What about those people who think that they are creative? Are they as creative as they believe themselves to be? Some of the readers of this newsletter might fall into this category. What is the relationship between 'self image' as a creative person and effective creative output?
In general, people who feel that they are creative spend more time trying to be creative than those who feel that creativity is not for them. Quite apart from any difference in actual creative 'talent' the amount of time and energy spent looking for different solutions, ideas and approaches will give a higher creative yield. This may be the most important aspect of a creative self-image.
Creative people accept the challenge of creativity. When there is a situation that has not yielded to analytical thinking, the creative person is more willing to try new approaches and to suggest other ideas. There is a willingness to 'show off' creative skill.
DIFFERENCE FOR ITS OWN SAKE
With people who believe themselves to be creative there is often the danger of seeking to be different just to be different and just to be 'creative'. So whatever is suggested has to be modified or changed. Just as a cat may mark its territory so a creative person may seek to leave his or her ego mark. This can mean that the original idea is weakened. Along with this may go a disinclination to accept the ideas of others because such an acceptance does not allow personal involvement.
Creativity gets a bad name when others perceive it as being change for the sake of change. The excitement of new ideas may mean that this becomes an end in itself, and the purpose of the idea is forgotten.
The creative ego gets its satisfaction from the novelty of an idea. This is a new idea that has not existed before the creative person brought it into being. There is then often frustration because others do not seem to appreciate this novelty. What creative people do not always appreciate is that novelty is a value to the originator of the idea but a risk to the user of the idea. There is no prior experience with the idea.
The user of an idea needs benefits more than novelty. What benefits will the idea provide? How are these going to be delivered? What are the risks? So creative people need to switch more of their attention from novelty to benefits. A revived old idea that promises benefits may well be more useful than a brand- new idea with doubtful benefits. As I have suggested above, while 'showing off' is a powerful motivator for creative people, it can also have its dangers.
Creative people (those who consider themselves to be creative) too often resent having a tight focus. There are many reasons for this. Creative people sense that the defined focus may be wrong and that a new solution will only come from a wider or changed focus. Creative people like the idea of being 'free thinkers' and therefore able to have ideas about anything. They may resent being forced to apply their creativity to a defined task. As a result creative people sometimes get the reputation that they are willing to think about everything - except the given task. These attitudes are somewhat old-fashioned. A skilled creative person must be able to direct his or her creative skill at a defined task. Widening the definition or changing the definition is part of the creative process, but in the end the suggested ideas must serve the purpose for which ideas are sought.
One of the most important, but much neglected aspects of creativity is seeking out unusual focuses. Many of the greatest creative successes have not come from great creative talent but from thinking about matters which no one else had chosen to consider. The inventor who made millions in royalties from the 'Workmate' invention chose to think not about power tools but about a bench on which to use them. When an unusual focus has been chosen then even a small amount of creative talent can yield powerful results.
A recent study compared the performance of three groups on a creative task. One group was given alcohol. Another group was given tonic water. A third group was led to believe they had been given alcohol - but had not. Apparently, the best performing group consisted of those who wrongly believed they had been given alcohol. Perhaps this led to less inhibited thinking without the actual negative effects of real alcohol. In the same way it is possible to speculate that belief and confidence in one's own creative skill may actually increase that skill.
Some people who consider themselves to be creative regard this as a mysterious talent which they have and others do not, and they want to keep this distinctiveness. So they do not like the idea of creativity as a skill, because anyone can pick up a skill and so this distinctiveness is in danger. There are even those who feel that if you investigate 'creativity' the muse will depart and the natural flair will be killed by structures.
This has not been my experience with truly creative thinkers. They have welcomed the tools of lateral thinking and have told me that they get their best ideas through using the formal deliberate processes, rather than just waiting for inspiration to come along.
On the whole, creative people are rather arrogant and assume that their creativity cannot be improved and that they have nothing to learn. This is strange because in most skill areas (sports, arts,etc) there is an accepted need to go on improving fundamental skills.
It is probably true that many 'naturally' creative people unconsciously use some of the lateral thinking processes such as provocation and random entry. Einstein's thought experiments were obvious examples of provocations. To crystallise these processes and so be able to use them systematically and deliberately is more powerful than having to rely on inspiration.
It can also happen that people who are not very good at other things take 'refuge' in creativity. Because creativity is open-ended it becomes more difficult to judge creative skill. There are people who give all the appearance of being creative, but the output is often difference for the sake of difference and no more.
The secret of effective creativity is to know when to use established patterns and when to change them. If you change direction at every step you will proceed in a circle. Sometimes people who are trying too hard to prove their creativity seem to insist on changing everything. The result is that even a good idea is weakened by all the change around it. The creativity of children is the creativity of innocence. They may come up with a fresh idea but then do not have the 'experience tracks' to make sense of it.
Many people in the advertising world regard themselves as creative professionals because their job demands the continuous creation of new ideas. There is much professionalism involved but the creative talent is not always as high as might be supposed. There are many variations on traditional themes and a lot of 'me-too' ideas. This may be because such people know that they are really selling to the client and not to the public. Clients are usually conservative and want a new idea so long as it is the same as an old and tried idea.
Just as some people become very good at puns through getting into the habit of continually looking for them, so some people in advertising get into a habit of traditional creativity which is competent enough, but rarely produces new concepts. Sometimes there is confusion between style and creativity. Many professional creative people have a strong sense of style and will work with that style. That is not the same as generating really new concepts.
People who believe themselves to be creative fall into two groups. There are those who are unwilling to learn any tools such as those of lateral thinking. They feel they do not need them or that they know it all already. Then there are those who are always seeking ways of doing more deliberately what they occasionally do naturally. They want to be able to provoke inspiration instead of just waiting for it.
In my seminars it is usually easy to pick out those who believe themselves to be creative. They are always coming up with ideas that miss the point. The idea may not be directed to the indicated focus. The idea is intended to be bizarre rather than effective. There is such a determination to avoid the usual that the end result may well be inferior to the usual. The motivation is there, but motivation is not enough.
1. The motivation of those who believe themselves to be creative is high. This is valuable. Sometimes the motivation is too high and the need to demonstrate creativity leads to difference for the sake of difference.
2. Some who believe themselves to be creative are not as creative as they believe. Their ideas are often 'standard' creative ideas.
3. Those who believe themselves to be creative will spend more time and energy on the process, and there will be more output.
4. Too many of those who believe themselves to be creative are arrogant about their skill and feel that it cannot be improved. They also resent the suggestion that creativity is a skill which others can develop.
5. All the problems associated with a strong self-image of creativity can be solved with a mild dose of humility.