By Orin C. Davis, Ph.D.
When people find out that I teach creativity and critical thinking, one of the most common responses is “I’d love to take a class like that—I wish I were creative!” To their surprise, my response is, “Actually, you already are!”
While people often lament the lack of creativity in schools, and think that none of us are taught to be creative except in those elective classes we forget ever taking, the reality is that we’re creative each and every day. So why do so many of us think we aren’t creative? Maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong.
Here are five reasons why you’re more creative than you think:
1) It Doesn’t Take an Einstein to be Creative
What most of us think of as creative works are what scientists call eminent creativity or BIG-C Creativity, which is work that develops or changes a field, like relativity or Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. But, creativity doesn’t require us to change the world at large, or even to be a genius. Each of us engages in creative processes every day, which scientists refer to as either little-c or mini-c creativity. Remember how you jury-rigged some contraption in your house that just needed a bit of ingenuity to get working properly? That’s little-c creativity—it affects multiple people, but isn’t professional-grade ingenuity. How about that moment when you developed some new realization about the way the world works? That’s mini-c creativity—it may have made sense only to you, but it was enlightening nonetheless! Each of those is a creative act that allows us to generate something novel and useful (which is the definition of creativity developed by scientist Teresa Amabile).
2) It Doesn’t Take a van Gogh, Either
We usually think of “creative types” as people in the arts. But as the Einstein example suggests, creativity can happen in any field. Whether you are a doctor, lawyer, secretary, truck driver, or stay-at-home parent, your job requires you to come up with novel and useful ideas on a daily basis, if not an hourly one. That may seem like a questionable claim, but…
3) People Don’t Always Recognize Creativity When They See It
You might think that certain professions do not lend themselves to creativity, but follow anyone with serious tenure in a line of work, and you will see that they pull off some pretty neat stunts on a daily basis, especially when compared to newbies in their field. Ever notice how seasoned parents seem to know just what to do the moment their kid starts looking queasy during a road trip, or that some administrative assistants can fix anything that goes wrong? You may not even realize how much experience and creativity it takes to pull off some of these impressive stunts unless you try them (and discover you can’t do them!), especially because they make it look so easy. No one appreciates the capabilities of a master like a fellow master. For the same reason, no one understands the creativity in your life without being an expert in it!
4) Creativity Doesn’t Happen on Schedule (or Maybe It Does)
Some people claim that the reason they aren’t creative is because they just don’t have the time. But, because people have to engage in little-c and mini-c creativity all the time, we most certainly have time to be creative. Many think, however, that to do anything more than something basic is going to take some serious time, but it’s amazing what people can pull off in very short order. 24-hour hackathons, National Novel Writing Month, and many other programs show that people can create something substantial without that much time.
5) You Don’t Need to “Think Outside the Box”
I keep hoping this myth will die, but the notion that creativity requires thinking outside the box is just plain incorrect. In fact, what creativity often takes is overcoming assumptions about the way things “ought to be,” and most of us do that every day. It’s the detour you figure out when a road is closed, the way you prop a door that won’t stay open, and the folded-up piece of paper you use as a coaster. While we would love for our worlds to be neat and orderly, that just doesn’t happen, and so we need to overthrow our expectations and assumptions, and prepare for the unexpected (never mind dealing with it). In so doing, we are letting those “creative juices” flow, and getting our world together, one blown assumption at a time.
People are creative all the time. Young and old, of all professions, and in any place you go, people are getting creative in ways that we can only guess. And, while you can take courses and read books that will help you develop your creative potential, you already have that potential in spades, and you’re using it every day.
Orin C. Davis is a science advisor to Happify and a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.