The Nature of Creativity — Part 4

The Thinker — Rodin (image source — Wikipedia)

Creativity Is More than Imagination

Last week, in Part 3 of the Nature of Creativity, I explored the fact that art is neither equal to, nor solely definitive of creativity. As I said there, creativity is the universe, and art merely a galaxy within it — a single expression of creativity.

This week, I’ll be exploring the misconception that thought is equal to, or definitive of creativity.

As usual, here is a restatement of this basic premise from Part 1:

Creativity is more than imagination and/or lateral thinking. (for convenience I’ll label it OBT — Outside Box Thinking, from here) Another reason that so many people don’t consider themselves to be creative, is that OBT has, almost universally, been confused with creativity. Even many dictionaries define creativity as “the ability to think differently — to think outside the box” — or variations on that theme. Once again, although OBT is important, it is merely an aspect, and an expression of creativity. OBT is not definitive of creativity. While OBT, like art, is an easily recognisable aspect of creativity, creativity is much more than OBT.

If you haven’t already done so, please read the previous instalments in this series before continuing. Last week’s post is particularly relevant, and provides valuable background to what I’ll cover here.

Our society, to a large degree, primarily defines creativity as “thinking”, “ideas”, and/or “imagination”. This definition of creativity has become very deeply embedded in our social consciousness. Even dictionaries tend to lean very strongly toward this thought-biased definition of creativity.

When I ask people how they define creativity, the most common responses revolve around “creative thinking”, “lateral thinking”, “thinking outside of the box”, “imagination”, and/or “coming up with different ideas”.

On one level, this is certainly a valuable insight into creativity. However, making creative thinking definitive of, or equal to creativity, is misleading at best.

The abilities to think differently, to use imagination, to think laterally or outside the box, and the ability to make “new” connections, are undeniably vital aspects of creativity. (I’ll be using the term “interesting thinking” throughout this post, to refer to these, and other ways of thinking, that may usually be termed “creative thinking”.)

Without interesting thinking, innovation, improvement, and novelty would be rare, even non-existent. We would just think, do, and make the same things, including mistakes, over and over again. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that without interesting thinking, creativity would not exist. I obviously therefore, do not want to minimise the importance of interesting thinking.

Interesting thinking is vital to the existence of creativity in the same way that cake flour is vital to the existence of cake. However, in the same way that cake flour does not equal or define cake, interesting thinking does not equal or define creativity.

It doesn’t matter how important any key ingredient may be, it can neither be, nor define the finished product.

As I mentioned in Part 1, and again in last weeks post, creativity must produce something to be creativity. If nothing is made, either material, or otherwise, then creativity has not occurred. Therefore, interesting thought alone, without action, without production, cannot be classed as creativity.

So, creativity requires interesting thinking to be creative, and interesting thinking requires that something to be produced in order to become an aspect of creativity.

Why am I bothering with what may seem to be a purely semantic, even pedantic splitting of hairs? Hopefully it will not surprise too many of you, that I do, in fact, have a good reason for clarifying this point.

Remember, creativity is one pole on the creative — destructive continuum. Therefore, any action, definition, etc. that limits, or stops creativity, is by definition destructive.

As I’ve said, interesting thinking is a wonderful, necessary aspect of creativity. However, interesting thinking, without action, does not result in creativity, and is therefore, by default, destructive.

Far too often, in my own life and in the wider world, wonderful, potentially creative ideas for poems or prose, songs, or even business, have remained mere interesting thinking, and never been created, for lack of action.

Maybe an idea became so real inside my head, that I didn’t feel a strong enough urge to take action. Possibly the idea felt so big and exciting that it became daunting, resulting in excuses, rather than action. Or maybe, in line with current social belief, I mistook my thoughts for creativity, and so, never bothered to take them further.

Whatever my reasons, nothing was made, and my ideas came to nought. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of having great ideas, only to see other people take action and own “my” success. I’m sick of feeling battered and destroyed by my own lack of action — my stillborn creativity.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not angry with people who implement “my idea”, nor am I accusing them of stealing my ideas. I’m angry with myself for not following through. I’m angry with myself for confusing the thought — the idea, with the product. I’m angry with myself for not being creative.

Interesting thinking alone does not result in success or fulfilment. Far too often, the people, products, art, etc. that succeed are not the best; not the result of the most interesting thinking. However, the people, products, art, etc. that succeed, are always the result of action.

The dullest, most ill-conceived, badly planned, and shabbily made product, art, or course of action will always be more creative than the most scintillatingly brilliant interesting thinking without action.

Interesting thinking without action has the passive result that nothing is made. However, it also results in active destruction. Since creativity and destruction exist as poles on the same continuum, that which is not creative, is destructive. Let’s look at how that plays out in reality.

Interesting thinking without action is individually destructive:

  • Every time you, or I think of something potentially creative, but do nothing about it, it lessens us — it makes us less creative, and less willing to risk creativity.
  • We build the habit of thinking, but not acting.
  • We become increasingly encased in the misleadingly “safe” cocoon of inaction; where we are not challenged, and we cannot fail — or succeed.
  • Inaction feels safer and safer, while action looks ever more dangerous and threatening.

Interesting thinking without action is sociologically destructive:

  • Every time interesting thinking is not put into action, another societal strand is destroyed, and society is further weakened.
  • Relationships decay, explode, or become toxic because the interesting thinking for strengthening, or healing them, was not put into action.
  • Every time that greed, power, influence, or ego is chosen over acting on interesting thinking, society slips further into the abyss.
  • On the one hand, we revere those people, profiled in our favourite magazines, who ran with their ideas, and accomplished something worthwhile. On the other hand, we have unlimited excuses — sorry, reasons, for why we do not act on our own interesting thinking.

Interesting thinking without action is commercially destructive:

  • At one time or another, we all complain about the low quality and high prices of goods and services.
  • At one time or another, we have all had potentially creative ideas to improve various good and services.
  • The question is, what do we do with those ideas?

Interesting thinking without action is environmentally destructive:

  • You really don’t need to look far to see the truth of this. We exist in a finite environment. Continuing to destroy our environment, as we are currently doing, can only end in disaster.
  • The signs of impending environmental disaster are all around us. There are also many interesting ideas that can and should be implemented to mitigate, or possibly reverse environmental disaster.
  • However, for reasons of greed, laziness, and pride, few of these interesting ideas are willingly implemented, and seldom on the scale that is required.

We are all capable of interesting thinking, and we all, at one time or another have great ideas. What really matters, to us and the world around us, is what we do with our interesting thinking.

  • Do we develop our abilities for interesting thinking, by learning and practising interesting ways of thinking?
  • Do our great, potentially creative ideas remain merely potential, or do we act on them?

In a later post, or posts, I’ll spend some time looking at various methods of interesting thinking such as lateral thinking, out of the box thinking, connective thinking, mind mapping, brain-storming, etc.

Once again, I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to develop and value your interesting thinking, and to then act, to make your thoughts and ideas reality. Think interestingly, then act creatively.