1 min read

What is creativity?

I once told an ex-coworker that I wanted to do something more creative and she asked, "Like, painting or poetry? Pottery?" No, that's not what I had in mind.

But that does lead me to wonder what creativity is.

Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible (such as an idea, a scientific theory, a musical composition, or a joke) or a physical object (such as an invention, a printed literary work, or a painting). - Wikipedia

This definition leads to a thornier question of what is valuable. Valuable to whom? And new to whom? The answer to both is "yourself." Valuable to yourself and new to yourself. Creativity has to be subjective, as value is subjective. And if two people on the opposite sides of the earth create similar things, is the second not creative?

But you can't know something is valuable until it's created. You might create absolute shit. Creativity is creating both value and shit and sifting the results.

"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - Joseph Chilton Pearce

So creativity is just creating things that are valuable and new to you, sounds easy. But we need to keep digging to get to something useful.

Descriptions of creativity range from "follow curiosity" to "expressing yourself" to "thinking outside the box."  These are still so vague to be useless.  Creativity is in the realm of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's definition of pornography, "I know it when I see it."

It might be easier to define creativity by your state while you're being creative.  Daniel Pink in Drive describes the aspects of motivation as mastery, purpose, and autonomy.  Creativity comes from these sources as well.  I know that when I am missing these aspects, I am not creative.  When I'm repetitively doing something, I'm not creative.  When I'm bored by what I'm doing, I'm not creative.   And when someone tells me what to do, I'm definitely not creative.

When I am pushing the limits of my abilities, intensely interested in the process, and fully invested in an activity, those are the times when I notice creativity.