What is Creativity?
by Shelley Berc
Let’s start with the dictionary definition, however brief and limited, it covers the basics:
the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, or imagination.
To this definition let us add the following:
an act of transformation by which we turn one idea or thing into something else by way of intellectual, chemical or manual alchemy.
life as a gigantic erector set. You can put anything together in new and original ways–the most immaterial with the most concrete, the most esoteric melded to the most down to earth.
Albert Einstein referred to this thinking process as “combinatory play.”
The Courage to Fail Over and Over Again
Creativity is the experimental laboratory of civilization. It expects and needs trial and error, and the courage to fail over and over again. In the words of Samuel Becket on the secret of his creativity:
“Fail, fail again, fail better.” Samuel Becket
The Sum of Creativity is Always Greater than its Parts
Creativity may look like a noun but it is really a verb-and in specific an action. It could be an interior or exterior process–a thought or a manifestation, an idea or a product, but it is always an action, an energy, a putting one’s self forth into the unknown. Creativity is the world of the intrepid explorer, of the adult 2 year old, who never ceases to ask the questions:
Can you Teach Creativity?
In our workshops people are always asking us: “can you really teach creativity?” Our answer: “We can teach it, but you won’t really learn it until you remember the days when you had it.” We suggest they think back to the time when they kids. We were all creative as children. We were creativity specialists before we learned to walk or talk.You never have to learn about your creativity from scratch.
Being creative is pretty much like learning how to ride a bike-you never forget how. But you do have to re-engage the muscles. Society and, in particular, education and the workplace, tramples blithely upon our originality–so much so that most people forget they were ever creative at all.
“Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” Anna Freud
Creativity Makes us Infinitely Adaptable and Flexible
Creativity is one of our primary tools for survival. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, our ancestors had to be adaptable to their changing environments in order to survive. The ones who thought “out of the box” were the ones who escaped getting eaten-which is why they are the ones who are our ancestors.
Other species can communicate, make tools, even plan for the future–but we humans have the unique ability to put things together in new and different ways. We are so curious that we not only want to put stuff together, we like to take it apart-just to see how it works.
Many young tinkerers joyfully pull apart watches, kitchen faucets, even car engines until formal schooling teaches them that that kind of behavior is not the way to go about learning.
Granted, we do not necessarily need to re-invent the wheel by destroying the family automobile; but there are times when unraveling the known is the only method to finding new and better ways of doing things. In fact, it is often the only way to revolutionizing how we conduct our lives.
“There is no cure for curiosity”. Dorothy Parker
More than a Pinch of Chance
Civilizations come into being or advance when people do things in ways they have never done before. Nomads give up wandering and decide to stay put in one place.That decision leads us to sedentary societies and all the social, cultural, and scientific advances they manifest.
Conversely, sedentary societies breed explorers and discoverers, who expand the reach of their people, mentally and physically, far beyond their national borders and cultures.
Humans invent and reinvent the configuration of the world over and over again; and each time it changes, all of us are changed. These transformations are propelled by the driving force of creativity, the ingredients of which are: curiosity, imagination, flexibility of thought and action, trial and error, tenacity, and more than a pinch of chance.
A Wonderful Tool called “Creativity”
We humans have a precious tool called ‘creativity’. We are practically born with it and with it we can do what any reasonable person would believe was impossible.
So why do so many of us give up using this priceless asset as adults? Intensely creative people do not give it up. It’s not as if they have more creativity, but they certainly use it more. Creativity is like any muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it becomes.
Einstein once said:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” Martha Graham
We may not all be Geniuses,
but who said Creativity is just for Geniuses?
We all have many original and fantastic thoughts that could be extremely valuable to the world we live in. But how many times do we give these ideas a chance to see the light of day? Every ounce of human creativity is needed on this planet in order for it to survive and flourish. The creativity of each human being is as unique as her DNA and is necessary to the creative fabric of life on earth. Are you giving your creativity the chance it deserves to contribute to the creative impulse of life?
“The key question isn’t “What fosters creativity?” But it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.”
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”