The Importance of Creativity and Why We All Got It (Mostly) Wrong

Last night I started to write today’s blog post about how you can boost your creative juice and I got stuck, basically after 5 minutes. Yes, the fear of the blank page was right there. I wanted to start this blog by writing about the importance of creativity in the 21st century. I mostly ended up with the arguments commonly used by various people, authorities and startups: Creativity is mostly seen as important 21st century skill in order to be more competitive in the future job market, as key to economic growth and most recently, as key differentiator to artificial intelligence and robotics.

Even though those are very valid and important reasons, I was not fully satisfied with them. Is this really all we have to say about creativity, a necessary skill to be able to compete against artificial intelligence and as key driver to economic growth? There must be more to it, so as designer I developed this habit whenever I am stuck with something, I start with a mind map and by putting on some upbeat and pleasing music with no lyrics to get my creative juice going. Such music could be anything from Mozart to the Minecraft main theme music, OR as recommended by a friend, the Star Wars: The Force Theme 1 Hour Loop (yes, we are Star Wars geeks).

A mind map is a wonderful tool to let your thoughts freely flow and come up with new insights on the topic. David Kelly, founder of IDEO, describes why mind maps are such a great tools for your creativity to flourish:

“When I want to do something analytical, I make a list. When I’m trying to come up with ideas or strategize, I make a mind map. Mind maps are organic and allow me to free associate. They are great for asking questions and revealing connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. I start in the center with the issue or problem I am working on and then as I move farther away I get better and better ideas as I force myself to follow the branches on the map and in my mind. The cool thing is that you allow yourself to follow your inner thoughts, which is different than making a list where you are trying to be complete and deal with data.”

I started with creativity in the center of my blank page and continued until I had an “Aha!” moment. This Aha! moment came when I realised why I was not satisfied with the mostly used arguments for the importance of creativity. We mostly focus on the outcome, the pressure to create something novel, unique and valuable. Rarely we discuss the process of creativity, which is much more important than the outcome. Also, by saying that next generations need to able to think creatively in order to strive in our society and be successful simply puts pressure on being creative. Rarely we talk about creativity and the relationship to happiness. Creating is fun, more concretely, the process of creating is fun and can trigger an upward spiral of wellbeing.

I think it’s important how creativity can help us to be happier in life and give us an upwards spiral of positive emotions. This is more important than focusing on whether we produce something productive and novel. I think this just puts pressure on being creative, to create something novel and unique. Even though it can be a goal, just creating something is fun and can increase your happiness in life, which I think is of utmost importance on our current and future society.

Dr. Tamlin Conner, a psychologist at New Zealand’s University of Otago, stated: “Engaging in creative behavior leads to increases in well-being the next day, and this increased well-being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day.”

Creating and expressing ourselves gives us a sense of purpose, according to Tony Wagner, a senior research fellow at Harvard and author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.

Creativity can also help lower stress and anxiety, enhance resilience and contribute to a sense of playfulness and curiosity. Engaging in creative activities and art-based therapies has also been linked to improved physical and mental health.

Instead of focusing on creating something novel and unique, we should rather focus on how creativity, in particular the process of being creative, can help us live a happier life. I started building LEGO again, not sure if this will change the world, but I go to bed with a smile on my face and some fun stories to share.

I’d love to hear your take on creativity. Does it need to be a novelty that works?