Let go of your misconceptions, or your creativity will never breathe.
When someone identifies themselves as creative, or tells you that their biggest strength is their creativity, you instantly feel a certain level of respect for them.
They’re creative! They take the world and everything in it and have the ability to turn it into something new, wonderful and incredible.
We have been hard-wired to believe that people who are creative are better than other people who aren’t.
But I don’t think many people really understand what it means to be creative, why it hurts to be creative — or why being creative doesn’t make you better than anyone else.
There’s a lot more to it than just being able to see a statue in a block of marble, or find a solution that other people wouldn’t have uncovered. While that’s a long accepted idea of what creative people are like, and what they do, it barely scrapes the surface of the reality.
Even more than that, it buys into the idea that all creative people are gifted, they’re the lucky ones, the people who matter.
Creative people deserve accolades, or at the very least, support. We need them. We need them to make things that we give a shit about, to build startups that push the world further into the future, to design bridges and make great art and record transcendentally beautiful music.
But we also need to let go of some of the bullshit we all believe about creativity. Because a lot of it is wrong.
1. You’re wrong if you think you have to be born creative.
Nobody is born creative. People are born with a curious and inquiring mind that asks why, what, when, where and how. Those minds are opened or closed by the games adults let children play, the books they give them to read.
That natural inclination to discover and create isn’t a special gift that special people have.
Far from it! It’s something that we all learn to either cultivate or hammer out of ourselves, depending on the way we react to the rest of the world.
The creativity of a person doesn’t depend on their birth. Their birth is just the dawn of a new life. It’s what they do with that life, and what that life does to them that determines whether they will explore their creativity.
If you think you have to be born a certain way to be creative, you’re buying into the idea that a person’s path and their identity and their hopes, fears, achievements and accomplishments are decided when they can’t even speak.
I call bullshit on that.
2. You’re wrong if you think you have to be in the mood for creativity.
Collect some gin, some vermouth, an olive and some ice cubes. Throw the gin and vermouth together at a 2:1 ratio and add the ice cubes before stirring it. Strain out the ice cubes and pour the mix into a cocktail glass. Add a single olive.
That’s the recipe for a good, solid, wind-down-with-your-feet-up Martini. And that’s what I’m in the right fucking mood for. What I’m not in the mood for is writing a 2,000 word article on creativity. Right now, I feel exhausted.
But I’m doing it anyway. Because being creative isn’t about waiting for the right mood to strike, with the just the right mix of excitement and spark and lunar alignment. That’s a myth. And if you waited for those conditions, you would Never. Make. Anything.
The right time to be creative is the time you’ve set aside. The right mood is whatever mood you find yourself in. That’s the way to create something tangible. The only way.
3. You’re wrong if you think business can’t be creative.
Business can be incredibly creative. No, actually — business needs to be creative. We all know that age-old business mantra: nobody needs a drill, they need holes.
But you can take it so much further. Jeff Dachis from Razorfish did — he said nobody needs a hole, they need to hang art, and nobody needs to hang art, they need to feel happy.
Creativity is what allows you to look beyond the mundane aspects of business to see the sparks, the themes, the ideas and the opportunity beneath all the numbers and all the bullshit.
A business without creativity is every tech company making the exact same black rectangle for a phone, every car company churning out white SUVs, every startup spinning the same over-hyped social good crap.
Creativity is what allows you to make something new, not just copy something old.
If you think that business is not a field for a creative person, you don’t understand business. You’re picturing suits and cubicles, rather than the bright, burning ideas inside ’em. And you’re wrong.
4. You’re wrong if you think money is more important than creativity…
…And you’re wrong if you think creativity is more important than money.
The truth is that cash has had a huge part to play in creativity for hundreds of years. It’s what allows, enables, encourages, inhibits, frees and controls the wild life.
The thing to remember is that you have to maintain a delicate balance. You can’t make every creative call based on where the money is going. But you also can’t make a call without considering the cash.
I think there is a danger when the business side seeks to completely control creativity in order to maximise profit. That’s a good way to produce total shit. You need to ensure that creativity isn’t totally controlled by cash.
If it is, there will be no originality, and anything created will drop to the lowest level.
At the same time, creativity becomes woefully inaccessible when you don’t at least consider the commercial aspect of it. If you want that — then sure, go ahead. But if you want your creative work to have a wider appeal, don’t be too good, too hip and too pure to think about the money.
5. You’re wrong if you think there’s a right way to be creative.
The greatest thing about creativity is that you can’t find the perfect way to do it. You can’t find the perfect work, work flow, process or method. It’s a wide open world, a destination that only you know with a road only you can find.
I saw a mug in a gift shop yesterday, that said “what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
That’s what creativity is. It’s something that you literally cannot fail at. All you need to do is express something. Whether it’s through art, music, writing, business, architecture, engineering, app design — the medium doesn’t matter. The method doesn’t matter.
The problem with assuming that there’s a right way is that you’ll find something that looks like it and then act like that’s a religion. And your work will just turn into another carbon copy.
6. You’re wrong if you think structure inhibits creativity.
I’ve known too many starving, free living, wild flower, star child artists who reject structure in order to be creative. And I can’t fucking stand them. Do you know why?
It’s simple. They’ll never be reliable, they’ll never be accountable, and they’ll never buy you a round of drinks at the bar. This is the sad reality of their soaring spirits.
Structure isn’t a requirement of creativity, but it sure as hell doesn’t destroy it. You can have a highly structured life, with a full time job and a mortgage and a carefully planned schedule and still be as creative as anyone else.
Don’t let the artist or creative cliché tell you what you can and cannot do, or make you conform to some ridiculous and meaningless standard of what makes a true creative.
7. You’re wrong if you think fame or fortune measure creativity.
The way to measure creativity is whether you have accomplished what you set out to do. It’s that simple. The work that the first hardcore punk bands did in the 1980’s wasn’t less successful than the break out punk rock albums of The Offspring or Green Day.
The work that Basecamp do isn’t less successful than a productivity startup that went public and achieved a massive valuation.
You have to measure what you’ve done by what you set out to do. You have to evaluate your work by whether or not it reached your standards, requirements and intentions.
Any other metrics don’t matter. They might help you understand how financially successful your creative project is, how productive you are, how viral your content is, but none of that is important.
8. You’re wrong if you think creativity is a binary choice.
It’s not a matter of doing one thing or another. You can’t claim that creativity is something that must be pursued with total purity.
I was drawing, writing, recording music and reading spoken word poetry when I studied marketing. When I took on my first full time job. When I started a company.
The creativity didn’t block my path to business, and my work in business didn’t stop me from practicing, enjoying and loving my creativity. There is no binary choice, where you have to follow one path. Where you have to let go of what you love.
When you believe there is, you’re in danger of never living up to your potential, because you will have stopped yourself from exploring a wider range of interests, goals and directions.
9. You’re wrong if you think you have to be an asshole to be creative.
I don’t like asshole creatives. People who think you have to be a mystical mysterious force in order to be a true artist or entrepreneur, who treat other humans like shit and call it being a genius.
There’s a lot of role models, if you want to be that way. Authors, rockstars, founders, a whole lot of them. It might even be fun to be a little infamous. But sooner or later, acting like a jerk will catch up to you.
Truly creative people treat other people with reverence and respect because they recognise a spark in them. The spark that’s in everyone. The spark to inspire, induce and incite creative work.
When you act like an asshole to someone, you shut that down and miss out on what could have been the most important interaction of you life.
10. You’re fucking wrong if you think creativity can’t be killed.
It can be. It can be killed by ignoring it, never prioritising it, never letting it breathe, shutting it out, locking it away, pretending it doesn’t exist, laughing at it, being afraid of someone else laughing at it, embracing your shame, tearing yourself down, listening to the trolls, doing it “tomorrow”, believing the bullshit and giving in to the hype.
It can be killed when you don’t take care of it.
So take care of it.