She was an odd mix of soft skin and rowdy in the mouth.
And by that, I mean she was bright, chirpy, and quick with the quirky jokes, ribbing it with the best of them, but prone to fits of sobbing at the first sign of disagreement.
I needed to be cautious. To curb my Neanderthal-like love for hurling abuse at editorial outlaws. Not to mention, she was new.
The woman who sat in the chair opposite my desk in a book-lined office was one of the most promising writers in our creative department. The problem was, she was late on her first deadline. Really late.
I took a deep breath.
“I gave you an extra week. Help me understand why I don’t have that article yet,” I said.
She shrugged and cracked a smile. I waited for an answer, but nothing.
Then I said, “Eh, yeah. So, about that deadline?”
She looked down at her hands, then looked at me in the eyes, the smile gone.
“You know how it is. The inspiration just hasn’t hit yet.”
I nodded and fidgeted with a hangnail.
“Actually … I don’t know how it is.”
That’s when her lower lip began to tremble and her eyelids started blinking rapidly.
Common creativity myths
“The inspiration just hasn’t hit yet” is one among a long line of myths about creativity. Here are four more:
- You are born with it.
- You have to be right-brained.
- It falls into your lap.
- You’ve got to be a little mad.
Perhaps you’ve run into some of them. Perhaps you’ve even fallen for some, too.
But these aren’t just myths. They are also excuses.
They are excuses we use to avoid doing the work because we fear rejection, criticism, and failure.
I get it. I’m also an odd mix of roughneck and delicate soul.
I remember thinking to myself in an introductory-level college poetry class that no one dare criticize my work. Of course, I had no shortage of harsh comments for my fellow poets.
Call it overcompensation for a deep insecurity. Grossly exalted view of self. A freaked out perfectionist. Whatever the source, it was crippling my creativity.
I eventually learned my lesson. Creativity comes at a price.
But what exactly do we refer to when we talk about creativity?
Creativity explained — by science!
Michael Grybko, neuroscience research scientist and engineer from the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington, is pals with Kelton Reid, Rainmaker Digital’s VP of Multimedia Production and host of The Writer Files podcast. Michael’s been on Kelton’s show a number of times.
Naturally, the episode I want to focus on now is about creativity. So, Mr. Grybko, what is creativity?
“In science, we define ‘creativity’ as an idea that is novel, good, and useful. It’s a little broader than the Oxford Dictionary’s definition, where it’s just the ability to create, because that doesn’t really say much. You can create something and it’s not very useful or it just won’t work well.”
Did you get that? According to Mr. Grybko, creativity is “an idea that is novel, good, and useful.” Fair enough. But Michael’s not done.
“Pooling from this wealth of knowledge we store in our brains and making connections between different ideas, we have to solve a new problem, or create, write a new novel — that’s what science looks at when we study ‘creativity.’ Just to drive home the point, this is very much a function of the brain. There’s no need to invoke all that folklore into this. It’s our brains doing what they do.”
“It’s our brains doing what they do.” I love scientists! They spoil all of our mystical fun. (Just kidding.)
Anyone can be creative, not just a privileged few
Mr. Grybko is simply explaining that anyone can be creative. Not just a privileged few.
No more excuses, Class.
This got me thinking: How would non-scientists respond to this question? What about a punk rocker? What would he say about creativity?
What about a popular non-fiction author? A digital entrepreneur? A marketing dissident?
Fortunately for you, we have answers!
The Writer Files (which started as a regular column on Copyblogger) has gathered thought-provoking responses to the question, “What is creativity?”
20 more original definitions of creativity
You can read the full interviews by clicking on each person’s name. And don’t forget to download the free poster at the end of this post.