How can I be creative? How can I learn creativity? Why am I not creative?
We all have these thoughts from time to time, doubting our own abilities while looking at a seemingly talented person that can conjure up an extraordinary world using only words or illustrate a masterpiece in a few short hours with only a pencil.
We feel a concoction of emotions brewing like amazement, appreciation, envy, and respect, which all form together to make a very objective feeling of annoyance or irritation.
Irritation in the form of self-talk goes along the lines of “Damn if only I were that creative.”
You’re smart, you’ve got an education, you’ve got ambitions, and you love solving problems. You, more than anyone, have the ability to shape your career, business, art, and future. The annoying little caveat is that you feel like sometimes you’re not thinking outside of the box, you feel like you’re not bringing anything new to the table, you feel like you’re not creative enough.
You feel like the only ingredient missing is that little dash of creativity. Because you work hard, you work smart, and you’re always on the ball.
So that next step, that next level in your business, your art, music, and ambitions. Provided you’ve done all you can do to this point — that hinges on your ability to become creative.
There’s a common misconception that you’re born into creativity. That you are either creative or you’re not. And one could argue that’s the case by pointing at a seemingly endless amount of talent as an example.
But what is creativity exactly? It’s not some unicorn; it's not ephemeral; it’s not some stardust that only some people can sprinkle on canvas or page.
When you look at someone doing something and think to yourself, “wow, that’s very creative.” What’s going on exactly? What makes you exclaim, “wow!”
It happens when there is a known or unknown problem, and someone solves it unconventionally or impressively. A way that makes you wonder why you didn’t think of it.
So what is creativity then?
Creativity is just another word for intricate problem solving.
Nothing more and nothing less.
From the line art tattoo, you saw that artist draw, to the effective marketing strategy your team prepared, to the new patch someone pushed out that solved 99% of the software’s issues. It’s all creativity; it’s all problem-solving.
So whatever your endeavor is, whatever domain you want to be more creative in is absolutely not out of reach.
Like most skills, problem-solving can be learned, it can be improved on, and it can be mastered. You can very much become a creative powerhouse in your chosen field.
And although there are many skills to improve that are all pieces of the puzzle, creativity — it’s problem-solving that’s the corner piece.
How do you get better at problem-solving?
Here are a few tools and strategies that have worked quite well for me. Some are routines that will help you increase your overall creativity, and some are specific ways of thinking that will help you at the moment.
Incorporate as many as you can and watch as you feel more creative in all facets of life.
1 | Perspective shift
Have you ever had a friend pour their heart to you about work, a relationship, or a general problem they have? And you clearly see the answer, you tell them the answer, and they either follow your advice or (more often) they don’t.
Why is it so easy for us to see the answer to their issue, yet when we have a similar dilemma, it’s all that much harder for us?
The answer is rooted in something called the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance.
The gist is that if a problem isn’t occurring to ourselves and it isn’t occurring to us right here. Now — we have a level of psychological disconnect that allows us to see the problem and its solutions much more clearly than someone that’s actually dealing with it.
This is why all you cupids can help your friends say the right thing when texting but overthink it when it’s actually you. 😜
And to overcome this, you need to shift your perspective.
Ask yourself. If this wasn’t me, it wasn’t my problem, and I had to advise the person on what to do and how to solve it. I had exactly zero stakes in the solution. What would I tell them?
Putting physiological distance between you and the problem will allow you to be more objective and solve the problem more intricately from your new, somewhat stoic perspective.
Use this thought exercise next time you’re stuck.
2 | Get the problem on paper
Just like how we can’t get a grasp of the conversation when 7 people are speaking at once when we have dozens of thoughts trying to untangle a problem in our heads, it becomes exhausting and unmanageable.
The solution is simple, get a piece of paper, and write down your thoughts.
Every thought you write down, a little bit of mental bandwidth gets freed up, and you have room to think. Because you’re not juggling balls while trying to order them by size and color anymore. The balls are stationary, and you now have the capacity to work through the problem more efficiently.
This is where you allow yourself the mental energy to solve the problem in new and intricate ways. You allow yourself to become creative.
As effective as it is to just get everything on paper. There are many different methods to this strategy that you could adopt to kick it into hyper-drive.
- Write down the solution in broad terms, with broad steps. Break down each step into sub-steps. Rinse and repeat — Here is an example and template I’ve drawn up for you.
- Draw up a word cloud of what’s on your mind — Each word you write will trigger casual links to other words or ideas, leading to a cascade of new possibilities for solutions.
- Write down a list of questions you’d use to probe the problem — What’s a simple solution? Why is this hard to solve? How could I make this easier?
3 | Take what works over a perfect solution
Perfectionism is the most restrictive component of problem-solving and, in turn, creativity. If a solution is basic, has a lot left to be desired, but solves the problem in its core sense — take it.
A solution can be replaced when a better one presents itself. We didn’t jump from radio to social media platforms. We went radio, black and white hair raising static TV, scores of other renditions before all our attention went to YouTube and Facebook.
If we sat there trying to get to the end by jumping straight from A to Z, not only would it have not worked, we wouldn’t have allowed our minds to make casual connections between ideas and naturally solve complex problems the way we have today.
This is the same for your software, business, illustrations, articles, or music. You get more creative as you go, don’t try to write a best-seller straight away. It turns out; it’s difficult.
4 | Use deductive and inductive reasoning with feedback loops
Deductive reasoning: I think people buy paintings when they’re abstract and colorful; let me test this by creating some and see if they sell.
Inductive reasoning: This particular painting is selling well; it’s abstract and colorful; maybe abstract and colorful paintings sell well?
Deductive reasoning starts with a general rule, and we apply it to a particular case to see if it’s true. Inductive reasoning looks at a specific case and tries to figure out the general rule.
You tend to do this automatically in many scenarios when trying to solve problems. From when you’re wondering why a particular Facebook Ad did well in testing your assumption that people want a particular product you just launched.
Being aware just enhances your ability to use feedback loops to solve problems more effectively.
No matter what type of reasoning you use, it will lead you to action. The action will lead you to an outcome, and then you will assess this outcome.
Suppose we’re using deductive reasoning in our first example. We act on our “abstract and colorful paintings sell” theory. And we may realize they don’t. We can adjust the theory with newly found evidence. Rinse and repeat. This is the same for inductive reasoning.
A combination of these 4 strategies over time will enable you to develop a habitual response when dealing with problems that come your way in every facet of life.
It’ll become second nature to distance yourself from the problem and consider it from a 3rd person perspective. You’ll have a notebook specifically for getting ideas out of your head. You’ll lose the perfectionist attitude, while your thinking would have shifted to almost perfectly applying the scientific method to your problems, mentally.
All of this will materialize in your work and seemingly show the world that your talents must be sheer genetic lottery level creativity. But you’ll know the hard work and effort you put in, the systems you beat into yourself, and the strategies turned habits that got you there.
All you have to do is try some of these out and wait until they’re just a part of your process.
Creativity is just intricate problem solving.
Best of luck,