“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.” -Neil Gaiman
Do you want to be more creative in your work and in your life?
I know what you are thinking. Your first reaction might be: “Are you kidding. Of course I want to be more creative. Don’t we all?”
But then we get busy with life and our creative priorities get left by the wayside. If you are like me, you may have asked the question on how to be relentlessly creative. How can we be creative despite the pressures and the busy nature of life?
How can we transform creativity into a habit and keep being fearlessly creative?
Here are some ideas on being creative and making your creativity a huge priority. This is Part-1 of the three part series on creativity.
If you like the ideas in this post, please leave me a comment below or send me a message about your unique creative challenges and how you overcome them.
Idea 1: The Amazing Power of “Why Not”
“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. ” ― Pablo Picasso
Creativity begins when you give yourself the permission to be creative. It is this fine line between asking the question “why” and getting stuck or asking “why not” and jumping in to engage with the problem that makes all the difference.
But you may get stuck occasionally because:
- You may get stuck at the “why” question and do not allow your creative expression to move forward into the realm of possibility.
- You rationalize why moving forward and being creative is not the best option.
- It is not safe and within your comfort zone.
- You do not view yourself as a creative person. Your personal view has excluded you as a creative person.
- You may have a pessimistic and dismissive viewpoint of the creative types.
- You are unwilling to trust and feel the creative process after all it has burned you in the past.
- You hear ghosts of voices from the past whispering why it is not possible.
Are you asking “why” or are you asking “why not” and allowing the seeds of creative possibility to rock your life?
The idea of Richard Branson’s airline Virgin Atlantic originated from one of these “why nots” and “someone needs to do something” moments.
Branson was on a holiday with his girlfriend Joan to the Virgin Islands. While on this vacation, they fell in love with the isolated and beautiful Necker Island. The only problem was that Branson could not afford to buy the island of his dreams at that point in his life.
Things were not going well when his first offer for the island was outright rejected and their flight got cancelled on the way to Puerto Rico. Branson saw that people were looking lost and were aimlessly wandering around in the airport.
According to Branson:
“No one was doing anything. So I did-someone had to. I chartered a plane for $2000. I divided that by the number of people. It came to $39 a head. I borrowed a blackboard and wrote on it: Virgin Airways. $39 single flight to Puerto Rico.”
Realizing that someone has to take action and that someone might as well be you is the beginning of a powerful creative journey.
Next time, ask “why not” instead of rationalizing all the reasons why your creative venture will be a failure.
The first step is your willingness to engage the problem and allow your creative faculties to do some major thinking.
Idea 2: Creative Discomfort
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt Vonnegut
The idea of creative discomfort is not an easy one for most of us. The idea that you need to continuously move towards the unknown and uncertain is fear inducing and outright terrifying at times.
SO what do we do?
- We may rationalize away the need to enter new horizons.
- Get entangled in the classic avoidance mechanism where we tell ourself that we will do it someday.
- Take the flight part of the fight or flight response to uncertainty and stress.
Discomfort is where the rubber meets the road in creative endeavors.
You will have to learn to enjoy the creative discomfort. It is paradoxical but if there are aspects of the process that you enjoy, the process becomes exciting.
For example, I am sometimes hesitant to scratch for new ideas and write posts and book chapters. You might already know that I am writing a book on excuses and why we make them and how we sustain them.
But I know that when I get into the “flow” moment of writing, I enjoy the process immensely. There is intrinsic value and happiness bound inextricably with the flow of writing for me.
When I remind myself of that and even have a whiff of the feeling, I am more likely and motivated to stare at the empty computer screen and jump in.
Does your creative benefit outweigh the discomfort of uncertainty. That is the real question to ask. If not, keeping at it might be impossible.
The great choreographer Twyla Tharp calls it “the empty white room.” You can fill in the blanks here and it could be the:
- Empty computer screen.
- The scary looking blank sheet of paper.
- The piano keys that are calling to compose a piece something new.
- The concept that you need to visualize and make iterations to.
- That new presentation you have been putting off.
The moment that you stop experiencing great discomfort, and uncertainty is a message. Are you experiencing exhilaration and excitement along with fear and discomfort?
If not, you may need to take more creative risks.
Vonnegut puts it well when he says that you need to jump off the metaphorical cliffs of risk and uncertainty. While you do that, you need to develop your new creative wings on the way down.
When the iPod was first introduced by the legendary Steve Jobs at Apple, the whole world shrugged off the idea. The general consensus was that the world did not need yet another mp3 player.
If Apple went with the general opinion and did not decide to stay with the discomfort of a new ecosystem and a new device, the iPod would never have been born.
Of course, the rest is history since Jobs is widely believed to have changed the game with his iTunes and iPod duo.
Idea 3: Return To Your Original State
“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” – Pablo Picasso
Have you noticed that children have no problem being creative or appearing silly?
If left to their own creative devices, children have an innate creative power that they feel the absolute need to express.
Creativity= play in the present moment
Creativity= joy and happiness
Creativity= social role play and making use of open ended materials such as empty boxes
Creativity= curiosity and more questions
For adults who have allowed conditioning to paint (no pun intended!) over their original creative selves:
- Creativity is not safe.
- Being creative includes stress and tension.
- Creativity is a single person activity and not a social construct. This is the myth of the lone creative person.
- Creativity is getting stuck with their idea and believing that it is the best. This is the difference between playing a pre-molded toy vs. an open-ended box. In other words one opportunity vs. many opportunities.
- Creativity is assuming and understanding everything and being pre-set with ideas. It is not curiosity and asking more questions. Why? Questions make some people appear and feel vulnerable.
“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
There is also research to show that adults who thought like a child first came up with more creative results and outcomes.
The study is Child’s Play: Facilitating the originality of creative output by a priming manipulation By Zabelina and Robinson in the Journal of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.
Seventy-six undergraduate students were randomly divided into two groups.
The first group was the control condition where participants listed what they would if school got cancelled for the day.
The second experimental primed group thought and imagined like 7-year olds first and then came up with the list.
Results indicated that prior priming as children enhanced creativity in adults as assessed by a creative thinking test.
This effect was more significant in introverted people. Introverts are less spontaneous by nature and this gave them the benefit of enhanced creative thinking.
The authors say:
“The results thus establish that there is a benefit in thinking like a child to subsequent creative originality, particularly among introverted individuals. The discussion links the findings to mindset factors, play and spontaneity, and relevant personality processes.”
Idea 4: Everyone Has Doubts And Fears
“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Yes, that is right. Every single person, famous, rich or confident has fears, doubts and misgivings. The real question is whether you have the structures built up to deal effectively with the stress of self-doubt.
Many of your deep-seated creative fears might be irrational and unfounded.
Creative fears chiseled by years of societal conditioning and non-nurturing conditions.
Social proof and social pressures have shown psychologically to be powerful influencers of behavior. Now that social proof can work towards or against our advantage in creativity.
If you are from a family where personal creativity is looked down upon, you may have tuned out of your innate creative powers. Yet, you inadvertently engage in creative tasks all the time. You do not consider them to be creative.
- What structures do you have in place to deal with doubts and fears?
- Do you have a supportive social structure that allows you to lean upon in difficult times?
“They’re only crayons. You didn’t fear them in Kindergarten, why fear them now?” ― Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
Idea 5: The Power of Structures And Limitations And Rules
“Art transcends its limitations only by staying within them.” ― Flannery O’Connor
One of the big myths of creativity is that it needs to be free flowing and without any limitations and restrictions. I believe that this myth creates many problems for people who want to be creative.
Without a template or a structure to express the creative process, it becomes difficult to move forward.
The fascinating story of Dr. Seuss and his best selling Green eggs and Ham is a great example of creative restrictions. Dr. Seuss had previously written his second most selling book, The Cat in The Hat in 225 words. But it was a struggle for Dr. Seuss.
Knowing that he had struggled with such a limitation, Bennett Cerf, Dr. Seuss’s publisher wanted to push the creative limits and make some easy money off of him. Serf made a bet with Dr. Seuss to write a new book, now under the seemingly impossible limit of 50 words.
Green eggs and Ham was born and used only 50 words such as: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam and so on.
Another story worth mentioning is one of the artist Phil Hansen. In an inspiring TED talk, Phil says that his dreams of becoming an artist became shattered when he developed a shake in his hand in art school.
“But after a few years, I just couldn’t stay away from art, and I decided to go to a neurologist about the shake and discovered I had permanent nerve damage. And he actually took one look at my squiggly line, and said, “Well, why don’t you just embrace the shake? So I did. I went home, I grabbed a pencil, and I just started letting my hand shake and shake. I was making all these scribble pictures. And even though it wasn’t the kind of art that I was ultimately passionate about, it felt great. And more importantly, once I embraced the shake, I realized I could still make art. I just had to find a different approach to making the art that I wanted.”
Phil embraced his shake and transcended the limitations he faced as an artist to make great work.
Watch the TED talk here:
Idea 6: Are You Willing To Be Wrong?
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” ― Ken Robinson, The Element
You have to be willing to go through the fog of not knowing if your creative work is right or wrong.
You do not know:
- If your work will face criticism.
- If your work will have any monetary value and thus be able or not able to pay your bills.
- If people will laugh at you or your work?
- If you will ruffle some feathers and make friends, family and strangers upset.
- If you will suffer the opposite of social proof…social obscurity and indifference.
- If crickets will chirp around your work.
This is a tall order for most of us. After all most creative ideas and projects are a labor of love for the creator.
And yet, you need to get up every morning, shake off the doldrums and get to work.
Inherent in being relentlessly creative is the idea that you will need to develop the resilience to move forward.
The capacity and the willingness to admit that you learn by making mistakes and it is all right to do so. Many of us do not give the self the permission to be wrong and stifle the creative process.
James Dyson is the inventor of the revolutionary Dyson “cyclone” vacuum cleaner. Dyson made 5126 versions of the cleaner in a span of 15 years before hitting upon the solution. Read the interview he gave to Entrepreneur magazine here.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
Idea 7: Stir Up The Fires Of Creativity
“The inner fire is the most important thing mankind possesses.” ― Edith Södergran
DO you inspire your creative process or do you expect to get inspired automagically without any effort. Do you believe that the muses grace only a select few?
Instead, let me ask you if you have done anything to stir up the fires of your creative passion?
How can you do this?
- Go and visit places and museums that inspire you.
- Waste some time and allow your thoughts to incubate.
- Go for a walk in nature.
- Look at things in your life with a new insight or with a new perspective.
- Discover your passion in life and the work that you love to do regardless of money.
- Engage and become better in the skills that inspire you.
- Hang out with like-minded creative people like the artist guilds of the Renaissance period.
- Become a creative inspiration to others and show them the way.
- Keep pushing the limits of creativity by deep practice and challenging yourself on a regular basis.
- Have intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to motivate the creative process.
- Read and listen to inspiring works.
- Sit in silence and do nothing.
“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” – Osho
This is the end of part 1 of the post on being relentlessly creative.
Please stay tuned for the next part. Meanwhile, apply the ideas in this post and let me know in the comments below if any of these resonated with you.
What are the creative techniques that you use to stay relentlessly creative?