The Myth of the “Creative Type”

I recently read an article online that echoed what I’ve heard from several other sources lately: that only certain blessed souls are creative, and everyone else is stuck living an uncreative life. I was horrified when I read not only the assertion that not everyone is creative, but also the follow-up statement, which said that if you’re not creative, there’s “nothing you can do about it.”

It would be easy to single one author out for espousing this idea, but the fact is that a lot of people believe that they’re not creative. The thing is, that’s not true. Now, I can hear the voices of True Non-Creative Believers in my head, saying things like, “How do you know I’m creative? You don’t even know me! How would you know if I’m creative or not?” So here’s the thing: I know you’re creative, even though I don’t know you, because I know two things about you: you’re alive, and you were once a child. Or, to put it briefly, I know you’re creative because everyone is creative.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. Julia Cameron made a splash about 15 years ago with The Artist’s Way, a program that offers a structure for getting back in touch with your creative self. Looking from another angle, there are rules for theatrical improvisation without which your attempt at improv will likely fall flat on its face, and with which your odds of creating something funny out of thin air increase dramatically (and as a side bonus, these are also great guidelines for life).

And then there’s Sir Ken Robinson, whose TED talk takes the firm view that schools educate us out of our creativity. If you’ve not seen the talk, you really should; it’s the most-watched TED talk for a reason.

If you need more evidence, here’s the opening of an article on the subject from KQED’s MindShift blog:

“Do you think you’re creative?”
Ask this question of a group of second-graders, and about 95 percent of them will answer “Yes.” Three years later, when the kids are in fifth grade, that proportion will drop to 50 percent—and by the time they’re seniors in high school, it’s down to 5 percent.

Don’t believe it? Close your eyes for a second and go back in your mind to when you were about five years old. What did you do for fun back then? Did you play with toys? Did you make up stories? Did you run around outside with your friends creating different territories in your front yard with elaborate enactments of their politics? If you did any of these things, or any other imaginative childhood activity, you have plenty of evidence that you’re creative, because you can’t make up stories, create universes out of toy cars or action figures or LEGO, or do any of the other things kids do when they play without using your imagination. And using your imagination is an inherently creative activity.

Here’s another thing I bet you’ve done: read a work of fiction. And I bet when you’ve done that, you’ve imagined what the characters look like, how their actions would appear on a screen, or felt their emotions or what they’re feeling physically. Again, it’s impossible to do this without imagination.

You don’t have to be a visual artist or musician to be creative, either. If you invent exciting new flavors in your kitchen or even if you design new electrical circuits, you’re plenty creative.

So what happened to all that creative energy you had as a child? Pablo Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up,” and I think he was on to something. As a former teacher, I understand how the education system tries to turn students into widgets rather than creative humans. This process varies from culture to culture and school to school, but the simple fact is that a key purpose of school is to socialize children into functional adults who follow societal rules, and in many cases, that means that teachers have no time for creativity, or are even frightened by it, and use their authority to quash it. There are, mercifully, exceptions to this rule, and I hope that every creative spirit can find a teacher or other mentor who serves as a source of encouragement.

Family and friends can also kill your creativity, especially if you’re the sort of person who takes criticism to heart. How many times can you produce something that really makes your heart sing if the response is always negative (or, worse, laughter)? Pretty soon, you learn that you should stop trying and be like everyone else, and the next thing you know, you believe that you’re not creative when it’s simply not true.

So what’s the answer to the problem? Let that little kid out to play again. Grab some finger paint and create a work of abstract glory, even if only you think so. Sit down and watch some old Saturday morning cartoons that you used to love. Play with your kids (borrow some if you don’t have any) and ignore the fact that you’re older than they are—get into their world and see things through their eyes. Color—and go outside the lines. Take a class in pottery, or basket-weaving, or felt-making, or even acting or stand-up comedy. LAUGH. A LOT. As one of the commenters on this article on kids as creative models says, “Follow the fun.”

These ideas are only a starting point, because we’re all different and have our own individual issues. They can get you moving in the right direction, though. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching can help you dig more deeply and really get in touch with your lost creative self, but if you’ve been out of the creative pool for a long time and just want to dip your pinky toe in the water and see how it goes, the ideas above will get you started. And I bet you’ll come up with more things to try once you make a dent in that list!

Go out, have fun, and allow yourself to believe that you’re more creative than you thought you were—even if it’s just 5% more. I’ve got your back.

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