Demystifying Creativity: Part 1


Years ago, when I was still in school, one day, in my childish enthusiasm, I had expressed my desire to work in an ad agency after college to my father and elder brother. My father, having spent his entire career in a PSU bank, was aeons away from the world of advertising. So he turned towards my brother, silently seeking help. My brother, finding himself in a position of knowledge and authority, promptly dismissed my desire as a whim saying that, “You have to be very creative to get into advertising.”

But why am I raking up this relatively inconsequential piece of family conversation after all these years? Do I still hold a grudge against my brother?

Of course not! The reason why I mentioned this incident here is something different.

My brother, when he made that statement, had also, automatically, made an assumption: that I, either don’t posses the high level of creativity required to get into advertising, or can’t develop it if I want. I never spoke about my advertising ambitions after that in my family. I knew they wouldn’t understand. But that statement made me ask myself a few very pertinent questions: What is creativity? Are people born creative? Or can it be developed over a period of time with individual effort? Can anyone be creative? Since that day, I have put in quite an effort to find an answer to all these questions and have reached to some sort of a conclusion. I may be wrong, but I’ll try to answer these questions one by one.

What is Creativity?

Put simply, creativity is the ability to create something new, ideas, thoughts, products, process, picture, design, prose, poetry, food, building, anything new that provides some value. Since every creative pursuit, starts with an original idea, the ability to think, is perhaps, the greatest asset of a creative person. Yes I know, mere thinking is not creativity. You have to think different. But you will “think different” only when you know how to “think” first.

Are people born creative?

Not really. What people are born with in not creativity itself, but a certain temperament, that helps foster creativity. Everybody can think but how you think is what matters most. Some part of how you think, can be learnt over a period of time. But some part is inbuilt.

Can anyone be Creative? Can creativity be learnt?

An unequivocal yes. It is perhaps the biggest myth, perpetuated, no doubt, by the so called “creative people” to feed their bloated ego, that creativity is some sort of a “gift” possessed only by the very few. To complete their superiority effect, they grow long hairs (rampant among ad “gurus” and pretentious authors), wear specs (sometimes even if they don’t need), and do anything possible to project themselves as “creative.” Sadly, growing a ponytail wouldn’t make you any more creative, than wearing a helmet and pads would make you a cricketer.

Dr. Edward DeBono has spent his entire lifetime teaching people how to think creatively and debunking the myth that thinking prowess and thus, creativity, is something people are born with and can’t be taught. Through his books (he has written more than 70!), I was introduced to the concepts of “lateral thinking,” parallel thinking,” “six thinkijng hats,” and “serious creativity.” He is today, the most respected thinker on the subject of “thinking” and has gone to the extent of challenging the ideas of the Greek Trio of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, the founding fathers of western philosophy.

Tony Buzan is another champion of creativity for the masses, and the originator of the concept of mind mapping (see appendix). When I had read his book, Use Your Head, in college, I found great relief in his assurance that anyone can think and be creative. It meant I had a chance! It means you have a chance! If you believe Tony, as much as 97% (or is it 98%?) believe that they are not creative. That’s sad, because the process of creativity starts with the acceptance of the inherent human ability to create.

Brian Tracy is one more expert on creativity who thinks creativity can be learnt. Brian has written more than a dozen books and has lectured all over the world on creativity.

When your mother adds her “secret ingredient” into any recipe, because you don’t like the taste of the food otherwise, she is just being creative. When you decided to decorate your drawing in a different way, during your son’s birthday party, you were also just being creative! Look carefully around you and you will find far more creativity flowing round you than you would have realized. That’s because you have been made to believe that only certain “blessed” souls can be creative. What that really means is that only a few people possess, exceptional levels of creativity and they are able to channelize their creativity to create art, or scientific & technological invention or innovation. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t possess any creativity at all.

So even though the answer to the above to questions is yes, it cannot be denied that only some people are able to do something with their creativity and only some people become engaged in creative pursuits. Firstly, they possess above average level of creativity. In common parlance we use the term “talent” to mean above average level of creativity. Secondly, they know how to channelize their creativity for productive purposes on a regular basis. The prime reason for some people to be more creative than others is their temperament. Traits like high emotional sensibility, almost insatiable curiosity, thoughtfulness are all indispensable for creative output, be it science, business or art.

More on these traits, with my personal experiences, in part two.

Appendix

A mind map for Tony Buzan. I have personally used and benefitted from mind mapping. Tony has developed a software for mind mapping called iMindMap. Find out more on imindmap.com

An excellent video showing de Bono’s views on various aspects of thinking and creativity

An excellent video trying to understand the source of creative inspiration. All of these speakers are artists and have an above average level of emotional sensibility. You can almost feel it in the way they are speaking.

Another excellent video on creative thinking by Brian Tracy

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