What is creativity?

image of brain gears, symbolizing learning creativity

Creativity can be LEARNED – really.

“What is creativity?” is a question that gets a million global Google searches per month, as of this writing. Apparently, a bunch of us are very interested in what it is – or maybe what it is not. We could fill the Pacific with books, speeches, documentaries, blogs, etc., etc., that have been written about creativity – lots of good reading material out there.

But if you don’t consider yourself creative and you wade into some of those books and blogs, be wary. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the details of learning creativity. Some well-meaning writers have made learning creativity into such an intricate, step-by-step project, that we non-creative types are tempted to give up.

We watch in awe as a good friend does a bang-up job of redecorating her great room – on a ridiculously low budget. We enviously observe a co-worker devising a killer app for a niggling little manufacturing problem – on one lunch hour break. When our seemingly nerdy, klutzy neighbor designs and builds a pergola in his backyard, it’s the final straw. We decide they’re creative, and we’re not. End of story. It’s just beyond us.

Get out. It is NOT.

 We’re all creative beings,
by design – ALL of us.

Don’t let the creative gurus scare you. Every time you do something differently than you’ve ever done it before, you’re being creative. Every time you imagine something you’ve never imagined before, you’re being creative – even if that idea never leaves your head. Creativity is simply making something new from something old. Stated that way, learning creativity seems pretty doable, doesn’t it?

Good news: it is. And one of the very best ways to develop creativity is to hang around with – you know where I’m going, don’t you? – creative people. Yes! Watch how their minds work, how their hands work, how THEY work. Then imitate them. That’s it: learn from the creative experts all around you because, honey, you’re gonna need a boatload of creativity.

Every stage of life requires creativity.

If you see yourself as uncreative but long to be creative, you may just want to do cool stuff right now, like that good friend, co-worker, or neighbor. That’s good enough incentive – for now.

Here’s some additional incentive. When I was in my fifties, I began noticing elderly family members struggling with serious health problems and simple, daily-living chores. I was stunned to see that life gets harder and harder as we age, requiring more and more creativity just to deal with it.

What’s coming for us all in our final years will likely be harder than anything we’ve done before. Not what you wanted to hear, was it? I sure didn’t. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that it’s so. Just pay attention to the elderly around you. I hadn’t; that’s why this was all such an unwelcome shock.

Our later years just may make our teens, twenties, and even our thirties look like a fun-filled, nappy day in kindergarten. That’s because we begin losing the very assets and abilities we’ve relied on for so long and have come to think of as permanently ours:

  • a loving – and competent – spouse,
  • bodies that do just about anything we want,
  • going anywhere we choose,
  • hearing everything we need/want to hear,
  • seeing everything we need/want to see,

and on and on it goes.

Creativity begets more creativity.

Practicing creativity now – for the sheer joy and fun of it (or to impress the boss) is great. Do it – because creativity is just like every other life skill: the more you practice it, the better you get. One day, you’ll realize friends are calling you creative and asking for your creative advice.

When this happens, go ahead and revel in the kudos. But after you’ve finished the back-patting, remind yourself that the REAL benefit of your newly cultivated creativity is still to come.

You’ve been paying attention to the creative people around you and practicing one of life’s most important skills/assets/practices/habits that will become invaluable as you age. You’ve embodied what John Cleese– that crazy Monty Python star – observed, “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”

One more piece of good news.

Have you noticed The Haves do not have a corner on this market? The rest of us have just as good a shot at becoming creative as they do – because it’s free! It’s something we can:

  • learn from every creative soul we meet,
  • practice our whole lives, and
  • become surprisingly good at by the time we reach our seventies, eighties, and nineties.

Here’s the legendary Steve Jobs’ answer to “what is creativity?” Please leave a comment, telling us your answer.

red box with white text stating what creativity is, according to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, on “What is creativity?”

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett
(Head with gears graphic from For getting Job blog post, titled ” The Difference Between Creativity and Innovation.”)