How to Be More Creative (and Why It’s Important)

“Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.”

~ Bill Moyers

Creativity can help with every facet of life. The more creative you are, the better you are at solving problems, doing good work (at whatever your profession is), and being of interest to other people. And yet, in the self-helposphere, productivity, not creativity, is the main focus. Are we making a mistake?

Creativity, not productivity, ignited my career. From the book Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko, a creativity exercise led me to the Mini Habits idea, which has since changed thousands of lives. It was the biggest creative breakthrough in my life, yet the technique I used to discover it was extremely simple and based on what I’m about to share next. This is precisely why I think creativity deserves more attention than we give it.

Creativity 101: Eliminate Assumptions

Thomas Edison was more creative than most people. To put it into numbers, Edison had 2,332 patents worldwide. A patent is basically a legal claim to a creative idea. With Edison’s proven creative prowess in mind, take a look at this quote from Thinkertoys.

“Whenever Thomas Edison was about to hire a new employee, he would invite the applicant over for a bowl of soup. If the person salted his soup before tasting it, Edison would not offer him the job. He did not hire people who had too many assumptions built into their everyday life. Edison wanted people who consistently challenged assumptions.”

~ Michael Michalko (Thinkertoys)

If you want to increase your creativity, ask yourself, “What am I assuming?”

I only discovered the power of a mini habit because I FINALLY challenged the following (incorrect) assumption I held for decades.

“A workout must be 20-30 minutes to be worthwhile.”

~ Stephen’s Assumption (1985-2012)

Think about all the assumptions that have been broken for you to be able to read this article. These words are written by a guy you’ve probably never met (Hi mom!) in a Las Vegas hotel room, and delivered to people all over the world on their personal devices. Instantly. That’s insane. That shouldn’t be possible.

Wireless internet is ludicrous, but it exists because someone said, “What if we could transfer information without using wires?” It was absolutely reasonable to assume that we couldn’t do it, but once an assumption goes down, the human mind’s experimental ingenuity shines.

“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”

~ Albert Einstein

An example of challenging assumptions: Writing a book. I might assume that a book should be written with words, because books generally consist of words, but when I drop that assumption, maybe I’ll think to use more visual or audio features within my books.

Why can’t a digital book have interactive audio and video cues that trigger when a page is flipped, or when a word or image is pressed? It absolutely could, and that’s not even far-fetched. It could easily be done with current technology (and I think it is). Just the very basic assumption about what a book is (and has been for centuries) holds back creativity. But that’s not the end, it’s the beginning of a potential creativity trail that could change how we write and read books. Maybe eye-tracking software could trigger various features when a reader reads a certain word?

“The storm was strengthening. As he looked outside, he saw lightning strike *boom noise triggered* the neighbor’s tree. His dog scurried *dog nails on tile sound* behind the couch.” 

I would love to try that feature in fiction books! It could really bring the story alive, while still maintaining the benefits of reading (unlike movies, reading lets your imagination fully generate the fictional world).

Get into the habit of questioning assumptions, and your creativity will explode. Most people don’t challenge assumptions. If you do, you will instantly become more creative than most.

Creativity’s Core: Steady and Progressive (Not Epiphanies)

“Great things are not done by impulse, but a series of small things brought together.”

– Vincent Van Gogh

It always comes back to small steps with me, doesn’t it? As much as it makes me laugh that I find a way to incorporate small steps into every topic, there’s a good reason for it. As world thinks big by default, it’s always the small things that govern how everything unfolds. Convincing people to think smaller will be a worthwhile and relevant challenge for a very long time.

“Remember this when you’re struggling for a big idea. You’re much better off scratching for a small one.”

~ Twyla Tharp

Creativity is usually progressive, meaning that the grand, random epiphany in the shower is…

  1. Probably the culmination of prior thought and progressive steps.
  2. Often not “out of nowhere” as commonly perceived.
  3. The wrong representative image for creativity.

The amazing technology we have today are progressive improvements over prior improvements. There are landmark breakthroughs, like the Wright Brothers taking the first successful powered flight, but even then, their success was preceded (and aided) by many attempts by others to fly throughout history. 

Since then, flight has become ridiculous. Massive, heavy planes carrying hundreds of people fly 35,000 feet in the sky. You know how high the Wright brothers flew on their first successful flights? 10 feet. TEN. Thousands of iterative improvements and creative successes got us from 12 second flights at 10 feet to several hour flights at 35,000 feet with pressurized cabins, personal TVs for every passenger, and complimentary peanuts.

I think a common stumbling block in creativity is thinking that you have to create something completely new. Most creative successes are iterative improvements, so don’t discount “known ideas.” 

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

~ Salvador Dali

The Creative Gift: You Are Human (Therefore, You Are Creative)

Humans have dazzled each other with creativity for as long as we’ve existed. I will forever be in awe of the skyscrapers I see. Just… how? Music can seemingly speak directly to our souls. Technology is ridiculous and getting even crazier. Sports like basketball and football are endlessly entertaining to me because of the genius structure and rules of the games.

You might wonder where you fit into the creative rankings, and I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can and will be creative in your own way, and as I’ve written about before, one person’s creativity does not impede another’s (it can only enhance it). The creative work I do for a living is only possible because of the creativity of others (computers, internet, etc). 

“There’s a way to do it better – find it.”

~ Thomas Edison

Going back to the “epiphany in the shower” concept, while that’s a flawed idea, there is something to it. Our minds are naturally-powerful problem solvers, and can absolutely work out creative solutions passively. But the takeaway from that isn’t that we can be passive about creativity, it’s that we have the capacity for much more than shower ideas. Active creativity is absolutely possible.

I hear too many people say, “I’m not creative,” when it’s doubtful that they even try. Michalko wrote about a study done on people who considered themselves creative vs those who didn’t. The ones who didn’t consider themselves creative were taught how to be creative and practiced, and at the end, were deemed to be several more times creative than the “naturally creative” group. I put that in quotes because, as that study proves, we’re all naturally creative, but only some of us believe it.

You are creative, and creativity is arguably the most exciting and powerful ability of the human mind. Don’t waste your power! Practice creativity by challenging every assumption, especially the “obviously true” ones. For more advanced creative training, read Thinkertoys. I’m rereading it, starting today!

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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