Debunking Popular Myths about Creativity

Like innovation, there are plenty of misconceptions about creativity, which makes it all the more confusing when people are extolling the importance of creative skill in the 21st century. To continue my quest to unravel these complex topics, this instalment explains what creativity is NOT.

Popular myths about creativity

  • You have to be an artist to be creative. There are many creative engineers, scientists, financiers etc. creativity is not a privilege reserved to poets and artists alone. Nor is it a characteristic of loners, misunderstood geniuses or crazy people. It is about invention and innovation, often by teams!
  • Creativity is a talent that some have and others don’t. Viewing creativity as a talent is one of the best excuses for doing nothing. True, some people have a natural curiosity; an active imagination; a relentless energy; and a desire to think differently. But these qualities can be learnt!
  • Creative people are mostly rebels (won’t play the game, play mostly by their rules) As we begin to understand the ‘game’ of creativity, we know how minds form patterns [in which they then get caught] and what it takes for people to move across patterns to generate new ideas (serious play). You don’t need to be a rebel to enjoy the freshness of unlocking stifling thought patterns.
  • Creative people are ‘liberated’, free-spirited and child-like. The ‘liberation’ myth is based on the notion that freeing people from their inhibitions and encouraging them to be playful and childlike will unleash their creative fibre. Comparing adult creativity with the playfulness of children is difficult. Children are endowed with creativity borne out of innocence because their minds have not yet formed as many stifling patterns. The minds of adults, on the other hand, are filled with many valuable patterns to be cracked and bridged for innovation.
  • Tools and techniques are confining. This myth rests on the notion that systematic tool use is contrary to the nature of creativity, which must be ‘free’. According to this view, materials should be malleable (like clay) and user-friendly (like clay). Contrary to belief, however, materials with integrity (a ‘logic’ of their own) are often more helpful in boosting a maker’s creativity – provided, of course, the maker is a fluent user of that tool!
  • Creativity occurs as a single burst of genius. Despite the plethora of myths about this, extensive research into both artists’ most famous works and numerous inventions attributed to a single stroke of genius have shown that instead, ideas emerge through a process of fabrication that evolves over time and through hard work

Instead creativity:

  • requires both divergent and convergent thinking
  • is not a matter of left brain vs right brain alone
  • involves both problem-solving and problem-setting
  • balances tradition and innovation, continuity and change
  • combines/blends individual and collective contributions
  • involves making the familiar strange and the strange familiar

For those interested in finding out more, have look at  Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation by Keith Sawyer, which gathers all the most recent findings in the field of creativity research and also outlines how different disciplines view creativity.

1 thought on “Debunking Popular Myths about Creativity”

  1. I agree – refining a creative idea does take a lot of hard work (not just a burst of inspiration that also is a final product) but there is definitely that “aha!” breakthrough moment.

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