Huffpost UK uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Emma Gannon Headshot

Where Does Creativity Come From?

Posted: Updated:

It is widely and quite bluntly presumed that you are either creative, or you are not. To one person a lamppost can be the inspiration behind a thriller crime-scene novel set on that particular street-lit corner; and to some one else, it might just be a lamppost.

If someone sits on a bench and draws the tree in front of them, sketching each branch and detailing every crevice: this is called creative. But my thought is - what if this person did this same task every night? Would it still be perceived as creative, or is creativity only really meaningful when it is something new, refreshed or one-off? With this thought in mind, what about the proposition that it is only possible to be truly creative some of the time and is there any problem with that?

This leads me onto the inspiration behind this question. I recently watched a Ted Talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert, who explains to the audience that she is plagued by her own creativity. She describes her international best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love to be a 'freakish success' and lives in constant fear that her next novel will never quite live up to the last. She is frank and open about her battle, about how this almost out-of-the-blue lightning bolt of creativity was highly rewarding, but also managed to bring along with it a deep feeling of doubt that endless years of disappointment were about to follow.

To deal with this internal struggle, she found calm in referencing old ancient myths, when 'creativity' was never thought to be something that a person owned, but instead was thought to be a force of nature or supernatural spirit (almost like a guardian angel) that would grant you with this magical power and then leave again, taking this blessed gift of 'creativity' away again with it. Thinking in this new way, Elizabeth is able to free herself from the pressure of having to top this amazing achievement and instead accepts that something had just miraculously 'happened' when writing that particular book. This way, Elizabeth was able to free herself from being shackled to the identity of this one book, and carry on enjoying what she loves: writing freely.

Although this view seems somewhat far-fetched, it does sort of makes sense. Have you ever had that 'light-bulb moment' when something spirals straight into your head and if you don't grab a pen and write it down, it may be lost forever? Here are a few thoughts on how to nurture and retain creative thoughts, or indeed spark them:

Creativity is found in conversation

I don't believe anyone should have writer's block for long. And in fact, I don't know if I whole-heartedly believe it exists. This is because as long as I pick up the phone, have a little chitchat with my housemate over a cup of tea, or even speak to the person in my local shop for five minutes, I get an idea. It might not be earth shattering, but it's an idea. Often the best trigger for inspiration to ask a complete stranger, that way you'll find more of an objective, outside-the-box response to your question. Obviously another place to find conversation is online. The Internet is one of the biggest sources of inspiration and brimming with all sorts of visual content and open conversation. Thoughts, ideas, opinions are splashed everywhere, and videos and stories that spark memories, joy, resentment, anger - it's the conversations (and emotions) that spur creativity. Debates and discussions are the heart of creating new thoughts, because more often than not, you will unexpectedly find yourself disagreeing or believing in something you never knew existed before.

Pretence, and playfulness can lead to creativity

Tim Brown had a point when he spoke about the powerful connection between creative thinking and play. If you think back to when you were a child, you will probably be able to remember times when you had created something from nothing. Drawing things, building things, fitting things together. After all, play-dough is just a ball of nothingness. Those times when your parents would sigh at the fact than an expensive toy has been cast aside in favour of the plain old cardboard box. Making up plays, improvising in the playground, dance routines - all of this was just a mixture of having a powerful imagination and zero inhibitions.

Tim would get his audiences to draw pictures of the person sat next to them. The end result would be the audience muttering 'sorry' when revealing their not-so-aesthetically-pleasing drawing of the bald headed man with glasses next to them. His point was that this sensitivity of other people's opinions would never happen as a child. Children proudly hold up pictures of mummy and daddy (both looking deranged and genderless) and, they are quite rightly, darn proud of their work. In conclusion, in order to find creativity you cannot allow your brain to make you feel embarrassed; thy brain is thy friend.

Imagination equals Innovation

In a world full of rules and regulations, the one place we can find freedom is inside our own heads. Have you ever had a dream when you've woken up thinking 'that's a bloody good idea?' Just because something doesn't automatically make sense in the context of your every day life doesn't mean you should rule it out completely. Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of Pixar's book - not only do they have an awesome workspace (how else do you expect to create talking fish and a family of superheroes?) but all of their innovation and creativity comes solely from imagination. Close your eyes and think something up - it doesn't have to be based on a real-life external stimulus. Pixar is a fantastic example of the evolution of technology representing a shift in creativity - now almost anything is possible (especially thanks to 3D, virtual and augmented reality).

Take Some Time Out

Sometimes it's OK to take some time-off from constantly stretching that kooky part of your brain. We are often under pressure to ask our frontal lobes to imagine, creative, inspire, generate, invent or design all of the time. Good ideas are formed frequently, but if you have a gap when you are feeling slightly devoid of creativity, tell yourself it's OK. Your brain is just rejuvenating itself. This is where the phrase 'get those creative juices flowing' surely comes from, because quite simply, they are cannot always be flowing.

Stefan Sagmiester is a great proof point of putting 'time-out' into practice. In order to keep his creative business afresh, he closes down his business every 7 years and gives himself and his colleagues a year-long break. He calls it the '7-year-itch' in which he believes that having time away allows the rejuvenation of his creative juices. Although he lightheartedly describes it as 'dispersing his retirement years in his working years,' he shows clear examples in his Ted Talk that in fact it was his time away that infused creativity in his work once he returned. His time in Bali inspired many innovative projects and refreshed his creative outlook, keeping the business fresh - and successful.

This proves that in order to be creative, you should try and remind yourself to allow time to sit down. It is surprising how in this fast-paced, time-pressured, multi-screening world of work, people forget to just stop and think.

Don't Fear the Reaper

It is no coincidence that so many articles around the concept of creativity are linked to depression. Yes, there are a whole host of incredible artists and musicians plagued by their own creative genes: Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Amy Winehouse to name but a few. Even though 'being as good as your most successful song' has a slightly better ring to it than being 'as good as your last song', it still suggests that the creative industry can bring people down due to the pressure of beating your last success. It cannot be denied that with creativity brings pressure, and with pressure, creativity ultimately suffers. It is with this point in mind that we must not let a good and successful piece of creative work create a barrier between the ability to create new ideas. Being creative does not need to be constant competition, especially when the only person you are really competing with is yourself.

And besides, we must never forget that creativity should always stay synonymous with fun.