Creativity is intelligence having fun.
Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.
When I think of creativity I think of the brilliant and often tortured geniuses who changed the world with their art, music, or technological breakthroughs. I usually think of “them,” as opposed to me, and names like Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, and Steve Jobs come to mind. And while it’s true that these are some of history’s most creative and influential people, it’s also true that both you and I have access to unlimited creativity when we master the art and science of creative insight. The purpose of this blog is to examine the psychology behind creativity and to explore the Creative Process Framework as a methodology for putting ourselves in the appropriate creative mindset.
When referring to creative insight, the famous American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver stated, “I love to think of nature as having unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour, and every moment, if we will only tune in.” I love this concept of creativity. It is something eternally abundant that exists both inside and outside of us at the same time. Our challenge is to create the appropriate mindset and practice for tapping into this creative abundance.
The Psychology of Creativity
There are three psychologists that I think provide the foundation for understanding creativity. Carl Jung believed that our psyches contained both a personal unconscious – the Shadow – and the Collective Unconscious. Jung believed that the Collective Unconscious contained the memories or historical DNA of our family, race, and culture, in addition to universal Archetypes. Creative insight exists within these unconscious domains, which we are intimately connected to during our lives, though most of us fail to access it. He believed that both creativity and spiritual growth could be attained through interaction and dialogue with the Collective Unconscious.
Abraham Maslow illustrated how creativity was a common output of Self-Actualization. Maslow stated that individuals who have transcended the need for personal recognition and connection to others become motivated by the “growth need” of Self-Actualization (as opposed to the “deficiency needs” such as recognition, acceptance from others, control over others, etc.). In turn, these individuals are more objective, more passionate, and more problem- (as opposed to person-) centered, allowing them to tap into their latent creativity.
Modern psychologist and godfather of the term “flow,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, built on both Jung’s and Maslow’s frameworks to explore creativity from a more practical perspective. He discusses common attributes such as the need to have intense focus on, and passion for, the task at hand, as well as finding your creative “rhythm” (e.g., early morning, late evening, etc.). Like Jung and Maslow, he states that the key to creativity is to stop thinking of yourself in dichotomous or “either/or” terms (e.g., I am either a hard worker or I am lazy, etc.) and to take the time to resolve these seemingly opposites to become a fully integrated human being. When it comes to creative individuals, Csikszentmihalyi found the following common dichotomies that had been successfully integrated:
COMMON DICHOTOMIES OF CREATIVE TYPES
Disciplined and Playful
Proud and Humble
Passionate and Objective
Realistic and Fantastical
Energetic and Quiet
The Creative Process Framework
After reviewing research on creativity, I have tried to boil down the creative insight experience into five critical steps, what I refer to as the Creative Process Framework, which follows:
First, you have to have a sense of Purpose to focus your attention on. It can be lofty, like ending world hunger, or more mundane, like writing a blog. Whatever it is, you must genuinely care about the task at hand and feel compelled to take action. Second, it’s critical to adopt a “growth” Mindset, as opposed to one that is “fixed.” Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” is the seminal work to read if you are struggling with only seeing the glass as half-empty, or are too focused on what you can’t do (as opposed to leveraging the gifts and talents you do have). I also use the term Mindset to refer to the proper balance that comes from integrating seemingly “opposite” aspects of our nature, and making peace with our own quirkiness. Third, it’s absolutely essential to Disconnect from others so that you can explore creativity. Research has shown that individuals who unplug their electronics and disconnect from social media are more creative than those who don’t. And, if you want to boost your creativity, spend this new time away from your Facebook or Twitter accounts in nature. In this instance (disconnected from social media and smart phones and plugged into nature), research has demonstrated that individuals increase their creativity by as much as 50% after only a few days! Fourth, you must develop the discipline to Practice. So, whether you want to create a new app, write a novel, or learn to play “Stairway to Heaven” on the guitar, you must be disciplined in your Practice. And finally, after you’ve created your “masterpiece,” you must practice what “Creativity on Demand” author Michael Gelb calls “creative heroism” and Promote your work with others. It requires courage because there is always the possibility that your efforts will be ignored, or worse, rejected.
So, if George Washington Carver and Carl Jung are correct, there is abundant creativity all around us. We simply must adopt the proper mindset and be disciplined in our practice to access it. If you’re interested in learning more, I would recommend the books “Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Intention” by Csikszentmihalyi and “Creativity on Demand” by Gelb, as well as the website http://brianjohnson.me, as excellent resources to support your process.
And whether you’re writing a book or blog, or learning to play Mozart or Metallica, I hope you will have the courage to share it with the rest of us … the world is waiting.