate.

Yet the research shows creativity need not diminish over a lifetime. Those who actively nurture creative pursuits can grow more innovative even in older age. Our youthful openness and wild imagination still reside within us as adults, blocked behind layers of assumptions and inhibitions we adopted over time. But those constraints are not innate - rather, they stem from environment and culture. Having once fostered expansive creativity, we can reclaim it by peeling away those learned limitations.

With effort, we can regain our childlike curiosity, flexibility, and motivation that spark creative breakthroughs. We can revive and expand the creative exuberance that came so naturally in youth but atrophied under social demands for conformity. In a real sense, creativity is a choice - choosing to retain rather than repress that innate childhood impulse towards imagination.

The barriers we put up against creativity tend to be self-imposed rather than innate limits. Believing creativity thrives across lifetimes opens up exciting possibilities.


The Takeaway

Creativity is not some gift bestowed upon a select few.

It lies latent inside all of us from very early ages - we just have to nurture it.

What novel ideas and expressions might you bring to life if you embraced your inner creative drives?

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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