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Thoughts on Creativity (2018)

There are lots of threads/books/posts/podcasts on the topic of Creativity. Here is a sampling of my thoughts on the subject.

Creativity is combining two unrelated items to form a new thing.

I imagine our brains as a home office. We have our desk where we work on things. We have file cabinets with old memories, ideas, and experiences. We have tools like calculators, pencils and erasers. Also, there is a small garden gnome in the office named Creativity. (If your home office is missing a gnome, you should fix that.)

When we are working on something, the garden gnome sometimes will pull an old idea or memory out of the file cabinet and throw it on the desk. When that happens, the two different ideas merge and form a completely new idea.

If you were working on RED and the gnome throws YELLOW onto the table, you would end up with Orange. Neither red nor yellow.

Creativity is not just creating.

Having a baby creates a new thing in the world. Also, it combines two physical things (DNA from the mother and father). So it seems like it SHOULD be creative. However, my definition of creativity is more restrictive. I want creativity to happen using the domain of ideas, not physical bodily fluids.

In other words, doing a color-by-numbers painting is not creative. It’s artistic, but not creative because you didn’t ned to think of anything new. (Side note: My grandfather did color-by-numbers paintings and inspired me to be a designer, but I don’t think of him as creative.) Creativity requires something different to happen. It needs to color outside of the pre-ordained lines.

Creativity is not just artistic. Anyone can be creative about anything.

Sometimes we think, as a society, that creativity is what artists do. I whole-heartedly disagree. You can creative about anything. A doctor can think about an illness in a new way. An accountant can devise a better strategy for handling revenue recognition. A marketer can position the product offerings in a novel and non-obvious way. A chef can add a new ingredient. A weaver can imagine a new pattern. These are all creative acts. Anyone can be creative.

So many people avoid being creative because they think they aren’t good at drawing. The lack of imagination in most people depressed me thoroughly. Imagination isn’t childish. It’s what makes people successful. It is what makes progress in our lives and society. It pushes the human race forward one tiny bit at a time. Be creative in your job. Try things in a new way. Think about the problem differently.

Creativity is harder than doing things the expected way

When I test designers that I am recruiting, I am often looking for a degree of imagination or creativity. I just designed a new UX Design Exercise that tries to get at that. In the meantime, find something in your life that can be thought of in a new way. Be creative, even for just a little bit. It might suit you.

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