I was recently interviewed about the topic of creativity, and while I hardly consider myself to be the most creative person I know, my interviewer saw enough to want to chat about it. I found our discussion and the ending interview to be very valuable, given so many people I meet every day feel they are not and cannot be creative or innovative.

The discussion really reminded me of how anyone--even someone as structured and disciplined as me--can hone their creativity through a few daily routines.

What about your environment has enabled you to be so creative? 

I believe creativity is not something reserved for special people who were born with a specific characteristic or gene, like blue eyes. Creativity comes from a combination of stimulus and discipline, each feeding the other. 

Stimulus is the knowledge and experience that you gain from actively and regularly consuming and learning from the environment around you. The more stimulus you have, the more opportunities you have to synthesize and make meaningful and unique connections. 

Today, with podcasts, YouTube, and countless online learning environments, most have access to more stimulus than we can probably handle. If we are willing to spend our limited time learning and experiencing from meaningful stimulus (not binge watching Netflix), and disciplined in our goal to be so, then there is no limit to the level of creativity anyone can reach. This is available to all of us, but so few people really take advantage of it.

Please describe how your mind works. 

When it comes to creativity, my mind is very structured and works on a disciplined schedule, which is very unlike most creative people I know. I am, in fact, very organized and thoughtful about my time and energy, and most of it is not spent on creative endeavors (output), rather it is spent on consuming and absorbing information (input). 

When I put my mind to a creative output, I typically do my best work under a very tight deadline, often procrastinating to complete it. I have longed hated myself for that, until I realized I do my best and most creative work in this situation.

I have come to understand that by having deadlines, artificial or real, my mind turns off the "input" process and switches to "output," which forces me to be deliberate about a task in front of me.

What personal characteristics contribute to your creativity? 

What I have come to understand is that there is not one or a few specific characteristics that can be attributed to creativity. Instead, it is the ability to know oneself and leverage the strengths you have. 

In my case, I am not naturally creative, but I have always been willing to put myself in very uncomfortable situations (from stage plays to teaching at the university to writing a book), which forced me to find creative ways to adapt.

I also believe that my insatiable need for "input" has allowed me to create a huge "database" of knowledge, experiences, and facts, which allows me to make connections easily when trying to find meaningful unique solutions. 

What barriers did you have to overcome? 

I am mostly too organized, bordering on O.C.D., and have a mild case of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder (self-diagnosed). This often gets me trapped in endless loops of being productive and getting meaningless things done. I have found this causes creativity paralysis, which is the inability to start a creative endeavor for fear of not being able to complete it.

I have mostly overcome this by engaging in projects that have deadlines, or giving myself deadlines, which forces me to start and complete a task, even if at the last minute.

What are you most proud of creatively? 

On a creativity level, I am most proud of a short film I produced 20 years ago. At the time, I was fighting a serious case homeostasis in my life and career and wanted to challenge myself. A good friend and I took a class to learn a new skill (acting, filming, and editing on VHS), which was nominated for a film festival. It is still one of my most favorite creative projects.

What is your best piece of advice in encouraging others to be more creative?

Creativity cannot come from comfort. Nobody ever created something unique and meaningful from sitting on the couch and binging Netflix. Creativity, and moreover personal growth, comes from putting yourself in situations that are challenging, ambiguous, and even embarrassing.

Once you can drive out fear, however you choose to do so, you will find that creativity is not something that is ordained to certain people--it is a skill wholly available and mastered by anyone who simply tries.