A Simple Guide to Unlocking Your Creative Process

Paper cranes in hand

“I don’t accept the judging of process… we’re all trying to get to the same island. Whether you swim, fly, surf or skydive in… it doesn’t matter.”

Those are the words of Jerry Seinfeld as he talked with Micheal Richards over coffee.

What he’s referring to is creative process; it’s an essential element in bringing any creative work to life. Comedy and acting are the results of creative process, as are design, writing, composing, choreography, and architecture to name a few.

However, artists aren’t the only ones that benefit from having a creative process, the principles can be applied to just about any kind of work you do. With just 30% of the American workforce feeling engaged at their job, the connection between creativity and work shouldn’t be overlooked.

Using the principles I’ll explain later, you can find ways to apply this in your everyday life so that you may start living up to your full creative potential.

What is creative process?

Before we look at what is creative process, let’s first look at what is creation.

The most basic act of creation is something we are all familiar with, procreation. Male sperm combines with a female egg, the DNA of both are recombined in a novel way… and a new and unique life is created.

The act of creation then is just like Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things.”

But to make a process out of the act of creation, you need a few more elements.

The difference between creating and creativity.

Let me make a quick distinction. Creating is just a mechanical act that isn’t necessarily creative. A computer can be programmed to combine random things in novel ways, but that doesn’t mean the computer is creative.

Creativity, on the other hand, is a quality humans posses that is difficult for machines to recreate. A computer might be able to combine words randomly until it creates the works of Shakespeare, but it can’t know that what it has created is meaningful.

How we bring meaningful creative works to life is our creative process.

Creative process is where the rubber (creativity) meets the road (reality). It’s how the greatest creative work is brought to life… like, Egyptian pyramids kind of greatness.

There are a number of models out there for creative process: from 10 Stages, to 6 Phases, and even an Innovation Engine. What I’m talking about here isn’t meant to refute any of them. Again the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “we are all trying to get to the same island.”

For the most part, however, these models are about the method of the creative process. I think it’s more helpful to talk about principles.

Methods may vary depending on what is being created. Individuals may have their own methods but so do groups. For example, we talk about corporations as having the capacity to innovate. People in an organization work together, and sometimes at odds, to bring about innovation the same way your brain has various thought processes that work in concert as your creative process.

What are the principles of a good creative process?

Learn all the things – If creation is just the novel recombination of things, then it stands to reason, the more things you know, the greater your capacity for creativity.

Be curious…

Some of the greatest figures in history have extolled the values of being curious, including Albert Einstein, who claimed to have no special talent besides being “passionately curious.”

However, curiosity on it’s own isn’t quite enough. How do you keep an attitude of curiosity that keeps you forever learning?

For a number of years I studied Aikido and one day, my sensei explained the symbolism behind the belt system.

In a martial art like Aikido, there is never a point where you become a “master.” There is never a point where all your learning is done, you know everything and you can go home.

Instead, you start out as a novice with a white belt. Over time, the belt becomes dirty from use. This level of experience is symbolized with a black belt. With even more time, the belt becomes frayed and turns white again, symbolizing a return to the beginning, and the journey of learning that never never ends.

So, the master is really just a student.

We have a bias in our culture toward confidence. This is unfortunate, because often confidence masks incompetence.

It’s an attitude of humility that will keep your mind open to learning. Humility keeps you curious. Humility keeps your mind open and able to learn all the things.

Learn all the things!

Take the Path of Mastery – “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the joke goes… Practice, is the answer.

Most people pay lip service to the value of mastery, but what they really want is a shortcut.

This is evidenced by the popularity of gambling and state lotteries; the pervasiveness of get-rich-quick schemes with their late-night infomercials and make money from home programs; the multi-billion dollar supplement industry with its promises to keep you young forever while melting fat and giving you rock hard abs; and the self-help industry which has grown by leaps and bounds promising things like “The Secret” and a “Four Hour Work Week.”

True mastery doesn’t come that way. Olympians and professional athletes are a testament to the difference in performance that a tireless work ethic can make.

In the film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” we are introduced to Jiro Ono. He is considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. His restaurant is the first of its kind to receive the prestigious 3 star Michelin review, a rating that indicates it’s worth a trip to that country solely for the purpose of dining at that restaurant.

For most of his life, Jiro has repeated the exact same routine on his path to mastering the art of sushi. Yet still, at 85 years old (at the time of the 2011 documentary), his only desire is to make better sushi.

Mastery is a journey, not a destination.

Become friends with failure. If you’re going to learn all the things and take the path of mastery, then you are going to have a lot of failure along the way… learn to love your failures.

Failure is stigmatized in our society. Early experiences with education have taught us it’s bad to fail. Then, later on the need to meet short-term business goals or to ace the performance review and keep your job further stigmatizes failure.

But, when we were very young and first learning to walk, we often fell. Did it stop us? No. We got back up and tried again. As we grew older, many of us lose this resilience to failure and the willingness to experiment with new things.

Sir Ken Robinson, the champion of creativity and education, has said:

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Pride, or ego or fear doesn’t allow us the freedom to fail, but it’s a critical part of learning, mastery, and the creative process.

I’ll end this discussion on creative process with the words of renowned painter, Chuck Close from the book, Inside the Painter’s Studio:

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you did today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.”

Top photo licensed through Creative Commons. Original: https://flic.kr/p/9rMtRJ


Meshack Vallesillas is a digital citizen and you may find him in many places around the internet… usually talking about art, marketing,design and creativity.
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