How to Understand and Harness Your Unique Creative Genius

Creativity is all the rage – fashionably, it’s IN and we all want some of it. But what is it and how do we get it?

There are probably as many definitions of creativity as there are dictionary editions. According to Wikipedia, “Creativity is a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts … Unlike many phenomena in science, there is no single, authoritative perspective or definition of creativity.”

Think about that for a moment – If there is no “single, authoritative perspective or definition,” then how do we know when we’re being creative?

Artists and writers talk about their “muse,” as though creativity is a divine personality who visits us, like Santa Claus, if we’re very, very good. Others link creativity to increased mental power, making it the domain of geniuses and prodigies.  People who claim not to own any creativity for themselves, see it as something people are born with; like blue eyes, you either have it or you don’t. And still others claim that you can “exercise your brain” to stimulate creative thinking.

So, who is right? The simple and the complex answer: all of them.

I like to think of creativity as problem-solving. When you need to solve a problem, you gather resources from diverse sources and put them to fresh use, which generally results in “the generation of new ideas or concepts,” and/or “new associations between existing ideas or concepts.” Whether you’re trying to express a concept visually with oil paints, think up a way to describe Aunt Silvia’s nose, or design a better system for the flow of paper in your office, it’s all about devising (creating) ways to get around hitches or snags in your everyday reality.

The formula for creativity is this: Adverse situation or limitation + necessity = creativity (solution).

Let me give you a couple of mundane examples:

  1. The adverse situation: Your car breaks down on a lonely country road. a cold night, you know you’re going to have to wait a while for someone to come along (no cell phone service). The necessity: You need to stay warm.  The creativity: You retrieve the newspaper you stuffed under your seat this morning and discover that it works reasonably well as insulation.
  2. The limitation: You’re frustrated because the flow of paper in the office is inefficient and unorganized, but whenever you complain about it, people just tell you, “We’ve always done it this way.” The necessity: If the problem isn’t fixed, you’re either going to go crazy or find another job. But you like this job and want to stay. The pressure’s on. The creativity: You create a systematic and efficient flow chart, win a few alliances in the office, and make a proposal to your boss. Before you know it, not only have you streamlined the entire office, you’ve been promoted.

To understand and enhance your own creative processes, think about when you’ve been in problematic situations or experienced limitations. When the necessity was also present, you found a way around, out, or through the situation/limitation, didn’t you? In a nutshell, that is what creativity is all about. What tools did you use? Did you brainstorm (write down) a bunch of ideas and then discard those that wouldn’t work, coming up with a final solution? Did you go online and research the issue, finding out what others have done? Did you experiment by mixing three pigments together to come up with just the right color – the one they don’t sell at the store?

Knowing how you, as a unique individual, approach problem-solving is the key to appreciating and enhancing your own creative powers. You will become more aware of your own approach to problem-solving and creativity by reviewing how you’ve managed things in the past.

Next time you journal, think about a time when you’ve been in an adverse situation. How did your use your creativity? What adverse situation do you face in your life now? How will you create this time?


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