“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”—Carl Jung
This is part-3 on the three part series on how to be relentlessly creative. You can read part 1 here and Part 2 here.
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.
Moving on right alone to the next idea!
Idea 14: The Power Of Play
“When we engage in what we are naturally suited to do, our work takes on the quality of play and it is play that stimulates creativity.” – Linda Naiman
One of the most under rated and under utilized means of enhancing creativity is play. When we were children, play came natural and easy to most of us. Play was a natural extension of our innate creative exploration. It did not feel unnatural and it did not feel like a difficult activity.
As adults, we may have conditioned our minds to be serious. We are serious most of the day at work and then deal with the other stresses of life, making a living, taking care of our families and our own self.
Thus, play gets thrown out of the window.
Who has time for creative exploration and play? After all, you are hard pressed to find time and space for even habitual activities and the daily grind.
But as you might have guessed, play is important to be creative.
Stuart Brown’s book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul shows the importance of play in our lives and our creative process.
Brown gives the example of Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) which has over the years been instrumental in creative inventions. Innovations at JPL formed an integral part of manned and unmanned space exploration missions.
JPL began the process of replacing their old engineers with new hires from the top universities such as MIT, Stanford and Cal Tech. They found that the new hires were not excellent in certain types of solving problems that were mission critical for the job.
While the new hires excelled in mathematical and theoretical knowledge, they did not perform well with creative problem solving. They did not do well on taking complex projects from the theoretical to the practical solutions.
“Unlike their elders, the young engineers couldn’t spot the key flaw in one of the complex systems they were working on, toss the problem around, break it down, pick it apart, tease out its critical elements, and rearrange them in innovative ways that led to a solution.”
JPL management analyzed the problem and found that they needed to look at different data and the right metrics while hiring for these problem solving positions.
JPL then came across Nate Jones who had experienced a similar problem in his specialized precision racing and Formula One tire shop.
Nate found that employees who had played with their hands while growing up were able to better see solutions while problem solving.
JPL looked at their own retiring engineers and found that they also in their youth had played with their hands. They had taken clocks apart, made soapbox derby racers and built stereos and appliances.
It turned out that the graduates from schools who had played with their hands were better at problem solving that these positions demanded.
“JPL managers discovered through research: there is a kind of magic in play. What might seem like a frivolous or even childish pursuit is ultimately beneficial. It’s paradoxical that a little bit of ‘nonproductive’ activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life.”
Brown gives us the following guidelines to define play:
- Play is purposeless and done for its own sake.
- Play is voluntary.
- It has inherent attraction.
- Play can induce flow and a sense of timelessness.
- Play makes you feel diminished self-consciousness.
- Activities including play create opportunities for improvisation.
- There is a desire to continue pursuing it.
Watch Brown’s TED talk on play here:
“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.” – Pablo Picasso
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway
How many times have you jumped in to offer a suggestion and solve a problem without even listening to the other person?
Have you skimped visually and jumped from word to work and scanned materials and made conclusions?
Often, we distract the self on our device or other things while not observing what goes on around us.
Often, we might jump in to add details without even listening to the other person.
Often, we do not engage the problem by careful and slow observation.
I will admit first that I am guilty of doing all the above. But I have realized that there is certain magic in listening with all your heart.
There is great creative power in seeing life vividly.
We can receive great data and creative solutions by observing others, being in the current moment and applying those insights to solve problems.
The epitome of careful observation comes to us from a famous fictional source. Yes I am talking of none other than the legendary fictional character Sherlock Holmes.
While the work is fictional, there are great deal of lessons of keen observation that we can learn from the persona of the super detective.
“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”- Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
And it is not simply the faculty of vision but the power of smell, touch, sound and intuition that we need to engage mindfully to enter the realm of the relentlessly creative.
The famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his book Creativity that we have limited attention spans. All the inputs and distractions compete for that limited conscious attention. I could not agree more.
When we are multitasking while attending to some other sensory input at the same, there is not enough attention to get around. We cannot focus unilaterally on one activity and creativity suffers.
Perhaps that is why Csikszentmihalyi says that creative people get the label of arrogance. They need to isolate themselves to be creative and that seems they are standoffish.
“If we want to learn anything, we must pay attention to the information to be learned. And attention is a limited resource : There is just so much information we can process at any given time. Exactly how much we don’t know, but it is clear that, for instance, we cannot learn physics and music at the same time. Nor can we learn well while we do the other things that need to be done and require attention, like taking a shower, dressing, cooking breakfast, driving a car, talking to our spouse, and so forth. The point is, a great deal of our limited supply of attention is committed to the tasks of surviving from one day to the next. Over an entire lifetime, the amount of attention left over for learning a symbolic domain— such as music or physics— is a fraction of this already small amount. Some important consequences follow logically from these simple premises. To achieve creativity in an existing domain, there must be surplus attention available.”- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention
Idea 16: To Create, Connect: The subtle art of putting different things together and recognizing patterns
“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” ― Marcel Duchamp
In its simplest essence, creativity is connecting things together. It is making new combinations that did not exist before.
Steve Jobs said:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
In this context, we are all standing on the shoulder of giants. We have much to be grateful for all the people who have put in a lot of work by unleashing their creative potentials.
Creative people know that they need to connect unrelated things and bring them together. They are also unafraid to pair things up that do not belong together at first glance. They are also unhesitant to throw out ideas that do not work out after testing them out for themselves.
Read this great post from creativity researcher Tina Seelig on connecting things.
Connecting the dots, finding patterns and mixing and matching things may not seem obvious at the outset. But in retrospect while looking back, all the experience that we have received may prove useful.
In his Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs says that taking a calligraphy course in Reed College was what lead him to adopt great fonts in the personal computer.
Steve used a skill that seemed of little value at the time and connected it with personal and digital computing.
What skills and value do you have in one discipline that you can connect creatively to another skill, project or field?
“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 speech 2005
Idea 17: Look With a New Set Of Eyes
“Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.” ― Albert Szent-Györgyi
Relentlessly creative people transport themselves to imaginative worlds and have the capacity to look with a fresh new set of eyes.
There are two aspects to this:
One is to wipe the slate clean. If you look at things in just one way, try looking at them with a beginners mind. Having a beginners mind means:
- Not pre-judging the merits and demerits.
- Allowing all opinions at least in the initial stages.
- Finding new ways to enjoy the process.
- Realizing that every moment is unique and shaping the moment by your thoughts, emotions and feelings and finding something new and exciting to work with.
The second is to transport yourself into the view of someone else. Think like someone else and look with a new set of eyes.
Ask what would the:
- The mind of an Engineer do?
- What would the scientist do?
- What would the artist do?
- What would the producer and movie star do?
- What would the doctor do?
- What would the…you get the picture!
Based on the set of eyes that you transport your attention into, you will get different results.
The engineer part of me wants to build and fix parts of my website.
The artist wants to increase the artistic appeal.
The connector wants to get social and share updates.
The creative writer wants to generate evergreen content.
The scientist wants to run experiments on creativity and flow.
Idea 18: Inspire Yourself
“Read deeply. Stay open. Continue to wonder.” ― Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
The moment that we stop feeling wonder, our creativity will become a struggle.
Super creative people have found ways that consistently inspire them and they are unafraid to pursue them.
To become a great writer, you need to read a lot and understand what great writing reads like. You need to feel inspired by some great writing.
If you want to be a great chef, you need to taste food and eat food that tastes great on a regular basis.
I have learnt from watching cooking shows including Jiro Dreams of Sushi and from Gordon Ramsey that great chefs always want to get inspired by eating the best food that there is.
I believe that the general idea is that if you do not inspire your palette by eating great food, you are missing out on your art and craft.
If you want to be inspired by music and create new pieces, you need to listen and be deeply moved by great music.
How do you creatively inspire yourself?
Idea 19: Send The Critics Home And Get To it
“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced” – Vincent Van Gogh
When you embark on the creative mission, everyone wants to be a critic and unsolicited giver of advice. People may make it their job to go out of their way to let you know how you need to do something different or something better. All the while not doing anything themselves of course.
Take it with a pinch of salt. Feedback and advice and constant improvement are wonderful ideals. But if you self doubt your creativity with the next sound byte that shows up on the horizon, you will never launch or get far.
Of course, one of your biggest critic is your inside voice. It is the voice that says:
- What me? I am not meant for success.
- That (fill in the blank) is silly and bad.
- I do not deserve it.
- I hate my work and it is worthless.
- How could I…why should I?
- People will think that I am a fake.
- My family and friends will detest me.
- People will perceive me as arrogant.
- I do not like change.
This still silent voice is your worst critic. It will crush your creative dreams even before they have a chance to take off.
Relentlessly creative people have the same inner critic but they have discovered ways to silence that voice and manage it for the better.
They create along with the inner critic and not in exclusion to it. They understand that the inner critic serves an important role of analysis but they do not allow it more than that.
They understand that inner voices and thoughts can create our creative realities and can express as feelings, emotions and actions.
This does not mean that we have to think positively all the time. In fact, creative people respect their strong emotions and allow them to expression in their creativity.
Refusing to self-direct the negative and critical thoughts and feelings, they create distance and separation between their true value and the criticism.
As such, they can express them through their creative process. It is a myth to assume that we need to become happy or have a particular state of mind to create. But if you do not find ways to deal with the self-defeating thoughts, you will be ill prepared to create.
In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp says that the master Mozart himself said of his talent and skills:
“People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.”
So send the critics home and operate on reality and not on perceived reality or a simulation of what you think will happen with your creativity.
The young Mozart worked so hard practicing and perfecting music that by the time he was in his late twenties, his hands got deformed.
Of course, getting my hands deformed is not my fun idea of creativity but the lesson for me here is to shut off the critics and get to the creative work without any delay.
Idea 20: Dedicate Yourself To Curiosity And Be Open To New Ideas
“Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.” – Dee Hock
Relentlessly creative people are extremely curious.
Curiosity also has a bad reputation.
- Curiosity killed the cat.
- Do not be too curious.
- Do not meddle with the status quo.
“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” – Leo Burnett
So when we have to be curious to create something new, we are cautious and almost a little guilty at times to go against the grain of such past conditioning.
We get hesitant to ask questions in public lest people think that we do not know enough.
Like we say in science, there is no stupid question. Every question and every curious move is a small and correct step towards the better understanding of the creative process.
“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
Idea 21: Creative Trust And Instincts
“Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.” ― Rita Mae Brown
Even though the idea of trusting yourself sounds clichéd and like a self-help catch phrase, I believe that it is still a big issue for many people. Many of us cannot muster up the feelings of self worth and self trust to put our work out there.
It is almost like we do not take own creativity seriously and with awareness. We shut off our innate instincts and creative urges with addictions like TV and you name it.
The relentlessly creative know one big secret that they almost unconsciously practice. Regardless of how they feel and whether it appears risky and vulnerable, they trust their creativity enough to unleash their creativity on a daily basis.
This is where many of us get carried away from popular messages from the personal development field.
We feel that we have to completely trust our instincts and have an unshakable self-creative efficacy. I most respectfully disagree. Ok, I just disagree completely.
The highly creative know that they just need to trust the process enough to produce it and they suffer from no burden of developing an unshakable trust.
So let me ask you:
- Do you trust your creativity enough to strike pencil to paper and keystrokes to the finger?
- Do you trust the creative process and do you have an innate understanding of how YOUR process works?
- Do you trust that your efforts will see the light of day and be launched out there?
How do you develop the process of trust?
- Go step by step and create something even if it is very small.
- Hang out with like-minded people to bolster social proof. And as Robert Cialdini describes in his book Influence, social proof and like-minded groups can be influential and quite persuasive.
- Ask for support from mentors and people who are already there in their creativity.
Bonus Idea 22: Connect With Your Unique Vision And Creativity
“Obviously I don’t know where ideas come from, but I do believe that everyone has a unique vision. Given the freedom to create, everybody is creative. All of us have an innate, instinctive desire to change our environment, to put our original stamp on this world, to tell a story never told before. I’m absolutely thrilled at the moment of creativity – when suddenly I’ve synthesized my experiences, reality, and my imagination into something entirely new. But most people are too busy working on survival to find the opportunity to create. Fortunately, I’ve been freed by reputation, by the economics of success, and by emotional contentment to turn my ideas into reality. I’ve discovered that the more freedom I have to be creative, the more creative I become. Rather than diminishing as I’ve gotten older, my creative output is increasing.”-William Shatner, Up Till Now
Relentlessly creative people have sharpened their skills over the years and have deeply understood what makes them tick.
What is your unique vision? What is your unique story and narrative? This is important because you need a personal context for your creativity to flourish.
Distinguish between the visions and aspirations of others and your own. Many people find it quite difficult to separate this and be completely honest with themselves. You may have to spend some quality reflective or meditative time to figure out what call you?
This can be called as developing your unique style or your method.
Ask and implement the following:
- What are you skilled at and what kind of intelligence do you love to engage.
- Howard Gardner first described multiple intelligences and you can be visual, kinesthetic, musical and so on.
- Play to your strengths.
The great writer Hemingway wrote standing up and this was much before the idea of standing desks was popular! He is also known to have written in a pair of oversized loafers and always stopped when he had an idea of what would follow in his story.
I believe this allowed him to get started the next day without much trouble.
In his 1958 interview with George Plimpton, he said that he wrote:
“every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.”
In Plimpton’s words:
“A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu – the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him. He keeps track of his daily progress – ‘so as not to kid myself’ – on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head.”
Read the rest of the post on Hemingway here:
What I am saying is that you need to be uncompromising in searching and then implementing the styles of creativity that suit you the most. Get guidelines from creative people an then tailor them or transform them to your own fancy and convenience.
When do you like to express your creativity?
- Do you need down time to ideally express your creative process?
- How does your environment allow you to express your unique creativity?
- Some people love clutter and need the busyness to be optimally creative.
- Some people cannot think when they have cluttered desks.
- Think of time, space, music and mood that shapes your version of creativity.
Do not dismiss your creative habits and inclinations as whims of fancy. The more you engage with your unique blend of creativity, the more you will get out of the creative process.
BONUS Idea 23: Perfection and Imperfection: Yin and Yang
“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it” – Salvador Dali
The more perfectionism plagues you, the more you need to practice allowing the release of imperfect work.
Perfectionism is a huge problem for people who want to unleash their creativity because there is a voice telling them that it is never good enough.
What you need to consider is that perfectionism is a relative scale and what might be perfect for you might be excessive nitpicking for others.
The solution is to go for excellence and do the best you can but also practice releasing work out there that is imperfect in your opinion.
I am including some posts that I have written on perfectionism (here and here and here) and here is an infographic on it. If you want a high quality pdf version of it, please drop me a note and I will be happy to send it to you.
If you view perfectionism as firing of neural networks that can be disengaged, you can place it in the context of relief.
Instead of fighting perfectionism, how about strengthening and engaging other neural networks. Strengthen networks that allow for imperfection and stay with the discomfort.
This can slowly reshape and strengthen pathways in our physiology that speak to less perfectionism.
Look at the dance between creative perfection and imperfection as the ancient symbol of yin and yang. While striving for better and better or excellence, allow for the opposite. While excellence represents the serious yin energy, allow for the playful imperfection of yang energy to balance it out.
This is the end of part 3 of the post on being relentlessly creative.
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?