First things first: What is creativity?
My eleven year old daughter said, “Creativity is being creative.”
Okay. Good start. But we need to be a little more precise. So, let’s go to the standing authority on definitions. Here’s how the dictionary defines creativity:
The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.
I think the word that stands out is “originality.” Something new.
Why Is Creativity–Originality for that Matter–Important?
Maria Popova, the founder of Brain Pickings, wrote a good post on a Harper’s Weekly article (“The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge”) that was written back in 1939.
The Harper’s Weekly article was about the role uninhibited curiosity played in technological breakthrough—discoveries that would never occur under regimented conditions.
In essence, the writer argued that pragmatic purposes are not behind breakthroughs. What’s at work is sheer curiosity—allowing someone to explore an idea simply for the sake of satisfying that curiosity.
While those curiosity driven explorations might not end in a significant discovery, those explorations pile up until someone pulls all that information together—and boom. We have a substantial breakthrough.
And that, my friends, is why creativity is important.
How We Kill Creativity (and Help Our Competition)
Now, I’m not shocking anyone by saying this, so here we go: there is a glut of blogs online.
And most of this glut is ho-hum at best.
What that means is something has to give if you want to standout from the crowd, the clutter and the confusion.
No more excuses (like those I’ll share below). In order to attract attention and keep devoted followers you need to be extraordinarily creative.
But we so often kill great ideas on the spot merely by the things we say. It’s like we push creativity up against the wall—and execute it.
That’s not good.
What’s worse is when we let what other people say kill our creativity.
So, look through this list and see if you ever said one of these statements—or if somebody said it to you. I then let’s eliminate them from our vocabulary.
1. “You’re not paid to be creative.”
Everyone is creative. Accountants, engineers, carpenters, football players and waiters. Naturally, some of us are more creative than others. That’s why we gravitate to the creative fields like writing and graphic design.
Whoever you are—you are paid to be creative. You just need to be more confident.
2. “You’ve got to follow the rules.”
No. What you’ve got to do is learn the rules. Master the rules. So that you can break them in meaningful ways that introduce brilliant new ideas.
Even if you are absolutely forbidden to play outside of the rules, however, no biggie. Rules are good. We couldn’t enjoy a tennis match without rules. Great players find out how to be creative inside those rules.
3. “Don’t ask questions.”
Ugh. If anyone ever says that to you the first thing out of your mouth should be, “Why not?” If they persist in their obstinacy get out. Your job is to ask questions. And it’s one of the ways you become a creative genius.
4. “Don’t rock the boat.”
Ha. I couldn’t survive if I couldn’t rock the boat. You?
5. “Stay within the boundaries.”
This is like, “You’ve got to follow the rules.” Another phrase you’ve got to kill—or it will kill your creativity.
What would happen if we always stayed in the boundaries? We’d never have interesting movies like Blair Witch Project. We’d never have classic books like Ulysses. And we’d never have rock n roll, jazz or dub step.
We’d also never have climbed Everest, landed on the moon or dove to the bottom of the ocean.
6. “Don’t try anything stupid.”
You kill creativity when you worry about what other people think about you. However, let me be absolutely clear with what I’m not saying: you do not have to put everything on the table so it ridicules or harms others.
Don’t be an exhibitionist for the sake of attention.
No. There is a limit to stupidity in the creative space. Use common sense—and protect people above all.
7. “That’s not practical.”
Sure, most people who are going to pay you to create want your work to be useful. That doesn’t mean your approach or solutions to tackling challenges needs to be practical. Remember: the client or boss tells you what he needs. You get to decide how you accomplish that goal.
When you are alone, however, it’s a completely different story. In your own space and your own medium you get to explore and create with zero hope of doing anything useful.
The practice itself is useful. Useful in restoring your creative passion.
8. “You need to be serious.”
Yes, there is a time for serious.
Funerals. Exams. Court appearances (this is debatable).
But that time usually occurs after your time with creativity. Until then you need to be seriously creative. Shut off the inner critic and play, okay?
9. “What will this do to your reputation?”
Hopefully rocket it.
You don’t get noticed by turning in consistently practical and ho-hum work. You get noticed when you create something extraordinary—and you do it consistently.
Look at guys like Matt Inman of The Oatmeal and Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content. They’ve made a fortune off of creativity that might have ruined their reputation 50 years ago. Now they are heroes.
10. “It’s never been done before.”
I don’t know about you, but when I hear that phrase I immediately think challenge. I’m a sucker for a challenge. And I like to prove people wrong.
11. “That’s impossible.”
See number 12 above.
12. “I’m not very creative.”
Oh. Oh. Oh!
*holds his ears*
This might be a sentiment you hold on rare occasions when you are suffering from creative block. Or it could be your general outlook. Either way you can conquer that thought.
13. “We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.”
The conversation could look something like this:
You: “I don’t know, maybe you didn’t have what it takes to make it work.”
Them: “And you do?”
(This is when you put on that smug little grin that drives people nuts.)
No, don’t be smug.
But you never know: you just might have the angle or the outlook that this particular challenge needs to succeed. And it doesn’t really matter if you succeed or not (see no. 17). Even if you fail your creative output will provide a footing for future creatives to build upon.
14. “That will take too much time.”
Like a breakthrough isn’t worth it? Come on.
And sure, we don’t have all the time in the world to tinker away at our ideas, but true breakthrough ideas are never discovered on a timetable. They usually occur when we’ve lost track of time.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
15. “I can’t afford to fail.”
Then you can’t afford to win. Most endeavors in life—blogging included—involve risk. However, that risk comes in degrees. It can be a win or lose risk: you either win the client or you don’t.
Usually it looks more like this: you only got 4,578 tweets from your viral blog post—not the 13,000 you had hoped.
Of course some failures are more costly than others, but creativity that leads to true breakthroughs involves failure. It’s how you learn.
16. “How will that make money?”
That’s a good question—but if you are asking it during the creative period then you are asking at the wrong time.
Keep in mind: there are times when you need to generate creative ideas that should end in profits. How do you sell your new ebook? What’s the best way to promote this workshop?
There are other times, however, in which you are simply being creative. The goal isn’t profit—it’s breakthrough ideas.
17. “Failure is final.”
This statement comes from a mindset that doesn’t look at creativity as play, but as a win-lose proposition. This mindset is driven by fear. By cowardice. And by desperation.
It’s a dreadful mind-set. And it’s flat out wrong.
Failure is never final, people. And keep this in mind: the end-of-something variety of failures are not just closed doors—they are also open doors. Gateways to new adventures. New opportunities.
Have you ever been guilty of saying any of those phrases? Did you listen to yourself and kill your creativity? How were the results? Do you know any other phrases that should be included in this list?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Featured photo credit: Beautiful woman doing a yoga exercise on her rooftop of a skyscraper via Gettyimages
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