I Am Not Creative.

You’ve likely heard it or even said it yourself.

I’m just not a creative person.

We like to think of creativity as if it were some innate ability — something you were born with. You are either “creative” or you are not.

Let’s consider a typical office scenario — A design challenge has presented itself and your team is deciding how to approach it. Members of the team might attempt to push the project off to the “creative” people in the room. They’ll say things like:

“I’m not creative like YOU.”

“Wow, I could never do what you do.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t know. I’m not creative.” (This one kills me.)

As a designer, I’m oftentimes the creative person in this scenario. I want to let my coworkers know that there’s nothing special about me. I don’t have some special knack for creativity. I haven’t unlocked the hidden secrets of creating. I want to point out a time that my coworkers were creative and how they have their own sense of creativity. I want to announce to them:

Everyone is creative.

But, at the end of the day, I’m lucky enough to be paid to be “creative” and that’s exactly what I do.

How did creativity become binary?

Humor me for a moment and consider the idea that everyone is creative. Perhaps some people were born with a steadier hand or have acquired a strong sense of color, but creativity itself is an essential human trait. If that’s the case, then why do we view creativity as binary? You are or are not.

The issue comes from a number of serious problems in the way we think about creativity.

1. Creativity is associated with aesthetics.

We stereotype the “creative type” as someone who paints and draws, writes novels, or designs skyscrapers. These obvious examples overshadow the little bouts of creativity we all have. Wikipedia has a wonderful definition of creativity.

Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.

Creativity can manifest in the smallest ways. Consider some everyday cases of creativity:

  • The intern who creates a custom email template account to send weekly emails to her company.
  • The mailman who reconfigures his route to get home from work 15 minutes early each day.
  • A manager who decides to remove chairs from the conference room to speed up her meetings.

2. Social media and online portfolios force us into social comparison

If you work in the design (or tech) industry, you are likely acquainted with Dribbble — “show and tell for designers.”

Screenshot of the homepage of Dribbble

Websites like this give designers a beautiful, controlled environment to post their finest work. You can’t deny there is some incredible work here. Just look at this animated sloth gif from the homepage (really though, I love it).

It’s difficult for less-experienced designers not to get caught up in social comparison on Dribbble. They might even feel a need to adhere to current trends, which can cripple their unique ideas. Chasing likes is NOT the best way to improve your skills and find meaning in your work.

She has more likes, so she must be a better designer.

For most people, it’s a place to explore some of the best work in the world, find inspiration, and keep up with trends. However, it should never be mistaken for a standard in design and creativity. Only a fraction of creative endeavors can be turned into images or animated gifs and posted online.

3. The myth of the creative person

Those designers on Dribbble? That author you love? Your friend who does those amazing sketches on Instagram? What do they all have in common?

They all put a LOT of time into their craft.

The myth of the creative person is a lot like the myth of the overnight success — one day there’s nothing and the next day there’s something wonderfully successful. You don’t see all the work that happens prior to a product launch. You just see the final, polished product.

Designers like to (and should) present only their best work so that they can attract better clients. By selecting which work to showcase, they can create the illusion that they have only ever done amazing work. Digital portfolios make it easy to expose the best and archive the not-so-amazing.

4. The education system and standardized testing

If you are a millennial, you probably remember Scantron tests and quizzes. To speed up the grading process, students would fill in multiple-choice answers on a rectangular sheet of paper. This paper was run through a machine and automatically graded to save time for the teachers. Unfortunately, practices like this encourage a schooling system where one answer is right and all the others are wrong. Not much creativity in that.

via scantron.com

Testing is important to track progress but many of the methods used in school unintentionally squelch creativity. Hence, creativity becomes something students associate with art classes and not math or science.

How to foster your creativity

As with anything in life, there are plenty of ways to grow your creativity.

  • Start with baby steps — don’t write a huge blog post; maybe begin by commenting on other blogs or emailing your ideas to close friends.
  • Doodle in your notebooks.
  • Try a daily challenge. Or don’t.
  • Try posting an artsy shot once a week on Instagram.
  • Take on creative tasks at work; present solutions even though they might get shot down.
  • Find something you are passionate about: something that you’d want to include in how you introduce yourself.
  • Do something you’ll fail at. Do it again and fail again. Do it again and again and again. Push yourself harder when you start succeeding.
  • Celebrate your progress — watch your portfolio grow, each like or follower matters. Savor the fact that you are creating.
  • Talk to successful creatives — how did they get where they are? Write about their story and share them with others.

Creative work is extraordinarily fulfilling. Once you start creating something (anything) you’ll start feeling the joy and pride that comes with adding very tangible value to the world.

In Conclusion

I am not creative. Everyone is creative. Creativity is not an attribute that we assign to some gifted class in society. Creativity can be fostered through practice, expanded through perspective, and encouraged through community.

Matt Kandler is a full-stack designer living in San Francisco. Currently, he’s working on HappyFeed — a digital gratitude journal. See some of his work at mattkandler.com or follow him on Twitter @mattkandler

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Builder of many internet things & founder of @happyfeed — an app to help you appreciate the little things. http://happyfeed.co

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Matt Kandler

Matt Kandler

Builder of many internet things & founder of @happyfeed — an app to help you appreciate the little things. http://happyfeed.co

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