Creativity Element 1: Active involvement and persistence

3 minute read
Creativity Fourteen is a series of articles that explores the value of creativity for individuals and teams, starting from the fundamental principles.
Read the whole series.

The myth of creativity as a magical gift that just some people possess is constantly reinforced by our society through the celebration and idolization of the “lone geniuses”: individuals that on their own are able to create from nothing — disregarding hard work, team work, and all the time these people spent growing their skills.

Creative thinking – in terms of idea creativity – is not a mystical talent. It is a skill that can be practised and nurtured.
— Edward de Bono

To create anything … is to believe, if only momentarily, you are capable of magic. … That magic … is sometimes perilous, sometimes infectious, sometimes fragile, sometimes failed, sometimes infuriating, sometimes triumphant, and sometimes tragic.
— Tom Bissell (2012) Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation

To be able to grow creativity as any other skill we need first to break this myth that might be fixated in our mind. For some people this might be particularly tricky, because deep down they truly believe they “aren’t creative” or “can’t be writers” (or any other creative endeavour). Often it’s a belief that someone else told them when they were exploring their abilities, and as such it could be very radicated.

Luckily, one of the elements of creativity is persistence, which can be practiced even by people that don’t think they are creative. Starting, and persisting after it, is a transformative process.

Being creative means embracing persistence.

You must write.
— Robert A. Heinlein, “Heinlein’s Rules”

Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.
— Ray Bradbury

Persistence can be expressed in many ways. It can appear as throwing out a first draft and refining it over and over until it’s done. It can manifest itself as countless preparatory works until we’re ready to craft the final one. It can appear as learning and training constantly, as well as being mindful about the importance of breaks. It can mean crafting something, destroying it, and then making it again from scratch.

Persistence can also surface in our thoughts, when we keep thinking about something over and over: how a discussion can be improved, how a detail could change, how that new thing we have just seen can be learned and added to what we’re working on. It can surface away from the desktop, away from the lab, away from the studio, away. Even when we are doing something entirely different, our brain keep working in the background: that’s why we often stumble on the right idea while having a walk or taking a shower. You might be surprised how effective practicing with our thoughts is: in a study, physical finger training improved strength by 53%, while doing purely mental practice improved it by a stunning 35%.

Persistence can provide a slow but constant build-up of knowledge over time. We can become experts without any formal process by just letting our curiosity drive our learning.

Persistence is also probably one of the most easily improved elements of the creative process, because it’s as straightforward as doing the very thing you want to get better at. Find time every day if possible, even just a few minutes, and spend that time not just learning about it, but also practicing. Even if the results are not good enough yet, persistence will work for us. After just a few months of daily practice the results will be noticeable.

Be persistent.