What is creativity and 47 reasons why you ain’t a creative

Right off the bat, I’m gonna level with you and say that I don’t have forty-seven reasons why you are not creative. I don’t even have one. I just needed a funky title that the Google machinery would pick up on. Citing a list of stuff and using “creativity” in the title was a cool way of tricking that uncreative algorithm into thinking there might be something valuable (creative?) in here. There might be. I dunno.

I don’t even know you, so why do you care what I think about you? You might be creative; you may not be. All I can do is give you my narrowly-defined definition of creativity and watch you squeeze through the hole, proving you are.

Everyone wants to be a creative these days. Seth Godin says this is the Age of the Creative. The rest of us are “lizard brains.” Nobody wants to be a lizard brain. That sounds dull, slow, and backwards. Daniel Pink says that anyone who is not creative will not be able to thrive in the new world of employment. Teachers everywhere are encouraging little Johnny to explore his world around him, to be creative; right before she sends him off to detention for talking out of turn using creative language.

I promised you a very narrow definition of creativity. Here it is:

Creativity is creating something original and appropriate within the confines of your craft.

That’s pretty much it. You can’t do what someone has already done — like using all lowercase in an essay — and call it creative. E.E. Cummings already did that. You must make something out of nothing that was not there before. It must be appropriate, i.e., elephant poo on a painting is not creative. Really, it’s just kitsch. And you must be aware of and adept at applying the rules of your craft. Then bend or push the rules with purpose.

Most of what we call “creative” these days tends to be sloth and impatience; folks who are too lazy or in too much of a hurry to hone their craft. Instead, they color sloppily outside the lines and call it creative. Real creativity takes years of hard work and dull practice before it ever sees the light of day.

Have I poked at you hard enough? Do you find yourself disagreeing with me? Are you angry enough at me for not including you in the creative club? I sure hope so! Add your creative comments below. I dare you. Just be original, appropriate and stretch language to express yourself.

Proper grammar is required.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about “answering the big question, “What is creativity?”” To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

11 Replies to “What is creativity and 47 reasons why you ain’t a creative”

  1. I love your notion that we ask students to be creative and then yell when they are….errr…creative, because well, it doesn’t fit into our notion of what them being creative is. Have I thoroughly confused you yet? 🙂

  2. I think you have an interesting premise but I think your definition of creativity is decidedly uncreative. Who can define what is and isn’t appropriate? That is linear thinking at it’s worst. Just the premise trying to define creativity is amusing and left me feeling slighting like a lizard brain. I will defer to others who see it fit as their role to define whether creativity exists in the effort of others. As for me, I’m just going to keep on trying.


  3. I can define what is appropriate because I did. I have no idea if I am right or not, but I need to put everything into a pigeon hole in order to understand it. Even now, I’m plugging my ears with my paws, screaming “la la la la la la la” at the top of my lungs in order to drown out the sound of my own brain second-guessing my definition of creativity.

    How can HR people successfully source “creative people” to fill their companies if we have no agreement on what the word means? How can we fill university departments with “creative thinkers” if we don’t agree on what the word means? We must put a stop to this creative definition of creativity or we will never be able to move forward.

    Maybe we should just consult Wikipedia. That should solve the debate. 🙂

  4. Of course, you are right. I should have gone and consulted with HR before posting my comment. It is a widely known fact – everyone knows that most creative thinkers and original thoughts come out of the HR department (what was I thinking?)

    Does HR run Wikipedia? Probably

  5. I do think your definition of creativity is correct. For a long time I wanted to write novels and actually did write two. I couldn’t get them published, but that’s another story! But the one goal I had throughout was to write proper stories, that is with a beginning, middle, and end. I wanted to use traditional structure, not one of those avant-garde pieces that has you wondering how it began and where it is going, if anywhere. But once I decided to do that, it meant that the most I could hope for was a new wrinkle on an old prune. Most of the novels I read these days are main-stream novels, which necessarily have similar restrictions. But even with such tight restrictions on what one can do, one can do a lot with a story. “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver is certainly a case in point.

  6. My thinking on creativity is also rooted in practical experience. For about 4 1/2 years, I worked at a newspaper in the MidWest (ok, the Dayton Daily News) creating pages and stories for Newspapers In Education. Boring text only copy just did not work or kids. But producing colorful, clear illustrations at 53lpi with a CMYK register that skidded all over the place was a bit of a challenge. Our office was in the Marketing Creative department “bullpen” that produced all the in-house, benevolent ads, community stuff, etc. The conversation that came out of that bullpen was colorful, to be blunt. Anyway, the creative artists could make CMYK at 53lpi produce magic! The crappy artists just whined about “printing on toilet paper” and blamed their inability to creatively produce great stuff on the medium.

    That experience cemented in my mind that creative people will always be able to produce great stuff, regardless of the rules. The tighter the rules, the more creative they get.

  7. In my experience, HR people use the word creative because what they really want are people with a positive attitude who won’t break any rules. But they can’t say that.

  8. Then they should say “perky!” 🙂 I have fifteen years of HR… writing those ads is like writing ads for houses that you know won’t sell….

  9. I think being creative within “the confines of your craft” is extremely important. It gives a basis for measuring and evaluating the creativity. In my experience, creativity surfaces within a set of boundaries or rules.

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