What Do You Need to Be Creative?

Years ago, I taught an Educational Psychology course for people who wanted to be elementary or high school teachers. One of my favorite activities was centered on creativity, and how to foster it in young learners. I put the students into small groups, and gave each group a large envelope filled with odds and ends from around my home and office – cotton balls, paper clips, magnets, straws, napkins, remnants of cloth, wire, etc., whatever I could find and could fit in the envelope. Their directions? To create something functional, something that could solve a problem or do a job of some sort. They had the full class time to work and then to present what they had created. It was always great fun, with lots of silliness, ideas coming in fits and starts and then the hum of concentration as the groups settled on their projects and the creations began to take form.

The next day I asked them about the creative process. How did their groups manage to create their inventions? How did the creativity flow (or not) for them? What did they find they needed to be successful?

The answers were simple but insightful. The groups agreed that whether you are a child in a classroom, an artist in a studio, a writer at a desk, or a corporate employee in a cubicle, we all need the same things to be creative in our work:

1) Time – Creativity can’t really be rushed. In fact, a 2002 Harvard study of 177 employees at 7 different companies showed that time pressure negatively affects creative thinking. If you want to tap into your innate creativity, you have to allow yourself the time to do it!

2) Persistence – Those who wait until they ‘feel’ creative before working rarely are prolific. Rather than waiting for the muse to show up, it is us who need to show up and start, knowing that just the act of being there will eventually kick-start the creative process.

3) Space – In this case, this does not necessarily mean physical space, though that’s nice to have, too. But what we really need to be creative is the mental space to make mistakes, to create something less than perfect, or in fact, something really bad — and still feel supported enough to keep trying. After the groups worked through all their ‘dumb’ ideas, they said, that’s when they came to the idea that would work for their projects!

My point in sharing this is that we all deserve these three gifts, too. All of us are creative by nature, and if we are having trouble accessing that piece of ourselves, we probably just need to give ourselves the time, persistence, and space we need to be our best creative selves.

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