Rational Thoughts on Thinking Creatively

"I’m not talented. Creativity is better left to the artsy types. Some people are born creative and others are not". How many times have you thought or uttered a similar phrase? Creativity is commonly one of the least understood or misunderstood areas of human endeavor. Notions of just who is creative, or to what degree, are often erroneously formed early in life. Our ideas about our creative selves are too frequently discouraged in our formative years by others whose ability to judge this matter is often questionable at best (if in fact anyone is truly qualified to make this judgment).

Certainly there is a strong argument for a degree of ingrained creative ability. Close observation of toddlers and their natural proclivity towards certain kinds of thinking and expression will evidence this. Child prodigies also strongly lend credence to the argument that talent and creativity in a given area can, to a large degree, be an inherited trait. How else to explain a young child’s proficiency at, say, the violin, which can often surpass that of an adult having years of training, with seemingly little effort? Certainly there must be some genetic component at work here? Research into twins in particular certainly strongly suggests evidence of a hereditary component to most, if not all behaviors, including even our choice of mates or wardrobe style.

Yet the question remains, to what degree do these innate traits determine our future ability in a given area? Certainly it would seem probable that a less talented individual can surpass another naturally gifted individual’s success in a given area by virtue of their passion and commitment, if nothing else. We’ve all heard of cases of people who do not live up to their initial promise, while one of their contemporaries considered far less naturally adept rises to great heights. Such cases certainly imply that there are other factors at work than biology.

Regardless of the existence of a genetic component, it is foolish for us to assume that we can not learn to be creative. After all, child prodigies and savants make up a small part of the population and do not account for the people we encounter on a daily basis whom we judge to be creative.

Even if we look to celebrities; be they musicians, writers, artists, actors, etc. - who is to say how much of their ability is inherited and how much was learned? Many successful artists tell the tale of countless discouragements prior to their success, when only their commitment, desire, hard work and belief in self allowed them to pursue their goals, despite the often cruel advice of others who judged them devoid of ability or talent. The panel of self-described experts on American Idol (whose credentials are specious at best) come to mind. We’ve all shared a chuckle at the expense some of that program’s contestants and their far-fetched dreams that seem to fly in the face of reality. Yet can we be so cynical as to assume that they cannot overcome their current restrictions through hard work, dedication and perseverance?

Neurologists speak of brain elasticity; the ability of the brain to reinforce and strengthen neurological pathways through usage. If we think of the brain as a “muscle” that grows stronger when exercised repeatedly, then it is logical to assume that our creativity will also strengthen with frequent flexing.

We should disavow ourselves of the restrictive notions that inhibit our creative expression. If we give it some thought, we all employ creative thinking of some form or another. It might be coming up with a new approach to streamline some of the more mundane tasks at work. Perhaps you’ve developed an organizational concept that will provide more space in your company’s warehouse. Or you may have simply, without even consciously thinking about it, devised an alternate travel route that allows you to drop off your spouse at work, the kids at school, and make it to the office five minutes quicker that your previous route allowed! This may not strike us as creative in the sense we normally attribute to that word, but while not as glamorous, the processes are often identical to those used for artistic creative counterparts.

Although the debate on creativity is far from complete, one thing remains certain. To be creative, one must be open to the notion that they are creative. Whether at work, at home, or pursuing a life-long passion; exercise that creative muscle and you might be surprised by the results. As the old joke goes: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!

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