One of the things I most often hear my clients say is, “I don’t know how to be creative. I’d like to be but I don’t know where to start – and I don’t know if I even have it.” Like the it is some magic thing that you’ve either got or you don’t.
This reminds me of a very old joke. It’s ancient but still relevant. A visitor to New York City needs directions and he asks a passing musician, “Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall”. The musician answers, “Practice, practice, practice!”
The implication and the truism is that creative competency can be acquired and refined through practice; by applying yourself. This sounds pretty dry and this is on purpose. I want to take the mystique out of the seemingly huge question you may have about how to be creative. You are inherently creative. You already have it. You only need a road map to reconnect with your innate ability.
My Mother Knows How To Be Creative
My mom is a great example of someone who didn’t pursue creativity until well into adulthood. After having four children mom began taking cooking classes. She soon parlayed what began as a hobby into a successful career as an esteemed chef, cookbook author and successful caterer.
While the world disagrees, my mom doesn’t consider herself the creative type. But she loves to experiment and she’s not afraid to take risks; to try something new.
Risk taking, putting it out there and trying new things are key ingredients to creative success.
After several years of retirement, mom became restless and went in search of a new hobby. If you asked her if she had artistic talent she’d say no; no way.
But despite insecurities rooted in her belief that she had no artistic talent, mom began going to art classes. Rather than sit around waiting for creative inspiration to strike, she began by simply doing – practice, practice, practice.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “This woman is more creative than me.” But I suggest you have the ability. Remember, you are inherently creative.
Here’s a guide to get you started
Amateurs imitate, professionals steal – Pablo Picasso.
I’ve been composing music and writing songs professionally for over twenty five years. I can remember about two instances in that entire span that I was struck by creative inspiration, driven to the piano with an entire song idea formed.
Most of the time it’s gathering input, coming up with rough ideas and then crafting those ideas. The creative process is not that different from the problem solving process you may use in your business life.
- Start with input – Nobody creates in a vacuum. Absorb what creative people before you have done. Let’s say you’ve decided to create your own floral arrangement for a dinner party. That requires creativity, doesn’t it? Act like a pro and begin your search for ideas by trolling the internet. Type in, floral arrangements for dinner parties. Woah, look at all those great ideas online. Steal an idea here, another one there and so forth. Don’t consider this cheating. As Picasso said, professionals steal. But here’s the thing. You’re not literally stealing. By the time you’ve borrowed from several sources, you will have come up with your own unique take on a floral arrangement. The more input the better. Open up your mind and take in lots of ideas at first. Then you can begin to narrow down your choices to create your own work.
- Practice and learn – So your first floral arrangement won’t be your best. You’ll make some mistakes, hopefully make a mess and encounter some frustration. But if you don’t give up before you’re done you will have created something that’s uniquely yours. Great, cool, wonderful. Now don’t get too attached to your work of art because you know what? Your second or third floral arrangement will be better.
- Date but don’t marry – While I was giving one of my keynote speaking presentations on creativity a while back I ad libbed a line that people really responded to. So like any decent performer, I’m now working that line to death, ha ha. Date but don’t marry your ideas. When you’re beginning your creative journey it’s easy to become enamored of almost everything you create. You’ll become stuck because you become attached to easily. But the more you create, the more you’ll be able to judge your work fairly and know when to move on. As an example, since I typically write about fifty songs per year, it’s easy for me to discard a song that’s not my best. That’s because I’m already working on the next one.
- Letting them grow and go – In context of problem solving and idea creation in your business life this concept is vital. You may have a great idea but when you share it with your colleagues it gets changed, molded or metamorphosized. You may get upset when your idea gets tossed around but I think this is a great thing. It means you had a good idea. And by letting it go and grow it can become an actionable project or solution to your problem.
Becoming Creative – Be Bad, Be Patient, Be Good
I need to talk about fear. When you’re four years old you’re typically not afraid to experiment. In fact, most of our universe is an experiment at that age so making a mess and trying new things is easy. Being bad at something isn’t a downer since you’re only four years old.
When your four years old you can’t really be “bad” at something; you can only be “inexperienced.” By the time you’re in fourth grade you will have acquired fear of being judged, aware of feeling at times like you’re worse than someone else at a particular task.
This is really inhibiting your creativity. What if you could approach new experience and creative pursuits like a four year old? Imagine the freedom you’d have to be bad, be patient (as you acquire skill) and then become good at something new. This is what creativity is all about.
I coached my daughter’s middle school soccer team and one of my daughter’s best friends wanted to join the team but she was really scared about it. She said to me, “I suck at soccer.” I asked her if she’d played much or been part of a team and she said, “No.” I immediately told her, “At your age you can’t be bad at something, you can only be inexperienced.” That convinced this girl to join our team and she had a great time with it.
The only way to further develop creative thinking and being a creative adult is to venture into it. Remember, you’re merely reconnecting with your innate creative ability. You’re merely getting back in touch with the power you have to play, to discover, to learn and create.
Lastly, don’t stress about how to be creative and don’t forget that creativity takes many forms. A floral arrangement, a work of art or a problem solved for your business are all equally satisfying and valid. Venture forth!