Creativity is an interesting phenomenon. Growing up, most of us were taught and told that creativity is a characteristic people are either born with or not. We often look at icon after icon, legend after legend and label them as a natural-born prodigy or creative genius. This assumption galvanizes those who are the creative "winners", but as a result, implies to others that they have no way of acquiring the level of creativity needed to conjure up the next million dollar idea.
This is the idea Allen Gannett, founder and CEO of TrackMaven and recipient of Inc. 5000, turns on its head in his recent book, The Creative Curve. Through years of data-driven research that took him from private offices of billionaires to the backstages of Broadway, not only did Gannett discover creativity can indeed be acquired, but that there's also specific ways to tease out your inner creative genius.
The Creative Curve
In the book, displays of top-tier creativity are defined as something that is both novel and familiar. The premise of this updated view on creativity can be described in what Gannett and researchers call "the creative curve", which is a bell curve illustrating the sweet spot between these seemingly contradictory areas of familiarity and originality. Within this middle ground is where your potential creative genius lies, whether in the form of the next idea for a unicorn startup or NY Times Bestseller.
How to Sharpen Your Creativity
1. Conduct Purposeful Practice
If you want to harness your full creative potential, you first have to master your respective skill. When doing so, Gannett's research advises to steer clear of the 10,000-hour rule, a principle preaching that repetition will eventually lead to mastery of a skill. Instead, participate in what is known as purposeful practice. This mode of training differs from the automatic style of the 10,000-hour rule in that it focuses on smaller aspects of that skill one at a time, receiving and applying feedback, then advancing to more complex aspects of that skill as you go. By eliminating the automation associated with mindless repetition, you'll constantly be engaging and challenging your brain to improve that aspect of your craft, facilitating growth.
2. Consume More Content
You may not have to feel so bad about watching all your favorite YouTube channels after all. Why? Well, during his interviews with top performers, Gannett found another common thread: those who have been labeled creative geniuses consume a ton of content related to their respective field.
For instance, Ted Sarandos, current chief content officer at Netflix, worked in a video rental store while growing up. During his time there, he watched an obscene amount of movies (nearly every one in the store). Before long, Sarandos had grown so accustomed to the typical story arcs, plots and archetypes of classic movies that he knew exactly what worked and didn't work. Today, he applies these learnings to his job at Netflix, whether that's overseeing the production of hit shows like Stranger Things, or something else.
If you're looking to strike gold in terms of the next big idea in your respective industry, become more than a "student of the game" -- become obsessed. By doing so, you'll begin to notice patterns, whether consciously or subconsciously, which will enable you to find that sweet spot between what's familiar and what's novel.
3. Be Patient
Did you know that a few weeks before Facebook was beginning to get traction throughout Harvard, there was a very similar social network gaining popularity at Columnbia University? The network was called CampusNetwork, and with its forward-thinking functionality, it had features that would take Facebook years to integrate into their own product, such as photo sharing, commenting on profile pictures and more. By nearly all measures, it was clear CampusNetwork was more advanced than Facebook. Yet, because the idea of social networks was still a very new idea, the amount of features on CampusNetwork was overwhelming for users while Facebook's was blissfully simple.
This phenomenon, as Gannett explains, is called the mere exposure effect and it can be a powerful tool to knowing when your product or idea is ready to hit the marketplace. Again, creative genius lies right at the height of novelty and familiarity, so if you're idea is too new, the best thing to do may be to wait.
Whether you're an engineer, a screenwriter or a startup founder, harnessing and enhancing your utmost creativity could mean the difference between remaining stagnant or having the biggest breakthrough of your career. The good news is that, despite what we've been told, creative genius is something that can be obtained and sharpened. By applying the principles laid out in this article, you'll put yourself in a great position to get started. Best of luck.