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Creativity is a process, not a gift

Daniel Chambliss, author of the paper The Mundanity of Excellence, researched the habits, backgrounds, and performances of competitive swimmers. What made some swimmers great, while others performed at well but not exceptional? He found the best swimmers had different strokes and conducted their turns differently. The best swimmers found excitement in elements of swimming that others avoided. Their process of practice and learning was unique compared to average swimmers. Another study examining what made people more creative found parallel results, creative people also trust themselves to carry out a process that leads to their creativity.

Creation is the act of developing something that might not work as intended. Those that create must have a level of courage because they most certainly will face some degree of failure in the process. A work of art we paint, a story we write, or a sculpture we craft may not be appreciated by others. In this day of social media, the artist may even experience criticism or ridicule. To be creative you also must have courage to try or develop something new, unproven, and possibly not appreciated.

Because there is a chance of failure, people often stick with the status quo. You hear the phrase “we have always done it this way, why change?” This also comes from systems around us that encourages us to conform and continue to do it the way we always have. Conforming gives us a reason to hide from trying something new. Conformity often stifles creativity because it discourages you from coming up with new, alternative solutions.

To be creative is difficult work. It involves learning, which almost always involves incompetence. As we continue to look for new solutions, we push ourselves into uncomfortable situations. We learn the most from our mistakes and less from our successes. Thomas Edison once stated “I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

The creative mind must be able to tackle the difficult work of learning.

Failure often leads to a feeling of being stuck. Instead of saying, “I’m stuck, I can’t come up with anything good,” it’s far more effective to say, “I’ve finished this, and now I need to make it better.” Another option is, “I have finished this, it can’t be made better, but now I’m ready to do a new thing based on all I have learned.” The process of creating is always moving forward, learning along the way from failure and successes, but always progressing to invent new solutions and trying them out.

Robert Goddard created the first liquid-fueled rocket. His ideas were rejected and mocked by the scientific community at the time. He once stated “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow. Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace. The only barrier to human development is ignorance, and this is not insurmountable.”

The findings of Chambliss and the experience of Goddard, creativity is not inherited. Creativity is developed through hard work, courage, failure, persistence, and tenacity. It’s time for each of you to follow the process to develop your own creativity.

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