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October 26, 2013

Demystifying Creativity

We who watch, do, critique, or instill creativity are a vastly large community within which the use of language tends to be simultaneously aggressive and imprecise. This explains why we never stop talking about creativity as if it was not yet really understood.

But artists, teachers and coaches know that creativity can be both taught and learned -- and as with all such things, some people teach or learn better than others. Most of the mythology about creativity is actually about the nature of iinspiration".

This mostly reveals our passion about the subject (good), but meanwhile, we emotionally (or rhetorically) buff it, perfume it, and dress it up, which it actuallly doesn't require.

We're able to go to the underlying "template" of nearly all discussions about "creativity". The main questions, revealing our interests, are always the same:
- Where does it come from?
- How do you recognize it?
- How do you use it?
- Who cares?
- What is it worth?

To start decoding those questions, the best step is to first take the challenge of defining what is "Not Creativity", just to be sure that this thinking is not being done in a conceptual vacuum. As this "negative" definition comes under debate, it will also start to expose the reason why the subject is of particular interest in the moment.

Then we want to describe what "Is Creativity". So consider, for starters, a glossary that quite neutrally equips us to make useful distinctions such as:

- insightful (sees within)
- imaginative (foresees)

- playful (arranging for pleasure)
- experimental (arranging for discovery)
- inventive (arranging for newness)

- constructive (static effectiveness)
- productive (dynamic effectiveness)

- distinctive (different per specification)
- unusual (different per context)
- original (different per known precedent)

Next, let's assume for the purpose of discussion that the only real important use of the word "creative" is as a label of an experience, NOT of a capability. And accordingly, let's also refuse to apply the word "creative" to the word "process".

And instead, let's recognize the bullet list as a catalog of behaviors. It's fair to ask about how the behaviors become competencies; and it's encouraging to find that all of them can be trained - especially when we see training as the work done to separate the 80% of unnecessary effort from the 20% worth amplifying. The punchline is that the behaviors can be pursued intentionally and need not be only spontaneous or "inherent". And, whether trained or not, these behaviors can be combined. In fact, the glossary allows us to "map" these behaviors as if they were coordinates in a geometric (or statistical) space, with dimensions of different types of "vision" (seeing), "build" (arranging),  "impact" (effectiveness) and "value" (difference). Net: the range of creative experiences is quite wide.

We know what the word "create" means: it means "to make". And most simply put, we're interested in the difference between something not yet being there and then, through "making", having something there. And, for bonus beats, we want it to refer to making things in a way that they were not made before -- an arbitrary but circumstantially useful requirement. And finally, we like to think of "the way" as having something to do with a "new formula" being at work. This really gets to the heart of the matter: we want to know if these new formula are inspired (implicitly discovered) or engineered (explicitly discovered), and we want to know if inspiration can be "learned".

Regardless, being able to describe the creative experience as a result of composite behavior pretty much demystifies it.

Posted by Malcolm Ryder at October 26, 2013 10:10 AM