Creativity is a practice (not a perfect)

Being creative ain’t always pretty and it’s rarely easy. Creativity is a practice that brings out the best and worst of us. The articles below have me pondering the shadow side of creative pursuit, how to stay motivated through the highs and lows, and which of these creative calisthenics I should try first.

How Creativity Connects with Immorality [Scientific American] – Citing a number of studies that link creativity to unethical behavior by employees, this article suggests that there is a dark side to creativity. This comes as no surprise to me. The internal tension that pits notions of “accepted” against “unheard of” is one of the most fundamental and key ingredients in creative production. Creative thinking is frequently predicated on a willingness to question the norms and accepted rules. In fact, if you want to practice your divergent thinking a bit today, I invite you to think of a rule at work (i.e. thou shalt not take the sticky notes home) and come up with ten, make that twenty, ways around it.

The authors hypothesized that it is creativity which causes unethical behavior by allowing people the means to justify their misdeeds, but it is hard to say for certain whether this is correct given the correlational nature of the study. It could just as easily be true, after all, that unethical behavior leads people to be more creative, or that there is something else which causes both creativity and dishonesty, such as intelligence.

What Doesn’t Motivate Creativity Can Kill It [Harvard Business Review] – I have a serious creativity crush on Teresa Amabile and particularly value her research contributions in the area of creativity and business. Here she emphasizes the importance of intrinsic motivation for fostering creativity within the organization and the delicate balancing act required when leaders utilize goals, evaluation, reward, and pressure to fuel innovation.

In the end, it’s level, form, and meaning of the motivator that makes for that perfect balance. Being told to do a tough job in a particular way, with no tolerance of failure, little expectation of recognition for success, and extreme, arbitrary time pressure, can kill anyone’s creativity motivation. But being given the same job, in a positive atmosphere where false starts are examined constructively and success is recognized, can drive creativity – and innovation – forward.

The articles above reminded me of an RSA animation for a talk given by Daniel Pink about how intrinsic motivation functions. I love it for both medium (graphic animation) and message (rewards come from within when you do what you love). If you are looking to amplify your creative practice, start with what you love to do already. And then do more of that.

Coarse Art: A 30-day experiment [Scree] – Definitions of creative thinking often refer to the four key skills of originality, flexibility, fluency and elaboration. Fluency is all about quantity- generating as many ideas as possible. Go. Go. Go. The more the merrier! My friend Emily, an Innovation Catalyst at a global corporation, recently undertook a month-long experiment in pursuit of creative fluency by committing to something she calls Coarse Art. Thirty days of making something, quickly, every single morning. No judgment, no reasons, no justifications. She just made something every day, celebrated the practice of it and reflected on all the struggles that this seemingly simple and deceptively challenging practice raised. You can find her article (and her art) on page 38. And if you are looking to develop your own creative fluency, it’s pretty simple. Commit to creating something (i.e. words, poems, assemblage, song, painting, culinary delight) everyday for 30 days in a row. And be sure to celebrate every single day, no matter what.

We readily celebrate the brilliance of a child’s first artistic experiments, noting the highly abstract elements and excitement inherent within their expression, though as grownups we suffer from massive celebration delay.

‘Inspiration is 80% Mental, 40% Physical’: Your Secrets of Creativity [The Atlantic] – Last month Jared Keller asked Atlantic readers how they come up with their best ideas. This article is filled with responses. It is like a pinata of productivity exploded into a shower of suggestions for generating new ideas. Take a look, there is something for everyone here. You will likely find at least one suggestion that resonates with you and inspires you to try a new way to get your creative juices flowing.

Do not silo your brain. I find myself at my most creative when I am connecting disparate things. How should I connect this blog post about reality television with a Congressional Budget Office white paper on home foreclosures? I am envious of designers who draw inspiration from a variety of sources: photography, textile patterns,medieval architecture, 1990s Geocities sites and the like. Inspiration needs room to breathe. I create this space by combining what I am working on with what I like.

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