I was recently interviewed by a magazines for an article on creativity. Not sure why they selected me, but below are the excerpts. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it...
How do you define creativity?
I used to think creativity meant to have an original idea or thought that could be applied to a functional conclusion. But what I have found – from my early years as a graphic design student to my adult years as an art director and consumer – is that being “original” is often not enough.
In fact, on my first day as an undergrad, I was taught to avoid presenting original ideas as they are often seen as too abstract, take too much time to get buy-in and, besides, “everything original had already been done.”
Finding creative solutions to a challenge is no different to an artist, a sales person or an engineer.
Creativity built the pyramids, the Mona Lisa, and got us to the moon and back.
While that may seem shocking, a bit cynical and against the “thinking outside the box” mantra that is often encouraged in the business world, there is some truth there. Look at the very first computers or cell phones. Being functional is not enough.
In the working world, we are constantly bombarded with being more productive – to work faster and more efficiently. In my opinion, the key to creativity is improving upon original ideas. Steve Jobs and Apple may not have invented the computer or the cell phone, but their striving toward innovation to improve those products – both functionally and aesthetically – is what people remember.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
Creativity is often reasoned as a gift or a sign of genius. I disagree. As Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
In short, I find creative inspiration everywhere. Many feel that creativity just comes from out of the blue, but I know much of that sense of discovery originates from training, habit and due diligence, not just instinct. For example, at an early age, I would experience vivid dreams that I would forget when I woke in the morning, leaving me tired and filled with anxiety during the day. I was encouraged by my mother to keep a pen and paper next to my bed and write down the details. This not only helped me relax and sleep better, but greatly influenced my creative-writing and story-telling abilities which continue to this day.
Many feel that creativity just comes from out of the blue, but I know much of that sense of discovery
originates from training, habit and due diligence, not just instinct.
In college, to explore the “metaphysics of quality” (read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”), I was drilled into learning, nay, perfecting typography techniques by hand-drawing different letters and fonts with “visually pleasing” spacing (or kerning). Today, if I’m in a sit-down restaurant, I will drive my wife crazy because, instead of choosing a meal, I will literally try to edit the menu – wondering aloud why it contains certain colors or fonts – in an attempt to make it better. I ascertain there is a correlation between the attention to detail in the menu and the quality of the food.
When I’m not at work, I can often be found with my camera. I jokingly refer to photography as my therapy. Before going out, I keep an internal catalog of what I’d like to shoot – people, patterns, clouds, animals, flora, structures, etc. – but also keep an open mind or a sense of wonder of the possibilities of what might be out there. It’s combining the elements of preparation and surprise to find or create a visually stimulating or pleasing image – some refer to it as luck. I call it making magic.
What holds people back from being creative?
We often hear that certain individuals have a tendency or trait to be naturally “gifted” at intelligence or creativity or athleticism. While there might be some truth to genetic disposition (I have my reservations), on the other side of such “gifts” we find many of us have a habit of just getting in our own way.
From a simplistic perspective, creativity boils down to finding the right path to a solution –
how to find Point B when needing to get from Point A to Point C.
For example, I used to suffer from what is commonly referred to as travel anxiety. The mere thought of going to the airport, getting on a plane and visiting a strange city negatively affected my sleep, my patience and many trips. To solve this, instead of thinking I had to deal with everything at once, I eventually learned that breaking down everything causing my anxiety into bite-sized steps I could control – packing, checking in, getting to and through and from the airport, meals, seating, etc. – made future travel much less stressful. In short, my travel anxiety could be managed by things I could control – building on positive habits and being better organized. If things go wrong that are out of my control – weather, delays, mechanical issues – I just fall back on another learned habit: Patience.
I’ve found the secret to creativity (or intelligence or athleticism) isn’t something touchy-feely. It can be harnessed through similar habits. My wife is an engineer and often jokes about seeing the world in black-and-white, not in artistic shades of gray. However, she is also an incredible baker and is known for her creative concoctions. For those of you that spend much time in the kitchen, you’ll know it is often as much creativity as it is science. Do the words functional and aesthetic sound familiar?
From a simplistic perspective, creativity boils down to this: Finding the right path to a solution – how to find Point B when needing to get from Point A to Point C. It sounds easy but requires mental exertion and discipline. Personally, I set my keyboard aside, start with a pen and paper, and take a 30,000-foot-view of where I am and where I want to be.
Build your outline and then fill in the areas between. As they say in Silicon Valley, "Make mistakes quickly, recover quickly, and keep moving forward." Finding creative solutions to a challenge is no different to an artist, a sales person or an engineer. Creativity built the pyramids, the Mona Lisa, and got us to the moon and back. It’s all about setting goals, working hard, working smart, knowing your limitations, eliminating bad habits and not making excuses.
It’s not quite rocket science. It just feels like it.
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The term "The Metaphysics of Quality" is a concept borrowed/stolen from Robert Pirsig's philosophical novel, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," which had an influence on my approach to life and creativity during my formative college years.