“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” ― Sophia Loren
This is part 2 of the 2-part series on things that highly creative people do differently. You can read part 1 here.
6. Engage Their Imagination
“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” ― Albert Einstein
Highly creative people are unafraid to engage their powers of imagination and daydreaming. While the rest of the world is discouraged to dream and “build castles in the air,” the highly creative people realize the importance of imagination.
In an interview, Walter Isaacson, author of the 2007 biography Einstein: His Life and Universe says:
“Einstein’s mind is by far the most interesting thing I’ve ever looked at. He was a very creative, rebellious, and imaginative person. He questioned conventional wisdom at all times and thought outside the box.”
According to Isaacson, Einstein’s creativity, imagination, rebelliousness from conventional thought and questioning authority directly inspired Einstein to formulate his theories on relativity and quantum theories.
He also says:
“By itself, intelligence doesn’t really get you very far. It takes being creative to really distinguish yourself. Einstein made leaps of the imagination. That’s what set him apart.”
It is unfortunate that society places excessive emphasis on intelligence and IQ and does not reward or encourage creativity and imagination in people.
Isaacson goes on to say:
“People often tell me they are like Einstein because they think outside the box. But I caution against that. Einstein thought outside the box, but he knew what was in the box first. It’s always important to make a few imaginative leaps, but you need to understand what is in the box. The great triumph of Einstein is that he tied knowledge and imagination together.”
Highly creative people deeply understand that knowledge and imagination need to be brought together and great creative products and ideas emerge from that mix.
Engage your imagination and mix it with your knowledge to become highly creative.
7. Understand the Value Of The Gap, Resting and Daydreaming
“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” ― Robert Henri
Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors and innovators of recent times understood that very well and allowed himself to day dream in his rocking chair and transform himself into a reverie.
Edison had a rocking chair in his office and kept a metal pail next to it. He would take a break and relax in his chair and hold a rock in one hand that was above the metal pail. If he fell asleep, the rock would roll out of his hand and fall in the pail, thus making a noise that would wake him up.
There is something very imaginative and idea inducing in the gap between the states of waking and initial sleep. Brainwave research has shown that the human brain emits different brain waves in different states that represent the different levels of electrical activity.
The waking state is when we are alert and is associated with beta waves. As we become more relaxed and rested, alpha waves become more prominent and transform into theta waves during deeply meditative states. Sleep is associated with delta waves.
Allowing the brain to move from conscious, directed activity in the alert beta state to an incubative, intuitive and insightful stage of alpha and theta activity may assist in the reprocessing and novel combinations of ideas and concepts.
In a joint study between Sydney University and NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), the effects of non-directed meditation were observed on electrical brainwave activity. Participants were experienced meditation practitioners and were asked to rest for 20 minutes and meditate for another 20 minutes in random order. Read the article Science Daily here.
EEG electrodes on the scalp measured the brainwave activities whether they were fast or beta or progressively slower from alpha, theta to delta.
According to Professor Øyvind Ellingsen from NTNU on Alpha waves:
“This wave type has been used as a universal sign of relaxation during meditation and other types of rest. The amount of alpha waves increases when the brain relaxes from intentional, goal oriented tasks. This is a sign of deep relaxation, but it does not mean that the mind is void.”
Ellingsen also says:
“Spontaneous wandering of the mind is something you become more aware of and familiar with when you meditate. This default activity of the brain is often underestimated. It probably represents a kind of mental processing that connects various experiences and emotional residues, puts them into perspective and lays them to rest.”
Historically, great inventions and discoveries have been linked to the deeply relaxed states when the conscious mind has given up on analysis and switches to incubation or processing of information in a slower mind wave state.
German chemist, Friedrich Kekulé is known to have come up with the cyclical structure of benzene in a dream where he had a vision of a snake devouring or grabbing its own tail.
Every prolific and highly creative artist understands the importance of the white space between strokes of color. Every musician understands the importance of silence or gaps between notes to be as important to the whole composition.
Understand the importance of gaps, daydreaming and resting to the creative process.
8. Allow Deep Practice and Immersion and Get Into a Flow State
“For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Highly creative people understand the importance of deep practice at their edge of their skill level. A consistent practice that has a high difficulty level and needs high skill levels can immerse you into a deep state of flow or optimal experience.
“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.” ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Professor Csikszentmihalyi’s research suggests that doing what you love to do, developing a high skill level by practice, working at a high challenge level and being completely immersed or focused causes the flow experience in our creative projects.
Flow states spark an intrinsic motivation and the reward is the optimal experience and the journey itself.
When you engage and invest your time and attention on skills that interest you and continue to develop them and practice those skills at a high difficulty or challenge level, you infuse meaning and immersion into the process.
“It is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur, or to something resembling a work of art.” ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology Of Engagement With Everyday Life
Continue building skills that interest you and practice them at a high difficulty level.
9. Do Not Easily Give Up and Become Friends With Failure
“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” ― Henry David Thoreau
Highly creative people know intuitively that not everything that they will produce will end up being a success. While failure is crushing for everyone, the successfully creative people do not allow failure to stop expressing their innate creativity.
You do not have to look very much farther than the life of Walt Disney to get an idea how creatively successful people deal with failure. Disney was fired from a newspaper because the editor believed that he had no good ideas and he lacked imagination.
Disney developed a love for drawing and art and was 18 when he became a art drafter at a Kansas City art studio where he met the cartoonist Ubbe Iwerks. Soon thereafter, he opened his own animation business called Laugh-o-grams that was initially successful but by 1923, the studio was in debt and he had to declare bankruptcy.
Undaunted, Disney and his brother Roy moved to Hollywood where they founded the Disney Brothers Studio along with Iwerks. It was here that they conceived of the idea of Oswald the lucky rabbit that became their first commercial success. However in 1927, Disney lost Oswald the rabbit and most of his creative team when his producer Charles Minz stole the rights to the series.
The brothers, their spouses and Iwerks who refused to leave Disney leapt into action and Mickey Mouse was born. You can read the full biography here.
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”-Walt Disney
This quote from Disney describes effectively the difference between the highly successful creative people and the not so successful. If you can reframe failure and keep building skills that you enjoy and can use in the future, sooner or later, you have a higher chance of success.
Dealing with failure will be one of the most difficult things in your life. However, repurposing and realigning your direction towards future adventures will also be the most rewarding thing that you can do.
Repurpose and realign your ideas and attitude towards failure.
DO not give up easily. If something does not work at the first attempt, learning from the process and doing something a little different from the skills already acquired will be very beneficial.
10. Get Ideas From Everywhere: Scratch for New Ideas, Connect and Combine
“Creativity is just connecting things.” ― Steve Jobs
“Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.” ― Twyla Tharp
Highly creative people understand that creativity is connecting and combing different ideas in different ways and producing something novel from the synthesis of those ideas.
Create boxes for all your old projects and ventures and put in clippings, photos, and hand written notes. In her book, The Creative Habit, famous choreographer and dancer, Twyla Tharp describes that she makes boxes for each of her projects where she collects bits of information that she can dip into later on.
“I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.”― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
According to Tharp, the box represents organization and a commitment to a project and writing a project name on a box is an indication that she has started work on that project.
Another process described by Tharp is scratching. Scratching is a process described by Tharp where you begin your creative journey by attempting to establish a toehold or a small grip on the side of a mountain to climb upwards.
This little first step can be different for different people. For example, according to Tharp, a fashion designer is scratching when he or she is visiting vintage stores, watches videos and sits in a cafe to observe what people are wearing.
“Scratching can look like borrowing or appropriating, but it’s an essential part of creativity. It’s primal, and very private. It’s a way of saying to the gods, ‘Oh, don’t mind me, I’ll just wander around in these back hallways’… and then grabbing that piece of fire and running like hell.” – Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
How do we get ideas? This question is eloquently answered by Tharp that we get ideas from everywhere. Ideas are all around us, they are everywhere. She says that it is like asking where is the air that you breathe?
Ideas that are good are open and turn you on rather than shut off the creative process. A good idea has the power to build upon itself and grow into something bigger. A bad idea according to Tharp is restricting and closes more doors than opening them.
For example she gives the example of the production of the movie The Edge. Two men in an adventure is not enough to produce a great idea but two men and a bear is much better because it has the power to grow into a story and go somewhere.
Big ideas just come and we cannot usually scratch for them but we can scratch for the little ideas and meet inspiration half way.
“The air is full of ideas. They are knocking you in the head all the time. You only have to know what you want, then forget it, and go about your business. Suddenly, the idea will come through. It was there all the time.”-Henry Ford
Great ideas are everywhere and you can get ideas by connecting and combining old ideas and answering questions to problems that people have.
Collect your ideas and set up a system of easy retrieval. You never know when a seemingly useless idea will be of benefit.
11. Create For the Sake of Art And Even When They do Not Feel Like It
“The magic question is, ‘What for?’ But art is not for anything. Art is the ultimate goal.”-Young- Ha Kim
The highly creative do not make excuses for their creativity and create even whey they do not feel like it and the situations are not right. When the desire to be creative and express your innate creativity is greater than the total of limiting external conditions and internal conditions, art is inevitable.
Highly Creative people know that finding the right skill and the right creative adventure is key to sustained levels of enthusiasm and perseverance. When the act of expressing your creativity becomes infused with a higher purpose or with a “why” or a mission for the sake of expressing the art itself, it becomes highly meaningful.
Creating art for the sake of art and expressing a higher artistic purpose gives you the fuel to burn through the doldrums or the periods of lull and quiet when nothing seems to be happening. If you do not have a powerful reason to express your creativity, the moment you hit the doldrums, you are inclined to quit.
It is highly beneficial to peel off the layers behind your creative adventures and get to the bottom of your motivations and inspirations. You may label the creative adventure as “following your passion” or you may call it “developing skills” that interest you.
Whatever you name the reasons, once you identify them and realign them for the sake of art, you recognize the happiness and contentment that you acquire along the journey and do not overburden yourself with the final form of the end product.
Create art for a higher reason for its own sake.
Understand the motivations and what inspires you to create your creations.
12. Curiosity and Question Assumptions Like a Child
“Einstein retained a childlike sense of wonder throughout his life that caused him to question everything. That’s what made him a genius.”-Walter Isaacson
Highly creative people can easily break assumptions and can be endlessly curious like a child. As Zen master Suzuki says, having an experts mind cuts off the options that are available to the child’s mind. Children have minds that are fluid and they can break, bend and mold assumptions to suit their circumstance.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki
Children also display a very deep and inherent curiosity that we lose as adults because asking too many questions is not “cool” anymore. The highly creative realize that having a curious mind like a child is a wonderful way to keep the creative options open and this is the most effective way to avoid tunnel visioning their choices.
Children approach situations and ideas with a sense of lightness and play that many adults seem to eventually lose when they are pondering ideas and problems. However, to develop a highly creative attitude, you have to be open to seemingly impossible combinations and connect things that do not make any sense at the outset.
Celebrated Korean novelist Young-ha Kim challenges you to invoke and unleash your inner child and makes a call to action: “Be an artist, right now!”
Watch the TED talk here:
In Kim’s words: “[We often] criticize the people on TV: ‘He just can’t act.’ ‘You call that singing?’ … We get jealous not because we’re evil, but because we have little artists pent up inside us.”
Become curious like a child and be open to questioning assumptions.
Connecting and combining seemingly improbable ideas and connections may produce something novel and imaginative.
Now over to you! Please leave your comments below if you found this post to be useful and let me know what habits and structures that you have in place to encourage your creativity?