Creativity, and the Pursuit of Happiness

I don't know when the change happened. Seriously.

It used to be that people would work, and they would do so without constant carping or waging war on their bosses. People would travel miles underground in soot and filth, emerge completely covered in charcoal, go home and sleep, and wake up the next day to do it all over again.

Were they happy? Sure. But, was this happiness a result of comfortable complacency, or did people truly, honestly love their livelihood? It seems to me that people in those old, iconic photographs are smiling most often when they are engaged in their lives. They laugh when they have been completely and utterly submerged in the company of creativity. Sorry for the alliteration.

Creativity is a sticky wicket. We have a tendency to look at solutions to major problems and say, "my that was a creative solution. Howsoever did you concoct such a unique answer?" We also will look at a painting and say to ourselves (because it's bad form to speak in a museum), "what a creative inspiration! I'm going to go home and be creative too!" We even will use "creativity" to explain away crimes and the messes our dogs make on the floor. So, perhaps it's time we start to narrow down what creativity truly means to the rest of us.

Creativity in and of itself is the process of creating something from nothing. It says so in the word itself. It's inspiration. It's promise. But we have it in our heads that if we think about something long enough we'll get inspired. We believe that's how they all did it before. Aristotle sat and thought. Rodan famously cast "The Thinker," a man poised with his head on his fist, face contorted in contemplation. Da Vinci sat before his sketches and fleshed out the first helicopters and painted the Mona Lisa. Shakespeare, Monet, Eames, the guy who designed the Chrysler building all exhibited the same quality: converting a concept into reality.

That's where the mystery of creativity peeks out its head and shares with us that once-in-a-lifetime caress. Creativity is creation. There is no answer for it. It's a unique perspective and a fundamental approach. It is the beginning. Whether or not you follow it through to the end is the reason it exists. So what?

I have a hunch that people in the black and white gilded age never smiled because their work-life fought against a creative spirit. Creativity needs room to breathe, and when someone is shoved into a workspace no larger than a toilet tank, there's little wiggle room. Wordsworth went for walks. Da Vinci sketched and mapped. Shakespeare flirted with tragedy. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. The first step is to take a first step.

Here they are, the steps of creativity.

1. Realize that we are all inherently creative- That means even you, you who believes that there exists nary an inspired bone in your body.

2. Get over yourself- You can't be wrong when being creative. Also, you can't appear wrong. So, dance! Yell! Be a total buffoon! But, while you're doing it, pay attention to what it is that you're doing. What are your expectations for the actions you're doing? Are you trying to isolate wavelengths of light to compare to radioactive degeneration? Free associate! What words could you yell that are related to this? "Carbon! Yooli-booli Einsteinium!"

3. Understand that creativity is more than music and art- You don't have to be Andy Warhol. You don't even have to be Andy Griffith. Are you a mathematician? Doodle out new ways to convert improper fractions to mixed numbers. Are you a pastor? Figure out new ways to convert! Conversation is an art. Construction is creativity. Remember what I said earlier? Creativity is the creation of something from nothing.

4. Keep it up! Keep a doodle journal. Keep a photo record. Videotape your ideas; record them on your phone or voice recorder. Whatever you do, record, record, record EVERYTHING. You don't know when your gem will be hewn out of stone.

5. Share your success- Be communicative. When you speak with people about your ideas, you get a chance to refine and redefine. Collaboration is essential to success. And, if you get nervous or anxious, consult Step 2. If your friends laugh in your face, they weren't your friends to begin with. If they don't laugh, and instead give you that "oh you poor thing" look, they aren't your friends now.

The moral of the story is this: Being creative isn't something that you learn. It's something we're born with, and we just have to find a way to get out of our heads and create. If you don't get that spark from work, then find some time outside of work. You'll be better off. I promise.

Comments

  1. Great meditation on creativity! So many good points. For me, I welcome the reminder that you don't have to be inspired before you create. Funny how those two (inspiration and creativity) seem to chase each other around...

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    1. I'm glad this had something for you, Andrew. I think all too often we get hung up on expectation, that every time we sit down to be creative we have to have something to show for it.

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