NOTE: This is adapted and modified from something I wrote on Facebook a few years ago.
I’ll say up front that I am a Christian, and I believe people were made in the image of a Creator; subsequently, all people possess some form of creativity. In some way or another, each person can be creative, given the right circumstances. Granted, creativity is not limited to artistic expression, as creativity is the very essence of life; creativity is what transforms some cloth and poles into a tent, sheltering people from the elements. But for the sake of simplicity, I’m making the distinction between those people like me who live for or gravitate toward creative outlets and those who are less inclined to be creative as a means of self-expression.
The first thing is to ask, “What is creativity?” Google’s dictionary defines it as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, esp. in the production of an artistic work.” Creativity is essentially the ability to produce something new or different, usually intriguing, using whatever resources are accessible. Creativity turns an ordinary cardboard box into a fort, race car, spaceship, or even a non-ordinary cardboard box.
But how are creative types different from those who seemingly lack creative self-expression. What makes a person creative anyway? What qualities do creative types possess that link them together yet at the same time make each person different? I’d like to share just a few qualities we have in common. This is based on personal experience and knowledge of other creative types, not meant as some scientific or groundbreaking discovery. For the sake of needlessly using an acronym to emphasize points, I’ve used each letter in “creativity.” Creative types are
Curious. Creative types are by nature inquisitive explorers; we venture where others are not willing to go or try things others are not willing to try. When it comes to being creative, we overtly or subconsciously ask the question, “What if…?” or “Is this possible?” Creativity is not about seeing things and the world as they are, but seeing them as how they could be; it’s about considering possibilities or looking at potential. A canvas is but an unstarted painting, a sheet of paper but an unwritten poem. Curiosity is but a starting point, for while not all curious people are necessarily creative, all creative people possess some sort of curiosity within themselves. “If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.” — Linda Naiman
People less inclined toward creativity may think us curiosities or just plain weird for not seeing things as they are or were; conversely, we may think non-creative people are dull or rigid for not seeing possibilities.
Resourceful. Within the creative process, you may be restricted by resource limitations, but in creativity, the only true limit is one’s own imagination. It’s not about what you don’t have; it’s about what you do have or can access. Basic economics teaches us that resource limitations are a part of life, which means we do not always have what we need to accomplish what we want. But we work with what we have. Creative types like to find ways to get what they need by using what they have available in order to accomplish a goal. If what we have does not help us directly accomplish our goals, we like to find ways to indirectly reach them. For example, you want a new costume idea but don’t have money to afford anything, so you look in your closet and start piecing together old costume parts to modify a creation of your own design.
Emotional. This is twofold, for it speaks of how we relate to what we do and how we relate to other people. When it comes to being creative, there is sometimes an attachment to what we design, especially when it is for whom or what we care about most. When we really get into the creative process, we may figuratively and/or literally pour our blood, sweat, and tears into whatever we are making, sometimes at the cost of basic necessities. Simply put, we can get proverbially lost in a project, but it might be how we best express who we are deep down. Whenever we design anything that requires much effort, it becomes a part of who we are; it tells others, “this is what I do because I want to” or “this is something important to me.” Think of the author who spends hours inside a room with just paper and pen, until words form sentences, characters, and worlds; these are the ones who truly understand how a story takes on a life of its own. Because what is produced is an extension of oneself, there can be an emotional attachment to the process or the end result, and in that process is found a kind of joy or happiness.
Relating to people can be different than relating to what we produce, but it is through creating we connect with other people. When it comes to people, some creative types may seem emotionally distant on the surface, but they really do have emotions that might not always be easily expressed with physical or verbal gestures. Emotions may simply be better expressed through one’s work or even by giving one’s work freely to others. Other creative types may be more emotionally-expressive than others, lashing out and “unleashing their wrath” should their work be disrupted (or perhaps it’s an immaturity on their part), but it does not mean they only care about themselves or their work. If you don’t think they can be given to emotions, think of children who are often proud to have their “masterpieces” adorned on the fridge by their parents.2
Adaptable. Humans have an inherent need for a sense of stability or consistency; without such things, life’s problems will overwhelm a person. However, life is all about change, for change is inevitable. The only way to survive and thrive in change is to be adaptable.
Because creative types possess a willingness to try out new ideas and methods or to explore new places, new situations do not necessarily scare or intimidate them. If forced into strange or uncertain circumstances, creative types will eventually find a way to work within the situation. Adaptability allows us to become who and what we need to be for a given situation in order to survive. Our ingenuity, which is a combination of adaptability and resourcefulness, allows us to find ways to work within new settings and thrive when resources are limited. Since we cannot always control our circumstances or have resources readily available, we learn to work where we are and with what we have in order to accomplish a goal. Of course, end results are not always as expected, but adaptability also allows us to change the goal to match available resources.
Tenacious. It may seem counter-intuitive or contradictory, but creative types are flexible yet stubborn. While we may be willing to accept change and work within our circumstances, we are not so easily willing to give up on a project or idea, especially when so much time, energy, and/or thought processes have already been personally invested. When one method or idea does not work, there can be a willingness to try a new approach, albeit sometimes reluctantly. While there are times we want to quit, our determination may compel us to keep going toward some perceivable goal. This drive for project completion can result in sleep deprivation; we sometimes will spend countless hours trying to get “that one thing” just right.
Inspired. While creativity does require imagination, our ideas are probably inspired more often than we pull anything from our own imaginations. Almost any idea you can think of has probably been thought of by a thousand other people who lived before you. This is why creativity does not always mean completely original and why similarities of other ideas or concepts may often be recognized in different people’s work. Being inspired is different from blatantly copying someone else’s work. Appreciation of someone else’s idea, which too may have been inspired, can be noted by the joyfully-exasperated question: “Why didn’t I think of that?” Appreciation is not to be confused with begrudging an unspoken idea being somehow stolen or that someone else beat us to the proverbial punch.
Varied. “Variety is the spice of life.” Creative types are likely less drawn to the “same old, same old” and may become bored or uninspired doing such tedious tasks others are more comfortable doing. There is a joy found in learning or trying something new or creating something different. Creativity is also not limited to one design, one area of expertise, or one avenue of self-expression. A really creative person can produce different designs in the same area or function in different areas; in fact, some individuals may thrive better with multiple outlets of self-expression.
Additionally, the thinking of creative types is probably less linear than other people who only see results, for we might be seeing the beginning, middle, and any number of endings all at the same time. We might be considering many ways to get to a destination, noticing the details other people miss, or perhaps dreaming up ideas others can’t envision. While mechanical routines can feel boring or wearisome, the internal thought processes of the creative mind can generate excitement. Creative types may seem to lack “one-track mindedness” in some areas, coming across as less focused on the mundane or more absent-minded, mechanical processes, but they could simply be lost in their own thoughts and/or creative processes.
Imaginative. Creativity requires imagination. Imagination is the only true limit to being creative. You will hardly lack for ideas if you possess and exercise your imagination, even if you lack the resources to accomplish your goal. An original idea may not necessarily come from one’s own imagination, but imagination is needed to put all parts together, to envision the final outcome before a project is started and as it is going. When everything is pieced together, it can result in a truly remarkable and memorable piece that started in someone’s imagination. Granted, while creativity does not always mean something completely original from start to finish, in some cases it can, yet this may be what is most considered when people say something is creative.
A huge part of who we are, imagination is a piece of our childhood we never truly gave up nor wish to give up. Side effects may include getting lost in thought easily and/or talking happily about things which might not actually exist.
Talented.3 While anything or anyone can inspire ideas, no amount of lectures, book-reading, or knowledge increase will make someone creative. These things can and do spark creative ideas, but they do not make someone creative. Creativity cannot be taught, but it can be cultivated. The ability to really express ourselves creatively is something we either possess or we do not, but even if we possess it, it must be cultivated to grow. Even the most creative people you know probably have works that they look back on and would disown, if not for their emotional attachment and how much they have grown since then. Once upon a time, some of us only knew how to draw stick figures or Tic-Tac-Toe boards.
You-nique. This is the crux of creativity; it separates originality from carbon copy. Uniqueness is the difference between making something our own and just simply imitating what someone else is doing. While similarities are normal, each person’s style, method, medium, etc. of expressing ideas is as different as the person who generates them. If two creative people are given the same assignment and tools, each could conceivably produce something completely different.
What makes someone creative? There’s not really one set thing that separates us from those around us. Creative types are curious about the world around them, and they use what they have available to make things happen. They may become attached to their designs, but they are not emotionless robots or self-centered sociopaths. They roll with the punches but do not give up easily. Their ideas are inspired by others. They like variety and may often imagine things differently than how they are. Creativity comes naturally to them, but more than anything, they are unique in how their creativity is expressed. In short, they are not all that different from less creative types; really it’s only that they engage the world that isn’t with the world that is.
I am creative, and I embrace this.
2There are some drawings I did when I was a little boy, and they are in my dad’s office at home. Sometimes I see them and think, “I can’t believe he still has those things.”
3Talent is not to be confused with skill, for skill level does not necessarily negate nor confirm creative ability. One can master the mechanical, but still lack the drive to be creative.