Two weeks ago, I shared with you some fundamental aspects related to the concept of creativity. Inspired by the 1970s’ popular cartoon series “Love is…” (that featured a couple explaining in simple messages what it means to love or be in love), we discussed eight essential features of creativity or what it means to be creative or to create. Today, let me share with you another eight features of what “Creativity is…”

9. Creativity is… the courage to fail. 
“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail”, noted the American inventor and founder of Polaroid Edwin H. Land. Other famous inventors like James Dyson (“The key to success is failure… Success is made of 99 percent failure”), Charles F. Kettering (“It is not a disgrace to fail. Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world”) and Thomas A. Edison (“’I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work”) likewise emphasized the importance of temporary setbacks and failure as essential part of a rapid prototyping approach and of the creative (learning) process on how to eventually create new value and make things work. Hence, let’s conclude in the words of Joseph Chilton Pierce: “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

Questions: When have you failed the last time? What have you learned from your failure? How may you vary your approach to succeed the next time? How does your company look at failure? How often do you dare to be wrong?

10. Creativity is… the interplay of creation and destruction.
“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones,” noticed the famous British economist John Maynard Keyes. Everyone knows that great creativity creates something new and useful, but few are aware that great creativity often starts with destroying the old to make space for the new. Thereby, “the old” or “traditional” may be a rule, policy or guideline that is nonsensical, or a sacred cow (a once cherished, highly successful idea that is outdated and whose time has come to be retired). So adopt the mindset of the American composer John Cage: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones,” and when you create, be ready to also destroy in line with Pablo Picasso’s advice: “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”

Questions: What is an “old idea” that makes you feel scared? What deserves being destroyed to make space for a new, better creation?

11. Creativity is… perfect imperfection.
“Perfectionism is the enemy of creation,” believed the writer John Updike. And he is not alone. “Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything,” commented the French artist Eugene Delacroix. Likewise, the Spanish artist Salvator Dali advised: “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” Truly excellent creative concepts often border perfection, yet resemble more a state that I call “perfect imperfection”, which is in line with Vince Lombardi’s insight that: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

Questions: How much of a perfectionist are you? In what ways does the aim for perfection restrain you in creating ideas and outputs, and in living a creative life?

12. Creativity is … pure passion.

”Creativity is the quality that you bring to the activity that you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach – how you look at things . . . Whatsoever you do, if you do it joyfully, if you do it lovingly, if your act of doing is not purely economical, then it is creative,” observed the spiritual teacher Osho. Clearly, it’s passion for their chosen creative work and the joy from successfully resolving a creative challenge that drives Creatives, and not money. “People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — and not by external pressures,” summarized the American psychologist Teresa Amabile her research findings into the motivational side of creativity.

Questions: How passionate are you about your work? Do you do what you do just because of the money? Or do you love what you do and follow your work with all your heart and full of creative zest?

13. Creativity is… sensitivity to problems and opportunities.
“Creativity is… seeing something that doesn’t exist already. You need to find out how you can bring it into being and that way be a playmate with God,” noted Michele Shea. A central aspect of a creative mind is problem or opportunity sensitivity, the ability turn a problem into an opportunity or to spot an opportunity to create something new and valuable out of nothing. “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport,” suggests Robert Wieder. But note that finding a problem or opportunity alone is only a starting point to creation, as the American poet James Russel Lowell reminds us: “Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.”

Questions: How sensitive are you to notice problems and sport opportunities? When was the last time that you turned a problem into an opportunity, or pursued an opportunity to create new value?

14. Creativity is … playing with constraints.
“Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem,” noted Rollo May. Playing with this seemingly paradoxical balance between freedom and constraints is a key creative strategy. For example, when we ask “What if”-questions such as “What if you had to double your revenues within a year? Or within a month?”, we impose a time constraint, while with the question “What if senior management tripled the budgets for your division?”, we remove a monetary constraint. In both cases, this play between imposing and removing limiting constraints is a surefire way to set your imagination on fire.

Questions: What limiting constraints could you remove to free your imagination? What limiting constraints could you impose to get you going and move out of your comfort zone?

15. Creativity is… freedom.
The Russian expressionist Wassily Kandinsky noted: “There is no must in art because art is free.” Imagine an institution or society that limits and restricts the open access to certain types of information, and monitors what information people view and share; that expect their people not to ask a lot of questions (and particularly not impermissible ones). Do you expect the people that live and work inside such a tightly controlled box to really think out-of-the box? To come up with outstanding creativity? “Creativity is the greatest expression of liberty”, believes the American author Bryant H. McGill rightly. Clearly, creativity is all about freedom and florishes in free environments and societies. To put it in the words of the US economist Brian S. Wesbury: “When freedom prevails, the ingenuity and inventiveness of people creates incredible wealth. This is the source of the natural improvement of the human condition.”

Questions: How much freedom does your company provide to your employees?

16. Creativity is… you.
“There is a genius in all of us”, noted Albert Einstein. I agree. Although you may not agree with Einstein and me, there is also a creative genius in you. At least, you were a highly creative beginner when you were a young child, as we all were.

Questions: How creative are you these days? How creative were you as a young child? What can you do to reconnect to your inner creativity? How can you start living a more creative life?

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun,” as the American author Mary Lou Cook summarizes it in one line. When would now be a good time to indulge in some creative activity? And what other key dimensions of creativity have you noticed? Please note that this list of sixteen principles of great creativity is by no means conclusive — so feel invited to add to your own views on what “Creativity is…” for you.


This article was first published in the Bangkok Post on 4 July 2013.
© Dr. Detlef Reis / Thinkergy Limited 2013.