People say to me “You’re so creative.” Then they often say: “I’m not creative at all.” It happened to me just this week, and I’ve been mulling over it ever since, thinking of all the things I should have said to this person who discounts her own abilities. It’s made me realize that there are some beliefs about creativity that I think are all wrong.
The first has to do with what makes people identify themselves as creative, which depends on our definition of creativity.
Some people think being creative means being “original”: dressing differently, talking differently, living differently than the people around us. Some people think it means we make or do arty things. Artists who paint, dance, play music, or sculpt are creative and everyone else is not. Others include any kind of making when they call someone creative. Knitting, sewing, woodworking, and even cooking count as creative acts.
My definition of creativity is finding solutions to problems. They may be world problems (How do we avoid this war?), personal problems (How do I keep my boss happy and still have time to spend with my family?), or arty problems (How do I make the thing I see in my mind?).
The size and type of the problem doesn’t matter, and the originality of the solution doesn’t matter either. What matters is finding a solution and following it through. Creating order from chaos. Fixing the problem. That’s what creativity is all about.
The other creativity myth I dislike is the idea that creativity is a gift you are born with. Creativity is not a check box on a form, something you have or don’t have. Creativity is a muscle, not an eye color. Everyone has the potential to be creative. They may be weakly creative or strongly creative. It just depends on how often they try to solve problems, just like strength comes with lifting weights regularly.
Most of us solve problems all day long. Sure, they can seem trivial — What should I wear today? When should I make that phone call? What’s for dinner? — but they are still problems and they need solutions. Sometimes we fall back on something that’s worked before, sometimes we try something new. Whatever we do, we create our solution, and in the process, build our life. When we are successful with our creativity, things work better.
By my definition, scientists are creative. So are school teachers, engineers, doctors, social workers, store clerks, bus drivers, athletes, parents, students, even children. Everyone is creative in some way. But it can be hard to see.
I know it’s hard to see, because I don’t always accept my own creativity. I don’t think “making things” is what makes me creative, so even though I sew quilts, write books, and knit sweaters for dinosaurs, I don’t think of myself as creative. I think of myself as a Maker, turning my ideas into objects. The problems I solve along the way require creative solutions, so I am creative.
And so are you.
Do you think you aren’t creative? Why?