Creativity

What is it?

Creativity is often identified with artistic expression, but they are not the same thing. Many of us are not artistic, but we all have some ability to be creative.

Creativity is simply the process of making new things. Consider this scenario:

You are on your way to work when you notice a string of red lights up ahead. You realize that traffic is backed up and you do not want to be late. You think fast and take the exit before the blockade. You work out an alternative route in your mind and make it to the punch-clock with seconds to spare. Congratulations, you were creative!

Confronted with the problem of how to get to work you have used the same solution over and over again. It worked, until today. Today your old way of getting to work was no good so you had to create a new one.

Graham Wallas described four stages of creativity in problem-solving:

Preparation

Creativity and IncubationFirst, you try to solve the problem with your current framework, or way of thinking. The question at this stage is: “Will the way I have been doing things get the job done?” If the answer is “yes” then the process stops here. No need to be creative if the problem is solved!

However, if the old way cannot solve then the problem then you find yourself in an unpleasant period of frustration. You are up against a seemingly impossible question or situation and you literally have no idea what to do. No matter how hard you try there seems to be no way around. At this stage hopelessness and frustration may seem to prevail.

Incubation

Incubation and CreativityThe next step is basically giving up and walking away. Believe it or not, this is an important part of the process. Sheer willpower will not overcome the problem. Turning to another problem, going to sleep, playing video games, or going out with friends are all potential activities to pick up during the period of incubation.

Illumination

Illumination and CreativityThen, without warning, it will come to you. The seemingly unanswerable question or the unsolvable problem will have a clear resolution. The strange part about this stage is that this seems to happen in the unconscious part of your mind. The framework your mind uses to think will adapt to the new problem without any conscious effort on your part. There is no guarantee, of course, that you will reach this stage. The problem or question may be far beyond your current ability to adapt.

Verification

Verification and CreativityWith your new framework in hand, you can begin to apply your new thinking to the problem. At this point, you might discover that the new framework is just as ineffective as the old one. If that is the case then a wash-rinse-repeat is in order. Ideally, the new framework will help you to solve the problem or answer the question.

Be grateful for your old way of thinking, because it obviously got you this far, but be open to embracing a newer way of thinking to keep you moving on your path to personal growth. As you come across new information and new problems, open yourself to the creative process and adapt.

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Destruction is the Opposite of Creativity

Not all change is for the best and sometimes things can get worse instead of better.

When confronted with new information that we cannot integrate or a new question we cannot answer we might turn tail and retreat. Rather than getting a more complicated outlook that helps us to better live in the world, we create a more simple outlook that helps us trick ourselves into thinking that we have dealt with the problem. Sometimes, we may keep our thinking at the same level of quality and complexity and just change the content of our thinking. This is far from ideal.

What Does More Complex Thinking Look Like?

More complex thinking, the kind that creativity lets you do, has two parts to it: putting things together and taking things apart. On the one hand, things are more complicated than first impressions may suggest. There may be more to the story. There may be more factors at play in a situation. We may need to zoom in closer for a better understanding.

On the other hand, sometimes we need to zoom out to see the bigger picture. Seemingly unrelated things may be at play in a situation. As we grow in our ability to see that everything is connected and everything is different, we grow less certain of things while at the same time growing closer to the truth.

Other Resources on Creativity

Creativity at Work

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