The Nature of Creativity - Part One

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on creativity, you will, no doubt have picked up on some of my thinking and beliefs. However, I’ve never really sat down and brought all my thoughts and beliefs about creativity together in one place. This, along with my next few posts, aims to be that place.

Let me start off by laying a foundation of basic premises - my starting points. I’ll build on them, and fill in detail in future episodes.

1. All humans are creative - without exception. Creativity is innate to humanity, and is an important part of our humanity. To begin a running metaphor: Creativity is to humanity, as water is to ocean. Ocean would not be recognisable as such without water. In fact, ocean would not be ocean at all without water. However, while water is necessary to ocean, ocean is so much more than just water. In the same way, humanity is greater than creativity, but creativity is necessary to humanity. Many people do not practise or develop their innate creativity, because they believe that they are not creative. This is usually because they were told, during childhood, that they were not creative. That misinformation often proceeds from my next premise.

2. Creativity is not synonymous with art. (When I say 'art’, I include all genres, forms, styles, and expressions of art, whether visual, physical, auditory, or any other.) How many people think they are not creative because, as children, some adult negatively criticised their nascent artistic endeavours? To continue my running metaphor: Art exists within creativity like waves exist within water. To define water solely by means of waves is ridiculously inaccurate and incorrect. Waves are an important expression of water - but they are not the only expression, or recognisable feature of water. Waves definitely do not define, or equate to water. While art is unquestionably an important expression of creativity, it does not define creativity, or equate with creativity. Creativity is much more than art.

3. 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.

4. Creativity is the polar opposite of destruction. Like most things in life, creativity and destruction (making & breaking) exist as opposite poles on a continuum. Pure creativity, therefore, contains nothing destructive, and pure destruction contains no hint of creativity. Human creativity in real life, is represented on points all along the creative-destructive continuum, and contains varying amounts of either, depending on proximity to either absolute. The obvious aim of any creative endeavour is therefore to minimise, even eradicate all destructiveness, and maximise creativity.

5. Following on from the last point - Creativity must always result in the creation of something. The obverse of this is that it is not creativity if it results in, stems from, harnesses, or results in destruction. Due to the destructive-creative continuum, this becomes more and more true as destruction outweighs creation in any aspect of the endeavour. The clue is in the name, creativity - something must be made. In light of this, I love the hipster trend that has replaced the devalued, undefined label "creative" with the term "maker". While this is, for the most part, only applied to physical making, crafts, and repurposing, I think it is definitely a step in the right direction toward a fuller understanding of creativity.

6. Creativity applies to every aspect of life. Usually, people only think of creativity in terms of art, OBT, or maybe, hipster 'making’. On rare occasions, the word creativity may be used within the realm of business. However, it is usually only applied to certain successful, maverick entrepreneurs. While these slightly expanded perceptions of creativity are positive, they do not come anywhere close to the reality. Creativity or destruction are innate components of life. This is true of both thought and behaviour in social, economic, professional, relational, psychological, artistic, and all other areas of life. To phrase it another way: There is no part of life that is not impacted directly by the creative-destructive continuum. Recognising the need, and actively practising creativity in every aspect of our daily lives, is therefore vital. If we are not being actively creative, then we are almost definitely, to some degree, being more destructive than we wish or plan to be.

I know that I’m writing to a very diverse audience. Some of you consider yourselves to be creative, while others don’t - probably for reasons listed above. (if you have other reasons for thinking that you’re not creative, please share) Some of you may already know much of what I’ve introduced here, while to others it may be largely new.

Some of you, either in whole or in part, will agree with me, and others of you will not. You, my readers (thank you for reading), hail from almost every 'corner' of the globe. You have many different cultural, social, religious, and intellectual beliefs and practices. But, you are all human.

I’m fairly sure that, as you read the following episodes, you will find areas in which we disagree. I hope to see passionate, thoughtful discussion, growing out of these differences, even if it doesn’t result in agreement. This is particularly true if you disagree with me. I’m no shrinking violet, and love to learn from discussion.

That said, it is my sincere hope that these differences will be expressed in light of our shared creative humanity, with an absence of destructiveness. Bluntly put, please keep it civil and respectful.

Over the following weeks, I plan to unpack each of the foundation blocks that I've laid here.

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