This post rounds up 7 things that I learned about creativity. They have helped me a lot when I run out of ideas, so I hope they can be of help to you too.
1. Creativity is a habit
Nick Law is the Global Chief Creative Officer of R/GA, a New York-based agency that has worked with many Fortune 500 companies. Law has been named three times in Creativity Magazine’s “Creativity 50”, a list of the world’s most influential creatives.
When asked how he deals with creative blockage, Law said, “I think creativity is a habit and anyone who expects that they’re going to get the kind of great ‘aha’ moment in the shower is sort of kidding themselves.”
I remember another famous graphic designer says something like this, “People often ask me where I find inspiration. I don’t know how to answer. You are able to design something good not because you are inspired, but because you have been through training and practice.” Of course those are not his exact words, but I hope you get the general idea. It takes time to be creative, so don’t expect to get some great ideas just by taking a shower or browsing Pinterest. However, if you do, that is because you were stressful and those mundane activities you let your mind be free.
Creativity is a process, not a gift we are born with.
2. Good artists copy. Great artists steal
I didn’t truly understand this quote and make it work until I read the book “Steal like an artist”. In that book, the author states that nothing is original.
Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
The honest artist answers, “I steal them.”
Nothing in the world is original. You inherit features of your parents and your ancestors. Even though you don’t get to pick your father, your mother, you can pick your teachers, your friends, your idols. You can choose which books to read, which movies to see, which songs to listen. All those influences define who you are. In other words, “you are the sum of your influences.”
Likewise, the artist is a collector. He collects and copies things he loves. Because making perfect copies is impossible (which is our wonderful flaw), at the end of the copies he finds his style. It doesn’t mean that you should mindlessly copy others. The secret is that you have to steal selectively, and you have to know how to hide the sources. Imagine people look at your work and say “Your style looks like (input name here)’s”.
Now that’s failure. Don’t just steal from one person. There are so many great artists, why do you have to limit your options? Rip off a hundred people, and you’ll become original. Also, it’s not about the technique or the colors. What you have to steal from the masters is their thinking behind each piece of art.
It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.”
Be curious. Start asking questions. Make imperfect copies. Steal.
3. Find your inner child
So Nick Law says that creativity is a habit. But habits are hard to change.
“If creativity is a habit, it wires in a certain way to solve problems and this is one of the big problems in our industry.”
— Nick Law
Now what’s the solution to this problem?
Be a child.
A child’s mind is like a white sheet of paper. You can write on that paper, and you can also erase it easily. That is the reason why children learn language and acquire new skills very quickly. When we become adults, our minds are restricted, and the fear of failure holds us back. Our paper is full of marks over marks that can’t be erased. So if you want to be more creative, reconnect with your inner child. Be open to new ideas, willing to try everything and fear nothing.
4. Forget the rules
Rules are made to be broken. Perhaps the term “think outside the box” is a cliché, but the next time you get stuck, try to ask if you are trapped in an invisible box of rules and then determine what you can do to get out. How to know if your idea is innovative? Well, an idea is innovative when it scares the hell out of you.
5. Don’t care what people think
Start making stuff. Don’t worry that someone will hate your work, because:
Tibor Kalman (1949-1999), a graphic designer well known for his work as editor-in-chief of Colors magazine, said:
“We live in a society and a culture and an economic model that tries to make everything look right. Look at computers. Why are they all putty-colored or off-f***ing-white? You make something off-white or beige because you are afraid to use any other color – because you don’t want to offend anybody. But by definition, when you make something no one hates, no one loves it . So I am interested in imperfections, quirkiness, insanity, unpredictability. That’s what we really pay attention to anyway. We don’t talk about planes flying; we talk about them crashing.”
Kalman is famous for his bold graphic design, typography and manipulated photographs. To him, everything is an experiment and good graphic designers make trouble.
So at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if people hate your work. You win because you make them care, and they have probably remembered your name already. I don’t mean that you should your work hateful or offensive on purpose, but controversy can be a good thing if you want to get your name out there. If you want to create something, then do it.
6. Spatial distance and creativity
Here’s my new poster design. I’ve been wondering, “How can I be more creative?”. One answer that I find is to travel. Just pack your bags and go. Live somewhere else. Study abroad. It really doesn’t matter where you’re going. Just travel for travel’s sake. See the unseen. Hear the unheard. Meet new people. When you see the same thing everyday, your thoughts are constricted and your take on the world is no longer fresh. Actually science proves that spatial distance can affect creativity.
You can choose to live in your small town for the rest of your life, but be careful because that comfort zone can kill your imagination.
7. Don’t be cool
The advice is from the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, written by Bruce Mau in 1998, articulating his “beliefs, strategies, and motivations”. You can read the full list here. I found some very interesting, especially #14 and #15. I still hasn’t given up being cool yet, but I’m working on asking as many “stupid” questions as I can. Why? Because:
23. Stand on someone’s shoulders.
You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.
I think that’s enough for today. What do you think about this article? Let me know your tips for improving creativity.
/ This article is published on Medium on August 1. /