“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” ― Walt Disney Company
This is part 1 of the 2-part series on things highly creative people do differently.
Have you ever wondered how highly creative people produce great content and art consistently over the years and still do not seem to have gotten done.
Do you believe that you are highly creative or do you think that creativity is an innate gift that only a few have received?
Have you ever dismissed your own creative talents and did not end up engaging your creativity in a project or a task because you talked yourself out of it or someone else said that it was a bad idea?
Have you ever wondered what creative people did differently or how they stayed inspired despite years of uncertainty, doubt and fear.
Did you ever want to be more creative but did not know how?
Here are some ideas that might assist you in reframing your own creativity and creative process:
1. Having a Story to Tell and Believing In It: Creative Confidence
“The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.” ― Leonardo da Vinci
Above all, highly creative people have a deep sense of belief and connection to their own creativity. Deep inside they know and believe that they are creative and believe that they can and should engage their effort and time on creating new things.
This is a very subtle but an all-important distinction that separates the highly creative people from those who believe that they are not creative. The truth is that we were all endlessly creative as children but over the years, we have allowed conditioning and opinions, assumptions, fears and judgments to get the better of our desire to be creative.
In a mind opening TED talk, David Kelley, the founder of the highly innovative firm IDEO calls this phenomenon “Creative confidence.” He gives the example of a story from third grade from Barberton, Ohio when his friend Brian was making a horse from clay that their teacher kept under the desk.
A little girl next to him looked at the lump and said that was terrible and did not look anything like a horse. Kelley remembers how Brian’s shoulders sank and he did not attempt to do a project like that again.
Kelley wonders how many of us opt-out of our innate creativity when criticized or given negative feedback and shut off our creativity abilities. Kelley says that the opting out begins in childhood and becomes more crystallized as we grow up.
During workshops, he says that as the process becomes fuzzy, many executives become uncomfortable and get distracted and say they are not the creative type. However, when given the structure and opportunity to stay with the process, they end up doing great creative things and surprising themselves.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.” ― Steve Jobs
Are you opting-out of your creativity?
Take a few small steps towards doing something creative today without judgment or expectation and the results may surprise you.
2. Transcending Doubt, Fears and Excuses
“My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life.” ― Miles Davis
It is just not true that highly creative people do not have the same fears, doubts and excuses that everyone else has. It seems that they stay and engage creativity despite all the doubts and apprehensions. It might almost be an escape, an outlet for many highly creative individuals and they choose to create instead of giving up because of their situations.
Become aware of the dominant stories that you are telling yourself and what they mean in your life. If your dominant story is to outsource or postpone creativity for a more opportune moment, then you will not engage your creative powers in the present.
The problem with this approach is that something always come up, there is the next to-do and the next appointment and the next big crisis. If that is how you feel, rest assured that you are not alone. I was and am still in the same boat sometimes.
The only difference is that now I recognize the stories that I am telling myself and recognize that “later” or “should” or “could” or “if only” will always exist. Now I become aware of my excuses, my crises, my fears and my uncertainties and still take creative action. One small step forward in engaging your creativity and repeating the process will do wonders for your creativity.
It is well know that J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series conceived of the books while on a delayed train ride from Manchester to London. Over the next seven years, she went through a divorce, battled poverty and lost her mother.
Despite all the financial hardships and emotional difficulties, Rowling kept creating what was destined to be one of the most successful novel series of all times. Her persistence through her difficult times made her world famous and the first billionaire novelist.
Begin creating what you would like to create NOW. There is no better time and there will never be any better time in the future.
Become aware of the stories that you are telling yourself. Are they stories of creative self-empowerment or stories of doubt, delay and excuses?
3. Producing More Content: Chance in Numbers
“That inspiration comes, does not depend on me. The only thing I can do is make sure it catches me working.” ― Pablo Picasso
One of the most important things that distinguish highly creative and successful people from those who consider themselves creative failures is that they make a lot more content and products.
Highly prolific writer Simon Rich was only 22 and the youngest writer to be ever hired by Saturday Night Live. Simon has since written 2 books, 2 humor collections and is a regular contributor to the New Yorker. Read the NYT article here.
In an article published by the Fast Company, Rich has been called: “A mind-bogglingly prolific creative force.” Rich wrote his first novel when he was 18 and his second novel The Last Girlfriend On Earth was released earlier this year. In his words: “I figure, if I throw enough stuff out there, some of it will hopefully stick.” He calls himself a law of averages guy and prefers quantity to quality and is fascinated by authors who keep writing and producing such as T.C. Boyle, P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh.
Rich says in the same article to Fast Company:
“I just read this great biography of Charles Schulz, and he produced a new Peanuts every single day for half a century. And obviously not every Peanuts strip is on the same level, but still, it’s pretty staggering.”
Realize that highly creative and prolific people produce a lot of work and not all their work succeeds.
The key is to keep producing new creative content and launching and seeing which one makes an impact.
4. Forming Rituals or Habits That Engage Their Creativity
“The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Even though it is certainly not a requirement to have a ritual or a habit to be creative, it may certainly help in the initial stages of the process. I have heard many ideas suggesting that people should wake up early in the morning and be creative before the world wakes up. This is a wonderful idea and I have found the morning very calming and peaceful to write but many times this may not be how creativity manifests itself. You may be most creative in the evening and not in the morning.
Recognize and understand when you are most creative and set up rituals and habits around that time when you are most alert and ready to go. If you attempt low impact activities when you are most creative and attempt to be creative when you are weary and non-motivated, it may not work out well.
Research studies have shown that motivation is exhaustible and they have also shown that attention diminishes over time and taking short breaks keeps your engagement and attention levels high.
Simon Rich suggests in the Fast Company article that he wakes up wanting to write and it is beneficial to know when you work best. He says:
“I don’t usually have a lot of problems getting stuff done in the morning. But after lunch I really slow down.”
The prolific writer Anthony Trollope used to rise at 5:30 am and write till 11 am till it was time for him to go his day job as a clerk in a post office. He penned 46 novels in his lifetime.
John Grisham was still a practicing lawyer when he used to go work very early by 5:00 in the morning and write for two hours every day as part of his writing routine.
Recognize the time that you work your best and set up a ritual or habit around that time.
Establish a creative routine and habits and structures around the time that you are able to do your best work.
5. Pushing the Status Quo or Constantly Venturing Into the Zone of Discomfort
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” ― Steve Jobs
Highly creative people realize that creatively challenging themselves continually is important to push the status quo and create something magnificent. The choice is yours to make every day. Are you going to create something that excites you and scares you or are you going to stay in your zone of comfort.
The trap of the comfort zone is very alluring but it is in the zone of discomfort where great growth takes place and amazing creations are conceived and accomplished.
Here is an iconic advertisement from apple in Steve’s own voice that always inspires me to do my creative best and push myself into the zone of discomfort.
Are you spending most of your time and effort in your comfort zone? Recognize how you are engaging your time and attention.
Begin to step into the exciting and scary realms of creative discomfort where the journey is unknown but the rewards immense.
6. Trusting the Creative Process
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement, 2005
Steve jobs took a calligraphy class at Reed College after he decided to drop out of full-time college. The class taught Jobs about beautiful hand crafted calligraphy, different typefaces and great typography. However, none of this had any practical application in his life until 10 years later when they were designing the first Mac computer.
Jobs was able to use his knowledge of typefaces and design it into the Mac and it was the first time that anyone had designed beautiful typography into the computer. If Jobs had not dropped out and followed his desire to take a typography class, he would not have been able to incorporate beautiful fonts into computers.
I think that this is a great example of trusting the creative process to unfold and it is difficult to understand what utility any skill or expertise will have in your future. As Jobs points out that you will have to trust something and move on and the dots can only be connected looking backwards.
The famous writer Stephen King trusts the creative process and just dives in and creates a rough draft in a self-imposed deadline of three months or under. This is very scary if you are used to writing an outline and have a fixed outcome or idea about how your story is supposed to turn out.
“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book — something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.” ― Stephen King, On Writing
Trust the creative process and understand that it is difficult to connect the dots looking forward.
Work towards mastering new skills that inspire you and can be useful for projects in the future.
Now over to you! Please let me know in the comments below if this post resonated with you.
You can read part 2 by clicking here.