For the past several years, I’ve become more and more fascinated by what it means to be a creative professional. Much of my perspective on this has been shaped by The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry. The thesis of the accidental creative was centered around building practices into our lives to ensure that we are bringing our best ideas, energy, and enjoyment to others. As it is with many things, the more you dive into topics and ideas you begin to see a whole new world emerge. The art and science of creativity is one those areas of study that is much more and has captured my own imagination. And the story of creativity in our lives is important because of two primary reasons:
- Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the results of creativity.
- When we are involved creatively, we feel we are living more fully than during the rest of life.
I know this is true for me, and I suspect it is true for you as well.
One of the nuances around creativity is the idea of “flow.” Flow is that experience when our focus and attention is heightened and your mind almost effortlessly moves you to accomplish things you hardly imagined possible. Think of it as “being in the zone.” We talked about flow previously in The Rise of Superman. One of the individuals that has contributed much of his research and writing to flow is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In fact, Mihaly is credited with defining flow as it is understood today. This book review is on his book Creativity (the psychology of discovery and invention) and his research on creativity as the central source of meaning in our lives.
Csikszentmihalyi sees that each of us is born with two contradictory sets of instructions that shape our lives. We all have a conservative tendency and an expansive tendency.
Conservative – where our instincts for self-preservation and energy management come from
Expansive– where our instincts for novelty, exploring and risk live
If we do not cultivate our expansive tendency, our conservative tendency will dictate our actions and result in a lesser quality of life. Think back to the intensity and focus of tax season. Our senses are heightened and we have a very specific purpose every day leading up to April 15. We know exactly what needs to happen the next day, even as we close things down on any given day. There is a strange adrenaline that pulls us. Now, think about what happens in May and June for many of us when there is nothing specific calling us or our attention. Our thoughts are random and we lose focus. We handle those conservative tendencies just fine, but our minds fall to the lowest state of energy required. We let distractions in and soon, we are fighting to relearn curiosity and gain our focus again. Living out our creativity is an important duty – our culture and the lives of people around us depend on it.
What is creativity?
“Creativity is an act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one” (page 28).
There is not a formula or prescription for a creative person, however the common theme around creative individuals is their complexity. Many creatives are duplicitous in everyday activities with thoughts and actions that are often at the extremes for most people. Here are 10 characteristics of the complexity found in creative individuals – see which ones you resonate with:
- High physical energy, but happy to be quiet and at rest
- Smart, but also naïve
- Playful, light attitude about life
- Alternate between fantasy and imagination
- Demonstrate characteristics of extroversion and introversion at the same time
- Humble and proud at the same time (“existence proof” – assuming it can be done)
- Gender role stereotyping is turned around – males carry female characteristics and females carry
stereotypical male characteristics
- Traditional and conservative as well as rebellious and iconoclastic
- Passionate and objective
- Due to sensitivity, you are subject to suffering and pain, yet also experience high enjoyment.
When we embrace our complexity (and ultimately our creativity), we see the immense enjoyment and productivity that comes out. We experience a positive contribution to society and to the lives of those in our circles – family, customers, team members, neighbors. So, what does it mean to cultivate our curiosity and live out a creative life:
- Wake up each day with a specific goal in mind. For some, this is exercising first thing each day. For others, this might be doing meditation or reading a couple of chapters or writing in a journal. Whatever it is, make a specific goal for each new day.
- Enhance our efforts to increase the quality of the experience. Maybe for some, this means taking additional time and attention to eating. Rather than already prepared foods or drive- through, you take the time to mix ingredients and foods into a fantastic dish that you experience with others.
- Increase the complexity of things in your life. This can be as simple as driving a different way to the office or as intense as living in another part of the country or world and navigating the changes required for daily living.
Creativity is often noted in significant accomplishments and innovative well known discoveries. We’ve seen the creative efforts and changes to society from the introduction of personal computers. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs get a lot of acclaim for their innovation with computers. However, there are mountains of untold stories of creatives that have pursued creativity for the sake of creation and enjoyment alone. Julia Cameron is the one credited with the idea of Morning Pages. In her noteworthy book the The Artist’s Way she points out that when “focused on the process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure.”
Our creative lives are also formed in various stages. Our early years are first shaped by having been born with exceptional genes, enjoying a supportive environment, and often being in the right place at the right time. These characteristics alone do not make one creative, but they provide a good head start for anyone willing to put in the work of a creative. Our later years, starting with college and early into our professional careers, are some of the highest points of creativity as we begin to find our voice in our vocations and families. Research indicates that our creativity peaks in our 20’s and 30’s with the frequency and sheer amount of creative outputs produced. Finally, creative aging takes on new territory as the quantity of creative thoughts and actions morphs into the quality of creative thoughts and actions.
We are all in a unique phase of our creative process. We have built expertise in our domains and we are experiencing access in our domains in more ways than ever before. Knowledge and greater access to domains that can enhance our creativity is available to those looking for it. Srinivas Rao, the host of The Unmistakable Creative podcast, pushes us to pursue creativity. His call is to pursue creativity for its own sake, by creating for an audience of one – for ourselves. The joy is in the creative process.
Let’s live our lives with adventure. There is tremendous value in creativity, but pursuing our creativity as part of a regular creative process is the key to unlocking our best selves and our best work.
As the founder of Kregel & Company, Scott holds the firm accountable to keeping a customer-focused mindset every day. He is passionate about coming alongside others in their pursuit of doing good. You can often find him within a 10 mile radius of the office training for his next marathon. He also loves bringing out the best in his three children, reading business and leadership books, and dreaming up his next great idea.