Most of us are always looking for ways to be more creative. Creativity is the basis of innovation, doing new things, breaking ground, and going places you've never been. There's plenty of advice available, but it comes with the presumption that we have a clear view of creativity.
According to researchers, that isn't the case. We misunderstand creativity, what it means, where it is used, and who can be creative. Here are some of the biggest mistakes we make in thinking about the subject.
Creativity is one thing
If there was any misconception of creativity, this has to be the biggest. The topic has a major cultural bias. According to Dr. Kyung Hee Kim, author of the upcoming book The Creativity Challenge: How We Can Recapture American Innovation, people in western countries tend to associate creativity with the arts, while in Asia, the tendency is to think of science and engineering. But creativity has no bounds. It can touch on any subject or undertaking and its use can greatly improve what you are doing. The problem with cultural bias is that you can dismiss your own efforts because they're not in the "right" area.
Either you have it or you don't
You often hear people talk about creative types -- that particular cadre of individuals who are naturally creative. But creativity isn't binary, where either you have it or you don't. Neuroscience says that creativity is a function of the cerebral cortex, which means that virtually everyone has the innate ability to be creative. Not everyone will necessarily have the same degree of ability, but the good news is that you can improve yours.
Creativity means creating something completely new
New art, new science, new ... whatever. The concept of creativity often brings an image of the breakthrough moment that results in something the world has never seen before. Only, that's not how it works. Even when someone creates something that appears to be new, the creator has been influenced by many things, whether incorporating them or reacting to them. Cubism, for example, was one of the many times in the visual arts where artists deliberately tried to break with entrenched practices and attitudes, and even then Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were influenced by other specific work. Furthermore, there are two types of creativity: innovative and adaptive. Innovative creativity means trying to do something differently. Adaptive means trying to do it better. Both are valuable.
Different isn't necessarily creative
Researchers like Dr. R. Keith Sawyer of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill say that creativity isn't simply doing something that others haven't. Wearing that polka-dot bowling shirt with checked trousers may make you stand out, but not as creative. Science says that the created thing has to be useful or appropriate or relevant to some group of people. In other words, if no one gives a fig about what you've done, it's not creativity. But you have to be careful about where to draw the line. In his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh sold perhaps two of his 900 paintings. What changed was the appreciation of society. It may be that today's creativity won't be appreciated until later.
Creativity happens early in careers
We all know the image of the burning young genius who comes up with breakthroughs in some field. But according to research, that image is a major myth. Creativity depends on getting experience and knowledge into long-term memory, and that takes time -- ten years or more to master a particular field. Statistical analysis has shown that breakthroughs correlated with intensive periods of work after mastery. Yes, there have been Mozarts in the world, but most creativity comes from regular people. Call it the "overnight success after 20 years" effect.
You need a top IQ to be really creative
If you take being creative as influencing society, Psychologist Dr. Dean Keith Simonton's research over the years should be of interest. He has shown that while moderately high intelligence (under an I.Q. of 120) is important to becoming eminent in a field, it is less important than other factors, including motivation, personality, and development. Over an I.Q. of 120 and you run the risk of not being able to get most people to understand what you're saying. In other words, just because someone is wicked smart doesn't mean they're going to make an impression on the world.