I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity recently. Specifically about the human capacity to be creative, the space we allow it to occupy in day-to-day life, and one phrase that I seem to hear a lot from students, colleagues and friends…
I’m not creative.
Where does ‘I’m not creative’ come from?
All human beings start off creative. At least that’s what I think. And if you’re not sure whether or not you’re creative, take a moment to look at this:
What is it?
Try to imagine what you might have to eat later…
And take a look at this:
What do you think might be inside it?
If your brain automatically turns two dots, a line and a circle into a face, if you can imagine something that you aren’t doing yet (like eating dinner), and if you imagine things that might be inside a box (whether it’s the portal to another world or something that you might more realistically find inside of a box), you ARE creative.
We cannot help but be creative.
It is the way that our brains work. We try to answer, ‘what if’, we make patterns out of seemingly random things, we search for meaning… we can’t help it. I’ll say it again, it is just the way that our brains work.
Earlier this year, a student told me that she wasn’t creative. And I could see I kind of yearning in her whole being. She wanted to be creative, but she was convinced that she just wasn’t.
Nonsense, I told her, nonsense. Of course you are creative. We are all creative. And then I went through some of the examples I’ve given you. She wanted to believe that she might be creative. I gave her, in fact I gave the whole class, some creative exercises to keep playing with. We are all creative, but like everything, it helps if we exercise it a little.
By the end of the course my student had written a picture-book. She seemed to vibrate with wonder because she had realised something about herself. She had realised that she was, indeed, creative.
But I wonder… what happened in the first place to convince her that she wasn’t?
Let’s get to the heart of it.
We have not valued creativity in our society. In fact, we’ve kind of devalued it. We have said that it’s for children (making it seem childish and something which we ought to grow out of), or the creative subjects (thereby separating creativity from ‘serious’ and ‘important’ subjects).
Which subjects do you associate with creativity?
Most people don’t immediately think mathematics, the sciences or engineering. You might have done, but be honest… was it your first thought? Well done if it was. I know that those subjects are creative, but they’re never my first thought…
This is not a test. Just a quick gauge to get a sense of where we have placed creativity in order to wind up believing that we aren’t creative.
We don’t start that way.
Children learn through creative engagement with their world and others. Sometimes, we call this ‘play’. And then, one day, we are told to stop playing, stop daydreaming, stop doodling…
Play and creativity become things that we do when we have finished with the serious and important stuff.
I used to work as a freelance writer. I remember a short contract, where I had to get children who had been excluded from class, and who would never write, to write. That was my task.
I spent some time with them making up stories that we told one another. Then I brought in flipchart paper and pens, put the paper on the floor and gave them the pens. I invited them to write their stories on the big paper and I also welcomed the inclusion of drawings.
40-minutes later we had to make them stop. These kids never wrote. Except here they were… writing. A lot.
What had happened?
Nothing much. We had just shifted the dynamic from work to fun. We had turned it into play with nothing more than big paper and big pens.
One of the great and wonderful surprises about the human capacity for creativity, is that it actually doesn’t take much to awaken.
So go on, wake it up, what is in the box?
And remember… don’t stop playing, don’t stop daydreaming, don’t stop doodling.
Creativity and play are not things that you do after the serious and important stuff. They are the serious and important stuff.