“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” ― George Bernard Shaw
Do you want to be more creative? I am sure that this question answers itself because yes, we all want to be more creative in our life and our work.
While this may be our wish, it can be a unique challenge to enhance creativity in our life. Often the desire to be more creative does not materialize in being more creative and taking more action.
How do the super creative people achieve this difficult task of being creative moment after moment, and day after day?
Here are 10 habits of insanely creative people:
- Make Creativity into a Habit, a Routine, and a Structure
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou
Highly creative people do not make their creativity a hit or a miss. They set up structures and habits around their unique blend of creativity.
To set up a consistent habit being creative, they have to become aware of their creative rhythms. They have to understand what works and what does not work for their creative progress.
With the creative awareness of the self at hand, they know that their creative process may be different from others. If others are rising early in the morning to write, it does not mean that you do the same. Especially if you do not function well or if you are not alert and creative in the morning.
The writer Anthony Trollope had a habit of rising at 5:30 am and wrote till 11 am. This habit allowed him to pen 46 novels in his career. After his writing adventures in the morning, he would go to work at the post office as a postal clerk.
Revealed in his autobiography, this habit of Trollope became well known after he passed away.
The famous writer and poet, Maya Angelou had a habit of leaving for a hotel at 6:30 in the morning where she would rent a small room. She would insist the removal of all art and objects from the room and liked it bare. All she carried with her to her writing retreat was a bible, a dictionary, a Roget’s Thesaurus, and yellow pads. She would write till 1:30 pm before returning home.
The famous choreographer and dancer, Twyla Tharp says:
“A lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day. By putting themselves into that environment, they start their creative day.”-Twyla Tharp, the Creative Habit
Tharp is one of the most well-known choreographers who has created and directed hit shows on Broadway and worked with dancers in opera houses from all over the world including London, Berlin and Sydney. She has published over 130 dances and ballets in the last 40 years.
Tharp says that she has a habit of starting her day at 5: 30 am and puts on her workout clothes, leg warmers, sweatshirt and her hat. She walks outside her house in Manhattan and gets a cab to go to the Pumping Iron Gym where she works out for 2 hours. She says that the workout at the gym is not the beginning of the creative ritual but it begins the moment she gets a cab.
It is a habitual ritual for her and the first step to her creative process is getting into the cab that she has made into a habit.
Make an assessment of what habits you have around your creativity.
Do you have cues and suggestions that make creativity habitual or do you do it when you are able to?
How important is being creative to your life?
- Have Creative Belief or Creative Confidence
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” – Mary Lou Cook
David Kelley is one of the founders of d-school at Stanford and the founder of one of the most innovative firms called IDEO. Kelley brings us a great story on Creative confidence and the lack thereof in his TED talk.
Kelley tells us a story that takes back to his third grade class in Barberton, Ohio. Kelley’s best friend Brian was attempting to make a horse from the clay that their teacher kept under their desk.
A little girl sitting at his desk said to Brian that what he was making was terrible. She said that it did not look anything like a horse would look like. The result was that his friend Brian’s shoulders sank and he put the clay away. That incident was the end of his creative ventures and he did not attempt to do a project like that again.
Kelley believes that this happens with many people. Someone that they trust, a friend or an authority figure gives negative feedback. This feedback and lack of belief often makes them opt-out of their creativity.
When Kelley tells the story of Brian to his class, a lot of students come after class and relate their own story. They mention how a teacher was instrumental in shutting them down. They relate how a student was particularly mean to them and they shut down from their creativity or “opted-out.”
There are studies and observations that assess the creativity of school kids. When asked if they are artists and if they are creative, most preschooler’s hands go up in agreement. When you ask first to 5th graders, the number of hands decreases as the grade goes up. By the time kids are in middle school, just a few hands go up. What has happened here? It is no longer “cool” to be creative and artistic.
Kelley calls this ability or self-efficacy to be creative as “creative confidence.”
Highly creative people have a deep belief to engage and promote their creativity. Their creative confidence is high. Even though they have doubts like others, they do not allow them to deter their confidence. Creativity defines their life and it can be a defining and shaping factor in our life as well.
Do you have creative confidence or do you doubt your creative abilities?
Did you opt-out of your creative process because some well-meaning person in your life put you off the idea of creativity?
Are you willing to reclaim your creative powers?
- Are Life Long Learners with Many Hobbies
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki
Super creative people are lifelong learners. They adopt what researcher Carol Dweck calls “the growth mindset.”
They avoid what Dweck calls “the fixed mindset.” The fixed mindset assumes that knowledge and learning are set in stone and we are either good at something or not. It makes us believe that effort is not required and cannot make us better. It makes us believe that things ought to come easy to us and failure and setbacks are devastating.
Let us look at the Wright brothers who were the first to be successful in human flight. They were bicycle mechanics with many interests and hobbies. In 1889, 18 year old Orville Wright began a printing press where his brother, Wilbur joined him. A few years later, they learnt the art of making bicycles when they became the new craze.
The brothers then turned to aviation, a subject that interested them. They studied and learnt a great deal about aviation from all the people who could teach them like Octave Chanute. They built wind tunnels to test out miniature plane models and the principles of lift. They studied birds and the principles of natural flight. They tested things out extensively. The rest is history.
Super creative people understand that they need to earn and attempt new things. This idea is even more relevant in this day and age in an ever-changing landscape.
Do you have a focus on learning?
Use the growth mindset instead of the fixed mindset.
- Understand and Play Into Their Unique Blend of Creativity
“Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.” -Rita Mae Brown
Insanely creative people understand themselves and what their strengths and weaknesses are. More importantly, they know how to leverage them into creative projects. While they learn from the same set of rules, they create some of their own ones to give expression to their unique creativity.
They also understand that we are all different in how we learn and express our creativity and do not hesitate to use those ideas.
Here are a few examples:
Wallace Stevens composed his poetry on small slips of paper while walking.
Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up, in his loafers, with chest height access to his typewriter. It may not be inaccurate to say that he believed in the standing desk a while before it became popular for health reasons.
Truman Capote, the reclining writer liked to call himself “horizontal author” because of his lazy ways. He would stretch on a bed or a sofa and claimed that he could not think unless he was reclining.
We have the image of writers sitting in a desk and typing away. But as the examples above show, creative people make their own rules for what works best for them.
What stimulates and enhances your creativity?
Play to your unique blend of creativity instead of following formulas.
Test out what works and what does not.
- Take Refuge in Numbers
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”— Chuck Close
What are some words that are common to super creative people?
- Productive under all situations
Insanely creative people may hate their work at times but that does not stop them from producing it and launching to out in the world.
The commonality between creative people and people who are not creative may just well be the numbers.
What do I mean be that?
Consider the prolific painter Picasso. Picasso produced a mind boggling 22,000 pieces of work including paintings, sculpture and graphic design. Not every piece of his work is well known or on the same levels as some of his best work.
Charles Schultz, the producer of the comic strip, peanuts produced a new Peanuts strip every single day for over half a century. Are they all as brilliant as the best ones? Perhaps not. That did not stop him from producing the comic.
I remember watching the marketing guru, Seth Godin in a talk showing a bunch of books in a slide.
He mentioned that he has produced a lot of work in relation to his successes and some of them have not been as successful.
Twyla Tharp opens admits in her book that some of her work is not as good as some of her other best work. But that did not stop Tharp from producing more work.
My most successful Slide share on excuses was ironically the one that I did not even consider publishing on the super successful presentation platform.
I remember thinking at 1:00 in the morning, tired and weary eyed that this presentation was unnecessary. I thought that no one wanted to see a presentation on excuses.
Did I publish it? You bet I did.
Over a 110 thousand people have since viewed it and 3330 people have downloaded it. I do not mention this to brag about my work but the irony that I did not even consider publishing it.
So, we never know what work is going to be the most creative and most well received.
Super creative people believe in the power of numbers. They do not allow anything to turn them away from that goal.
Take refuge in numbers.
Instead of producing work that you consider excellent all the time, produce work that is good and even fair in your opinion.
- Curious Like a Child
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist after he grows up.”- Picasso
Creative people are curious like a child. They develop a natural curiosity and enthusiasm for learning and creating new things.
Creative people realize that children have no problems expressing their creative side. They make an effort to reconnect with their “inner child.”
Insanely creative people also realize that:
There is a great creative artist inside them that is waiting for expression.
They need to be curious to be creative.
There is no such thing as a bad question.
Work is best made creative and is most fun when it feels like play.
It is exciting to have a contagious enthusiasm for creative ventures.
It is quite creative to have a beginners mind and not come from the vantage point of “know it all.”
They need to be creative by being spontaneous.
Create a preschool like creative work environment that enhances productivity.
Some of the most creative companies in the world like Google, IDEO and PIXAR have played like work environments. They foster and promote work environments that allow for work to transform into play.
Creativity researcher, Tina Seelig’s Stanford Creativity class is unique. It has manipulative like a preschool for students to form small groups and unleash their creativity.
Innovation firm, IDEO has carts with all types of materials that allow employees to put together a prototype. They can work with materials of all types and shapes to allow a creative expression to their new idea.
“It Takes a Lifetime to Paint Like a Child”-Pablo Picasso
Incorporate curiosity in your creative process and your daily life.
Attempt to make your creative work more fun.
- Create When They Are Sad and When They are Happy: Emotional Immunity
“A wonderful emotion to get things moving when one is stuck is anger. It was anger more than anything else that had set me off, roused me into productivity and creativity.”-Mary Garden
Creative people have trained themselves to create when they are happy and when they are not. They create while experiencing difficult emotions.
In fact, when you ask insanely creative people, they will tell you that strong emotions are often beneficial for creativity.
We have all heard the stereotype of the impulsive and temperamental artist persona. Regardless of the truth of this stereotype, it is true that they create even when they are unhappy or sad. Great creativity is inclusive of the entire gamut of emotions and does not favor happiness to other emotions.
Creative expression is a wonderful refuge and outpouring of difficult emotions and feelings. A recent study has confirmed this idea of creativity. While emotional factors are a major block to the creative process, anger or other difficult feelings can help creative work. But, artists have described guilt as a debilitating and blocking emotion for creativity.
Realize the stories and blocks that we tell the self when faced with difficult emotions and feelings.
Allow strong emotions and difficult feelings to find an outlet in your creative work.
- Use the Power of Chaos, Uncertainty and Restrictions to Drive Creativity
“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” ― Erich Fromm
There are some strong negative connotation associated with chaos, uncertainty and restrictions. But when you look at super creative people, they defy that idea by gaining mileage out of uncertainty and chaos.
Highly creative people not only work within but also invite uncertainty into their lives.
Twyla Tharp calls this the “The white room.” Tharp walks into an empty white room in a dance studio in midtown Manhattan. The room has 8-foot high mirrors and has a boom box in one corner. The room is spotless and clean except for the skid marks and footprints on the floor. She says that other than the boom box, the skid marks, the mirrors on the walls, and her, the room is empty.
Tharp is in an empty room with the obligation to create a major new choreography piece. The dancers, presenters and audience expect her to deliver. She has half the program in mind with the other half being a mystery.
Tharp says that filling this humbling blank space makes up her identity. Tharp describes the empty white room as being “profound, terrifying and mysterious” to some people.
Tharp says in her book, The Creative Habit:
“It’s no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper into this typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer), or a painter confronting a virginal canvas, a sculptor staring at a raw chunk of stone, a composer at the piano with his fingers hovering just above the keys. Some people find this moment – the moment before creativity begins – so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up a walk away from the canvas, the computer, the keyboard: they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.”
Understand how chaos and uncertainty work in your life.
Learn how to manage stress, anxiety and the fear of the empty room and the empty canvas.
- Leverage Their Social Environments
“Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.”- Albert Einstein
Insanely creative people understand that creativity does not exist in vacuum. Creativity is best enjoyed and experienced when we include others.
While creativity can be a solitary process, the entire experience is anything but solitary.
We do not have to go far in history to see that Artists guilds and groups enhanced and promoted people’s creativity through the ages.
Insanely creative people understand the importance of launching their work for the world to enjoy. They also allow it for people to judge and criticize. While no one likes criticism, it is always best to realize that any discussion is better than no discussion.
Highly creative people also form mastermind groups that challenge and hold them accountable for deadlines and their creative work. This is a social proof and confirmation that acts as a huge motivator for forward progress in creativity.
In his TED talk “where good ideas come from,” Steven Johnson describes the social aspect in detail. Johnson says that historically coffee shops were great idea generation machines. They also lead to the period of intellectual bloom known as The Enlightenment.
People got together from different backgrounds and there was the mix-up and sharing of various ideas.
Connect with other like-minded people to discuss and brainstorm creative projects.
Join mastermind groups and accountability groups to keep you on track in your creative projects.
- Cross Contextual Pollination: Mix and Match, and Connect and Combine
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”- Steve Jobs, Wired interview, 1996
Highly creative people are great connectors and combiners of information and ideas. They mix and match and connect and combine. They take cross-contextual things and put them together in novel forms and fashion. IDEO calls this mix and match as “Cross pollination.”
The history of the Frisbee offers some clues to this connecting and combining. The Frisbie Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut made pies and other baked goodies. Many New England colleges were the recipients of the baked goodness form the company.
Hungry college students put together food and play and used the empty pie tins to catch and toss, thus providing for hours of fun and sport.
Connecting and combining means staying open to the possibility of novel combinations that arrive. It also means being open to new ideas that can result by the accidental combining of events and ideas.
Take for example the discovery of the post-it notes in the company 3M. In the attempt of the discovery of a strong adhesive, Spencer Silver at 3M ended up finding a new adhesive that was weak. It could be peeled off without leaving any traces or messes.
Four years later, on a Sunday, Arthur Fry of 3M was singing in the church choir when he had a unique problem.
Fry was using markers to keep his place in the hymnal but they kept falling off. Then Fry connected things together. Fry used some of Silver’s weak adhesive to coat the markers. The adhesive was effective in keeping the markers in place without falling off. The markers could also be easily lifted off without any damage to the pages. The rest is history. This shows the power of connecting a problem with a prior shelved invention.
Connect and combine things from different disciplines to enhance creativity.
Ask how someone else in a different profession would handle the situation.
Look at the problem from different angles and perspectives.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful Yvonne Wilson for giving me a chance to guest post on her blog. I am also very grateful for winning the STAR blogger giveaway. Thanks, Yvonne!
Now over to you! Please let me know if this post resonated with you. Let me know in the comments below.
About the Author
Harish Kumar (@launchURgenius) is a blogger, writer, and teacher. You can connect with him over at his blog at Launchyourgenius and sign up for free inspiring updates about launching your creativity and genius.