Are You Creative?

If you think of your career goals as a problem to be solved, then creativity would be a wonderful asset to have. Indeed, being considered “creative” has a wonderful ring to it and brings up all kinds of positive associations. Yet only a small percentage of people would describe themselves as creative. Why?

Part of it is the all or nothing approach we have for any descriptor. When you see the work of a Van Gogh or Steve Jobs or George Lucas, it’s natural to be intimidated. “That’s creative,” you think. “I’m not creative at all.” We say the same thing about beauty, grace and athletic ability, and we’re wrong on every count. We all have those traits to one degree or another; it’s never an all or nothing game.

Ask any group of four-year-olds if they are artists, and they will all proudly say that they are. Ask any group of 34-year-olds the same question and not one will dare to say yes (except the beatnik artist in the corner. Even then, she may define herself as an artist only if she makes her primary income doing so.) In fact, I hear friends all the time declare that they are not creative.

I’m lucky; I write for a living (mostly) and get to define myself as a creative every day. You can too. In fact, you can take a creative approach to any problem you have.  Michael Michalko, author of Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work, writes about creativity and what it takes to learn it. His website is filled with exercises to enhance your creativity. The titles of the exercises give you a definition of what Michalko considers to be the elements of creativity: breaking patterns, seeing things differently, breaking associations and inferring things from coincidences. We all have these skills, although they may be more developed in some of us than others.

Michalko has also written about what it takes to teach children (and you) to be creative. Here are some of his “things you were not taught in school about being creative.”

  • First, teach them that they are creative. It’s often your own attitude that blocks creativity. If you believe you’re not creative, it will be hard to unblock your mind to try new approaches.
  • Creativity is a process; you must go through the motions to think creative ideas. Most of us, by the time we’re adults, are using the same neural pathways over and over – that’s why breakthroughs are so rare. Creative thinking literally carves new grooves into your brain. You must work at it, just as you would at building muscle.
  • Know that creative people work incredibly hard and make lots of mistakes. Many, even most, of their ideas are bad ones. It’s persevering that gets them to the great ideas. Most of us give up before we get to the great idea. Michalko also says that creative people never stop with their first good idea. Push through to figure out how to make it better.
  • There is no one right answer. Michalko contradicts Aristotle’s famous dictum: A thing is either A or not A; it cannot be both. Reality is ambiguous , writes Michalko, and nothing stifles creativity like the censorship of thinking of only what’s possible, or looking for the “right” answer.
    • There is no such thing as failure. Michalko cites Thomas Edison, who is famous for saying: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Michalko’s website offers lots of encouragement and ways to become more creative. What rule of job search should you be breaking tomorrow?

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