Creativity Is Not Either/Or

“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” Monty Python comedian Jon Cleese

My mom thinks she isn’t creative, but she thinks I am. In fact, lots of people think a person either is, or isn’t, creative. I say poppycock! (Isn’t that a fun word to say?) Creativity can be cultivated, practiced, and enjoyed by everyone.

OK, I’ll grant you that some people are more logical in their approaches to life, and some people are more intuitive. It’s easier and more organic to some people to be creative than others. But there is no such thing as a person devoid of creativity.

I do think that creativity needs to be practiced. And that practicing creativity is great fun! I poked around online to see what sort of creativity building tools there are out there, and ran across this site:

This site showed me the power of random words. For example: Take four random words. Decide that one of these things is not like the others – which one, and why? No two people will come up with the same answer, because there is no right answer. Or: select two random words from this list of five and put them together to make a new thing or idea.

I saw the power of random words in action with my six year old son. We were waiting for something and he was bored. I asked him to tell me a story and he said no and whined some more about being bored. I asked him to tell me a story about a bicycle, a snake, and a frying pan, and he brightened up and told me a great story. Then I told him one. Then he asked for three more words. We had fun for as long as we were waiting and all the way home.

I think this has to do with the “abyss of freedom” as my father calls it. It is a lot easier to be creative within boundaries. I find that true at Halloween every year. When I can show up to a costume party wearing anything, I end up something generic – a gypsy, a witch, a pencil. But when there is a theme to the party, I end up with something memorable. The year the theme was Deities and Demigods I dressed as the parking goddess, with an asphalt grey robe with a dotted yellow line and a parking meter staff. My husband dressed as an ancient Egyptian cheerleader (three cheers for the Sun God, Ra! Ra! Ra!) The year the theme was superheroes, I dressed as XeroXena, copier princess, and my outfit was entirely made out of office supplies.

Giving ourselves these arbitrary restraints can really spark our imagination. Great poets wrote sonnets because they had to fit into a strict structure. Great musicians have their own limits within which they have to work. So it seems likely that business should provide a great framework in which to be creative. There are clearly limits to what a business can do, or to the problem a work group is facing. So why is it so hard to come up with creative solutions?

One problem is that either/or false dichotomy. People think they are not creative. (Not having an atmosphere that supports creativity is also a big deal, but I talk about that in other posts.) People are out of practice with being creative, too. When’s the last time you piled blocks on each other just to see what you could make? Or changed the words to a song but still kept the rhyme structure? Games with random words can help get those creaky wheels moving, to spark new ideas and find new relationships between existing constraints and make everyone’s creativity bloom.

I’d love to hear in the comments which of these things is not like the others, and why! Or tell me a story about these four things.






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