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What Is Creativity Anyway?

It's my firm belief that being creative is something that has to exist in the world, so for the blog piece this week, I've been researching the characteristics of creative people, looking at busting some myths, and finding out what being creative means. The quotes throughout are some of the beautiful responses I got back.

An exploration Into The Creative Mind & Ways To Boost Your Own Creativity

I've been thinking a lot recently about what makes someone a creative thinker, and what are the factors which affect confidence within creativity. One of the principle reasons for starting Up Coaching came from years of working with some of the most brilliantly creative minds in the worlds of fashion, media, music, and advertising. I'm fascinated by the creative process; what fuels it and what drives it. I'm intrigued about the human cause, and effect, of what it is to be a creative thinker; What personal attributes the creative mind has. What is the why? What are the needs? What is a creative person hampered by? What is it that a creative mind can't do without? It's by knowing, and getting an inside view, that helps me work with people in creative roles so that they can live their passions through their purpose. It's why I celebrate creativity each month. It's a great opportunity to get inside some lovely heads to share their thinking process with the world.

It's my firm belief that being creative is something that has to exist in the world, so for the blog piece this week, I've been researching the characteristics of creative people, looking at busting some myths, and finding out what being creative means. The quotes throughout are some of the beautiful responses I got back.

"Releasing from within oneself the feelings that only creating can --excitement, achievement, hope." Lynn Young

Characteristics of Creativity

Stanford University Professor Tina Seelig didn't want to write another book about creativity, so when she carried out her research into what makes an idea spring, she came up with the concept of the 'Innovation Engine', which interweaves 6 characteristics of truly creative people. The 6 characteristics which make up Seelig's Innovation Engine are intertwined. They are there to support and develop each other. There is no beginning and end to any of them, and they cannot exist without each other. They are...


Keeping a childlike sense of imagination, which expands out thinking beyond what is necessarily the 'right' answer. It's why it's so important to look at life through different lenses; to question the questions; to frame, and re-frame, problems.

Brainstorming without limitation and with these different lenses opens up to possibilities. Challenging assumptions will allow different answers to be found.

"Thinking differently about things, doing something purely for the love of it, using your imagination, being inventive." Hannah Martin


Seelig states that knowledge is the toolbox for imagination; it expands our world, and our thinking. We need knowledge and to pay attention to the world around us, and beyond, to feed inspiration.


Creativity is all about having the confidence to solve a problem, and with it comes the ability to think around an idea in order to leverage a challenge.

"My life force." Sally-Anne Argyle


Creativity needs the right environments and breeding spaces to allow ideas to grow and breathe. This being our habitat, the people within it (including colleagues and clients), the rules, the rewards, as well as the physical space. Have you ever tried to be creative in a grey cubicled office with a micro-managing boss breathing down your neck? Not easy right? It's why creative agencies, tech companies, and innovation labs such as Google and Facebook spend so much time and energy creating flexible, inspirational spaces. As Seelig states "The space is the stage on which you play out your life."


We're talking resources beyond just money here. In order to breed creativity take a look at the resources you have around you; including people, natural resources, and community. It's this community who will build your culture.


People, environment and attitude determine culture. Culture, in turn, can impact creative thought process, and the development of ideas. Culture determines how we deal with failure, and how we mine those things which are unexpected.

Culture affects the way we think, feel and act. How likely are you to flourish in an environment where there is a blame culture vs. a culture which celebrates experimentation and play with purpose?

"Being creative means doing what I want to do with people who love what I do, and also listening to what people want, and trying to incorporate that into my vision." Rob Da Bank

De-bunking the Myths of Creativity

Many people I work with will shun away from the idea of being creative; stating that because they do not work in what is deemed a creative 'role' that they cannot think, feel, or be a creative. Or, on the flipside, I come across many people working in so-called 'creative' roles whose lives are lived in dreaded fear of being 'found out'. They are hampered by Imposter Sydrome; that feeling that they're not where they belong, and that they do not have the capabilities to be where they are. This can lead to a crippling affect on confidence, working in fear, and a long term impact on self-esteem. It means that they do not thrive in an environment which should support and nurture their talents.

David Burkus, in his book The Myths of Creativity aims to put pay to some of the myths that reinforce the idea that creativity and innovation are for the chosen few; the Edisons, Jobs and Hegartys of this world, and that us mere mortals should never dare to count ourselves gracious in the shadows of genius. Well, you know what? It's bullshit, and here's some reasons why, and ways to let your creativity fly:

There's no such thing as an original idea.

This is a long-held personal view, which ironically was given to me by my journalism lecturer way back in my days of the London College of Fashion. He was right when he said that there is no such thing as a new idea. Not in fashion, not in art, not in design, not in innovation design. So many times in boardrooms, and brainstorm sessions, I've heard ideas being blasted because they've "done before". But, what if there were no MP3 players? Would the iPod exist today? If musicians call upon their 'influences' in their music, why is it not the done thing to site influences from other creative ideas to develop our own?

As a creative it is your job to develop upon ideas already out there, to bring in ideas which you are influenced by. Add your voice and expressions to those ideas which are not original, and develop ways to train yourself in finding ideas from which you can develop your thinking. Showing your development is way more valid that beating up yourself over never finding an original idea.

Creativity & Failure

I talk a lot about failure, and how and why we should learn to love and embrace failure as an essential part of the learning process. Well, actually, I talk about failure, but personally I don't believe in the word itself. I do however, believe in the fear that exists around failing, and how crippling that can be, particularly if you are a creative person. To create is to give a little of your soul away, so the fear of getting that wrong strikes right into the heart of the creative person.

One way to combat that fear and to take failure on as a positive challenge is to fail forward. Failing forward allows for ideas to be short, quick experiments. Play and experimentation become an essential part of the creative process, and we learn to celebrate when things which don't come out as expected.

This is something which the creative behemoths at Disney's Pixar creative studio do as a matter of course. As part of their creative process, every idea starts out terribly, and they build upon it. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation & Disney Animation calls this process going from "from suck to not-suck."

Basically what this is telling us, is that the first version of an idea does not have to be brilliant. As Burkus says "There comes with it a freedom to start out with something small and build on it."

Creativity is not linear

One of responses back on my Facebook page stated that creativity is "Zigging when the world zags...Inspired disruption." This got me to thinking about the process of developing creative thought, building on the idea that you can develop an idea up. Keith Sawyer, research psychologist and author of Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, states that people can be more creative by taking incremental steps without them having to be a linear order. He talks of the path to creativity as being back and forth, with greater imagination and originality building on and feeding off each other along the way.

"Creating something from your heart, because you just have to." Kat Williams, Rock N Roll Bride

Inspiration is not a destination

The creative mind is one which will absorb information like none other. I have huge admiration for the intellectual capacity of a brilliantly creative brain. I believe that much of this is down to the vast amount of knowledge which a creative brain can store and recall when needed. To expand our thinking, it's important to increase our exposure to things outside of our own interests. Subscribe to blogs for interest areas outside of your current sphere of influence. Watch talks and videos on a wide range of subjects. Meet and talk with influencers from different backgrounds. Join in and be part of conversations for something you are interested in learning more about, or to learn about something you currently know little about.

It's important to remember that some ideas will come easily, others will be more like a particulary bad birthing process. If inspiration fails you, don't wait to be inspired; sit down to do something, just start with a dot, a line, a germ...anything. Remember, it doesn't matter if it's shit to start with; failing forward is the way to progress to a bigger and better idea.

Tap in to your intuition and feelings

I talked earlier about Imposter Syndrome; that feeling of being found out. Well, what if it's more that you are an imposter, because you are not being true to your purpose or where you should be? It seems likely that you may well feel like an imposter because you are not yet where you should be. Dig into your intuition, search your feelings. If you are not living with your purpose then you will feel like an outside.

'Creativity is honouring my spirit.' Louise Androlia

Turning dreams into reality

Sometimes it can be hard to bring an idea into the world, as there are just too many people to tell you that your idea simply won't work. The realms of history are littered with stories of successful innovators who would not take no for an answer. How about taking some learnings from some of the biggest creative brains, and showing the haters what can happen with some imagination, planning, support, and tenacity?

Walt Disney was the master of make magical ideas happen. He had different rooms in which he would take different 'selves' in order to get perspective on what he was trying to achieve. All of these 'selves' worked on the same team, to develop the ideas and bring them to life. This has been developed into an Neuro Linguistic Programming exercise called the Disney Creative Process; where you take on three different roles:

The Dreamer Lets imagination flow uninterrupted. The dreamer will let the mind go where it wants to. It gets into detail through senses colours, details, flow and experiences the full sensory response.

The Realist Takes the notes from the Dreamer and starts thinking of ways to make that dream happen. The Realist will take the concepts and start to think about how to make them happen.

The Critic Seeks the details that fall between the cracks of the ideas and the reality. It looks to ensure that everything else has been covered in order to bring the idea to life in a way that works, and is valid.

What's important to note about this exercise, and something we can take out into our worlds of working with teams, is that each of the characters is working on the same team. There is no criticism or judgement of the idea. There are no 'buts'. Each is there to find a way to make those ideas happen. How refreshing would that be?

"Being creative is about saying yes, and chasing those crazy ideas, no matter how weird or impractical they may seem." Gala Darling

5 other ways to boost creativity:

Get a fresh perspective

Try brainstorming ideas with different people than you normally would. Bring people into a session who shouldn't be there, and keep out those who should. As the old saying goes 'familarity breeds contempt' getting a new set of ideas from an outside source can open up to more possibilities.

Start with solving a problem

Think about one person, or a group / community of people with a particular problem.

  • What are their challenges?
  • What keeps them awake at night?
  • How can you come up with a solution to that problem?

Give yourself constraints

Giving yourself constraints in terms of time, money or resources will give you ways in which to be more inventive with these restrictions in place. Then remove them to see where the elastic band pings out. Where are the ideas which fall in between? What happens when you put the constraints back on?

Ask the right questions

In the same way that we are impacted by our environment to expand our thinking, we can also be impacted by the wrong question. If you are trying to solve a problem or answer a question creatively, think of 10 variations of the same question, to see which one might fit better to enable you to expand your thinking.

Connect with your Inner Child

Imagination is about stretching our focus, and looking through different lenses. What better lenses to wear than those when the world was new and everything was about learning? By viewing the world through childlike curiosity we learn new ways to do find approaches to a challenge. We become more open and aware. We allow ourselves to explore the future through our imaginations.

This post was originally published on Kate will be running Living a Life of Purpose as part of the Make a Change Programme later on in the year.

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