The 6 1/2 Biggest Myths about Creativity

I’m sitting in the auditorium at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit live in Barrington, IL, and just met a fellow MacBook Air user in the atrium blogging, so we swapped blog addresses and I returned to get a good seat. (enjoying free WiFi!) Anyway, I LOVED a post on his blog, and wanted to share it with you here.

(From Patrick Mayfield. I originally linked to his post, but he keeps moving it, so I have posted the rest here so I don’t have to keep updated it.)

1. Only a few people are creativecircle of people

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are probably right.”

I’m not sure who said that, but it sums up what I have come to realise about each of us in the matter of being creative.

Ultimately this myth is perpetuated by a negative and self-fulfilling perception of oneself. Our self-perception as ‘uncreative’ people is probably due to an unchallenged internal script from our critical faculties. When we have attempted something creative in the past, the script may have run something like this:

“You see? That’s pathetic! I can’t be creative…”

Many say, “I can’t draw”; then coaches such as Betty Edwards come along and prove that this is simply not true. With careful and sensitive coaching people can break through this limiting self-belief.

2. Creativity is a solo pursuit

This is probably the Myth that causes many of us to make such little progress, and also to miss true creativity when it happens in groups. Research by Doug Hall and others has shown that creativity happens best in groups. Measured by the volume of ideas generated, this always improves exponentially in groups, the more diverse the better. People with unlike experiences, backgrounds, personalities and strengths are far more fertile in creative exercises that homogeneous groups or individuals.

I know that in my Company, I’m always more creative sparking off ideas with colleagues who come at things from a different angle.

3. Creativity happens best when you ‘think outside of the box’

‘Think outside of the box’ has become such an accepted cliche, particularly in business circles. But is it really true? Surprisingly perhaps, when people work within given constraints – even apparently extreme ones – the quality and depth of the creativity is often far superior. It is as if the constraints themselves stimulate ideas. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” the old adage goes. See my Power Presenting Lens for examples of this in the areas of presentations, where shorter presentations, with minimalist visual design constraints have a more powerful impact.

4. When you suffer from a ‘Creative Block’, there is nothing you can do but wait for it to pass

So how do those in the ‘creative’ professions manage? Robert Fritz has shown that this is far from the reality of their work-a-day lives. Their approach is matter of professional discipline. They first generate drafts, sketches, roughs, etc. and in volume.Their discipline is to do this whilst suspending their critical faculties. Then later they go through this material, rejecting, amending, editing and shaping. The rhythm of their work is that they do not confuse the two modes – creating and critiquing – at the same time.

As a public speaker my first rehearsal is always poor. I have learned not to let that worry me. I come back, hone it, shape it, as a creative process.

Authors, such as Julia Cameron, Stephen King, Anne Lamott and Henriette Anne Klauser, set themselves daily volume targets – so many words or pages – and only later come back and edit them.

Learning to create is much about learning to trust oneself in the first phase and to ‘switch off’ the critical part of one’s brain during drafting.

5. My first idea is likely to be the best one

This is really a derivative of myths 1 and 4. Roger Von Oech looks for the second idea. Someone who is comfortable with the creative process can work in a group to push for the generation of ideas past the first one, often to something that could be a truly breakthrough idea. The rest of us are inclined to halt at the first idea that grabs us, and then give up when it fails.

6. Love me, love my idea

T his is where we confuse our own identity with the ideas we champion. An idea becomes ‘my baby’. It gets personal.

“A painting is never finished. It just stops in interesting places.”
Pablo Picasso.

Great artists can stand back from their work – even their ‘finished’ work – and stand shoulder to shoulder with the critics, objectively evaluating it. This requires some emotional maturity; to see that our ideas are not us. We attain greater agility of thinking in the creative process when we are not too emotionally wedded to any idea we may have come up with. Let’s be passionate about taking an idea as far as we can, but not to die at the stake for it.

61/2. Creativity is a serious business

This Myth is only half true. CS Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Regarding Creativity, I’d paraphrase that to:

“Fun is the serious business of creativity.”

In a way, the business of Creativity is serious. Our survival depends on our ability to create and grow. If the Global Warming Lobby are right, then we need to get seriously creative about how we use the scarce resources on this planet. It is serious.

However, Creativity happens best when we are positive, and having fun. It helps us to consider the hilarious, outrageous and ludicrous long enough to spot that breakthrough idea.

Some business settings are so threatening, stuffy and boring that I’m amazed people’s brains just don’t shut down altogether. The fight or flight response literally takes oxygen from our brains to our muscles for fight or flight. Not good for creativity, though.

No, Creativity happens best when it is Fun! When it is playful! We need to return to that wisdom where ancient kings valued the fool, the jester. Even Napoleon valued his Fool, whom he consulted on important messages in the heat of battle.

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