The word creativity brings up strong associations. When you envision a “creative” person who do you see? A painter, deep and brooding, lost in his canvas? A scientist on the verge of discovery, disheveled and slightly crazed? An eccentric musician, with the power to move you with his songs?
Who you probably didn’t envision was a factory worker, nurse, or business manager. Or yourself. A common myth surrounding creativity is that only certain types of people can be creative, elite beings blessed at birth. Everyone else, tough luck, back to the grindstone!
The truth is, creativity is every human being’s birthright. Every person is driven to create, to innovate, to enhance our experience. It’s what keeps us evolving as a species.
If you’ve spent any time around children, you’ve seen this in action. Without the need for seminars, retreats, or coaching sessions, children follow their instinct to explore, tinker, build, destroy, then pick up the pieces to discover something new. They eat and breathe creativity!
But what is creativity? Abstract ideas are notoriously difficult to define. According to author Jeffrey Davies, “Creativity is imagination applied to making situations better—more effective, enriched, beautiful, meaningful, humane.”
Teresa Amabile, a professor at the Harvard Business School and researcher, has broken down creativity into three essential components, expertise, motivation, and creative thinking skills. When an individual achieves all three components of creativity, wonderful breakthroughs happen.
The key here is to have all three components at the same time. Otherwise, no creative flow.
Think of it this way. Suppose expertise is your toolbox. And say you have nothing in it but a hammer. That’s great if your task is pounding in a nail. But what if you’re trying to repair a violin? You need a more delicate tool.
But you only have a hammer. And no matter how motivated you are or how many different angles you look at the problem from, a hammer can’t help you. You don’t have the right tools for the job. You get frustrated and either quit trying or smash the violin to bits with your hammer.
Now say you’ve invested in some specialty tools, just for string instruments. You’ve increased your expertise and are ready to repair the violin (if it still exists). Your motivation is high as you tinker away.
But something’s not quite right. You work and work on it, trying all of your different tools, to no avail. Without an imaginative approach on how to solve the problem, it will end in frustration.
Lying in bed that night, you have an “aha!” moment, and see clearly what needs to be done. However, your motivation has checked out for the night, you’re exhausted and sick of looking at that stupid violin, so you go to sleep instead.
What can we do to increase motivation, expertise, and creative thinking skills in our lives?
When it comes to enhancing creativity, motivation is crucial. There are two main types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic is driven by inner passion and curiosity, extrinsic by external rewards, like money, grades, and status.
While both types of motivation can get the job done, intrinsic is by far more effective. Think about it, if you’re faced with a difficult challenge, you’re more likely to find a creative solution if you’re personally driven to do so then if someone is giving you a gold star (or a paycheck).
Developing creative thinking skills is a personal, internal process. You need to be open to new ideas, see connections between disciplines, and allow “incubation” time for problem-solving.
It’s not enough to have profound insights if you don’t have the self-confidence to share them. Not all new ideas are welcomed, so you also need the courage to challenge the status quo.
The easiest component to improve is expertise. As illustrated in the previous scenario, the more tools you have in your toolbox, the better your chances of finding a solution.
Fill Your Toolbox
Become a life-long learner, in your professional and personal life, with these free resources:
- TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). Videos highlight innovators and thought leaders from many different fields, from science to business to child development. Warning: visiting this site may cause your productivity to decline.
- Alison offers online courses on topics ranging from digital literacy and IT skills to social media marketing to world languages.
- MIT Open Courseware offers actual courses taught at MIT. No pressure here, you go at your own pace.
- Coursera’s site has 114 educational partners that provide free courses to almost 10 million users.
- Instructables is heaven for DIYers, tinkerers, and makers. You can find detailed instructions to make just about anything, from solar panels to furniture to pad thai. A great community of creatives sharing their knowledge and passion.
These free resources are just the starting point. You can deepen your expertise even further by becoming an intern, volunteer, apprentice, or student of formal education in your chosen field. You can never have too many tools.