I don’t generally consider myself creative. I used to think I was but then I’d watch a show on various inventions, or watch a profile about an artist and I’d rethink my creative nature. Generally my conception of creativity was that it came from a flash of brilliance or a moment of inspiration. But an article I recently read has me rethinking that vision and it may also make you rethink your definition of creativity.
Author and Professor Art Markman wrote an article called The Five Habits of Creative People. In this article Markman, who has studied creative people for 10 years has found that most creative people are not driven by flashes or muses. They have established habits that allow them to create. I wanted to share these with you to let you see that you too can establish a habit of creativity.
Creativity requires study
One habit that creative people have is that they have a natural curiosity and thus they study details. If they look at something they wonder why it works that way. A classic story that we have all heard, and Markman repeats, is that of George de Mestral, the Swiss engineer who invented Velcro. De Mestral had to take cockleburs out of his dog’s hair on a regular basis after walks. If you have ever had to do that, or even remove them from your own clothing, you know they are difficult to remove. Rather than just gripping about it he studied why they were so difficult and notice the structure of the cocklebur and he realized it could be recreated in the human world. Voilà, Velcro is created. So pay attention to the details. Study why things, or since we are in human resources, why people work the way they do. You may discover something.
Creativity requires a routine
I used to hate routine. I didn’t ever like to do things the same way three days in a row, but then I realized my life, your life, practically everyone’s life is filled with routine. Markman’s study found that creative people are very routine driven. They work on their creativity on a consistent basis. The world of literature is replete with stories of “wanabee” authors getting up at 5 a.m. to work on their manuscript; John Gresham comes to mind. So there is nothing wrong with establishing routine. I start off each of my days now writing this blog. Now, eating the same thing for lunch each day is not routine, that is just boring.
Creativity requires knowledge
There is an old saying that luck favors the prepared mind. It works for creativity as well. As Markman says “you never know what the source of a great idea is going to be.” He also says that “A key to creativity is to pursue knowledge without a sense of whether it will be relevant in the future.” To me this says you need to be well read. You need to be curious about things outside of you area of work. Not only will it help your creativity it will also make you a better conversationalist, more interesting, and also better at trivia games. Markman tells the story that Dyson’s idea for his vacuum came from studying how sawmills removed all the dust they dealt with.
Creativity requires timing
We can all probably think of things that were ahead of their times. Markman says “That means that creative individuals need to understand both the technical aspects of their craft as well as the context in which the work is being done.” I have known a number of HR people who tried to introduce new ways of doing things that the company was not ready to adopt. As a result they moved on. To do creative things you have to be aware of whether your management team and employees are ready to adapt and adopt what you are trying to introduce.
Creativity requires knowing when to quit
Trying to push an innovation in a company that is not ready can be frustrating exercise. The result is that sometimes you have to walk away from a project regardless of the time and money already invested in it. As Markman says “Just because you have already spent a lot of time or money on a project does not mean that time will have been wasted if you walk away from the project. Instead, you should evaluate projects by whether they are likely to succeed with continued effort, independent of the investment you have made so far.” As Kenny Rogers sings “You have to know when to fold em.”
Hopefully these five habits will help you realize that you too can be creative. You may not be a Dyson, or a Picasso, a Gresham, but you can make changes that will allow you to enjoy creative outlets and improve your life, your job and the lives of those around you.
Photo by Chaloemphan