After another semester of teaching ENG 333, a class on creative thinking I put together some lessons that I’ve learned from creating things.
At the center of most creativity is the creation of a few (often simple) connections.
When I look at most “creative” things being done, most of them aren’t actually anything new, it’s just the coming together of existing things in new ways – whether that’s ideas, people, efforts of different organizations, etc. There might be one novel aspect of the project that sets it apart, but the bulk of it is likely to just be bridging existing resources through deliberate connections.
Creativity takes practice – and requires stamina for what feels an awful lot like failing.
Creativity is a learned skill, and just like any other skill, it will increase with practice. Which is fine because you can make practicing creativity fun. Usually. Until you start to push yourself. And start to fail. This is actually the important thing to practice, failing. You must be comfortable with ideas not holding together, plans not panning out, and people (especially yourself) not following through. It’s just part of the creative process. Practice it. Fail and keep trying. Better yet, fail and keep smiling.
Just keep answering the question: What is the next step forward(ish)?
I used to stress about what I wanted to do with my life. The answer to that question includes so many pieces all of which are almost constantly changing, making it near impossible to answer in any definitive way. Therefore I started asking, what is the next thing I want to do? The same goes for projects, keep the overall vision in mind but mostly focus on what is the next step in the general direction of the X on the map.
Document. Reflect. Sketch. Journal.
How often do experiences or ideas fade from our mind? In such a fast past world it is easy to distractedly run from one thing to another. Taking time (even a few moments) to capture the things that seem significant to you can help you gain much more value from the things you are already doing, the thoughts you are already thinking. The longer you do this the more you, your team, and others you want to share things with will appreciate it. Write down ideas that aren’t ready yet. Brainstorm solutions in a place you’ll come across them again down the road. Reflect every step of the way. Notice what things stand out as worth documenting to you.
Pause to consider, What else?
If you don’t like the options that exist, how can you create better ones? Maybe this means constructing something from scratch, maybe it means putting in more leg work to find more information, maybe it means reframing how you
See things from multiple perspectives (and build empathy)
This really seems to be something creatives can do better than anyone else. By seeing things in new ways you can gain new understanding of them. You can relate to people, you can figure out who needs what and why which will allow you to anticipate if something you create is useful or valuable. Plus you’ll become a whole lot better at understanding the people in your life. To me, this alone is reason enough to develop a creative mindset.
When you are feeling stuck, bored, overwhelmed, or uninspired: Leave home.
This might just be a walk around the block, a cross-country excursion, or completely submersing yourself in a new culture. It’s not so much as where you are or how many times you think you’ve been in a place, but rather how you go about noticing what is around you. Get outside and start noticing things. There is always something new to see. Even if you are looking at something familiar, there is no limit to the new ways of seeing things.