Why we are not uncreative

I have recently got back into listening to podcasts and enjoy those discussing productivity and creativity. This morning I was listening to the Accidental Creative podcast and Keith Sawyer was discussing his book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity. One of the points discussed was that about 80% of creativity is learned. This seems surprising at first but when I considered it, it seemed right.

I have read a number of books (including Austin Kleon’s excellent Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative) that highlight the need for side projects as these encourage creativity. This is because if we focus on one area only we are likely to be stuck in one way of thinking and this can impact our ability to be creative.

Many people (including David Bohm and Steve Jobs) have emphasised that creativity is not just doing art or design. rather it is coming up with something new and making unexpected connections. When we consider creativity in this way, it is odd that some people are ‘creatives’ and others are not. We often do not consider scientists to be creative, when they can be some of the most creative people there are.

Why is there confusion about creativity?

I think that this confusion about creativity, with many people claiming they are not creative, starts at school. We are either classed as academically gifted or creative or persistent or musically-gifted. Often those who decide to do science are not encouraged to do anything artistic, instead focusing on science and maths to the detriment of other studies.

At school, science and maths are about remembering facts and applying equations, rather than trying to prove new things or question established hypotheses. This school-work is not creative and sets a mindset that can last throughout our lives. When we get to university we may do some research and suddenly we are faced with a completely different subject. We have the knowledge that we need to apply, developing experiments that may prove or disprove our hypothesis. If things don’t work, we need to create different experiments to confirm the results or different pathways to what we desire. This is different from at school where if something didn’t work we just needed to redo it, as it was guaranteed to work if we did it correctly.

What do I do to increase my creativity?

I have found that making sure I have a hobby increases my creativity. This means that rather than watching TV in the evening, or sitting reading a book I am trying to develop new skills. I love printed art and zines (Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?: The Art of Making Zines and Mini Comics), and would eventually like to put together my own. As such, I am trying out linoprinting and collage, and have for several years been taking photos on my walk to work. These on there own are unlikely to increase my creativity, however, the planning and getting ideas for the prints means that my mind is active and coming up with ideas unrelated to work. These can then eventually lead into ideas for work and for other areas of work.

I cannot say for sure that this works, but it is a lot of fun!