How to Unlock Your Creative Potential

Three small ideas (and one really BIG one) to make 2018 your most creative year ever

Jay Michaelson
Jan 18, 2018 · 9 min read
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Here we are: Part 3 of 3. This is where it gets good. Now, finally, after taking a hard look at the Ghosts of Creativity Past and Present, let’s dive into Creativity Future: What can you do to unleash the innate creative potential burning away inside of you?

If you’ve read the other two parts of this series, you know by now that I firmly believe each of us is innately creative. Some more so than others, but we’ve all got the spark buried somewhere down deep inside us. Creativity is such an essential part of being human that it can never fully be bred out of us. But within many of us, it has been buried or ignored for years.

So here’s the question: Have you identified the thing or things that are preventing you from being your most creative self? Maybe it’s fear, or a lack of belief in your own creative ability. Maybe it’s a misunderstanding of what it really means to create. Maybe it’s that you’re unsure of where to start. If so, here is my list of three small ideas (and one great big one) for making 2018 your most creative year ever.

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1. Don’t Listen to Fear

Fear is the fastest-acting poison of creativity known to man. More books have gone unpublished, more paintings unpainted, and more businesses unlaunched as a result of fear than anything else. As Shelley Berc says:

We are afraid to be wrong. We are afraid to make a mistake. We’re afraid of not being perfect. We’re afraid of looking stupid and being laughed at or being rejected. There are a million scary things out there and inside us that make us say to ourselves, “Pursue creativity? I don’t think so.”

The fact of the matter is that embracing our innate creativity is an invitation to try — and sometimes make errors. We cannot live authentically creative lives without failure and defeat. But when we give in to the fear of failure or the fear of imperfection, we do nothing but defeat ourselves. So, then, step one of living your most creative year yet must be to learn to ignore fear and forge ahead!

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2. Find Your Why

Simon Sinek is seemingly everywhere these days, preaching the gospel of why. The fact that he and his organization are as omnipresent as they are, and having the success they’re having, is indicative of the power of his message. As a society, we have lost the ability to see a reason behind so much of what we do on a daily basis. As creative thinkers and doers, not having a motivating vision (what Simon calls our why) is almost as much of a creativity killer as fear.

It can take years to find our why. I know I didn’t really find a motivating vision for myself until several years after I graduated college and joined the military. I thought my why was somehow wrapped up in the idea of military service, but the things I thought would give me the greatest personal sense of satisfaction and accomplishment (high morale, professionalism, and the pride of being a part of something as highly regarded as the military) turned out to be either nonexistent, or at least very unfulfilling. By contrast, the thing I had initially regarded as the one thing I probably would enjoy the least as an introvert—dealing with people day in and day out—became my why.

Another big part of my personal why evolved from the feeling that I was the only person who struggled to balance my need for creativity with the demands of (what I thought was) a fundamentally uncreative job. For years, I rejected the creative side of myself as being a hindrance to success. Now I see that it’s the one thing that’s actually made my success possible. Instead of trying to lock myself into the status quo of what I should be as a person, I’ve learned how to make who I already am succeed in the daily challenges of life. It’s a million times easier to let yourself find creative ways to be successful than it is to force yourself to be successful in ways defined by other people!

If we are truly to unlock our creative potential, we must have a reason, a motivating vision that makes us do so. Whether that means solving a problem you face daily, or developing an outlet for expression, or any of a hundred other valid reasons, step two of letting your creative spirit off the leash this year must be to find your motivating why.

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3. Find a “Medium”

See what I did there?

Okay, but seriously, not everybody is going to be able to express their innate creativity in the same way. Too many people try one or two things, let fear and failure get to them, and assume it means they are therefore incapable of creating anything. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The key to expressing your creativity in authentic ways and fully realizing your maximum potential is to find the method of expression that fits best for you. Don’t let anybody tell you that to be creative you have to write or paint or make music or be an entrepreneurial type. Your creative potential is exactly that — yours — and the medium you choose to express your creativity must be one about which you feel passionate and through which you can best tell your creative story.

All of this brings us at last to the final idea regarding unlocking your creative potential: Understand that you are a storyteller, and that the truest expression of your creative potential is to find a way to tell your story in an authentic and engaging way.

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The Big Idea: Tell a Good Story

Human beings have been telling each other stories since we first discovered language. The earliest roots of civilization were handed down in oral traditions spanning thousands of years. A culture wishing to preserve its heritage developed stories, myths, folklore, and legends to pass on its worldview to succeeding generations.

In much the same way, each of us tells a story in everyday life. But before you can authentically understand and harness your own storytelling power, you’ve got to silence that nagging voice inside you that says nobody wants to hear what you have to say. You have to find the compelling vision that makes you need to tell your story. As I said above, the medium that you choose to use in releasing your creativity has to be the one that enables you to tell your story best. According to a great article on

Our brains record information not logically, but as patterns of experiences, or stories. And we explain ourselves and connect to others through stories.

Painting tells a story. Writing tells a story. Marketing tells a story. Office psychology tells a story. Accounting tells a story. Each and every one of us is a storyteller in our daily lives, regardless of whether we do so consciously. Therefore, the key to realizing your full creative potential is inescapably intertwined with your ability to tell a compelling story.

Becoming a better storyteller, regardless of your work, is no easy task, but it is a simple one.

Storytelling, whether through written or spoken word or some other form of communication, is essentially the art of creating a framework on which to hang data. As humans, we retain stories much better than raw data. Anecdotes and personal experience are more relatable than numbers, which is why, as children, we learn mathematics problems better when they are cloaked in real-life situations (3+3=6 is a much more abstract concept than “Jane has three apples and Billy has three apples…”).

“Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, or predicting, of planning, and of explaining.” — Mark Turner

The ability to tell a story, whether through words or some other form, is what separates the millionaires from the millions. It’s what separates the out-of-the-box thinker from the box-checker. The ability to craft a compelling narrative is the key to achieving your fullest creative potential. It’s also one of the biggest indicators of whether you will be successful in life or work. People respond to stories. They interact with others based on stories. Business consultants these days will even tell you that not only is storytelling a good skill to have, but it is actually a strategic imperative for businesses to develop!

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” — Brandon Sanderson, fantasy and science fiction writer, in ‘The Way of Kings’

Ultimately, our creative potential as human beings is tied fundamentally to our stories and our ability to relate those stories to others. But the question remains: How do we become better storytellers? Here are three general ideas on how to develop your own storytelling ability.

1. Gain and Hold Your Audience’s Interest

Regardless of the medium you choose to tell your story, your first task is to grab your audience’s attention and hold it. Compelling stories almost invariably focus on vivid details, revolve around problems the intended audience wants solved, and appeal to emotional-level responses, rather than data.

2. Build a Connection

Empathy is one of the most powerfully motivating tools at the storyteller’s disposal. Empathizing with your audience and, in turn, persuading them to empathize and form a connection with you and your story is key to creating compelling stories. Whether expressed through words or art or some other medium, your story must be passionate and detailed, and it must connect with the audience on a fundamentally human level.

3. Provide a Satisfying Conclusion

The story you create must be complete. Human psychology loves completeness and resolution. Think of a song that seems to end on a dissonant chord, only to shift to a new motif, or a novel full of cliff-hangers and plot twists. While these measures have their place in storytelling, that place is rarely the end. The ultimate goal of storytelling, whether in art or business, should be resolution and completion. Very few songs truly end in dissonance, and very few books truly end with the plot unresolved. Your story must be complete to strike that chord with your audience.

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Storytelling and the ability to use whatever medium you’ve selected to share your story with your audience is the foundation of creativity. The process of creation is essentially the process of telling stories. Think back to the Venn diagram from Part 2:

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Several readers of Part 2 asked me what was in the center of the diagram. What is the intersection of creating, creativity, and creative learning?

The answer is: a story. The story of your life, your creativity, your product, whatever it is that you are developing: that is the center of the triad of creative processes. The story is the result of successfully combining all three of the processes, and telling your story is, without question, the ultimate goal of unlocking your creative potential!

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