Creative Process


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Is it really necessary for creativity to be so splatty?

My mom recently sent me a newspaper article about companies striving to add creativity to their work environment through the generous application of “perks” ( beanbag chairs, apparently, are the eponymous symbol for a “perk-ified” work environment). Did these perks help boost creativity? The article argued that they did not. Why? Because having so many creative perks made the work environment to pleasant and plush and creativity really needs constraints, roughness and tragedy ( the article cited losing a parent at a young age as a good resource for this) in order to truly flourish.

On this point, I disagree.

Actually, I agree about the constraints: creativity is often described in shapeless words like “free form” and “organic” and “flowing” and “energy”, but without structure and rules out is just a  meaningless jumble of pretty sounding thoughts.

Constraints are good: they make creativity useful.

But constraints alone do not make someone creative and adding extra constraints will not help. The DMV had plenty of constraints; a veritable plethora of them, but no one goes to the DMV to get more creative.  Roughness and tragedy are also not the key to creativity any more than the sadly maligned beanbag chair is: they’re tools that can divert creativity in interesting ways, but they don’t create it.

So if having it easy doesn’t make you creative and having it rough doesn’t make you creative, what makes you creative?

Creativity is problem-solving.

Specifically, creativity is the process of being motivated to solve a specific problem. The key words are: process, motivated, and specific.

First of all, creativity is a process. It is a state of action, not a magical, quantifiable object that you can somehow tap like a gusher of oil. You don’t measure creativity by the barrel, you measure it by the amount of activity being generated. So are those beanbag chairs inhibitive after all? Not necessarily. Activity doesn’t always have to be physical. A programmer might sit still for hours of coding but still be wildly active in solving a problem within the code.

Not only is creativity a process, it is a messy process- which is probably where the idea that roughness plays into creativity comes from. Creativity is art as a science: a series of experiments to solve various elements of a problem. A specific problem. Renaissance painters struggled to solve the problem of capturing three dimensional space on a two dimensional canvas. Poetry struggles to solve the problem of capturing and communicating an emotion In words. The problem is always specific- maybe that’s why so much of Creativity is project based; measured by the film, the song, the painting, the poem- whatever it is, it has a specific problem that needs to be solved for the project to be finished. You don’t get creative for the sake of being creative, you get creative because you need to accomplish a certain goal.

The operative word is need. You have to be motivated to solve the problem, otherwise the easiest solution is to leave it unsolved. The next easiest solution is to throw money at the problem to make it go away, which is also probably why the article was so critical about perk-ified work environments inhibiting creativity: there’s no reason to be creative if you have abundant resources because there’s no reason to keep looking for solutions once the problem is solved.

At any rate, the creativity-as-problem-solving was the philosophy that I was brought up with. I recall cringing in agony every time my mother said to me: “well, how can we solve this problem creatively?” because what it really meant was : “I’m not going to tell you the answers, you need to work to figure it out.” I hated that. But I’m glad of it now, of course. (I also hated thank you notes, but now appreciate them. Still haven’t come around to avocados.)

So… Anyway… I don’t think beanbag chairs are all that evil after all.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on January 27, 2016.

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